"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: August 2022

Area 51

Aug 29, 2022; Anaheim, California, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) grounds out in the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

When my son and I were walking around Angels Stadium about an hour before the first pitch on Monday evening, we got to the open area out behind centerfield, and I pointed towards the water structure that separates the left field seats from the right.

“Judge is gonna hit one into those rocks tonight, I’m sure of it.”

It would be a rocky game for the Yankees as the offense continued to struggle, but when Aaron Judge came up in the eighth inning and crushed a ball into those rocks, the seven previous innings didn’t matter much anymore. It was August 30th and Judge had just hit his 50th home run, and by the time he got to second base the Yankees fans in the crowd had started chanting “M!V!P! M!V!P!,” not bothered at all that winners of four of the last eight MVP trophies were looking on from the other side.

I’d been watching the schedule for a month hoping that we might get to see Judge hit a round number, so for a moment as we stood and cheered, the 4-3 deficit didn’t matter that much, and I wasn’t even upset as we walked out of the park a bit later, the score still the same. We had seen history, and we had shared the moment with tens of thousands of other Yankee fans. I hope Judge gets 60 and 61 and 62 in the Bronx, but I’m glad he hit number 50 out here. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

Dog Days

The Dog Days are here, but they’ve been here so long that it’s hard to know what we’re seeing. The optimistic among us see a summer swoon compounded by untimely injuries and some bad luck, but the pessimists will say the goose is cooked. The first ninety games were a mirage, and this collapse is proof that Brian Cashman isn’t committed to winning, that Aaron Boone is incompetent, and that the entire franchise is a shell of its former self.

Like most issues like this, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. The past has been romanticized to the point that yesterday’s embarrassments (George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin) have become the models that could save this season. “George wouldn’t stand for this, Billy would flip over the postgame spread.”


Or maybe things will work out on their own.

At least things will look a bit different tonight, with Oswaldo Cabrera starting at third and Estevan Florial in center. The prospects are coming to the rescue. Perhaps.

This team doesn’t need to panic, it just needs to win a game or two. That’s all. The winning streak starts tonight.

Vin Scully, 1927-2022

I was nine years old when we moved to California in the summer of 1979. I had fallen in love with the Yankees two summers earlier on a trip to New York, so now I found myself three thousand miles and three time zones away from my favorite team. Cable sports networks and the internet hadn’t yet been imagined even in the wildest science fiction, so if I needed to know the Yankee score before the morning paper arrived the next day — and I always did — my only option was to listen to the Dodger game on the radio as I lay in bed.

In the beginning Vin Scully was simply a means to an end. If he didn’t share the out-of-town scores during the final innings, I’d try to stay awake for the postgame show.

Whether doing radio or television, Scully was that rare announcer who worked alone, providing the analysis to his own play by play, so instead of talking to a partner in the booth, he spoke to all of us. He spoke to me. (I’m sure this happened at other ballparks also, but Scully’s one-on-one connection with his listeners was so powerful and ubiquitous that Dodger fans were notorious for bringing their transistor radios to the stadium so they could still hear Vinnie call the game as it unfolded in front of them. Sometimes this would cause feedback during the broadcast, so it wasn’t uncommon to hear Mr. Scully politely ask the patrons below to turn down the volume.)

Like any announcer anywhere, Scully’s repertoire included a handful of phrases that would come up from time to time. If the Dodgers began mounting a rally after trailing throughout, he’d explain that this was the first time the Dodgers were “getting a look at the game.”

As I lay listening in the dark, Scully gave me a look at the game in a wider sense. Even as a boy I knew a fair amount about baseball, and Vin Scully was my guide as I travelled deeper into the game’s history. The wonderfully slow pace of the games allowed him to weave narratives throughout the course of inning, skillfully telling stories one pitch at a time. Davey Lopes would take a throw at second and fire to Steve Garvey to complete a double play, and suddenly I’d hear a story about how Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski would routinely catch a throw from his shortstop by pinning the ball against his closed glove with his bare hand to make for a faster exchange. Reggie Smith’s helmet would come off while rounding third, and it would remind Scully of how Willie Mays would wear his cap a couple sizes large so that it would come off every time he raced around the bases, a bit of gamesmanship that gave the crowd an extra few minutes to cheer and further rattle the opposing pitcher.

These were the bedtime stories I needed, told in the soothing voice of Southern California’s grandfather pulling memories from a lifetime of announcing baseball games. He called some of baseball’s most iconic moments — Henry Aaron’s 715th home run, Don Larsen’s perfect game, any number of World Series clinchers — and even made his presence felt in other sports. His was the voice describing Joe Montana’s pass to Dwight Clark to beat the Cowboys and send the 49ers to their first Super Bowl.

But I’d argue that his Hall of Fame career was built with smaller moments. Describing the ballet of a 6-4-3 double play, narrating a youngster’s efforts to finish a melting ice cream cone in the stands, opening each game by telling his audience, “It’s time for Dodgers baseball!”

Or teaching a nine-year-old boy all about the game.

To Sleep – Perchance to Dream

The days and weeks leading up to the major league trading deadline first and foremost offer opportunities for a franchise to transform itself, but it asks fans to declare something as well.

The Yankees made some smaller moves, picking up a starter, two relievers, and a couple outfielders while also moving Jordan Montgomery in a late surprise, but the big move came courtesy of the San Diego Padres.

There are always a few shiny objects dangling in July, and Juan Soto was the shiniest. When the youngest superstar in the sport is on the trading block, all of the usual big market teams are immediately linked, and there was certainly speculation that Soto could end up playing right field in the Bronx, giving the Yankees the most lethal left-right combination imaginable.

But it was a smaller market team that swooped in with a genius stroke to get a player whose combination of power and plate discipline has been favorably compared to the legendary skills of Ted Williams. Adding Soto to a lineup that already includes Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis, Jr., gives the Friars three of the best young players in baseball at least through 2023, and that’s where the brilliance of this plan truly lies.

Tatis is in the first year of a 14-year $340M contract, but it’s heavily backloaded, so he’ll be making a relatively modest $20M in 2025, the year that Juan Soto will be an unrestricted free agent. It doesn’t seem remotely possible that any franchise, and certainly not the San Diego Padres, could keep all three of those elite players. Those three alone would cost more than a hundred million dollars a season, but Machado has an opt out after 2023.

So what the Padres have done is assure that they’ll have these three players together for this pennant race and all of next season. With Soto in the fold, a Machado opt out will now actually benefit both parties. Machado will certainly be able get more than the $150M that will remain on his contract, and the Padres will shed that obligation just a year before they have to give a long term deal to Soto. If for some reason they prefer Machado, they can sign him and let Soto walk. It’s a win-win for San Diego, and they just might win a World Series along the way.

There are certainly Yankee fans who are furious right now that Soto isn’t headed to the Bronx, no matter which prospects might have gone in the other direction. And while it’s tempting to imagine what Soto might have done with the short porch in right, I’m okay with Brian Cashman’s decision.

Unlike any other sport, baseball is built on dreams. Every organization has a prospect who might become the next Ted Williams, and it’s easy to be enchanted by that hope. It’s why people don’t stop at a roulette table to bet on red or black but to wink knowingly at the croupier and drop a chip or two on 23. We dream big.

Soto would’ve been a big win, but I’m happy putting my chips on Jasson Dominguez. Thirty years ago the Yankees drafted a kid from Kalamazoo, and I dutifully followed his career through the minor leagues, hoping that he might become something special. A few years after that, Yankee scouts convinced me that another young prospect could be the next Mickey Mantle. The first you know; he was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame last summer. The second you might not. His name was Rubén Rivera, and he hit .216 over the course of a nine-year career with five different teams.

There’s no telling what might happen with Dominguez, but the odds are certainly against him matching what Soto has already accomplished. Even so, I’m glad he’s still with us. I’m glad I can still follow his minor league numbers and imagine what he might become in New York.

I choose to dream.


Ah, the trade deadline.

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver