"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: July 2023

Like a Blister in the Sun

In August of 1990 I left my house for the 39-mile trip to Anaheim Stadium to see a very bad Yankee team take on the Angels, but I never made it. I was driving an orange late 70s model Ford Pinto, and numerous things went wrong. First, I ran out of gas soon after getting off the freeway near the park, but after walking a few miles to and back from a gas station I discovered a deeper problem, the details of which have faded, but on that evening demanded a trip to a service station and some hard-earned cash out of my pocket. While I was walking the hard streets of Anaheim and haggling with a mechanic, the Angels’ Luís Polonia was hitting an inside the park grand slam, if you can believe it. The Yankees would lose 9-5, the fifth of six consecutive games they’d drop on a road trip that was as abysmal as my wanderings that night, and they’d end the season 67-95, buried in last place.

What I’m telling you is that things have been worse.

So even though I was disappointed as I watched the Yankees lose two of three to Colorado and confused by their first two losses in this series, I knew there was no way my son and I could skip the series altogether.

The late afternoon start was a double-edged sword. Ticket demand was low, so I was able to get two seats in the fifth row, midway between first base and the foul pole, without having to sell a kidney; but I knew we’d be baking in the ninety-degree sun for most of the game. It was a tradeoff I was willing to make.

When I took a tour of Fenway Park last spring I bought an MLB Ballpark Passport, a binder with pages for each major league ballpark so you can validate your visits to stadiums around the country by stamping the appropriate page with postage-style cancellation stamps available in every park. It’s fun. What I didn’t know when I bought it was how much I’d enjoy each exchange with the person armed with the stamp. In the Fenway gift shop, the sales woman at the counter was too nervous to do it, so she called over a co-worker; at Dodger Stadium the woman at Guest Relations positively lit up and said, “Oh, I love when people bring these in!” And then we talked for a minute about the parks I’ve been to and which ones I’m hoping to visit next.

In Anaheim last night, it was even better. The gentleman behind the counter was happy to apply the stamp and sign his name next to it, but then he noticed the scorebook I had with me, eyeing it as if it were a relic from the past.

“Hey, look at that! Where’d you get that? Can I take a look at it?”

It was actually a gift from a reader of this site several years ago, and I take it with me to every game, showing my age more than anything else. Why would any normal person spend time tracking information that’s readily available in real time on any smart device? I suppose for the same reason that I wear a tie to work, do crossword puzzles, and call friends on their birthdays.

“Hey, John. Come out and take a look at this! Look what this guy’s got…”

John emerged from a back office and immediately stepped into his role.

“Wow. Where’d you find that? My daughter plays softball, but everybody’s gone digital now. They’re using iPads.”

I half expected someone from Antiques Roadshow to come out and give me an appraisal.

Once we got to our seats, armed with a pretzel and a couple sodas, first pitch was still thirty minutes away and there were a handful of players out on the field. Nearest to us was Giancarlo Stanton, languidly stretching in the sun, then jogging a few gentle strides into the outfield before returning to the foul line to begin it all again. Dozens of fans stood in a crush along the rail, desperately calling for his attention, but Stanton didn’t seem to hear them. This was every single day for him, a superstar getting ready for work.

But then after a few minutes he turned towards the rail and slowly, slowly, slowly walked towards them. The mass of humanity before him surged and roiled, and dozens more fans flooded down from the seats above, each with a ball or a card or a hat or a jersey to be signed. They stood on the plastic seats to get better angles for their photos or to extend their reach into Stanton’s orbit. Two members of stadium security trundled down the steps and one dutifully told everyone not to stand on the seats; when no one heeded he only shrugged his shoulders and watched. Stanton stood in the eye of the storm, neither relishing the attention nor resenting it. We were ten or fifteen feet away, and I’m not sure if he ever spoke, ever smiled, or ever interacted with anyone beyond the exchange of the object to be signed. It didn’t matter, though. A small boy in a Yankees t-shirt emerged from the pile and bounced towards his father, clutching an autographed ball and a story he’ll tell for the rest of his life.

The Angels grabbed a 2-0 lead after Carlos Rodón walked Shohei Ohtani (two days late) and then coughed up a home run to Tyler Ward. There was another walk and a bomb (Luís Rengifo) in the second inning to make it 4-0, and then two more runs from a rally in the third and the Yankees were down 6-0. In the space of thirty minutes, all hope was gone.

As always when the Yankees are playing in this stadium, there were Yankees fans everywhere, especially along the right field line where supporters of the Bronx Bombers traditionally sit after raiding the secondary market to be closer to their heroes. It’s normally the most raucous area of the park, but on this afternoon it was subdued, and not just because of the oppressive heat. Everywhere I looked there were Yankees fans shaking their heads. There was muttering to my left and right. Out on the field it was the same. When a Yankee would strike out to end an inning — there were a preposterous sixteen strikeouts — he’d trudge slowly towards his position, shoulders sagging, head shaking in disbelief. A teammate would arrive with his cap and glove and there might be a pat of encouragement, or there might be more head shaking. They were a somber bunch out on the field, and so were we.

I didn’t notice it during the game, but as Carlos Rodón walked off the field after one of those disastrous innings, he responded to some heckling by blowing a kiss towards some dissatisfied Yankee fans sitting behind the dugout. This might’ve been the worst thing that happened, simply because Rodón has no idea what could be in store for him if he brings that nonsense to the Bronx. After Tommy Kahnle gave up a run in a messy eighth inning, he returned to the dugout and destroyed an electric fan.

No matter how frustrated you are with this team, I guarantee that the players are even more frustrated. On Wednesday afternoon, the weight of it all was showing.

But as I say, it’s fun going out to the park. When Franchy Cordero went deep to lead off the eighth and then the Yankees loaded the bases later in the inning, putting them one swing away from tying the game, the stadium suddenly woke up and it seemed louder than it had been when the Angels were scoring.

It isn’t like Friday night in the Bronx against the Red Sox, but there’s something special about being in a visiting stadium surrounded by so many cheering Yankee fans. It brought me back to a similarly warm afternoon in July of 1994 when Don Mattingly came off the bench in the ninth inning with the Yankees trailing 4-2 and promptly blasted a ball into the seats, sending all of us into a frenzy, or even just last season when we were in the stands to watch Aaron Judge hit his 50th home run.

All of us were poised for something similar, and the “Let’s-Go-Yan-kees” chants were echoing across the stadium, but when Oswaldo Cabrera struck out to strand all three runners, all the air came out of the balloon.

If you’re wondering why things look so bleak for this team, it’s really quite simple. The Yankee hitters struck out sixteen times on Wednesday afternoon and evening, and the Yankee pitchers yielded eleven walks. If you were to feed only those two numbers into the Baseball Probability Machine, I’m sure it would return a win probability of five percent or so.

As we walked out of the park, my son asked how long the flight back to New York would be, and my answer was quick. “About five hours or so, but it’s gonna seem an awful lot longer for them.”

We were home in a blink, though, and even if I’d known ahead of time how it was all going to shake out, I still wouldn’t have missed it.

Summertime Blues

Youse guys stink. Or some variation is prolly what you’re thinking of our boys these days. And who could blame you?

What we’re seeing right now is depressing, ain’t it?

The Assistant

What follows is the transcript of a press conference convened in the early hours of Monday, July 10, in the Yankee Stadium press room. The press had gathered to hear from Hal Steinbrenner, chairman and managing general partner of Yankee Global Enterprises; Brian Cashman, general manager of the New York Yankees; Aaron Boone, field manager of the New York Yankees; Aaron Judge, team captain of the New York Yankees; Derek Jeter, Hall of Fame shortstop and Captain Emeritus of the New York Yankees; Jason Zillo, vice president of Communications and Media Relations for the New York Yankees; and Hank Waddles, writer for the New York Yankees blog, Bronx Banter.

Zillo: Ladies and gentlemen of the press, thank you so much for being here on what should be a rare off day for all of you. With that in mind, I’m going to hand things over immediately to Mr. Steinbrenner.

Steinbrenner: Thank you so much, Jason. I think everyone here knows that success and failure here is measured by only one metric. My wife and I were vacationing recently at a villa in Northern Italy, and I just couldn’t take any more of these reports I was getting from the states. The losses. The struggling offense. I knew that my father wouldn’t have been able to stomach it. You know, people don’t think I hear the criticism, but I do. I know that people think I’m not my father, that I don’t want to win the way he did, but let me tell you… So I got Cash on the phone, and I told him enough was enough.

Cashman: I can confirm all of that. Mr. Steinbrenner — this Mr. Steinbrenner — wants to win just as badly as his father did. Even more so, I think sometimes. So we’re making some changes at the organizational level. It’s unusual for any team, especially for this organization, to make sweeping changes in the middle of the season, but here’s why…

[Cashman takes a large championship ring off of his finger and forcefully bangs it on the table in front of him before continuing.]

Cashman: This is ring #27, from 2009. I look at this ring every night before I go to sleep, and I can’t believe it’s been fourteen years since our organization won this ring. Four. [click] Teen. [click] Years. [click]. And it’s not good enough. So I decided to look in the mirror, and I realized that I have to take some responsibility. Maybe I have to step back.

Jack Curry: Are you resigning?

Steinbrenner: Brian is not resigning, and he hasn’t been fired. We’re just reimagining things. I think I’ve come up with a way to help the office run more smoothly. We’ll have co-general managers going forward.

Brian Hoch: How can that possibly work? Who’s in charge? Is this new guy the assistant general manager, or the assistant to the general manager?

Steinbrenner: Again, these are co-general managers. Brian will be in charge of big picture decisions (budget, salaries, scouting) and his co-general manager — this morning we’re introducing Hank Waddles — will be in charge of the day-to-day stuff. Trades, roster decisions. He’ll also consult with Boone on lineup constructions and bullpen usage.

Curry: I’ve got two questions for Waddles. One, what makes you qualified for this position? Two, when can we expect to see some changes?

Waddles: Thanks for that question, Jack. First of all, I’m more than qualified. I’ve been watching Yankees baseball for more than forty years now. My entire life has been preparation for this moment. But really, this isn’t rocket science, which brings me to your second question. I’ve got some changes to announce right now.

First, we made a few transactions just a few minutes ago. Josh Donaldson has been designated for assignment. I don’t think I should have to explain that move to anyone here, but I will because it highlights a major change in this organization. If you look at the back of his baseball card, you’ll see that Donaldson was once a great player, but that’s no longer the case. I actually had a conversation with Boone about this. He keeps saying that Donaldson has had just one bad month, but it’s been more than bad. It’s been historically awful. In 99 at bats, he has ten home runs, five singles, and 31 strikeouts — balanced against just eleven walks. And this idea that this is just one bad month? In 132 games last year he was actually worse with an OPS of .682. This organization can’t have a player like that taking up roster space, so his locker is empty right now. I wish him well.

Next, we’re sending Billy McKinney and Franchy Cordero back to Scranton. We’re considering trade options for them, but you won’t see them in pinstripes again. They both filled in when they were needed, but I just don’t believe that they have anything else to offer. We’ve seen their ceilings. And just so you know where we’re headed, there are a couple other players you won’t be seeing in the Bronx any time soon — Willie Calhoun and Jake Bauers.

We’ve also called up Oswald Peraza from Scranton, which might not be that much of a surprise. Also, releasing Donaldson opens up a spot on the 40-man, and we’re filling that with Estevan Florial. He’ll be joining the team in Colorado and starting in left field. He’ll continue in that spot at least through the end of July.

Hoch: Can you explain your rationale for those moves?

Waddles: You know the rationale for those moves. First of all, we can’t continue to play D.J. LeMahieu every night and just keep telling each other that he’s better than what he’s shown. Well you know what he’s shown? He’s shown us exactly who he is, and there’s no sense putting him in the lineup every night just because of who we’re wishing he could be. Peraza has been playing third down at Scranton, and now he’s gonna play third for us up here. Just like Florial, he’ll have a thirty-game stretch to show us what he can do. We believe he’s gonna be great.

And Florial? That’s the easiest of all these decisions. This is a kid with a .985 OPS. I mean, NINE-EIGHTY-FIVE! What is he even doing in Scranton when we can’t score any runs in the Bronx? What else does this kid have to prove?

Cashman: To be honest, I had completely forgotten he was even in the organization until Hank reminded me this morning.

Steinbrenner: It really is the perfect example of big-picture-little-picture.

Waddles: He probably still strikes out a bit too much, but here we are at the all-star break and he’s got 21 home runs and 18 steals. There aren’t too many players in baseball with that type of a power-speed package, and since we’ve got a glaring hole in left field, this move is obvious. The organization placed bets on all these guys multiple times over the years when they decided against signing any of those marquee free agents, decided against including them in deadline deals that could’ve helped us in the short term. You can only hold your cards for so long. I believe it’s time to lay our cards on the table and see what happens. It’s been working well so far with Anthony Volpe, and we believe — I believe — it’ll work with this group as well.

Curry: What do these moves mean for Isaiah Kiner-Falefa? And is this a rebuild?

Waddles: This might surprise you, but I’m a big IKF fan. We’re lucky to have him. Booney and I have been talking, and I think he’ll still be in the lineup somewhere at least four or five nights a week. But this is definitely not a rebuild. We’re here to win games and win championships. Period. But what have we been doing so far in 2024? Who here feels like the old model was working?

Curry: A question for Aaron Boone. How do you feel about all this? It seems like you’ve lost some of your autonomy.

Boone: You know, that’s not how I see it. Hanky and I spent some time this morning…

Waddles: Never call me that.

Boone: Sorry about that, it’s just a tendency. Hank and I spoke this morning for a while when we met, and here’s what strikes me about him. I really like his compete. You know, he’s gonna get after it. I’m not worried about this at all — our working relationship or this team in general. I mean, I’m excited! Right? We’re in a position to get everything we want. It’s all right there in front of us, and with our rotation coming together — for the first time really — gosh, I’m just excited! And Hank’s got some great ideas.

Waddles: And here’s another one. Giancarlo Stanton is our right fielder. End of discussion. We’ll get him off his feet a couple times a week and give him a DH night, but he’s our right fielder. So through the rest of this month and into August, here’s the lineup you’ll see:

C Higashioka/Treviño
1B Rizzo
2B Torres
3B Peraza
SS Volpe
LF Florial
CF Bader
RF Stanton
DH LeMahieu

But we’ll roll IKF through second, third, and the outfield spots to give guys time at DH. I’d imagine IKF will start more games than D.J. Doesn’t that sound about right, Aaron?

Boone: Yes, that’s what we talked about. Again, I really like the looks of this lineup.

Waddles: Oh, and another thing — the Martian will be landing on September 1st, guaranteed, and he’ll be playing. It seems like the Yankees have been the only team in baseball that’s afraid to bring up young prospects, but that stops now. I mean, the only reason he isn’t coming up right now is that we’ve got Florial and Peraza ready to contribute. But you can mark your calendars right now — Jasson Dominguez will be in the starting lineup on September 1st. To help move him along, we’re moving him up to Scranton today.

Hoch: And what about when Judge returns? How will he impact all this?

Judge: Maybe I should answer that. What everyone knows but is afraid to say out loud is this — I don’t know if I’m gonna be back out on the field this season. No one knows. This team can’t afford to wait for me, they’ve got to get out there every night and compete, and this line up gives us the best shot at that. If I can get back sometime in August or September, I’ll just fit in wherever and whenever Hank and Aaron — hey, did you hear that? Hank… Aaron? Anyway, I’ll be happy to jump in wherever they feel like I can help the team.

Curry: I’m wondering something else. Derek, why are you here this morning? What’s your role in all this?

Jeter: No reason, really. No role. They mentioned that I was always Hank’s favorite player, so I thought it would be cool to stop by and say hello.

Waddles: Yes. It’s been very cool. Now let’s get to work.

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