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Observations from Cooperstown: Cody, Jerry, Chad, and Thurman

Posted By Bruce Markusen On August 7, 2009 @ 2:01 pm In Bronx Banter,Bruce Markusen | Comments Disabled

The great Yankee mystery of the month finally came to an end this week. I must confess that I’m as clueless as everyone else as to why Cody Ransom occupied space on the 25-man roster for as long as he did before finally being thrown into the baseball limbo known as being “designated-for-assignment.” Ransom has never hit curve balls, now struggles to hit waist-high fastballs, and has shaky hands on the infield. So what else is there? Even the explanation that the Yankees simply wanted a second utility infielder (to go along with the newly acquired Jerry Hairston, Jr.) fell short of justifying Ransom’s presence on the roster. If the Yankee high command believed that another utility guy was required, Ransom should have given way to rookie Ramiro Pena, currently playing a jack-of-all-trades role at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre. Pena is a better defender than Ransom, has a touch more speed, and now has the same level of versatility, considering that he’s been learning to play the outfield at Scranton. When a team is involved in a dogfight for a division title, every roster spot counts; it’s about time the Yankees either sent Ransom back to Triple-A or perhaps let him loose to try his wares with one of the weak sisters in the National League…

Speaking of Hairston, the reaction to his acquisition from Cincinnati has drawn a tepid reaction in these parts, but I’m slightly more enthusiastic. At the very least, he’s a major upgrade on Ransom, who had become the 2009 version of Mike Fischlin. Looking deeper, Hairston provides six-position versatility, can steal a base in the pinch, and has a modicum of power. He’s also highly regarded as one of the game’s most intelligent players, which is not so surprising considering his family’s baseball heritage. With grandfather Sam Hairston (a former Negro Leagues catcher and longtime coach and scout) and father Jerry, Sr. (a longtime backup outfielder and accomplished pinch-hitter with the White Sox), Hairston has received a good baseball education. And on a team that doesn’t always play the game smart (see Jorge Posada tagging a baserunner with an empty glove or failing to slide into home plate), that’s a nice attribute to have coming off the bench…

I like the acquisition of Hairston; I love the pickup of right-hander Chad Gaudin from the Padres. Coming at the likely cost of a lower level minor league prospect, Gaudin will take his rightful place in the Yankee rotation as soon as Sergio Mitre has his next bad start (which could come as early as next week). The 26-year-old Gaudin throws a fastball in the mid-nineties, has a killer slider, and has averaged a strikeout per inning despite a subpar season in San Diego. His acquisition makes a lot more sense than last week’s trade proposal from the Mariners: Jarrod Washburn for top center field prospect Austin Jackson. I’d rather have Gaudin at the cost of a borderline prospect than a soft-tossing lefty like Washburn, who gives me too many flashbacks of mid-1980s pickup Steve Trout. And we all know how that mid-season trade worked out for the Yankees…

I’m usually reluctant to do book reviews, since I’m an author and I consider the process a potential conflict of interest. But when a book is good, I won’t hesitate to recommend it. That’s the case with Marty Appel’s Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain, released this summer by Doubleday. An in-depth biography that examines both the ballplayer and the family man, Munson details the late catcher’s excruciating childhood experiences, his often controversial career with the Yankees, and his tragically premature death at the age of 32. Even for an avid fan of Munson such as myself, Appel manages to mine a hefty amount of new material, including some stunning passages about the verbal and physical abuse that Thurman took from his dysfunctional father, Darrell. If only for the early chapters on Munson’s disturbing childhood upbringing, the book is worth the retail price. But there is much more, such as Munson’s positive relationship with managers Ralph Houk and Billy Martin, his boiling resentment over failed contract promises from George Steinbrenner, and remarkable detail about the circumstances that led up to his horrendous death in a 1979 plane crash. If you’re a fan of Munson, Appel’s book is a must-have. If you’re just a fan of the Yankees, the book is a should-have reference on the life and career of one of the most important Yankees of the last 40 years.

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.

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