The 1970s featured some of the greatest films of all-time. On my list is Network, which starred Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall and Ned Beatty, among others. I believe it’s one of the greatest of all-time in large part because it’s still relevant. The theme of ratings ruling success, damn the people responsible for creating the programming, hasn’t changed. Corporations who own the networks need a positive return on their investment. Money rules. Always has, always will.
Howard Beale, portrayed by Finch, who won an Oscar for the role, is a network anchor who is fired due to low ratings. Then, he is allowed to stay on the air and responds by announcing he’s going to kill himself on television during his final broadcast. The stunt, plus his famous rant, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” leads to huge ratings over the next two weeks, in which time the network exploits Beale’s insanity rather than take him off the air.
How does Howard Beale pertain the New York Yankees? Consider the case of Joba Chamberlain. The once-upon-a-time can’t-miss phenom has come full circle. He’s back in the bullpen for the 2010, where he’ll have to “earn” his spot as Mariano Rivera’s 8th-inning bridge. Or maybe he’ll pitch the seventh inning or be a swingman. Joe Girardi still doesn’t know.
Pitching coach Dave Eiland has told anyone who will listen that even in the event of an injury to starters ace through four, or mediocrity from Phil Hughes in the fifth spot, Joba will remain the bullpen. GM Brian Cashman called him a “starter who can relieve.” Joba is taking this like Cush from Jerry Maguire: “I just want to play baseball.”
Early reports and interviews from team personnel — primarily Cashman — have the Yankees leaving Joba in bullpen role only for this season. They were not looking beyond 2K10. But that’s not good enough. Our thirst for a resolution to the story that won’t go away is too great. We need to know the long-term plan for No. 62. The concern is legitimate, especially with Rivera in the last year of his contract, Javier Vazquez in the final year of his deal, and Andy Pettitte in the midst of another one-year deal. Who knows? There’s a chance he could be a starter again.
If you believe director of player personnel Billy Eppler, per Saturday’s WFAN interview with Evan Roberts and Pat Borzi’s entry to the Bats blog, which was re-posted here yesterday, Joba is in the pen, and will be there for the foreseeable future. Newsday’s Erik Boland also blogged on the Eppler leak, but had more quotes from Cashman in his post saying the contrary.
Those of us who have been shouting into the bullhorn this very message for the past 2 1/2 years, including myself, should be rejoicing. As happy as I am that the Yankees made a decision with Joba and are going to stick to it, again — well, for this season anyway — they can’t seem to get it right from a PR standpoint. Why be coy? Who cares? Is it that big of a deal to definitively say, “He’s a reliever. Yes, he has four pitches and could be a starter, but his best two are his slider and fastball, and he has been more consistent as a reliever since coming up in 2007. This is the best situation both for him and the ball club. If the question is, ‘Where do we put Joba Chamberlain to maximize his talent in order to help the New York Yankees win another championship?’ The answer is in the bullpen.”
See? Not that difficult. Eiland had no problem. He even went so far Even Derek Jeter said as much, dropping these nuggets of wisdom on Mark Feinsand of the Daily News:
“He gets by on emotion, and it’s easier — or at least more fitting — to get by on emotion when you’re in the bullpen. There are guys that can do it as a starter, but for him, I think being in the bullpen is a good thing. … To have a guy that can come into a game in any situation and has the potential to strike guys out pretty quickly, that’s an asset not too many teams have.”
What the Yankees have is an even split of pitchers who can get through a batting order more than once, and who cannot. And Sergio Meat-Tray. Joba, based on his recent history both at the tail end of last season and his March, falls into the category those who cannot go through a batting order effectively more than once. That’s the negative. The positive is that Joba gives the Yankees unprecedented depth in the bullpen, along with Alfredo Aceves, David Robertson, Damaso Marte, Boone Logan, and Rivera. Three power right-handed arms, two lefties who are above LOOGY status, and Aceves, who is this team’s version of Ramiro Mendoza, only slightly more verbal.
What does this all mean? The more the Yankees dangle this story because they know the media will salivate after hearing the bell like Pavlov’s dog, the more we in Fandom will continue to react.
Which brings us back to the Network parallel. Joba is not Howard Beale. He’s not in a position to bite the hands that have fed him. But the Yankees area a corporate monolith and a strong case can be made that the organization has exploited the 24-year-old. He’s been jerked around, switched to the bullpen in 2007 and rushed through the minors for the August emergency callup where he became a household name and a savior in the 8th-inning relief role; he was returned to the rotation in mid-summer the next year and suffered a shoulder injury as a result; and as a member of the starting rotation in 2009, with sporadic success and an insane innings restriction imposed after the All-Star break, he was returned to the bullpen for the postseason. After all that, one could hardly fault Joba if he pulled a Howard Beale and called his career “bullshit.”
From my standpoint, like many of you here in the Banter community, I’m ready to say enough is enough with the Joba story. Yes, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. I want to write about the media’s coverage of Joba’s success in the bullpen and keep it simple. The Yankees can help make this happen; they need to figure out which story they want to go with, keep spouting that as the company line to eliminate confusion and be done with it. And the media are not without responsibility here, either. Don’t egg the story because you can’t think of anything else to move circulation, ratings or incoming phone calls to the drive-time programs.
But none of that is likely to happen is because it makes too much sense, and it feels like the parties responsible for shaping the story are having too much fun with it.