|Photo Credit: The Canadian Press via AP (Frank Gunn)|
Yanks use the Big Bats to finish Road Trip on winning note…
It’s been a very eventful week in the Yankees Universe. The Yankees completed a two-game sweep of the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario and finished the latest road trip with a 5-1 record. Tommy Kahnle now plays for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, Jordan Montgomery undergoes the knife today for his Tommy John surgery, and a number of young, talented prospects potentially begin their journeys to Pinstripes.
Seriously, MLB should option the Baltimore Orioles (19-41) to the International League and call up the RailRiders to replace them in the AL East. The RailRiders are loaded with Major League talent.
It’s been a great road trip (outside of the loss in the second game of Monday’s double-header in Detroit) and last night’s game was incredible. Sonny Gray, wow! THIS is clearly the guy we’ve been looking for and NEED for an extended October run. Sonny may not have gotten the win but he was as critical to the win as he has ever been while representing the Yankees. If he had given up just one run last night, the Yankees lose. I am so glad that Masahiro Tanaka was not on the mound as he would have given up at least his obligatory home run to send the Yankees home with a loss. Sonny’s final line was better than any starting pitcher who picked up a win on Wednesday. Eight innings, 99 pitches, two hits, no runs, a couple of walks, and eight strikeouts. The closest winning pitcher was Baltimore’s Dylan Bundy who blanked the New York Mets on three hits over seven innings, but c’mon, he was pitching to the Mets. Nice job, Sonny. Now if you can repeat this performance in Yankee Stadium, life will be good.
I am grateful for Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton for their game-winning home runs in the 13th inning, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that the Sucks! Award goes to Gary Sanchez. He looked pitiful at the plate. I was so mad when he swung at a pitch well below the strike zone to end the 11th inning with Giancarlo Stanton stranded at third. All we needed was a measly single and Gary chases a stupid pitch. For the game, El Gary was 1-for-6 with two strikeouts. The ground rule double he hit in the top of the 4th inning allowed him to barely keep his batting average above .200. Aaron Boone keeps saying that Sanchez is close. I hope so because I sure didn’t see that guy last night.
As for Judge, his two-run homer in the 13th inning off Blue Jays reliever Joe Biagini made me about as happy as the kid prominently featured in the TV telecast, dancing in the upper deck of Rogers Centre while holding a handwritten “All Rise” sign.
There was no doubt Judge’s shot was gone, but Stanton’s homer surprised me. He walloped the ball like only Aaron Judge can do and it looked like a line drive to left that might drop in for a single except the ball never dropped. It was a laser shot into the left field stands. It goes to show you that when Stanton does get hot, American League pitchers will be running for cover.
Unfortunately, despite the win, the Yankees were unable to make up any ground on the Boston Red Sox. The Sox, winners of four-in-a-row, cruised past the Detroit Tigers, 7-1. Boston (43-19) maintained their one game advantage on the Yankees (40-18). It’s amazing the Red Sox and Yankees are the only teams in Major League Baseball with at least 40 wins. As many have said, the Yankees are on a path to 111 wins but if Boston continues its current winning percentage, the Yankees would have to settle for a one-game Wild Card play-off. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians hold a relatively comfortable 4.5 game lead in the AL Central and project out to 86 wins and would enter as a division champ. That’s sick.
The Yankees have the day off today in preparation for their weekend series with the crosstown Mets. It will be good to see old friend Todd Frazier but I am glad Yankees pitchers have to throw to the Toddfather and not some guy like Miguel Andujar in this series. Friday night’s game will be tough with Masahiro Tanaka scheduled to face Jacob deGrom. Hopefully the Yanks can hold it close to get into the Mets bullpen. I fully expect deGrom to bring his “A” game as there is nothing better than to beat NYC’s best team in New York. Hopefully Masa was watching Sonny Gray and taking notes.
I haven’t had a chance to gather my thoughts about the Yankees picks in this year’s MLB Draft. I am anxious to read the Meet A Prospect segments by TGP’s Daniel Burch. The Yankees took six catchers including two for their first picks in the first and second rounds (Anthony Seigler and Josh Breaux). Within their first 16 picks, the Yankees took two 6’8” right-handed pitchers (Daniel Bies, 8th Round, and Derek Craft, 16th Round). The 11th round pick, Tanner Myatt, also RHP, is no slouch at 6’7”. The shortest guy in the draft was LHP Dan Metzdorf (5’9”) who was taken in the 38th round. Go short people!
I was kind of hoping the Yankees would have selected 3B Triston Casas of American Heritage School in Florida. He had shown up as an option for the Yankees on a few mock draft boards. The Red Sox ended up taking him with the 26th pick in the first round. I probably would have liked to have seen him go anywhere except Boston. I was also disappointed when the Atlanta Braves chose Stanford’s Tristan Beck, RHP, in the fourth round. Beck had been a late, back-end of the draft selection for the Yankees last year but did not sign. For as much as I’ve been down on former Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens, I was also disappointed when the Detroit Tigers got Roger’s son, Kody, a second baseman, in the third round.
Lastly, I have to pay my respects to the late St Louis Cardinals great Red Schoendienst who passed away yesterday at age 95. While I am a Yankees fan, I grew up with St Louis as the nearest Major League city and it is where I experienced my first Major League game. While I liked baseball up to that point, I think my first game developed the love I have for the game.
Wednesday, May 29, 1974…
The Los Angeles Dodgers, with future Yankee Tommy John on the mound, were facing the St Louis Cardinals at the old Busch Stadium in St Louis. Bob Gibson was on the hill for the Cards, but more importantly (at least for this post), the manager of the Cardinals was Red Schoendienst. I should have recognized the greatness of the manager in the other dugout (the legendary Walter Alston of the Dodgers) but it was Schoendienst that captured my attention on that day. I can’t even tell you why he was so memorable to me that day. Maybe it was his name. Maybe it was the aura of the Cardinals, a very proud franchise that is second only to the Yankees in history, tradition and World Series wins.
The Dodgers won that game, 5-2, and John was the winning pitcher but I went away from the game with a great appreciation and respect for the Schoendienst-led Cardinals. It probably helped that I got to meet and shake hands with Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan “The Man” Musial but I clearly associated the Cardinals with their manager.
Schoendienst, a second baseman, played in the Majors for 19 years. While he spent most of his time with the Cardinals, he also played for the New York Giants and Milwaukee Braves. Red was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989. During the course his career in baseball as a player, coach or manager, he wore a Cardinals uniform for 67 out of 74 consecutive years in the game. To this day, I still can’t think of the Cardinals without thinking of Red.
Farewell to a great St Louis Cardinal and to one of the game’s greatest guys.
|Photo Credit: St Louis Post-Dispatch (Robert Cohen)|
The Red Sox have played four more games than the Yankees, thanks to the rainouts, and the Sox play again today. Here’s hoping for a Red Sox loss (finally) against the Tigers. I’d love to end this day with the Yankees only trailing the Sox by a half-game. The Tigers have a decent pitcher on the mound (Matthew Boyd, 3-4, 3.23 ERA) while the Red Sox counter with Jar-Jar Binks, excuse me, I mean Jalen Beeks.
So, Go Tigers, and as always, Go Yankees!
P.S. A special wish for a safe and successful surgery for Jordan Montgomery, and the all best for his post-surgery recovery and rehabilitation!
The slump is over.
On a night the Yankees completed their seventh consecutive win (sixth straight at home for the first time since 1998), thanks largely to another good pitching performance by Michael Pineda, the star of the game, for me, was first baseman Greg Bird.
After Aaron Judge’s apparent home run in the second inning was ruled a triple due to fan interference, Bird smashed a ‘no-doubt-about-it’ 444 foot homer to right, scoring Judge. The Baseball Gods smiled. Mystique and Aura were alive and well, and dancing throughout the Stadium.
Bird was 3-for-3 for the game with two runs scored and the two RBI’s courtesy of the long homer. He raised his batting average by 100 points (from .038 to .138). It was a beautiful sight to see. Bird’s bat is instrumental to the long term success for the team so it was great to see the strong offensive explosion. Maybe he did take my slump-busting advice after all (reference to Mark Grace’s infamous slump buster quote).
A week ago Saturday, when the Yankees stood at 1-4, it was hard to be optimistic. Now, at 8-4 and just a half-game behind the AL East leading Baltimore Orioles, the glass is half full once again. If not for the Orioles (8-3 in one less game), the Yankees would be tied for the best record in all of Baseball.
Michael Pineda delivered a very solid pitching performance, allowing only two runs in seven innings of work. He did allow six hits (including Yadier Molina’s home run in the seventh) but he walked only one and struck out six. I was thinking to myself that the Yankees pitchers, excluding Masahiro Tanaka (so far), seem to be playing a game of ‘one-up-manship’. But then I came across a Jordan Montgomery quote. “Yeah, well every staff I’ve been a part of, (when we) get rolling like this, we’re all just trying to beat the last guy that were out there. Kind of one-up him, and one-up and then one-up.” Yep, he one-upped me. Now, if Masahiro Tanaka could join the One-Up Party.
Hats off to Ronald Torreyes. He was not my choice for starting shortstop when Didi Gregorius but the so-called “Toe” has been a great fill-in. He drove in two with a ground rule double in the eighth inning to push his team-leading season RBI total to ten (two more than the Aarons who both have eight). I am looking forward to the return of Gregorius, but Torreyes has impressed. He’s doing his best to ensure that Ruben Tejada never puts on the Yankee pinstripes at Yankee Stadium.
I hate to say that I was nervous with a 9-2 lead in the top of the ninth inning but I gotta admit that Bryan Mitchell had me a little worried. The inning did not start well with a double by Eric Fryer. A wild pitch advanced Fryer to third, and Mitchell ended up walking the next batter (Jedd Gyorko) on four pitches. Randal Grichuk then hit a ball toward third which Torreyes made a great stop but then hurriedly threw the ball to second baseman Starlin Castro for a force out attempt. The throw was too low and Castro couldn’t come up with it, and Torreyes was charged with the throwing error. Fryer scored on the play. A home run at that point could have brought the score to 9-6 (too close for comfort). Fortunately, Mitchell settled down and got the next three batters out by strikeout and two fly balls, and it was game over.
I felt bad for Matt Holliday as he missed his second game with the lower back stiffness. So it wasn’t much of a reunion for Holliday with his old mates, and he finished the series with his Friday night performance (0-for-4, three strikeouts). Per Manager Joe Girardi, he was available to pinch-hit so hopefully that means he’ll be back in the saddle tonight against the Chicago White Sox. Of all the things I want to see with the Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury as the clean-up hitter has not been one of them. Hopefully, Girardi is able to pencil in #17 for the clean-up spot tonight.
Playing the Chicago White Sox brings a few former Yankees back to the Bronx. Starting pitcher Jose Quintana, Closer David Robertson, relievers Tommy Kahnle and Anthony Swarzak, and outfielder Melky Cabrera. Friday night, in a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Twins, the White Sox made “Garcia” history when every starting outfielder was named Garcia. Willy in left, Leury in center, and Avisail in right. Quintana pitched on Saturday in a 6-0 loss to the Twins and will not be available this series. I’ve already read a few ‘trade for Quintana’ articles this morning. Stop it. Forget Quintana and move on with life.
Have an awesome Monday! Eight would be great!
I have to admit that I wasn’t a believer. I did not think that CC Sabathia could make the transformation from a young dominant power pitcher to a crafty veteran at the top end of a starting rotation. Weight issues, age, injuries, alcoholism…whatever the cause…I didn’t think he could do it. He has proved me wrong.
After Saturday’s 3-2 win over the St Louis Cardinals, Sabathia leads the team with a 2-0 mark, compiling a 1.47 ERA in 18 1/3 innings with 11 strikeouts. While the most dominant single game belongs to Michael Pineda, Sabathia has been the most dominant overall.
I had gotten to the point where I thought of Sabathia as a five inning starter. Yet, here he was on the mound on April 15, 2017 at 36 years of age, throwing 7 1/3 innings, allowing only three hits and one run with just one walk. He punched out six. THAT was not the Sabathia that we had come to expect in recent years.
I am so glad that he has been able to make the transformation. I don’t know if it is the time he has spent with Yankees legend Andy Pettitte but we tend to hear Pettitte’s name come up a lot in interviews with not only Sabathia but other pitchers when they talk about success. Pettitte’s annual visits to training camp for a few days always seem to have such a tremendous impact. I think Pettitte is an assistant on a high school coaching staff these days, but I would love for his return to New York as an eventual successor to Larry Rothschild.
At the beginning of the year, I felt it was obvious this would be Sabathia’s final year in Pinstripes. With the youth movement in full bloom, I didn’t see a future for Sabathia or a veteran’s salary in Team Hal’s budget for 2018. If Sabathia expects to make his 2017 salary ($25 million) next year, I still think it’s unlikely he returns. He’ll have to take a pay cut to stay and perhaps he will. But for now, I am just enjoying the ride. I love watching Sabathia’s accomplishments this year, and I know that he is a huge influence on the younger pitchers. If Sabathia, Pineda and Severino can continue pitching like their most recent starts, this is definitely a team that can outperform expectations in 2017. Of course, Greg Bird does need to start mixing in a hit or two.
I was reading an interview with Jordan Montgomery this morning. Or should I call him “Gumby”? I had to laugh when I saw him refer to the famous Serendipity 3 on 60th Street as “some dessert place”. Give him time. He’ll figure the City out. If he keeps pitching like we know he can, he’ll be here for a very long time.
With the inability of Matt Holliday to play on Saturday due to lower back stiffness, I hope this is not a sign of things to come. His final years with the Cardinals, while he was still playing in the field, came with significant DL stints. I had hoped the ‘DH-only’ role would help preserve his health. Hopefully, this is just an aberration and he’ll back with bat in hand shortly. The loss of Holliday did show the significance of having Chris Carter on the roster as Carter provided what proved to be the winning run in Saturday’s game with a run-scoring single in the sixth inning.
As for Greg Bird, he needs to figure this out soon. His 1-for-26 start is dreadful. I remain hopeful that he’ll work through the challenge and will start to hit like he did in Spring Training. He is too much of a professional hitter for the current sample to be representative of his ability going forward. No offense to Chris Carter, but I strongly prefer Bird at first in any scenario. I wish that Tyler Austin was closer to returning but he’s not an option for now and there’s no one else in the organization that would be superior to the current duo of Bird and Carter. Rob Refsnyder is only hitting .192 in AAA and Ji-Man Choi is not on the 40-man roster. Choi is batting .280 but he has only 2 RBI’s and no home runs.
I hate to be politically-incorrect, but the words of former Arizona Diamondback Mark Grace resonate in my ears when I think of Bird’s slump. “A slumpbuster is if a team’s in a slump, or if you personally are in a slump, you gotta find the fatest, gnarliest, grossest chick and you just gotta lay the wood to her. And when you do that, you’re just gonna have instant success. And it could also be called jumping on a grenade for the team.” Bird, just do it…take one for the team.
Have a great Sunday! Hopefully, it will be a sweeping success for the Yankees!
The World certainly looks better when the Yankees are winning. We have our own problems but somehow they seem more manageable when the Yankees win.
While it was technically a quality start by definition, Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have his best stuff on Friday night. He got off to an ominous start when he gave up a two-run first inning home run to Matt Carpenter of the St Louis Cardinals. Carpenter, by the way, makes a strong point for the Yankees Facial Hair policy as he proves not everyone looks good with a beard. Fortunately, the Yankees answered Carpenter’s homer very quickly when Starlin Castro, no stranger to the Cards from his days with the Chicago Cubs, launched a two-run bomb of his own to tie the game.
An Austin Romine solo homer and a run courtesy of a throwing error by Cardinals second baseman Kolton Wong were the only additional runs the Yankees needed to hold off St Louis for their fifth consecutive win. Tanaka was strong after the shaky first inning until he got into trouble in the seventh. He finished the game with 6 2/3 innings, five hits, three runs, two walks and five strikeouts to pick up his first win of the year.
The game was in doubt in each of the seventh, eighth and ninth innings as the dynamic trio of Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman succeeded Tanaka. Clippard, replacing Tanaka with runners at second and third and only one out, got both Wong and Dexter Fowler on fly outs with a great play by Aaron Judge on the latter as it looked like it could have been an extra base hit. Betances was solid as he recorded all three outs in the eighth by strikeout, but he did have brief trouble throwing strikes as he nearly walked Matt Carpenter and then did walk the next batter, Stephen Piscotty, on four consecutive balls. In the ninth inning, Aroldis Chapman, pitching for the third consecutive day, walked Randal Grichuk after easily getting the first two outs of the inning. The next batter, pinch hitter Jose Martinez, hit a solid double to left, which Brett Gardner got back to the infield quickly keeping Grichuk from scoring. The Cardinals third base coach initially wanted to send Grichuk but quickly changed his mind when the ball was returned by Gardner so quickly. That brought Chapman’s former Cubs teammate Dexter Fowler to the plate in a match-up of World Series Champions. Chapman won the battle as Fowler grounded out to Starlin Castro, and the baseball safely made it to first base before the speedy Fowler did.
It was an intense game but with Yankees-Cardinals, you wouldn’t expect anything less.
I watched Matt Holliday with great interest as this was the first time he had played against the Cardinals since May 8, 2008 when he was a member of the Colorado Rockies. For the game, Holliday did nothing as he was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. I am sure that it was an emotional night for Holliday, being reunited with his former Cardinals teammates. It would be hard to spend eight years with a team and not have emotional attachments. Holliday’s last game against the Cardinals in 2008 was a much greater success. He was 4-for-5, with three runs scored, in Colorado’s 9-3 victory over St Louis. On that same night (to put into perspective how long it has been), Mike Mussina was beating the Cleveland Indians, 6-3, with a save by Mariano Rivera. Hopefully, Holliday will have greater success against his former team today and tomorrow.
I know that Greg Bird has struggled with the foot injury and the flu, but I am concerned about his 1-for-23 start. He hasn’t indicated any signs of the hitter he was during Spring Training. I had hoped the days of Mark Teixeira and his ice-cold starts were a thing of the past with the new first baseman but so far that’s not been the case. Hopefully, Bird will get untracked soon and start hitting like we know he can. I prefer Bird at first over Chris Carter, but if Bird continues on this path, we’ll be seeing more of Carter.
The Yankees are currently 2nd in the AL East Standings behind the Baltimore Orioles. The biggest surprise to me isn’t that the Boston Red Sox are in the 4th place with a .500 record (they’ll catch fire sooner rather later), but rather the last place Toronto Blue Jays with only one win on the year (1-9). I think I heard a stat that no team that has lost 9 of its first 10 games has ever made the playoffs. The Blue Jays were predicted to battle the Red Sox at the top of the division.
I have to comment on two incidents that occurred with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens and two of their former tight ends in the last 24 hours. One was a very heartwarming story (no pun intended) and the other was one of life’s most devastating moments. In December, former Ravens tight end Konrad Reuland died of a brain aneurysm. On Friday, it was revealed that the recipient of his heart and kidney was none other than legendary Hall of Famer Rod Carew. Ironically, Reuland’s age (29) matched Carew’s playing number for the Minnesota Twins. Also, on Friday, former Ravens tight end Todd Heap accidentally struck and killed his three-year-old daughter while moving his truck in his driveway in Mesa, Arizona. This was such devastating news to hear and I cannot possibly imagine how Heap will be able to deal with this tragedy. I am so very saddened by this news, and my thoughts and prayers go out to Heap and his family.
It’s kind of hard to say ‘have a great day’ after that news, so I’ll only say hug your loved ones and be thankful they are in your life.
Team Question Mark…
It’s March 22nd and I am still waiting for that deal that instills confidence for the 2013 New York Yankees, but so far, it’s been like an unsuccessful Vegas weekend. I want to throw out the surgery recovery for Alex Rodriguez because I remain happy that he is not in the lineup regardless of the cost. Addition by subtraction. Sorry, I am just not a fan of the narcissistic one. Even with the injury risk, I prefer to see Kevin Youkilis man third base for the Yanks. But throwing that aside, the Yankees have lost Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira to injury. While both are expected to be back in May, there have been numerous professional reports that Teixeira could be lost for the year. The Yankees lost their backup first baseman when right fielder Nick Swisher signed with the Cleveland Indians.
The catching battle is between two perennial backup catchers. I fully expect Francisco Cervelli to win the job, but I do not have full faith and confidence in his ability as a starter. I am sure that Chris Stewart will see plenty of time behind the plate this year. I had quietly hoped that Austin Romine would surprise in training camp and claim the job, but now that he’s back in the minors, his arrival won’t come until later in the year and perhaps even next year. Meanwhile, I am hoping that top catching prospect Gary Sanchez can start to accelerate his development to hasten his arrival in the Bronx.
Despite Derek Jeter’s optimistic outlook, it’s unlikely that he’ll be ready on Opening Day so the Yanks will most likely open against the Boston Red Sox with Eduardo Nunez at short.
I am assuming that Ichiro Suzuki will be shifted to left to temporarily replace Granderson, so right field will most likely be a committee led by recent signee Brennan Boesch. I am hopeful the team also finds room for Ben Francisco, but neither bat will rival the production the Yanks received from Swisher.
Brett Gardner is coming off an injury-lost season so it’s not 100% that he’ll be the Gardy of old. So, the only “sure thing” in the Yankees lineup right now is second baseman Robinson Cano. Given his recent health history, I would certainly not label DH Travis Hafner as a sure thing. If the Yankees lost Cano, this season would be lost. As it stands, I still expect a late March trade to bring in a capable first baseman. Gaby Sanchez of the Pittsburgh Pirates is the name that comes to mind. There’s no way that it will be a frontline first bagger, not under the regime of Hal the accountant.
The Yankees are the oldest team in baseball and rarely has the oldest team succeeded. This will be a tough year. Yes, the Yankees will compete for a play-off spot but I do not see them repeating as AL East Champions. I know that Red Sox fans have been salivating all off-season (along with Rays and Jays fans).
At least I learned what a lisfranc injury is…
While I was pleased to hear the Yankees have re-signed former ace starter Chien-Ming Wang, he’s a bigger question mark than any of the current players on the team. The foot injury suffered against the Houston Astros years ago led to Wang’s subsequent departure for the Washington Nationals, and he really only enjoyed one reasonably healthy season while away. I seriously doubt that he’ll ever be the 19 game winner that he was a few years ago. He does give the Yankees some insurance to trade someone like David Phelps or Ivan Nova for a quality bat.
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen…
I have been a Yankees fan for a number of years but this is clearly one of the most fragile times that I’ve experienced in recent memory. The Yankees are only an injury or two away from disaster. Sure, some players could step up and have career years but the range of potential success to non-success have never been wider. The pressure on Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman will be as high as it has ever been. It’s unfortunate that they are the front mean for Team Hal. I am not quite sure why the Yankees suddenly feel that they can be the AL version of the St Louis Cardinals. My favorite teams, in order, are the Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The pressure on Girardi and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly are higher than any other manager in baseball. Not that I am against a scenario that could ultimately bring Donnie Baseball to the Bronx as manager, but still, both men deserve better than the hands they have been dealt.
A Legend among Legends…
Most baseball fans remember attending their first major league baseball game. For many of us, it happened during our childhoods so it was a special event to spend time with a parent, grand-parent or older sibling. In my case, I attended my first game with my step-father. My own father had died a few years earlier and he did not have the health in his final years to take me to any games.
I was excited when my step-father informed me that we could be traveling to St Louis by bus to see the Cardinals play. My step-father had been a life-long Cardinals fan so he was probably as thrilled about the trip as I was. My step-father had been very active with the local Elks club chapter, as a member and officer of the organization. The bus trip to St Louis, a five hour drive, had been sponsored by the Elks club. I am not sure why that’s relevant to this post, but it’s probably just a tribute to my step-father for the passion and support he gave the Elks over the years.
The date of the game was May 29, 1974, and it featured the Los Angeles Dodgers against the St Louis Cardinals. It was a nice spring Missouri day at the old Busch Stadium, with the Arch looming in the background. When I look back, I am in complete awe of the players who took the field that day. At that point of my childhood, I considered myself a bigger football than baseball fan. Like many of my friends, my favorite baseball team were the Oakland A’s. I would not become a Yankees fan until the end of the year when A’s starting pitcher and Hall of Famer Jim “Catfish” Hunter would leave Oakland as a free agent to sign with the Yankees.
Thinking about the game, several players stood out to me that day as a kid attending my first professional game. I was mesmerized by the Dodgers starting pitcher (and future Yankee) Tommy John and his pitching motion. Surprisingly, I remember John more that day than the starter for the Cardinals, the legendary Bob Gibson.
For the Cardinals, centerfielder Bake McBride made the biggest impression…well, at least until the latter innings. I thought the name “Bake” was rather cool, and he seemed to move effortlessly with great speed in the field. He did not do anything with his bat that day, but I enjoyed the grace he displayed in the field. Late in the game, the Cardinals brought in closer Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky even though they were trailing. The intensity that Hrabosky brought to the game when he entered to pitch still gives me chills. He brought the crowd alive, and although the Cardinals would lose the game, 5-2, Hrabosky made me a believer and he became my first favorite closer. I would have subsequent trips to St Louis and I always loved watching Hrabosky pitch while he was in his prime. I think I’ve always had a favorite closer through the years as a result. Rich “Goose” Gossage and Mariano Rivera are two other all-time favorites.
The memory of these players vastly overlooks the legends on the field that day (as I now recognize). The Dodgers were managed by the great Walter Alston, while the Cardinals were led by long-time manager Red Schoendienst. Some of the Dodger names that would have prominent roles in the ’77 and ’78 World Series agains the Yankees were there…Steve Garvey, Bill Russell, Ron Cey and Steve Yeager. The Cardinals had Joe Torre at first and Ted Simmons behind the plate. It is amazing how differently the game looks to me today as I recall it as opposed to my perception in May 1974. I was blessed with the opportunity to see so many legends that day.
As memorable as the game was for me, it was, believe it or not, a trip to the restroom that has endured the test of time as one of my all-time favorite baseball moments. It was the fourth inning and I made my way to the restroom. Over the speakers, I heard that I missed the opportunity to see my first home run as Ron Cey connected off Gibson. After using the restroom, I was walking down the corridor back toward my seat. I saw a line of people waiting to see a guy who was signing baseballs and books. There were actually two guys signing autographs. I went to the shorter line, and it was famed St Louis Post-Dispatch sports writer Bob Broeg. Nothing against Broeg, but I was more intrigued by the other gentleman as he was garnering the most attention. After getting Broeg’s autograph, I got in the other line and worked up my way up to shake hands with none other than the legendary Stan “The Man” Musial. I had been familiar with who Musial was through my step-father as he always spoke very fondly of the Cardinals great. I was in awe but admittedly I did not appreciate the moment at the time in the way I do today. Mr. Musial was very kind to me and it is an encounter that I will never forget. I can still remember going back to my seat and telling my step-father, “I just met Stan ‘The Man’ Musial!”.
I was very saddened to hear the news of Musial’s passing this weekend. I have always been grateful for the few minutes I had with him and he’ll always hold a special place for me as one of my all-time favorite players. He will be missed and as many have written, he was “The Man”…
Who needs Josh Hamilton or A.J. Pierzynski!…
Austin Romine and Ronnier Mustelier. Sometimes, the most meaningful additions to the major league roster are from within. That’s probably never been so important in the Bronx than it is now as the Yankees attempt to reduce their payroll to below $189 million by 2014. To accomplish the goal, the Yankees will need more than one or two low-cost, high reward type players on the roster.
I admit that I haven’t been watching the minor leagues as close as I probably should have. I’ve been aware of Romine, the son of former Red Sox player Kevin Romine. For years, his name was always mentioned in the same breath as Jesus Montero as the type two prospects at catcher. With the trade of Montero to Seattle last year, it helped clear the path for Romine. Now, among Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, Romine represents the greatest upside even if he missed most of last year due to injury.
I have not been aware of Mustelier, a Cuban refugee the Yankees signed a couple of years ago. But all the guy has done is hit as he’s progressed through the Yankees’ system. He is a utility man that can play both corners, but I’ve seen speculation about him in right field too. He’s old for a prospect (27) but it doesn’t mean that he cannot seize an opportunity in spring training to make his imprint on the Yankees’ roster.
If both Romine and Mustelier grabbed key roles for the 2013 team, it will help the Yankees to focus on eliminating other parts of “fat” on the roster and hopefully upgrade the team with lower cost high-producing replacements. Easier said than done, which does lead me to believe the next couple of years will be ones of transition for the Yankees. I honestly cannot see them keeping up with the ‘Joneses’ (i.e., namely the Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays or even the Baltimore Orioles) with the current roster. This doesn’t mean that I envision 95-loss seasons in the immediate future. The Yankees still have too much talent on the roster. But it will be a dogfight for 90-win seasons if the team continues on its current path. A game or two here or there is the difference between making the play-offs as a wild card or staying home for October.
The strong get stronger, the Yankees get older…
As it stands, the most successful teams this off-season, in my opinion, have been the Los Angeles Angels and the Toronto Blue Jays. Of course, the Kansas City Royals added a great pitcher in James Shields even if it did cost their top prospect. The Texas Rangers will be strong again even if they lost Josh Hamilton. I fully expect them to find an adequate replacement for Hamilton between now and the start of the season. The bat won’t be as strong as Hamilton’s bat, but it will be a capable one, I am sure. In the AL East, I still expect the Tampa Bay Rays to be strong despite losing Shields. If I’ve learned anything in baseball, it is to never underestimate Rays manager Joe Maddon and GM Andrew Friedman. I assume that the Baltimore Orioles will be as strong as they were in 2012, and I expect an improved Boston Red Sox club under the new leadership of manager John Farrell.
With the strength of the Detroit Tigers and other teams, it’s almost impossible to predict who will be the winners next season. I’d like to say the Yankees will be one of the last teams standing, but everything would have to align perfectly for that to happen and I just don’t see it. As usual, I hope I am wrong and that the Yankees surprise me with their performance in ’13. Time will tell…
I still do not see the Steinbrenner family allowing the value of the franchise to erode. Either they make the necessary moves to ensure the continued competitiveness of the team or they sell. The latter is not such a bad idea if it would bring in aggressive new ownership. I cannot find fault with the current regime’s decision to cut payroll to reduce luxury taxes in future years, but the problem is too many bad decisions in the past (i.e., A-Rod’s contract). It feels like the Yankees are going ‘cold turkey’ with their new small market budget mentality. It would have worked better as a slower transition, but of course, the 2014 deadline does not allow for it.
Teams like the St Louis Cardinals have proven in recent years that you can win despite not having the best players or the highest payroll. I know that’s the model the Yankees would like to emulate. Going for the best players with inflated payrolls seems to be a ‘play for now’ approach with no sustainability. The key to long-term success is to develop a farm system that allows the introduction of young, low-cost talent every year (in other words, the Tampa Bay Rays). It’s just so hard as a Yankees fan to see the team go from one extreme to the other.
Oh well, let’s see what happens when the players step onto the field…
Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! J