"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Bronx Banter

Nothing’s for Sale

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After three innings last night, with Yankee bats and helmets flailing across the field, the likelihood of a Yankee hit seemed much less than the likelihood of a no-hitter. Chris Sale, whose pitching motion suggests a constantly encroaching wedgie, was the full filth.

Despite facing the most dominant left-hander in the American League, the Yankees had a few things going for them. Jose Abreu is on the DL. Sale, in his first game back from injury, was limited. And David Phelps pitched very well. Phelps kept them in the game long enough that a little late magic could have proven decisive, but thanks to an insurance run against human turnstile Alfredo Aceves, the Yankees’ two runs in the ninth came up short. 3-2 White Sox.

The Yankees pitching staff has been well-decimated thus far and it’s especially apparent when running into two aces back-to-back. Jeff Samardzjia and Chris Sale retired 39 of the 46 Yankees they faced making the third base coach especially lonely as nobody ever visited him.  That the Yankees won one of these games lessens the sting somewhat.

The good news is that David Phelps has been getting better and going deeper into his games. Last night’s performance was the best of the year for him and he’ll need to pitch like this more often than not as all signs point to him becoming a mainstay in the rotation this season.

Phelps got tagged with the tough-luck loss when the White Sox staged a two-out opposite-field rally in the second. The key hit was a run-scoring double by De Aza down the left field line. Almonte executed the outstreched hero’s dive to near perfection, but the left-handed-spin had the ball tailing away from his glove and cozying up to the foul line. There were but a few square inches where the ball could have landed fair and also missed his glove, and there it landed. And there was the game.

The Yankees were relieved any time they saw relief pitchers these last two games and responded with runs. I hope the same applies for these other, more obviously mortal pitchers in Chicago.

 

 

“Sold Out” Crowd

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It was a dark and dreary night. Suddenly, the bottom fell out…

And that’s as far as I could go with this game before lapsing into headache-inducing ennui as we watched the home team; already missing Jacoby Ellsbury due to a sore hand, bore the peanut gallery with mediocre at-bats and mainly apathetic play.  Oh sure, Teix hit his second homer in two games and was on base more often than not, and sure Solarte continues to be a solid Everywhere Man while leading the team in RBI, and there seemed to be a bit of rally left in them from yesterday in the ninth from what I’ve read, but there just wasn’t overcoming another night where C.C. Sabathia didn’t even break 90 mph with his fastball, making his 80-83 mph change rather hittable and his other pitches treated with indifference by the Mariner bats.  It wasn’t so bad, he struck out 6 given that he was facing one of the weakest lineups in the AL, but that didn’t stop him from giving up four runs and nine hits in five innings, also brushing two.  For the second time in a row, the Yanks’ starting pitcher didn’t have much control., but this time he couldn’t gut it out (and it’s becoming debatable whether or not his missing gut is to blame). Hopefully it will warm up enough so we can see whether it’s just the inconsistent weather messing with everyone’s mechanics or if it’s decidedly the far side of C.C.’s career as an elite pitcher.

But that’s not what most people were concerned with; no, many wanted to know how Robbie was going to be received in his first return home.  I couldn’t really tell; I was listening on the radio (which didn’t help with the headache one bit), but when Robbie came up the first time, I thought I heard more booing than cheering.  Predictably, John and Suzyn thought they heard more cheering, while everyone else in the media thought the whole city of New York was booing.  Regardless, Robbie didn’t get the kind of welcome he was anticipating, striking out on three pitches.  His was a nervous energy that threatened to sabotage him all night, but after he and the Mariners gouged out four runs in the fifth against C.C., he came back in the seventh with an infield single, a stolen base (!) and a run scored on a Dustin Ackley single.  I think it was about this time that I (and apparently a number of others) decided to find something else to do. I tried to hang on, but the combination of Yankees empty at-bats and John & Suzyn on the radio beat me into submission and I popped in a DVD of cartoons.

All-in-all, this was just one of those games I wish I’d skipped; it was not demoralizing, but it was draining.  Like the lineup, I can’t bring myself to exaggerate the finer points of this game; it just left me with a headache and a lot of unanswered questions.

Is on/off what we can expect from C.C. for the rest of this season, never mind his contract? Is the rest of the starting pitching going to be able to hold up to the All-Star break without being decimated with injuries or fatigue/old age? Is carrying three position players on your bench (with one back-up catcher) really the best thing to do, even with the fact that your designated number five pitcher basically screwed your rotation and bullpen and now may have screwed it some more with an injury? Are Ichiro and Solarte really your best hitters right now? Is there a way that this team can break the funk they have against pitchers nobody really gives two spits about? Why can’t the stadium fans understand the word “irony”? And why, why does Yankee pitching seem to be the ambrosia for weak or badly slumping hitters on every team they’ve faced?

Tune in, turn on, drop out. I’m going back to bed…

[Photo Credit: Days of Our Trailer]

 

 

 

 

 

How To Make Anything Taste Like Chicken

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People.com http://greatideas.people.com/2014/03/31/crazy-baseball-stadium-concession-snacks/

I don’t know about you, but I was getting tired of alternating beat-downs with the other team; teams like the Red Sox and then the Angels beating and then being beaten by football scores, it just makes for bad Feng Shui.  So for the second and third game of this series, the Angels and Yankees agreed to rehearse a couple of taught dramas for the Broadway crowd, hijacking the fricken Rally Monkey with some fancy organ grinding of their own.  And grinding would be an apropos description of what The Notorious Tanaka did during the game; it was strange, yet gratifying how he managed to do his thing for 6-1/3 innings while the Yanks continued to struggle against unheralded pitchers.

Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t bad. In the first inning all his outs were by strikeouts, all swinging; an impressive feat considering whom he was facing.  Sure, Trout continued to show his Professional Hitter side with a first pitch single after the leadoff strikeout, but then Pujols struck out behind him, and following a Howie Kendricks walk, Aybar struck out.  But the Yanks for their part decided to make Garret Richards almost equally intriguing by striking out or otherwise doing practically nothing against him.  Richards, who was averaging five walks per nine innings was giving nothing away to Tanaka, who by the second time through the lineup was now starting to get hit. When he wasn’t getting hit, he was doing something that by now could be considered very odd: he was giving up walks. Seriously, up until tonight he’d only given up two walks in total. The fourth inning was especially troublesome because he loaded the bases after a leadoff double with a HBP and a walk before the Angels pushed a run across with a fielder’s choice. Tanaka was still striking people out, but it seemed different; a lot of pitches and a lot of foul balls added to the feeling that he wasn’t dominating. Nervous business, what with G. Richards looking more like vintage J.R. Richards.

But then we learned something else about Tanaka in the process: he really doesn’t give up.  He must have realized that his other stuff wasn’t working as well as we’ve quickly grown accustomed to, so he did something subtle that I can’t get my finger on, but whatever he did, he was getting outs.  He was still striking batters out, but those seemed like an afterthought to the fact that he was getting batters out at the right time. The defense came to back him up too, turning in routine ground-outs and fly-outs (or at least making them look routine). If he gave up a triple, he struck out the next batter to end the inning. Tanaka’s control was kinda iffy, he threw a lot more in fewer innings, but he somehow got the outs when he needed them. The lineup managed to push across a run with a walk to Teixiera, who came around to score after a Brian Roberts double and a Ichiro ground-out.

Then he gave up a homer to David Freese, the hero of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals Champeenchip, who was until then mired in an ugly slump with intermittent playing time. The way the Yanks were not hitting at that moment, you may have gotten the sense that this might be the moment Tanaka experiences his first loss in more or less two years.  Yes, it has to happen, but why against Mike Scioscia and the Angels? Ugh.. after Tanaka retired the side, the Yanks failed to score, leaving Tanaka set up for a loss. Perhaps Girardi felt bad and wanted to give Tanaka another chance to win by sending him out for the seventh, but by this time he was already hovering near 100 pitches, so after Collin Cowgill struck out, Joe took him right back out in favor of Adam Warren. Masahiro Tanaka: 6.1 innings, 5 hits (though it seemed like more), 4 walks (hmm…), 2 earned runs (huh…), and 11 strikeouts (how about that), leaving down one run.

Yet, all was apparently not lost and Warren picked up a little magic from somewhere, because after giving up another single to Trout, he got Pujols to ground into a double play and hold the line.  Next thing you know, bang, zoom! Teix hit one out and the score was tied.  Yay Tanaka wasn’t gonna lose! if nothing else, you had to feel good about that. Back in the game, now let’s get some more uhp, fergeddit, fly-outs and a pop-out and no more runs.  But you did get the sense that Richards was returning to norm, so strikeouts could soon turn into striking a hot iron.  Warren, now tasked with holding the line and perhaps getting a win, did his part in retiring the side in order, so the Yanks tried again in the eighth…

Then the funniest thing happened: Scioscia trotted out a reliever. Soon he trotted out another. Then another.  Then another and another… no, not really, but it was bad enough. See, what Scioscia already knew and hoped wouldn’t happen, and what we came to realize was that his bullpen was not very good at holding leads. Not very good at all, which was another oddity with the pitching tonight.  I’m not used to seeing a bad Angels bullpen, so I was surprised when the first reliever Michael Kohn walked Ellsbury , because yunnow, he’s Ellsbury and walking him is like giving up a double.  Kohn might’ve thought the same thing, because he spent more time stepping off and/or throwing to first than he did pitching to Jeter, who eventually struck out. But then he walked Beltran, which made Scioscia nervous and he brought in Nick Morande, who managed to throw the ball to everyone sitting behind home plate except catcher Chris Iannetta (though one was called a passed ball and Iannetta really wasn’t having a good game anyway); first Ellsbury and Beltran moved up, then Ellsbury scored, giving the Yanks the lead.  Brian McCann then gave a nifty solo scene with a HBP that was more by than hit; so convincing that the umps took a whole intermission to review the play and ultimately put him on first. Welp, time to send in the understudy, and that was Kevin Jepsen, who managed to secure a double play from our Soriano with an ug… well, sub-optimal at bat.

That brought us to what was potentially the last act, and the our new divo David The Hamma’ Roberston came to close out the show. Down went Stewart, in keeping with the theme of the night with the ubiquitous strikeout. But Iannetta walked, and his understudy John McDonald replaced him at first. J.B. Shuck managed to jive him over to second, and then… duh-duh-duhhhh our old friend Raul Ibañez came up for Cowgill.  Raul, though his average was quite low, was certainly capable of driving in a run or two as he had done 15 times beforehand.  This was indeed a scary moment, because if you lost him, you had to face the Deadly Duo, starring Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.  Robertson threw and Raul looked at strike one.  Another pitch and it was called a ball??? WTF BLUE!!!  You might also be thinking at this point, “nail him down… please!” The pitch, and Raul fouled it off.  Do it for Warren, he held it down and deserved to win it.  Do it Tanaka, he wasn’t himself tonight or what we’ve already come to expect of him, but dammit he deserved something for it. Do it because you can’t stand the Angels and particularly you can’t stand Mike Scioscia. And do it for the ones who stuck it out this long to see the win.  The Yanks haven’t had a lot of luck with close games like this over the past few years, so yeah… nail it down. The pitch… a half-swing. Did he go?

It wasn’t pretty. It didn’t look right, didn’t feel right, just didn’t seem right. But yunnow what? It tasted like chicken. Yanks win 3-2.

The Electric Spanking of Core Babies

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A day removed from the honor and hoopla of another Home Opener for the Yankees, which they happened to win , the Yankees returned for a second dose of Orioles baseball, courtesy of past manager and present raconteur Buck Showalter and company.  Ivan Nova, the imminent leader of the new school (if you will) facing Wei-Yin Chen; second in career major league wins to fellow countryman and former Yankee meteor Chien-Ming Wang. An intriguing matchup, no?

Uhh, nope.

In the first, Nova, who from what I was told had some issues in his previous start, but managed to work through them somehow, seemed perfectly content to pitch to contact; these were the Orioles after all, who seemed incapable of doing much of anything when they did make contact, or not so much that it mattered.  But then Old Man Jeter decided to go pastadiving on a windy, but indeterminate Tuesday afternoon and gave the Orioles some unexpected momentum.  The first run would score on a somewhat close play at the plate; Ellsbury showing a pretty good arm in CF threw home on a sac fly from Chris (Crush) Davis that hopped once kinda high before McCann, showing perfect form in allowing a clear alley for the runner to reach home plate, caught it and swipe-tagged in one motion, but too late to catch the sliding Markakis. Then Nova, still pitching to contact, hung something for Adam Jones whose eyes got really big and said “Hulk Smash!” and tanked it over the center field wall for a two-run job.  After some some quick words with himself, Nova decided to strike out Weiters and Cruz to end the bleeding. Already it was 3-0.

Yanks showed a little bit of initiative in the bottom, though it took them two outs to do it; Ellsbury managed to dump a single into shallow right, and Beltran doubled him in to get a run back. Soriano, who looks like he’s starting to catch up to the rest of the season skied out to end the inning and Nova came out to work again.  And labor he did; his pitches didn’t seem to want to listen to him too much as he gave up a single to second baseman Steve Lombardozzi (Jr.) and a well-executed drag bunt to Ryan (Hi Uncle Flash!) Flaherty, he of a 1-17 start to his season.  But Nova did flash some quick wit as Roberts gave him the cue; pirouetting nicely to catch  Lombardozzi off second.  Buck almost challenged the call, but maybe the pirouette looked too good to sully with doubt and instead settled for gnashing his teeth and shaking his head in disbelief as is his wont.  Nova was dealing now, his confidence seemed to falling back into place, but aww Schoop! He doubled down the third base line serving pasta in Port Jervis, and the score was now 4-1.

And nothing really happened until the fourth, when we all realized at the same time that the car battery was dead and Nova had nothing.  After Cruz flied out, the basement trio of Lombardozzi, Flaherty and Schoop each singled so that Markakis and Delmon Young each took a turn driving one of them in with a sac fly and a single.  That was it for Nova, and Cesar Cabral made his season debut while Nova left to a smattering of indifference. But since he cared, Roberts’ throw managed to pull Cervelli off first as Chris Davis beat his shift to first and they all gifted Nova with another one for the road. Cabral, for his part, walked the bases loaded before inducing a pop fly to left that almost caused more chaos, had not Gritner slid for second to avoid crashing into Jeter, who bogarted shallow left for the catch. 7-1.

But the Yanks showed some spunk. Soriano, he of the “he’s gonna be sooo bad this year” bat cannonballed one over left, and styled properly as a true home run hitter should. Why not? It was his 407th career HR, tying him at 50th with one Duke Snider who used to play somewhere on the opposite side of the universe (maybe we can talk about where in another post).  Cervelli followed with a sharp single to left. running hard like a hard single hitter should.  Roberts gave Chen, who was not spectacular but had a lot to work with, a hard time before singling on  3-2 to left (see a pattern developing here?) And then there’s this kid, this what’s his name? Yangervis Port Jervis? My friend, who I was watching the game with, couldn’t get his name straight no matter what I told him, As Kay, Cone and Singleton gabbed about his doubles power, he immediately powers a double to, yes, left, and my friend jumped up and said, “That boy’s name is ‘Doubles’!” (which immediately had me thinking of the possibility of a tie-in promotion with McDonald’s McDouble burger; worth a try if you’re high as some people would say).  Gardner followed with a RBI groundout and Jeter also grounded out, but the score was  now 7-4.

Vidal Nuño came on in place of Cabral in the fifth and retired the side on a Poughkeepsie Shuffle (4-6-3 double play) and a strike out of the suddenly hot Flaherty.  On the flipside, Ellsbury, becoming rather indispensable early on, hit a booming double and later stole third standing up before Chen had a chance to notice the sudden draft from second.  Nothing came of it though, and we all moved onto the sixth, where a familiar phrase floated in to haunt our man Nuño. It started out innocently enough with Schoop striking out, but then Markakis just had to single and then blammo! Delmon Young looped one over everyone’s heads and into the seats in left. The hits just kept coming after that, and the game shifted into a slow motion montage of carnage as Nuño was ripped apart from every angle. As he sighed and peered into the bullpen, the YES cameras showed us what he already knew: emptiness. No one was coming to the rescue. He was… taking one for the team.  11-4.

At this point I stopped taking notes and started thinking about what went well. Soriano’s showing some pop again. Jeter can still get a hit now and again.  Ellsbury is on a roll. I must take a trip to Port Jervis before it becomes de rigueur; hopefully find a nice hamburger or pizza joint. Roberts is still alive. Gritner still has his appendages. Betances, now there’s something else to cheer about; the kid looks like a Real Deal™ type that you hope the Yanks won’t destroy like the others they had recently. Good things can happen in bad places if you look hard enough for them; look at diamonds.  But since we’re looking at what is without a doubt a blood diamond at this point of the game, I have to inform or remind you that although Nuño managed to staunch the bleeding from that point and held his own for a couple more innings, there was no coming back from this.  No fight left em, save for one or two more McDouble by Doubles McJervis and the first homer of the season from Kelly Johnson (well, he had been fighting for that).  But between the time Girardi pulled the starters in the seventh and idiots were being gang-tackled by security to the vast amusement/relief of the paying leftover majority and up until that sidewinder Darren O’Day struck out Austin Romine, the rest of us had already pulled out of the parking lots and hit the Major Deegan or the New England Thruway, had flipped the channel or the flatscreen and took up horseback riding, mowing the lawn, paying the bills or returned to mundanity at work as the Yankees pulled their own pants back up and went quietly to their rooms to contemplate the spanking they had just received.

Deserve’s got nothing to do with this; see you in Hell, William Nathaniel Showalter III.  Yeah.

Final Score: 14-5.

[Photo Credit: Andrew Mills/The Star-Ledger]

Fly, Flied, Flew

In Game 5 of the 2000 World Series, Mike Piazza represented the tying run with two out in the bottom of the ninth. Mariano Rivera was on the hill for the Yankees protecting the 4-2 lead and attempting to shepherd home another World Championship. Rivera uncorked an 0-1 cutter and Piazza appeared to make solid contact and drove the ball to center field.

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The ball took off and spun Bernie Williams around as he raced back in pursuit. But Shea Stadium isn’t a band box and the last second cut of Mariano’s signature pitch guided the ball past Piazza’s sweet spot and down towards the end of the bat. Bernie caught up to the ball easily before the warning track and the Yankees were champions again.

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Mike Piazza flied / flew out to center field.

Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct and expert linguist (among other things), says, “In  baseball, one says that a slugger has flied out; no mere mortal has ever “flown out” to center field.”

Before you trust him implicitly, be careful, dude’s a Red Sox fan.

Let us know your preference in the comments.

New York Minute

This Friday night, of the hundreds of bands that will play New York City, Special Patrol Group will attempt to blow the doors off Arlene’s Grocery at 7pm. It’s a tall task to blow the doors off a rock-n-roll club. It’s taller when it’s 7pm.

But for Special Patrol Group, this is a sweet slot. Their fans, largely drawn from the coveted demographic overlap between young parents and parents of young children, require a decent bed time so they can make pancakes and attend soccer practice at 9 AM the next day.

I know Special Patrol Group because I met one of the founders of the band, Matthew DeMella, at one of those Saturday morning soccer practices a couple of years ago. He’s a music teacher, a dad, a husband, and a fellow harborer of inappropriate expectations for post-toddler soccer players. And after we talked about that stuff, he told me about his band.

Here at Bronx Banter, Alex lends us insights about the creative process, almost on a daily basis. One of the things that he says a lot, and that I take to heart, is that just showing up counts for more than you’d think. I think that’s a Woody thing. And when Matt told me about Special Patrol Group, I immediately thought about the importance of showing up.

Special Patrol Group was formed in 2005 and they’ve been recording and “touring” ever since. But when you’re a teacher, a dad, a husband; when you attend soccer practice, make pancakes, and consider those events as essential, what’s left? How the hell can you rock and roll in a sliver? Hint: a big part of the answer is having an amazing wife who says, “O.K.”

The band is comprised of four regular members. Matt and his brother Jon play guitar, Katie Patrizio provides the vocals on more than half the cuts, and Mike Blancafor is on drums. Logistics present as big a challenge as anything else.

Jon DeMella, gifted with not only musical talent but also the unflinching ability to advocate for gigs that the band may not actually deserve, does promotion. He’s awesome at it. He lives in Seattle. Katie Schmidt had to miss a gig last Halloween because she got snowed in and caught pneumonia. It would be like Derek Jeter missing three months of the season.

Special Patrol Group , as expected from a band that only plays four gigs a year, is not flawless. But they’re comfortable on stage and with each other and that gives them sufficient leeway to find their groove before long. When they do, they’re a mash of seventies and late-nineties influences that suggest a group of musicians who’ve been loving and leaving different kinds of music their whole lives. 

The songs are intelligent, unafraid of complexity, and often contain some stretch that you will be humming to yourself on the way home. Matt says “Belle and Sebastian, Elvis Costello and Dinosaur Jr.” I think I hurt his feelings when I said “Pavement,” but that was intended to be a compliment.

After last year’s Halloween snowstorm, when their lead singer and most of their fans were unable to leave their homes, they played before an audience of two. Not their fault, but still, that had to sting. On some nights, they’ve had venues give them crap about not bringing enough paying customers through the door and they wonder why they signed up for this. But there are more nights when they fill it up. There are nights when the band clicks and the fans all get sitters and, in that sliver, they’re rock stars.

When Matt told me he was a teacher and had a band, I thought of Robert Pollard, the patron saint of teachers-with-bands. Pollard taught fourth grade as he pounded out a dozen lifetimes worth of dingy, unforgettable riffs. Guided By Voices was an influential band, and can mount credible reunion tours for each of their many incarnations. They packed in venues like Irving Plaza and Hammerstein Ballroom and us sardines chanted G-B-V until our throats ran red. And the prevailing wisdom on Guided By Voices is that they never made it.

“Making it” is important to most, and it’s attractive to all, but it’s an obvious trap. A saner calculation utilizes your own proprietary formula and measures things privately. I can’t speak for Special Patrol Group, but it strikes me that they wouldn’t dedicate this small space in their lives to something so big unless it made them feel good. They might aspire to more, but this is what they’ve got right now. And on Friday night they’re showing up, again, and that’s pretty great start.

 

For more information about the band and a list of available songs, click here. 

 

 

Technical Difficulties

Alex had some issues with the domain name this morning, so some of you may have had some issues accessing the site. The issue is fixed now, but it may take a number of hours for domain name caches out in the wild to clear. Alex is one of those still affected, so there may not be any posts from him this morning. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Chicago-a-go-go

Viciedo's ninth-inning homer cooked the Yankees (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Going into Thursday night, Ivan Nova had a 1.27 ERA in four starts in June. This is good, because Ivan Nova is suddenly much more important to the Yakees than he was supposed to be. A day after CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte both headed to the disabled list, with Adam Warren and Freddy Garcia looming, an authoritative, effective performance from Nova was an oasis of relief — though, speaking of relief, that part of the equation didn’t go so well. The bullpen, specifically Clay Rapada and David Robertson, worked together to take turn a 3-1 lead in the ninth into a 4-3 loss thanks to a three-run homer from Dayan Viciedo. It was not a particularly charming party trick.

Any last-minute loss is a tough one, but this one was particularly so because it wasted a now-precious good start. Stinging even more was Clay Rapada’s ninth-inning throwing error, which cost the team a double play and probably the win, and the question of whether it all could have been avoided if David Robertson had just started the inning. Girardi said afterwards that he was trying to avoid overusing Robertson given his recent injury and use. I think that’s understandable, but of course Robertson ended up pitching anyway, and there’s room to second guess if you’re so inclined. It was hard not to feel for Rapada watching his postgame interview, in which he looked downright haunted, as if he had just accidentally run over Derek Jeter’s dog.

The runs the Yankees did get came from two doubles in the fifth – Alex Rodriguez knocking Granderson home, and then Cano doing the same for A-Rod – and a Mark Teixeira solo shot in the eighth. Chicago starter Dylan Axelrod ended up with a solid line, even though at times it seemed the Yankees were about to crack him wide open: 7 innings, 6 hits, 3 walks, 4 Ks, 2 ER. In fact, it was just about identical to Nova’s except that the Yankee hurler tossed an additional third of an inning, struck out one more batter, and allowed one less run.

This series also gave Yankees fans their first glimpse of Kevin Youkilis in another kind of Sox uniform, which took me aback even though I was of course expecting it. Youkilis’ odd bat-waggling stance still makes me want to yell obscenities at my TV, just because - the guy is inherently infuriating - but I’m nevertheless a bit sad about his unpleasant separation from Boston, where up til just recently I imagined he might stay for his entire career. It’s not one of the world’s tragedies, but seeing him in the Chicago uniform – and whatever other uniforms are to come – will always be odd.  He was 0-for-4 on the night.

How much panic is necessary about the Yankees’ sudden pitching concerns is still unclear, and will largely depend on your individual brand of fandom. It doesn’t sound like Sabathia will miss much too much time, though of course you never know and I just reached down to knock on the wood floor after typing that. But we will not see Pettitte again until September, at best, bringing to a crashing halt one of the best stories of this baseball season. I was in upstate New York visiting my dad when the Yankees announced Pettitte’s return; there’s not much reception where he is, and when I checked my phone as we drove through a rare three-bar zone, the news was so unexpected that I wondered if the phone was actually working properly — as if somehow I had just received a delayed tweet from 2007. That he would not only come back, but do so the tune of a 130+ ERA and regularly pitch into the eighth inning, surpassed my dreams of a best-case scenario. Even his injury was caused by a comebacker, a freak accident, not age or rust. But so it goes.

Hopefully, the Yankees have employees guarding Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda and Nova 24/7, preventing staircase trips and cooking cuts and fending off stray meteors, lightning strikes and coyote attacks. I want their best men on it.

Yanks Win by a Nose, but Offense Doesn’t Pass the Smell Test

Arod and Teixeira teamed up to record the final out of the game. (Photo: AP)

It wasn’t the resounding breakout game most Yankees’ fans have been desperately anticipating, but on the strength of three runs, and Alex Rodriguez’ game ending throw, the Bronx Bombers finally managed to squeak out a much needed victory.

May has mostly been a gloomy month for the Yankees, but one bright spot has been the baby steps taken by Phil Hughes. In tonight’s game, the right hander broke out of the gate strong, but then fell victim to two old bugaboos. In the top of the third, Hughes left an 0-2 pitch over the plate to Humberto Quintero, who promptly lined an RBI double into the right field corner. Entering the game, Hughes had allowed opposing hitters to bat an astounding .293/.341/.537 (or 191% better than the league average) when ahead in the count 0-2, so Quintero’s run scoring hit was only the latest in a season’s worth of frustration born of poor location.

The Royals added to their lead in the fourth inning when Jeff Francoeur drove a 2-0 fastball into the left field seats. The long ball has been a season-long tormenter of the Yankees’ starting rotation, but no one has been more vulnerable than Hughes, who has been victimized at least once in each of his starts.  In 47 1/3 innings, Hughes has now allowed 11 home runs, giving him the third highest rate per nine innings among all qualified major league starters.

The negatives aside, Hughes did manage to hold the Royals to only two runs over six innings, which was important because the offense wasn’t quite ready to bust out. The Yankees finally got on the board when Robinson Cano launched a long home run in the fourth inning, but the winning rally was much more subdued. In the bottom of the fifth, the Yankees loaded the bases on a seeing-eye grounder, hit by pitch, and bunt single, setting the stage for another golden scoring opportunity. With the memory of last night’s failure with bases loaded still fresh in everyone’s mind, Derek Jeter fell behind in the count, but finally produced a run with a single that was flared into right. Would this be the hit that would jump start the Yankees’ struggling offense and put an end to their futility with runners in scoring position? Unfortunately, the answer was no. After Curtis Granderson’s ground out produced another run, Alex Rodriguez and Raul Ibanez each went down swinging to end the rally.

Although the Yankees may not have exited the inning with good feelings, they did come away with the lead. Keeping it, however, wouldn’t be easy.  Over the final three innings, Joe Girardi used five different relievers to record the last nine outs (such is life without Mariano), but his master plan almost hit a snag in the bottom of the ninth inning. With two outs, Alex Gordon, who had doubled, was at third when Alcides Escobar hit a grounder that Rodriguez fielded deep behind the bag. Arod’s only play was to desperately put his entire body into the throw, which hurtled across the diamond as Escobar raced down the line. The ball finally nestled into Mark Teixeira’s outstretched glove just ahead of the base runner, giving the Yankees a victory by the narrowest of margins, and, perhaps, a one-day reprieve from having to answer questions about not getting the big hit.

Color By Numbers: To Homer, Or Not To Homer? Should That Be the Question?

Around this time last year, I took a look at the growing belief that the Yankees hit “too many home runs” and concluded there wasn’t much wisdom in that unconventional thought. However, following a recent period of offensive malaise, the same theme has popped up once again. So, let’s take another look.

Yankees’ Record in Homerless Games, Since 1918

Source: Baseball-reference.com

A fashionable statistic making the rounds this morning is the Yankees 0-8 record when the offense fails to hit a home run. Despite the very small sample, this still seems to be a very intriguing relationship, especially when you consider that in half of those games the Yankees only allowed four or fewer runs. What’s more, the team’s bottom-four and six of the bottom-10 games in terms of WPA (win probability added) also happen to come from among the eight they’ve played without hitting a home run. So, it seems as if the team’s offense has suffered from a feast or famine syndrome with the long ball. However, that doesn’t mean the problem is “too many home runs”.

Yankees’ 10 Lowest WPA Games, 2012

Source: Baseball-reference.com

So far this season, 91 of the Yankees’ 177 runs, or just over half, have come via the home run, which compares to 44% cumulatively between 1996 and 2011. Of course, it should also be noted that the Yankees’ current run/game average of 4.76 is almost three-quarters off the .5.48 rate posted from 1996 to 2011. In other words, the Yankees aren’t hitting too many home runs. They just aren’t scoring enough runs, which is mostly a byproduct of a recent dry spell with runners in scoring position (it wasn’t too long ago that the team was scoring at a historic pace).

Just as the Yankees have found it difficult to win when they don’t hit a home run, the team has had good success when its pitchers keep the ball in the ballpark. Unfortunately, there have only been seven such occasions, which is by far the lowest percentage of homerless games since at least 1918. With the exception of C.C. Sabathia, Yankees’ starters have given up more than their fair share of homers, which, in turn, has significantly mitigated the relative power advantage that the team usually enjoys. This is the real problem.

Percentage of Games in Which Yankees Have Not Allowed a Home Run, Since 1918

Source: Baseball-reference.com

It’s easy to understand why so many Yankees’ fans harp upon the team’s offense. Historically, the Bronx Bombers have been a team defined by the strength of its bats, so when the lineup underperforms those high expectations, it becomes easy to point the finger at the offense. Having said that, just because the offense hasn’t been a weakness doesn’t mean there isn’t reason for concern. Although the Yankees’ offense is still very strong when compared to the rest of the league, it might not be good enough to overcome the team’s underperforming rotation. That’s why the Yankees biggest concern shouldn’t be the number of home runs hit by its lineup, but instead the amount allowed by its starters.

Color By Numbers: Who Needs a Hit?

A walk is as good as a hit. Even though some traditionalists might view such a statement as sabermetric hokum, that sentiment has been expressed by coaches from little league to the majors for who knows how many years. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily make it true. In many cases, a hit is much more valuable than a base on balls, but in terms of preserving precious outs, both are equally effective.

With the Rays in town, it’s the perfect time to examine the relationship between batting average and on-base percentage. Over the first two games of the current series at Yankee Stadium, the first two hitters in the Tampa lineup have been Ben Zobrist and Carlos Pena, whose relatively low batting averages make them seem like an unlikely pair to feature in the first two slots. Leave it to Joe Maddon to think outside the box, but, in this instance, his strategy isn’t very unorthodox.  You see, Zobrist and Pena have two of the highest on-base percentages on the team.

Having a high on-base percentage despite a low batting average isn’t very common, but in Zobrist and Pena, the Rays have two of the top three hitters in terms of the differential between both rates (Zobrist is first at .152 and Pena is third at .150; Dodgers’ AJ Ellis is second at .151).  Both hitters also rank among only 13 qualified batters who currently have an on-base percentage at least 150% greater than their batting average, so teams facing the Rays might be lulled into a false sense of security if they only focus on the latter.

Hitters with OBP to BA Ratios of At Least 150%, Qualified Batters in 2012

Source: Baseball-reference.com

With an on-base percentage that is 184% of his batting average, Brewers’ second baseman Rickie Weeks has managed to salvage some value from the disappointingly slow start to his 2012 season. Like most of the members of the list above, his high ratio is mostly the result of having a subpar batting average. However, there is one standout. Reds’ All Star first baseman Joey Votto has piggybacked on a very respectable batting average of .291 with an on-base percentage that ranks fifth in the National League, which is par for the course for the former MVP, whose career ratio is 130% (.406 OBP vs. 312 BA).

If Weeks maintains his current rates, he’d break the current on-base versus batting average differential record of 182% (based on qualified seasons), which was set by Braves’ outfielder Jimmy Wynn in 1976. That season, the Toy Cannon only hit .207, but, thanks to a league leading 127 walks, still finished in the top-10 in on-base percentage. In total, 175 players have had a qualified season with an OBP/BA ratio of at least 150%, but none has been more impressive than Barry Bonds’ 2004 campaign. That season, the homerun champion won the batting title with a .362 average and still managed to post a high multiple by reaching base in a remarkable 61% of all plate appearances.

10 Highest OBP to BA Ratios, Qualified Seasons since 1901

Source: Baseball-reference.com

It’s hard enough for a hitter to reach base at a high multiple to his batting average in a single season, much less for an entire career. However, 19 players with at least 1,000 plate appearances have managed to turn the trick, and chief among them was Mickey Lolich. In his 16 major league seasons, which spanned the advent of the DH rule, the former Tigers, Mets, and Padres pitcher ended his batting career with more walks than base hits (105 to 90). As a result, Lolich’s on-base percentage was nearly double his batting average, a discrepancy that easily ranks as the widest in baseball history.

Hitters with Career OBP to BA Ratios of At Least 150%, 1901

*Indicates pitchers.
Note: Based on a minimum of 1,000 plate appearances.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Among position players, West Westrum’s 164% multiple ranks as the largest differential, but the most impressive divergence probably belongs to Gene Tenace, whose on-base percentage was 161% higher than his batting average in over 5,500 plate appearances. Tenace, a catcher/first baseman whom some regard as a borderline Hall of Famer, ended his career with a very impressive OPS+ of 136, making him a prime example of a hitter capable of providing significant value over and beyond his relatively low batting average.

What about the other end of the spectrum? For a look at those hitters whose ability to reach base rests solely on their bats, join me for a companion piece over at the Captain’s Blog.

Observations From Cooperstown: Memories of Moose

Moose Skowron looked like a character out of “Moon Mullins.” Or in a more contemporary sense, he had the appearance of a secondary character in “The Simpsons.” With his lantern jaw, thick jowls, and military crew cut, he possessed the look of a man who could put his fist through your chest and pull your heart out.

Appearances are often deceiving, and they were exactly that with Skowron, who died at 81 on Friday after a battle with lung cancer. Oh, he could be gruff and curt on the outside, but once you opened a conversation with him, you discovered a down-to-earth guy who enjoyed telling stories from his days with the Yankees. And when you’ve played with characters like Mickey Mantle, Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford, or managed for one-of-a-kind legends like Casey Stengel, you’ve got good material to work with.

There were other deceptions with Skowron. Like many fans, I always assumed that Skowron’s nickname came from his size, his power, and his brute physical strength. He was six feet, two inches, 200 pounds, with much of frame wrapped in muscle. Well, the true origins of his nickname had nothing to do with his physical dimensions. When Skowron was a boy, his grandfather gave him an impromptu haircut, which made the youngster look like the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. Skowron’s friends called him “Mussolini,” and the family adapted by changing the nickname to “Moose.” By the time he was playing major league ball, everyone was calling him Moose. One of the few exceptions was the Topps Card Company, which always listed him as “Bill Skowron” on his cards.

After signing with the Yankees in 1950, the organization tried him as an outfielder and third baseman, before realizing he lacked the athletic agility needed of those positions. He moved to first base, where he was blocked by players like Johnny Mize and Joe Collins. He finally landed in the Bronx in 1954, when he platooned with Collins, before becoming an everyday player by the late 1950s.

How good was Skowron in his prime? Well, he was very good. From 1957 to 1961, he averaged 20 home runs a season while qualifying for five consecutive American League All-Star teams. During that stretch, he twice slugged better than .500; he also received some support for American League MVP on two occasions.

As a right-handed power hitter, the old Yankee Stadium was hardly made to order for Skowron. But he adapted, developing a power stroke that targeted right-center and right fields, where the dimensions were far more favorable for hitting the long ball. Skowron’s right-handed hitting presence was importance, given that most of their power hitters hit from the left side (including Roger Maris, Berra and the switch-hitting Mantle.) If opposing teams loaded up on left-handed pitching, Skowron could make them pay.

Skowron really had only two flaws in his game. A classic free swinger and bad ball hitter, Skowron could sometimes hit pitches up his eyes, but he could also flail away at other pitches outside of the strike zone. Since he didn’t walk much, his on-base percentage suffered. Skowron’s other weakness involved his health; he simply could not avoid injuries. One time, he hurt his back while lifting an air conditioner. On another occasion, he tore a muscle in his thigh. There were broken bones, too, including a fractured arm that resulted from an on-field collision. With such injuries forcing him to miss chunks of games at a time, he often played 120 to 130 games a season, instead of the 150 to 160 that he would have preferred.

The 1961 season provided contrasts and quandaries for Skowron. On the down side, his slugging percentage and his on-base percentage fell. More favorably, he hit a personal-best 28 home runs while playing in a career-high 150 games. Batting out of the sixth and seventh hole, Skowron provided protection for the middle-of-the-order thumpers, a group that included Maris, Mantle, and Berra.

As he often did, Skowron elevated his play in the World Series. In the 1961 Classic against the Reds, Yet, it was in the 1961 World Series. In five games against the upstart Reds, Skowron slugged .529 with one home run and five RBIs, reached base 45 per cent of the time, and hit a robust .353. Then again, Moose was almost always good in the Series. In 133 at-bats stretched over eight World Series appearances, Skowron hit eight home runs and slugged .519. In Game Seven situations alone, the Moose hit three home runs. If you believe in the existence of clutch, and I do, then Skowron belongs near the top of that list.

Skowron put up another good season in 1962, but his age and the presence of a young player in the system changed his status within the organization. Believing that Joe Pepitone was headed toward superstardom, the Yankees decided to trade Skowron that winter. They sent him to the Dodgers in exchange for Stan Williams, an intimidating veteran reliever who liked to throw pitches up and in as part of his quest for strikeouts.

In some ways, Skowron could not have been traded to a less ideal situation. Newly built Dodger Stadium, which had replaced the Los Angeles Coliseum as the Dodgers’ home, had a ridiculously high mound and outfield measurements that did not favor sluggers like Skowron. He also had to face a new set of pitchers in the National League; outside of World Series competition, Moose had little familiarity with senior circuit pitching. To make matters worse, Skowron did not play first base every day, instead platooning with Ron Fairly. Moose hit a miserable .203 and ripped only three home runs in well under 300 plate appearances.

To the surprise of many, Skowron still had something left for the World Series. Playing against his former Yankee mates, he swatted a home run and batted .385 to help the Dodgers to a four-game Series sweep.

World Series heroics aside, the Dodgers questioned whether Skowron had much left. So they sold him to the Washington Senators. He hit well during a half-season in the Capital City, but when the team fell out of contention, he was sent packing to the White Sox in a mid-season trade. Skowron hit well over the next season and a half, but slumped badly in 1966 before closing out his career in ’67.

Yet, there was much more to Skowron than on-the-field highlights and accomplishments. He made news off the field, sometimes in frivolous ways and sometimes through embarrassing situations. Let’s consider a couple of episodes from the 1960s:

*During the 1963 season, Skowron and several other Dodgers made a guest appearance on the TV show, “Mr. Ed.” Skowron, catcher John Roseboro, center fielder Willie Davis, and Hall of Fame left-hander Sandy Koufax played themselves. In the main plotline of “Leo Durocher meets Mr. Ed,” the talking horse gives batting tips to Durocher, who was billed as the Dodgers’ manager even though he was actually a coach under Walter Alston. Durocher is supposed to relay the tips to a slumping Skowron. Moose and the other Dodgers then watch in amazement as Mr. Ed completes an inside-the-park home run against Koufax. (In a complete aside, Durocher also appeared on an episode of “The Munsters,” and was once again mentioned as the Dodgers’ skipper. Either Alston wanted nothing to do with Hollywood, or someone was trying to send him the message that Durocher was the real Dodgers manager.)

*While training with the Dodgers in Vero Beach, Florida, he decided to make a surprise trip to see his wife at their home in Hilldale, New Jersey. When he arrived at the house, Skowron found his wife in bed with another man. Infuriated by the surprise discovery, Skowron proceeded to pummel his unwanted guest. Shortly thereafter, Skowron was charged with assault, though many were sympathetic to his situation.

Skowron had better long-term success with other relationships, particularly his fellow Yankees. Beloved in the Yankee clubhouse, Moose became especially close friends with Hank Bauer, a rough-and tumble character in his own right. They often made public appearances together, including numerous visits to Cooperstown for Hall of Fame Weekend signings. I remember meeting Skowron and Bauer back in the late 1980s, while I was still working in sports talk radio. They were signing at a table outside one of the many card shops on Main Street. I wanted to interview the two of them, but I was intimidated by Bauer’s raspy voice and Skowron’s rugged appearance. Feeling like a rookie cub reporter, I settled for making a few innocuous remarks to the two ex-Bombers.

It remains one of my regrets. I never did have another chance to interview either Skowron or Bauer. That was a real mistake on my part, losing out on the opportunity to have a real chat with Skowron, one of the game’s great storytellers.

If there is any consolation, some of Skowron’s stories can be found on You Tube, and in the many books that serve as oral histories of the Yankee franchise. This was a guy who was good friends with Mantle and Berra, a guy who knew Whitey Ford, a man who played with Maris, a guy who dealt with the idiosyncrasies of Casey Stengel. Skowron was a man worth listening to, a link to an era that was long ago, but an era that we always want to re-visit.

Moose was a man that we’ll miss.

Bruce Markusen is co-author of the newly revised edition of the book, Yankee World Series memories.

(Photo Credit: Washington Post; Alex Belth.)

[Editor's Note: Bruce will be on leave for the foreseeable future while he works on a book. We'll miss his weekly posts and he will drop in occasionally with a Card Corner piece. Meanwhile, we wish him good luck with his project and thank him for being the man.]

Wild Ending in the Bronx

In last year’s ALDS the Yankees touched up Justin Verlander but lost the game anyway when CC Sabathia blew the lead and Rafael Soriano gave up the winning homer. Tonight’s game spun out in unpleasantly familiar fashion as the Yankees got to Verlander for five extra-base hits and five runs in six innings but Ivan Nova couldn’t make it stand up. Nova was the one starting pitcher that had not submitted a stinker yet this season, but that’s history now.

After five pedestrian innings, Russell Martin presented Nova a surprise lead with a two-run homer off Verlander headed into the sixth. Nova proceeded to back up pedestrian with pus. The Tigers teed off on everything he threw, and the lead was gone in three batters – the big blow a booming double by Austin Jackson. Boone Logan came in and lost a battle to Prince Fielder and the inning ended with Detroit up two, 6-4.

The Yankees bounced back, scratching a run in the seventh and clawing another in the eighth. In between, Joe Girardi got run out of the game for arguing balls and strikes. The umpiring was another unpleasant reminder of the 2011 ALDS.

The stellar Yankee bullpen stepped up to hold the line, the highlight being Mariano’s vintage ninth inning. He broke three bats and struck out a guy looking while touching 93 mph on multiple pitches. In his first few outings, Mariano’s cutter wasn’t moving that much. Now it’s biting like a January wind.

In the ninth inning, the Tigers sent out a flame thrower named Brayan Villareal. He threw the ball so hard and with so much movement that one suspected he’d have trouble throwing three strikes before he threw four balls. He ran the count full to Russell Martin but coaxed a grounder to second. Derek Jeter worked a walk (and ended his fifteen game hitting streak in the process) and when ball four to Curtis Granderson skipped off Mike Avila’s shin guard, he was in motion and made it all the way to third. That brought up Alex Rodriguez, who locked in today with three hits, one of them a homer off Verlander, and his only out three feet short of the center-field wall.

Alex looked very dangerous up there and I was sure he was going to drive in the winning run as he tracked Villareal’s offerings into Avila’s glove. After two balls, Villareal’s third pitch sailed away from Avila. The catcher desperately stabbed his glove at the pitch but he couldn’t snag it. The ball rolled away towards the Yankee dugout. I started celebrating, but when the camera cut to Jeter straining down the line, he was not nearly as close to home plate as he should have been. It looked like he was running in mud and Jeter slid just as the ball arrived. Villareal dropped the ball, but Jeter was safe anyway. The Yankees made a winner of Mariano, 7-6.

Turns out Jeter got a poor read on the passed ball and if it wasn’t for Alex Rodriguez urging him to run, he wouldn’t have made it. Great game for Alex all the way around. And a great win for the Yankees after a few days full of bad news. This is exactly the kind of game the Yanks did not win in last year’s ALDS. Hopefully they’ll have one or two in the bag next time they get there.

I’ve been stewing about Pineda’s injury and Montero’s absence since I heard the news yesterday. Since the trade can’t be undone, it’s wasted energy on my part to continue to be upset about this. But before I let go completely, I want to write now what I was unable to articulate when the trade was made.

It was a dumb trade because the Yankees gave up cost controlled talent with ‘x’ risk attached to acquire cost controlled with ‘y’ risk attached, where ‘y’ was clearly greater than ‘x.’ This is an equation that a desperate team might follow, but not a perennial contender with deep pockets. The Yankees were better served keeping their own cost controlled offensive talent and using their financial might to acquire pitching, which is inherently more risky.

The Yankees chose to ignore all of CJ Wilson, Yu Darvish and Edwin Jackson when they were available. Those guys would have all been risky and expensive acquisitions but if they sucked or got injured, ala Igawa or Pavano, they could go get somebody else. They can spend money over and over again. They can only trade Jesus Montero once. I know that Pineda was more attractive than the expensive free agents because of his age and restricted salary, but that’s not a concern the Yankees should have had at the forefront of their decision making. They walked a tightrope when they could have paid to pave a road.

Let’s not forget the Yankees have to buy offense in the very near future. All the savings they were going to get from Pineda’s presence in the rotation were going to be spent filling second base, two outfield spots, catcher, and third base / DH. Why not just keep Montero and save that money? Why is money saved in the rotation any better than money saved in the lineup? Now of course, there will be no savings from Pineda as the Yankees will have to buy pitching to replace him as well.

It’s a classic case of being too cute for no reason. Even if you liked Pineda better than Montero, surely you liked Darvish and Montero better than Pineda and Ibanez. This is a roster equivalent of Girardi’s first inning intentional walk. If everything worked out, he looks like a smart guy. But he brought catastrophic outcomes into play that did not exist before the walk. By trading away the less risky Montero and acquiring the inherently risky Pineda, the Yankees brought into play a scenario where they get neither Pineda nor Montero and have to pay a shit load of money to replace them both.

I feel bad for the dude. Hope he rehabs and pitches well for the Yankees some day. And I’ll just leave it at that.

 

Photos by Mila Zinkova and AP/Bill Kostroun

 

 

No Relief in the Rotation as Yanks Fall Again in Texas

An early hook has become a regular part of Phil Hughes' starts (Source: AP).

You can never have enough starting pitching. During the offseason, that was Brian Cashman’s mantra as he built a rotation that went seven men deep. Tonight, it was a lesson the Yankees learned the hard way.

After announcing that Michael Pineda would miss the rest of the season with a torn labrum, the Yankees were looking for Phil Hughes to put his stamp on the rotation. However, those hopes were quickly dashed as the enigmatic right hander couldn’t even pitch his way through the third inning. Even more disconcerting than the four runs he allowed in his brief appearance was the continued lack of command that has dogged him since the second half of 2010. On several occasions, Hughes missed Russell Martin’s target by a wide margin, and almost without fail, the Rangers made him pay.

The Yankees scratched their way back into the game with two runs in the top of the fourth inning, but David Phelps, who may have been auditioning for a role in the rotation, didn’t provide much relief. In 2 1/3 innings, the young right hander allowed three runs, including two long balls, which effectively put the game out of reach. In the process, Phelps’ hiccup probably also quieted any outcry to have him take Hughes spot in the rotation.

With Hughes continuing to struggle and Pineda on the shelf, Andy Pettitte’s outing in Trenton took on even greater importance. In five-plus innings covering 81 pitches, the veteran lefty allowed seven hits and four runs, but was still pleased with his outing. However, he did admit that he wasn’t quite ready to return to the big leagues, which means the Yankees will have to hold their breath with Hughes and Freddy Garcia for at least a few more weeks.

Over the first 18 games, the Yankees have only recorded five quality starts, which, over a similar span, is the second lowest total in franchise history.  It probably wasn’t what he had in mind at the time, but, so far at least, Brian Cashman’s pre-season assessment appears to be right on the money. The Yankees most certainly do not have enough starting pitching.

[Featured Image via The Tropical Variation]

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]

Observations From Cooperstown: Dom Valentino and a Look Back at 1987

It’s tempting to say that Phil Rizzuto, Bill White and Frank Messer were the only broadcasters for the Yankees during the 1970s. It seemed that way, if only because those three men were fixtures on television and radio. But there were a few others who announced for the team that decade, including Fran Healy,  a good guy who made the immediate transition from backup catcher to broadcaster, and Bob Gamere, who is now in a federal prison for possessing and transporting child pornography.

There was also a guy named Dom Valentino.

Valentino died last week at the age of 83. If you don’t remember him as a Yankee broadcaster, you’re easily forgiven. I have only vague recollections of Valentino, and I was a diehard Yankee fan for most of that decade. Valentino announced Yankee games for just one season, in 1975, which turned out to be an also-ran campaign for the Yankees, just one year before their celebrated return to the World Series.

But I do remember Valentino, at least a little bit. Further research reveals that he was all of five feet and four inches, but had a large, booming voice that belied his stature. A colorful personality who wore shirts with wide collars that could have fit aircraft carriers, Valentino had an excitability on the air that made him distinctive. He sometimes embellished details on the field, trying to make circumstances more dramatic than they were, but hey, baseball is entertainment and not precision brain surgery.

The 1975 season was hardly a hallmark campaign for the Yankees, but it was noteworthy for the debuts of both Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Bobby Bonds in Yankee pinstripes. And it was absolutely tumultuous for Valentino, perhaps the most dramatic year in his life. Not only did Valentino do Yankee radio broadcasts that summer, but he also performed play-by-play for the New York Nets, who still had Julius Erving and were still in the ABA, and the NHL’s New York Islanders. It was a hectic time for Valentino, especially in the spring, when the Yankees, Nets and Islanders were all playing simultaneously. Given such a breakneck schedule, it became understandable why Valentino endured a heart attack in July. Then, during his time in the hospital, Valentino suffered a second heart attack. Two heart attacks meant an end to his one season of broadcasting in the Bronx.

Valentino’s life had almost ended a month earlier, and through circumstances under which he had no control. After a Yankee home game on June 13–Friday the 13th as a matter of fact–Valentino was driving home when he was hit head-on by a drunk driver. The collision thrust Valentino partly through his windshield. Miraculously, he survived the terrifying accident, only to endure the two heart attacks later in the summer. No one should have to go through that kind of a year.

After a 15-month layoff, Valentino returned to broadcasting, but not at the major league level. Determined to announce games once again, He took a job announcing New Orleans Pelicans minor league games. By 1980, he was back in the big leagues, doing play-by-play for the Oakland A’s. Valentino’s friendship with Billy Martin, who was guiding the “Billy Ball” A’s at the time, helped him land the job. Finally, a good break had come Valentino’s way, after all those near tragedies of 1975.

That Valentino somehow made it through 1975, and then fought his way back to a major league broadcast booth, is remarkable. He managed to live until his early eighties, when a pair of strokes and prostrate cancer finally took his life. That’s fighting. And that’s surviving. Dom Valentino, God bless you…

 

***

Saturday afternoon’s miraculous comeback from a 9-0 deficit will likely become a Yankee classic, and for good reason (it happened against their hated rivals and occurred on national TV), but it’s not the first time that the Bombers have come back from such a margin against the Beantowners. On June 26, 1987, the Yankees played the Red Sox in a Friday night game at the Stadium. They fell behind the defending American League champions, 9-0, after the first two innings.

In the bottom of the third, the Yankees then went to work against a young Roger Clemens By the end of the inning, the Yankees had knocked “The Rocket” from the game, banged out nine hits against a trio of Red Sox pitchers, taken advantage of an error and a passed ball, and scored a bushel of 11 runs. The big blows came from Dave Winfield (a three-run homer), Gary Ward (a bases-loaded single), and of all people, Wayne Tolleson (another bases-loaded single).

But the Yankees could not maintain their sudden prosperity. Rich Bordi, called on to pitch long relief after a failed start by Tommy John, immediately gave up two runs in the top of the fourth, as the Sox tied the game. The two teams would not score again until the bottom of the 10th, when Mike Pagliarulo drew a leadoff walk against Calvin Schiraldi, moved to second on Rick Cerone’s sacrifice bunt, and came home with the game-winning run on Tolleson’s RBI single.

Not surprisingly, Don Mattingly put himself right in the middle of the offensive heroics. He went 4-for-6, scored two runs, and drove in another. Willie Randolph added three hits and a walk, while Winfield chipped in with his three-run shot, the Yankees’ only home run of the night.

The offensive outburst overshadowed the good work of the Yankee bullpen. After Bordi coughed up the lead, Cecilio Guante gave Lou Piniella three and a third innings of scoreless relief, lefty Pat Clements pitched shutout ball for two and two-thirds, and Tim “Big Foot” Stoddard picked up the win by notching the final out in the top of the 10th. For those three pitchers, the game might have represented the highlight of their brief Yankee careers.

And just to give you a little flavor of the era, some of the other Yankees who played that day included a veteran Claudell Washington, platoon specialist Mike Easler, and the good-hit, no-field catcher, Mark Salas.

Yes, that was 25 years ago. A different time and an era. But the same result–an incredible come-from-behind win against the Sox.

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.

Color By Numbers: Back It Up

Backup catcher can be a thankless job. Off all the bench positions, the second string backstop is arguably the most scrutinized and most criticized, particularly because so many people tend to overlook defense and hone in on their typically meager offensive contributions.

Most Games by a Yankees’ Catcher, Since 1918

Note: Includes games in which the player PH for the existing catcher.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Over the years, the Yankees have been blessed with several elite catchers. From Bill Dickey to Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, and Jorge Posada, the Bronx Bombers have often enjoyed a comparative advantage behind the plate. Combined, that quintet has played 44% of the team’s “catcher games” (based on total games played at catcher, not in each season) and accounted for around 50% of most statistical contributions from the position. However, these all-time greats have had some help along the way.

The Best vs. the Rest: Comparison of Yankees’ Catchers, Since 1918

Note: Includes games in which the player PH for the existing catcher.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

In addition to the All Stars mentioned above, the Yankees have had 114 catchers since 1918, ranging from Billy Shantz, who appeared in only one game but never had an at bat, to Rick Cerone, who played 567 games as a catcher and finished seventh in the 1980 MVP balloting.  This less than stellar group of backstops has compiled a batting line of .254/.326/.367, which, while paling in comparison to the rates posted by the team’s better catchers, still seems respectable (for context, major league catchers hit a combined .245/.313/.389 in 2011). However, those totals include the contributions of several starters, and today, we’re only concerned with the backups.

Most Games as a Yankees’ Backup Catcher, Since 1918

Note: Includes games in which the player PH for the existing catcher. Backup role defined as any catcher but the one with the most games behind the plate in an individual season.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Norwegian-born Arndt Jorgens ranks as the most prolific backup catcher in Yankees’ history. From 1929 to 1939, Jorgens served as a second stringer to Bill Dickey, joining the likes of Benny Bengough, Buddy Rosar (both of whom also rank among the top five) and Joe Glenn in that role. Interestingly, Dickey’s Hall of Fame successor, Yogi Berra, also ranks as the second most tenured backup. Berra was a second stinger, at least in terms of catching, both at the beginning of his career and the end, when he moved to the outfield to make room for Elston Howard. Turnabout was fair play for Howard, who spent the first five years of his career alternating between the outfield and Berra’s primary backup.

Top-10 Career OPS by a Yankees’ Backup Catcher, Since 1918

Note: Includes games in which the player PH for the existing catcher. Backup role defined as any catcher but the one with the most games behind the plate in an individual season. Totals above exclude years in which the player led the team in games behind the plate. Minimum of 150 career plate appearances.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Older Yankees’ fans probably remember Ron Hassey very well. In 1985 and 1986, the plodding catcher posted a prolific OPS of .846, while serving as Butch Wynegar’s primary backup. In the process, he also earned the nickname “Babe” because his lefty swing and titanic homeruns resembled the Bambino. In the 1990s, Mike Stanley was a similar-styled player. Before ascending to the starting job in 1993, his bat made him a fan favorite when he was Matt Nokes’ backup in 1992. After becoming the lead man, Stanley turned the role over to Jim Leyritz, who provided steady offense behind the plate in nine seasons as a second stringer for the Yankees. However, Leyritz greatest notoriety came in the postseason, during which he authored two of the most dramatic home runs in franchise history.

10 Best/Worst OPS Seasons by a Yankees’ Backup Catchers, Since 1918

Note: Includes games in which the player PH for the existing catcher. Backup role defined as any catcher but the one with the most games behind the plate in an individual season. Minimum of 75 plate appearances and seasons by Yogi Berra and Jorge Posada excluded.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Considering the relatively limited playing time of a backup catcher, their offensive performance is difficult to predict. For every Benny Bengough who surprises with an exemplary season, there’s a Joel Skinner who consistently makes fans groan every time they see his name penciled into the lineup. Although the Yankees have recently had some success getting offense from their backup catcher, Jose Molina (2007) and John Flaherty (2003-2004), for the most part, the team’s second stringers have been light with the bat. Luckily, there is organization depth at catcher because as frustrating as it is to have a backup who can’t it, it’s much worse when the same is true about the starter.

Yankees Use Backup Plan to Even Series Against Twins

Photo: AP

Backup catchers should be seen, but not noticed. During the YES broadcast, that’s how former Yankees’ second stringer John Flaherty described the life of a number two backstop. Chris Stewart must not have gotten the memo.

Over the first 10 games of the season, the Yankees have had no problem getting men on base, but driving them in hasn’t been as easy. So, after squandered scoring opportunities in the first two innings by leaving a total of five men on base, it seemed as if it would be another frustrating night in the Bronx. However, all that changed in the bottom of the third.

After falling behind 3-1 in the top half of the inning (which also featured the ejection of Twins center fielder Denard Span and manager Ron Gardenhire), the Yankees quickly mounted another rally, but this time they would not be turned away. The unlikely hero in the inning was Stewart, who, in only his fifth at bat of the season, gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead with a bases loaded single that knocked Twins’ starter Francisco Liriano from the game. In total, the team scored four runs in the inning and then never looked back.

Once staked to a lead, CC Sabathia took his game to another level. In each of the next three innings, the big lefty retired the Twins in order and at one point set down 13 consecutive Minnesota batters. Meanwhile, the Yankees continued to tack on runs, including two more RBIs from Derek Jeter, a homerun by Andruw Jones, and a final tally by Stewart, who ended the game with a career-high 3 RBIs. The outburst was more than enough for Sabathia, who departed with one in the eighth having given the Yankees only their third quality start of the season.

Although Stewart was the focal point of the offense, just about every hitter had a good night. However, there was one exception. Alex Rodriguez was not only the sole member of the lineup without a base hit, but his failure to drive in a run extended a peculiar streak that has seen the Bronx Bombers go 11 straight games without an RBI from the cleanup slot, the fifth longest such stretch in baseball history. For most teams, such a prolonged period of futility from the cleanup slot would debilitating, but the Yankees’ have managed to win six of their first 11 games without a contribution from the four-hole. Of course, that really shouldn’t be surprising. What else would you expect from a lineup that has a backup catcher capable of driving in three runs in one game?

Card Corner: 1972 Topps: Roy White

At times the photographers at Topps have depicted a player just about right. Roy White’s 1972 Topps card is a good example of that; we see White practicing his in-game batting stance, holding his hands much lower than most players do, toward his back hip. All that’s missing is the inclusion of White’s feet. With a larger photograph, Topps would have been able to show his pigeon-toed posture, another classic feature of White’s unique batting stance.

White’s card also gives us a good look at the Yankees’ old-school road uniforms, which they used through the 1972 season. They’re you’re basic road gray, with no piping or striping around the sleeve. I’ve always preferred this most simplistic of road uniforms, partly because it’s iconic and partly because it brings back memories of the Mantle/Maris Yankees of the early 1960s.

All in all, this is a quality card for a quality player. In recalling the Yankees of the early 1970s, fans of that era glorified three players: star catcher Thurman Munson, All-Star outfielder Bobby Murcer and the team’s pitching ace, Mel Stottlemyre. Roy White was rarely held in similarly high regard by either the fans or the media. He was generally considered a good, solid player, but not a star, with the one flaw in his game (a poor throwing arm) sometimes becoming the subject of contempt, ridicule, and cruel humor.

The perception of White has changed–and changed drastically–since then. Largely due to Sabermetrics, both Yankee fans and non-Yankee fans have changed their tune with towards White‘s abilities. Or in some cases, it’s simply a matter of a younger generation of fans having a better understanding of players’ quality than we did in the sixties and seventies. White’s ability to draw walks, which was rarely highlighted in the early seventies, has now been given its full due; we better understand and appreciate White’s ability to reach base, and the important role it played in setting the table for other Yankee hitters. And then there is the matter of White’s defense. He was truly an excellent defensive left fielder, with enough speed and range to have played center, if not for Murcer’s presence there through the middle of the 1974 season. Yes, the throwing arm would have been a problem, but probably not anymore so than the weak arms of Mickey Rivers or a late-career Bernie Williams.

Some might argue that the tendency to underrate White in his day was also a product of racism. I have my doubts that was the case. Elston Howard, the Yankees’ first African American player, was popular with fans and held in high regard by almost all of the New York media. Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph, and Mickey Rivers were all popular Yankees. And fans were just about as supportive as they could be of the controversial Reggie Jackson. When Reggie produced, the fans howled their approval with booming chants of “REG-GIE,REG-GIE” resonating though the upper decks of the old Yankee Stadium. Now Billy Martin might have been a different story; some of his dislike for Reggie might have been rooted in racism, but I don’t know for sure. But I just don’t see much evidence for racial antipathy, not from Martin or anyone else, toward a quiet and hard-working player like Roy White.

By 1972, the switch-hitting White had established himself as a very good player. Though underrated, he had already made two All-Star teams and had earned some MVP votes in three different seasons.  He was coming off a season in which he had led the American League in sacrifice flies, an unglamorous statistic to say the least, but one that showed his team-oriented nature.

In 1972, White’s power production fell off, as his OPS dipped from .857 to .760, his worst mark as the Yankees’ regular left fielder. Still, he managed to make some favorable contributions like lead the American League with 99 walks and steal 23 bases in 30 attempts, all while playing his usually sterling defense in the outfield. The following two seasons, he struggled, leading some to question whether he was on the downhill side at age 30. In the midst of the 1974 season, manager Bill Virdon made him a DH part of the time, a role that White abhorred, considering it an insult to his athletic talents.

In 1975, White’s career received a revival when the Yankees made a managerial switch, firing the placid, detached Virdon, and replacing him with Martin, who appreciated players of all-round ability like the speedy White. Martin put White back in left field and restored him to the No. 2 spot in the batting order. White bounced back beautifully, playing for White the way that he had once played for Ralph Houk.  In 1976, White led the American League with 104 runs scored and reached a career high with 31 stolen bases, becoming a huge part of the first Yankee team to reach the postseason since the ill-fated World Series of 1964.

In the meantime, White became known as a beacon of calm and kindness in a clubhouse that often swirled in turmoil. As Sparky Lyle wrote in his critically acclaimed book, The Bronx Zoo, everybody on the Yankees liked White. “Roy White is probably the nicest goddam guy on the club,” Lyle wrote in his blunt-force style. “He’s well respected by everybody, and he’s very classy.” Classy. The perfect word to describe the gentlemanly Roy White.

By 1978, the year that Lyle’s book hit the shelves, White’s on-field ability had slowed to the point of becoming a part-time player. No longer the everyday left fielder, he platooned with Lou Piniella and also made 23 appearances as a designated hitter, a role that he was now better equipped to handle. With the Yankees having extreme depth in the outfield, they could afford to use White more sparingly, a role into which he fit perfectly. Still able to reach base 35 per cent of the time, White became part of a squadron of role players that supported the Yankees’ stars during their second consecutive world championship run. He played some of his best ball of the season in the playoffs and World Series, hitting over .300 against both the Royals and Dodgers.

Then came the falloff of 1979. Spring training started poorly, as the Yankees refused to offer him an extension on a contract that had just one year remaining. The lack of an extension might have contributed to White’s nightmarish season. Appearing in only 81 games, White played poorly, his power and speed showing the decline that often comes with having a 35-year-old body. Free agency could not have come at a worse possible time. White wanted to keep playing, but the Yankees, looking to rebuild with youth after a season of tragedy and tumult, showed little interest. White received some offers from other teams, but he opted for a completely different career move. He took his aging talents to the Tokyo Giants of the Japanese Leagues, where he became a teammate of Sadaharu Oh.

Batting as the cleanup man behind Oh, White played very well in his first two seasons in Japan. He made the All-Star team one season and helped the Giants to the Japanese Leagues championship the next. In his third year with Tokyo, White found himself playing a utility role, but he fought his way back into the lineup and hit .330 the rest of the way. At season’s end, White decided to call it quits, leaving the game on a high note.

Since his playing days, White has returned to the Yankee organization several times, serving as the first base coach on three occasions and also putting in some time as an assistant to the general manager. In that latter role, he scouted Hideki Matsui during his time in Japan, giving the Yankees his first-hand assessment of a Far East player that they would eventually sign.

Unfortunately, every one of White’s coaching and front office assignments with the Yankees has ended with him being ousted, often with no reason given. I don’t know why that is. He seems like the kind of guy who should have a permanent place in the organization, whether as a scout or as a consultant. It’s almost as if the Yankee organization still doesn’t have a full appreciation for him, just as most of us fans failed to respect him at the time for the player that he truly was.

And that’s just not right. Roy White belongs with the Yankees. If he wants to work for them,  the Yankees should be able to find a place.

[Featured Image via Corbis]

Color By Numbers: Generation Gap

Thanks to some sloppy defense by his Rockies’ teammates, Jamie Moyer was thwarted in his recent attempt to surpass Jack Quinn as the oldest pitcher to win a major league game. However, the 49-year old Moyer and his 22-year old opponent Madison Bumgarner did manage to make an imprint on history. The 26 years and 256 days between the birthdays of the grizzled veteran and fresh faced youngster represented the largest age differential for opposing starters in almost 47 years.

Greatest Age Differential Between Opposing Starters, Since 1918

Source: Baseball-reference.com

When the 59-year old Satchel Paige faced 29-year old Bill Monbouquette at the end of 1965 season, it was the culmination of a publicity stunt by Kansas Athletics’ owner Charles O. Finley. Of course, that didn’t stop Paige from throwing three shutout innings. Twelve years earlier, Paige was also involved in the second largest age differential for starters when he faced 18-year old Bob Miller in 1953. Had he not inexplicably been excluded from the majors during the interim, Paige’s name would likely be all over the list above. Instead, it’s Phil Niekro who dominates, but maybe not for long. If Moyer has a rematch with Bumgarner, or faces pitchers like Randall Delgado, Blake Beaven, Rick Porcello, Stephen Strasburg, Neftali Feliz, Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Cahill, Mike Minor, or Mat Latos, he’ll gradually take Niekro’s place.

Greatest Combined Age of Opposing Starters, Since 1918

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Moyer has also contributed to three of the seven games since 1918 that have featured a combined starters’ age of at least 87 years. Although the Rockies’ lefty should have a few chances to add to the list, his prospects for topping the record of 90 years and 135 days, which is held by Don Sutton and Phil Niekro, seem slim. The Mets’ Miguel Batista (41 years and 53 days on April 12, 2012) is the only active opponent who could combine with Moyer to surpass the high water mark, but he is currently relegated to bullpen. So, unless he happens to get a spot start against Moyer, or another veteran makes a comeback at just the right time, the ageless lefty will probably have to wait until next year to break Sutton and Niekro’s record.

Percentage of Pitchers 40 or Older and 20 and Younger, Since 1918

Source: Baseball-reference.com

With the exception of a spike in older starters during the middle of the last decade, the percentages of pitchers 40 and older or 20 and younger have been trending down.  So, if Moyer isn’t able to find someone to help him break the records set by Paige/Monbouquette and Niekro/Sutton, they just might last forever. Unless, of course, Moyer lasts forever himself, which might not be out of the question.

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