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Observations From Cooperstown: Robertson, Pena, Fast Yankees, and Munson

Posted By Bruce Markusen On August 21, 2009 @ 1:49 pm In Bronx Banter,Bruce Markusen,Cliff Corcoran | Comments Disabled

When the Yankee bullpen struggled so badly during the first two months of the season, too many members of the mainstream media called for either Joba Chamberlain to be relieved of his starting duties or for Brian Cashman to pull off a trade that would reel in a veteran reliever. Well, those media members have grown silent over the last two months as the bullpen has achieved lofty status in the American League. Those writers and broadcasters turned out to be dead wrong in their assessments, largely for two reasons. First off, they forgot that the Yankees boasted one of the league’s most efficient bullpens just last year. And second, they didn’t stop to consider the depth of pitching in the organization, specifically the wealth of talent waiting at Triple-A in the form of Phil Hughes, Alfredo “Ace” Aceves, and David Robertson.

I had already counted myself as a believer in the talents of Hughes and Aceves, but I have to confess to knowing little about Robertson prior to 2009. Kudos should go to the Banter’s own Cliff Corcoran, who was one of the first analysts to sing the praises of Robertson. Cliff turned out to be absolutely right about the 24-year-old right-hander. With a consistent 93 to 94 mile-per-hour fastball and a terrific overhand curveball (reminiscent of Neil Allen in his hey day), Robertson has the stuff to be a reliable reliever for the foreseeable future. If he can improve his control sufficiently, he could be the much-celebrated eighth-inning bridge by 2010. For now, the Yankees have four different relievers (Robertson, Hughes, Aceves, and lefty Phil Coke) that they can feel good about in the seventh and eighth innings…

The Yankees have assembled one of their best benches in years, and it figures to get better whenever Brett “The Jet” Gardner returns from the broken hand that landed him on the disabled list. Gardner will not only give Melky Cabrera the competition that he seems to thrive on, but also one of the most explosive pinch-runners in the game. So here’s the question: whose roster spot will Gardner take? I’d vote for sinkerballing Sergio Mitre, who is still building arm strength after major surgery, but the Yankees have become as married to the 12-man pitching staff as they once were to left-handed hitting DHs. So that means that Ramiro Pena will become the odd man out once Brett the Jet returns. Pena has done well in spot duty this year, but he lacks the experience and versatility of Jerry Hairston, Jr., the power of Eric Hinske, and the ability to catch (the role filled by Jose Molina). When and if the Yankees send Pena down, they should give him as many at-bats as possible during the Triple-A postseason, with the idea of letting him compete for the utility role in 2010. Pena might not hit enough to play everyday at shortstop, but his glove, speed, and ability to work the count should merit consideration for a backup job…

Speaking of Gardner, I’m trying to figure out if he’s the fastest Yankee I’ve ever seen. Prior to Gardner’s arrival last year, I would have voted for Mickey Rivers, followed by Rickey Henderson and Alfonso Soriano. (Rickey was obviously the best basestealer of the three, but at his peak “Mick the Quick” was slightly faster.) Perhaps I’m missing someone else from the last 40 years, but I believe Gardner has to at least move into the top three of this list, bumping Soriano to honorable mention…

The staying power of the late Thurman Munson is eye-opening. Thirty years after his death, the story of the tragic Yankee captain remains a compelling and popular read. Marty Appel’s new book, Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain, has been the nation’s best-selling sports book for the last four weeks. That’s quite an achievement, considering that Munson is not a Hall of Famer and is generally not considered an all-time great. Furthermore, most Yankee fans 35 and under don’t remember seeing him play, except for the occasional replay of the Bucky Dent Game and the 1978 World Series. In an era when the Yankee dynasty of the 1996 to 2001 has overshadowed the accomplishments of the Bronx Zoo years, Thurman Munson’s story still manages to capture the sincere interest of so many lifelong Yankee fans.

Bruce Markusen, a resident of Cooperstown, writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.


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