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Observations From Cooperstown: The Roster, Cervelli, and More Stone Gloves

Posted By Bruce Markusen On May 13, 2011 @ 12:20 pm In 1: Featured,2010s,21st Century,Baseball,Bronx Banter,Bruce Markusen,Observations From Cooperstown | Comments Disabled

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Sometimes the Yankees’ roster decisions leave me befuddled and bewildered. Not to mention confused. When Eric Chavez went down with a broken foot last week, all signs pointed to the promotion of minor league home run machine Jorge Vazquez. Like Chavez, Vazquez can play both third base and first base. In 139 minor league at-bats with Scranton, Vazquez has hit 12 home runs, which translates into a ratio of one home run every 11 at-bats. So what do the Yankees actually do? They call up no-hit Ramiro Pena, who hasn’t managed to make it into a single game over the last eight days.

Why do the Yankees hamstring themselves in these ways? They now have three shortstops on the roster, one who can’t hit (Pena), and one who can’t throw (Eduardo Nunez). And they really have no adequate backup for either Mark Teixeira or Alex Rodriguez, without, of course, having to take one of their outfielders (Nick Swisher) and play him out of position at first base.

Vazquez would have also given the Yankees another DH option. With Jorge Posada flailing away against left-handers, it might have been nice to give Vazquez a few at-bats as a righty DH. If nothing else, the Yankees might have been able to find out if Vazquez’ free swinging ways would translate at the major league level. Instead, the Yankees gave us Ramiro Pena, who is so valuable that Joe Girardi hasn’t seen fit to use him once in the last week. Criminy…

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Someone in the Yankee organization needs to come to the realization that Francisco Cervelli is no longer a good defensive catcher. In committing an error and two passed balls in Thursday’s embarrassing loss to the Royals, Cervelli provided more evidence that he is simply not a good backup catcher. A capable defensive catcher through the 2009 season, Cervelli has regressed badly (and mysteriously) ever since. He was brutal defensively last year, and he’s never going to be the kind of hitter who can compensate for his erratic throwing and inability to cut down opposing base stealers.

If Cervelli’s defensive yips continue, the Yankees will need to make a change. Who would be a suitable replacement? Among the unemployed veterans, there’s Bengi Molina. Within the system, there’s always that Jesus Montero fellow…

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Last week, I polled Bronx Banter readers to vote for the worst Yankee defender they’d ever seen. Some interesting names were submitted, including those put forth by Banter writers Alex Belth and Diane Firstman. Let’s take a closer look at some of the nominees:

Mel Hall: Suggested by Diane, old Mel has bigger troubles these days in prison, where he must serve a minimum of 22 years before becoming eligible for parole, but he was a favorite of mine during the dark days of the early 1990s. Hall tried hard–I never once saw him “jake” it in the field–but he just wasn’t well suited to playing the outfield. He wasn’t terrible at tracking fly balls, but with his heavy legs and sluggish way of running, he didn’t cover much ground. But it was his throwing arm that was truly a spectacle. Hall simply couldn’t throw at all; it made him a liability in left field and an absolute millstone in right field. When Hall played in right, opposing baserunners went first to third like New York City drivers storm through green lights.

Marcus Thames: Another suggestion by Diane, Thames was truly awful as an outfield defender during his one year in the Bronx. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Thames’ bat, particularly the aggressive, attacking style of hitting that reminded me of another onetime Yankee, Glenallen Hill. But Thames was just brutal wearing a glove, as bad as one of Kenny Banya’s comedy routines. On every fly ball hit his way, and I mean EVERY fly ball, I held my breath. He took bizarre routes, ran awkwardly, and had hands shellacked in iron. He would have been better off using one of those Jai alai cestas, one of which I believe Luis Polonia used when he played left field at the Stadium.

Chuck Knoblauch (as a left fielder): An Alex Belth special, Knoblauch became a nightmare at two different positions during his Yankee career. We all know about Knoblauch’s struggles in making routine throws from second base, but his outfield play almost made me long for his return to the infield. He looked uncertain on any fly ball not hit directly at him, resulting in him taking staggered routes, particularly on balls hit over his head. His throwing arm was also poor; he had a good arm as a second baseman with the Twins, but he just didn’t have the arm strength to make the long throws from the outfield toward the inner diamond. I felt bad for Knoblauch; by the end of his career, there was simply nowhere for him to play without causing collateral damage.

Rich McKinney: When the Yankees acquired McKinney prior to the 1972 season, they considered him the third baseman of the future. They failed to realize that the man known as “Orbit” had as much business playing third as I do piloting a plane. On April 22, 1972, McKinney put on a fielding exhibition for the ages. Playing at Fenway Park, McKinney made four miscues at third base. In the first inning, he booted Danny Cater’s ground ball, permitting an unearned run to score. Later that inning, McKinney made his second error, allowing two more unearned runs. In the second inning, McKinney mishandled another ground ball by Cater, with an unearned run scoring on the play. And then in the sixth inning, McKinney committed a fourth error, this time on a Rico Petrocelli grounder, with yet another unearned run scoring. The head count? Four errors and five unearned runs.

The Yankees ended the McKinney-at-the-hot-corner experiment after 33 games. By then, his fielding percentage was down to .917. Somehow, that was better than his career fielding mark of .911 at the position.

Hector Lopez: One New York writer dubbed him Hector “What a Pair of Hands” Lopez. And he didn’t mean it as a compliment. Lopez was a poor left fielder, as attested by his dreadful .970 career fielding percentage in the left-hand corner. But it was at third base where Hector truly reached his full potential for defensive ineptitude. Brendan Boyd and Fred Harris wrote about it so lyrically in The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book:

“Now, it is not necessary for me to declare that Hector Lopez was the worst fielding third baseman in the history of baseball. Everyone knows that. It is more or less a matter of public record. But I do feel called upon somehow to try to indicate, if only for the historical archivists among us, the sheer depths of his innovative barbarousness. Hector Lopez was a butcher. Pure and simple. A butcher. His range was about one step to either side, his hands seemed to be made of concrete and his defensive attitude was so cavalier and arbitrary as to hardly constitute an attitude at all. Hector did not simply field a groundball, he attacked it. Like a farmer trying to kill a snake with a stick.”

Folks, I can’t describe Lopez any better than that. Enough said there.

[Photo Credit: NJ.com]

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


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