It’s time to take the gloves off.
The Yankees should feel thoroughly humiliated after losing two of three games to the worst team in baseball. It is unfathomable that the Yankees could muster a mere seven runs in three games against the poorest pitching staff in the major leagues and arguably the worst bullpen that has ever been assembled in the history of the game.
If this atrocity of a series against the Nationals, who had a won a total of six road games prior to this week, had been an isolated development, I would have been willing to cast it aside as a blip on the screen. But it is not an isolated occurrence. When attached to a lackluster series against the Mets, another sweep at the hands of the Red Sox, an embarrassing 0-8 record against Boston, mediocre play against the Orioles, and another abominable April, it becomes a symptom of a larger disease.
So what exactly is wrong with the Yankees? Having followed them closely through their first 66 games, I’m not convinced that the real problem is a lack of talent. Oh sure, their bullpen and bench could use upgrading and the absence of overall depth remains a concern, but those are problems that can be fixed relatively quickly from within. I’m afraid that the Yankees’ malaise has roots in other areas, principally a low baseball IQ, a lack of toughness, and a general complacency that can happen when too many players have multi-year contracts and no fear of losing their status on the team.
A smart baseball team does not allow Jacoby Ellsbury to steal home plate with the bases loaded, especially moments after a veteran pitcher had been reminded to check the baserunner. A smart team does not forego an easy stolen base when the opposition tells you to take it, as the Nationals did in the second game of the series. A tough team does not repeatedly shrink with runners in scoring position, now a long-term problem that dates back to the beginning of the 2008 season. A tough team does not play like a collective group of basket cases when they face their archrivals, a team that remains the Yankees’ No. 1 barrier in trying to re-take the American League East. Finally, a hungry team does not continue to react to bad losses with a general shrug of the shoulders, instead of occasionally displaying some level of anger when the effort and execution are poor.
Yankee management needs to react to the Nationals series (and the generally poor play since the last Red Sox series) by making some kind of a change, even a small one. The players need to realize that there will be consequences for inexcusably poor play. Once and for all, it’s time to release Angel Berroa, who continues to occupy a valuable roster spot for no apparent reason. Maybe Brett Tomko should be designated for assignment in order to make room for the live-armed Mark Melancon. Perhaps a coach, maybe hitting instructor Kevin Long, should be fired, with Butch Wynegar promoted from Scranton-Wilkes Barre.
Maybe that is the way for the Yankees to send a message to their outdated on-field leadership. Perhaps that will convince Derek Jeter to finally express some anger during a postgame assessment of the team, or persuade Jorge Posada to stop selfishly obsessing about still being the catcher in 2011, or force Joe Girardi into finally losing his temper over another baserunning mistake. Something is going to have to change, or else the Yankees will be making another concession speech come October…
The Yankees did make one positive move this week when they cut bait with Jose Veras, who has been designated for assignment and could be headed toward a reunion with LaTroy Hawkins in Houston. (Yes, the Astros are interested in Veras and might be willing to give up something tangible in return.) Although it was clearly time for Veras to go, if only because his utter lack of control makes Kyle Farnsworth look like a marksman by comparison, I must admit to having mixed feelings about his departure. Still only 28, Veras has two legitimately frightful pitches in his flamethrower fastball and that vicious, serpentine slider. If his new team can retool his dreadful mechanics, or at least help him learn to sacrifice some power for accuracy within the strike zone, Veras might still be a serviceable late-inning reliever. Maybe the Astros, with their accompanying low expectations, would be just the place for that to happen…
In the early 1990s, Mel Hall was one of the few players that made the Yankees worth watching. As the organization mucked through an early 1990s decline, Hall brought clutch hitting, hustle, and some much-needed color to the pinstripes. Although Hall had his limitations—he never walked much and couldn’t throw worth a damn—he hammered right-handed pitching, always ran the bases hard, and never shied from hitting with runners in scoring position. He could also provide some sideshow entertainment, as he once did when he brought his pet cougar into the Yankee clubhouse!
Unfortunately, Hall took a wrong turn when some initial rookie “hazing” of a young Bernie Williams evolved into mean-spirited tormenting of a sensitive teammate. And then, after his playing days, Hall fell off the moral track completely when he engaged in a reprehensible sexual relationship with a 12-year-old girl, which resulted in this week’s prison sentence of 45 years, with eligibility for parole in 22 years. In other words, Hall will remain in prison until he is at least 70, and possibly until he is 93. Assuming that he did the crimes, and the evidence indicates that he did, he deserves every day of that sentence.
At one time, Mel Hall was one of my favorite Yankees. Now I just wish he had played for somebody else.
Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.