Last year, career minor leaguer Jon Weber was the feel-good story of spring training. He hit everything in sight and made a run at the Opening Day roster before being demoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Weber’s story ended nightmarishly; the veteran outfielder was suspended in mid-season for a third violation of baseball’s drug policy, and rather than take a 100-game ban, he opted to retire.
Let’s hope that the story of Jorge Vazquez ends far better than that. Like Weber, Vazquez is no prospect. He’s soon to turn 29 and will never be a regular in the major leagues. But he has legitimate right-handed power, is versatile, and could be a useful backup player in the Bronx. It’s only been a few games, but the career minor leaguer and ex-Mexican League standout has been rapping line drives around the Grapefruit League, putting himself in position to make an outside run at the 13th and final spot for position players.
Vazquez spent most of 2010 at Scranton/Wilkes Barre, where he slugged .526 as a part-time third baseman and first baseman. There’s little doubt about his power; he twice exceeded the 30-home run mark in Mexico, and has hit long balls at a similar rate in the high minors of the Yankee system. Now the down side. He’s the ultimate free swinger, having never walked more than 25 times in a full season. So let’s call him Celerino Sanchez with power.
Vazquez’ best shot at making the team rests on his ability to continue hitting this spring, along with a potential breakdown by Eric Chavez, who is also vying for a spot as a backup infield cornerman to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. I think the Yankees would like to see Chavez make the team, based on his pedigree of left-handed power and defensive supremacy at third base. But if Chavez cannot stay healthy (a big IF for a guy who hasn’t played a full season since 2006) or if he fails to show any of his past power, then the door might open for Vazquez
As with Weber, I’ll be rooting for Vazquez. I guess I’m just a sucker for career minor leaguers. …
Chavez’ case is also an interesting one. I despised this guy when he played for Oakland. A friend of mine who works for the A’s says Chavez really turned off some of his teammates when he first joined the team because of his extreme arrogance. He acted as if he owned third base, even though he had yet to play a major league game.
Of course, Chavez would own third base in Oakland for more than a half decade. From 2000 to 2005, Chavez played like a Hall of Famer; he consistently slugged over .500, despite playing in a pitcher’s park. He drew walks, drove in runs, and played the best third base the A’s had ever seen in Oakland, better than Sal Bando, Carney Lansford, or Scott Brosius. His play–along with his effort and his hustle–won over his teammates and the fans, as he became a staple in the Bay Area.
I suspect that Chavez is not as arrogant anymore. A succession of injuries that rendered him a non-roster invitee to Yankee camp will do that to a player. He seems to understand that he is now a backup, who will have to learn the subtleties of playing first base, and perhaps even the outfield in his bid to become a utilityman.
Now that he’s a Yankee, I find Eric Chavez a little more likeable…
Two Gotham baseball figures died last weekend. By now, you’ve probably read plenty about Duke Snider, the third rung on the celestial center field ladder that hallmarked New York City baseball in the 1950s. You might not have read as much about Greg Goossen, a former Mets catcher who died suddenly at the age of 65, just hours before he was scheduled to be honored as part of his high school’s hall of fame.
Goossen didn’t hit much during a fragmented six-year career with the Mets, Seattle Pilots, Brewers, and Washington Senators, but he led a fabulous life. He played for a who’s who of fascinating managers, including Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges, Joe Schultz, and Ted Williams. He also became one of the intriguing characters of Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, the famed day-by-day journal that chronicled the Pilots’ lone major league season. Goossen and Bouton became friends, with the pitcher praising Goose for his positive, upbeat personality.
The fun for Goossen really started after his playing days. He went to work at his father’s private detective agency, and then joined his brothers’ boxing gym in Van Nuys, where he trained such fighters as Michael Nunn.
While working at the gym in the late 1980s, his brother asked him to meet with actor Gene Hackman, who was doing research on a boxing film at the time. Hackman and Goossen immediately hit it off. The legendary actor was so impressed that he hired Goossen as his stand-in for the film, the 1988 release Split Decisions. Hackman then made it a standard part of his film contracts; Goossen would work as his stand-in, or there would be no deal. For Goossen’s 60th birthday, Hackman gave him a brand new Mercedes.
As a result of the friendship, Goossen made small appearances in a slew of great films, including The Package, Class Action, and the truly remarkable Unforgiven, the 1992 Academy Award winner starring Hackman and Clint Eastwood. That made me a bit jealous of Goossen, since Hackman and Eastwood are just about my favorite actors, with an honorable mention thrown to Sandra Bullock.
I was saddened to hear that Goossen died so suddenly, especially on the same day that he was to be honored by his alma mater, Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California. That just seems so cruel. But then again, I’m pleased that Goossen had such an eventful life, doing three things that I would killed to have done: played baseball, worked as a private detective, and played a role in a movie. All in all, Greg Goossen’s 65 years were pretty good ones.
Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.
[Photo Credit: N.Y. Daily News]