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Observations From Cooperstown: The Roster, 1978, and Butch Hobson

Posted By Bruce Markusen On September 30, 2011 @ 10:00 am In 1970s,1980s,1: Featured,20th Century,21st Century,Baseball,Bronx Banter,Bruce Markusen,Observations From Cooperstown,Staff,Yankees | Comments Disabled

As usual, the Yankees are waiting until the last minute to officially announce their 25-man roster for the Division Series. So that leaves me guessing as to what will they do at the periphery of the roster. We do know that Jorge Posada will be on the roster, as will Russell Martin and Jesus Montero. I have a hard time believing the Yankees will carry four catchers, so I’m guessing that rookie Austin Romine will be left off, with the Yankees gambling that they can tolerate either Montero or Posada doing some catching if Martin is lifted in the late innings for a pinch-hitter. The Tigers don’t run much, so a strong throwing catcher becomes less of a priority.

We know that the starting infield will have Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, and (hopefully a healthy) Alex Rodriguez, with Eduardo Nunez serving as the primary utility infielder. Eric Chavez will also be around as a backup at first and third base, but perhaps more importantly, as the primary left-handed pinch-hitter. So that makes for six infielders.

The starting outfield of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher will need a backup, so right-handed specialist Andruw Jones is a certainty. The real question is this: will the Yankees carry a fifth outfielder? It’s a tough call, but I think they will. Chris Dickerson has played well in his limited opportunities; he’s a good corner outfielder who can handle Comerica Park and has enough footspeed to serve as a pinch runner. While he doesn’t have the blazing speed of Greg Golson, he’s a better baserunner, as evidenced by Golon’s extra-inning foul up in extra innings on Wednesday against the Rays. So Golson will be out, and Dickerson should be in as a backup outfielder.

With three catchers, six infielders, and five outfielders, that makes for 14 position players. That leaves room for 11 pitchers, instead of 12. And that’s the right way to go in a series that can go no longer than five games. The Yankees figure to use only three starters (CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Freddy Garcia), which leaves room for an eight-man bullpen. The givens are Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, A.J. Burnett, Cory Wade, and Boone Logan. That still leaves two spots for pitchers from a group that includes Phil Hughes, the slumping Bartolo Colon, Luis Ayala, Hector Noesi and obscure left-hander Raul Valdes. Out of loyalty, I see Joe Girardi going with Hughes for one of the spots. The final spot? Given that the Tigers have a lineup that is deeper from the right side, I see the Yankees going with Noesi, whom the Tigers have never seen face-to-face. So mystery will win out over the strategy of lefty-on-lefty matchups.

On Thursday, the Yankees did announce two important decisions for the postseason. I like one, but not the other. Simply put, Posada is a bad choice to DH against flamethrowing Justin Verlander in Game One; he just doesn’t have the bat speed to catch up with fastballs in the high 90s. Montero, with his OPS of .996, would have been the better choice, riskier, but better.

In terms of the No. 3 starter, Freddy Garcia is absolutely the correct choice. Selecting Burnett, based on one good start last weekend against the Red Sox, would have been a horrendous selection. Similarly, the enigmatic Hughes has been too inconsistent from game to game, with his velocity readings continuing to fluctuate so violently. Of all the possibilities, Garcia has been the most consistent starter, the one who is most likely to give the Yankees six innings of two-run ball. He also has a terrific record in the playoffs and World Series. Across seven different postseason series, Garcia has posted an ERA of 3.11, with 45 strikeouts and 22 walks in 55 innings. “The Chief” will not be rattled by the pressure of a short series, or by the enemy crowd at Comerica Park…

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Since my wife Sue is a Red Sox fan, I do have some sympathy for what their fans are enduring in the wake of the team blowing a nine-game lead in the span of four weeks. The collapse of this year’s Sox has me thinking about the events of 1978, when the Red Sox allowed a 14-game lead to fritter away over the span of ten weeks. By comparison, the collapse of the ‘78 Red Sox seems milder. After all, they did win 15 games in September and October, and managed to put together an eight-game win streak at the end to force a one-game tiebreaker against the Yankees. In contrast, the 2011 Red Sox won only seven games in September, lost 20, and generally played dreadful baseball, especially from the mound and on the basepaths.

One of the reasons that the ‘78 Red Sox lost was due to questionable managing by skipper Don Zimmer, who was not yet a gleam in Joe Torre’s eye. Zimmer buried Bill Lee in his doghouse, refusing to use him as a starter while youngsters like Bobby Sprowl and Jim Wright struggled. Zimmer also continued to play Butch Hobson at third base even though he had several bone chips in his elbow that prevented him from making even routine throws to first. Hobson ended up with a whopping 43 errors that summer. Hobson, as hard-nosed a player as I’ve ever seen, did not ask out of the lineup until late September. Zimmer should have taken the decision out of his hands much earlier, made Hobson the DH, and put backup Jack Brohamer at third base. By waiting so long, Zimmer may have cost the Red Sox a game or two in the standings.

Four years later, the Yankees acquired Hobson in a trade with the Angels for righty reliever Bill Castro. I remember being excited about the trade, remembering how tough and tenacious Hobson had been for the rival Red Sox.

Unfortunately, Hobson had nothing left in the tank. He was only 30, but his body was much older. Years of drug abuse, running into walls, and playing through bone chips and bad shoulders had taken their toll. In 60 plate appearances, Hobson put up an OPS of .390, which is so low it doesn’t seem possible.

I wish Hobson had done better with the Yankees. He certainly deserved better in 1978, when his manager should have done him a favor, but didn’t.

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


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