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Observations From Cooperstown: Andruw Jones and a Year of Loss

Posted By Bruce Markusen On December 31, 2010 @ 8:42 am In Bronx Banter,Bruce Markusen,Observations From Cooperstown,Yankees | Comments Disabled

Free agents have been treating Brian Cashman as if he were carrying around a suitcase filled with Confederate money. Cliff Lee turned away millions to go back to Philadelphia. Brandon Webb snubbed the Bronx to pitch for the defending American League champs. Superutilityman Bill Hall opted for more playing time with the Astros. Premier platoon man Matt Diaz did the same, signing with the lowly Pirates.

All of these players, to varying degrees, could have helped the Yankees. Yet, they all said no, either because they wanted greater roles with their new teams, or more comfortable environs, or they simply didn’t like New York. As a result, some critics have already dubbed this a winter of failure for the Yankees, but it’s too early to make such a stark characterization. While starting pitching is in short supply on both the free agent and trade markets, there is simply no reason why the Yankees cannot address other areas of concern, namely the bullpen and the bench.

In reference to the latter need, the most interesting name I’ve heard is Andruw Jones. It seems like a lifetime ago that Jones was taking Yankee pitching deep in the World Series. That was 14 years ago, when Jones was beginning the peak phase of his career. Jones is no longer the same player–the monster who hit 51 home runs with a .922 OPS in 2005–but that’s not to say that he is ready for retirement. Soon to be 34, Jones is still a useful player, one who would suit the Yankees quite nicely.

Playing as a No. 4 outfielder for the White Sox last season, Jones clubbed 19 home runs in only 328 at-bats. More pertinently, he reached base 37 per cent of the time against left-handers, while slugging .558 against those same southpaws. Those are awfully good numbers. His .931 OPS against lefties in 2010 actually exceeded Marcus Thames’ mark of .806. Furthermore, Jones’ defensive ability makes him a better fit for pinstripes. Thames is a liability anywhere you play him, but Jones still has enough speed to play center field on an occasional basis, and enough arm to play right field. He can easily handle left field, making him a candidate to platoon regularly with Brett “The Jet” Gardner.

Playing left field and batting eighth against left-handers, Andruw Jones would be a plus for the Yankees. He would raise the level of the Yankee bench, which is currently too young and too punchless. Hopefully, Cashman’s money won’t look so “Confederate” in the New Year.

***

This has been a particularly brutal year for baseball mortality. In fact, I can’t remember another year, at least not a recent one, in which so many notable baseball people passed away. We lost three Hall of Famers in Robin Roberts, Sparky Anderson and Bob Feller, and two legendary broadcasters in Ernie Harwell and Dave Niehaus. There have been many other departures, too, from Ron Santo and Bobby Thomson to Willie Davis and Mike Cuellar.

Perhaps no franchise has been touched more than the Yankees. The most famous owner in team history, George M. Steinbrenner, was felled by a heart attack. Two managers–Ralph Houk and Clyde King–left us. So did a longtime minor league manager, Frank Verdi, who also played one game for the Yankees. The list of departed players included the underrated Gil McDougald and the stylish Tom Underwood. The great Bob Sheppard, the voice of Yankee Stadium, also died. Even the New York media was hit hard. Writers Maury Allen, Vic Ziegel, and Bill Shannon, who covered the Yankee in one way, shape or form, all put down their pens for the last time.

For someone like me, who has been watching baseball avidly since the early 1970s, almost all of these deaths had a direct impact. The one exception was McDougald, who played before I was born, but nonetheless became a fixture through the wonders of Old-Timers Day. I remember many times when Yankee broadcasters mentioned that Shannon, who knew the rules inside-out, was the official scorer for that night’s game. I read the creative words of Allen and Ziegel in papers like the New York Post and the Daily News. I heard Sheppard’s dignified voice often, either in person or filtering through the television set. I watched Underwood pitch with smoothness and efficiency. I remember reading about Verdi’s work as a minor league skipper in the pages of The Sporting News. I watched the Yankees play for both Houk and King, two good baseball men. And I was there for every year that The Boss owned the team, starting all the way back in 1973.

As I get older, I feel that more and more of these passings affect me. Maybe that’s the price of aging. Sadly, we lose a little bit of Yankee lore with each death. At the same time, it’s important to keep remembering what each man did, and what he meant for baseball. Each one left a mark, and in good ways. And while we’re all remembering what they did, let’s hope that we don’t lose as many Yankees in 2011.

Bruce Markusen lives in Cooperstown, NY with his wife Sue and their daughter Madeline.


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