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Observations From Cooperstown: Call-ups, Helmets, and Lookalikes

Posted By Bruce Markusen On September 4, 2009 @ 12:10 pm In Bronx Banter,Bruce Markusen,Minor Leagues | Comments Disabled

Let’s file this in the category of “taking nothing for granted.” Even with a sizeable lead over the Red Sox, I’m happy to see that the Yankees haven’t waited for Scranton’s Triple-A playoff season to end before bringing some reinforcements to New York. Francisco Cervelli, Ramiro Pena, Mark Melancon, Edwar Ramirez, Mike Dunn, and Jon Albaladejo represent the first wave of call-ups, giving Joe Girardi additional options for the final month of the regular season. As painful as it is for fans of the minor league affiliates to hear, the priorities and needs of the major league team should always come first. Given the frequent rest needed by Jorge Posada and the semi-ludicrous pitching limitations being placed on Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees can use some bolstering in the areas of pitching and catching depth.

Once Scranton’s postseason run is complete, the Yankees should then promote their two best everyday players at Triple-A: Austin “Ajax” Jackson and Shelley “Slam” Duncan. If nothing else, both players deserve to be rewarded for fine seasons in Triple-A; minor league players need to know that they will be promoted if they produce at lower levels. Jackson still has flaws in his game (including a surprising lack of power and too many strikeouts), but did well enough to be named the International League’s Rookie of the Year. Duncan has had nothing less than a terrific season for Scranton-Wilkes Barre, leading the league in home runs, RBIs, and slugging percentage. Hopefully, the Yankees will be able to put an early clinch on the AL East and give Duncan some at-bats in which to impress opposing scouts. He could help any one of a number of teams, including the Indians, A’s, Diamondbacks, and Pirates. Heck, he’d be a good fit for the cross-town Mets, who probably won’t be re-signing Carlos Delgado and desperately need an infusion of power and enthusiasm. If someone gives Duncan a chance, they might just get some Dave Kingman-type numbers in return, with slightly better defense and significantly better attitude…

In pioneering the oversized S100 helmet made by Rawlings, David Wright has started me thinking about the history of batting helmets. Former Yankee great Phil Rizzuto is generally acknowledged as the first major leaguer to wear a full batting helmet in a game. “The Scooter” made the move from cap to hard hat in 1951, one year before the Pirates outfitted all of their players with helmets and a full 20 years before helmets became mandatory throughout the major leagues. Rizzuto wasn’t just a great shortstop and a funny broadcaster; he was a smart guy who realized the value of protecting oneself in an era when most pitchers felt comfortable pitching high and tight.

As much of a pioneer as Rizzuto was, he was not the first professional ballplayer to don a helmet in a game. That honor belongs to another Hall of Fame shortstop—longtime Negro Leagues great Willie “El Diablo” Wells. After being beaned and knocked unconscious in a 1942 game, the Newark Eagles’ legend returned to action wearing a workman’s helmet, which he found at a New Jersey construction site. Deciding that the construction helmet would work at bat, Wells donned the hard hat in his next game. El Diablo might have looked a little odd, but who could have blamed him?

Speaking of Wright, his use of the S100 helmet has conjured images of two of Hollywood’s beloved characters: The Great Gazoo from “The Flintstones” and the laughable Dark Helmet from Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs. So whom do you think Wright more closely resembles? It’s a close call, but I’ll place my vote with Gazoo, as portrayed by the brilliant Harvey Korman. In the immortal words of Gazoo, “Goodbye dum-dums.”…

Finally, has anyone else noticed how much Alfredo Aceves looks like former Yankee Jim Leyritz? Every time I see Aceves take the mound, I have to remind myself that “The King” is no longer playing. I had similar flashbacks when Bobby Abreu played for the Yankees; he always reminded me of former Yankee outfielder Matty Alou, at least in terms of their facial resemblance. Then again, maybe I’ve just been looking at too many old Topps baseball cards.

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


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