"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Not-So-Evil Empire


Because I’m a teacher by trade, I can’t just sit idly by and allow my children to spend their summer galavanting in the cul-de-sac or staring mindlessly at a television screen for ten weeks. Sure, that was good enough for me, but like all parents everywhere, I want better for my children. Summer is a time for cultural enrichment, so this vacation we’re exploring one of the greatest stories ever told, the Star Wars saga.

We’ve watched three of the movies so far. I started them with Star Wars and Empire, but jumped back to Episode I and we’ll watch Episodes II and III next, saving Return of the Jedi for last. (My youngest daughter, Kate, wasn’t happy about this; she really can’t wait to find out what happens to Han Solo, who’s currently frozen in carbonite, but my son Henry loved the idea of meeting Darth Vader as a little boy and can’t wait to see him next as a teenager.)

I want my children to know the story of Luke and Obi-Wan and Vader not just because I grew up believing in Wookies and trying to turn my lights on and off by using the Force, but because few stories are so ingrained in American culture. When Red Sox president Larry Lucchino invoked Star Wars lore in response to New York’s signing of José Contreras in 2002, famously referring to the Yankees as the Evil Empire, it warmed my heart. Sure, there are lots of heroes on the Yankees — Derek Jeter as the obvious Skywalker figure, Don Zimmer as Yoda, perhaps even Joe Torre as Obi-Wan — but the Yankees are better when they’re villains.

Or perhaps, more accurately, they’re more villainous when they’re better. These Yankees? They’re more like Jar Jar Binks than Darth Vader, and never is that more apparent than when they’re matched against the Red Sox. Late Saturday afternoon, as Masahiro Tanaka (this season’s version of Boba Fett) was cruising through a dominant performance against the Sox, I felt victory was certain and imagined that I might be writing about a sweep on Sunday night.

It didn’t work out that way. The Red Sox scraped out a run in the second inning off of Yankee starter Chase Whitley when Mike Napoli, who makes like Babe Ruth when facing New York, led off with a double and scored two batters later on a Stephen Drew single. An inning later things got a bit uglier when David Ortíz (Jabba the Hutt) launched his 450th career home run (a three-run shot) almost 450 feet (actually, just 424) into the second level of the bleachers in right field.

Overcoming a four-nothing lead for these 2014 Yankees seems almost as daunting as successfully navigating an asteroid field. (The odds, as we all know, are 3,720 to 1.) But Jeter never wants to hear the odds, does he? He came up with two outs in the bottom of the third and Ichiro just ninety feet from home. He battled Boston starter John Lackey (remember the bartender from the Cantina on Tatooine?) for eleven pitches, finally rifling a single between first and second to plate the Yankees’ first run.

In the fourth inning Mark Teixeira hooked a solo homer around the right field foul pole, and two batters later Carlos Beltrán socked a no-doubter into the stands in right, and suddenly the Yankees were down by just one at 4-3.

And then came the fifth inning. Whitley walked Jackie Bradley, Jr., on four pitches, so Joe Girardi lifted him in favor of Shawn Kelley, who walked Brock Holt on four pitches. Kelley finally managed to throw a couple strikes to Daniel Nava, but he walked him anyway to load the bases with none out. Just when it was looking like the Rebel Base was in range, everything was about to explode.

Dustin Pedroia, the cutest little Ewok you’ve ever seen, singled to right to drive in two for a 6-3 Boston lead. After David Huff came in and got Ortíz to pop up to shallow left, it looked for a moment like he might be able to minimize the damage. With runners on first and third and a full count, Pedroia took off for second  — but Huff had him picked off. But for the second time in a week, the Yankees botched the run down. They managed to get Pedroia (1-3-4), but they let Nava score in the process, and the Sox had a four-run lead at 7-3. Naturally, the next pitch was a ball, and Napoli walked, the fourth Boston batter to do so in the inning.

The top of the fifth ended without further incident, and the Yanks gamely fought back in the bottom half. Ichiro led off with a triple, then came home on a double by Brett Gardner, who eventually scored on a Jacoby Ellsbury ground ball. It was 7-5, but the Yankees would get no closer.

Boston plated another run in the top of the sixth. Huff started by walking rookie Mookie “The Wookie” Betts (if it seems like there were a lot of walks, you’re right; Yankee pitchers issued eight free passes) and then consecutive singles to Bradley and Holt to load the bases with none out. Girardi then came to the mound, and any lip reader could tell you that when he handed the ball to the new pitcher, he said, “Help me Dellin Betances, you’re our only hope.”

(A quick side note about ESPN’s coverage. Their field microphones are everywhere and bring fans closer to the game than ever before. On the one hand, I loved hearing Teixeira greeting Betts after his first career base hit: “Congratulations, rookie. Have a great career.” But when the bullpen phone rang during Holt’s at bat, the viewing audience clearly heard bullpen coach Roman Rodriguez tell Betances, “You got the next guy.” It seemed like too much information. Betances’s entry into the game wouldn’t have been a surprise even without this tip, but it still felt like ESPN had crossed the line.)

Girardi needed Betances to strike out the side if they had any shot at getting back into the game, and he quickly dispatched Nava on three pitches. But Pedroia followed that with a short sacrifice fly to right, and the Sox had that extra run and an 8-5 lead — and that was that.

It would be easy to give up on these Yankees. The free agents not named Masahiro have been vast disappointments, and they’re the only American League team over .500 with a negative run differential (and it’s very negative, -32; the Mariners, just for the sake of comparison, are +50).

But let’s not give up on them. Instead, let’s think about CC Sabathia, who should emerge from his carbonite encasement sometime after the All-Star break. No, he probably won’t ever be the old Sabathia, but he has to be better than the new Vidal Nuño. Beltrán and Brian McCann can’t hit .220 and .221 during the second half, can they? They certainly can’t get worse.

Through it all, the Yankees are still essentially in first place, tied with the Blue Jays and Orioles with 39 losses. There’s hope for this team. May the Force be with them.

[Photo Credit: Kathy Willens/AP Photo]

Categories:  1: Featured  Game Recap  Hank Waddles  Yankees

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1 Boatzilla   ~  Jun 30, 2014 7:12 am

Fun report on a foul game, Hank. Thanks.

I have not been successful in getting my daughter fully into Star Wars, yet. Of course, I have to compete with Miyazaki and the Studio Ghibli catalog.

It's also embarrassing, because I start blubbering during key moments. Especially at the end of the first film when they get their medals (Why doesn't Chewy get one?). And it's difficult to explain that I am not crying about movie, but what it means to my life.

I finally got her to watch It's A Wonderful Life with me this Christmas. At every key moment (that she didn't know was key yet), on come the waterworks.

Unfortunately, even though we are seeing the last of Jeter and Ichiro in pinstripes, these Yankees are not worth the salt in my tears.

2 coleman42   ~  Jun 30, 2014 7:14 am

Great writeup, Teach! I will forever link Dusty with a balding Ewok.

3 monkeypants   ~  Jun 30, 2014 7:18 am

When Red Sox president Larry Lucchino invoked Star Wars lore in response to New York’s signing of José Contreras in 2002

Doesn't the term "evil empire" come from a speech by Reagan referring to the then USSR?

4 Chyll Will   ~  Jun 30, 2014 8:24 am

[3] Maybe, but the Red Sox and all the media have completely run with the Star Wars allusion ever since.

Funny this has come up here since I was just having a conversation with a close friend over the weekend regarding Star Wars; I want to know which version of the original trilogy are you showing your kids, Hank. Is it the original version where Han sneak-shoots Greedo under the table, or is it the remastered version where both Greedo and Han shoot at each other? Just my belief that in remastering that scene, they subtly changed his motives and therefore his personality.

5 Hank Waddles   ~  Jun 30, 2014 10:42 am

[1] That's the funny thing about becoming a parent, isn't it? It's funny you mention "It's a Wonderful Life." I've never been a huge fan of that film, though I've certainly seen it dozens of times. Even so, last Christmas I had a strange urge to share it with my children. We didn't get around to it, but next year for sure.

[4] I showed the original version of Star Wars specifically because of that scene, but we went with the updated version of The Empire Strikes Back. The problem with watching the original release is that it appears postage-stamp-sized on the television screen. Surprisingly, the kids didn't complain about that, but it bothered me a bit. We'll probably watch the updated version of Jedi because the changes aren't as dramatic.

6 Jon DeRosa   ~  Jun 30, 2014 10:48 am

Hank - I love the part about the Yanks being more villainous when they're good.

And there's another part here - you don't spend a shitload of credits to hire a bunch of bountyhunters to find the Milenium Falcon and NOT hire Boba Fett because, 10 years from now, he'll be a little less good at his job.

7 Chyll Will   ~  Jun 30, 2014 11:48 am

[5] If you ever have a couple of hours to yourself, you should check out Red Letter Media's disturbed (NSFW), yet superb video analysis of the prequels and how they relate to the original series. Unless, of course, nothing Lucas did there actually bothers you...

8 Bronx Boy in NC   ~  Jun 30, 2014 12:46 pm

Love it, Hank! Two suggestions:

- I am as down on the prequels as anyone, and remain so. But my daughters dragged me into the "Clone Wars" animated series (six seasons available on Netflix). They take place between prequels II and III -- and do an amazing job of redeeming that whole universe. Actual characters. Actual storylines. Take it from a skeptic - the series is worth checking out.

- Every Star Wars parent should hear this:

9 monkeypants   ~  Jun 30, 2014 1:00 pm

[4] Maybe, but the Red Sox and all the media have completely run with the Star Wars allusion ever since.

Well, I do get something of a kick out of the historical and cultural illiteracy of our allegedly educated class, especially the media...the people who appoint themselves with, you, informing people. And leave it to the baby boomers to conflate the Cold War with Star Wars. A generation of perpetual children.

10 Chyll Will   ~  Jun 30, 2014 1:29 pm

[8] I second this endorsement of animated Clone Wars!

11 Jon DeRosa   ~  Jun 30, 2014 2:24 pm

[9] Star Wars came out in 1977 and Return of the Jedi, possibly the most anticipated film in the history of movies, came out in May 1983.

Reagan delivered his "Evil Empire" phraseology for the first time in March 1983. A few weeks later, he proposed the SDI, which quickly acquired the "Star Wars" label.

Is it really a laughable mistake of a "generation of perpetual children" to think the speechwriters were influenced, on some level, by the Star Wars terminology when crafting that particular segment?

12 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Jun 30, 2014 4:33 pm

[7] So funny you should mention those, Will, I *just* binge-watched them last week.

They're great.

13 Hank Waddles   ~  Jul 3, 2014 10:57 pm

[8] Bronx Boy, I'm not sure if I should thank you or curse you; we watched Episode II the other night, so this morning we decided to sample some Clone Wars. We watched the first episode and loved it, so now we've got roughly 120 to go.

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