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Yankee Panky: New York is a Baseball Town

Posted By Will Weiss On December 30, 2008 @ 11:41 am In Will Weiss,Yankee Panky | Comments Disabled

Before we get into today’s topic, I would like to relay an update to the community on Todd Drew’s progress. His wife, who is keeping up his e-mails for him while he recovers from his surgery, said he’s in stable but serious condition, and has turned a corner. She added that he was “touched” by the response all of his “baseball blog friends” had to the “Baseball and Me” post on December 22. As of this writing, she hadn’t yet given Todd the news of the Mark Teixeira signing.

It may be a couple of weeks before he is online again, and contributing here.

On behalf of all of us here at the Banter, Mrs. Drew, if you’re reading this, Todd’s baseball blog friends hope the corner he’s turned allows him to coast into home without a play at the plate.

* * * * *

It’s winter in New York. The Giants are in prime position for their third Super Bowl trip to Tampa in 18 years, the Jets are the Jets, the Rangers and Devils are in another dogfight for metro area bragging rights and playoff position, and the Knicks, although they still have a long way to go, are at least more entertaining than they’ve been in years past. But even with all the other sports jockeying for backpage headlines, the main attraction is baseball. If there was ever a doubt about this, look no further than last week, with the acquisition of first baseman Mark Teixeira.

Leave it to the Yankees to lie in the weeds, swoop in and land another big free-agent fish. Since the inception of free agency, no team has played the game better, with more fervor, or worked the system to its favor, than the Yankees. This mindset, the relentless commitment to spend whatever it takes to get the necessary pieces to win, has defined the Yankees organization, even before Free Agency (remember the old joke that the Kansas City A’s were the Yankees’ Major League farm team)?

As a result, the Yankees make sports editors’ jobs very easy.

Tex’s migration to pinstripes brought unleashed the haters from all walks of the media landscape. (Again, credit goes to Diane Firstman for her link work here at the Banter, keeping us apprised of all the Yankeecentric goings-on in cyberspace. Diane, I hope your back doesn’t hurt from all the heavy lifting. Tip: Use the legs and hip flexors.) That was to be expected; the Yankees are arguably the most galvanizing organization in professional sports. The analysis through all walks of the Internet coverage, both for and against the signing, and the stories that relayed the ancillary effects of the signing, was excellent. Best of all, it was entertaining.

That’s not always the case. Events like the Teixeira signing tend to bring out a mixture of the best and worst in terms of reporting, fact-checking, story construction, and follow-up. Few stories fall into the mediocre gray area. In my opinion, the resultant coverage of CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett signings and press conferences elicited throwaway pieces (my own blog in this space included). There was little beyond the obvious.

With Teixeira, though, something clicked. The local beat crew and columnists, as well as the national group — FoxSports.com’s Dayn Perry in particular — brought their A games. The blogosphere has been especially prescient. Cliff Corcoran’s work on this site, particularly on the economics of the 2009 Yankee roster compared to 2008, has been spot-on. Baseball Prospectus stalwarts Joe Sheehan, followed Cliff’s lead. Steve Goldman has done his typical yeoman’s work at YESNetwork.com. Replacement Level’s straight-up numerical analysis on the recent signings and the effect Andy Pettitte would have on the ’09 rotation has been educational and necessary. Pete Abe got sabermetric in his disgust at the Yankees’ treatment of Chien-Ming Wang.

If all the scribes maintain this level, we are in for a tremendous year on the baseball writing.

What’s going on now is true information sharing. No longer is there an “eyes and ears of the fan” for the press. More often than not, the fans, or as I like to call us, the “outsiders,” are as educated, if not more so, than the people employed by the major media outlets holding BBWAA cards.

The only thing they have on us is access.

ANECDOTE ALERT …

During my one-season tenure as public address announcer for the UCLA Baseball team (1999), I was fortunate to see a number of elite Major League ballplayers in the early stages of their professional development. Some of the more notable names include current World Series winner Chase Utley (UCLA’s starting second baseman), All-Star Garrett Atkins (UCLA’s starting first baseman), Barry Zito at USC, and Xavier Nady and Mark Teixeira, who were third basemen at Cal and Georgia Tech, respectively. Nady led the Pac-10 in home runs that season. Tex was a freshman stud. Both made position changes to accelerate their ascent to the Major Leagues.

Nady, even then, was a free swinger with tremendous power. I wasn’t sure he’d even reach the Show. (I thought the same thing about Utley and Atkins. This is why I’m not a scout.) Teixeira, however, was a sure thing. The Yellow Jackets baseball media relations director told me the story of Teixeira’s rejection of the Boston Red Sox’s $1.5 million offer, and how he was projected to be better than Nomar Garciaparra. (Somehow in the years since — until I read the story again this week, I thought the Braves drafted him out of high school and the dollar figure was double that. I’m glad I was wrong, but I digress.) I was impressed with Teixeira’s completeness as a player, and also his demeanor. I’ve tracked him ever since he got to the major leagues, the fan in me simultaneously hoping that if he became available that the Yankees would agressively pursue him, particularly after he won his first Gold Glove in ’05. As my boss says, “Hope is not a strategy.” They got him, and the wonderments of how he’d fit with the team will end soon enough.

The features and profiles that have been published in the past week have me thinking that the Yankees, in Teixeira and also Sabathia, not only have two bona fide studs on the field, but good guys in the clubhouse. That’s important, given the merry-go-round of questionable personalities from Raul Mondesi to Jeff Weaver to Kevin Brown to Randy Johnson to A-Rod to Carl Pavano. Gary Sheffield could be classified in that category, but most of the players said he was a first-rate teammate. The same can be said for Roger Clemens.

The signings of Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira are, in my view, the Story of the Year in New York baseball. Will they be the story of next year also? I think they will be, regardless of where the Yankees finish in the standings. I’d love to get your take.

Until next week … Happy New Year.


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