"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

News of the Day – 6/30/09

Today’s news is powered by the trailer to the Scrabble documentary “Word Wars” (Yes, I know everyone in the trailer quite well. No, I don’t get any face time in the movie.):

Here’s a little Yankee trivia question to start the date: Paul Zuvella (mentioned later on in the column) is the last name alphabetically in the Yankees’ all-time player register.  Who is the first? (answer at bottom of column)

  • The Post’s Joel Sherman is quite certain of the best player he’s ever seen:

. . . (Mariano) Rivera has played just barely more than 1,000 innings in his whole career. And I know he has played mainly one inning at a time. And I also know I am biased because I have seen pretty much every pitch of that career. I was, for example, in the park on May 17, 1996 when he recorded his first major league save and again Sunday night when he reached 500 as I write about in this column.

But I actually don’t consider seeing so much of Rivera’s work a bias as much as a privilege. I have loved watching someone so great at what he does so often. Rivera has everything you would want in the best player you have seen checklist: He is a genius as a player. He has been incredibly consistent at that genius. That genius extends into the postseason. He has been incredibly durable. He elevates the play of those around him.

[My take: In this era of steroids, videotape and maple bats, Rivera is a wonder.]

All indications are that the Yankees will not carry three catchers because of the way their roster is constructed right now, so it will probably mean that Cervelli will have to go down to Triple-A when Molina is ready to return.

There’s no shame in that. He’s 23 and, while he’s enjoyed some success in the big leagues, there is more development that can take place. He should head down and feel good about what he accomplished, but it wasn’t like he was going to steal the job. Molina is a legitimate big league backup catcher and the Yankees are paying him well to do that.

[My take: Much as many of us have baseball crushes on Frankie, its probably best for him to get regular ABs at the Triple-A level rather than ride the pine in NY.]

  • MLB.COM has a nice article on Rivera earning his 500th career save.
  • Jim Kaat weighs in on Mighty Mo:

. . .  to get 500 saves as a New York Yankee in the fire of a pennant race every year and every game, and add the extra load of all the postseason, saves makes “MO” stand out as the greatest closer of all time. I remember when that talk started several years ago when he hadn’t reached 300 saves yet and I said, “Let’s wait and let him achieve what he’s going to achieve and then crown him.”
Now, he’s achieved it. . . .

To accomplish what Mo has with almost exclusively one pitch, the pitch we have come to know as a cutter — even though it really is what I always called a pure slider — and throw it at one speed in one location makes what he’s done even more remarkable. High and tight to left-handed batters, in on their belt buckle, breaking bat after bat of even the best hitters. It’s the reason right-handed batters had more success against him because that pitch was always moving toward the sweet spot of their bat not into the handle like the leftys. Over time he added a “two-seamer” which broke the opposite way and an occasional change-up, but it was the cutter that he will always be known for. He even learned how to “back door” it against leftys, making it cut across the outside corner of the plate and “front door” it to rightys, cutting at the last instant across the inside edge of the plate which is a dangerous pitch to throw. Miss by a couple inches over the plate and it’s a fairly easy pitch for big-league hitters to hit.

  • You can join in an on-line chat with Mark Teixeira at MLB.COM at 3 PM today.
  • Pro baseball’s only ambidextrous pitcher, Pat Venditte, turns 24 today.  Venditte was recently promoted to the Class-A Advanced Tampa Yankees.
  • Tony Fernandez turns 47 today.  Fernandez compiled a lackluster .245/.322/.346 line with only 6 SBs as the Yanks SS in ’95.  The Yanks decided to give the ’96 starting SS job to one Derek Jeter.
  • Jerry Kenney turns 64 today.  Kenney was a very weak-hitting (50 XBH in 1,575 PAs) third baseman for the sad-sack Yankee teams of ’69 to ’72.  He DID provide some value as part of a trade (along with John Ellis, Charlie Spikes and Rusty Torres) for Jerry Moses and Graig Nettles in November ’72.
  • Happy 65th birthday to Ron Swoboda.  Swoboda was best known as a Met, but finished up his career as a part-time OF for the Yanks from ’71 to ’73.
  • On this date in 1934, Lou Gehrig has three triples at Washington. However, the game is rained out after four 1/2 innings, depriving Gehrig of a record.
  • On this date in 1961, Whitey Ford (14 – 2) tops the Senators 5 – 1 to give the 2nd place Yankees their 22nd win of the month. Roger Maris drives in three runs and Mickey Mantle lines a shot over CF Willie Tasby that rebounds for an inside-the-park home run. Ford becomes the first pitcher in American League history to win eight games in one month.
  • On this date in 1977, Cliff Johnson becomes the 2nd player in three days to hit a pair of homers in an inning. He hits three consecutive home runs, including two in the 8th inning, as the Yankees rout the Blue Jays 11 – 5.
  • On this date in 1986, the Yankees trade OF Ken Griffey Sr. to the Braves for OF Claudell Washington and SS Paul Zuvella.

Trivia answer: pitcher Jim Abbott

Categories:  Diane Firstman  News of the Day

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1 RagingTartabull   ~  Jun 30, 2009 9:07 am

The Yanks decided to give the ‘96 starting SS job to one Derek Jeter.

well to be fair to Octavio Antonio Fernandez Castro, they only gave it to DJ after Fernandez cracked his elbow.

2 OldYanksFan   ~  Jun 30, 2009 9:29 am

Mo is indeed the greatest. He has been cloing for the Yankees now... what... in his 14th year? Has any closer EVER been with the same club this long?

The Fish announcers were chatting about Mo last night. They had an interesting and valid point. At every other position, and in most other sports, as athletes age and decline, they can still play their position (or DH) and add counting stats to their resume. Even when Rose was average, he was adding hits to his totals. Old sluggers still get ABs and can add to their HR numbers, even if at a declining rate. Basically, if you are still in the game, you get ABs and can pad your stats, even if at only a fraction of what you compiled in your prime.

But not so with closers, ESPECIALLY on a contending team. If Mo were 'just average', he might be the 7th or 8th inning guy, but not closing. To close for the Yankees, you must still be very effective. So there is no padding in Mo's numbers (I wonder about Hoffman?). Every Save has been an important one. Mo was there, because he was the best we had. Every closer gets a few 'gimme', Saves, but basically, Mo has worked for his bread.

Hoffman Career: ERA+: 146, WHIP: 1.046, K/9: 9.6
M.Rivera Career: ERA+: 197, WHIP: 1.020 , K/9: 8.3

Actually, you can't take anything away from Hoffman. His numbers are outstanding. He has 2 more years pitching, and is 2 years older then Mo. Although, out of 15 years, Mo has only has one year where his ERA+ (142) was below Hoffmans average (146). And while ERA+ 'adjusts' for league/year/etc, Hoffman's whole career has been in the NL West while Mo has lived in the AL East.

3 OldYanksFan   ~  Jun 30, 2009 9:31 am

By the by, SG has some very nice summary graphs up: http://www.replacementlevel.com/ on this years Yankee ZR defense. Worth a look.

4 The Hawk   ~  Jun 30, 2009 9:54 am

I liked that Scrabble movie. As a very amateur player I was struck - and somewhat disappointed, since I'm not like this - by the fact that the players at that level are more math-oriented than word-oriented.

5 Rich   ~  Jun 30, 2009 10:00 am

Using WPA, which i think it is the best stat for relievers:

Hoffman: 34.18 (IP: 1011.1 Games: 954)

Rivera: 46.09 (IP: 1054.1 Games: 881)

6 OldYanksFan   ~  Jun 30, 2009 10:02 am

aaaaaahhh, Minor League baseball: http://tinyurl.com/lzrhel

7 rbj   ~  Jun 30, 2009 10:53 am

[2] Yup. Just consider that almost all of those 1000 innings has been in a high-leverage situation, where success means that you've contributed to a win, but failure means that you cost your team a win.

[6] Amazing. Also consider this:

paying attention to Toledo Top 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, & 5th.
(yup, the Mudhens are that bad this year)

8 Shaun P.   ~  Jun 30, 2009 11:40 am

[5] [7] Steven Goldman looked at the top 200 single seasons of BP's WXRL over the last 55 years (that's as far as the BP database goes back).

One guess who appeared on the list more than anyone else (9 times, to be precise).

I'd bet Mo has more WXRL than Hoffman as well, though I'm not sure if BP has an all-time leaderboard for that kind of stuff.

9 rbj   ~  Jun 30, 2009 12:40 pm

[8] Thanks. Great line in the Goldman article:
"even if Matsui returns to Godzilla-style smashing in the second half (not that Matsui has been above Rodan-level in the U.S.)"

10 The Mick536   ~  Jun 30, 2009 2:43 pm

I loved the 1961 Yankees. Owned a Cooperstown Collection jacket that had the names of the players on the inside. During a difficult time in my life, news cameras caught me wearing it along with a blue brimmed white Yankee hat from the 20's. Allegedly, according to a friend who spoke with him at a Knicks game and who had come to my defense, George Steinbrenner said in sum or substance, "I don't care if he is a good guy, tell him to take off the Yankee stuff."

Yankees won the series 4-1 without the Mick who got shot up with a dirty needle by JFK and Nelson Rockefeller's doctor. Maris batted .105. Amazing. After the greatest home run race anyone had ever seen, neither figured in the outcome. Whitey Ford won the MVP setting the record for scoreless innings in the Series held previously by Babe Ruth. He won two games, including a two hit shutout in the opening game. Game three is one of my favorite WS games of all time. Check it out.

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