"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Yankees

Happy Trails, Hank

Pic Credit: Posted By: Annah Nafula July 6, 2017 Capital FM Uganda

Hank Steinbrenner, eldest of the late George Steinbrenner’s children and co-owner/general partner of the New York Yankees has died at the age of 63 (from a non-Covid 19 related illness).

Not only is this surprising, but it’s an even sadder oddity and reminder that we are living a moment in world history; in our own lifetimes, that we have to distinguish a well-known and older individual’s death from the thousands of deaths we are experiencing on a daily basis due to an insidious virus that has caused a global pandemic.  From reports that have come about at this writing, Hank had been sick for quite some time; it was the catalyst for him to step down as managing partner of the team he inherited from his father and pass the reigns to his once-reticent brother Hal.

As much as I hate to speculate, but it may have been this act alone that began the subtle rehab of his public image to the point that Yankee fans no longer saw his as a long-term threat to the organization’s prosperity, but more as a die-hard Yankee fan who happened to be co-Chairman and son of a legendary owner who did much the same thing in his latter years to recoup the grace of his involvement in all matters involving the Yankees.  Fair or not, Hank did things that angered the populace to the point that stepping away from the active and visible role of managing partner was in itself a blessing to everyone involved.

But I am not here to bury the man.  I never met him in person, so I don’t know what kind of guy he was.  I imagine in the days to come we will hear anecdotes about things he did under the radar that will form a more substantial view of him as a human being and a person with an important role in the organization; even if it was not direct or worthy of publication at the time, and maybe I’ll feel better or worse for what I write.  Hank seemed to us fans like a version of his father; loud and boisterous, reckless in terms of decisions involving the direction of the team.  In fact, his most noteworthy contribution to the Yankee Universe (a phrase he used in a distinct rant against the “Red Sox Nation”) was his involvement with the A-Rod contract negotiations after the latter opted out during the 2007 World Series from his former, ludicrous contract that the Texas Rangers had gifted him some years earlier.

After all was said and done, Hank, as the de-facto figurehead of the organization management in lieu of his father, supported and glorified Rodriguez with a 10-year, $275 million dollar contract (subsc req’d). No need to rehash what came of that, but it fairly or unfairly earmarked Hank’s place in Yankee history as one of the controversial decision-makers in their storied history (if not the worst), and that’s saying a lot.  Never mind that it was not solely his decision in the entire process (and that it was then-wife Cynthia who convinced A-Rod to go back to the Yanks), it was a move his father would have made in the blink of an eye, and cemented the image of Hank as a repeat offender to all anti-Steinbrenner campers (and in effect shielding Cashman, younger brother Hal , president Randy Levine and company from the main torrent of flak).

Yet outside of that, strictly in a baseball-sense Hank was if nothing else entertaining or at the very least a distraction from mediocrity in his boisterousness; a quality if you will that even the most begrudging curmudgeon of Yanks fans had to appreciate as he, often without forethought or by cynical design, gave voice to the core essence of Yankee fandom.  His criticism of the Red Sox resulted in owner John Henry extending him “citizenship” as a member of “Red Sox Nation”, including lifetime privileges and perks deserving of any VIP such as Green Monster seats and an autographed hat by David Ortiz (“…”).

Hank also scattered his buckshot around the league, feuding with the Tampa Bay Rays, the Dodgers,, the National League and MLB in general; once moved to write an article for the Sporting News after the Yanks were eliminated in 2008 from playoff contention for the first time in 25 years.  Hank had buckshot for everyone who was not a Yankee, much like a Hatfield would for a McCoy, and who’s to say that such rabidness wasn’t the least bit of good at a time when fortune seemed to be stagnant, if not trending downward for the Yanks and their fans.

In fact, it can be said without irony that Hank in a way kickstarted some of the self-analysis that MLB is publicly experiencing now, what with his  lashing out against divisional formats and not having a designated hitter in both leagues (as a result of the once-dominant Chien-Ming Wang injuring himself running full-tilt on the base paths during an interleague game and never fully recovering from it).  And for what it’s worth, Hank did differ from his father in one critical thing: he loathed the idea of selling off blue-chip prospects for the sake of a quick fix.  Having directly witnessed the consequences of such decisions, he was smart enough to realize that selling the organization’s future short guaranteed nothing in the present and potentially more disaster in the future (not that it completely makes up for the one decision that did end up complicating the organization’s future). His and Hal’s support of that principle has led to the Baby Bombers Renaissance, which Hank personally loved and can rightfully receive a certain amount of credit for.

All-in-all, it is fair to criticize the man we don’t know personally; who was the face of the franchise for some glorious and inglorious moments, who seemingly made strong efforts to impersonate his demanding, complicated and legendary father, who made at least one critically fateful decision that altered the direction of the storied franchise that can be analyzed for decades, whose unbridled passion for the team he co-owned and co-chaired led him to defend that team as though he were its sworn protector and whose candor seemingly hoisted his own pertard… but in doing so, remember that he not once disgraced the franchise with scandal brought about by some personal or moral failing that would belie or deflate his outspokenness as we have seen many times with many in his position.

For all the public slather about him over the years, I don’t have any reason to hate the man.  I never knew him personally, so I cannot say whether or not he was a good man.  What I do know is from where I stand, it seemed like a good idea for him to step down and pass the reigns to his little brother.  Now that we have a better notion of why, it’s all the more sympathetic. Strictly from a baseball sense, I think that’s fair.

If You Build It …

Man, you hold your breath each day and hope that another Yankee doesn’t get hurt. The big boppers, Stanton and Judge, muscular and impressive as they are, certainly aren’t durable.

We’re in March now, exhibition games are being played, and we’re gearing up for the start of the season. With the world gone topsy turvy—with no end in sight to the craziness in this election year—there is something comforting about the inevitability of Opening Day and the long season.

Picture by Bags

Juice (Know The Ledge)

Terry Francona & Mike Hargrove; photo by Erik Drost

Here’s a fun discussion to have; one I was having offline that was suggested to me to post here: what managers really have “juice” these days? Not PEDs of course, but respect; the kind that allows them to call the shots in the dugout without too much input, oversight or meddling from the GM and front office? There have been many discussions about the true role of the manager in the Age of Analytics, and how the importance of the manager has either diminished or shifted to other points of interest.  I thus made an impromptu list of current managers and ranked them by service time, how many rings they’ve won, how many times they led their team to a championship series and the general perception likely by players, fans and others around the league.

The topic arose, ironically, from the latest news reports about the Houston Astros cheating scandal and former manager A.J. Hinch’s role in the whole story. The general conclusion was that Hinch, who was contrite in apologizing for not doing enough to discourage the cheating that MLB investigated and concluded in a mostly direct report, yet seemingly danced around a direct question about the use of wearable tech by players, would likely never manage again in the majors due to his apparent show of weakness among veteran players and his drop in credibility. Depending on the results of the ongoing investigation of the 2018 Red Sox due to their association with Alex Cora and how he reportedly continued his cheating methods as manager, Cora could also likely be blacklisted as a manager of a MLB team, if not worse.  Also, with Carlos Beltran continually being outed for his role and impact on other players, Beltran could stand to lose the most from the scandal when all is said and done.  But what is most telling is the role the front office reportedly had in both initiating and implementing the cheating in the first place, and how that impacted players who either played along or protested against the cheating.  Former GM Jeff Lunhow is very likely out of MLB anything for good, due in part to his alleged oversight of the whole operation (and the fact that he denied any knowledge whatsoever), and also due to the fact he has virtually no supporters in other organizations;  many people disliked his personality and hubris.

With all that said, do any managers really have power within the organization to lead or direct players in any capacity beyond writing their names on the lineup card and implementing analysis that was cooked up by a GM and his analytics department? Is there more to it than that and managing personalities anymore? Are managers more than notebook carriers and soothsayers for impressionable young stars in the making? Are style, personality, managing or coaching experience (particulary in the majors) and verifiable results actually unwelcome aspects when considering hiring a new manager in this day and age?  Could a Rob Thomson or a Hensley Meulens ever get a manager job over a recently retired player or even a quality assurance coach?

Here’s the list of current managers for each team (courtesy of BR Bullpen):

American League

National League

I underlined the managers who’ve managed more than one team (I would say no less than five years total experience, probably averaging ten) and boldened managers who’ve taken their teams to the Championship Series in their respective leagues.  Out of the ones who’ve achieved both distinctions, I would say six have some juice as managers:
  1. Terry Francona
  2. Joe Maddon
  3. Joe Girardi
  4. Dusty Baker/Aaron Boone
  5. Ron Gardenhire
The first three have won a World Series (Francona twice).  Dusty is the top guy without a ring, followed by or perhaps tied with Boone (largely on two 100-win seasons managing the Yankees), Gardenhire, Mattingly, Matheny and Melvin.  The last three are more or less legacy hires and could be ranked under both Dave Roberts and Dave Martinez (who just won a ring), were it not for the fact that they are largely guided by their front offices (Martinez is arguable).  You can say that Mattingly has more juice than Gardenhire based on his notable playing career alone, but Gardenhire has a longer track record as a winning manager. Neither are managing good teams right now, either. Craig Counsell, Kevin Cash and Bud Black are probably the only managers left with discernible cache, the rest are either newbies or also-rans. Bud Black, Ron Roenicke and maybe Rick Renteria are the only guys I would consider retreads (I don’t count Dusty, Melvin and Matheny because of their playoff experience), but even those three have a serviceable amount of experience to consider, and in Renteria’s case a championship ring that was given to him by the Cubs in honor of his service as manager for a rebuilding team that won the championship after he was unceremoniously dumped for another (i.e. more-respected) manager.  Also for what it’s worth, Luis Rojas has gotten a lot of surprise support from current Mets players and other former players and current coaches who worked with him and for in the minors where he managed for several years (winning a championship for the Sallie League Savannah Sand Gnats in 2013), but more to the point he’s the son of well-respected former manager and player Felipe Alou and brother of Moises, Jose and Felipe Jr.; so the Mets are obviously banking a lot on Felipe Sr’s genes being solid and that his managerial knack has rubbed off on him as well…

And there you have it. The list is fairly malleable; depending on how first year managers prove to be in their overall style of leadership and of course results (Baldelli could move up the list as much as Counsell can go down), but this in my opinion is a fairly representative ranking of current managers and the respect they garner from  around the league and from fans alike. It would be interesting to see a scientific poll taken among current players and organizations alike, but that’s likely too much fuel for an unnecessary fire so early in the season.  However, fans and media alike could speculate all year, so lets kick off the discussion and see where it goes.

All Betts Are Off!

Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts talks to reporters at 2016 All-Star Game availability. (Arturo Pardavila III)

Wowzers, you see it coming and yet…

Boston, still without a manager a week before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, traded two of their most significant players to the Dodgers, right fielder Mookie Betts and starting pitcher David Price, in a three-way trade also involving the Twins for regarded young outfielder Alex Verdugo from the Dodgers, and pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol from the Twins.  The Twins in turn get starting pitcher Kenta Maeda from the Dodgers.  It is indeed a seismic move involving three star players changing coasts and leagues at the same time (well, Maeda goes halfway, but you get the picture). In a likely corresponding move to make room for Betts, the Dodgers also traded outfielder Joc Pederson (along with a rookie league prospect) to the Angels for a young infielder I’ve never heard of, but will likely be pushing for a spot during the upcoming Spring Training portion of the show.

What’s the initial take? Dodgers pretty much get a Golden Ticket to the 2020 post-season (as long as they stay healthy) with Top 5 (Top 3?) outfielder in Betts, but then what of former All-Star and current borderline albatross David Price? Fortunately for L.A., the Red Sox are apparently sending a boatload of cash with him in the deal, and apparently by sending Maeda to the Twins, who send one of their pitching prospects to Boston, this evens out somehow.  They are once again the team to beat in the N.L..

For the Twins getting Maeda, who finished 3rd in ROY voting in 2016 after eight largely stellar seasons in Japan, goes a long way in stabilizing a rotation that has Jake Odorizzi leading a staff including José Berríos, Homer Bailey and… um… yeah.  Michael Pineda will finish out a 60-game suspension in mid-May while Rich Hill recovers from surgery and will probably return sometime in June.  Minnesota needed this after having a huge season, yet falling short to the usual suspects in the playoffs.

The Red Sox, you say? I was having an offline discussion about this; basically this is salary relief in the disguise of retooling.  They get a young(er) outfielder plus a prospect in Verdugo from the Dodgers and Graterol from the Twins, while also getting something instead of nothing for Betts.  While they apparently have to pitch in a significant portion of Price’s salary to move him, he’s essentially one less conflict they have to deal with head-on (and vice-versa).   Thus the price (pun… not intended, but liked) for a championship (albeit with a cloud hovering over it) and spending with near-reckless abandon to achieve it. The fans will probably HATE this move, but will definitely find ways to rationalize it.

Why does this matter to us Yankee fans, you might also ask? (You might, rabbit, you might…) Well, obviously it weakens a close competitor significantly; what Boston gets in return does not move the needle much as far as contending is concerned.  If anything, they get a young player with value and more years of control and a really manageable salary… but GTFOH, he’s not Mookie Betts. He’s not charging up Aaron Judge in man-to-man WAR comparisons… not yet anyway.  The pitcher they get may or may not make the rotation, that remains to be seen.  All-in-all, the Red Sox accomplished their main goal in shedding significant salary, and we should be happy they did, more contending for the Yanks.  And the best part is Mookie’s in the NL now, so the Yanks don’t haver to face him (or Price for that matter) nearly as much.

So that’s that so far. I may easily change my mind about all of that as more updates come; whereas much of this happened only recently as of this writing, so more details are sure to come.  Comment away!

Picked Off

Photo Credit: Eric Enfermero

Boom. As fans, let’s take a few moments to assess what we just witnessed in the latest edition of “As The Baseball World Turns”…

I wish I had time to go in-depth on this situation, which is still evolving as we speak.  But I do have some references for you to follow up and discuss if you wish.

What we know so far:

  • The Astros got As-whupped (PDF download) for their rather frank cheating activities during ther 2017 season which resulted in them being crowned World Series. champions.
  • After being suspended for one year each by Major League Baseball, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane fired GM Jeff Lunhow and manager A.J. Hinch.
  • Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was bench coach with the Astros for the 2017 season, was implicated in the report and ongoing investigation into the 2018 Red Sox cheating allegations.
  • New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran, who formerly played on the 2017 Astros team and was also implicated in the report as one of a group of players who discussed ways of interpreting signs and signals by the other team, will not be punished by MLB (no players were punished).

There has been and will continue to be plenty of discussion about what this all means for the people involved; we know that the Astros lose their first and second picks in both the 2020-21 drafts and also have to pony up $5 million; an unprecedented punishment indeed for the fifth-year commissioner Rob Manfred and for baseball overall, but then Crane went beyond that and fired Luhnow and Hinch for essentially  embarrassing the organization and the city of Houston. Cora is still under investigation; he was singled out as the person who implemented the cheating system, then allegedly carried it over to his new job as manager and won a championship with it there. If he gets the book thrown at him, it will likely be bigger than the one thrown at Luhnow and Hinch, and likely result in his dismissal.  meanwhile, Beltran, while not escaping the eye of MLB investigators, managed not to get punished by MLB.  Yet, that doesn’t mean the story is over for him; there will likely be internal discussion about his suitability for running the Mets going forward, depending on what or if he told the Wilpons and GM Brodie about his part in the scandal and whether or not it means anything to them (did they even ask?) The New York press is going to have a field day with this, for real.

Happy New Year, folks, your Hot Stove is on fire

Referenced Links:

The Athletic, Article 1 and Article 2 (subscription needed)

MLB Trade Rumors, Article 1 and Article 2

MLB.Com (video featured)

The Man Who Wasn’t There

You got to love the Yanks giving Ellsbury a hard time on the way out. After all, it was one of the worst deals in franchise history. Nobody to blame but themselves, of course, but whatever with Ellsbury, he’s a fink. And it’s funny, it’s not like this was a good gamble that went wrong. We all knew it was a turkey of a deal from the start.

Ah, well, good riddance.

Sorry that Greg Bird didn’t work out, though. I always wanted him to be the next thing. If not a star, then just a reliable, durable dude. It wasn’t to be and he’ll forever reside in the Yankee cutout bin right behind Nick Johnson.

In the meantime, it’s the first of the winter holidays. Eat, drink, and enjoy your friends and family.

Picture by Bags

Gone Shoppin’

Photo Credit: “My places by Anthony Catalanotto” on Pinterest

Looks like free agency’s officially here and open for business.

Given the last few years, how can we tell if the market will favor legit stars like Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg or… not-Cole/Strasburg? Last year, it was decidedly the latter; though Bryce Harper and Manny Machado eventually got much of what they wanted in heavy, long term contracts, they had to wait an awfully long time to actually get them (and not necessarily from teams that were first on their supposed lists). Will it be different now that we’re talking about two dominant Cy Young candidates with some good years still ahead of them heading the list? Only the GMs and the supporting stats departments know with MLB Analytics driving the conversation.  As we’ve seen recently, not everything is what it seems.

Take the Yanks’ own free agents:

Edwin Encarnacion

Aroldis Chapman

Didi Gregorius

C.C. Sabathia

Brett Gardner

Dellin Betances

Austin Romine

Cory Gearrin

David Hale

Cameron Maybin

Erik Kratz

Cliff Pennington

We already know CC is retired; hope he recovers from his latest injury well enough to enjoy his first year off from baseball in what has to have been a very long time.  As for the rest, it’s easy to say that none are solid locks to be on the 2020 40-man for the Yanks; if anything, Didi would be the most likely to remain, and that’s not stated with a whole lot of confidence.  Fan favorite that he is, when he came back from Tommy John surgery, he wasn’t up to what we’ve come to expect of him year-round.  Personally, I would not find this to be the tipping point in any negotiations, though Didi doesn’t necessarily have the leverage he could have expected a year ago pre-injury, thanks to the year natural-shortstop-playing-second Gleyber Torres had; playoffs included.  Gleyber is ticketed for stardom no matter where he plays on the diamond; provided he doesn’t get injured (which, ironically, is what we would have said about Didi last year at this time).  I don’t like the idea of Didi being dismissed, given that Tommy John surgery is not something you bounce back from so quickly either as a pitcher or a position player, but the talent hasn’t disappeared either.  With a full off-season to recover and rebuild, I would expect him to return to Hidden Dragon form.  Hopefully the Yanks will find a way to keep him here.

Dellin Betances, too; I hope that the team will bring him back. 2019 was a disaster for Betances; first recovering from right shoulder surgery, then suffering a lat strain during rehab that cost him most of the season, and finally after returning for one game, tearing his ACL and being done for 2019.  This was just a horrible season for Dellin, especially since it was a contract season where it was expected he would be lights out while either finalizing an extension or moving into free agency as one of the top sought-after relievers.  Now the best he can hope for is that the Yanks decide to bring him back for a season or two to rehab and get back into form; failing that, his options are likely either accept any offer he can get from another club (which will likely be very low) or take the year off and rehab until next off-season, then take a likely pillow-contract to re-establish his value.  Man, sucks to be him right now (and I mean that kindly).  Again, the promise of talent is what keeps his value from slipping into AA territory, and I hope the Yanks feel that it’s worth the investment, regardless of the fact that he’s well past 30. But I dunno, it’s bad territory to be in for him.

All that being said, the biggest name on the FA list for the Yanks has to be Aroldis Chapman has been extended for another year at an additional $18 million.  He still can chuck it over 100mph, but it’s getting harder and harder as the seasons go by and we’ve seen less of it this season than in others.  Then there was that slider… well, I don’t think the team will hold that against him so much (though it was not his best pitch by a long-shot) and given his usage, you can almost not blame him for using it, but that’s neither here nor there; there were plenty of other reasons the Yanks lost.  The thing is, though the Yanks do have someone to replace Chapman, it came down to how much he wanted to remain in New York (a whole lot), how much they were willing to pay to bring him back (a whole lot) and, ultimately how much stronger he makes the pen (a whole lot).  As freely as the team spent in the George Steinbrenner era, the team is willing to be thrifty in the Hal Steinbrenner era and seem hellbent on going down with the ship to prove to whomever that The Yanks Don’t Buy Championships (*cough-cough2018 Red Soxcough*) and also don’t need to TANK! to build a champion contender.  If anything, the Winning Formula Award® now shifts to Dee Cee and the Nats, who are also the comeback players of the year (century?) and looking at some harder decisions than the Yanks this off-season.  Would I like to have him back? I like having him back; having a super-duper bullpen is never-ever a bad thing, but I hope it’s not at the expense of keeping Didi + Betances and/or signing an ace; Hey-ell no.

So what’s left:

Brett Gardner… another tough call, honestly.  He is the realest example of a True Yankee; drafted and bred in the Yankees system, made an impact from day one and through sheer hard work and perseverance became a solid everyday player and a fairly important one at that, even when his production went down, the team gambled on him holding the fort while others played in front of him and that gamble paid off in different ways, culminating in one of his best seasons of production in his career this past season. However, he’s 36, he’s not stealing many bases anymore even if analytics suddenly found them useful and there are quite a few guys on the team who are champing at the bit to do what he does (at a cheaper rate to boot).  Between Clint Frasier, Cameron Maybin and Mike Tauchman(!), Gardner had his hands full just staying on the roster,  But it says a whole lot that not only did he remain, but he competed hard and was quite productive in the process. It was a gamble both he and Cashman won this season despite ups and down throughout. This time, I don’t think fans would be so averse to having him around for another season, also given how injury-prone Stanton and to a certain degree Judge have been.  Plus, he’s the last link the team has to their last championship on roster, and at a glance probably the only player in the clubhouse with a championship on his resume; at least as a starter.  That cannot be discounted in any regard.

Austin Romine, however… there’s a lot to be said about having a good backup catcher.  For one, they are very rare.  For another, the Yanks sure do need them.  With the way Gary Sanchez’ career has played out so far, they were blessed to have Romine on the roster. It may or may not stick with him, but he proved to be very valuable given the playing time he had and the number of times he had key hits that either kept them in contention or won games for them.  And more importantly, pitchers liked pitching to him.  That always is something to take into consideration.  That said, this may not simply be a matter of if the Yanks want him back or not, but rather if they are willing to compete for him.  Several teams need upgrades in the backstop department, and Romine could fit in any contender’s roster as well as a rebuilding team in search of a steadying force in the infield.  He’s not a star per se, but he might be just what some team needs to keep the pieces together.  I’m not sure if there;s an immediate replacement for Romine in the system if he were to walk; top catching prospect Anthony Seigler is way too far away from the majors, and Kyle Higoshioka is decidedly not Austin Romine.

Cameron Maybin, well he deserves a decent contract somewhere.  He proved to be a solid contributor for the Yanks after signing with and being released by San Fran, signing with Cleveland and then being bought out by the Yanks all in 2019.  After effectively replacing Frasier who was inept in the outfield and in interviews with reporters, he hustled his way to consideration as key fourth outfielder beyond all of the injuries plaguing the team until his momentum was stopped cold by the same injury bug that felled many of his teammates.  But he returned in due time and was a key contributor the rest of the way, including the playoffs.  He’s a talented player; even if he doesn’t often hit for power, he puts bat on ball more often than not and he’s a good outfielder to boot.  I’d hate to lose him to someone else, but I would not begrudge him a starting role somewhere else (out of the division, of course).

Edwin, thanks for the memories.  However, you proved to be the exact definition of a luxury; the homers were nice and it’s a good thing you could play first, but nah, we’re good. By the way, you weren’t when we needed you to be, but you already knew that. This… is an ex-Parrot.

The rest are not so much a Who’s Who gallery as it is a Who Dat? list.  David Hale is the most familiar name as the Yanks have released him several times and reacquired him and sent him every which-a-way for the past couple of seasons, so I wonder if he’s also a masochist.  Cliff Pennington, I only wondered if he was related to former NY Jets QB Chad Pennington (PS: I doubt it).  Cory Guerrin and Eric Kratz; I’ve got nuthin’.

Okay, so feel free to chime in and sound off; this will probably stay open for a couple of weeks if it remains active, after which we’ll likely throw in another stream of consciousness or distract you with a Where & When cameo (those were fun) or even maybe try to pick up where we left off recounting famous Yanks For A Minute or who knows, something new for the Hot Stove Season to keep us engaged? Only time will tell, but thanks for the fun season, for sticking around and psst, keep an eye on the cash register having fun>;)

Game Six

The Yanks got four runs off Justin Verlander in the first and that’s all they’d get but it was enough as our boys pushed the series back to Houston tonight for Game Six.

Win or go home. You know the drill.

Never mind the odds:

Let’s Go Yankees!

[Picture by Bags]

Saving Face

Welp, our boys picked a hell of time to have one of their sloppiest games of the year. Now the missed chances in Game 2 and Game 3 hurt even more. C.C. Sabathia limped off the mound last night too hurt to pitch anymore, his career over. It was a long, somber moment. Even the Astros gave him a hand and it didn’t seem condescending. Then the Yanks kept making more errors and just looked terrible on a cold and windy night in the Bronx.

The good news is that they’ve got a game today. The bad news is that they’ve got to face Justin Verlander. But the good news is they’ve got a chance, they’ve been resilient all year and hopefully they can send this series back to Houston and make them sweat just a little bit.

So never mind the tears:

Let’s Go Yankees!

Stormy Weather

This is what we know. If the Yanks are gonna beat the best team in the league they are gonna have to win three games and tame Greinke, Verlander, and Cole. Easy to overlook Greinke but he’s no scrub.

Holy cow is it ever lousy weather in the Bronx. Cold, windy—not baseball weather, man.

Biggest game of the season for our boys.

We’ll be there root-root-rootin’ them on.

Never mind the windchill:

Let’s Go Yank-eese!

Picture by Bags

The Magic Number

Game Three. Brilliant sunny autumn afternoon in New York. Yanks and Luis Severino against the best pitcher in the league and those damn ’Stros.

Here’s hoping the Yanks come out on top.

Never mind the strikeouts:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

In the Boom Boom Room

 

Yanks vs. the Astros, the two best teams in the league.

Yankees trying to avenge their 2017 ALCS loss to Houston while the Astros look to get back to the Serious.

Should be a ton o fun.

Never mind the brisket:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Take Two

The Yanks beat the Twins in Game One of the ALDS last night in the Bronx. Game was long and it wasn’t memorable but our boys scored a mess o runs and really made the Twins’ pitchers work hard.

This afternoon gives Game 2. Course it’s not a must-win for the Yanks but let’s pretend it is:

Never mind the chill in the air, it’s Playoff-Baseball, baby:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Stretch Run

The Yanks start September banged-up as usual but also in first place as usual. Been a tremendous season so far considering all the mishaps. Let’s hope nothing gets too dramatic before the playoffs start.

Yanks have split the first two with the A’s, and look to take the series this afternoon on a beautiful autumnal day in the BX.

Never mind the wild card:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

 

August and Everything After

It begins with the innocent hope of April and awkward adolescence of May, then winds through the first days of summer in June and the All-Star Game in July before ending with the frantic race of September and historic rush of October. Missing in that list, of course, is August, a tiring slog through heat and thunderstorms and nagging injuries. August is when most teams come to terms with their diminishing postseason possibilities, but the dog days of August are difficult even for the front runners.

A series like we’ve got in Los Angeles this weekend, three games between the two best teams in baseball, organizations which each boast more history than the other twenty-eight teams combined, could not have come at a better time. The Yankees travelled to Chavez Ravine to match up against the Dodgers, reminding older fans of grainy newsreel footage, sending analysts into paroxysms of excitement as they breathlessly projected this October’s World Series, and — more importantly — giving me a chance to take my son to a game.

You’ve probably heard of Los Angeles traffic, but what you probably don’t know is that Dodger Stadium traffic can be even worse, so my son and I decided to make a day of it, avoiding both types of traffic by leaving the house at 8:30, having breakfast at a favorite Mexican place just blocks from the stadium (La Abeja), and pulling up to the park before the gates opened.

Our plan worked to perfection. The freeway was wide open, the enchiladas verdes were even better than I remembered, and ours was the first car to arrive at the parking lot gates. Aside from missing traffic, we were hoping to get there in time for batting practice, so it was a bit of a disappointment when we arrived in the left field pavilion and found the field as empty as the stands. Some long toss here, some stretching there, but no baseballs flying into the seats. I had brought my glove to the ballpark for the first time in 35 years, imagining a barrage of batting practice home runs, but now we were left with two hours to fill by guzzling soda and browsing the gift shop.

One of the best things about watching the Yankees in an opposing ballpark is the camaraderie among the fans. Each time you pass a fellow Yankee supporter, there’s a nod of acknowledgment at the very least, often a fist bump, and maybe even a conversation. One man wearing a Jeter jersey to match mine paused as he passed our seats and said, “Did you watch last night? Didi was serving breakfast out there! Grand slam for everyone!”

Such was the mood as Tony Gonsolin took the mound for the Dodgers. After the Yankees had beat up on the best pitcher in the National League the night before, pounding the previously untouchable Hyun-Jin Ryu in a 10-2 victory, surely the merry-go-round would keep turning against the rookie, right?

Sadly, no. D.J. LeMahieu led off the game with a walk, but the next nine Yankees went down meekly and briskly, reminding me that the Bombers are almost always defused by rookies they’ve never seen before.

Meanwhile CC Sabathia was toeing the rubber for the Yanks, making the 557th start of his Hall of Fame career and the last one I’ll see in person. I was eager to get one more chance to cheer for him, but I also worried that there might not be much to cheer about. It was a pleasant surprise, then, when he struck out two in the first and two more in the second. When he came out for the third, I leaned over and mentioned to my son that the third inning would be important. The Dodger lineup was about to turn over, and we’ve all seen how opposing batters go from Punch and Judy to Mantle and Maris as they get second and third looks at Sabathia. I was worried, and soon my worries would prove to be legitimate.

The rally started, ironically enough, with the pitcher. Gonsolin, who admitted afterwards to having been a Yankee fan as a kid, banged a ground ball off of Sabathia and reached base with a single when the ball caromed into no man’s land. Sabathia responded by striking out A.J. Pollock, but the next batter, Justin Turner, rocketed a homer to left center, and suddenly CC was leaking. He walked the next batter, Will Smith (West Philadelphia, born and raised), before Cody Bellinger followed with another single to push Smith to third and then stole second base to tighten the screws a bit more with men on second and third and just one out.

But Sabathia would retire the next batter on a short fly out to Aaron Judge, and he’d collect the third out by whiffing Max Muncy. (And by the way, if you had six strikeouts in the first three innings for Sabathia, you win the pool.)

I’ve only watched a handful of games from beyond the outfield, and I’d forgotten how skewed the perspective can be. A Yankee fan to my right, falling victim to this warped reality, had exploded from his seat back in the first inning, prematurely celebrating what he had thought would be an Aaron Judge home run that quickly turned into a short foul pop behind first base.

So when Judge led off the fourth inning with what looked to be a drive to the outfield, I was cautiously optimistic as I rose to my feet. My eyes shifted back and forth between the ball, which continued to arc majestically, and center fielder Pollock, who turned and broke hard towards dead center field, until the outcome became clear. The ball continued soaring, Pollock started coasting, and Yankee fans around the park began celebrating. (Side note: I’ve now seen Judge homer in three different parks.)

Sabathia wouldn’t come out for the fifth inning, and while allowing two runs in a four-inning start isn’t normally anything to rave about, this was still a nice outing from CC. He was never bothered by the Dodgers except for that rocky third inning, and his seven strikeouts across those four innings came at the expense of Dodger hitters who were often off balance. For a team desperate for consistency from the rotation, Sabathia’s abbreviated start actually provides some hope.

With the Dodger lead now cut in half at 2-1, both bullpens went to work. For the Yankees, it was newcomer Cory Gearrin getting a couple of outs to start the fifth before yielding to Chad Green, who was dominant, striking out four in two innings of work. Adam Ottavino got the last out of the seventh, and then Zach Britton worked a quick-and-painless eighth.

The Dodgers’ bullpen, the only weakness these National League bullies have, was just as good. Joe Kelly and Pedro Baez navigated the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings without incident, and then it all came down to the ninth inning and Kenley Jansen, the All-Star closer who’s been struggling recently, against the middle of the Yankees’ lineup.

I watch well over a hundred games a year on television, but I only get out to a ballpark two or three times a season, and it’s remarkable how different the experience is. Sitting in the stands, sometimes you have no idea what’s going on, but there are countless little things that are revealed, ranging from player personalities to subtle nuances of strategy. Dodger left fielder Kiké Hernández is a fan favorite in L.A., and it took just a few innings for me to see why. In the top of the fourth, a fan in front of me called down to him, “How many outs, Kiké?” Without missing a beat or turning his eyes from the action, Kiké slowly — coolly — raised his right hand and extended his index and pinky fingers to let us know their were two outs, much to the delight of our entire section, Dodger and Yankee fans alike.

We also noticed the intricacies of the Dodgers’ infield defense. There was shifting galore, but what struck me early on was how the Dodgers were hedging their bet against lefties. They wouldn’t move their third baseman until the batter picked up a strike, figuring he wouldn’t risk bunting in that situation. My son and I had talked about it when Mike Tauchman was batting earlier in the game. After strike one, Justin Turner left his spot at third and jogged all the way over to where the second baseman would normally be. The speedy Tauchman then tried to drop a bunt. It rolled foul, but we’d see the ploy again in the ninth inning.

Didi Gregorius led off the ninth. While Didi’s certainly a threat to go deep at any time off any pitcher, in this situation he was clearly looking to set the table. After strike one, Turner vacated third as he had been doing all afternoon, and Didi promptly tried to take advantage. He obviously wasn’t trying to sacrifice, he was looking for more. He attacked the bunt, firing the ball down the left field line, but just foul. Undeterred even with two strikes, he tried it again on the next pitch, but this bunt was almost identical, and he had struck out.

I had no problem at all with Didi’s play at the time, and I still like it in hindsight. No Dodger defender was within a hundred feet of third base, and had Didi been able to place either bunt just a foot or two to the right, he’d have coasted into second base with a double. Also, what Tauchman and Gregorius did in those two at bats won’t go unnoticed around the league. Neither bunt yielded immediate results, but Yankee hitters might see less aggressive shifting down the stretch.

But back to the game. After Didi’s out, Gleyber Torres and Brett Gardner singled to put runners on first and second. Suddenly the Yankee fans had hope and the Dodger fans were grumbling — loudly — about Jansen.

And then things got crazy.

Gio Urshela hit a weak grounder towards short stop, but Turner ranged across from third to cut it off. I didn’t think they’d be able to turn two, but then I wondered if they’d even be able to get Gardner at second. Gritner and the ball arrived at roughly the same time, but Gritner was called out as his slide toppled second baseman Max Muncy. From our point of view out in the pavilion, we had little to no idea what was going on. Five or six Dodgers were checking on Muncy, but what I noticed was that Gardner hadn’t left the bag.

A challenge, it seemed, was afoot. But who was challenging what? The stadium replay showed Gardner sliding into Muncy, and fans of each side saw what they wanted to see. I leaned across to a Dodger fan and honestly said, “I won’t be surprised if they call Gardner safe, but I also won’t be surprised if they call him for obstruction and give the Dodgers the double play to end the game.” It was that close.

The umpires ruled Gardner safe, keeping the bases loaded with only one out, and I thought the Yankees had dodged disaster. What I didn’t realize at the time — and I don’t think anyone in my section realized it — was that the Dodgers had actually dodged disaster. Not until I got home from the game and started sifting through video highlights did I see that Gleyber Torres had actually scored on the play. When he saw Muncy rolling around on the ground — with the ball in his glove — Torres had galloped for home with the tying run. The umpires, though, ruled that Jansen had called for time before Torres took off, and Torres was sent back to third. (How did we all miss this? An unintended consequence of the god-awful Players’ Weekend black and white jerseys is that the black Yankee uniforms often rendered the players invisible from a distance.)

It was no surprise that after the game both Torres and Aaron Boone said the umpires had erred in stopping the action in the middle of a play, and Muncy added to the controversy by admitting to some exaggeration. “He still got me good, it still hurt, so it wasn’t entirely fake. But there might have been a little acting class in there.” Neither Major League Baseball nor FIFA has commented on this.

We knew nothing of that backstory at the time, but that didn’t detract from the drama of the moment. After lying dormant since the fourth inning, the Yankees suddenly had the bases loaded with only one out. The August sun had sapped the energy from a crowd that had been subdued for much of the afternoon, but now the stadium was electric as we stood and cheered with every pitch.

First it was Mike Tauchman, and as he dug into the batter’s box, goosebumps sprinkled down my neck as my son lifted his hands to his mouth and called out, “Let’s-G0-Yan-kees!” I had done something right, apparently, and in that moment, with the crowd buzzing and hope surging, I realized we had gotten our money’s worth. A base hit from Tauchman — I imagined a single slashed to left field — would be gravy.

Tauchman struck out, but that brought the scariest hitter in the lineup up to the plate. As Gary Sánchez stepped into the box, there was suddenly poetry spinning around in my head.

Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Gary, mighty Gary, was advancing to the bat.

The lines are 130 years old, but Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s words describe Saturday’s scene perfectly. Thayer’s Casey watched two strikes go by, but our Gary was aggressive. He took a huge swing at the first fastball from Jansen, and he appeared to have it timed perfectly, as the foul ball rifled directly behind home plate.

He fouled off the next pitch as well, then took a ball high and outside, bringing up a 1-2 count. I wondered if the two-strike count might encourage Sánchez to stay back and shoot a single through the wide open right side of the infield, or if he’d sell out and look to launch a grand slam into our section, the ball settling into my hands. But it wasn’t to be.

The sneer is gone from Gary’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate,
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate;
And now as Jansen holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Gary’s blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Gotham — mighty Gary has struck out.


Oh, it’s You Again

Yanks in Boston for four games. A split would be good, anything less, a bummer, anything more, gravy.

Never mind the boos:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Savage Heat

Has there been a backlash to Boone’s “Savages” routine yet? Maybe, but I’m not there.

I still think it was beyond Boss no mater how people co-opt the phrase to make a meme or a buck. I liked it because it was a reminder to a young professional, in this case the home plate umpire Brennan Miller, that the big leagues are grown up business—the mics caught Boone dressing the ump down after Boone had been kicked out of the game.

You gotta love Boone defending his players and referring to his hitters as “fucking savages in the fucking box” and you gotta love Boone sympathizing with the kid for having a tough start to the game and you gotta love Boone trying to shake him into shape. It is humiliating for the ump I suppose because this went viral. But Boone wasn’t abusive, he didn’t tear into the Miller personally, he was just firm with him.

Also, the look on Miller’s face was priceless. He was guilty but still in a position of authority. He had to take it but he couldn’t back down. Umps sometimes have the whiff prison security guards about them and Miller looks like a state trooper right out of the academy.  He is young and going to screw up. You feel badly for him that a routine rite of passage was preserved for all eternity but the public will not remember him—if this is remembered at all it will be for Boone.

Because of the audio work of Jomboy the world caught an inside glimpse into something that is usually not for public consumption. Boone was surprised initially that his words were heard by everyone. And immediately the storyline shifts to “Boone Changes Rep is Secretly a Badass.” Well, that’s all good and fine for the Yanks and we’ll take it.

To me it isn’t anything new from Boone. Major League Baseball is his family business. Say what you want about him as a tactician—I don’t pay close attention to these things no matter how many games I watch but I understand from those that know that Boone isn’t a genius right out of the box (of course, who is?)—I absolutely love the guy as Yankee manager. I think he’s funny, tough, and seems to fit all the requirements of a modern manager.

Just so unbelievably hot here in the Bronx.

Yanks look to sweep the Rockies today. They will be scorching down on the field, fans roasting in the seats that are unprotected from the sun.

Hope everyone is safe and keeps hydrated.

Never mind prosperity:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

 

We’re Havin’ a Heat Wave

…currently interrupted by great rain. After swapping late inning comebacks with the Rays (and uh, why, Mr. Chapman do you triple up on sliders?), yesterday’s game was rained out. More thunderstorms in the Bronx this morning but they are scheduled to play two today.

Here’s hoping they split at least.

Never mind the wailing and moaning and complaining—it’s hotter ’n’ July folks.

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Par Avion—Look, Up in the Sky

Well, that was weird and strange and annoying. If it were any other two teams I might have enjoyed the spectacle of it, the novelty. As it was, even with a healthy lead in the division race, I was so irritated by the London series that I didn’t watch either game live, instead choosing the coward/sane person way out by following on Gameday, DVRing the game and then half-heartedly watching later.

Yanks won both—they resembled beer league softball at its finest—and we’ll take it. Luke Voit going on the injured list is a drag for sure but not a catastrophe. Bombers come home to play a pair against Los Mets out in Queens and then they’ve got four against the Rays. Be nice to end this first half with another solid week but hiccups happen.

Never mind the jet lag:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

’Member When?

…The Yanks were the team that would come unglued? Of course, the Yanks have been an airtight ship for a longtime now. Sure, there was a little thing with Clint Frazier this year and Alex Rodriguez’s entire Yankee career was a sideshow but otherwise we are a long way from the unpleasantness—the colorfulness!—of the Bronx Zoo years. That is a distant memory now.

The Mets take care of all the drama soup to nuts these days. Jeez, what a mess.

Meanwhile, our boys had a fabulous week going 6-1 against the Rays and Astros, about as good as can be expected (save the unfortunate loss of fan fav, Cameron Maybin to the IL).

Three easy-to-overlook games against the Blue Jays before the Yanks fly over to London to play a pair against the Sox this weekend in a “Let’s Play Baseball Where They Don’t Care About It” series.

Long as they keep winning series, man.

Never mind the gimmicks:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

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