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Observations From Cooperstown: Montero, Bernabe, and Luis Arroyo
Posted By Bruce Markusen On September 2, 2011 @ 4:51 pm In Bronx Banter,Bruce Markusen,Observations From Cooperstown,Yankees | Comments Disabled
The Yankees finally did the right thing: they called up their best hitting prospect, a future star named Jesus Montero.
Of course, it took the expansion of the roster from 25 to 40 men to create a space, but at least Montero is here now, with a chance to contribute over the final month of the season. Already one anonymous Yankee executive has predicted that by the time the postseason rolls around, Montero will be their best DH option. I tend to agree. Jorge Posada has very little left to offer, while Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez are best used sparingly, as bench players and not as regular DH’s.
Montero’s final numbers at Scranton/Wilkes Barre were not eye-popping (a .348 on-base percentage and a .467 slugging percentage), but they were much better over the second half of the season, so they reflect a hot hitter on an upward trend. It’s also easy to forget that Montero is still only 21. Not too many 21 year olds put up the kind of numbers that he has over the last two years at Scranton. He deserves a chance to contribute to the Yankees in the race for the top spot in the AL East.
The next question is this: how much will Montero play during the stretch run? Given the way that he has walloped left-handed pitching at Triple-A (to the tune of a 1.039 OPS), I’d expect that Joe Girardi will find a way to play him every time there is a southpaw on the mound, and at least some of the time against right-handers. If Montero hits well from the get-go, he could be the everyday DH long before the postseason becomes a reality. And I have a feeling that Montero will hit, not only because of his talent but because he feels like he has something to prove after laying in wait all summer at Scranton.
The promotion of Montero is a good move by the Yankees. In the end, the flexibility of the 40-man roster finally won out over sentimentality. And that is a good thing when you‘re trying to win a division…
Bernie Williams may have a tough time gaining induction to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but on Thursday, he won election to the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame, as part of its third ever induction class. A native of Puerto Rico, Williams was elected from the post-1959 ballot, a group that also includes Yankee bench coach Tony Pena and former Yankee third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez.
Hall of Fames such as these generally have lower induction standards than Cooperstown, but Williams is still joining good company in the Latino Hall, which is based in the Dominican Republic. Other Latino members include Roberto Alomar, Luis Aparicio, Rod Carew, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente, and Juan Marichal–all of whom are duly enshrined in Cooperstown. While Williams was not as good as most of those players (with the exception of Aparicio), I’d put him on a tier just below them. His hitting, his power, his patience, and his early-career play in center field made him an excellent player, an outstanding all-round performer, and a major contributor to numerous championship teams, and none of that should be treated as an afterthought.
 Additionally, one other ex-Yankee was elected to the Latino Hall this week, and that was through the Veterans Committee. Yankee fans of a certain age (particularly over 50) will remember Luis Arroyo, the Puerto Rican left-hander who was one of the first standout Yankee relief aces, beginning a long trend that would continue with Lindy McDaniel in the late sixties, Sparky Lyle and Goose Gossage in the 1970s, Dave Righetti in the eighties, and the current Baron of the Bullpen, Mariano Rivera.
Like a lot of relievers, particularly southpaws, Arroyo was a late bloomer. He did not make his major league debut until he was 28. At five-feet, eight inches tall and 180 pounds, Arroyo could charitably be described as “stocky,” though some scouts might have preferred calling him chunky, or even pudgy. Clearly, he did not have the body of an Adonis. Nor did he throw particularly hard, which coupled with a streak of wildness, explained his early career struggles with the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds before he landed in the Bronx. The Yankees acquired him from Cincinnati in the midst of the 1960 season, in a straight-up cash deal.
Arroyo turned his career around that mid-summer, as he refined the screwball, which would become a devastating out-pitch for him in the late innings. He pitched well during the second half of 1960, before blossoming in ‘61, a season that saw him lead the league in games (65) and saves (29), while winning 15 games (all in relief) and posting a 2.19 ERA in 119 innings pitched. All in all, he had a hand in 44 of the Yankees’ 109 wins. The American League’s top reliever that summer, Arroyo did this all at the tender age of 34.
As with many great relievers, especially those who depend on the demands of the screwball, Arroyo’s brilliance did not last. He injured his arm during spring training in 1962, struggled after returning to action, and was never the same. Arroyo retired after making only six appearances in 1963.
Younger Yankee fans might not have heard of him, but Luis Arroyo, now 84 years of age, can enjoy a prestigious honor, one that he shares with Bernie Williams.
Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.
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