"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: May 2023

Yankee Privilege

Just a few weeks ago the team was in disarray, and some of the less optimistic members of the fan base were giving up on the season (in May!) and predicting an October without Yankees baseball. The rotation was in a shambles, the bullpen was running on fumes, the reigning MVP was on the injured list along with several other important cogs, and Aaron Boone was being booed at the big ballpark in the Bronx. The mighty Yankees were in last place in the American League East. The End Times had arrived.

But over the past two weeks the Yankees have won 11 of 14 games and climbed out of the cellar and into third place. You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”

First of all, Aaron Judge is good, and it’s good to have him back in the lineup. All he did upon his return was earn A.L. Player of the Week honors by slashing .500/.621/1.273 with five home runs, eleven RBIs, and a stolen base thrown in just for fun.

The home runs, though. A couple of them were the types that mere mortals might hit, standard shots that landed in the first few rows of the bleachers, but two in Toronto traveled over 450 feet each. The first broke Toronto hearts as conspiracy theorists were certain he had peeked into the dugout to get information about the pitch as it was being delivered, while the second broke an actual Toronto Maple Leaf, a plastic display beyond the bleachers in straight away center field, a problem park designers never could have foreseen.

We also got more evidence of something we’ve seen for quite a while from our new Captain. He’s never said anything remotely controversial in any postgame interview, but he’s secretly a low-key shit talker. We first saw this back in 2021 when Judge homered in Houston and clutched his jersey tightly as he rounded third. He was clearly referencing José Altuve’s similar (and controversial) gesture following his series-ending home run the previous October; after the game Judge “diffused” that talk by explaining he was just a bit chilly since the Astros always had the air conditioning on full blast. Sure.

After all the buzz about the dugout peek before that home run in Toronto, Judge took lots of abuse and cheating accusations from the fans in the bleachers as he stood at his post in right field. When he went deep again the next night, he pointed out towards those same fans while rounding first base and heading towards second; after the game he explained that he was actually pointing at the Yankee bullpen to acknowledge their hard work. Right.

Later in the dugout the cameras caught him celebrating with his teammates, and now he covered his eyes with his hands. No peeking.

Is he petty? Yes. Do I love it? Hell, yes.

Harrison Bader is also back, and he’s brought both his bat and glove. The added length to the lineup makes a huge difference — his big home run on Sunday turned the game for the Yankees — but anything he does with a bat in his hand is gravy. Last year we all convinced ourselves that Aaron Judge was a great center fielder, but this year we’ve seen that Bader is elite. Your eyes will tell you that, but the numbers back that up. Five days ago Katie Sharp tweeted that when balls are hit to him with a 75% catch probability or lower, Bader has caught seven of the nine, the highest success rate of any outfielder in baseball.

With Judge in right and Bader in center, the Yankees have Gold Glove caliber fielders in those two spots, which leaves… left field.

When the Yankees signed Aaron Hicks to a seven-year, $70 million deal prior to the 2019 season, it looked like a brilliant move. He was a high level centerfielder with an excellent arm and he had just hit a career-high 27 home runs with an OPS of .833. I don’t need to tell you this, but it was all downhill from there. Instead of providing solid defense in left and a switch hitting bat with pop towards the back end of the lineup, Hicks became an overpaid albatross and the target of merciless booing at the Stadium — and even on the road.

Hicks was finally released a few days ago, a disappointing end to a Yankee career that once held so much promise. I always rooted for him — both because he’s from my hometown, Long Beach, California, and because it’s always good to have someone who looks like me wearing the Yankee pinstripes. It was the right move, but I’m still a little sad about it.

There are other things swirling about. All members of the starting rotation not named Gerrit Cole remain an enigma. Nestor Cortés has been inconsistent, the legend of Carlos Rodón has yet to materialize, and Clarke Schmidt is Clarke Schmidt. Domingo Germán has shown brilliance on a few occasions, but that only makes him more maddening; he’s currently serving a ten-game suspension for pitching with an illegal substance on his hand. He had been checked and warned before, and Schmidt was checked and warned during Germán’s suspension, so it seems like the blame lies as much with the organization as it does with the players.

But just as the lineup has benefited from the reinsertion of Judge and Bader, the rotation suddenly looks a lot more viable with the addition of Luís Severino, who was virtually unhittable in his season debut against the Reds on Sunday.

As much as we like to wring our hands and worry that this team can’t possibly play with the Rays or the Dodgers or the Astros or whichever team is the scariest, the cupboard is far from bare. The surge of the last two weeks has allowed everyone to breathe, and with Cole on the mound tonight to start an important series with the Baltimore Orioles (and when was the last time the Yankees and O’s played an important series?), things are looking up for the first time in weeks, maybe for the first time all season.

So if you were born in the shadow of the old Stadium, if a parent or grandparent brainwashed you in your youth, if you were drawn by Mantle or Munson or Mattingly or Jeter, or if you fell in love when you convinced your parents to take you to a game during a family vacation to New York City, take a minute to be grateful that you hitched yourself to this team way back when. Have there been frustrations and heartbreak and incomprehensible trades? Sure, just like any other team. But through it all, we’ve been the luckiest fans in the world.

The Darling Buds of May

If Shakespeare was right, and rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, perhaps this current Yankee slide, like all things, is temporary. We all saw what happened yesterday. Just as we were foolishly putting a win in the bank and thinking about winning a series against the best team in baseball, everything collapsed in the worst possible way. A 1-0 loss would’ve been bad enough, but to watch Gerrit Cole cough up a six-run lead and then watch the Rays celebrate a walk-win a few innings later… Well, it was a bit too much to take. Cole hasn’t just been the best pitcher in baseball, until Sunday afternoon he had been the one truly consistent player on the Yankees roster. The one sure thing.

But then suddenly he wasn’t.

This happens in baseball. Aaron Boone summed it up well after the game, I thought. He acknowledged that it was a tough loss, but he also pointed out something we tend to forget — this is baseball. There will be crushing losses like this one, just as there will be improbable comebacks. We just tend to remember the former rather than the latter. The Rays, no doubt, are telling themselves that they deserved yesterday’s win because they refused to give up, and while that may be true, I can’t imagine they’ll remember this game come September. This is baseball.

So if we can convince ourselves to move past the improbability of this game — even the improbability of this current string of injuries — maybe we can begin to see some positive signs. The most obvious one is Harrison Bader, who has suddenly become one of the most productive players on the team. Tuesday should bring the return of Aaron Judge, maybe, and not long after that we could see Josh Donaldson. (I’m not a fan, but he would add consistent play at third along with a bat that pitchers would at least have to pay attention to.) There’s hope.

My Magic 8 Ball has nothing encouraging to say about Giancarlo Stanton (“Ask again later”) or Carlos Rodon (“Outlook not so good”), but Luís Severino is about to start a rehab stint, which is something, I guess.

But if you really want some good news, there’s this. The Oakland A’s are in town, and they just might end up being the worst team we’ve seen in years. Sometimes the schedule smiles.

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