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Bronx Banter Interview: Jack Curry

Jack Curry

Jack Curry is known to Yankee fans as one of the faces of the YES Network’s Yankees reporting team, but he wasn’t always a “TV guy.” Prior to joining YES in 2010, Jack enjoyed a decorated career as a sportswriter, most notably at the New York Times. He forged his path without having to go to smaller markets and work his way back east, a rarity for those who work in media, particularly in New York. His full bio can be found here. You can follow him on Twitter @JackCurryYES.

Jack was a staple on the Yankees beat when I covered the Yankees from 2002 through 2006 for yesnetwork.com. At that point of his career, he was one of the Times’s National Baseball Reporters and I was a punk trying to figure out how to become a better reporter and writer, assignment editor, and do all of it without getting in anyone’s way. I recall that Jack was a pillar of professionalism; someone not only I, but also every other writer respected and liked. He’s the same person on camera as he is off camera.

Over a series of conversations and e-mails, Jack and I discussed a number of topics, ranging from what inspired his career choice to the move from print to TV and Internet, and more.

Bronx Banter: At what point did you “know” that you wanted to become a sportswriter? Was there a “eureka” moment while you were at Fordham?

Jack Curry: When I was in the seventh grade, I started a newspaper at my elementary school. It was only two or four pages. But I remember the jolt I felt when everyone at the school was commenting on my articles. It was the first time I had a byline and I loved how that felt. Writers like to know what people think of their writing so I grew to love the idea of being a sportswriter. I hung on to the dream of being a major league player through high school, but that faded. I played high school baseball, but I was a much better writer. I went to one baseball practice at Fordham under coach Paul Blair. It lasted four and a half hours and I missed dinner that night. Even if I had made the team, I would’ve been a backup. So that one practice told me it was time to stop playing baseball and start covering baseball (and other sports). I funneled all of my energy into journalism and broadcasting after that.

BB: Who were the writers that you admired growing up, and how did they influence your reporting / storytelling style?

JC: I grew up in Jersey City, NJ, and the Jersey Journal was the first newspaper I remember reading. They syndicated Jim Murray’s column so it always had a prominent spot in the sports section. But, since I didn’t know anything about syndication as a kid, I just thought Jim Murray was some guy from Jersey City who had the greatest job in the world. He covered all of the biggest sporting events and, man, he could write. I wanted that job. When I finally realize who Jim Murray really was, it didn’t change my thoughts. I still wanted that job. I got the chance to meet Jim Murray at a college football game, which was an absolute thrill. My regret is I didn’t tell him my “connection” to him. I’m guessing he would’ve thought it was pretty cool.

BB: How did you get from the Jersey Journal to the New York Times?

JC: I worked for the Jersey Journal for three summers while I was in college. I’m going to bet that I covered more Little League baseball in those summers than anyone in the state of New Jersey. But I loved it. I loved going to the games and watching which kids cared and which kids were coached well and which kids were so much better or, unfortunately, so much worse than the other players on the field. Trying to get decent quotes out of 11- and 12-year-olds can be more challenging than trying to get decent quotes out of some major leaguers.

Jack Curry

After I graduated from Fordham, I worked at the Star Ledger of Newark for about a year. I covered high school sports there, but I wanted to do more than that. I applied for a position in the New York Times’s Writing Program. Basically, the Times hired you to be a clerk for 35 hours a week and then you could use your days off or your hours off to pitch story ideas and to volunteer to cover events, etc. When I was hired as a “writing clerk,” I wrote a lot of stories that appeared without bylines. The Times had some arcane rules about not giving the clerks a byline, which I always thought was nonsensical. When you were hired as a writing clerk, you were told that there was no guarantee you’d ever be a reporter at the Times.

Anyway, once I got my foot in the door, I was on a mission to do anything and everything to stay there. I wanted to do enough so that they had to keep me. I needed to prove to them that I could be a sports reporter there. It took about three years, but I was finally hired as a reporter.

BB: So many sportswriters jump from sport to sport now. I can think of a number of current beat writers from several of the area papers who have shuttled back and forth. What drew you specifically to covering baseball and keeping yourself on that beat?

JC: I covered college basketball and football and the New Jersey Nets at the Times before I started covering baseball in 1990. I wanted to cover baseball. To me, there was no other sport to cover. I was fortunate that the Times recognized that and trusted me with covering a baseball beat. I took over the Yankees beat at the All-Star break of 1991 and have essentially only covered baseball since then. I like basketball and I’ll watch some football, but I would have never been as happy covering those sports as I was in covering baseball.

BB: When I started at YES and began setting the editorial direction of the website, we were trying to do something completely different in our coverage of the Yankees. Our goal wasn’t to compete with the papers, but to be considered legitimate. How did you view YESNetwork.com’s presence on-site in those first few years?

JC: In the early years, I viewed YESNetwork.com’s presence as another entity that was immersed in covering the Yankees. When I first started as a beat writer, you were concerned about the other beat writers and what they were doing. But, with each year, more and more outlets began to cover the team and you had to pay attention to them, too, and see what they were producing.

BB: What struck you about the way YESNetwork.com covered the team, and the games? How, if at all, has that changed since you became a YES Network employee and contributor to the dot.com?

I think YESNetwork.com has tried to be different than the traditional newspaper sports website, as it should be. The Yankees are the brand and there’s obviously an attempt provide as much Yankee content as possible. I think there’s more interaction with the fans, which is another positive. What I’ve tried to do is use the 20-plus years of experience that I have covering this team to offer analysis on players and trends, develop feature stories and, obviously, push to break news.

BB: Describe the events that led YES to call you and offer you the YES job, and what drew you to make the jump to TV on a full-time basis.

JC: After 22 years at the Times, I decided to take the buyout and pursue other opportunities. The timing was good for me. I felt confident about making a career switch in my 40s. I’m not sure if a person can do that in his 50s. I had always had a good relationship with John Filippelli of YES because I had been a guest on “Yankees Hot Stove” since 2005.

Jack Curry, Ken Singleton, John Flaherty

Before I even took the buyout, YES was the place where I hoped I would land. Shortly after my departure from the Times became official, I heard from YES. There was mutual interest and I was excited about the chance to transition from print to broadcast. My colleagues at YES, people like Flip, Michael Kay, Bob Lorenz, Ken Singleton, Jared Boshnack, Bill Boland, Mike Cooney, John Flaherty and so many others, all welcomed me and helped make that transition a smooth one for me. I work with a lot of very cool and very talented people.

It’s rewarding to work for and with people you admire and respect and people that you consider your friends.

BB: Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark were among the first two prominent baseball writers who became “multimedia” guys. Later, your former colleague Buster Olney, Ken Rosenthal and Tom Verducci followed. Did it just make sense for you to do the same?

JC: You forgot to mention Michael Kay. Michael had worked for the Post and the News and did clubhouse reporting for MSG. Obviously, he also was a radio announcer before moving to YES. He was the one person who implored me to give TV a try. I will admit that I was resistant. I liked being a baseball writer. There were times where I thought I would end my career as a newspaperman. But I’m very happy to have made the switch. I love what I’m doing at YES. They have given me terrific opportunities in the studio with Bob Lorenz, who is as selfless as any co-worker I’ve ever had. Flip has also trusted me with chances to do work in the booth during games, which have been great experiences.

BB: In the last 10 years — heck, the last five even — so much has changed in how sports are covered on a daily basis. Responsibilities include blogging and tweeting, in some cases web-exclusive video reporting. The beat writer/columnist’s audience is broader than ever. Has that caused you to change your journalistic approach?

JC: My journalistic approach hasn’t changed. I’m trying to find insightful and interesting stories and tell them as adeptly as I can. I’m trying to dig up timely and pertinent information and deliver it as quickly and as accurately as I can. That’s the way I did the job at the Times. That’s the way I do the job at YES. But I am moving faster in telling those stories and chasing that information. Because of Twitter and blogging, we’re all doing that. When I was a beat writer in the early 1990′s, my world revolved around deadlines: 7 PM, 11 PM, 1 AM, etc. I’m on TV now, but, when I write for the website or I tweet, it’s usually about getting it done as quickly as I can, not about getting it done by 7 PM.

BB: Speaking of journalism, you broke the story of Andy Pettitte returning to the Yankees. What was the internal reaction to your scoop?

JC: My bosses at YES were elated that we broke the Pettitte story. I first tweeted about it and wrote a news story that was up on our website five minutes later. About 25 minutes after that, we led our spring training broadcast with the news about Pettitte’s return. Since that story came out of left field, they were thrilled that we led the way.

Jack Curry's Andy Pettitte Tweet

BB: What was the reaction to the Twitter war that ensued due to ESPN claiming credit for the story?

JC: It doesn’t behoove me to revisit what happened on Twitter after the Pettitte story broke. From a journalistic perspective, that was a very good day for YES. That’s what’s most important.

BB: Is the rapport with former players you used to cover, like Paul O’Neill, John Flaherty, David Cone, and Al Leiter, any different now that you’re on TV, considered an “analyst” like them?

JC: What’s interesting about all of those guys is that I had a great relationship with all of them when they were players, so those relationships have simply carried over. I liked talking baseball with all of those guys when I was a writer. I like talking baseball with all of them now that we’re colleagues.

BB: Which part of your career was, or has been, the most challenging?

JC: The most challenging part of my career were the earliest days at the Times, but, to be honest, those were also some of the most enjoyable days. Like I said, when I first started there, I wasn’t guaranteed anything other than a future of answering phones. I had to show a lot of different editors that I could write and report.

At first, I was going to answer this by saying the most challenging time was being a new beat writer on the Yankees. But, by that point in my career, at least I had become a reporter at the Times. I knew I had made the staff. In the early days, I didn’t know if that would ever happen. I’m glad it did.

[Photo Credits: YESNetwork.com, New York Times, Twitter]

Outshined

In the classic Soundgarden tune “Outshined”, Chris Cornell writes:

I just looked in the mirror
And things aren’t lookin’ so good.
I’m looking California
And feelin’ Minnesota.

That brief stanza may be an apt way to describe Hiroki Kuroda’s start Wednesday night. He was both looking and feeling California in the home opener last Friday against the Los Angeles Angels. In the song, “feeling Minnesota” is a euphemism for feeling terrible. On the field, Kuroda wasn’t feeling Minnesota, Minnesota was feeling Kuroda. Four of the first five Twins to come to the plate in the first inning got hits and scored. By the time Kuroda had thrown 13 pitches, the Yankees were in a 4-0 hole.

Hiroki Kuroda's second Yankee Stadium start was much rougher than his first. (Photo Credit / Getty Images)

Kuroda’s downfall was Justin Morneau. His two-run home run in the first inning put the Twins up 4-0, he singled and scored in the third, and he belted another home run in the fifth — a solo shot — to end Kuroda’s night. (Not to question X’s and O’s, but Morneau’s fifth-inning home run came on a 2-0 count. Was anyone else thinking, “Hey, the bases are empty, walk him and take your chances with someone named Chris Parmelee?”).

The Yankees’ lineup, which was without Alex Rodriguez and Brett Gardner but had Mark Teixeira back, did their best to bail out Kuroda, responding with three runs of their own in the bottom of the first. Trailing 4-3, they loaded the bases with one out and a realistic chance to post a crooked number until Eric Chavez ended the threat by grounding into a double play.

Three different times the Yankees would get to within one run of the Twins, but not once could they tie the game. Three straight innings — the fifth, sixth and seventh — the Yankees put the leadoff man on base and mounted threats, but couldn’t score. After the first inning, the only runs they were able to manage came off solo home runs from Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter.

6-5 final, series finale with Phil Hughes on the mound Thursday. Are you confident?

ROOT FOR THESE GUYS

  • Alex Belth’s profile of Kuroda, posted here in February, made us want to root for him for reasons beyond his simply wearing the Yankee uniform. Wednesday was one of those nights sinkerballers tend to have. If the sinker doesn’t sink, it stinks.

    “He was just up all night,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He didn’t seem to have it from the get-go.”

    Despite the poor result, which raised Kuroda’s ERA to an even 5.00 and his WHIP to 1.61, Kuroda remains an integral component to the Yankees’ starting rotation, based on his skill set, veteran presence, and experience. We’ll have about 30 more chances to root for him.

  • Opposing Kuroda was native Long Islander Jason Marquis. Marquis, who grew up in Staten Island and still lives there, was making his American League and 2012 season debut. Marquis had pitched in New York before, but at Shea Stadium and Citi Field, but had never pitched a major league game in the Bronx.

    Marquis’ debut was delayed; this story has been well document. He left the Twins with two weeks to go in Spring Training to attend to his daughter, who lacerated her liver in a bicycle accident. Ken Rosenthal does a tremendous job of portraying the details of the story here. As a father of one little girl and another on the way, I applaud what Marquis did. There’s no decision to make.

    His daughter had four surgeries and is recovering well. According to reports, a full recovery is expected within three months. How fortunate Jason Marquis was to be home with his family, and STAY home when he joined his new team. As a bonus, his family got to be on the field with him yesterday (nice work by YES taking video and showing that B-roll during the bottom of the first inning).

    And he got the win.

  • Suspension Bridge

    A fundamental tenet of communication theory is that because the purpose of communication is to transmit information, it is irreversible. There are no “take-backs.” Apologies for verbal or written foul-ups are hollow. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. We live in an era right now where companies and universities are doing background checks on prospective employees and students by scouring Facebook profiles, Twitter feeds and other social media activity. A regular person has nowhere to hide. Public figures are under much greater scrutiny.

    Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen learned that the hard way.

    Not that he has ever hidden. He is no stranger to opening his mouth, inserting his foot, and still managing to demonstrate the capability to land in trouble. His latest misstep earned him a team-levied five-game suspension. The blogosphere and conservative baseball media population exploded. The first four words of Sean Gregory’s profile in Time Magazine are Guillen’s damning quote: “I love Fidel Castro.” He would go on to say he respected Castro’s survival skills, and that‘s what he loved about Castro. Communication is irreversible. No way to talk around that.

    Guillen manned up. He didn’t put out a statement. He was contrite, apologizing to the Marlins and to the Cuban-American community that has helped make Miami the multicultural center it has become.

    The aftermath and the analysis has been a series of contradictions. A combination of liberal versus conservative and wanting to have it both ways. The same people that in the past who have called Guillen “refreshing” for speaking unfiltered and disregarding the art of saying nothing, are now condemning him. Steven Goldman expresses his libertarian view at Bleacher Report:

    …Those who are standing on the sidelines sniping and calling for suspensions and termination need to consider their own motives. Moral outrage is cheap when the target has been so spectacularly, in Guillen’s words, “dumb.” This is shooting Marlins in a barrel. It’s much harder to stake a stand on an issue that is in the grey zone, when others might snipe back at you.

    He continued…

    Let us be clear: There is a difference between suggesting the Marlins needed to suspend Guillen to appease the Cuban-American community and another to argue that the quality of his remarks themselves deserved suspension. The former is what political bloggers call “concern trolling,” posing as a helpful pal of some third party that really doesn’t need your advice, thanks. The latter is, first, un-American, not in terms of the Bill of Rights—this is not a First Amendment matter given that your employer can censor you in the workplace all they want—but that any call that encourages punishment for speaking one’s mind, no matter how offensive, should be antithetical to our very being.

    Ken Rosenthal may have been one of those Goldman observed “standing on the sidelines sniping.” Monday, in his FOX Sports column, Rosenthal called for the Marlins to suspend Guillen. He wrote:

    Good people make mistakes, and Guillen just made the biggest of his career. Chances are the matter will blow over; everything seems to blow over in this society of limited attention spans. But the Marlins shouldn’t allow it to blow over. No, the Marlins should take a stand.

    Suspend Guillen.

    Not because a protest group wants him out.

    Because it’s the right thing to do.

    There is outrage in Miami. There is outrage among the Latino community, not just the Cuban-American population in Miami. The juxtaposition of Guillen’s comments with the opening of the Marlins’ new stadium in Little Havana has much to do with that. Dave Zirin notes this in his latest piece at Edge of Sports.

    Loria desperately needed a hot start for his team and some sugary sweet media coverage for his new ballpark. Then his new manager Ozzie Guillen decided to share his views about Cuba and Fidel Castro. … This issue is…now about whether the ire produced by Guillen’s words will be directed against Loria, his grab of public funds, and the entire Miami baseball operation. If that happens, this issue won’t die, but the Marlins might.

    Keith Olbermann, speaking as a guest on Dan Patrick’s radio show, said that sports provide a forum for us, the public, to address sensitive social issues. That “sports are well ahead of the rest of society on these issues.”

    The blog Platoon Advantage would beg to differ.

    …It’s certainly understandable why the Marlins felt like they needed to react.

    Though they didn’t feel the need to respond when team president David Samson called the people of Miami stupid. …There are dozens and dozens of equally or more foolish and offensive things done by Major League players, managers, coaches, front office types, and officials every year. And these offenses don’t get investigated by the Commissioner. These offenses don’t earn team-levied suspensions. These offenses don’t get noticed at all, despite the real damage they do to the communities where they happen. If we’re going to have such a low standard so as to punish Guillen for making a bad joke (make no mistake, there’s no way to honestly construe what Guillen said as a statement of support for Castro, his tactics, or his regime), where are the suspensions for everyone else who makes baseball look bad?

    What can we learn from all the coverage? We know Guillen’s comments were wrongheaded on many levels. We know those comments will be available forever. We know that there is heavy criticism, much of it founded, much of it personal. We know that all of it is irreversible. And yet again, we learn that no matter how hard the general sports fan wishes politics and sports to be separated, they are inextricably linked.

    [Photo Credit: Al Diaz and C.M. Guerrero/ Miami Herald]

    It’s Baseball Season?

    Three weeks ago, with the Knicks floundering amid the Giants’ Super Bowl victory, the anticipation of Yankees’ arrival in Tampa for the start of Spring Training would have been met with great anticipation and fervor. Jeremy Lin changed that. The Knicks are relevant. Madison Square Garden is buzzing. Baseball is on the back burner, save for those of us who follow the sport more closely than the winter sports.

    From a newsmaking perspective, it was a relatively quiet winter for the Yankees. They took care of the CC Sabathia contract early; Jorge Posada’s retirement marked the next phase of the end of the Core Four; the pursuit of CJ Wilson wasn’t as aggressive as the pursuit of Cliff Lee a year ago, so it wasn’t as much of a shock or a perceived loss when the Orange County Angels signed him. The Yankees did make the backpages — in baseball-related news, anyway — by trading Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for Michael Pineda. Shortly thereafter they signed Hiroki Kuroda. The respective deals left no doubt that Allan James Burnett’s time as a Yankee was limited.

    And so it was that the Yankees ended the Burnett Era on Friday by paying the Pittsburgh Pirates $20 million to take him off their hands in exchange for two minor leaguers. Burnett can now put the “Pie” in Pirate.

    The timing of the Burnett trade was similar to the one that sent Alfonso Soriano to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Alex Rodriguez eight years ago, although to be sure it is not nearly as significant a deal, and it won’t cause anywhere near the circus that A-Rod did. Jettisoning Burnett is more of a simple “addition by subtraction” move. There were many who viewed getting rid of Alfonso Soriano similarly (considering what he has become, and how that move indirectly pave the way for Robinson Cano’s emergence, maybe the folks with that view were correct).

    Monday’s signing of Raul Ibanez assures they have a left-handed hitting DH who can also play a little outfield to spell either Brett Gardner or Nick Swisher. It also marks a homecoming for Ibanez, a native New Yorker. Look for many of those stories over the next six weeks, particularly as the Yankees prepare to break camp.

    Other than the typical puff pieces — how does the pitching staff shape up, particularly now with three arms under the age of 30; how is the respective health of the aging left side of the infield; who is the 25th man, etc. — it figures to be a quiet Spring. That was until Mariano Rivera revealed that 2012 would be his final season.

    Even with the buzz Mo’s statement caused both locally and nationally, it won’t cause nearly the level of craziness that David Wells’ book, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield’s respective roles in the BALCO scandal, a certain trip to Japan, or the afterglow of a World Series championship did. And that’s fine by the Yankees. It leaves more time and room for Jeremy Lin and the Knicks to own the spotlight.

    Legacy Students

    Joe Paterno died Sunday at age 85. Life and career retrospectives abounded. Wins and losses were mentioned, as were bowl game triumphs, the iconic look he brought to the sidelines every Saturday. Most of all, his contributions to the “student athlete” and the culture he created outside the gridiron and the towering edifice that is Beaver Stadium were discussed.

    Not be ignored, though — and it wasn’t — was his role, his actions and his inaction regarding a certain former assistant coach and alleged pedophile. The Onion’s satirical headline spoke volumes: “Joe Paterno Dies In Hospital; Doctors Promise to Tell Their Superiors First Thing Tomorrow”.

    Legacies are meant to demonstrate an example to be set for successors. Sounds simple but legacies are complicated. Look at Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Pete Rose, Woody Hayes, Bear Bryant, Bobby Knight, Vince Lombardi, Wilt Chamberlain, Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Lawrence Taylor, or most recently, Bill Conlin. Look at any iconic athlete, coach, writer, celebrity or politician whose indiscretions  made them as infamous as their contributions to their chosen fields made them famous. Look at the names I just listed. If we were playing word association, you could probably think of the words racist, drunk, womanizer, gambler, bully, insane, drug addict or kid toucher as quickly as you could think of Hall of Famer, Hit King, 714 home runs, 6 titles or  14 majors. Bryant, winner of 5 NBA titles and still considered in many circles the best player in the sport, was acquitted of the rape charges nine years ago; yet when a philandering husband suddenly buys a lavish gift for his spouse as a means of apologizing, it’s called a “Kobe Special.”

    Observing how the media has treated those players and coaches over the years, has there been a reluctance to hold any of them accountable for their actions? In many cases, no. Thus, in reading and listening to the Joe Paterno tributes, I was curious how the media would address Paterno’s role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal in the context of his legacy.

    The common refrain was that while we can’t dismiss his management of the Jerry Sandusky situation, we shouldn’t let that cloud our view of the man. If you knew someone who had a reputation of always going above and beyond for others, yet suddenly did the bare minimum and expected that to be enough, what would you think?

    In The Nation, Dave Zirin wrote:

    …according to our conception of who this man was supposed to be, there was no authority above Joe Paterno. There was instead an expectation that this man of integrity would without hesitation do far more than just fulfill his minimum legal requirements. Is that fair? When it’s your statue on campus and when the buildings bear your name, most would say hell yes.

    Howard Bryant wrote one of many commentaries for ESPN.com on Paterno’s death. He brought forth a similar sentiment as Zirin:

    …Paterno had too much power with not nearly enough oversight. He was bigger than the school, and the school cowered to him. Paterno gave millions back to Penn State; and as his power grew and grew unchecked over four decades, the university lost the ability to control whether he was benevolent or a tyrant.

    It was not a power particularly special to Paterno, but to his industry. The entire culture of the coach deserves deconstruction and revision, for the same can be said in varying degrees of Bryant and Knight, Bowden and Calhoun, Krzyzewski and Boeheim.

    When it was time for Paterno to use the power that he had accrued — when he became aware that for years, children allegedly were being molested under the ceiling of the football monument he had built — he did not lead.

    Joe Posnanski is writing a book about Joe Paterno. He did not blog about JoePa’s death, but he filed a piece for SI. The last words of the column quote Paterno, who said that “hopes the victims find peace.” Posnanski precedes the quote by writing that Paterno wanted his life measured in totality rather than by “a hazy event involving an alleged child molester.”

    Perhaps the most vivid piece of writing about “the hazy event” and Paterno can be found in  this diary. Warning: it’s not for the sensitive. It is heart-wrenching, explicit, and likely represents the anger of many who have sat back and thought “WTF?” regarding Paterno, Sandusky and the events of the past two months.

    Jeff MacGregor also posted for ESPN.com, with a take that I’m sure will be used in the Sport Studies curriculum at universities across the country. I’ve written in this space about man, myth, and legend; I did so in my first story on this topic back in November. MacGregor is much better with metaphor:

    Joe Paterno was no more and no less than human, and no living man can contend with his own legend. No man can live in his own shadow.

    A bronze statue of Joe Paterno standing seven feet high and weighing 900 pounds was swung into place at Penn State on Nov. 2, 2001.

    Four months later to the day, March 2, 2002, Mike McQueary stood at Joe Paterno’s door. He had a terrible story to tell.

    There’s a poignant scene in “The Deer Hunter” near the intermission when Robert De Niro’s character, Michael  is carrying Steven (John Savage), a badly injured friend, over his shoulder to safety. It is one scene among many makes the film’s title so significant; Michael is carrying Steven the same way he’d carry a deer after shooting it. Steven had become the deer carcass. Similarly, is it not reasonable to believe, based on MacGregor’s closing paragraphs, that four months after his statue was erected at Penn State, that Paterno became the statue?

    Paterno told Posnanski he wanted the victims to have peace. The first step could have been taken right then and there. Maybe even sooner. That, for many, is the focal point of any discussion about the late Joe Paterno’s legacy. And in the cumulative analysis of the man, the coach, the academic, the philanthropist, benefactor and humanitarian, we cannot be afraid to hold him accountable for that.

    [Photo Credit: Dr Brady]

    The Virtual Reality of Joe Paterno

    Saturday, January 14, 2012, marked the publication of Joe Paterno’s first comments on the record since the Jerry Sandusky scandal exploded and led to the end of his career as he, and everyone else, knew it. Sally Jenkins’ piece reads like a prologue to an obituary, with the necessary exposition to put the past two months into some sort of context.

    Removing the descriptive language, though, reveals the quotes from both Paterno and his wife, Sue that shape Jenkins’ story. I pulled a few that I found particularly jarring:

    1) “You know, it wasn’t like it was something everybody in the building knew about. Nobody knew about it.”
    — Paterno, on his insistence that he was unaware of a 1998 police investigation into the report on the boy who has come to be known as “Victim 6”.

    Analysis: The same thing was said about Tiger Woods’ inner circle when questions of “how much did they know and when did they know it” came about regarding his serial philandering. Jo Becker’s report in the New York Times from November 10 of last year provides insight into this notion. Becker spoke to several investigators who doubted Paterno’s assertion of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, know-no-evil.

    An excerpt from Becker’s article:

    “You have to understand those statements in context — there is nothing that happens at State College that Joe Paterno doesn’t know, or that Graham Spanier doesn’t know,” one person involved in the investigation said. “Whether or not a criminal case went forward, there were ample grounds for an administrative inquiry into this matter. I have no evidence that was ever done. And if indeed that report was never passed up, it makes you wonder why not.”

    Joe Paterno was the most notable and powerful man at Penn State. According to the anonymous investigator, he was the most powerful man in State College. In 13 years since that investigation took place, Paterno’s assertion leaves us to interpret his involvement in one of two ways: either a) he knew what happened and was responsible for organizing a broad cover-up, or b) like Pete Rose has done every day since he was banned from baseball in 1989, Paterno crafted an alternate version of the events that he believes so passionately, it has become truth. This second supposition aligns with one definition of truth listed as “conformity with fact or reality.”

    2a) “He didn’t want to get specific. And to be frank with you I don’t know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it.”
    — Paterno, describing Mike McQueary’s call to him after witnessing Sandusky having sex with a boy in the showers of the Penn State Football facility in 2002.

    2b) “I had no clue. I thought doctors looked for child abuse in a hospital, in a bruise or something.”
    — Sue Paterno, when asked if she knew anything about Sandusky’s alleged child molestation.

    Analysis for 2a: Paterno’s recollection that McQueary didn’t want to be specific in his description of the actions is consistent with the original report of McQueary’s statement. Numerous reports since November, and the grand jury report, confirm that Paterno did, in fact, run it up the chain. But another quote from Paterno is particularly revealing:

    “I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”

    Again, we come back to Paterno’s power. He could have easily told the administration and the Board of Trustees about the McQueary call and the accusations and said, “Do what you have to do.” He also could have cleaned house. Expertise and knowledge of male rape had nothing to do with it. Neither did procedure. Many of Paterno’s players have called him a father figure and have said he taught them how to be leaders. Do true leaders back away from a challenge or shrink in the face of adversity? That’s what Paterno did. He did not practice what he’s preached.

    Analysis for 2b: Sue Paterno added that we will become a more aware society as a result of this. That’s a nice thought, except millions of people both inside and outside Happy Valley have been aware of child abuse for years. When similar salacious charges ravaged the Catholic Church several years ago — this was international news — awareness heightened to the nth degree. Sue Paterno’s statement does not reflect well on the cultural awareness and intellectual faculties of either her or her husband, despite their ability to recant the Classics or demonstrate their love of opera, as Jenkins noted.

    3) “Right now I’m trying to figure out what I’m gonna do, ’cause I don’t want to sit around on my backside all day. If I’m gonna do that I’ll be a newspaper reporter.”
    — Paterno on his current state of affairs.

    Analysis: Before saying, “If I’m gonna do that I’ll be a newspaper reporter,” Jenkins observed that Paterno grinned and smiled; an obvious attempt to try to rankle the veteran reporter. Paterno should know, though, that the enterprising work of reporters not sitting on their backsides and exposing his role in this mess are part of the reason he is out as Penn State’s head football coach and is no longer a tenured professor there. One reporter in particular, Sara Ganim, could very well win a Pulitzer for her work on this story. Paterno demonstrated in both nonverbal and verbal terms why he kept Happy Valley in such a hyper-controlled bubble. He hated reporters.

    None of Paterno’s comments should come as a shock. There is no new information. From this interview, it’s clear Paterno believes that we are naive enough to think his story is the truth. Should we believe he was naive enough to have never heard of male rape or child molestation? Paterno may believe we as the public, are that stupid. What if, based on everything that has come out since November, we believed the same of him?

    It Can’t Happen Here? Think Again

    And if I say to you tomorrow
    Take my hand child, come with me.
    To a castle I will take you
    But what’s to be they say will be.
    — Led Zeppelin, “What Is and What Should Never Be

    As the Penn State scandal continues to evolve, it is important to note that the grand jury investigation and report is available for reference. Will reading the grand jury report, or instructing people to do so, help make the Blogosphere and the Twitterverse more peaceful? Highly unlikely. I haven’t seen people this divided and angry over a sport-related story since the OJ Simpson trial.

    How do we put into context what allegedly happened at Penn State, according to the report? Some steps are to 1) to view the progress of the story to date; 2) how the media has covered the story; and 3) examine from an academic context how the iconic status of Paterno and the culture he created in Happy Valley shaped the way the university managed – or depending on your perspective, mismanaged – the situation.

    THE MYTH OF OBJECTIVITY

    Objectivity requires one to step outside the bubble of the first-person point of view, assess information, determine what is fact and fiction, relevant and irrelevant, and interpret that information accordingly to construct a narrative. In this context, facts are absolute. They are cut and dry and emotionless, much like the components of a mathematical equation. Facts help derive truth, which is a more abstract concept. This story tests every fiber of what journalism students are taught. It shatters the mythology that those who cover sport – not just college football, Penn State, or Joe Paterno – have contributed in drafting.

    There is an agenda supporting the way every article published in every periodical is framed, either on the writer’s part or by the organization employing said writers. On television, the number of programs parading talking heads deemed “experts” presenting their contrasting opinions in the interest of equal time passes for intelligent programming. This is not objective, nor is it journalism.

    Siphoning fact from fiction and placing that information into a legal context was the task assigned to the federal grand jury that investigated the actions of former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. The contents of the report are graphic, provocative, and a slew of other adjectives that cut to the core of our emotions. For those of us who are parents and entrust – or have entrusted – our children to a third party for care, it is impossible to view this story through a prism of objectivity. It conjures primitive, visceral reactions steeped in anger. But the grand jury report is only one piece to the investigative puzzle. The Patriot-News in Harrisburg has provided in-depth reporting. A timeline and the depth of knowledge of the situation among the key players is noted here.

    It is under these volatile circumstances that national media organizations have flooded central Pennsylvania, piggybacking the solid journalistic efforts of the Patriot-News and turning the area known as Happy Valley into the stuff of tabloid. Joe Posnanski, who is writing a book on Joe Paterno, wrestled with his emotions and the difficulty in being objective in a strong, well-written blog post. But to those of us on the outside analyzing Posnanski’s position, given that he moved to State College, gained unfettered access to Paterno, how can he reconcile doing this book now, or at least amending the angle? This series of events, for better or worse, is now the defining piece to Paterno’s career, possibly his life, and to encourage the people who supported him for years to stand up now is naïve. Perhaps we’ve learned, through the number of sponsors that are removing themselves from Saturday’s broadcast and the power struggles between Paterno and his superiors that have come to the fore, that JoePa didn’t have the level of support that he thought; that there were people who finally stopped buying what Paterno sold.

    Buzz Bissinger, who wrote his own reaction piece, tweeted: “Note to Posnanski: junk your book unless you re-report it get the Joedust out of your eyes. Your post was pathetic justification of JoePa.”

    CBS’s Gregg Doyel went one further in this tweet: “Heard Joe Posnanski is on campus defending Joe Pa. Calling him a scapegoat. Smart guy. Decent writer. Total moron.”

    People unconditionally – or in Posnanski’s case, conditionally – supporting Paterno, are not viewing his involvement and inaction with a sense of totality. Involving emotions in the evaluation process immediately kills objectivity. Posnanski, a veteran, respected award-winning journalist and writer, know this. He admitted as much. But he also has to realize that by continuing down this path, his own reputation is at stake.

    * * *

    Penn State alum Chris Korman wrote an impassioned blog Wednesday in the Baltimore Sun. In it, Korman describes his time as a student journalist at Penn State and examines the way the local and national media have covered the events while trying to reconcile his own feelings. Korman writes that while Sandusky is unquestionably the main player, the tipping point of the investigation and coverage occurred when the focus shifted to Paterno’s inolvement.

    “… the Sandusky story did not gain traction when it should have. The Patriot-News, in Harrisburg, first reported that he was the subject of a grand jury investigation for the indecent assault of a teenage boy on March 31. … Yet it does not appear that any of the major news outlets now swarming campus paid much attention. Sure, Paterno had not yet been tied to the scandal. But it should have at least sent a few reporters scurrying; Sandusky, after all, remained affiliated with Penn State.”

    In other words, Sandusky might be the principal player and newsmaker, but Paterno’s name value makes the story. Sandusky’s alleged actions lead to one visceral reaction; Paterno’s role in the chain of events spawns another.

    YES Network’s Kimberly Jones, also a Penn State alum, has been a fixture on Mike’d Up with Mike Francesa this week. Tuesday, she discussed her time covering Penn State Football, the lack of access afforded to reporters, the insular, protective culture Paterno created and fostered in University Park, and perhaps most damningly, that Sandusky was seldom seen without kids from his Second Mile organization around him. Thursday, she commented on the lack of leadership the University has shown.

    Thursday morning’s talk radio rotation featured a mixture of intelligent conversation and rancor. On WFAN, Craig Carton verbally flogged a female Penn State student who called in to give the vibe in State College, but also someone who pledged her support for Paterno, as did her parents. She mentioned she was a journalism student and wondered why reporters weren’t trailing Sandusky as he went on a shopping spree at Dick’s Sporting Goods. She said she believed Paterno didn’t do enough, but he shouldn’t be made the scapegoat, like she and many others believed the media were responsible for. It helps provide a context for the actions of Mike McQueary and his father, John (more on this later in the column).

    On ESPN Radio, Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic interviewed a number of former Penn State players, asking them common softball questions, while outside the context of the interviews highlighting the young boys listed as victims in this scandal and questioning the status of Mike McQueary for Saturday’s game against Nebraska.

    At present, the status of the coverage is now past Paterno, save for the question of whether or not the media were responsible for scapegoating the 84-year-old coach. JoePos told a class at Penn State he believed that to be the case. Dictionary.com defines a scapegoat as “a person or group made to bear the blame for others or to suffer in their place.” Paterno is not being made to bear blame for anyone other than himself. He is not being made to suffer for Jerry Sandusky. He is enduring the consequences of his own action and inaction.

    Reading the Korman article, maybe it’s time that happened. Korman points to the culture of ignorance that existed during his time on campus, and beyond. He specifically points to an ESPN report that compiled the following figures on criminal activity involving Penn State football players from 2002-2008: 46 players were charged with 163 counts.

    Stephen Mosher, Professor of Sport Studies at Ithaca College, examined Paterno through the veil of the coach’s 1989 appearance on a PBS roundtable program. Mosher writes:

    “What is terrifying is that Paterno claims that, in sports, ‘you give the responsibility to the authority of others.’ And that type of reasoning is what allowed Paterno and the others in the PSU ‘chain of command’ to convince himself that he had done enough when confronted with the unspeakable horror over thirteen years ago.

    No rational human being would entrust the welfare of the vulnerable to a six-year old. And that is exactly what occurs in the sport culture every single day…”

    People who have played team sports, covered team sports, interviewed coaches or former coaches for a living will say that accountability starts at the top. In this case, it’s the head coach. How does that make Paterno a scapegoat? Because he was the biggest name? Now people are posting signs asking for the media to go home; that with Paterno out, the story is over and there’s nothing more to report.

    But there is much more, and it is going to get much worse before it gets better. While Paterno was the most prominent domino to fall, there will be others. The next is likely McQueary. (UPDATE: A few hours after this column was posted, McQueary was placed on indefinite administrative leave, effective immediately.) A spotlight remains on the University Administration and the Board of Trustees, whose continued attempts at damage control – which are the topic of countless forums among PR professionals – have resulted in an epic fail.

    DON’T MIX MY SPORTS WITH ANYTHING ELSE

    Sport plays a role in culture and society, just as cultural and societal factors help forge behavior in sport. Actions in sport, both on the field and off, affect politics and business dealings. Sports are entertainment, a supposed escape. On a more humanistic note, we want to see purity in the athletic endeavor, and nothing more. In the past two weeks, we’ve had “Tebowing” and Penn State. In-your-face religion and the alleged pedophilic acts by a coach taking place on campus and what may prove to be a decade-long cover-up. The Penn State Affair is a sports story. Although the primary subject matter is not sport-related, the context of it and the key figures in the story are tied to football.

    Penn State University – the football program in particular – is a cash cow. To that end, it is the most important school in the Big Ten Conference. PSU, according to an online report, has the most valuable football team in the Big Ten, and the third-most valuable in the NCAA, based on gross revenue and pure profit. Going beyond football, Penn State hosts a high number of conference championship events and because of its production facilities and student involvement, is the largest provider of content to the Big Ten Network.

    Furthermore, deposed president Graham Spanier was Chairman of the Bowl Championship Series. Jay Bilas noted in an interview with Greenberg and Golic Wednesday morning that at a recent NCAA university presidents’ retreat, Spanier was touting “integrity, integrity” for the BCS Bilas then asked rhetorically, “How can he continue in his capacity?” Later in the evening, the Board of Trustees fired Spanier. In Thursday’s aftermath, NCAA President Mark Emmert issued a statement and used the word “integrity” to describe both Spanier and Paterno.

    The football program, as it does for many colleges across the country – not just major Division I colleges and universities – creates the campus identity. A note from the blogosphere illustrates this fact:

    “As I was driving to work this morning, I heard one of your own call in to The Herd and explain that he didn’t know how he was going to unapologetically put on the Blue and White and sing “Fight On, State” this Saturday.  He’s not the only one to express that sentiment.  Perhaps you’re feeling a little this way.

    This is what I want to say to you.  You are not Joe Paterno.  You are not Tim Curley.  You are not Gary Schultz.  You are not Graham Spanier, and you are sure as hell not Jerry Sandusky.  Their alleged sins are not your own.  They may be the most recognizable faces of your beloved program, but they are not Penn State.  They are not a 156 year old center of higher learning.  They are not a century of football tradition.  Their flaws cannot eclipse the innumerable scientific, artistic, and humanitarian contributions your university, and its 44,000 students and 570,000 living alumni have made and will continue to make to the world at large.”

    An Ohio State fan wrote the open letter in an effort to show empathy resulting from the recent scandals that rocked the Buckeyes football program and led to Jim Tressel’s disgraceful dismissal. Where the letter is incorrect, sociologically speaking, is that Paterno, Sandusky, Curley and Schultz, as well as the kids taking the field on Saturday, ARE Penn State because they are the most public representatives of the institution. The program is bigger than the university. The football players and coaches are the perpetual BMOC’s. Paterno held more influence than the school President. This is true at Penn State and any other school where football reigns supreme.

    SPORT DOESN’T BUILD CHARACTER

    Coaches of youth sports tell kids on their teams that the work ethic, ideals, etc., learned on the field help build character outside the lines. They are tantamount to life lessons. The truth is that nature and nurture build character, not participation in sport. Good parenting and development of a moral compass build character. Does the coach who sticks the worst kid on the team in right field so he won’t have a meaningful effect on the game have character? How did sport help this coach in that respect? What led him to believe that winning a Little League game at the cost of potentially killing the confidence of that right fielder was positive? Does the kid who took the most reps in practice or spent the most time in the batting cage exhibit positive character traits when, following a disheartening loss, he says, “It’s always the bottom of the lineup that screws us”? No. It works in the reverse: you bring the personality traits you inherit and then hone as you gain life experience into the field of play.

    In a guest spot with Greenberg and Golic, former Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, talked of Paterno as a father figure and a “maker of men.” This is a common refrain among football players and how they discuss their coaches, or how any mentee views a mentor. What, then, do we conclude about the character of Mike McQueary, who played football for Paterno and has been on the coaching staff for nearly 10 years? On March 1, 2002, according to the grand jury report, McQueary witnessed Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in the showers of the Lasch Football Building and rather than break it up and save the child, he turned away, called his father, who advised him to report the incident to Paterno.

    Sandusky worked for Joe Paterno for nearly 30 years. Did football build him into a pedophile? Tim Curley played for Paterno and rose up the ranks to become athletic director. Did sport help build his character such that the grand jury found his testimony “not credible”?

    THE MYTH OF JOEPA, BUSTED

    The fallout of the past several days has been thus: Paterno and Spanier are gone. Athletic Director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, senior vice president of business and finance of the university, resigned on Sunday.

    This is the trickle-down effect of what was Paterno’s “Grand Experiment.” The Korman article addressed this, specifically noting Paterno’s vision of character and the culture he sought to establish. This “Grand Experiment” helped construct the myth. We know now that the events cited in the grand jury report and continuing investigations have blown it up.

    This incident now defines Paterno’s career. It’s as if the previous 30+ years leading up to the first years the Sandusky transgressions allegedly took place are moot. The public power struggle that took place Wednesday between Paterno and the Board of Trustees had a “JoePa’s Last Stand” feel to it. The BOT didn’t afford him the luxury of determining when he would exit.

    Looking at the recent falls of prominent college football coaches like Bobby Bowden and Jim Tressel, negligence was their undoing. The same is true for Paterno, who despite saying he “wished he could have done more” did not act on the moral high ground that he espoused and supposedly taught his players. He only proved that he wasn’t worthy of being held to a higher standard; that he was a hypocrite.

    Dave Zirin, in his initial reaction piece published Monday, wrote: “It’s tragic that it’s come to this for a legend like Joe Paterno. But it’s even more tragic that protecting his legend mattered more than stopping a child rapist in their midst.”

    A community is in denial and exhibiting the five stages of grief in textbook fashion. Amid this scene in State College, Pennsylvania, there is a game against Nebraska to prepare for.

    But the games can’t mask the institutional failures anymore.

    [Photo Credit: Washington Post]

    Three More Years

    Brian Cashman

    Brian Cashman is signed through 2014.

    “Not a big fan of Cash any more, but I do have to give him credit for this year. The Yanks had a strong bench, great bullpen, above average starting pitching. Ironically, in the end, it was the Yanks’ hitting that led to the Yanks elimination.”
    — Comment from Banterer Dimelo

    The task of presenting an even-handed critique of the man we affectionately call “Cash Money” is surprisingly difficult. On one hand, there’s a record of success — six World Series appearances, four titles — only surpassed by George Weiss (no relation) and Ed Barrow. But there’s the counterargument that it’s easy to be successful when you work for a billion dollar enterprise and can show up, put pictures on a corkboard, affix a few stacks of bills to a sharp object and pick your target.

    That perception is not reality.

    Consider the pressure cooker. The expectation to win the World Series every year. That standard is set at the Steinbrenner level and trickles down to the fiber of each individual working in the organization. The work conditions, to put it diplomatically, are less than ideal. Forget the Steinbrenner factor for a second. Add Randy Levine, Lonn Trost, and the Tampa Brain Trust, and you have difficult politics to negotiate. This dynamic begat the most common criticism levied against Cashman: that he hasn’t built a team from scratch; that he wasn’t the one making the personnel decisions.

    There is evidence to support that theory. Cashman was the beneficiary of the work done by Stick Michael and Bob Watson. Draft picks like Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada had either blossomed or were maturing. Acquisitions like Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez were already in place. Yes, he inherited a great team. It was made an all-time team when the Yankees traded Brian Buchanan, Eric Milton, Cristian Guzman, Danny Mota and cash to the Minnesota Twins for Chuck Knoblauch. Scott Brosius was picked up off the scrap heap to solidify third base. Those two moves alone proved to be a resounding introduction for the GM lauded as a Boy Wonder long before Theo Epstein.

    But looking at Jason Giambi, Randy Johnson, Raul Mondesi, David Wells Part 2, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright. Do those moves have Cashman’s stamp?

    The tension led to Cashman having a Howard Beale moment at the end of the 2005 season. He considered leaving. Eventually, the gentlemen on the rung above Cashman decided to give him more autonomy, and he signed the extension that carried him through the 2008 season.

    That winter, he signed CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher to boost a team that had missed the playoffs for the first time since the 1994 strike. The 2009 World Championship team was all Cashman. Critics say he bought the title. But many youngsters on that team — Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang pre-injury, Joba Chamberlain, and Phil Hughes — were able to have an impact because Cashman refused to trade them when presented the opportunities in previous years. Either Wang, or Cano, or both, were on the block for Randy Johnson and Johan Santana. Hughes was dangled as a chip as well. That season was the fruit of Cashman’s efforts to build the farm system.

    In recent years, the Yankees have had depth. Instead of Tony Womack or Clay Bellinger, there was Jerry Hairston Jr., and Eric Chavez. Instead of John Vander Wal, there was a homegrown Brett Gardner, and Andruw Jones.

    Perhaps the greatest difference in Cashman in the last six years of his tenure is his demeanor. There is a confidence that Cashman openly displays. He speaks to the media more directly and is more of a mouthpiece than he used to be. In some cases, the hard demeanor has backfired. The PR gaffes regarding the management of Bernie Williams’ exit, his silence during the Joe Torre negotiations following the 2007 playoff exit, the Joba Rules and everything that has occurred on that front, the Derek Jeter negotiations taking place in the media, and the Jorge Posada drama this past season all reflect negatively on Cashman. He whiffed on Cliff Lee not long after Lee whiffed the Yankees as a Texas Ranger.

    And there are still moments when stories surface that Cashman’s authority has been overridden: The most glaring examples are 2007, when Hank Steinbrenner negotiated directly with Alex Rodriguez when A-Rod opted out of his contract; and last winter when Cashman said publicly he did not want to sign Rafael Soriano, and then lo and behold, Soriano was a Yankee and the heir apparent to Rivera, begrudgingly pitching the eighth inning a season after leading the AL in saves.

    The three-year extension made official on Tuesday is the second since that “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” manifesto. If you believe Wally Matthews, the Yankees are meandering. They have no direction. A few recent moves would indicate otherwise: Sabathia is re-signed; Swisher’s option was picked up; Andrew Brackman has gone the way of the parrot in the Monty Python skit. Rafael Soriano’s option, according to reports, is likely to be exercised. Looks like the first priority is shoring up what you have before filling in the gaps.

    Priorities are being set. Now that Cashman is settling back in, he can begin establishing the direction, which he has said is pitching. Twenty-nine other teams are doing the exact same thing.

    We have seen Brian Cashman grow from Boy Wonder to steely-eyed fortysomething. The winter following Cashman’s last extension featured the biggest spending spree ever. What he spends — or doesn’t spend — could define the remainder of his career in New York.

    Only Barrow, who lasted 24 seasons, had a longer tenure than Cashman. When faced with the question, “Who else could do this job?” Weighing all the factors, given what he’s endured, and how well he understands the central nervous system of the New York Yankees, it may be that Brian Cashman is the best person for the job. He is, at least, for three more years.

    Let’s Play Two … On Sunday

    Weather situations like this would invariably lead Mike Bonner, the Yankees’ game production guru, to roll out his interminable loop of rain-related songs that included “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” to “Riders on the Storm,” “Have You Ever Seen The Rain,” Who’ll Stop The Rain,” “Fool in the Rain” and any other rock/pop tune that had a hint of precipitation in the title.

    As of 6 p.m., despite the radar showing “a big green blob out there coming this way,” as Joe Girardi told reporters at the start of his pregame media session, the Yankees and Red Sox had still planned on trying to play Friday night’s game. At 7:05, the game was officially postponed. Friday’s game will be played as the second game of a doubleheader on Sunday. The game will start at 6:30.

    Kudos to the umpires for making the decision early and not delaying until after the West Coast games begin. The Yankees have already been through this twice this season — once with the Red Sox and once with the Orioles, where they had home games start after 10:30.

    Freddy Garcia, the scheduled starter, will get the ball tomorrow afternoon in what could be his last audition for a Division Series start.

    Should be a fun couple of days, if they can get the games in.

    Magic Number Shmagic Number

    Freddy Garcia

    Freddy Garcia suffered his first loss since July 15th. (Photo Credit / Darren Calabrese - Canadian Press)

    Author’s Note / Excuse: Apologies for the delayed post. If you need further proof that the NFL, not Major League Baseball, is the National Pastime, try getting online between 1 and 4 p.m. on a Sunday to access photos from a baseball game to include in a recap. The requisite sites were performing at speeds not seen since 1997.

    Threads in this space, elsewhere in the Blogosphere, the Twitterverse, Facebook — basically anywhere you search for Yankees information — have featured criticism of Joe Girardi for managing passively over the past week and a half. That judgment was typically reserved for his bullpen maneuvering, specifically in the one-run losses in Baltimore, Anaheim and Seattle, and then again in the series opener at Rogers Centre Friday night. Not as prevalent in those threads was that the “A” lineup, while physically present on the field, was doing little to help the winning cause.

    Then on Sunday, with the Yankees’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot at five, the starting lineup looked more like one you’d see in mid-March than mid-September. Girardi has stated publicly that he’s been looking for places to give the regulars some rest. The counter, “Win the games, win the division, secure the playoff spot and then rest people.” And so it was that the only regulars in the starting lineup were Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher, A-Rod and J Martin.

    The result was a feeble, fundamentally unsound 3-0 defeat that left the Yankees 4-6 on this season-long 10-game, four-city road trip. Brandon Morrow dominated the Yankees, striking out seven and walking only one. The Yankees had five hits, only two of which left the infield. Like in the early going Saturday, they ran themselves out of potential scoring opportunities. In the first inning, with Eduardo Nuñez Nuñez on second and Robinson Canó on first, Canó was thrown out on the tail end of a double steal. Later, in the top of the sixth, Nuñez, who Michael Kay and John Flaherty lauded on the YES telecast during his first at-bat, once again incited fans’ ire by inexplicably trying to turn a single into a double. Nuñez hit a clean single to rightfield. Nuñez tried to catch Jose Bautista napping, but it didn’t work. Bautista fired behind the runner to first base, where Edwin Encarnación fired to second to catch Nuñez by a mile. Inning over, potential rally over. Nuñez’s one-out double in the ninth inning marked the only other time in the game the Yankees had a runner in scoring position.

    Meanwhile, Freddy Garcia surrendered three runs on five hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings, and he made a throwing error that contributed to one of the three runs. In short, Garcia did little to pitch himself into consideration for either five-man rotation over the final two weeks of the regular season, or the playoff rotation.

    Other things we learned …

    * The Ghost of Raul Valdes, who pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, may have shown that he could be the Yankees’ LOOGY over the next two weeks and into the postseason.

    * The Yankees’ bullpen, in the last two games, pitched 9 1/3 innings of shutout ball. The group allowed just two hits and walked four — three by Scott Proctor — in that span.

    * The Rays are white-hot. They beat up the Red Sox again and are surging toward a September comeback to rival the 2007 Colorado Rockies. The Yankees have a six-game edge over the Rays in the loss column, which may seem cushy with only 10 games left, but this week’s series at Yankee Stadium cannot be taken lightly. Depending on Monday’s result against the Minnesota Twins, sweeping the Rays would clinch that coveted playoff spot for the Yankees, leaving next weekend’s series against the Red Sox open for clinching the division.

    This week features the games the regulars get paid the big money to play. Let’s see how the manager and the team respond.

    Magic kit

     

    Flying J, the Score Truck, and a Live Arm

    For the past two years, in mid-August the Minnesota Twins have been competitive enough to defuse the inevitable Brett Favre melodrama. Favre is out — supposedly — Donovan McNabb is in, and Republican presidential hopefuls who win straw polls in neighboring Iowa and confuse celebrity birthdays and deathdays are providing the melodrama. The Twins, they entered tonight’s game 15 games under .500, 11 games behind the division-leading Detroit Tigers, almost irrelevant in the AL Central.

    But for the Yankees, the Minnesota Twins are relevant. They’re on the list of “teams we should beat whenever, wherever” en route to the postseason. Thursday night, with C.C. Sabathia on the mound, mission accomplished. Friday night, with Phil Hughes going, the team performance was even more impressive.

    First let’s take the offense. The first time through the batting order, Derek Jeter, Robinson Canó, Nick Swisher and J Martin were the only Yankees to swing at the first pitch against Kevin Slowey, who was making his first start of the season for the Twins (his previous six appearances had been in relief). None of the four first-pitch swingers put the ball in play. Martin was the only one to keep his in fair territory, however. He crushed a hanging curveball into the leftfield seats not unlike someone named Trevor Plouffe did in the first inning for the Twins.

    Russell Martin

    Russell Martin had three hits, scored twice and drove in three runs. (Photo Credit / Getty Images)

    Martin’s solo home run tied the game and allowed the offense to collectively exhale and get into the rhythm. They scored a run in the fourth and in the fifth, which Martin led off with a single, the top of the order wore out Slowey. With Gardner on first base (he reached on a fielder’s choice), Jeter squibbed a single up the middle on an 0-2 pitch. The at-bat may have been the turning point in the game. It set up first-and third with one out, and Curtis Granderson followed with a double that tightroped the first base line and skidded off the bag before barreling into the rightfield corner. Gardner scored, Jeter to third. Mark Teixeira followed with a sac fly to make it 4-1 and the Score Truck had a head of steam. The coup de grace came in the sixth, as J Martin unloaded again. This time, it was a two-run shot to left that broke the game open. With Scott Brosius doing a guest spot in the YES booth in that same half-inning, it seemed fitting that the best No. 9 hitter in recent Yankee memory observed the current No. 9 hitter have arguably his best offensive night as a Yankee. The Yankees posted another two-spot in the ninth inning to complete the rout at 8-1.

    Now, let’s take the pitching, specifically Phil Hughes’s outing. Despite Freddy Garcia’s placement on the disabled list and what that means for the temporary settlement of a five-man rotation, Hughes still has pressure on him. Every start is an audition to present his case to remain in the rotation through September and into October. Given what happened in Boston when he appeared in relief, perhaps Hughes has readjusted his brain chemistry to be a starting pitcher.

    Hughes cruised much the way he did in Chicago on August 2. He pounded the strike zone with his fastball, changed speeds effectively, and maintained his aggressiveness with two strikes. That aggressiveness didn’t manifest itself in strikeouts as it had in Hughes’s previous two starts against Chicago and Tampa Bay, but it did lead to weak contact and routine outs. Between the home run he allowed to Plouffe in the first inning and the walk he issued to Plouffe to lead off the seventh, Hughes only allowed one Twin to reach base.

    Joe Girardi allowed Hughes to start the eighth, and pitcher rewarded manager by retiring the first batter. The next two at-bats didn’t go quite as well. Luke Hughes (no relation) singled to left on a 1-2 curveball and Tsuyoshi Nishioka followed with a screaming liner that caught Gardner in left more than Gardner caught the ball. That was it for Hughes.

    Credit Girardi for relieving Hughes when he did — not because of the pitch count, but because in the last eight batters he faced, Hughes issued two walks, a hit, and a loud out. Overall, Hughes was as dominant as he was in the rain-shortened effort against the White Sox. He is 3-0 in his last three decisions as a starter and his fourth straight quality start. Since returning from the DL on July 6, he’s lowered his ERA from Chien-Ming Wang (13.94) to Sergio Mitre (5.75).

    All signs point to Hughes being on the right track.

    J Martin said of Hughes, “He’s progressing late in the season. You’d rather have somebody peaking late than peaking too early.”

    CURRYING FAVOR FOR GRANDY
    Curtis Granderson figured prominently in the Yankees victory, yet again. Midway through the game, Jack Curry joined Michael Kay and John Flaherty in the YES broadcast booth and Curry asked Kay if he had an MVP vote, who he would vote for. Kay believed that Adrian Gonzalez would win, because his batting average entering Friday’s action was more than 60 points higher than Granderson. Curry said he’d vote for Granderson.

    Curtis Granderson

    Curtis Granderson reached base four times and scored another run Friday. (AP Photo)

    Traditionally, the Triple Crown categories have swayed the writers’ vote for Most Valuable Player. If that were to hold true this year, Granderson holds the edge over Gonzalez in both home runs and RBIs. He also has scored more runs than Gonzalez (113 to 81), and has a higher slugging percentage (.596 to .543), and OPS (.973 to .950). Granderson also leads the American League in triples and has 23 stolen bases. His 113 runs scored lead all of baseball, as do his 12 home runs against left-handed pitchers. The only thing Granderson hasn’t done is hit for average. With that in mind, I’ve thought that if Granderson finishes the season within 10 points of .300 on either side, he has a chance to win the MVP.

    But there’s a catch.

    Six years ago, I wrote a column arguing that Baseball Prospectus’s VORP statistic should be the primary determinant in MVP voting. If that were to hold true this season, Jose Bautista would win, as his VORP total is 69.2 to Granderson’s 57.6. Bautista’s batting average is .314 to Granderson’s .284, he leads the American League in home runs (35), on-base percentage (.455), slugging percentage (.638) and OPS (1.093). The Sabermetricians would put Bautista as the MVP. In terms of VORP, Gonzalez ranks fourth on his team.

    So where’s the line? Granderson, compared to Gonzalez and Bautista, is a different offensive player. Not better, but different. Speed adds that other dimension. Perhaps the speed makes Granderson a more complete offensive threat. That completeness is what swayed Jack Curry.

    The bottom line: the decision will be subjective, and bias will be involved. If Granderson isn’t the league MVP this season he’s definitely been the MVY (Most Valuable Yankee).

    Burnett or Fade Away?

    Alex Belth’s post yesterday, which highlighted Jack Curry’s stance on A.J. Burnett, ended with the word, Amen. It was an emphatic agreement of a report detailing what many Yankees fans feel at the moment. In my own post about Jorge Posada’s demise, I wondered if Joe Girardi would have the guts to pull Burnett from the rotation and give him what we might as well start calling “The Posada Treatment.”

    Girardi’s dilemma is not a matter of “will he or won’t he,” it’s more “should he or shouldn’t he.” Jon DeRosa, in his recap of Wednesday night’s loss, made an interesting and salient point:

    … Nova was better tonight than Burnett was last night. Burnett ran into trouble in the sixth. Nova made it to the seventh and that’s an important distinction. But the difference was not nearly as great as will be felt tomorrow.

    Ivan Nova has pitched seven innings or more and let up two or fewer runs five times this year. Same as Burnett. Nova’s been better and I’d rather see him on the hill than Burnett, but it’s not as simple as Jack Curry made out … A.J. Burnett is going to be on the team for another two years after this season. The Yankees are able to marginalize Posada because his career is over in a month and a half.

    No doubt, Nova has pitched better than Burnett. He’s been more consistent, more aggressive, and gotten better results. Burnett’s outings have consistently looked like the last 99 holes of competitive golf Tiger Woods has played. Talk radio hosts and fans alike are calling for his head like he’s Piggy from “Lord of the Flies”.

    My question is: Is this thought process too drastic?

    Consider that in the last 10 years, the Yankees have employed luminaries like Jeff Weaver, Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, Esteban Loaiza, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, and Jaret Wright. Now put Burnett in that context. When Joe Torre summoned Weaver to pitch in the extra innings of Game 4 of the 2003 World Series, did you trust him? Esteban Loaiza in the extra innings of Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS? How about Brown and the mutant glove he wore to protect the broken knuckle on his left hand in Game 7 of that series and Jay-vee Vazquez afterward? Or Wright in what would be a decisive Game 4 in Detroit in ’06, looking like a shell of the phenom who nearly delivered a championship to Cleveland in 1997? Joe Torre didn’t have many more, or better, options. But Burnett, even in his current, scrambled state, would be an upgrade from those other misfits.

    Through all his struggles, and 2 1/2 winless Augusts, Burnett has not shied away from reporters. His willingness to be held accountable breeds respect. You won’t hear Burnett sell out his teammates and say, “They play behind me like they hate me,” like Weaver infamously did. He did pull a Kevin Brown last year, cutting his hand while hitting the plastic casing on the lineup card on the clubhouse door; so we know he’s capable of fits of idiocy that don’t involve him throwing a 57-foot curveball.

    The thing is, we know Burnett is capable of succeeding in big spots. The Yankees don’t win in 2009 without his October contributions. His performance in Game 2 against the Phillies may have been the most important game of that entire season. Two other games he pitched that postseason, against the Twins and Angels — both of which resulted in Yankees losses — were not his fault. (Coincidentally, Phil Hughes, the other side of this rotation / bullpen coin, was the losing pitcher of record in those games.) Part of why it’s so infuriating to watch Burnett is because as a fan, you want to root for him, but you have a hankering feeling he’s going to disappoint you at any moment.

    Buried at the bottom of Curry’s column is the following nugget:

    If the Yankees took Posada’s job away from him, they should be able to take Burnett’s job away from him, too. Even if it’s a temporary move, the Yankees could tell Burnett that he’s being bypassed in the rotation for one turn to work with pitching coach Larry Rothschild to improve. The Yankees can tell Burnett that he’s important to their success, so they want to get him better now, not later.

    … how Burnett fits in to the rotation isn’t a question for the future. It’s a question for the present.”

    So what’s the answer? Should the Yankees keep Burnett in the rotation because the glass slippers may fall off of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia much like they did for Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small in 2005?

    I’d like to see the Yankees take Curry’s suggestion and pull him for a few starts, see if he gets his head right, and then get him going for the stretch run and the playoffs. I say this because I’m still not sold on Hughes, either. A.J. Burnett has major league stuff, and it’s still in there somewhere. Burnett and Rothschild just need to work together to figure out where it is.

    [Photo Credit: Fickle Feline]

    Yankee Panky: Hip Hip … Hey!

    Jorge Posada was benched in Boston Sunday night. The motion led to speculation about Posada’s future; Monday it was confirmed. The benching wasn’t a one-off. It’s indefinite.

    Jorge Posada, NYY, 1995-2011?

    The media are treating the news as if it’s Posada’s baseball obituary. It very well may be. Joel Sherman wrote that if he were not Jorge Posada “he would be treated like Jack Cust and Lyle Overbay.” Wally Matthews echoed that sentiment, writing that “the Yankees stuck with him far longer than they probably would have had his name been something other than Jorge Posada, simply out of respect for his legacy with the team.” In that same article, Matthews noted how the incident in May affected his relationship with his teammates. Girardi, if you remember, slotted the struggling Posada ninth in the order — also, coincidentally, in a series against the Red Sox — and Posada later pulled himself from the game with a bruised ego. At the Pinstriped Bible, friend to the Banter Steven Goldman writes that if the Yankees are strong in their conviction that he can’t help them win, then they should just let him move on.

    Dave Rothenberg, filling in for Stephen A. Smith on 1050, said he still believes Posada has something left. Maybe he does, but the Yankees gave him four months to work it out, to adjust to being a designated hitter. They weren’t going to do what the Red Sox are doing with Jason Varitek — giving him one or two days behind the plate per week and figuring whatever offense he contributes is gravy. The Yankees knew they couldn’t sustain the defensive liability having him catch even one game would bring. The next best option: DH. In that, the Yankees sought the same — or at least similar — level of production he provided last year or in 2009. But it wasn’t there. I discussed the toll not being an everyday catcher has taken on Posada’s pride in May:

    Posada has looked lost. A player suffering through an identity crisis. Having had to make an abrupt switch from catching 130 games a year to being the team’s full-time designated hitter, Posada has not adjusted well.

    And he never did adjust. At least, not fully. Posada was able to get his average up to .230 before Girardi called him into his office to tell him, in no uncertain terms, that he’s done. Give Girardi credit: he didn’t continue to dangle Posada out there out of loyalty in the way that Joe Torre used to with Bernie Williams when his defense was declining as early as 2002. And they’re not ignoring Posada the way they did Williams in the 2006-2007 offseason. Girardi was not afraid to have the tough conversation. That’s the sign of a good manager. His job is to win game; if he doesn’t believe Posada gives him a good enough chance to win, then he shouldn’t be in the lineup. (Random aside: let’s see if Girardi does this with AJ Burnett in six weeks. Just sayin’ …) With all the undertones of their relationship as teammates when Girardi was the aging veteran and Posada the up-and-comer, of course this situation was bound to be a soap opera at some point.

    Posada was the last person to realize that his skills were diminished. He wasn’t lucky enough to enjoy a renaissance in the way that his best friend, Derek Jeter, has in the past month. The anger and — depending on your perception, petulance — of Posada’s tone in May has turned to resignation.

    Posada was a good soldier for a long time. Now, being a good soldier means being a disgruntled cheerleader. That is, until, or unless, the Yankees let him work his way back into the lineup.

    [Photo Credit: N.J.com]

    Chicago, Seven

    Ivan Nova

    Ivan Nova is the Yankees' third 10-game winner this year.

    Twenty-six years ago, on August 4, the Yankees and White Sox played the third game of a four-game set at Yankee Stadium. It was Phil Rizzuto Day at the Stadium, and his number 10 was retired during a pregame ceremony that featured an appearance by a Holy Cow. A few hours later, Rizzuto’s future broadcast partner on WPIX, Tom Seaver, jumped into the arms of Carlton Fisk in celebration of his 300th career victory. Seaver handed the Yankees their fifth loss in six games. They proceeded to win 14 of their next 15 to gain on the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East standings.

    No such historical significance defined the lead-up to Thursday’s Yankees-White Sox tilt at US Cellular Field. Derek Jeter passed Lou Brock on the all-time hits list last night. No member of past White Sox teams was enjoying a number retirement ceremony, although manager Ozzie Guillen was the White Sox’ starting shortstop in the Rizzuto-Seaver game.

    The only questions were:

  • Would the Yankees extend their win streak to seven?
  • Where would the Yankees stand heading into the Boston series?
  • Regardless of the outcome, how would Ivan Nova pitch?
  • The answers were “Yes,” “Tied,” and, “Anything would have been better than Burnett, but in a word, awesome.”

    The offense didn’t need to give Nova a 12-run lead and hope he held onto it. He did just fine with a one-run advantage, save for the bizarre hiccup on the pitch-out in the third inning that led to the only run he allowed. He was even better when the game was tied in the middle innings. Nova faced the minimum number of batters in each of those innings, and benefited from great defense.

    The White Sox mounted a minor threat with one out in the sixth, shortly after the Yankees regained the lead. Juan Pierre reached base on arguably the cheapest hit ever, which brought Alexei Ramirez at the plate. Nova maintained his aggressiveness throughout the Ramirez at-bat, and also did a good job holding Pierre at first. With the count 2-and-2, Pierre took off for second base. Nova got Ramirez to swing at a high, inside fastball for strike three, and Russell Martin quickly threw to second. Robinson Cano fielded the ball on a short hop at the bag and tagged Pierre first on his left arm and then sweeping up to the brim of his helmet to complete the double play.

    That play was the turning point of the game. The Yankees tacked on two more runs in the seventh and three in the ninth. Nova made good on the insurance runs, as did the Yankees’ bullpen. Final score, 7-2.

    Martin called Nova’s stuff “electric” in his postgame interview with YES Network’s Kim Jones.

    “His fastball, he’s reaching up to 95, 96 when he needs it,” Martin said. “He’s working his slider off his fastball and he’s got a good curveball to go with that.

    “He’s got four pitches and they’re all working well for him right now. So when you throw 96 and you’ve got four good pitches, you’re going to be a stud, and he’s exactly that.”

    “Electric” has been the adjective of choice to describe AJ Burnett’s stuff through the years, almost as a defense mechanism to explain away his inconsistency. It is Nova, though, who a night after Burnett had an outage, lit up Chicago. His performance was not a statement but an exclamation that he should be in the majors to stay and perhaps be an integral part of the Yankees’ October plans. Nova’s victory means in one night, he has earned more wins in the month of August than Burnett has in two previous Augusts as a Yankee. In his last two starts, Nova has beaten more American League teams than Burnett has since June 1.

    There’s no decision to make anymore. Nova should be in the rotation. Joe Girardi’s decision may just be which veteran gets bumped come October.

    HONORABLE MENTION PLAYER OF THE GAME
    J Martin. The Canadian catcher is proving to be one of Brian Cashman’s shrewdest acquisitions last winter. The catch and throw on the double play in the sixth inning preserved the lead in what was then a tight game. He also drove in the last four runs of the game, the capper being a mammoth three-run home run in the top of the ninth. His quiet competitive grit is the perfect balance to Francisco Cervelli’s ebullience. And he’s healthy again.

    QUICK RECAP
    The Yankees outscored the White Sox 34-11 in the four-game series. They have outscored the opposition 63-19 (average score of 9-3) during the seven-game win streak. … Adam Dunn’s home run in the bottom of the ninth off Hector Noesi was the only run allowed by Yankees’ relievers in the series.

    QUICK PREVIEW
    The Yankees meet their White Whale in New England starting tomorrow. They’ll send Bartolo Colon, CC Sabathia and Freddy Garcia to the mound against Jon Lester, John Lackey and Josh Beckett. We know the Yankees’ history against Boston this season: 1-8 and perhaps singularly responsible for the Red Sox’ rise. Since getting their first win of the season against the Yankees, the Red Sox have won nearly two thirds of their games.

    Two items of note:

    1) CC Sabathia continues to stake his claim for a second Cy Young Award, but if he does not pitch well Saturday, or if he loses, he has almost no chance. Sabathia is 0-3 with a 6.16 ERA against the Red Sox this season. He’s averaged slightly more than 6 IP per start, 8 H, 4 ER, has a 1.67 K/BB ratio, and the BoSox are batting .308 against him. In his 21 other starts, Sabathia is 16-2 with a 2.11 ERA, averaging more than 7 IP per start, has a 4.08 K/BB ratio, and holding opposing hitters to a .223 average.

    2) Josh Beckett. The Yankees have done next to nothing against him this season. Beckett dominated the Yankees like he did in the 2003 World Series, to the tune of 25 strikeouts in 21 IP, and just 10 hits allowed.

    It should be a fun weekend, and a worthy playoff preview.

    Phil-in’ Good …

    Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira

    Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira bolstered the Yankees' offense.

    The general consensus heading into Tuesday night’s matchup with the Chicago White Sox was that Phil Hughes, ye of the 8.24 ERA and 1.90 WHIP, would be the odd man out of the Yankees’ newfangled six-man outfit. In his last two starts, he chumped his way through the Oakland A’s lineup in a way that Ivan Nova didn’t when being given a huge lead, and then struggled through six innings against a Seattle Mariners team that is redefining feeble.

    Hughes was seen throwing in the bullpen during Saturday’s Game 2 blowout, and later confirmed it was a scheduled throw day and he was still trying to find his mechanics. Maybe something clicked in that session and he didn’t leave it all on the range, so to speak.

    Hughes barreled his way through the White Sox lineup, allowing just three base runners in six innings, and throwing only 65 pitches before rain halted play prior to the bottom of the seventh inning. It was the hardest Hughes had thrown all year — he was consistently in the mid-90s with his fastball and spotted it as well as he has all year. He was aggressive when reaching two strikes on hitters. Hughes ended the first inning with a 95-mph fastball on the outside corner to strike out Carlos Quentin looking. In the second, he struck out A.J. Pierzynski on a nasty 0-2 curveball and later blew away Gordon Beckham with a letter-high fastball clocked at 94 mph. We haven’t seen Hughes at that level of attack mode since 2009, when he was Mariano Rivera’s setup man.

    In addition to being aggressive, Hughes, who had averaged 15 pitches per inning and slightly better than 5 1/3 innings pitched over his first seven starts of the season, was efficient. He needed only 65 pitches to get through his six innings. Hughes had also entered the game with a decidedly higher ratio of flyball outs to groundball outs (2.23-to-1). He balanced that out to an even 1-to-1, inducing seven groundball outs and seven flyball outs.

    On the YES telecast at the start of the rain delay, Michael Kay opined, “If someone said to Brian Cashman, ‘Hey Brian, if you could acquire a 25-year-old All-Star, would you take it?’ He might get that back right now.” Is Kay’s praise overstated? Hughes looked an awful lot like the pitcher who earned an All-Star selection in 2010, won 18 games and was the No. 2 starter in the playoffs before his mysterious deadarm period. It was his best outing of the season to date. It was also the third time in his last four starts that he completed six innings, so perhaps Hughes’ stamina is increasing along with his arm strength.

    Perhaps Hughes’ success coming on the road should not be viewed as a surprise. Last year, in 13 road appearances, Hughes’ ERA was more than a run lower (3.47 to 4.66), his BAA was 10 points lower (.238 to .248), opponents’ slugging percentage was more than 100 points lower (.336 to .443), and his K/BB ratio was better than 3-to-1, compared to 2-to-1 at home.

    What to make of this? We need to see a larger sample size to get a true gauge of what Phil Hughes is, and what he will be. The Yankees like their “proven guys” heading into the playoffs. That he didn’t lose his spot in the rotation after his DL stint, despite numbers that resembled Chien-Ming Wang circa, well, since he injured himself running the bases in Houston in 2009, proves the Yankees want Hughes to be one of their guys down the stretch and beyond.

    Hughes still has some proving to do, but the initial signs are encouraging.

    BIG BATS, BIG TEX
    Hughes benefited once again from great run support. Sixteen times last year the Yankees scored 6 runs or more for him, and they’ve now done it in two of his last three starts.

    The Yankees jumped on lefty John Danks early, scoring in each of the first three innings. They broke the game open with two more in the sixth. Mark Teixeira homered from both sides of the plate to come within one of Jose Bautista’s American League lead. The two home runs were also historic: his first home run, a two-run shot in the fourth off Danks (batting right-handed), marked the eighth straight season Tex has hit at least 30 home runs. His solo shot in the sixth off Jason Frasor (batting left-handed), marked the 12th time in his career he’s homered from both sides of the plate in the same game. Teixeira is now the all-time leader in that category.

    In another under-the-radar note, Derek Jeter’s first inning single moved him past Rafael Palmeiro for 24th on the all-time hits list. His next hit will tie him with Lou Brock. At his current pace, he should pass Rod Carew (3,053), Rickey Henderson (3,055), and Craig Biggio (3,060) and finish the season at No. 20.

    Final: 6-0 (7 innings).

    Delay of Game

    AJ Burnett

    AJ Burnett is now 31-33 since joining the Yankees.

    AJ Burnett is like a golfer who shoots good scores, but has two or three bad holes per round that sully the scorecard. Friday night’s start was indicative of just that. Burnett, for the most part, was solid against a Baltimore Orioles lineup that has some punch. He pitched eight innings, struck out a season-high 10 batters, and walked only two. He ended five of the eight innings with strikeouts. That was the good. The bad: five poor at-bats led to four runs.

    In the second inning, Burnett walked Derrek Lee with one out, and then left a fastball on the outer half to Mark Reynolds, who launched it over the right-center field fence into the Yankees’ bullpen. The same part of the order bit him in the fourth inning. Consecutive doubles by Vladimir Guerrero and Lee made it 3-0. In the sixth, Lee victimized Burnett yet again, this time with a home run to right-center. That blast completed the Orioles’ scoring.

    Overall, Burnett’s night was the equivalent of shooting 74 or 75, with five or six birdies, but a bunch of bogeys submarining what could have been a fantastic round.

    Paul O’Neill summed up Burnett’s night perfectly during the top of the ninth inning on the YES telecast: “AJ Burnett didn’t make too many mistakes tonight — far fewer than in his last game — but the mistakes he did make ended up going for home runs and doubles.”

    The loss left Burnett winless in July. It is the third winless month in his Yankees career. How goofy of a season has this been for Burnett? Friday marked the third time this season that he’s pitched into the eighth inning. The Yankees have lost each of those games, and Burnett has been the pitcher of record.

    The burden of the 4-2 defeat should not fall squarely on Burnett, though. It was the type of game that if the vaunted Yankees offense did anything to support him, the outcome would have been different. Jeremy Guthrie, a pitcher the Yankees have owned over the last two years, turned the tables and was in complete control. Of the 69 strikes Guthrie threw, 19 were called strikes and 21 were foul balls. He had mid-90s velocity on his fastball with good movement, and he changed speeds effectively to keep the big bats off balance.

    Watching the game, the telltale sign that it would not be the Yankees’ night was that the second and third time through the order, usually when they make minced meat of pitchers like Guthrie, the grinding at-bats the Yankees are known for didn’t yield positive outcomes — Mark Teixeira’s solo home run in the sixth inning notwithstanding. When they did put runners on base, Guthrie made a pitch to get the Yankees out. They were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position; a common refrain when analyzing Yankees losses over the course of this season.

    A ninth-inning rally against Kevin Gregg fell short when Brett Gardner, who swung through nearly every hittable pitch that came his way in previous at-bats, capped an 0-for-5 performance by striking out swinging to end the game. The key pitch in the at-bat was the fastball Gregg threw with the count at 3-and-1. Gardner thought it was outside for ball four. Gardner turned toward first base and was three steps up the line when home plate umpire Mike Dimuro called the pitch a strike and ushered Gardner back the batter’s box. Replays confirmed the pitch was off the plate by a few inches, but it was too close to take.

    Following the whiff, Gardner slammed his bat on the ground in frustration, cracking it in half. Given that the Red Sox lost to the White Sox and another chance to cut into the 2 1/2-game deficit was wasted, they should be frustrated.

    Jeteronomy the Milestone: Six More Hits, Please

    The countdown to 3,000 hits resumed Monday night in Cleveland, and Derek Jeter went 0-for-4. What’s being branded as “DJ3K” is occurring now in greater earnest than it did before Jeter pulled up lame with a strained calf and landed on the disabled list on June 13. He’ll be the first Yankee to reach the milestone, and of all the great moments in his career, this may be the singular event that speaks to his consistency and longevity. He certainly didn’t “hang on” in an attempt to achieve this personal benchmark.

    And he has handled the march to inevitability in a way that has stayed true to his professional mantra: as vanilla as possible.

    The interesting thing about Jeter’s career is that as integral as he has been to the team’s success, in games when he’s reached personal milestones, the team lost. And in games where “Jeter was being Jeter,” giving maximum effort and playing his customary brand of instinctive baseball, and getting hurt in the process, they won.

    I covered the game on May 26, 2006, against the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium when he got his 2,000th hit. He reached first base on an infield nubber that was misplayed. According to multiple newspaper reports, even Jeter’s mother thought it was an error. The decision can’t be called into question now. The Yankees lost the game. Afterward, he gave his typical “It’s a nice accomplishment, we lost, I don’t care about stats” speech. Ho-hum.

    The Yankees also lost the game against the Baltimore Orioles when he broke Lou Gehrig’s team record for hits. At least No. 2,722 was a no-doubter. Same speech. Yawn.

    The two moments I immediately think of when I’m asked about Derek Jeter occurred in games the Yankees won.

    1) Opening Day 2003, in Toronto. The Ken Huckaby collision. It wasn’t a dirty play, it was incidental contact. With one out and the Blue Jays employing an extreme shift with Jason Giambi at the plate, Jeter, always a great base runner, tried to catch the Jays napping. The description of the play, from eNotes:

    Giambi hit a soft grounder to the pitcher, Roy Halladay, who threw to first baseman Carlos Delgado for an out. Jeter, seeing Toronto out of position, rounded second and ran to third. Huckaby ran up the line to cover third and fielded Delgado’s throw. Jeter dived headfirst into the bag, while Huckaby attempted to catch the baseball and block Jeter from reaching third. In do so, Huckaby fell onto Jeter; his shin guard driving into his shoulder.

    The Yankees won the game and proceeded to start 20-5. In all, they went 26-11 without him, and went 3-11 in their first 14 games upon his return.

    2) July 1, 2004, at Yankee Stadium, against the Red Sox. Depending on your perspective, it’s the “game where Jeter broke his face” after going head over heels into the stands to catch a Trot Nixon pop-up in the top of the 12th inning. The Yankees won that game also. The image of Jeter walking off the field, clutching his lip and his face swollen, is one that endures. I covered that game, too. It’s the greatest regular season game I’ve ever seen. We’re not allowed to root in the press box, and in particular, the YES booth, where I was situated. Those of us in the booth may not have been rooting, but we did not suppress our emotions and baseball fandom in that moment.

    So where does that leave us now? The Yankees went 14-4 without him and won seven of eight prior to Jeter’s return. They’ve built a lead over the Red Sox and are in the hunt for the best record in baseball with the Phillies. They’ve adjusted to life without Jeter and the distraction of the four-digit elephant in the dugout. Is the current leg of the pursuit and his place in the lineup more of a distraction than an asset? If so, it’ll be consistent with the way these moments have gone throughout Derek Jeter’s career.

    [Photo Credit: N.Y. Daily News]

    Phew!

    Russell Martin, Carlos Pena

    Russell Martin absorbed heavy contact and kept the Yankees ahead. (Photo Credit / Getty Images)

    Former Marlins teammates AJ Burnett and Ryan Dempster squared off in the middle game of the marquee interleague series of the weekend, at Wrigley Field. There was potential for a pitchers’ duel, if the “Good AJ” showed up, and if Dempster maintained the good control he’s shown at home thus far (almost a 4-to-1 K/BB ratio in 52 1/3 innings pitched at Wrigley this season).

    That wasn’t to be, though. The game was tight and low-scoring, but more because both teams missed opportunities, rather than Burnett and Dempster dominating. Both pitchers followed the “bend but don’t break” M.O. Burnett allowed two runs, struck out eight and walked three in 5 1/3 innings pitched, while Dempster allowed only three runs while walking a season-high six batters, and struck out six.

    The Yankees had their chances. They had base runners every inning, but were only able to push runners across in the third and sixth innings. In the third, Curtis Granderson led off with a single — doesn’t it seem like when the Yankees score, he’s in the middle of the rally? — and later scored on Robinson Canó’s double. Nick Swisher followed with a sacrifice fly to bring in Alex Rodriguez, who singled and advanced to third on the Canó double.

    The Cubs tied the game in the fourth, making Burnett pay for issuing a leadoff walk to Blake DeWitt. Two batters later, Carlos Peña hit a laser into the right-field seats.

    Sometimes, the most important moment in a game isn’t a timely hit, it’s a baserunning mistake. Following a one-out walk to Kosuke Fukudome, Starlin Castro lined a single to center. On that hit, Fukudome was running on the pitch but did not advance to third. On the FOX broadcast, Tim McCarver said there was “no excuse for Fukudome to not be on third base with one out, or at least get thrown out trying.” The next batter, DeWitt, who figured in the Cubs’ first rally, bounced into a 4-6-3, inning-ending double play.

    Eduardo Nuñez carried the positive vibes from the solid turn of the double play into the top of the sixth, lining a single up the middle on an 0-2 count and later scoring on a Granderson sac fly to give the Yankees the lead. (The Granderson RBI was off lefty James Russell. Granderson, versus lefties this season: .277/.341/.651, 20 RBI.) In the ninth, Nuñez drove in what would be the go-ahead run with a double.

    Mariano Rivera made things interesting, yielding a leadoff home run to Reed Johnson and a single to Alfonso Soriano. But he needed just four more pitches to record three outs, inducing Geovany Soto to ground into a double play and striking out Jeff Baker.

    That would be the high-level overview of the game. Two plays in particular preserved this victory for the Yankees: the first was the double play that ended the fifth. The second came in the sixth inning. Canó missed an easy catch on a force attempt that turned a potential first-and-third, two-out situation into a bases-loaded, one-out scenario. On a full count, Soto lined to left. Brett Gardner made up for his base running gaffe in the top of the sixth by making a nice catch on the liner and firing a one-hop strike to home. A huge collision ensued between Peña and catcher Russell Martin. Martin hung onto the ball, showed it to both Peña and home plate umpire Sam Holbrook.

    Sometimes over the course of a season, winning teams win games despite an odd boxscore. Saturday, the Yankees walked 10 times and only scored four runs. They got 11 hits and went 4-for-13 with runners in scoring position yet left 13 men stranded. They committed two errors and ran themselves out of an inning.

    Yet in the end, the formula that usually leads to a victory — timely hitting, a few key defensive plays, above average starting pitching and a capable bullpen effort — put a W up for the Yankees. By all accounts, they should have beaten the Cubs about 11-3 in this game. But as the better team, being able to hang on and win the close game is encouraging and should serve them well as the season wears on.

    Calfination, the Cubs, and History

    Derek Jeter’s calf injury and ensuing DL trip definitely threw a wrench into his reaching the 3,000-hit milestone in the near future. Given Jeter’s flair for the dramatic and the way the Yankees hit Rangers pitching during the first two games, it would have been fun to see what could have been, especially at home.

    Jeter’s two most recent milestones occurred at home. he benefited from home scoring when got his 2,000th on May 26, 2006 against the Kansas City Royals, and he broke Lou Gehrig’s franchise record for hits at home on September 11, 2009 against the Orioles.

    Another thing that would have been cool: watching Jeter vie for history against the Cubs. Jeter has the most hits of anyone in interleague play, so in a way, it would have been fitting for him to reach 3K over the next batch of games. In addition, Saturday will mark six years to the day that Jeter launched the first and only grand slam of his career to date, a sixth inning shot off of Joe Borowski.

    And there is precedent for the Yankees making history during interleague play. A banner year for this was 2003, when first, the Yankees were no-hit by six Houston Astros pitchers in the Bronx. Two nights later, Roger Clemens registered his 4,000th strikeout and 300th win against the Cardinals.

    Clemens’ previous start, however, took place in Chicago, against Kerry Wood. It was Clemens’ third chance at 300. It was the marquee game in a series that marked the Yankees’ first visit to Wrigley Field since the 1932 World Series and Babe Ruth’s “called shot”. The Yankees beat Carlos Zambrano in the Friday afternoon opener, and the stage was set for the power matchup on Saturday. Clemens had an upper respiratory infection and there was doubt as to whether he would even start. He did, and he left the game in the seventh inning with a lead and two men on base, giving way to the immortal Juan Acevedo. Acevedo is immortal for what happened next. He delivered a first-pitch fastball to Eric Karros that was promptly returned to Waveland Avenue, and a 2-1 lead was suddenly a 4-2 deficit. That was the final. The following night, the Cubs chased Andy Pettitte after 1 2/3 innings and despite a valiant comeback effort against Mark Prior, it wasn’t enough.

    Fast forward to today, where the Yankees head to Chicago coming off a three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers. They’re currently riding their sixth three-game win streak of the season. Only once, though, have they carried that streak past three. They’re not facing Big Z, Wood and Prior in succession; rather, it’s Doug Davis, Ryan Dempster, and Randy “Please don’t call me Boomer or Kip” Wells. With the Cubs struggling as badly as they are, this could be a weekend where the Yankees add to their winning percentage.

    Sadly, no history to watch out for in this series. Only the moments to reflect upon. While the feeling of the games might be empty, at least the stands at Wrigley will be full.

    Code of Hammurabi? Meh.

    Joe Girardi, Gene Monihan, Alex Rodriguez

    Alex Rodriguez was hit by a pitch for the second time this week. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

    An excerpt of the Code of Hammurabi, courtesy of Thinkquest:

    Although it follows the practice of “an eye for an eye”, it does not allow for vigilante justice, but rather demands a trial by judges. It also glorifies acts of peace and justice done during Hammurabi’s rule.

    What does this have to do with the Yankees? Alex Rodriguez got plunked in the sixth inning of today’s game after Curtis Granderson homered to make it 2-0. Much will be made of Alex Rodriguez getting plunked in the sixth inning after Curtis Granderson’s home run increased the Yankees’ lead to 2-0. There will be much ado because while Mitch Talbot was ejected immediately (wet mound conditions or not), yet again, the HBP went unanswered by a Yankees pitcher. The Yankees have had eight hit batsmen in the last five games. They’ve hit only one. The Boston Red Sox sent a message that teams can hit the Yankees’ batters without repercussion.

    To date, despite Joe Girardi’s emphatic stance, the message has gained traction.

    Columnists are clamoring for the Yankees to follow Girardi’s lead, to start showing some fight and “protect their own.” David Wells, who was patrolling the clubhouse on Saturday, told reporters the Yankees need to “grow some.”

    Perhaps Talbot’s ejection led the Yankees to be more cautious in their retaliation strategy. But a passive-aggressive approach has been the Yankees’ stance for years. The recent beanball wars are reminiscent of 2003, when the Red Sox, more specifically Pedro Martinez, routinely hit Yankees batters, often without repercussion. On July 7 of that year, Pedro and Mike Mussina engaged in a classic pitchers’ duel. Martinez opened the game by hitting Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano on the hands, knocking them both out of the game. Mussina wouldn’t retaliate. Didn’t even buzz anyone. Fans were miffed. Writers were, too.

    At the time, George Steinbrenner said of Martinez: “I don’t know what was going through his mind, but if it’s what it looked like, it’s not good. It’s not good for his team, not good for baseball.” Mussina’s response: “It was a situation that was pretty delicate. I think if I go inside to somebody, the umpire’s going to warn both benches. I didn’t want to lose half the plate. It’s a tough spot. You try to do what’s right. I’m not sure what anybody was thinking, but I felt I had to get guys out.” Not until Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, when Roger Clemens threw a fastball to the backstop with Manny Ramirez at the plate, igniting a bench-clearing brawl for the ages, did the Yankees exact revenge according to the common interpretation of Hammurabi’s Code.

    If the code glorifies acts of peace and justice, then the Yankees are doing the right thing and should be applauded by being professional, acting above hitting Indians’ batters and winning the game. But do they have to hit someone to demonstrate protection? Pitch inside. Buzz someone. Make the batter uncomfortable. Move his feet. That could work.

    Would the umpires allow the Yankees to pitch inside or buzz someone, or would they warn the benches immediately and put the pitchers in a bind, as Mussina feared? It’s a tough call. Joe Torre, who managed the Yankees in that 2003 game, now sits in the League Office and has jurisdiction over this exact issue. He also caught Bob Gibson, who you know full well would have given an opposing batter a shave by now if his teammates were getting hit at the rate the Yankees’ guys are. At what point will Torre get involved? Should he get involved?

    It’s unlikely. The Yankees will do what they believe is right. But will they lose players as they consider the appropriate time to punch back?

    OH YEAH, THE GAME …
    Three solo home runs and a clutch RBI single by Jorge Posada in the seventh inning provided the scoring for the Yankees. The arms of Bartolo Colon, David Robertson and Boone Logan did the rest. The most important juncture of the game was the eighth inning. While it won’t go in the box score as a save, Robertson should get one for his yeoman effort. After allowing consecutive singles to start the inning, and then balking the runners over to second and third, respectively, his strikeouts of Asdrubal Cabrera and Grady Sizemore preserved the shutout and pretty much ensured the Yankees would emerge victorious.

    Robertson and Logan combined to allow just two hits and struck out four. Contrast that to Friday night, where in a blowout, mop-up scenario, Kevin Whelan and Lance Pendleton yielded five runs on five hits, and walked five. Their performance led Girardi to pull an “I have no other recourse” move, bringing in Mariano Rivera to end the losing streak.

    HAMSTRUNG
    Big Bart pulled up lame covering first base in the seventh inning. He had thrown just 83 pitches and was working on a two-hit shutout at the time of his exit. Given his age, weight, and conditioning (or lack thereof), Colon could be looking at a long stint on the disabled list. The only good news from this: if and when Phil Hughes returns, there’s no doubt where he’ll be slotted in the rotation.

    NEEDLESS COMPARISON
    Granderson’s home run was his 20th. Mark Teixeira’s was his 19th. YES Network’s announcers got homer happy. Ken Singleton brought up 1961, and that the recent home run barrage reminded him of that seminal year in Yankees history. Michael Kay mentioned that Maris had 20 home runs and Mantle 18 on this date 50 years ago. Please stop. Granderson and Teixeira are not Mantle and Maris. Moreover, the 2004 Yankees hold the team record for home runs in a season (242). Granted, they didn’t have two guys going shot for shot the way Granderson and Teixeira seem to be right now, but it’s worth noting that the ’04 group, not the ’61 group, is the most prolific Yankees team in that category.

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