Editor’s note: I know, it’s been awhile. Sincerest apologies for the lack of blogging. Life has once again gotten in the way of Yankee Yapping, but I assure you I am alive and well; I’m here, and we’re back in action!
This 2013 MLB season, which is almost ¾ of the way over, has quickly turned from interesting to nearly unwatchable – at least if you are a Yankee fan. At the end of April the Yankees were a group of unlikely heroes; a vanguard of veterans taken off the scrap heap that carried the team to the top of the AL East.
But since then, the vanguard has vanished.
The battered and aging Yanks fell off, due in large part to their inability to score runs. Of course the surging Red Sox, Rays, and Orioles didn’t help matters, either. It’s always difficult to reach the top when the teams in front of you won’t get out of the way.
While first place in the division seems so far off with the Yankees (54-48) sitting 6.5 games out in fourth place at the moment, a chance to make the play-in game for the AL Wild Card spot isn’t impossible: the Bombers just three games out.
During this up-and-down stretch, a number of storylines have surrounded the Yankees. A lot needs to be discussed, and we’ll start with the giant elephant in the room…
The biggest news of the week involved the suspension of Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers for his connection to the infamous Biogenesis clinic – a clinic in Miami, Fla. which was responsible for selling PEDs (namely HGH) to players. Braun, who was banned for the remainder of this season and postseason, was one of 20 players on the Biogenesis list. A list, by the way, which an injured-yet-nearly-ready-to-return Alex Rodriguez’s name is also on.
Rodriguez underwent surgery on his hip in the offseason, and was originally scheduled to return to the Yankees on Monday after rehabbing in the minor leagues. A grade one left quad strain, however, put his comeback on hold.
And now, a suspension could put potentially set his comeback even further back.
Many believe in light of Braun’s suspension A-Rod is next, but in fact, some feel it could be worse than just a season-ending ban. Rumors are floating around that the three-time AL MVP could face a lifetime exile from baseball by MLB for his involvement in Biogenesis – probably because A-Rod already admitted, prior to the 2009 season, he used steroids in his career.
Or, perhaps it’s just because baseball dislikes him.
The Yankees seem to be distancing themselves from A-Rod; almost excommunicating him by keeping him in the minors and dragging out the process of his return as much as possible. As we all remember, General Manager Brian Cashman had some choice words for him when he tweeted that he was cleared to play baseball, making it clear the Yankees aren’t happy with him. According to reports today, Rodriguez will rehab his quad, start playing in simulated games, and will be reevaluated after the first of August.
Is a lifetime ban fair to A-Rod?
Probably not. No one else on the list, including Braun, is facing a possible lifetime banishment from baseball; no one else linked to Biogenesis is in danger of never playing another game. A-Rod is under intense scrutiny because he’s the highest-paid player in the league, and for that reason, every critic wants nothing more than to see the mighty fall – and no, it’s not fair.
Yet, would a lifetime ban for Rodriguez benefit the Yankees?
Probably. The organization, at this point, seems to be doing everything and anything possible to void the fat contract they handed A-Rod following his monster 2007 season – an MVP campaign in which he averaged .314, smacked 54 home runs, and batted in 156 runs. The third baseman is still owed $86 million over the next four years, and if the Yanks are able to somehow get around paying him that sum, they could potentially use the money to rebuild their thin lineup.
The so-called “A-Rod drama show” is bound to continue for the rest of the season, and undoubtedly will keep on playing throughout the offseason. But if the baseball brass has its way, it could be curtains for the Yankee third baseman; the “A-Rod drama show” closing on Broadway.
Could they hit land if skydiving?
The Yankees have used 46 different players this season, constantly trying to figure out how to right the offensive ship which has been off course for the entire year.
Consider these rankings:
The Yanks are currently 22nd in the majors in runs scored (393), 25th in the majors in hits (817), 25th in the bigs in batting average (.242), 24th in the bigs in homers (88), 29th overall in slugging percentage (.371), 24th in on-base percentage (.306), and 28th in on-base plus slugging (OPS, .677).
For such abysmal numbers and terrifying offensive ranks, it’s actually quite miraculous the Yankees are only three games out of one of the Wild Card spots. The 2013 Yankees are the masters of soft grounders, lazy pop flies, and lead the league in at ‘em balls. Sometimes watching this team, it begs the question:
Could the Yankees hit land if they were skydiving?
Well, according to the truthful numbers, the answer is no.
Three guilty parties that stick out like sore thumbs are Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, and Lyle Overbay. Each are being run out basically every game by Joe Girardi, only to come up short in key spots.
Wells started off hot but cooled off in a jiffy, now only batting .240 after he was averaging close to .300 in April and the beginning of May. His production has been spotty at best, and despite some great moments in the 93 games he’s played, he’s enjoyed several moments of infamy as well.
Hafner has been next to useless, batting .209 with 76 strikeouts – out of the designated hitter hole, no less. His only job is to hit the ball, and it’s evident he hasn’t been showing up to work the past few months.
Overbay has been the best of the three, averaging .247 right now, yet a sore 0-for-6 with two Ks in the rubber game of the Yanks’ series in Boston on Sunday – a crucial series the Yankees needed to win – puts him in the same breath as Wells and Hafner.
If the Yankees are even going to think about making the postseason, the silent bats need to get loud – and an adjustment, any kind of adjustment, must be made.
Sori, not Sori
During the All-Star break, it was reported that Cashman was working the phones like a madman asking other GMs around the league for help on offense. One name that came up was former Yankee and current Chicago Cub Alfonso Soriano.
Though Soriano isn’t what the Yanks need in terms of field positioning (an outfielder when the Yanks are desperate for a hand on the left side of the infield) he could certainly provide them with a jolt with his bat. With 17 home runs on the year, a .254 BA, and 51 RBIs, his offensive numbers are a step up from basically every player the Yankees are currently sending to the plate other than Robinson Cano.
On Tuesday morning George King reported the Yankees and Cubs were “close” to a deal for Soriano, but nothing has come to fruition just yet, other than Soriano announcing he would waive his no-trade clause for the Yankees and knowledge that the Cubs would pay off the majority of the $23.9 million he’s owed on his contract.
Thus meaning a return to the Bronx for Soriano is indeed possible.
Concerns about Soriano’s age, 37, are being raised; the common Yankee fan arguing, “why take on another aging player?”
A fair point.
But then again, take a long, hard look at who is stepping up the plate in pinstripes these days. All things considered, Soriano would be an improvement.
A “Mo”ment for the ages
Although the Yanks are in a state of flux, the biggest sports thrill of the summer (for me, at least) had to be the All-Star game at Citi Field on July 16 when Mariano Rivera made his entrance in the eighth inning.
As “Enter Sandman” blared through the speakers of the Mets’ ballpark (sounds weird saying that), and Rivera ran onto the field from the bullpen – all by himself – the fans and players stood and clapped, giving him the respect he so rightfully earned and deserves.
One way to describe it: beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.
Watching it gave me goosebumps and only made me wish I was there, in-person, to witness such a wonderful moment.
It may have been a little strange to see Rivera in the eighth inning, and he probably should’ve been in there for the ninth, but as long as he didn’t mind pitching the eighth (which he didn’t) it was fine with me.
Rivera was named All-Star Game MVP, becoming the first Yankee to earn the honor since Derek Jeter in 2000.
A look at the Baby Bombers
As noted, life has gotten in the way of my blogging – and a huge part of my life is being a reporter. For the summer I’m covering the Hudson Valley Renegades again (as I did last summer) and the first game of theirs I covered this year was a matchup vs. the Staten Island Yankees, the big club’s Single-A farm team.
I got a good look at some of the Baby Bombers, including Michael O’Neill, nephew of beloved former Yankee Paul O’Neill, of course. Michael collected a hit and scored a run on the Renegades, but perhaps the best performance I saw was out of young third baseman Eric Jagielo.
Jagielo drove in three runs, leading the Yankees to a 6-0 shutout of the Renegades, and after that game was batting a robust .444 for the season. Given A-Rod’s current foibles, it’s nice to see a third baseman in the system show some promise.
Also taking into account the age of most of the Yankees, the organization should consider giving one of the Baby Bombers an opportunity. It seemed to work out for players like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Yasiel Puig, among others.
They have to listen to that popular Imagine Dragons song and take to heart the lyrics:
“Welcome to the new age, to the new age!”
Final quick hits
- Derek Jeter came back for one game, went 1-for-4, and got hurt again (quad strain, what else is new?) The Captain is eligible to come off the DL on Saturday, and from the footage shown today, he looks to be moving even better than he did in his first game back. I guess we’ll see what happens on Saturday.
- CC Sabathia hasn’t been himself this season. Tough to pinpoint what’s wrong with the big ace, but his slider doesn’t have much bite to it and his breaking balls belong in a closet, because they hang. I don’t think the Yanks can win if he doesn’t get it right soon.
- Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain were reportedly being pushed hard (by Cashman and the front office) to be traded. If neither gets moved this season, I don’t see them returning next year, as their contracts are up and they haven’t done much to help the Yanks win in recent times.
- Austin Romine has been part of the Yankees’ offensive struggles, earning the Yankee Yapping moniker “Stone Cold Austin Romine.” However he’s picked it up the last couple games, going 3-for-4 in this afternoon’s 2-0 victory over the Rangers in Arlington with two doubles and a run scored.
- ·“42” was released on DVD last week. I picked it up. Be sure to read the Yankee Yapping review of “42” here if you haven’t seen it!
WARNING: May Contain Spoilers
Pee Wee Reese: “Maybe tomorrow we’ll all wear 42. That way they won’t tell us apart.”
If any baseball player, past or present, deserved his own biopic, it was Jackie Robinson. And from the moment I heard about “42” I was interested; curious to see how exactly director Brian Helgeland was going to depict the legendary pioneer of baseball.
The depiction couldn’t have been any better. It was incredibly well done.
Of course, being the fan I am, I went to the movies with my friends geeked out in a blue Dodgers’ shirt with “Robinson 42” on the back, the outfit complete with a Brooklyn cap. I suppose it was my own little way of paying tribute to such an icon.
And come on. It’s not as bad as dressing up like Batman, cape and cowl, and camping outside a movie theater before opening night of “The Dark Knight Rises.” I swear, I’m not one those people.
But I digress.
Robinson was played by Chadwick Boseman, an actor I knew absolutely nothing about going into the movie. Aside from a few one-time roles on TV shows like Fringe, Justified and CSI:NY, among others he didn’t have much acting work under his belt according to his IMDb page. To say Boseman did a fine job as Robinson would be an understatement. I obviously never saw Robinson play, but in doing some historical research, Boseman had it down pat.
The batting stance, the at-bat ritual of picking up dirt and wiping his hands with it; heck, even his looks – Boseman was the right choice for this role. How he resembled Robinson in this film made me think of the way Barry Pepper looked a lot like Roger Maris in “61*.”
In biopics, looks can tell the whole story.
I knew Robinson dealt with a lot of racism, but “42” really gives the viewer a clear picture of how much hatred he truly was forced to endure. When he gets signed by Brooklyn from the Negro League, then eventually called up to the show from the Montreal Royals in 1947 (the minor league affiliate of the Dodgers at the time) Robinson receives an onslaught of name-calling – and “42” doesn’t exactly pull back.
In one scene he is heckled disgustingly during an at-bat by the Philadelphia Phillies’ manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk). Throughout the entire AB, Robinson stood stoic – consciously aware of how upset, how angry Chapman’s words were making him, yet suppressing his emotions with the utmost will power before privately breaking down; taking out his frustrations on a bat in the tunnel to the clubhouse.
I can’t imagine having to deal with situations of that nature on a routine basis.
Mentioned in the movie was the fact that other players suffered similar name-calling. For instance it’s brought up that Hank Greenberg, one of the best players the Detroit Tigers ever saw, was called out because he happened to be Jewish. Also noted is the way the Yankee Clipper himself, Joe DiMaggio, was called slurs for being an Italian-American.
Still, I’m not sure if even they went through the type of hardships Robinson coped with.
Harrison Ford’s performance as the gritty-yet-faithful old cigar-chomping Branch Rickey was nothing short of impressive; a typical outstanding job by the same actor who portrayed both Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Rickey, the owner of the Dodgers and the brainchild behind the idea of adding Robinson to his ballclub, was one of the only white supporters of Robinson in the movie – along with teammate and Brooklyn shortstop Pee Wee Reese, played by Lucas Black.
Being a huge fan of “Friday Night Lights” (which Black starred in as quarterback Mike Winchell) it was nice to see Black do such nice work in another sports movie. When the white Dodger players attempted to coax Reese into signing a petition to not play on account of Robinson’s presence (boycotting the game because they had to be teammates with a black player), Reese takes a stand and opts not to sign his name.
In a way it was comforting. Even though Robinson was surrounded by hate, he had an ally.
Christopher Meloni served as the wife-cheating Dodgers’ skipper Leo “the lip” Durocher. Robinson’s color didn’t seem to faze the manager, but it’s not as if his character lasted long, anyway: being suspended at the start of the 1947 season because the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) somehow outed him as an adulterer.
If nothing else, the character throws in a “little-did-you-know” aspect.
Like Boseman, I had no clue who Nicole Beharie was before the movie. Not only did she give a mind-blowing performance as Rachel Robinson, she was absolutely beautiful to boot.
I think I may have a new celebrity crush.
And I get the feeling when Rachel saw the movie for the first time, she was happy with how Beharie portrayed her. Rachel has been fittingly dubbed “The First Lady of Baseball” – undoubtedly she had to have been proud of how she and her late husband were rendered on screen.
The character of sportswriter Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) made the movie more interesting, too. Smith was assigned to help Robinson along, be sort of his eyes and ears, so-to-speak. When Robinson hits his first home run, Smith is sitting in the grandstands with his typewriter (black sportswriters weren’t allowed in the press box at the time) smiling at his friend’s accomplishment as a divided crowd both cheered and jeered the tater.
Looking at him with his typewriter as Robinson rounded the bases, my only thought was,
“Today, that’d be an iPhone and he’d be tweeting about that home run.”
Along with strong and accurate character representation, “42” gives a kind of feel “The Sandlot” gives: a warm, fuzzy kid-like feeling, at least in two particular scenes.
In Robinson’s first game in Montreal, he gets nothing to hit and draws a four-pitch walk. He steals second, swipes third, and distracts the peeved pitcher enough for him to balk, which enables Robinson to score from third.
A young black man (who at the end is revealed to be a future major leaguer named Ed Charles) is attending the game with his mom, and is overly impressed with how Robinson – the man who is visibly giving him hope – singlehandedly created a run. His mother didn’t understand how or why Robinson was awarded home plate and inquired about it, to which Charles responds,
“He discombobulated him!”
Baseball is a kid’s game and kids say the darndest things.
The other scene that brings out the childlike nature of baseball is later on when Charles is at the train station, trying to get a glimpse of his hero before he boards. Robinson gets on the train without even looking in his direction, much less acknowledging Charles.
That is, until the train starts chugging.
Robinson calls back to him. “Young man!” and then tosses him a rock.
It had to be my favorite scene in the movie. The authenticity of it was magical.
If you are a baseball fan – and even if you’re not – “42” is a must-see. Filled with history, a stellar plot, countless “did-you-know” facts, and incredible character depiction, it is easily (now) in my top-3 favorite sports movies.
I learned from “42” that Robinson didn’t just break the color barrier in baseball. He showed humility in a divided and fearful nation – and I only use the word “fearful” because people felt he was different. People are always afraid of what’s different.
Yet his gentle and quiet personality and ability to hold back in the face of hate only showed that, if he was different, he was different for the better. He showed the guts to endure an environment full of folks who spiked him with their cleats, shouted racist remarks his way while he stood in the batter’s box, and threw at his head – and showed those guts with bold, astounding patience and wisdom.
There’s not much more to say about “42” except GO SEE IT. You will be moved.