What a wonderful surprise to turn on the TV at 7:30 on Wednesday evening and find a live baseball game being broadcast from Florida! Not only did the spring training telecast of a Red Sox-Twins lidlifter from Fort Myers signify the start of the exhibition season, but also the coming of age of the new MLB Network. With the Grapefruit and Cactus League seasons kicking off Wednesday, the Network now has a real opportunity to shine. By providing local broadcasts of a variety of spring games, beginning with the Boston feed of that Boston-Minnesota matchup, the network has brought back terrific memories from the early 1980s. That’s when our local cable outfit in Yonkers aired local broadcasts of the Braves (on SuperStation WTBS), the Red Sox (on Boston’s WSBK), the Cubs and White Sox (WGN), and the Pirates. Except for the Chicago clubs, all of those teams have now disappeared from a majority of cable outfits. By airing exhibition games this spring, the MLB Network will not only show us a similarly wide range of teams, but also give us the local flavor of the hometown cable broadcasts. And that’s going to make this one of the more enjoyable spring trainings, even if I’m stranded in 20-degree Cooperstown.
The 24-hour baseball network has picked up a large volume of steam over the last ten days, starting with the unveiling of its “30 Teams in 30 Days” series, consisting of comprehensive hour-long previews of each major league club. The MLB Network also rolled out a fresh set of old-time games a week ago, including Tom Seaver’s 300th win from 1985, Carlton Fisk’s triumphant 1981 return to Fenway Park, and Gaylord Perry’s 300th victory from 1982. Two of those old games involved the Yankees, who found themselves on the short ends of the milestone losses to Seaver and Perry. Even though both games ended in defeat, these are broadcasts that I would like to see the YES Network show from time to time as parts of “Yankee Classics.” There simply is not enough variety currently being offered by Yankee Classics. I mean, how many times can I watch Dave Righetti’s no-hitter, or another game from the 1996 World Series, within the same calendar year? Even as a Yankee fan, I have my limits when it comes to victorious repetition.
Frankly, the sting of those losses to Perry and Seaver wore off years ago. Neither game cost the Yankees a division, a pennant, or a World Series. More importantly, there is historical value in seeing those games. The Seaver game coincided with “Phil Rizzuto Day” on a beautiful afternoon at Yankee Stadium, complete with a pre-game ceremony that saw “The Scooter” knocked to the Stadium curb by an overzealous cow. How great was that? And then the game itself provided us with a chance to watch Rickey Henderson, Don Mattingly, and Dave Winfield—two Hall of Famers and a near Cooperstownian—all on the same stage. As an added bonus, we had the opportunity to see old favorite Oscar Gamble wearing those ghastly red, white, and blue White Sox threads from the mid-1980s. Even the 1982 loss to Perry provided some interesting memories. It was a kick to see the crouching Gamble come to bat as a DH, watch Big John Mayberry wearing Yankee colors, and eyeball Bobby Murcer, who absolutely hated facing Perry’s assortment of puffballs and spitters, as he pinch-hit for Bucky Dent.
Heck, if a tape existed of the final game of the 1960 World Series, the Bill Mazeroski game, I would enjoy seeing that. Even though it ended up as a heartbreaking Yankee loss, it still stands as one of the most theatric games ever played. Besides, it would provide the rare opportunity to see players like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Roger Maris in something other than isolated highlights, all the while playing against the nostalgic background of the wondrous Forbes Field.
Now, as for the Pine Tar Game, that’s one I’m still not ready to see…
With regard to the current day Yankees, I wonder if the front office might take a flier on veteran infielder Esteban German, who was designated for assignment by the Royals over the weekend (so as to make room for free agent Juan Cruz). The Yankees badly need infield depth, a problem that is highlighted by Angel Berroa’s non-roster presence in Tampa. German, 31, had a dismal offensive season last year, but did well as a part-time player in both 2006 and ’07, when he put up on-base percentages of .422 and .351, respectively. German is primarily a second baseman-third baseman, but has played a pinch of shortstop, too, along with a good measure of left field. If nothing else, German would be an upgrade over the zero-tooled Berroa and could serve as an insurance policy at Triple-A Scranton…
Finally, here’s a postscript to my earlier feature on former Yankee Billy Sample. In nine major league seasons, Sample played, rather remarkably, for eight different managers. The cross-section of skippers included Billy Hunter, Pat Corrales, Don Zimmer, Darrell Johnson, the eccentric Doug Rader, Yogi Berra, Billy Martin, and Chuck Tanner. The transition from the laidback Berra to the fiery Martin to the ever-optimistic Tanner must have been sufficiently traumatic. The identity of Sample’s favorite manager might surprise you. That would be Zimmer, the onetime Yankee guru who guided Sample’s Rangers in 1981 and part of ‘82 before being given the boot in mid-season. Sample liked Zimmer’s honesty and directness, specifically his willingness to talk “straight” to his players when questioned about roles and strategy. Unfortunately, that’s a managerial tendency that is becoming more and more outdated.