"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Baseball Musings

The Brief But Productive Yankee Career of Aroldis Chapman

Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees

And so ends the brief but productive Yankee career of one Aroldis Chapman. The Yanks picked him up for a song last winter when Chapman’s name was mud. He served his time on a domestic abuse rap and once he got on the field, Chapman was as dramatic as promised—the left-handed version of fabled Yankee fireman, Goose Gossage, number 54 and throwing over one hundred. Never mind that some of us had a hard time rooting for him because of the domestic abuse stuff—that’s Chicago’s problem now as the Yanks send Chappy to the Cubs and their Whirled Serious dreams.

I’d say that worked out splendidly for Cashman and the Yanks—not to mention, Chapman—don’t you think? In fact, can you think of deal where the Yanks got more value out of less? Chapman pitched just a tick over 31 innings—for Adam Warren alone, 31 innings would be a steal. Then you throw some young dudes in the mix?

…Noice.

I’m pleased I got to see Chapman live once—and am not sorry to say goodbye, not for this haul.

[Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images]

The Selling of The Babe

The Selling of the Babe

Bronx Banter Book Excerpt

Longtime Banter pal, Glenn Stout’s got a new book out and I think you’ll dig it. Here’s an except to whet your appetite. I’m sure you are gonna like this.—AB

By Glenn Stout

Entering May of 1920, Ruth’s inaugural season in New York and that of the Yankees was at a crossroads.  Ruth was hitting .226 in nine games with only a single extra base hit and one walk. The only record he was pursuing was the strikeout mark. With eight in 32 plate appearances, he was on pace to strike out more than 130 times for the season.  To date, no one had ever approached 100.  In nearly 600 appearances in 1919, Joe Jackson had struck out only 10 times and only 234 times for his entire career. Strikeouts were okay only if they were countered by home runs.

It was even worse than that.  The Yankees were only 4–6, still in sixth place. Boston?  Minus Ruth, they were a stellar 9–2.  The press was referring to them as the “Ruthless” Red Sox, fully aware of the irony the name entailed.  If there was truly a “Ruthless” team thus far, it had been the Yankees.  So far, Ruth had been a hit only at the box office, but if he didn’t start banging the ball soon, one had to wonder how long that would last.

For Ruth, the 1920 season was shaping up as a repeat of 1919, only this time he was wearing pinstripes.  Once more, just as his slow start in 1919 had buried the Red Sox, Ruth’s por performance thus far threatened to bury the Yankees, risking that whatever he did later in the season, no matter how spectacular, might be diminished.  He had been given a pass on that in 19 19, but if the same thing happened in 1920 it was unlikely to go unnoticed a second time. That was the problem with all the press in New York.  When they were on your side, it was grand, but they could also gang up on you.  More than one Yankee manager had felt their wrath.

Although the Yankee–Red Sox rivalry was not as pronounced as it would later become, each team already considered the other its main rival. The Ruth sale put an accent on that, at least in the minds of the fans.  For Boston, 9-2 on the year, coming into New York in first place was a familiar feeling. Since the founding of the American League the Red Sox, despite lacking the resources of New York City, had been the team the Yankees one day hoped to be, a champion and near annual contender.   So far, with the Yankees sixth at 4-6, already 4 ½ games out, nothing had much seemed to change.

In game one, on April 30, it appeared as if that would hold.  Before a sizable weekday crowd of 8,000 who turned out despite intermittent showers, the Red Sox tried their best to put their foot on the Yankees’ neck.  After all, a five-game sweep would virtually ruin New York, and put them in the same position the Red Sox had been a year ago, likely too far back to climb into the race.

Ruth did his best to prevent that in the first inning, cracking a single to knock in a run and give the Yankees the lead, but that was to be his only hit of the day.  Waite Hoyt settled down and Boston went to 10–2 for the season with a 4–2 win, as the Yankees fell to 4–7.

The only other notable occurrence came every time Ruth ran out to right field, and every time he ran back in.  In only his third appearance in the position at the Polo Grounds, fans packed the right field bleachers to get as close as possible, a disproportionate number compared to the rest of the stands.  Every time Ruth ran out to take his position, they cheered and applauded madly.  And every time he left them, they cheered again. The same thing happened when he stepped out of the dugout, or into the batter’s box, or scratched his nose. He hadn’t even done anything yet and was getting twenty or more standing ovations a day. One writer termed it “The Babe Ruth roar. . . . Down as far as 125th Street [in] Harlem folks can now tell when Ruth comes to bat.  The roar shakes the whole vicinity. The fans roar for Babe to hit ’em and when he misses fire they roar because he didn’t.”  In this game, it was more the latter than the former.

Shawkey, the Yankees’ ace, took the mound the next day, May Day.  Thus far, although he’d pitched well, he was 0–3—the Yanks had scored more than three runs only once all season.  Offense was up everywhere, it seemed, other than in the Polo Grounds.  Those Ruthless Red Sox, in contrast, were scoring runs at a frightening rate.  So far, they had been held to three runs or under only three times.  The rest of the time, they were clubbing teams to death like defenseless rabbits, and giving ammunition to those who still favored the scientific approach.

This, time, however, Shawkey was sharp from the start.  The only question was whether the Yankees could take advantage.  They scored one in the first—Ruth reached on a force-out, moved around to third, and then, on a ground ball to Everett Scott, Ruth deked his old shortstop into thinking he was staying at third, then timed Scott’s throw to first perfectly, taking off for home and beating Stuffy McInnis’s throw to the plate.  Although Ruth was never quite the ballplayer who “never made a mistake on the field” as the hyperbole later suggested, he was a smart player, surprisingly quick for his size—particularly before he ate his way through half of Manhattan—and he knew baseball.  Hundreds of games played at St. Mary’s had developed his instincts beyond his years.  If anything, Ruth was sometimes too aggressive on the bases, overestimating both his speed and his ability to surprise.

He did it again in the fourth. Ruth rapped a hard liner between McInnis and first base, the ball passing the bag fair, then it hit the ground, then skipped to the wall, where it caromed off the concrete base and sent Harry Hooper racing after as Ruth pulled into second for a double.  He wisely moved to third on an infield out and then, after Pratt grounded to second, Ruth timed a dash home again.  It was closer this time, but he made a splendid fall-away slide, his foot sweeping across the plate as the catcher spun and reached out to make the tag.  The Yankees led 2–0, and so far it was all due to Ruth.

Something was building, you could tell.  If he had been bothered by any lingering discomfort from the pulled muscle he’d suffered at the start of the season, the slides proved either he was healed, or the injury taped, or somehow masked over.  Ruth was feeling no pain.

Pennock struck out Pipp to lead off the sixth, bringing up Ruth, who was greeted with the now customary histrionics, this time even a little louder due to his performance in the first half of the game.

Pennock threw one pitch and a sound like no other rocketed through the park.  The ball went up and up and toward right field.

What happened next released a deluge of adjectives and adverbs from the New York press, verbiage they’d been sitting on since the first week of January.  Now that they had a chance to use it, they didn’t stop.

The embellishment prize went to George Daley, writing under the pseudonym “Monitor” in the New York World:

Ruth strolled to the plate, decided it was time to OPEN THE SEASON and sunk his war club into the first ball Pennock tried to pass over the plate.

There came a burst of thunder sound: that ball, oh, where was it?  Why clear OVER the right field roof of Brush Stadium [the Polo Grounds] and dropping into the greensward of old Manhattan Field around the junction of Eighth Avenue and 156th Street—the longest drive they say EVER seen on the P.G. and longer even that the tremendous wallop that gave Babe his twenty-ninth homer last September.

Eyes were strained in the watching of the spheroid’s flight; throats were strained in acclaiming its all-fired bigness, and hands were strained in a riot of applause to the hitter thereof as he ambled around the bases and, lifting his cap, disappeared into the dugout.

Whew.  What he meant was it left the field between the third and fourth flagpole atop the roof in right field and landed in the park next door, only the third ball ever to leave the yard, as Ruth joined himself and Joe Jackson as the only prior practitioners. To be fair, the ball was driven about 400 feet when it left the park, although no one could say with any certainty whether it struck the top of the roof or sailed cleanly over it.  The grandstand roof was some sixty feet above the field, but its front edge, where the ball passed over, only a bit more than 300 feet from home.  Regardless, it was still, in the parlance of the day, “a prodigious blast” and “fierce clout,” absolutely “lambasted,” one that “flitted out of the park,” “a bomb.”

It also gave the Yankees a 3–0 lead.  A moment later, while the fans were still cheering, Duffy Lewis, up next, duplicated the feat, although in much more mortal fashion, smacking a home run into the left field bleachers.

That occurrence, back-to-back home runs, was so rare no one could recall it happening before.  Two consecutive home runs?  Both OVER the fence?  The lively ball needed no more proof.

Ruth’s home run, his first as a Yankee, was the one he needed most.  Now the dam was broken, now everything he was supposed to be, he suddenly was, now the pressure was off and the game was fun again.  Now he was, unquestionably and everlastingly, the Babe. The remainder of his career fell beneath the shadow of what was to come.

After the game, a 6–0 Yankee win, the press noted that it was Ruth’s 50th career home run.  Heck, Ty Cobb, who had been playing since 1905, only had 67 career home runs.  Home Run Baker had just 80.  Ruth already had 50.  He had only hit one home run as a Yankee and the press was already setting goals and targets.  They would do so for most of the next fifteen years.  Hardly anyone even mentioned that the victory might prove a turnaround for the team. The Babe was all and everything.

In case no one had noticed, the next day Ruth did it again, as the Times noted, “At what was known in the old days as an opportune time.”  In his first two times up, he collected a “mighty” strikeout (they all were “mighty” now) and then lofted a “near home run” (just about any deep fly ball) before coming up in the sixth with two on and the Yankees trailing 1–0.

After a swinging strike and a foul tip off Sam Jones, his former teammate tried to sneak one past . . . and failed.  This was no blast over the roof but a drive down the line. But even that wasn’t special enough. It was described as “the lowest and fastest home run drive uncoiled in the Harlem park in years,” maybe the shortest of Ruth’s career, sneaking over the fence and into the upper deck just fair of the iron foul pole, 258 feet away.

It didn’t matter to the fans, 25,000 of whom filled the park, the second home Sunday date of the year, bringing the Sabbath total to more than 50,000. As Ruth rounded the bases, they climbed on the dugout roof and tossed papers and hats onto the field.  There were even reports of celebrations emanating from the apartment windows of buildings on Coogan’s Bluff.  Even the Polo Grounds stage wasn’t big enough for Ruth.

The countdown began the next day.  The Times noted, “Babe needs only twenty-eight more

homers to beat the big record he set last season. At the rate of one a day that mark won’t last

long.”

Where There is Smoke…

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What to make of the Yankees’ trade for Aroldis Chapman? The guy is clearly a stud on the mound but also possibly a huge asshole. And I don’t mean your run-of-the-mill Dave Kingman jagoff but a woman-beating creep. Kind of takes the fun out of imagining him in pinstripes, doesn’t it?

Okay, maybe he’s not a jerk, maybe he’s innocent of the charges against him–I’m sure it’s complicated. I know I’m presuming his guilt and that’s hardly fair. Regardless, this is a departure from how the Yanks have conduced business in recent years. They’re back to chasing talent with questionable character–let’s see if it blows up in their face or is a success.

I know Miller’s vulnerable to being traded and my hunch is that he will be moved. Still, Chapman, Betances and Miller at the end of games–that’s a formidable trio.

Picture by Bags

Giant Steps

lohu

Our thoughts and support go out to CC Sabathia. You aren’t alone, Big Man. Hang in there. We believe in you. Now, you just need to believe in  yourself.

[Photo Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports]

Top of the Heap

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Last year Todd Radom put together this excellent post. Go check it out.

Silver Throat Sings Again

Suzyn

I hadn’t seen this before–The John Sterling Project–but cannot be surprised that it was put together by our old chum, William.

Thanks, my dude.

[Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin/N.Y. Daily News]

All-Star Game Snubs

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It’s too hot to get worked up over All Star game snubs–Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner–but that’s just me. You guys might be irked about it. Much as I’d tune in to see Rodriguez I’d rather he get a few days off to rest. Gardy? Well, hopefully, he’ll get another chance. He’s had a really nice season so far.

Dellin Betances and Mark Teixeira will represent the Yanks.

Picture by Bags

Miller Time Out

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Nova can’t return soon enough.  When he does, maybe Warren can go back to the pen to help Betances out while Miller gets healthy.

[Photo Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sport]

Would You Believe?

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Found in the $1.00 cutout bin at a record store in Jersey.

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[Photo Via: Wikipedia]

Get Well Soon

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Drag.

[Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac]

Don’t Bring Me Down

New York Yankees

Over at Grantland, Ben Lindbergh weighs in on Masahiro Tanaka’s first start and concludes:

Although on the surface the box score seems like a confirmation of Yankees fans’ worst fears, it’s possible to put a positive spin on Tanaka’s inaugural outing in 2015. Aside from his voluntary renouncement of the four-seamer, Tanaka’s stuff seemed almost the same as it was before we were worried about his elbow. He stills throws hard enough to get swings and misses with his off-speed stuff. And while Tanaka doesn’t have a great sinker, his forsaken four-seamer was worse. It’s probably too much to hope for addition by subtraction, but if Tanaka’s partially torn ligament doesn’t hurt his command,1 the new Tanaka should be a useful starter (if not an ace) for as long as his ligament lasts, even if he nibbles too much to go deep into games. Tanaka has already defied one of our fears — and his own — by avoiding surgery and surviving the spring UCL reaping so far. Now he has a chance to chart the non-fastballs frontier.

[Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg]

BGS: The Straw That Stirs the Drink

reggie jackson

Robert Ward’s infamous 1977 Sport magazine story: “Reggie Jackson in No-Man’s Land”:

“You know,” he says, “this team… it all flows from me. I’ve got to keep it all going. I’m the straw that stirs the drink. It all comes back to me. Maybe I should say me and Munson… but really he doesn’t enter into it. He’s being so damned insecure about the whole thing. I’ve overheard him talking about me.”

“You mean he talks loud to make sure you can hear him?”

“Yeah. Like that. I’ll hear him telling some other writer that he wants it to be known that he’s the captain of the team, that he knows what’s best. Stuff like that. And when anybody knocks me, he’ll laugh real loud so I can hear it….”

Reggie looks down at Ford’s sweater. Perhaps he is wishing the present Yankees could have something like Ford and Martin and Mantle had. Community. Brotherhood. Real friendship.

“Maybe you ought to just go to Munson,” I suggest. “Talk it out right up front.”

But Reggie shakes his head.

“No,” he says. “He’s not ready for it yet. He doesn’t even know he feels like he does. He isn’t aware of it yet.”

“You mean if you went and tried to be open and honest about he’d deny it.”

Jackson nods his head. “Yeah. He’d say, ‘What? I’m not jealous. There aren’t any problems.’ He’d try to cover up, but he ought to know he can’t cover up anything from me. Man, there is no way…. I can read these guys. No, I’ll wait, and eventually he’ll be whipped. There will come that moment when he really knows I’ve won… and he’ll want to hear everything is all right… and then I’ll go to him, and we will get it right.

Reggie makes a fist, and clutches Ford’s sweater: “You see, that is the way I am. I’m a leader, and I can’t lie down… but ‘leader’ isn’t the right word… it’s a matter of PRESENCE… Let me put it this way: no team I am on will ever be humiliated the way the Yankees were by the Reds in the World Series! That’s why Munson can’t intimidate me. Nobody can. You can’t psych me. You take me one-on-one in the pit, and I’ll whip you…. It’s an attitude, really… It’s the way the manager looks at you when you come into the room… It’s the way the coaches and the batboy look at you… The way your name trickles through the crowd when you wait in the batter’s box… It’s all that… The way the Yankees were humiliated by the Reds? You think that doesn’t bother Billy Martin? He’s no fool. He’s smart. Very smart. And he’s a winner. Munson’s tough, too. He is a winner, but there is just nobody who can do for a club what I can do… There is nobody who can put meat in the seats [fans in the stands] the way I can. That’s just the way it is… Munson thinks he can be the straw that stirs the drink, but he can only stir it bad.”

Crosstown Traffic

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Head on over to the Village Voice and check out this brief history of the Mayor’s Trophy game by none other than our chum, Diane Firstman:

The Mayor’s Trophy Game actually dates back to 1946, when the New York Giants and Yankees agreed to play a best-of-three exhibition during the season to benefit sandlot baseball programs, with the winner to receive a trophy from Mayor William O’Dwyer. The best-of-three format lasted one more year before switching to a single-game event each season, with the Yankees opposing either the Giants or Dodgers until both teams left for the West Coast after 1957.

The series was revived in 1963, the Mets’ second year of operation. The Yankees, coming off their thirteenth World Series appearance in sixteen years and twentieth championship since 1923, were the most successful professional franchise in American sports, playing in one of the most recognizable stadiums in the world. They meant business on the field, and their fans expected nothing less than a pennant each year.

The Mets, on the other hand, were lovably inept. As an expansion team in their second season, their roster was littered with other teams’ castoffs and players either way past their prime or never having experienced one. The loss of the Giants and Dodgers left a huge hole in the New York baseball scene, and for a certain segment of fans, the Mets were the logical replacement to root for. Their fans skewed younger, and this “New Breed” of New York baseball fan developed the tradition of bringing homemade banners fashioned from bedsheets to the Mets’ first home stadium, the Polo Grounds.

[Photo Credit: Ray Stubblebine/AP]

The Miseducation of Alex Rodriguez

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J. R. Moehringer on Alex Rodriguez:

PEOPLE HATE HIM. Boy, wow, do they hate him. At first they loved him, and then they were confused by him, and then they were irritated by him, and now they straight-up loathe.

More often than not, the mention of Alex Rodriguez in polite company triggers one of a spectrum of deeply conditioned responses. Pained ugh. Guttural groan. Exaggerated eye roll. Hundreds of baseball players have been caught using steroids, including some of the game’s best-known and most beloved names, but somehow Alex Rodriguez has become the steroid era’s Lord Voldemort. Ryan Braun? Won an MVP, got busted for steroids, twice, called the tester an anti-Semite, lied his testes off, made chumps of his best friends, including Aaron Rodgers, and still doesn’t inspire a scintilla of the ill will that follows Rodriguez around like a nuclear cloud.

Schadenfreude is part of the reason. Rodriguez was born with an embarrassment of physical riches — power, vision, energy, size, speed — and seemed designed specifically for immortality, as if assembled in some celestial workshop by baseball angels and the artists at Marvel Comics. He then had the annoyingly immense good fortune to come of age at the exact moment baseball contracts were primed to explode. Months after he was old enough to rent a car he signed a contract worth $252 million. Seven years later: another deal worth $275 million. Add to that windfall another $500 million worth of handsome, and people were just waiting. Fans will root for a megarich athlete who’s also ridiculously handsome (body by Rodin, skin like melted butterscotch, eyes of weaponized hazelness), but the minute he stumbles, just ask Tom Brady, they’ll stand in line to kick him in his spongy balls.

Rodriguez’s defenders (and employees) are quick to say: Sheesh, the guy didn’t murder anybody. But he did. A-Rod murdered Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod brutally kidnapped and replaced the virginal, bilingual, biracial boy wonder, the chubby-cheeked phenom with nothing but upside. A-Rod killed the radio star, and his fall from grace disrupted the whole symbology and mythopoesis of what it means to be a superhero athlete in modern America.

[Image Via: Mark Murphy]

Wait a Second…

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Head on over to the New York Times where David Waldstein takes a look at Rob Refsnyder:

At some point this year, whether in spring training, on opening day or later in the regular season, Refsnyder is likely to be introduced to Yankees fans for the first time, and some of them may look at him with the same bemused expression that the players and coaches at those California showcases wore.

Amy Mihyang Ginther with her birth mother, Park Jeong-hee, at Park’s home in Gimcheon, South Korea.Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South KoreaJAN. 14, 2015
Refsnyder is a top Yankees prospect, a gifted hitter who has been invited to his first major league spring training this month and hopes to soon become the team’s starting second baseman. He was adopted from South Korea by parents with German and Irish backgrounds, as was his older sister, Elizabeth, who was a talented softball player in college.

While you’re at it, check out Mike Axisa’s recent appreciation of Willie Randolph. 

[Photo Credit: Dan Farrell/N.Y. Daily News]

Insurance Plan

Stephen Drew

Happy?

[Photo Credit: Frank Franklin III/AP]

The Quiet Man

Hiroki-Kuroda-in-rain-out

Hiroki Kuroda pitched three seasons in New York. He was a quiet yet sturdy performer.

And, he was a favorite around these parts. We certainly appreciated his toughness.

Happy trails, hombre. And, thank you.

What Happened to Brad Halsey?

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Over at the USA Today, Josh Peter has a takeout piece on the late Brad Halsey. 

[Photo Credit: Kathy Willens/AP]

Qualifying

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David Robertson has been a good Yankee. Aesthetically appealing plus a good performer.

Now, do they pony-up big dollars to give him a 3 or 4 year deal?

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