"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Season Effective Disorder

Three weeks into Yankees Spring Training, and we’ve learned this: New York is a Basketball town. Alex has written about this, and I remember Sweeny Murti talking about covering the Yankees while the Knicks made their run to the 1994 Finals. It’s true. The Knicks are the sleeping giant, and now with Carmelo Anthony, they will own the back pages unless something either major or catastrophic happens in Yankeeland.

This is actually a good thing, because Spring Training for the Yankees is basically a time suck. While it’s great to see baseball — hell, grass — after being battered with snow and sub-freezing temperatures for the better part of the last two months, doesn’t seem as cool when the biggest questions year after year are who the 5th man in the rotation will be, and who the 24th and 25th man on the roster will be.

Obvious storylines have been played up like they’re original concepts. For example:

* Derek Jeter reported to spring training and in his press conference intent to prove that last year was an anomaly and that the man who is above statistics is actually going to try to enjoy the moment when he reaches 3,000 hits this summer. In a year or two, he might need a position change.


Two thoughts on this: 1) This is EXACTLY why when he broke Lou Gehrig’s team record for hits and the local and national media were swooning and putting his stats against Pete Rose and projecting he could break the all-time hits record by 2018 or 2019, I called B.S. Derek Jeter is human, and while I didn’t get to know him that well in my years covering the team, I observed him quite a bit. He’s intense and he’s competitive, but he’s not selfish. He doesn’t give the impression that he wants to hang on just to break a record. 2) As I write about Jeter’s unselfishness, I write about this, which seems counterintuitive: Steven Goldman, as far back as 2004, when the Yankees signed Alex Rodriguez and it was determined that he would play third base and Jeter would remain the shortstop, wrote that Jeter should have pulled a Robin Yount and moved to center field. This would have made Bernie Williams, whose outfield skills were declining for two consecutive years by then, a full-time DH. But, there wasn’t as much roster flexibility then. There were a lot of DH candidates, namely Jason Giambi, so having Bernie there full-time wasn’t an option. I recall at least 6-12 Pinstriped Bibles where this was a hot topic.

* CC Sabathia lost weight. He’s in the third year of his contract. He can opt out after the season. He’s thinking about this.

Great for him. The dropped weight will help his stamina, because he’s going to have to pitch 300 innings during the regular season when the Yankees eventually settle on a 3-man rotation. Yes, he is. Yes he can. He probably is, but asking him of his plans in February? If the opt-out clause is in there in the first place, he was thinking about it THREE YEARS AGO. The caveat, he’s not A-Rod, so this will probably work out.

* Joba Chamberlain is not going to pitch meaningful innings this season. Not with the Yankees, most likely.

Not to toot my own horn, but I’m tooting. This was predicted four years ago, when they caught lightning in a bottle with him. Not recognizing his rightful ascension to replace Mariano Rivera at that time effectively ruined his career as a Yankee. Perhaps another team can repair him.

* Jorge Posada is going to be a full-time DH.

This is not news.

* Yankees looking for starters.

That slug actually appeared as a link on ESPN.com’s headlines area. It was a story from Buster Olney. This was not news. Does anyone expect the committee of Sergio Meat Tray, the Ghost of Freddy Garcia, and Ivan Nova to carry bottom half of the rotation? Wait, don’t answer that. They’ve started seasons with Tony Womack and Enrique Wilson at second base, at one point were intent on Bubba Crosby as their center fielder, and had Gary Sheffield play first base. This is entirely in the realm of possibility.

The guy to root for in all of this: original Yankees draft pick Mark Prior. Let’s not make a big deal about his having trouble getting his breaking stuff over the plate yesterday. If he makes the team and somehow makes an impact, it could be the story of the year.

* AJ Burnett, after playing winter ball in the California Penal League, beaned a player. During batting practice.

That’s only half true. Burnett did nail Greg Golson in the head. No truth to the rumor that Larry Rothchild is stocking up on cardboard hitters to help Burnett visualize the target. Who’s more of a punchline in New York baseball at this point: Burnett or Oliver Perez?

* Mark Teixeira needs to get off to a fast start.

Again, not news. Bernie Williams used to start off slowly every year, too. By Memorial Day, he’d be hitting .300 or better. However, there was an interesting revelation in the day of Teixeira stories: he admitted that he has taken for granted that his hitting would always be there. That he would turn it around eventually. Great stuff from Tex. Perhaps in his work with Kevin Long, he’ll practice driving the ball to the opposite field.

* The Yankees take Grapefruit League games seriously.

After the second day of games, Joe Girardi was already in midseason form, talking about how “bouncing back” after a loss is a result of “believing in ourselves.” This, with Ivan Nova on the mound, no less.


The thing is, while I know this is a panoramic critique (with no links, I know), and it sounds like I’m the old man on the porch holding a shotgun, if I was on the beat, I’d probably be writing the same stories. There are two stories, though, that I’d like to see:

1) Re: Joba. Is he the second coming of Shane Spencer? Forget the position player vs. pitcher comparison for a second and focus on the “lightning in a bottle” concept. For two months in 1998, Shane Spencer was a revelation. He was kept on as a reserve outfielder and made modest contributions for the next several seasons, but when given the chance to earn the starting lineup in 2002, couldn’t crack it. There was no way he was ever going to live up to that brief stretch. Chamberlain, same thing. We could include Aaron Small in this discussion. Maybe the type of pitcher Joba Chamberlain is now is always what he was, and he peaked immediately.

2) A Rafael Soriano profile, written in the context of “recent Atlanta Braves retreads who had success elsewhere but are bound to not work out.” Look, I would like to see the Yankees turn games into 7-inning affairs. But, history shows us that unless your name is Mike Stanton, it’s likely not going to work out for you in New York if you were previously a closer employed by the Braves. Consider: Steve Karsay — great first year in 2002, got injured in 2003 and was never heard from again. Kyle Farnsworth — just a comedy of errors here. Boone Logan wasn’t a closer, but his ride with the Yankees has been a roller coaster. Maybe he could be a Stanton / Graeme Lloyd type of guy.

Random thought to end … Manny Banuelos: His last name is a mixture of the Spanish words for bathroom (bano) and handkerchief (panuelo). The scouting reports have him pitching better than that odd mixture.

And a final random thought: the Yankees’ issues are much easier to stomach than the Mets’.

[Photo Credit: Brian Rose]


1 Alex Belth   ~  Mar 2, 2011 4:23 pm

Jeez Will you are grumpy! And the Knicks had better beat the Yanks for the backpage during spring training!. NYC is a hoops town but the Yanks still rule it.

I hear you on the spring training stories but isn't that what writers get paid to do?

2 Bronx Boy in NC   ~  Mar 2, 2011 4:59 pm

The beauty of the baseball season is that every night, I get to watch my favorite movie again without knowing how it ends.

That's why the most prosaic game story (dateline May whatever, Yanks outlast Royals 5-3) is more satisfying than any spring training angle.

In terms of news value, if the midwinter void (two or three stories a week, mostly about contracts) rates a "1," and the back pages of October rate a "10," then spring training maybe cracks a "3."

3 The Mick536   ~  Mar 2, 2011 6:13 pm

NY is not a hoops town. It may have been in the early 50's, but the scandal ruined it. Kenny Sears. Carl Braun. Willie Nauls. They used to train at Stamford Catholic High School. They went to the showers, you could shoot some balls. No one cared about pro basketball until....

I won't put myself on the line. Someone with more background knowledge educate these peeps.

4 Sliced Bread   ~  Mar 2, 2011 6:20 pm

I don't know why I still believe in AJ and Joba, but going into this season, I have a faith in them that goes beyond just rooting for them. We know the talent is still in there. Why not believe they can find it again, and groove for a few months? That's where I'm at with those two. Expecting consistency from non-aces, and pitchers not named Mo is an exercise in futility. But that doesn't mean we can't expect greatness from pitchers who have shown it before, and are too young, and healthy to be in decline.

5 monkeypants   ~  Mar 2, 2011 6:26 pm

Not to toot my own horn, but I’m tooting. This was predicted four years ago, when they caught lightning in a bottle with him. Not recognizing his rightful ascension to replace Mariano Rivera at that time effectively ruined his career as a Yankee. Perhaps another team can repair him.

What a strange, poorly thought-out (or at least poorly articulated) argument. C'mon Will, you can do better than this!

6 Sliced Bread   ~  Mar 2, 2011 6:34 pm

3) I hear ya Mick, but NY was definitely a Knicks town in 94, and during the Ewing years.Jordan and the Bulls, and the resurrgence of the Celts and Lakers, and the decline of the Knicks, and rise of the Yankees moved hoops to the back burner. But the hoops passion here is always simmering, even wheni it's not boiling.

7 Will Weiss   ~  Mar 2, 2011 8:46 pm

[5] My note on Joba was not to present an argument. I believe he's done as a Yankee. I thought it last summer. I was stunned he made it past the trade deadline.

But you're right. I can do better.

How's this: Not to repeat Michael Kay's argument from last week on his show, but where does he fit into the mix? They've already committed to not moving him to the Starting Rotation, and with a backlog of people the 7th and 8th innings, where does he fit into the mix? Joba thrived when he had a defined role. Now, he's back to being in limbo, unless he and Soriano are to the Yankees this season what Soriano and Benoit were to the Rays last season.

8 Will Weiss   ~  Mar 2, 2011 8:47 pm

[1] And Alex, Murray Chass is grumpy. ... I'm just bored. There's a difference.

9 Chyll Will   ~  Mar 2, 2011 9:21 pm

This was a little before I was born, but I imagine the Knicks were the talk of the town when Willis Reed limped onto the court and willed his team to the championship; something they still talk incessantly about to this day. I was also too young for the halcyon days of Clyde & Pearl and the second championship. Meanwhile our Yanks were rotting under the afterthought of CBS Network until George & Co. bought the team and, well, we know the rest...

Then again, I never abandoned the Yanks when they went through their own recession of 89-92 or the annoying lead-up to it, so it just might have been sort of the same back then.

10 williamnyy23   ~  Mar 2, 2011 10:45 pm

New York is a good pro-basketball town when the Knicks are good, but it is and always has been first and foremost a baseball town. At their highest level, the Knicks don't approach the Yankees or Mets in level of interest.

11 Dimelo   ~  Mar 2, 2011 11:29 pm

As far as Joba is concerned, I don't think he can be repaired. It's hard to repair a 2006 Toyota Camry, whose accelerator got stuck and hit a wall. I'm convinced Joba is just not that good, he peaked and now he's flamed out.

12 RIYank   ~  Mar 3, 2011 6:32 am

[9] [10] Will, those were my formative years. I'm not quite old enough for the Mantle Yankees, but the Miracle Mets and then the Knicks, wow. (The Jets' Superbowl meant almost nothing to me.)
I do think New York was Hoopsville in those days. Clyde and Willis, they were the icons. All the boys I knew read DeBuscherre's book. It was the birth of "dee-FENSE!", and when my parents had parties people would ask if it was okay to turn on the Knicks.
In my limited NY experience, as a kid, it was a basketball town then.

13 jorgie juiced one   ~  Mar 3, 2011 9:19 am

What a baffling comment - New York is a basketball town (when talking about fan interest) - especially when supported by practically no evidence and in the face of substantial countervailing evidence. That is not to say the Knicks are not significant. They are one of the core sports teams in the city. BTW, I'm a Knicks fan and held season tickets during the mid 90s. Should the Knicks contend for a title, it'll be a big deal.

That having been said, it is almost axiomatic that New York is a baseball town.

Will, you mention 1994. But I think that was an anomalous year in many respects. You had not only the Knicks but the Rangers, as well as the season-ending strike hanging over the entire baseball season.

More recently, what about 1999, when the Knicks made the finals, or 2000, when they made the Eastern Conference finals? Certainly there was no absence or even drop off of interest in the Yankees or baseball during those times.

What about the intense responses to the Clemens and ARod (yes, they're both more significant baseballl players than Anthony is as a basketball player) trades during the height of basketball season? Conversely, did the non-stop coverage of the Jets' acquistion of Favre a few years ago mean New York was a Jets and football town all along?

Then there's polling numbers invariably showing the Yankees comfortably first in the city among all teams, with the Mets often second. These are of course unscientific, but the consistency of outcomes is at least telling. And what about merchandising, interest online, etc.?

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver