There was a nostalgic feeling in the air. The old lions of the Yankee Dynasty of the late 1990s – many of the key players – were on hand.
It brought me back to the days of my childhood and I relished every minute of it.
Bernie Williams Night last Sunday was one of the most amazing and invigorating experiences I’ve had as a Yankee fan. I’d say it was on the same level as the World Series ring ceremony I attended in 2010.
I felt the need to be there, given my past history with this great man.
The great number 51 at long last took his rightful spot in Monument Park behind the wall in centerfield, where he patrolled for 15 years in pinstripes.
Obviously I could go on and on forever talking about Williams’ accomplishments as a New York Yankee. Instead of that, however, I’ll muse about and share some pictures from his special night.
Thank you Bernie
Even before stepping foot into the ballpark, you just knew this night was going to be all about number 51.
Stopping to capture a moment from 1998
While walking to my seat, I happened to stumble across this picture in the concourse of Williams high-fiving third base coach Willie Randolph in a home run trot. Even though I’ve seen it before, having been to the stadium countless times, I had to pause and capture a picture. What with it being his night, I felt it necessary.
Little did I know Randolph would later appear as part of the pregame festivities.
On a side note, in 1998 Williams high-fived Randolph 26 times during the regular season and three more times in the postseason, rounding third in home run trots.
All fans received this neat collectible card after making their way through the turnstiles.
They brought the good guys.
Roy White, Williams’ first base coach for a huge chunk of his career. He was there.
Gene “Stick” Michael, who became the Yankees’ General Manager the same year Williams made his Major League Baseball debut, 1991. He was there.
Joe Torre, Williams’ only manager throughout his career. He was there.
Randolph, and former teammates Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez. They were all there.
David Cone, Williams’ teammate from 1995-2000 and Yankee Yapping shout out artist. He was there.
The great closer, Mariano Rivera, made the drive in from New Rochelle.
And the Yankees saved the biggest surprise for last.
The return of the Captain
I still kick myself to this day. Sure the tickets were criminally expensive. Of course they would be. It was Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 25 of last year.
The price of admission would have been worth it given the way that game ended. Jeter heroically, as he had done many times before, won the game with a clutch hit.
Understandably, I was disappointed I wasn’t there to witness it live. And I was saddened I would never see Jeter at Yankee Stadium again.
But lo and behold, the last guest at Bernie Williams night was Jeter. The captain incarnate. Admittedly, I did not think Jeter would make an appearance so soon after retiring, for that very reason – it was too soon. Jeter always struck me as the type who would wait awhile to return to big ballpark in the Bronx for a special night of this kind.
But, I was wrong. Not only was Jeter there, he strutted out like he owned the place. With the top couple buttons of his shirt unbuttoned underneath his sport coat, he looked like a million bucks.
What made it better, I thought, was the comment from a fan behind me, once Jeter was announced:
“Suit ‘em up!!!!!” the fan yelled, loud enough for everyone within a 10-mile radius to hear.
Not a bad idea, considering his heir at shortstop, Didi Gregorius, had six errors on the season entering Saturday night’s game against the Athletics in Oakland.
Overall it was such a wonderful, indescribable feeling, seeing Jeter at the game. I may not have been there for his last hurrah, but I can say I was there when he made his triumphant return to New York to pay respect to his old friend.
It was outstanding; maybe the best speech from any of the players that have been honored since 2013, when the Yankees reintroduced retiring numbers and nailing plaques to the hallowed Monument Park walls.
He was sure to thank everyone and spoke directly from the heart.
Williams tossed out the honorary first pitch – a pretty good throw – to boisterous cheers from the crowd.
Unfortunately no magic from number 51 rubbed off on the Yankees. The visiting Texas Rangers had their way with starter Chris Capuano. Texas touched him up for three runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings. Capuano finished with four strikeouts and didn’t walk a batter – but also didn’t impress anyone.
The Yanks only plated two runs, both of which came off the bat of catcher Brian McCann. In the bottom of the first McCann singled home Chase Headley and Alex Rodriguez, but that was all the offense the Yankees could muster.
It continued. You know the trend I’m talking about.
The Yankees losing on special days. At the end of 2013, the San Francisco Giants beat the Yankees on a day the pinstripers exalted their own Mariano Rivera.
Tino Martinez, Goose Gossage and Paul O’Neill suffered the same fate in 2014. They were honored with heartwarming pregame ceremonies and Monument Park plaques, but the team just could not finish the job. The Yankees lost each of those games, most of the time without putting up an offensive fight.
The trend was bucked on Aug. 23 of last year when Joe Torre had his day. The Yanks put an end to the special day losing streak, beating the Chicago White Sox 5-3.
But on Sept. 7 – Jeter’s big day – they went right back to losing. The Kansas City Royals came in and put up two runs.
Two. The same number Jeter wore on his back his entire career. And the same amount of runs it took the Royals to beat the Bronx Bombers. It ended 2-0.
With special days lined up for Jorge Posada (Aug. 22 vs. Cleveland), Andy Pettitte (Aug. 23 vs. Cleveland) and Willie Randolph (June 20 vs. Detroit, also Old Timers’ Day), the Yankees at least have the chance to turn the tables.
But the offense will have to wake up in order for that to happen.
The Yankees have been outscored 29-9 on special days from Rivera’s day in 2013 up to Williams’ day last weekend.
The final thought
Was it disappointing the Yankees lost on Bernie Williams Night?
No doubt. It would have been nice to see a win.
Is it the end of the world for the 2015 Yankees as we know it?
Not at all.
The Yankees are lucky. Fortunate in the sense that the American League Eastern Division is so poor, that even with a record that barely hangs above .500, they’re in first place. The Boston Red Sox, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays all have problems.
Each team is struggling, and into the month of June it’ll be interesting to see which team – if any – heats up and pulls ahead in the race.
In the meantime, as I sat in the bleachers and watched the Rangers beat the Yankees after Williams’ nice ceremony, I had this image in my head.
Almost a clear vision.
I pictured the old Yankees who were in attendance. Jeter, O’Neill, Martinez, Cone, Williams, Pettitte, Rivera, Posada and even Torre. All of the dynasty players and their skipper, I imagined, in a luxury suite, watching the current Yankees.
Watching the current Yankees, and laughing. Laughing at how bad they are. Snickering to one another and saying,
“Can you believe they can’t beat these guys? We would’ve won this game in the first inning.”
Which is true. They certainly would have beaten the Rangers down. The Rangers came in at 20-23, and the Yankees of my youth generally never lost to a team of that below .500 caliber.
Then again, the dynasty Yankees could likely have taken down the 2015 Yankees, had they been matched up against one another. In fact, they probably could have beaten any team currently in the league.
They were that good. It was nice to relive those glory days for a night.
If you’re a Yankee fan, Oct. 16 holds a warm place in your heart. The memory of a mighty swing by Aaron Boone in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series to crush the dreams of Red Sox Nation has held up, and will continue to hold up forever more.
In honor of the 11th anniversary of this profound piece of Yankee history, this writer is going to take you on a ride back to the past and muse about the goings-on of the 2003 Yankees-Red Sox saga; perhaps point some things out that didn’t necessarily meet the eye to the average fan.
Join me, will you?
It took a long time before the Yanks and BoSox reached the climactic Boone game. A really long time, in fact. The two hated rivals had faced each other 25 times in ‘03 leading up to Game 7 of the ALCS. Their 26th meeting in the decisive game was historic, in the sense that no two teams – in any sport – had faced each other more times in a single season.
But so much more happened before Game 7.
In squaring off against each other so many times, the Yankees and Red Sox had generated some disdain for one another. Earlier in the season on July 7 in the Bronx, Pedro Martinez, Boston’s ace, had plunked both Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter – bean balls that were so intense they sent the two hitters at the top of the Yankees’ batting order to the hospital.
Jeter was hammered on his right hand while Soriano suffered a shot on his left hand. The after effects of the HBPs were so great that, after more than two weeks later, both hitters felt the pain of Martinez’s missed location; the captain’s hand was still swollen and Fonsy felt some aches just by checking his swing.
Roger Clemens, the Yankee ace, in return struck Red Sox first baseman and team ringleader Kevin Millar with a pitch. Millar, a colorful and outspoken player who had urged his team to “Cowboy Up,” would later express anger towards Clemens for the Yankees act of retaliation.
The late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner even got in on battle. The Boss was asked if Martinez was headhunting; throwing at the Yankees with intent. His response:
“I can’t answer that. But if he was, he’ll regret it.”
Steinbrenner had every reason to be suspicious about whether or not the hit-by-pitches were deliberate. In the past, 2001 to be exact, Martinez told the Boston Globe,
“I’m starting to hate talking about the Yankees. The questions are stupid. They’re wasting my time. It’s getting kind of old … I don’t believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. I’ll drill him in the ass, pardon the word.”
Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino then got his jab in, giving the Yankees a moniker in homage to the Star Wars franchise. He dubbed the Bronx Bombers “The Evil Empire.” Yankee Universe happily (or at least sarcastically) welcomed the nickname.
So was Jeter Darth Vader? Sure, that makes sense.
How we got there
The physical and verbal blows during the regular season were only the beginning, laying the groundwork for what was to come in the playoffs. The Yankees finished 2003 with a record of 101-61, six games ahead of Boston for the AL East. The 95-67 Red Sox captured the AL Wild Card – keep in mind that in ’03 there was no play-in game; the BoSox were automatically in the eight-team postseason tournament without having to fight their way in the door.
Most fans may not remember that the ’03 Yankees-Red Sox ALCS clash wouldn’t have happened if the Oakland A’s didn’t collapse. In the ALDS the A’s handed Boston a 5-4 loss in Game 1; Oakland winning in the 12th on a walk-off bunt single by catcher Ramon Hernandez. Game 2 wasn’t any better for the Red Sox, as the A’s poured it on and beat Boston 5-1 – Oakland was only one win away from the next round.
Yet, maybe in the spirit of some foreshadowing, the Red Sox fought back.
Boston won Game 3, 2-0. They then took Game 4 by a count of 5-4, and completed the comeback with a 4-3 win in Game 5. The Yankees were already waiting for the winner of the Boston-Oakland series, having disposed of the Minnesota Twins in four games to reach the League Championship Series; the Yanks outscoring the Twins 16-6 in their divisional round.
The rally vs. the A’s and the thrashing of the Twins set the New York-Boston rivalry up for an epic showdown. Yes, the Baseball gods had done it again.
Players on both sides knew the World Series was not just at stake, but bragging rights were up for grabs and in a lot of ways, the ending or the continuation of Curse of the Bambino was on the line.
“Everyone says, ‘we played them towards the end of the year, does it get any bigger than that?’ Well, yeah it does. And this is it,” Jeter told MLB before the ALCS.
The Red Sox took Game 1, beating the Yankees 5-2. However, the first salvo seemed to be fired in the seventh inning when reliever Jeff Nelson hit Red Sox big man David Ortiz with a pitch. The Yanks went on to take Game 2 with a 6-2 win, but in terms of the HBP battle, Boston punched back.
Future hero Boone was beaned by Red Sox starter Derek Lowe and Soriano was plunked by Bronson Arroyo. The ALCS was split 1-1, tensions were at an all-time high, and the teams were beginning to get rather physical.
What’s the worst that could happen in Game 3?
And then, everything explodes
The energy level at Fenway Park on Oct. 11, 2003 was off the charts – not that I was there, but listening to the words of the players and examining everything that had led up to Game 3, everyone from the fans to the media was on edge.
What’s more, the fact that Clemens and Martinez were on the hill for their respective clubs made it even more enticing. During batting practice, Millar was about as hyped up as an 8-year-old after consuming 50 sugar cubes, enthusiastically saying,
“We got Roger and Martinez, Game 3 split, Championship Series, American League, all eyes on the Sox!”
To this day I wonder if even he knew how jumbled that sounded. Mic’d up, he stood next to Ortiz and yelled,
“You’ve got to be going with the Sox! This is the Sox Nation! Two thousand and three! And screw that curse!”
Ortiz couldn’t help but laugh at Millar’s zeal, but a few short innings later, no one was laughing.
In the top of the fourth, Martinez let up an RBI ground rule double to Nick Johnson, which gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. The very next hitter, outfielder Karim Garcia, took a pitch behind his head which appeared to nick him on the shoulder for another hit-by-pitch.
Soriano came up next and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, though another Yankee run scored. Leaving the field, Garcia had some choice words for the Red Sox and a heated exchange ensued.
Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, chest protector and shin guards on, came out of the dugout looking like a Roman centurion ready to attack Martinez. The two feisty foes got into some jaw-jacking and a bit of a “pointing battle” – Martinez using his index finger to point at his temple, as if to say to Posada, “I’ll hit you there.”
The Yankees, in a nutshell, were unhappy with Martinez’s antics, and had no problem expressing their grief. Yet somehow the umpires settled matters down.
That is, until the bottom half of the inning.
Clemens delivered a high and tight 1-2 fastball to hothead Manny Ramirez, who believed there was intent behind the pitch – when clearly there wasn’t.
Ramirez angrily tried to approach Clemens with the bat in his hand before being subdued by his teammates when the benches cleared. Needless to say all Hell broke loose at Fenway, but the victim of the fracas wound up being a coach, not a player.
Yankee bench coach, the late Don Zimmer (72 at the time) lunged towards Martinez, who grabbed him by the head and force-fed him to the ground. The Yankee trainers were able to help him up and get him back into the dugout free of serious injury, but the ugly incident further proved how the Yankees and Red Sox were at extreme odds.
Eventually the situation calmed, and Clemens fanned Ramirez with a fastball on the outer part of the plate to get the game going again; the players back to their professional ways.
But just when it seemed everything was back to normal, it became a mess again.
An altercation broke out in the Yankee bullpen in right field between Nelson and a Boston grounds crew member, Paul Williams. Garcia, stationed in right field, also sampled the action. He hopped the wall into the ‘pen and got involved; a scrum of police officers, security officials, and Yankee relief pitchers creating an unpretty scene.
Days later the Yankees’ personnel, notably president Randy Levine, defended the New York relief corps. Meanwhile the Red Sox brass were less than happy, and went to bat for their groundskeeper, explaining that he did nothing wrong. The Yankee side relented, though, and contended Williams had antagonized Nelson, and wanted an apology issued from the Boston side.
Yeah. That never happened.
Once the roller coaster ride finally ended, the Yankees escaped with a 4-3 win and a 2-1 ALCS lead. The reaction by a couple of individuals after Game 3, however, was unlike anything this writer had ever seen in sports – ever.
In terms of the Martinez-Zimmer incident, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg went on the record saying, “If that happened in New York, we would’ve arrested the perpetrator. Nobody should throw a 70-year-old man to the ground, period.”
That would’ve been quite a sight: the Red Sox ace being cuffed and escorted off the Yankee Stadium diamond by New York’s finest.
BoSox skipper Grady Little only had this to say:
“I think we’ve upgraded it from a battle to a war.”
The war raged on. The Red Sox won Game 4, 3-2, to even the series, then the Yankees grabbed Game 5 with a 4-2 win, taking a 3-2 series lead back to the Bronx. The Red Sox raised the eyebrows of the world by beating the Yanks 9-6 in Game 6, overcoming both Andy Pettitte and a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd.
Game 7. Roger and Pedro, again. He we are.
Is this happening?
Before Game 7 took place, Boston sportswriter Howard Bryant caught up with Willie Randolph, a longtime pinstriper who had endured the “Bronx Zoo” era of the late 1970s as a player, and enjoyed the year-by-year success of the dynasty of the ‘90s as the Yankees’ third base coach.
Bryant asked Randolph what he thought about the deciding game. What do you think?
“Listen,” Randolph said. “Every single time we’ve had to beat them, we’ve beaten them. Tonight’s not going to be any different.”
But in the early going, it was different – a lot different. Clemens struggled, surrendering a second inning, two-run home run to Trot Nixon. Later in the frame a throwing error by starting third baseman Enrique Wilson allowed Jason Varitek to come in, making it 3-0 Red Sox.
Clemens pitched into the fourth, although “the rocket” was all but gassed by then. Millar backed up some of his talking by sending Clemens’s offering into the seats in left field, a solo blast to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead. Yankee manager Joe Torre had told starter Mike Mussina that he might use him out of the bullpen, which would’ve been the first time in his MLB career he would’ve pitched in relief.
A caveat, though: Torre had told “Moose” that, if he were to use him, he’d bring him into the game when nobody was on base. That plan went by the wayside, as Mussina was summoned to mop up a first-and-third, no out mess.
Number 35, cleanup on aisle four.
Mussina was brilliant, striking out Varitek by utilizing his patented knuckle curveball, and followed by getting Johnny Damon to bounce into an unassisted 6-3 double play to skim out of further peril.
After the game Mussina teased Torre, inquiring, “I thought you said you were only bringing me in if there weren’t going to be men on base.”
Torre quipped back: “I lied.”
Jason Giambi, whom the Yankees had acquired after the fall of the dynasty in 2001, kept the Yanks close with two solo home runs off Martinez – a bomb in the fifth and another in the seventh.
The Yankees trimmed the deficit to 4-2 but in the top of the eighth, Ortiz played pepper with the short porch seats, homering off another starter playing the role of reliever that night, David Wells. The solo job (that left Wells in utter disgust, putting it mildly) gave the Red Sox a run right back, making it 5-2 in favor of Boston.
Now Martinez, his pitch count over 100, came out to toss the bottom half of the eighth with a three-run lead, and while most members of Red Sox Nation thought this might ultimately be the year the Curse of the Bambino would be vanquished, some fans back in Beantown were not so convinced.
Baseball historian and Red Sox fan Doris Kearns Goodwin explained:
“When Pedro came back out in the eighth inning, we all started screaming ‘No! No! You can’t be doing it!’ I mean, fans think they know more than the managers – and often we don’t – but at that point everybody knew the pitch counts that Pedro would suddenly fall off the cliff, if he were over that pitch count.
“He was way over that pitch count, and so there was this huge sense of dread when he came to that mound.”
That dread was well-founded and soon realized.
Jeter pounded a one-out double off the wall in right field. Bernie Williams brought him in with a well-struck single in front of Damon in centerfield, cutting Boston’s lead to 5-3. The RBI base hit prompted a mound visit from Little, who shockingly stuck with his ace; Martinez not leaving the mound after the powwow, even with hard-throwing righty Mike Timlin and lefty specialist Alan Embree going double-barreled in the Red Sox bullpen.
Hideki Matsui, a left-handed hitter, was due up next. Embree would have been the obvious choice to match up with Matsui, but Embree could only watch from the ‘pen as Matsui ripped a ground-rule double down the line in right field off a tired Martinez, passing the baton to Posada.
The switch-hitting Yankee catcher, batting from the left side, punched a blooper into centerfield, falling in the middle of shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, second baseman Todd Walker and Damon to bring both Williams and Matsui to the plate. Posada reached second base – getting the last laugh off Martinez, thinking back to their chinwag in Game 3 – and Game 7 was tied, 5-5.
Martinez then departed to a Bronx cheer; there was no undoing the damage the Yankees had done. The decision to keep Martinez in the ballgame haunted Red Sox Nation for a year. Fans were outraged at Little for not removing Martinez before the game turned, but Martinez – and others – have defended the move.
“I was just trying to do it,” Martinez said. “That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. Why didn’t Pedro give away the ball? Well, they didn’t ask me to give away the ball. They asked me if I could face the guys. I said yes! Of course I can! I’m in the middle of the game; I’m here to do this.
“When Grady came out, the simple question was whether I could pitch to Matsui or not. And I said yes.”
Former Red Sox favorite Johnny Pesky (for whom the foul pole in right field at Fenway Park is named) also was a proponent of allowing Martinez to stay in the game, and was quoted as saying,
“When he’s your best pitcher, and he tells you, ‘skipper, I got enough left in my tank’ you’re not going to take him out.”
The fans on the other hand turned their ire on the call, and even went as far as constructing a poem about it, penned by Boston loyalist James Bair:
Why Did You Keep Pedro In?
We couldn’t have got there without you.
We were five outs away from a win.
You were the smartest guy in the stadium.
But why did you keep Pedro in?
We don’t believe in those curses.
We could care less about old Harry’s sin.
But with such a powerful bullpen,
Why did you keep Pedro in?
We know there is one consolation:
We know you’ll never do it again.
Still the cry rises from Red Sox Nation:
Why did you keep Pedro in?
You made us now root for the Marlins,
And we hardly know how to begin.
You almost upended the Empire,
Why did you keep Pedro in?
You brought new pizzazz to the clubhouse:
The crew found the cowboy within.
You did so much for the guys, but with tears in our eyes,
We say, why did you keep Pedro in?
The question could be asked until the end of time. But it was moot. The game was knotted at five, and the Yankees used the unflappable closer Mariano Rivera for the 9th, 10th, and 11th innings. The stage was set. The question was no longer, “why did Grady leave Pedro in?” Rather it became “how is this saga going to finally end?”
Sleeping on the X-Factor
What probably gets lost in the shuffle was the fact that Boone had come into the game as a pinch-runner during that eventful bottom of the eighth. He took over at third base for Wilson on defense, who was surely not the Yankee fans’ favorite player that evening, because remember – he committed that costly error in the third which led to a Boston run.
It’s funny to me because, personally, I can recall the “due up” graphic in the middle of the 11th inning, watching in my Yankee pajamas from my bed in Beacon, New York; soon to be a droopy-eyed high school junior the following day, but the exhaustion coming with the excitement of a possible World Series berth. I even said to myself,
“Aaron Boone. Forget it, easy out. The next few guys have to hit, though! Let’s win this game!”
Perfectly logical assumption. In 31 postseason at-bats, Boone collected just five hits. The Yankees, however, had a lot more faith in Boone than this scribe did. Before he went into the on-deck circle while knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was warming up, Torre told Boone,
“Just hit a single. It doesn’t mean you won’t hit a home run.”
Randolph then issued the ultimate sign of faith:
“That inning, he came to the dugout and I met him at the top step. I patted him on the back and I said, ‘listen. You’re my sleeper pick. You’re the x-factor of the series.’”
Keith Olbermann – a bright sports pundit and someone for whom I have respect, albeit I disagree with him on plenty of topics – analyzed Boone’s at-bat this way:
“The odds were favoring a hitter in a slump. Because a hitter in a slump’s timing is already off. A knuckleball pitcher throws your timing off. Put a guy with bad timing, and add more bad timing to him, suddenly he has good timing – it’s a zero sum game in terms of timing.
“So you’re thinking, who on earth is going to get the base hit for the Yankees? Who can do anything against Tim Wakefield? Boone.”
Sure enough, the timing worked out. Everything worked out.
Boone slaughtered Wakefield’s first pitch for a home run deep into the New York sky; the ball landing behind the wall in left field to give the Yanks a 6-5 win, sending the Bronx Bombers to their 39th World Series in franchise history. Pandemonium commenced; Yankees Stadium completely erupted, became unglued.
The Red Sox were crushed, the pennant was won, and the Curse of the Bambino was alive and well.
Boone was speechless after clubbing the death blow, and managed just a few words:
“Derek told me the ghosts would show up eventually. And they did.”
The Captain verified those words postgame, saying,
“I believe in ghosts, and we got some ghosts in this Stadium!”
Torre went on to admit he thought there was some divine pinstriped intervention, later saying,
“It is weird to me that certain things happen that don’t seem logical. Yeah, you have to believe we’re getting some help from somewhere.”
What’s also not well known is that, after the bliss of a love-fest at home plate for Boone and the champagne celebration; after the presentation of the Will Harridge Award, and after Rivera was named ALCS MVP, the Yankee players made a pilgrimage out to Monument Park, donned with championship hats soaked in champagne. Specifically, they made a visit to Babe Ruth’s monument.
“Look, he’s smiling! He’s smiling!” the Yankees gleefully exclaimed, whilst rubbing the forehead of the Great Bambino’s likeness on the monument.
The aftermath and the impact of another curse
While Little was quickly fired by the Red Sox and the image of Boone’s home run was tattooed on the minds of Red Sox fans everywhere, the Yanks were in the 2003 fall classic, matched up with the Florida Marlins – who Chicago Cubs fans felt had snaked their way in on account of fan interference in the ’03 NLCS. The Cubs had been winning 3-0 in the eighth inning of Game 6, and had they held on would’ve punched their first ticket to the World Series since 1945.
Steve Bartman, a Cubs fan sitting in the front row of the left field stands, accidently reached for a foul ball that was perhaps catchable for left fielder Moises Alou near the wall. Bartman got his hand on it, and the ball took a wrong bounce back into the seats, not going for an out – much to the infuriation of not only Alou, but every Cubs fan in the ballpark. Almost right after the gaffe, the Marlins wound up rallying to score eight runs to win the game, and carried on to win Game 7 by a count of 9-6.
Not unlike the Red Sox and their Curse of the Bambino, the Cubs had the Curse of the Billy Goat hanging over their heads – a long story about a Chicago bar owner, who in 1945 was asked to leave Wrigley Field because the stench of the pet goat he brought to the park was bothering other fans.
He proclaimed, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”
Subsequently the Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908.
I can’t help but think how the ’03 World Series would’ve gone had it been Yankees-Cubs, the matchup America wanted to see, instead of Yankees-Marlins – a bland fall classic that ended in a six-game series win for the fish.
Would the Yankees have been able to beat the 1-2 punch of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior? Would they have been able to silence the bat of Sammy Sosa, who just five seasons earlier had smashed 66 home runs, and had hit 40 during the ’03 regular season? Would the Curse of the Billy Goat been upheld in the fall classic, the same way the Yanks kept up the Curse of the Bambino in the ALCS?
Would 2003 have been the year of title number 27 in the Bronx, if only the Yankees faced the Cubs and not the pesky Marlins, equipped with the likes of scrappers Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Josh Beckett and Juan Pierre?
We’ll never know.
To this writer, though, the ALCS was the World Series in 2003. Passion, heat, unmitigated physicality, the will to win intense rivalry games, and excitement that puts you on the edge of your seat – you want nothing more than that as a fan, or at this stage in my life as a journalist.
Hopefully we see it again, in baseball, sometime soon.
And hopefully, again, it’s between the Yankees and Red Sox.
SOURCES FOR THIS PIECE: Websites: Baseball Almanac, Baseball Reference.
DVDs: The Boston Red Sox vs. The New York Yankees: The Ultimate Rivalry (2005)
Ken Burns: The Tenth Inning (2010)
Behind the lights-out pitching of Brandon McCarthy, the Yankees were able to salvage the final game of their three-game series against Houston this afternoon, beating the Astros 3-0; the Bronx Bombers picking up their first win since Sunday. McCarthy danced to a complete game tune, putting on a four-hit shutout performance with eight strikeouts and no walks – an outing that looked more like a Roger Clemens start, circa 2001.
The Yankee offense, which has basically struggled since the end of 2012, scored all of its runs in the second inning this afternoon. Chase Headley swatted a double into the right field corner to bring in Mark Teixeira and Martin Prado, and later came in on a sac fly out to center off the bat of Ichiro.
Other than that, it was McCarthy’s day to shine.
The much-needed victory brought the Yankees to 64-61 this season; now trailing Baltimore for first place by nine games in the American League East. The Yanks are also four and a half games out for the second Wild Card spot – but that comes with the task of hurdling Cleveland, Seattle and Detroit for a postseason seed.
Numerically, the Yankees still have a chance at capturing the AL East, with eight games left to play against the Orioles in the month of September. Realistically however, given the immense lack of hitting and team inconsistency on both sides of the field, it’s fair to just hope for a fight into a sudden death Wild Card game down the stretch.
This weekend the Yanks welcome the Chicago White Sox into town, and before Saturday afternoon’s showdown with the pale hose, will honor Joe Torre with a ceremony. The newly crowned Hall of Famer will have his no. 6 rightfully retired by the organization.
Whether or not the Yankees take the game from the White Sox that will follow the ceremony remains to be seen, as they’ve had bad luck winning games on days they pay homage to Monument Park newcomers.
Recent history hasn’t been on their side.
In summation, it’s been a very lackluster summer in the Bronx. The season just has not given off the World Series vibes of 2009 and the ‘90s Dynasty years, which is tragic not only because of the amount of money “the brass” spent in the offseason on players; buying some sought-after free agents in hopes of turning the team around – but you would hope in Derek Jeter’s final year, the captain could go out a winner.
Right now, it doesn’t even seem as though Jeter will play autumn baseball in New York again, let alone collect his sixth World Series ring.
While the Yankees are upsetting fans and not living up to the hype generated in the preseason, a minor league team from just up the Hudson River has been doing what the Yankees haven’t been this year: playing well and consistent. The Hudson Valley Renegades, the New York-Penn League MiLB squad affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays, have been as clutch and as fun to watch as the ’09 Yankees this year.
The ‘Gades are one of the top teams in the NYPL, and are on track for the playoffs as the season enters its final week and a half. I’m now in my third season covering Hudson Valley and it wasn’t long ago – 2012, in fact – that the Renegades won only their second championship in team history, and first since 1999.
They certainly have a chance to go for their third, and second in three years.
This week was the NYPL All-Star Game in Brooklyn, held at MCU Park where the Cyclones play; the Cyclones, of course the New York Mets farm team. The Renegades sent a record seven players to the ASG. I wrote a little feature about it that ran in the newspaper I work for, The Examiner, this week.
Since the Renegades are playing great baseball – virtually the polar opposite of the Yankees – I figured I’d share my feature on the Hudson Valley all-stars.
Note: The NYPL ASG took place Tuesday night, and as I understand it, ended in a 1-1 tie. Our newsweekly prints on Tuesday mornings, so the story was run timely, but now is actually a couple days late. Nonetheless:
Renegades to Send Record Seven Players to NYPL All-Star Game
By A.J. Martelli
The New York-Penn League All-Star Game may be taking place tonight at MCU Park in Brooklyn, but a strong Hudson Valley presence will be felt. The Renegades will be represented in the All-Star Game by seven players, a record number for the minor league franchise.
“It’s awesome; a great accomplishment to them,” said Renegades skipper Tim Parenton, who will be managing the game with his coaching staff. “They put up the numbers, they got the recognition by the league president and they’re going to do great.”
Two Renegade outfielders in Bralin Jackson and Hunter Lockwood were selected. Jackson, the Tampa Bay Rays’ fifth pick in the 2012 Major League Baseball draft, has tallied 56 hits in 54 games and has demonstrated a keen eye at the plate, drawing 24 walks. He also hit .324 in the month of July and leads the Renegades with 18 multi-hit games.
Lockwood has been as clutch as they come, leading the league with 13 home runs and 43 RBIs. Three of his 13 round-trippers have been of the walk-off variety, and he’s very excited to be playing in his first All-Star Game.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Lockwood said. “Going there with a bunch of guys that you know and get to play with every day is just going to make it all the more special. We’ve had a lot of guys playing well for us all year; been hitting the ball, throwing strikes and getting the job done when we need it.”
Along with a pair of outfielders, three Renegade infielders will be playing tonight. Utility man Coty Blanchard, second baseman Jace Conrad and first baseman Casey Gillaspie each received the nod.
Blanchard currently sports a .287 batting average, has driven in 24 runs and he leads the league with 20 stolen bases. Meanwhile Conrad has 17 steals, boasts a .277 average, and has knocked in 18 runs.
Gillaspie, the Rays’ first pick in this year’s draft, has been worth the price of admission with his seven home runs this summer, coupled with 38 RBIs and a .273 clip at the plate. The younger brother of Chicago White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie is looking forward to the experience.
“It should be a fun time,” Gillaspie said. “We have a good team, the guys work hard. I’m happy for all the guys who got invited.”
Rounding out the Renegades in the All-Star Game are pitchers Nolan Gannon and Hunter Wood. Gannon is currently 5-2 in nine starts with an ERA of 2.68. The tall right-hander has struck out 43 batters in 47 innings while only allowing five walks.
Wood, another lanky righty, has been equally as dominant, with a 3-3 record in 11 starts for the Gades, and a 2.91 ERA.
You can check out my latest gamer on the Renegades’ 6-1 win over the Lowell Spinners last Saturday here. Lowell is the NYPL’s Boston Red Sox affiliate.
There may not be anyone daring enough to say the Yankees aren’t the most revered franchise in sports. We could go on all day about the history, the number of championships and the outstanding – or maybe a better word, legendary – players that have made the Bronx Bombers the best in the world.
So when the Yankees honor a player and dedicate a special day just for them, it’s usually fitting for the team to win the game accompanying the ceremony for the Yankee legend, right?
Well, in recent times, that just hasn’t been happening.
Mariano Rivera Day, with a side of Andy Pettitte – Sept. 22, 2013
It was a sunny Sunday in the Bronx last year when the Yankees bid farewell to their longtime closer Mariano Rivera. Baseball’s all-time saves leader was not only honored by scores of former and current teammates with a beautiful ceremony, but his number 42 was retired by the Yankees, making him the only Bomber to have his number retired while he was still a member of the active roster.
If that wasn’t sweet enough, Metallica rocked out with a rousing, live rendition of Enter Sandman in the spirit of the day.
Andy Pettitte, who like Rivera was a fan-favorite and set to retire at the end of the ‘13 season, was on the hill for the Yankees in their game against the San Francisco Giants after the ceremony. It also happened to be the beloved southpaw’s final game pitched in the Bronx.
Pettitte did a nice job keeping the Yanks in it, throwing up seven innings of two-hit ball. He only gave up two runs in those seven innings showing quality; he walked one and struck out six.
Current closer and then-setup man David Robertson piggybacked Pettitte and got one out in the eighth, before giving way to Rivera. The legendary Mo came in and pitched 1 2/3 innings of scoreless ball, letting up just one hit with one strikeout.
Smooth sailing through calm seas. Nothing new to either pitcher.
But the brilliant pitching of Pettitte and Rivera couldn’t save the Yankee offense, which showed about as much life as a stiffened corpse. Despite nine hits, the Yanks pushed across just one run on a solo home run off the bat of Mark Reynolds in the third inning.
The Yankees couldn’t win on a day they paid homage to a pair of their most worshipped players during the dynasty of the late 1990s.
On Rivera’s special day and Pettitte’s final Yankee Stadium bow:
Giants 2, Yankees 1.
Tino Martinez Day – June 21, 2014
Tino Martinez made enormous contributions to the Yankees in the mid-to-late ‘90s, and rightfully, the Yanks honored him at the start of the summer with a plaque in Monument Park. Billy Crystal, a famous actor and noted fan of the boys from the Bronx, once said,
“To me, Tino was a real Yankee. You could sense he was a good person. You could just sense that he was a really good guy and that he loved being here.”
So on June 21 before the Yankees’ game vs. the Baltimore Orioles, the organization rewarded the love Martinez had for the pinstripes. The “Bam-Tino” was given the recognition of a plaque in Monument Park; the Yankees this year clearly giving the dynasty of the late ‘90s its earned due.
Martinez delivered a wonderful speech among his former teammates, friends and family, highlighted with such meaningful words directed at the fans:
“You guys don’t know how much you mean to us.”
Still the One by Orleans played as the ceremony ended; good vibes resounded throughout the big ballpark in the Bronx.
That is, until Vidal Nuno toed the rubber.
Nuno let up five runs in 6 1/3 innings pitched – three of those five runs coming by way of the long ball. The Yankee offense didn’t have an answer for Baltimore starter Bud Norris, only getting one run in the form of a famous Mark Teixeira “Teix message” in the bottom of the fourth.
Such a special atmosphere for Martinez, and how did the day end?
Orioles 6, Yankees 1.
Rich ‘Goose’ Gossage Day/Old Timers’ Day – June 22, 2014
The day after the Yankees honored Martinez with a plaque in Monument Park, they gave props (if you will) to the flame-throwing Rich ‘Goose’ Gossage, who most consider the best closer in Yankee history behind Rivera. Gossage played seven seasons in New York, won a World Series with the Yankees in 1978 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.
The mustachioed menace undoubtedly had the credentials and was entitled to a Monument Park plaque.
Now, not only did the Yankees honor Gossage, but they chose to honor him on a special day: Old Timers’ Day. That meant countless Yankee alumni from years past were on hand for Gossage’s ceremony and the Old Timers festivities.
In fact, this writer was even in attendance that sweaty afternoon – and bounced out of the stadium early on account of how poorly the team played. Once again the Yankees faced off with the Orioles, and yet again failed to generate any offense. Even with mighty Masahiro Tanaka on the hill; with Gossage and the players of old looking on, the Yanks couldn’t get it done.
The day started nicely but ended like this:
Orioles 8, Yankees 0.
Paul O’Neill Day – Aug. 9, 2014
Late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner nicknamed Paul O’Neill ‘The Warrior’ because of his feisty nature, hatred of losing and the disgust he exhibited when he didn’t produce at the plate. O’Neill demonstrated the type of passion every player should possess, Steinbrenner thought – although some may maintain that none of those water coolers he destroyed over the years did anything to deserve the type of punishment they received at his hand.
His former manager Joe Torre described him as “hardcore” and added, “Warrior. George Steinbrenner named him right. In the clutch he was a miracle worker.”
The Warrior’s old teammate and friend Derek Jeter called him “intense.” Said Jeter: “Paul expected a lot of himself. He was a big part of our championship teams.”
O’Neill gave a fine speech amongst family and former teammates, thanking the fans for never allowing his memory and contributions to the team to be forgotten.
How could Yankee Universe forget? The last time a player tried to wear the jersey number 21 – reliever LaTroy Hawkins in 2007 – he was booed out of the building and had to change his number to 22.
Maybe someday number 21 will be retired for O’Neill, given that it’s been out of circulation since Hawkins forfeited it, but as for today, O’Neill received a plaque to go in Monument Park.
After the ceremony concluded, and Scandal’s The Warrior bounced off the Yankee Stadium walls, the Yanks took on the Cleveland Indians.
Yet again the offense went into its stall mode, getting stifled by Corey Kluber, who struck out 10 Yankees. The Cleveland bullpen added another five strikeouts in relief, meaning the Yankees made 27 outs and 15 of them were Ks.
The day couldn’t have been any nicer in terms of paying tribute to O’Neill, but the way it ended:
Indians 3, Yankees 0.
In the last four special days the Yankees have held in honor of their former players, the offense has generated a grand total of two runs. They will have an opportunity in a couple weeks to perhaps break the trend of losing on special days when they honor Torre on Aug. 23.
Jeter will also be exalted for what he’s done over the course of his Yankee career on Sept. 7; another day that could potentially end on a sour note if the Yankee offense decides to take the day off.
Already announced for next year is Bernie Williams Day; the beloved and gentle center fielder of the ‘90s and 2000s will be paid homage in Monument Park.
Until then, this will be left as a “to be continued.” Time will tell if Torre, Jeter and Williams witness losses on their respective special days.
But if the Yankees truly want to honor their heroes, they only have to do one thing:
It was a chilly night October 8, 2007. The mood was somber. A melancholy atmosphere. The Yankees were in the postseason, having to claw their way back from a record under .500 at the All-Star break to even be playing autumn baseball in New York. They had captured the American League Wild Card in a season where their playoff hopes looked unreal for most of the way.
Towards the end of the season they built up some momentum, but the Yanks found themselves not only trailing the Cleveland Indians two games to one in the ALDS, but were down 6-3 in the top of the eighth in Game 4 facing elimination; looking at a third straight early October exit. Like so many times before, Yankee skipper Joe Torre walked out to the mound with his regular stoic expression on his face.
Fans at Yankee Stadium – all 56,315 of them – knew full well this could be the final pitching change Torre ever made in pinstripes. The manager took the ball from Jose Veras and handed it to his closer Mariano Rivera, hoping to keep the score right where it was to perhaps give the Yankees a fighting chance to come back and force a deciding Game 5.
Deep down everyone knew, though. This was it. As Enter Sandman traditionally blared through the Yankee Stadium sound system, everyone was on their feet, applauding and chanting the name of the man who led the Yankees to the playoffs 12 consecutive years; the man who took the Yankees to six World Series – winning four of those six fall classics, all four within a span of five years.
The end of the Torre era in New York was, in a word, sad. For some Yankee fans, this writer included, Torre was the only skipper they knew since becoming fans in 1996. Yet his last game will hardly be what Yankee fans – and all baseball fans, for that matter – will remember him for.
Now a brighter memory will be made as the unflappable Torre will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown – a more fitting lasting impression for a man who helped bring the Yankees out of a tailspin, and turned them back into the perennial winners they once were during the golden age of baseball.
Looking at the bigger picture and not just how his time in New York came to an end, Torre will be remembered for, what one of his former players described as “social genius.” The Yankees could win a game 15-0 or lose a game 15-0, and Torre’s demeanor wouldn’t change. He appeared cool, calm and unbreakable, even in the wake of what critics thought were questionable decisions. Even facing fire from an owner in George Steinbrenner, who could (in the nicest way) be characterized as “difficult.”
Case and point: right before Game 2 of the World Series in 1996.
The Yankees had lost the first game in unflattering fashion, 12-1, when Steinbrenner met with Torre to chat about the state of the team.
“George Steinbrenner walks into my office before Game 2 and he says ‘this is a big game.’ Well yeah, I know it’s a big game. Only seven games you get to play here. For some reason I was in a goofy mood. I didn’t feel the same stress that I felt later on.
“But I said to him, ‘you know George, (Greg) Maddux is pitching against us. We’re not really playing well right now; we’re a little out of whack because we hadn’t played in so long.’ I said we may lose again tonight. But we’re going to Atlanta – that’s my town. We’ll win three there and then next Saturday we’ll come back and win the series for you.
“And I walked out of my office.”
Torre’s words became true; the rest of the ’96 World Series played out exactly that way.
In his decade at the helm of the Bronx Bombers, he once said he had only one regret: not appealing for a timeout during the infamous “bug game” otherwise known as Game 2 of the ’07 ALDS. He admitted he should’ve asked the umpires for a game stoppage until the midges migrated out of Progressive Field (then known as Jacobs Field) in Cleveland.
Torre didn’t even regret the decisions he made in the 2004 ALCS – which as we all know, didn’t end particularly well for the Yankees. He backed up his choice of starting Kevin Brown, a faltering pitcher far past his prime, in the deciding Game 7 of that historic-yet-woeful round before the ‘04 World Series.
Tomorrow, for the good and the bad; the wins and the losses; the triumph and heartbreak, Torre will be immortalized in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He, along with Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox, were unanimously elected to baseball’s hallowed hall for their managerial prowess and the important impact they each made on their respective clubs; LaRussa with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cox with the Atlanta Braves, of course.
When I traveled up to Cooperstown on June 12, a lot of Torre’s mementos and artifacts were all over the place, as they’ve prepped for this big day since it was announced he was to be enshrined.
The Yankees are going the route of MLB, and will also personally recognize Torre’s contributions to the game by retiring his number 6 on Aug. 23. Rightfully, Torre will be eternalized at Yankee Stadium with legendary skippers from the days of old like Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, and Billy Martin.
We could go on all day about Torre; how he always defended his players, no matter the situation; how under his leadership the Yankees won 1,173 games. How he may have made some not-so-favorable remarks about the organization in his 2009 book The Yankee Years but turned around and basically recanted the bad feelings, making amends with his beloved ballclub in the process.
A player, a manager, a social genius and an upstanding man, there might not be anyone who deserves the honor of the Hall of Fame more than “Mr. T.” And his response to all of this adulation? Well, you couldn’t have expected anything less:
The Yankees have finally hit a little bit of a hot streak, winning three in a row this week to pull to within three and a half games of the first place Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East. Last night Derek Jeter turned back the clock with three hits and two RBIs, while some clutch play on both sides of the field from Jacoby Ellsbury led the Bronx Broskis to a 6-3 win over Robin$on Cano and the Seattle Mariners to complete the sweep.
Tonight they’ll look to keep the ball rolling at O.Co Coliseum against the AL West-leading Oakland A’s.
While the Yankees are contending, yesterday, before their win over the Ms, my friends and I took a trip up to Cooperstown to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. It marked my third trip to the baseball Mecca, and my first since July 3, 2010.
I figured I would share some pictures, tell some stories, and give my two cents on yesterday’s getaway – and the shenanigans that ensued.
First of all, living downstate, a drive up north is humbling to say the least. As most of us are used to cities and overpopulated areas, you learn quickly by a drive through the country that things are different; farms and wastelands abound, and you pass houses on back roads that look as if they’re owned by Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
My friends and I passed the time accordingly, however. We sang songs (notably “December, 1963”) and told inside jokes to make the three hour trip seemingly go by faster. It took a little while but we finally made it to Main St. around 3 p.m.
The first thing I noticed were the banners hanging up outside the Hall, complete with the images of those who will be inducted at the end of next month. I had to take an obligatory picture of the banner with Joe Torre’s face on it. What kind of Yankee fan would I be if I didn’t?
When we walked in to get our admission tickets, we were told that yesterday was in fact the 75th anniversary of the Museum’s opening. We were then given a special (and free!) keychain in honor of the day.
Torre’s image (as well as a few of his baseball mementos) was on display right as we walked in – such is the tradition of the Museum. I remember my first trip to Cooperstown in 2007, giant almost Fathead-like pictures of Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn were in the same location, along with some of their baseball knick-knacks. (Ripken and Gwynn were the ’07 honorees).
After that we checked out the room dedicated to the Negro Leagues. The great number 42 Jackie Robinson’s jersey was on display – and evidence of how difficult he and the rest of the African American players had it back then.
There were also exhibits dedicated to the Ladies’ Leagues; showcased were the uniforms Geena Davis and Rosie O’Donnell wore in A League of Their Own.
We then made our way around. There were plenty of artifacts from the days of old, specifically the days of Yankee past – which is what I was primarily aiming to get pictures of. Unfortunately the legendary Babe Ruth Room was closed for renovations, but his uniform was still on display. Lou Gehrig’s locker and belongings were also out, in addition to Phil Rizzuto’s Ray Hickock Award, one of Yogi Berra’s MVPs, and Mickey Mantle’s locker.
I also found this scale model of Wrigley Field pretty neat.
Then we got into the good stuff: artifacts from the Yankee Dynasty of the late 1990s, with some 2009 memories even exhibited. Among them some photos, Jeter’s spikes from 1998 and jersey from 1996; and his helmet from 2000 Subway/World Series, one of David Cone’s jerseys from 1999 (I believe it was the one he wore during his perfecto), Mariano Rivera’s cap from the ’09 Fall Classic, and the 1996 World Series trophy.
In the locker room of the Hall of Fame, treasures from recent memories are shown off. In the Yankee locker was Rivera’s cap from last year’s All-Star Game at Citi Field, Andy Pettitte’s hat from the ’09 World Series, and Hideki Matsui’s bat from the ’09 World Series.
The jersey Jeter was wearing when he whacked his 500th career double was also in the Yankee locker, and the jersey Alex Rodriguez was wearing when he whacked his 500th career double – Jeter and A-Rod are the only teammates in history to accomplish the feat in the same year (Jeter notched his 500th career two-base hit on May 3, 2012, and A-Rod reached 500 doubles on May 21, 2012).
We also noticed the Seattle Mariners’ card. Read the number of championships and weep, Cano.
We then journeyed into a few different rooms with lots of pictures. Most of them speak for themselves.
I also decided to give Big Papi a piece of my mind.
I stumbled across this, too:
Reading it made me proud to be a reporter, although it puts a lot into perspective, what with the advent of Twitter and live-tweeting games in this day and age.
The “Baseball at the Movies” exhibit is one of my favorites at the Hall. Kevin Costner’s jersey from Bull Durham was there, along with a no. 61 jersey Billy Crystal donated from his movie, 61*, about the famous home run chase during the 1961 season between Mantle and Roger Maris.
I also loved how John Fogerty’s original draft of “Centerfield” which is (in my opinion) baseball’s unofficial National Anthem, was there. I didn’t notice that the previous two times I visited.
From there we went to the Promised Land: the plaque room. I tried to snap pictures of all the Yankees I could. Ruth’s lifelike statute rightfully is located in the plaque room, which I also got a picture of.
After that we went into the room with all of the World Series rings in it. I managed to take some shots of the ’96, ’98-00 and ’09 Yankee bling, although I’m unsure why the 1999 ring was upside down.
From there we left the Museum, making sure we saw everything there was to see, then took a walk about town. The rustic, old school, small town feel of Cooperstown is just amazing – and using the word ‘amazing’ it underselling it in a huge way. You have to live it and go there for yourself to truly appreciate it.
We took a jaunt over to Doubleday Field, hoping there might be a game going on, but the weather was uncooperative to say the least. We were the lone pilgrims at the “birthplace of baseball.” Literally.
And, living in the year 2014, we had to take a selfie. Quota filled.
We left town afterward and took a tour of the OmmeGang Brewery right outside of town. I’m pretty sure my friend Alicia Barnhart over at “Ballparks on a Budget” would appreciate this part of the trip!
The tour wasn’t that long, but we wound up staying for the tasting. The beer was delicious; it left me with a bit of a buzz, though my friends suffered no ill effects from drinking. Needless to say the ride home was interesting with a lightweight like myself riding as a passenger.
Overall, it was a fun day. I do think we rushed the trip a little bit; we didn’t take a full, complete day like last time, but it’s Cooperstown. Some never make it in their lifetime to this historic landmark town.
But me – I can now say I’ve been there three times. And I’m sure at some point I’ll go again, because it gets better and better every time.
Despite going 2-5 on their recent road trip which included a sweep at the hands of the suddenly “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics team, the Yankees still possess the best record in baseball at 59-39 and continue to sit atop the AL East, looking eight games down at the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, and 10 1/2 games down at the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox.
A number of things have happened in Yankees Universe and the baseball world in general these past couple of days. Therefore in the spirit of old-fashioned blogging, I figured I would give some thoughts, opine on some topics, and even throw in a story or two – just for old time’s sake.
Ichiro Joins the Yankees
Before Monday’s series opener vs. the Mariners huge news broke via the Twitter wire: the Yankees had acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners in exchange for minor league pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar.
Just like that, Ichiro is a Yankee.
The news came as a shock to most Yankee fans, as well as me, seeing as how Ichiro spent his entire MLB career with the Mariners. Not only that, but the move was on no one’s radar; nobody saw it coming. It was obviously a trade General Manager Brian Cashman kept under wraps until it became official.
The first notion that entered everyone’s mind was the jersey number. Throughout his career Ichiro has always worn number 51, a number that has meant a lot to the Yankees – being that Bernie Williams wore it for 16 years in pinstripes.
To everyone’s relief, Ichiro chose to take 31, respecting Williams and the jersey number. Unfortunately Dave Winfield didn’t seem to take too kindly to Ichiro taking 31.
Right on, Dave.
In his first three games as a Yankee, Ichiro has collected three hits and has stolen a base. He hit eighth in the batting order in his first two games, and led off yesterday, showing his versatility in the lineup. Plug him in anywhere and he can still hit.
This was a good move for the Yankees. With Brett Gardner’s season over and Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones signed to be designated hitters and fourth outfielders, the trade makes sense. The Mariners organization is becoming tailor-made for young players and the veteran Ichiro, 38, didn’t feel he fit in with them – hence why he requested the trade.
Hats off to the Mariners not only granting his wish, but commenting on how he deserves to a chance to win a title before his career ends. It’s obvious Seattle isn’t going anywhere this season while the Yankees, now with Ichiro’s help, could potentially go very far.
After the final out was made in yesterday’s 5-2 win over the M’s, Ichiro waved goodbye from right field to the Mariners faithful. The fans seemed heartbroken at the thought of their golden boy for so many years leaving town.
The sight of it all made me sad. I couldn’t help but remember the way I felt when Joe Torre managed his last game in October, 2007. When someone has meant so much to a franchise, I know first-hand that it’s extremely difficult to see them leave.
Alex Rodriguez out 6-8 Weeks
On Tuesday night in Seattle, Alex Rodriguez was beaned on the left hand during an at-bat in the eighth inning – the third HBP in the game (Ichiro and Derek Jeter had previously been plunked). Rodriguez fell to the dirt in agonizing pain and left the game.
Afterward it became known that A-Rod has a broken hand and will miss 6-8 weeks; the Yanks are hoping to have him back by the middle of September.
Losing A-Rod is a blow, but perhaps it’s better the Yankees lost him now as opposed to a time when they really needed him. For example, if this injury occurred in 2005 or 2007 when Rodriguez put the team on his back and carried it, the Yanks would be in serious trouble.
Thank God we live in the year 2012.
Because now there are several players who are capable of coming up in big spots to bring the runs home, like Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Robinson Cano, among others. Not to mention in ’05 and ’07 the Yanks were constantly battling for first place, locked in a dogfight with the Red Sox for the division.
Obviously that’s not the case this year.
Although taking Rodriguez’s bat out of the lineup basically takes an offensive threat and a presence out of the Yankees’ arsenal, there’s more than enough power to compensate for it. As far as defense is concerned, Ramiro Pena was called up to fill A-Rod’s roster spot and will obviously see time at third base along with Eric Chavez and yesterday’s hero, Jayson Nix.
There’s also speculation the Yankees might go after Chase Headley, the Padres’ third baseman, before the trade deadline on Tuesday. Headley, 28, is hitting .267 this year with 12 homers and 51 RBIs.
A-Rod looked devastated after the game; he was clearly not just in physical pain from the HBP and the fracture, but emotional pain as well. It was apparent the news of him missing more time due to another injury impacted his psyche and left him in disbelief, as evidenced by his words when he met with the press.
“It’s difficult; tough break,” he said, masked in a shell-shocked expression. “I never thought ‘fracture’ but it was. Tough blow. Tough blow.”
The Boston Red Sox will visit Yankee Stadium for the first time this season tomorrow night, as the Bombers and BoSox get set for a three-game weekend series. The last time these teams met, the Yankees took three of four from the Sox in Beantown.
The Red Sox are coming off a losing series to the Texas Rangers while the Yanks (as it’s known) just took two of three from the Mariners. Aaron Cook (2-3, 3.50) will start for Boston tomorrow night while the Yanks will counter with Phil Hughes (9-8, 4.09 ERA).
Saturday afternoon in a match-up of aces, CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.30 ERA) will toe the rubber, facing off with Jon Lester (5-8, 5.46 ERA). Finally on Sunday night, 10-game winner Hiroki Kuroda will gun for win number 11 – while Boston has not yet listed a starter for the finale.
MLB posed an excellent question a couple days ago:
Has the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry lost its luster?
Right now, I think it’s almost dormant. With Bobby Valentine shooting off his big mouth about Derek Jeter over the off-season, I thought for sure the rivalry would be ignited and something would happen this year; perhaps the boiling of some bad blood.
So far, however, nothing. But I suppose it’s not necessary when the Red Sox are AL East cellar dwellers and not pushing for first place at all. If Boston was in the pennant race, there might be more of a competitive element thrown into the mix.
Yet, it is clear that the days of A-Rod and Jason Varitek duking it out are long gone; Curt Schilling wanting to “make 55,000 people from New York shut up” is surely passé. It could take awhile – maybe even a number of years – before the Yankees and Red Sox go back to where they were in 2003, 2004, and even 2005.
Then again, you never know. It only takes one bean ball to start a fire.
Some Encouragement from Sandberg
As promised, I’ll throw in a little story to close this one.
The last time I blogged, I wrote about my experience covering the Hudson Valley Renegades, as most readers probably know by now, the same team I interned for. I wound up covering them again last Friday after I saw “The Dark Knight Rises” (go see that movie if you haven’t yet done so).
Escaping damage in the ninth inning and with some eighth inning heroics, the Renegades beat the Aberdeen Ironbirds 3-2 – the Ironbirds being a farm team of the Baltimore Orioles, for the record.
After the game I went from the press box to the clubhouse and interviewed Jared Sandberg, the Renegades’ skipper, former Tampa Bay Devil Ray, and nephew of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.
Tampa Bay Rays’ 2011 first round draft pick Taylor Guerrieri once again started, and Sandberg actually noticed that I had been there for Guerrieri’s previous start.
“You were here the last time Taylor pitched (against Mahoning Valley) weren’t you?” he asked me after the interview.
“Yes,” I answered.
Jokingly he looked at me and asked, “Oh, so you only cover the games Taylor pitches?”
I let out a chuckle and said, “Well, we’re a newsweekly with so many coverage areas, so there are a lot of games and only so many we can get to every week.”
Sandberg answered, “Oh, I understand. I was just kidding. Which paper are you with again?”
The Examiner,” I replied.
“Oh, I saw that article from last week!” he exclaimed. Frightened, I had no idea what he was going to say next.
“That was really well-written and very nicely done; nice spread – and the pictures came out great, too.”
I thanked him and told my editor about it. He was happy Sandberg saw it and basically said, “Now the pressure’s on us. He might expect great articles from now on.”
Honestly though, I am having a great time covering this team. They are performing extremely well, and are in first place in their division in the New York-Penn League, ahead of the likes of the Brooklyn Cyclones and Staten Island Yankees.
I’m looking forward to covering more of their games and I’m anxious to see how they are going to finish. When I interned for them in 2010, they ended at 39-36, missing the playoffs. At 24-13 right now, it looks as if they will indeed eclipse their 2010 record and go who knows where.
Hopefully to a League title.
Yesterday I added a new piece to my seemingly never-ending Yankee memorabilia collection. I purchased the official “Winning Streak Dynasty” banner from Modells, since they were having a sale and marketing it for a relatively low price.
Just by glancing at the banner, and each of the 27 years the Yankees have won the World Series, gave me an idea: a look inside some of the World Series the Yankees have won. I figured I would explore the reasons why the Yankees won that specific year, provide some background on the regular season, examine turning points that made each fall classic special, and identify the key players who made it what it was.
I figured I would first relive a very magical season: 1998.
Regular season record: 114-48
Postseason record: 11-2
Manager: Joe Torre (3rd season)
The 1998 Yankees, who went on to set a Major League record for most games won overall in a season, began their year in a slow fashion. They lost four out of their first five games to start the year, including a 10-2 beat-down at the hands of the California Angels.
Manager Joe Torre called an “angry meeting” and aired out some of his feelings to his players. The pitchers and the position players noticed somewhat of a rift between each other; some batters were hit and felt the pitchers did not do enough to retaliate.
They eventually found their groove on April 7 against the Seattle Mariners, beating the M’s 13-7. From there, they won their next seven games and wound up ending April with a record of 17-6.
On May 17 starting pitcher David Wells tossed a perfect game at home vs. the Minnesota Twins. He retired 27 consecutive batters leading the Yanks to a 4-0 win. It was only the 15th perfect game in MLB history and only the second perfecto thrown by a Yankee.
Later in the season on Sept. 1, Wells almost threw another perfect game. Facing the Oakland Athletics, Wells was perfect through 7 2/3 innings. Needing only seven outs for another perfect game, Jason Giambi lined a single off an 0-2 count to break it up.
May 19 marked a turning point in the season. After Baltimore Orioles’ closer Armando Benitez allowed a three-run home run to Bernie Williams, he pegged Tino Martinez in between his shoulder blades. He was immediately run from the game, but the HBP practically caused a riot.
A fracas ensued and the Yanks and O’s exchanged shoves, and eventually punches.
The Yankees went on to beat the Orioles 9-5 in that game, and also swept them in that series three games to one.
A Year-Long Tear
The Yankees only lost 17 games in the summer months of July and August, while winning 42. Williams described the season as a “year-long tear,” as there really was no other way to characterize how the Bronx Bombers played.
In the ALDS, the Yankees easily handed the Texas Rangers a clean sweep. Juan Gonzalez, the player who eventually captured the 1998 A.L. MVP Award was no match for the starting pitching the Yanks had. David Wells, Andy Pettitte, and David Cone shut down the Rangers three games in a row, each notching a playoff win.
Rookie Shane Spencer, Brosius, and right field warrior Paul O’Neill led the Yanks, all hitting home runs in the first round of the postseason.
The American League Championship Series pitted the Yanks against began the defending A.L. Champs, the Cleveland Indians. New York was looking to erase their 1997 ALCS defeat and beat the Tribe 7-2 in Game One.
Game Two however was an ugly defeat for the Yanks. The game was tied up until inning number 12 when Travis Fryman laid down a bunt. Reliever Jeff Nelson threw the ball to first base, as the second baseman Knoblauch covered the bag. The ball hit Fryman in the back and Knoblauch argued with the umpire instead of retrieving the ball, which at that point was trickling down the first baseline.
Enrique Wilson scored and the Indians went on to win 4-1. The momentum carried into Game Three, as the Indians brought the lumber with them. Playing at home, sluggers Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez left he yard twice, and Mark Whiten added a homer en route to a 6-1 win over the Yanks. They pounded Pettitte while newly acquired Yankee Bartolo Colon cruised to a complete game victory.
But the Game Three loss marked the last time the Yanks would lose a playoff game in ’98.
Down two games to one, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez took the hill, needing a clutch outing to keep the Yanks alive. Seven shutout innings later, and with some help from O’Neill (who homered) Hernandez and the Yanks picked up a 4-0 Game Four win.
Game One winner Wells took the ball again in Game Five. Now with the ALCS even at two, the Yanks rolled to a 5-3 win, under the strength of a fourth inning home run off the bat of Davis to give the Yanks a three-run lead. Kenny Lofton and Thome both hit home runs, but the Yankee bullpen was able to hold off the rest of the Cleveland lineup.
Now needing one win to get the fall classic, the Yanks came home to play Game Six. They jumped all over Charles Nagy, scoring six runs in the first three innings. Cleveland did not give up easily however, scoring five runs in the fifth, with the main blow being a grand slam from Thome.
The Yankees answered with three runs in the six, plating runs on a triple by Derek Jeter and a single by Williams. They went on to make a winner out of Cone, beating the Indians 9-5 and winning the A.L. pennant for the 35th time.
The Yankees were then headed for the World Series, set to play the San Diego Padres.
The World Series
1998 was the 94th World Series played in MLB history and the Yankees were gunning for their 24th title in franchise history. The Padres were looking for their first World Series victory, having lost the fall classic in 1984–the only other year in their history that they won the National League pennant.
In Game One, San Diego took a 5-2 lead, getting home runs from sluggers Greg Vaughn and Tony Gwynn. But going into the seventh inning, the Yanks came up with a plan. Knoblauch atoned for his ALCS blunder, smacking a game-tying three-run home run into the left field seats.
Later in the frame with the bases loaded, everything changed.
Martinez came up with the bases loaded and on a full count, blasted a grand slam home run into the upper deck tier seats in right field, giving the Yankees a 9-5 lead.
Yankee Stadium exploded.
And it was the turning point in the series, simply because the Yankees carried the momentum from that home run with them the rest of the way. In Game Two, the Yankees beat the Padres 9-3, with home runs off the bats of Williams and Jorge Posada.
Heading out to San Diego and the Yankees up two games to none, Cone took the mound in Game Three. Both teams didn’t score until the sixth, when the Padres plated three runs. The Yanks answered with two in the seventh, receiving a two-run home run from Brosius.
Trevor Hoffman was called on in the eighth inning. San Diego manager Bruce Bochy wanted his closer to nail down a six-out save leading 3-2 going into the frame. Hoffman folded however, giving up a three-run home run to Brosius, which gave New York a 5-3 lead.
Vaughn cut the lead to one with a sac fly in the bottom of the eighth, but the Padres could not rally all the way back, and the Yankees took Game Three, 5-4.
Many people argue that Game Four was just a formality, and in a lot of ways it was. The Padres were all but defeated in the ’98 World Series after Game Three, having been outscored 24-13 in the previous three games. Pettitte toed the rubber, hoping to wrap up New York’s 24th Championship.
Both teams were kept off the board until the sixth, when the Yankees plated a run on a groundout by Williams that scored Jeter. The Yankees added two more runs in the eighth, with an RBI single by Brosius and a sac fly by Ricky Ledee to score O’Neill.
The Padres made an effort to come back in the eighth, loading the bases on Nelson. However, Mariano Rivera wiggled out of the jam and pitched a scoreless ninth to clinch the World Series title.
1998 was just one of those special seasons that nothing went wrong. They have been described as “The Greatest Team Ever” being that they won 125 total games and only lost 50. Those types of seasons don’t come around very often and when they do, it’s important to remember them.
I will always remember the 1998 baseball for the Yankees–not Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa breaking the home run records. I had more fun watching a team play every game as if it were their last than watching two guys race for a hallowed baseball record.
I think that says a lot about how exciting the Yanks were.
Happy New Year to all!
I apologize for not blogging in quite awhile. I have been busy with work and the holidays set me back, so I haven’t really had a chance to do a lot of Yankee Yapping.
Since my last blog entry, Cliff Lee signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, going back to the city of brotherly love for his second tour of duty. Am I upset the Yankees didn’t land him?
Yes, but only because he was really their only option. Andy Pettitte is expected to retire any day now and looking at things objectively, the Yankees have about two and a half pitchers in their rotation: CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett, who counts as a half a pitcher.
I checked out the free agent starters on the open market. There’s not much to look at, unless you count Carl Pavano and Ted Lilly as top-notch pitchers–both of whom have already faltered in pinstripes in the past.
Bottom line: the Yankee rotation needs help. And soon. The bullpen? Well…
Pedro Feliciano is coming across town from the Mets. Who knows how he will do, but he better pitch well. Kerry Wood is headed back to the Chicago Cubs, which upset me. He was probably the best part of our bullpen towards the end of last season, outside of Mariano Rivera.
Russell Martin came over from Joe Torre’s Dodgers, and hopefully he will exhibit better skills behind the plate (at least in terms of throwing out runners) than Jorge Posada, who has already been named the 2011 designated hitter.
Posada lost his starting catcher job. Sad, because more likely than not, this is his last year as a Yankee.
Reportedly, the Yankees were talking to Johnny Damon about a possible return. I hope he does come back because I have always liked him. It was a mistake to lose him to Detroit in the first place and I hope a deal can be reached. He would definitely improve the lineup, because everywhere he goes, the team gets better.
I really don’t know what to expect for 2011. I know the Red Sox have certainly improved, adding Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Bobby Jenks–joining the already dynamic group of players the Red Sox have, like David Ortiz (who can still hit for power) Dustin Pedroia (pesky little punk) Kevin Youkilis (annoying, strong hitter) and J.D. Drew (who can’t stay healthy with any team but Boston).
Buster Olney already compared the 2011 Red Sox to the Yankee Dynasty teams of the late 1990s.
As much as that scares me, it doesn’t make sense. They haven’t played a game yet. Who knows what kind of team chemistry the BoSox will showcase, and if they will click or stay healthy, or even pitch effectively. I mean, they haven’t even played a game yet.
On paper, they are the best team in the American League. But as Derek Jeter always says, “On paper doesn’t win you ballgames.”
Still, Boston scares me. Their off-season reminds me of what they did prior to 2007 and they went on to win the World Series that year. They missed the playoffs in 2006 and came storming back with a great off-season and a Championship year to follow.
I get the feeling they can do that again, as much as I hate to admit it. Boston is stacked.
But enough about that. Now that I have outlined some of the dreadful thoughts for this upcoming season, and in the spirit of the New Year, I’ll review the top 10 Yankee moments/plays of 2010.
10) CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes Flirt with No-Hitters
2010 was definitely the year of the pitcher. Perfect games and no-hitters were thrown by the likes of Roy Halladay, Ubaldo Jimenez, Dallas Braden, Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson…and almost by Armando Galarraga, but we all know what happened there.
On April 10, CC Sabathia took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays. Through 7 2/3 innings, Sabathia shut down the Rays’ potent lineup until Kelly Shoppach lined a sharp single into left field to break it up.
So close. But the Yankees won 10-0 and Sabathia picked up his first win of the year–his first of 21 wins.
Fast forward to 11 days later in Oakland and Phil Hughes on the hill.
The Yankees played the Athletics on April 21, and Hughes nearly tossed a no-no of his own. The 23 year-old righty stud pitched 7 1/3 innings before giving up a come-backer to Eric Chavez–a hit that caromed off Hughes himself. He ended the night with 10 strikeouts, a career-high for him. He only walked two batters.
Although he did not get the no-hitter, the Yankees once again prevailed, beating Oakland 3-1.
9) Opening Day at Yankee Stadium
I feel especially biased towards this day, simply because I was there to witness it.
On April 13 the Yankees celebrated their 27th Championship with a ring ceremony and a game vs. the Los Angeles Angels. It was a glorious day and it meant a lot to me, spending it with my friends and family.
My cousin Thomas got a batting practice ball, the Yankees got their 2009 World Series rings, and I got a whole bunch of memories that will last for the rest of my life.
The Yankees beat the Angels, 7-5.
8) Comeback vs. Boston
May 17 was a memorable night for all Yankee fans.
Down 9-7 in the bottom of the ninth, Alex Rodriguez clobbered a game-tying home run off Yankee pariah/ Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.
Marcus Thames came up later in the frame and crushed a walk-off home run deep into the left field seats to end the game. Yankees 11, Red Sox 9.
Papelbon walks off in shame, Thames walks off the hero. And the Yankee fans go home with smiles on their faces.
7) Grand Ol’ Days
The Yankees smacked 10 grand slams this season, more bases-loaded home runs in one season than I can ever remember.
Alex Rodriguez had three: May 14 vs. the Minnesota Twins, May 31 vs. the Cleveland Indians, and July 7 at Oakland. Rodriguez now has 21 career grand slams, and he will tie Lou Gehrig for most career grannies (23) if he hits two slams next season.
Jorge Posada crushed two grand slams this year: June 12 and 13 vs. the Houston Astros. Two grand slams in as many games–now that’s impressive.
Robinson Cano also hit two: May 28 vs. the Indians and Aug. 22 vs. the Seattle Mariners.
Curtis Granderson smacked a granny in Baltimore against the Orioles on June 8.
On July 3, Brett Gardner crushed his first career grand slam at home vs. the Blue Jays, a game my friends and I were going to attend. We opted instead to make a trip to Cooperstown to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
I was however at Yankee Stadium on June 20, when Mark Teixeira clobbered a grand slam off Mets’ ace Johan Santana.
It’s safe to say the Yankees did a number on opposing pitching when the bases were loaded in 2010. What’s more, the Bronx Bombers won every game they hit a grand slam in.
6) Derek Jeter’s Inside-the-Park Home Run
On July 22, Derek Jeter rounded the bases all the way for an inside-the-park home run in the Yankees’ game against the Kansas City Royals. It was only his second career in-the-parker, and ironically enough, his first also came against the Royals.
One could argue it was not exactly the prettiest inside-the-park home run, because center fielder David DeJesus had a play on the ball. He could not come down with it however, and he crashed into the plexiglass in right-center field. Jeter caught a break and was able to motor all the way around to tie the game at three.
DeJesus injured himself on the play and was taken out of the game. If he hadn’t fallen down, Jeter may not have been able to complete the home run.
In any event, it was one of the coolest home runs of the year. The Yankees went on to beat the Royals that day by a score of 10-4.
5) Joe Torre vs. The Yankees
Former manager vs. former team. Teacher vs. his students. Joe Torre vs. the Yankees.
In June the Yanks met the Dodgers for a three-game series during interleague play and for the first time since 2007, the Yankees saw their old skipper Joe Torre. It was an interesting weekend; a turning point in the Yankees’ 2010 season.
The Dodgers and Yanks rekindled their old rivalry and traded victories in the first two games. Los Angeles handed the Yankees a decisive 9-4 win in the second game while the Bombers slipped past the Dodgers 2-1 in the first game.
The rubber game looked to belong to the Dodgers, as they led 6-2 in the ninth with flamethrower Jonathan Broxton on the mound. The resilient Yanks would not have any of it, as they rallied to score four runs in the ninth to knot the game at six.
An RBI double by Robinson Cano, a two-run double by Chad Huffman, and a fielder’s choice by Curtis Granderson, and the Yankees are back in it.
Cano came up in the top of the tenth, belting a long two-run home run to left-center. The Yankees went on to win 8-6 and beat their former teacher, winning the series 2-1.
I cannot speak for the rest of the Yankee fans, but to me, it felt SWEET to beat Torre. Sweet.
4) Mark Teixeira’s Big Day in Boston
Once, twice, three times the “Tex Message.”
The Yankees visited the Red Sox on May 8, beating them 14-3. It was one of those great days to be a Yankee fan, to say the least.
Mark Teixeira accounted for a large amount of the scoring, hitting three home runs and driving in five runs on a total of four hits. He scored three runs and became only the second Yankee in history to hit three homers in one game off Boston–second only to Lou Gehrig.
I can remember watching that game with so much joy. Anytime the Yankees embarrass the Red Sox on a Saturday afternoon Fox Game of the Week, it’s a good day.
What also made it more enjoyable was what happened afterward.
The YES Network hosted their “Extra Innings” postgame show, where they ask the audience to write in their thoughts, ideas, or comments. If they like them they use them on the show.
I noticed how Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre had eight errors to that point in the season, and it was only May 8. I wrote in a comment and it made it to TV. The YES Network analysts said my name on TV and discussed my comment on the show.
There could not have been a better way to cap off a big Yankee win over the Red Sox.
3) The ALDS
The Yankees swept the Twins in the ’09 American League Division Series and did the same in 2010. This year the Yankees did not have home field advantage and had to win two games at Target Field before coming home to clinch the division.
In all honesty, I thought this year might be the Twins’ moment; I thought it may have been time for the Twins to get over the hump and finally beat the Yanks in the playoffs.
No such luck.
Another year, another early exit at the hands of the Yankees for Minnesota.
Although the ALCS was painful–unbearably, absoluteLEE painful–to watch, sweeping the Twins was a great start to October. After the Yanks swept, I thought history would repeat itself yet again. Unfortunately the magic vanished to the Texas Rangers.
But nothing can take away the feeling of beating the Twins. It was a great feeling.
Alex Rodriguez, one way or another, is going down in the history books. Whether or not people recognize him as the greatest hitter of all-time, or just another major leaguer who tried to cheat the system, he will always be known and remembered.
On Aug. 4 A-Rod crushed his 600th career home run–exactly three years to the day after he hit his 500th home run. He joined baseball’s “600 Home Run Club” with the likes of Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Sammy Sosa.
A lot of folks, namely the New York Daily News, were quick to judge Rodriguez’s home run as a tainted accomplishment. Many people and baseball fans believe that because Rodriguez admitted steroid usage in his career, the feat means nothing.
Me on the other hand…well, I believe it still means a lot. I have offered my opinion on steroids and do not condone drug usage. However, I believe it takes more than steroids to hit 600 home runs. Plenty of players who were on the juice never came close to 100 home runs, let alone 600.
I still consider it a great moment for A-Rod and a great moment for the Yankee organization.
1) The Game for the Boss and Sheppard
On July 13 the Yankees lost their principle owner. I used to refer to George Steinbrenner as “The Godfather” of the Yankees, and this season he lost his life at the age of 80.
Steinbrenner was the longest tenured Yankee owner in team history and he died just two days after the Yanks lost their longtime public address announcer, the legendary Bob Sheppard.
On July 16, the Yanks’ first game following the All-Star break–and more importantly their first game after losing their Boss (and only their second game after losing Sheppard), they dramatically rallied back to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 5-4.
The night started off in emotional fashion. The team could barely hold in their tears and Jeter, our fearless captain, could hardly keep himself together as he addressed the crowd during the pregame ceremony. There was a two-minute period of dead silence during the ceremony, and not one Yankee fan made a peep.
All that was heard throughout Yankee Stadium during those two minutes: the whipping sounds of the flags blowing in the wind and a passing subway train. That’s how much respect Sheppard and Steinbrenner commanded.
Mariano Rivera placed two long-stemmed roses over home plate in remembrance of their fallen comrades.
The Yanks scuffled a bit during the game, giving the Rays a 4-3 edge heading into the eighth. Nick Swisher had other plans, crushing a game-tying home run in the bottom of the frame before recording the big game-winning hit in the ninth, a single which plated Curtis Granderson.
Yankees win an emotional game for Sheppard and the Boss.
Later in the season, Steinbrenner was honored with a plaque out in Monument Park. The Yankees invited many of their former players and dignitaries, including Joe Torre and Don Mattingly. Everyone filed out to the area behind centerfield and another ceremony was held unveiling the plaque on Sept. 20.
Unfortunately the Yankees could not capitalize and win their 28th title the year of Steinbrenner’s passing. However, it’s important to remember that when he passed away, the Yankees were reigning champions.
Well, that about puts a cap on 2010.
May 2011 bring many more great Yankee memories, and hopefully the 28th World Series Championship.
Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training next month!
On June 15, 1964, The Chicago Cubs traded away left fielder Lou Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals for a right-handed pitcher named Ernie Broglio. Brock went on to enjoy an outstanding career; six All-Star selections, two World Series Championships, The Babe Ruth Award, The Roberto Clemente Award, his number 20 is retired by the Cards, and in 1985 he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Not bad for a career’s work.
Broglio on the other hand…well. Not many people remember his name and he didn’t do much else with career after he was dealt to the Cubs. He finished his pitching career with a 77-74 record, a 3.74 ERA, and 849 strikeouts. His only accomplishment: winning the most games in the National League in 1960.
Who got the better end of that deal? The Cardinals, of course. Nowadays, whenever a lopsided trade occurs, in baseball terminology, it’s called a “Brock for Broglio.”
Being a devout Yankee fan, there are several instances (in my lifetime) I can think of when the Yankees either made a terrible trade or a bogus free agent signing. With the recent departure of Javier Vazquez, and in the spirit of “Free Agent Frenzy,” I got the idea to write about some of the worst moves the Yankees have made over the years.
So without any further ado, I give you my top Yankee trade/free agent busts.
Here we go…
Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps
“What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for? He had 30 home runs and over 100 RBIs last year. He’s got a rocket for an arm. You don’t know what the hell your doing!!!!”
On an episode of the TV show Seinfeld, George Costanza’s father Frank (played by Jerry Stiller) scolded George Steinbrenner for trading away a 23 year-old right fielder by the name of Jay Buhner.
The Yankees gave Buhner to the Seattle Mariners in July of 1988 along with two minor leaguers–Rich Balabon and Troy Evers–in exchange for Ken Phelps. To this day, the trade is considered by many fans to be one of the worst trades the Yankees ever made in their history.
A classic “Brock for Broglio,” no doubt.
Buhner went on to become an All-Star and win a Gold Glove in 1996, and in 2004 he was inducted into the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame. As far as numbers are concerned, Buhner averaged almost 22 home runs per season after leaving the Yankees and knocked in over 100 runs for three consecutive seasons from 1995-97.
It is obvious Buhner established himself on both sides of the field and overall was an excellent player.
Phelps on the other hand just faded away. He had only caught Steinbrenner’s eye initially because he was able to hit 14 home runs in half a season–a feat the Yankee owner viewed as impressive. Unfortunately he gave away a player who went on to enjoy success and in return received a player who went on to become a nobody.
Now whenever someone mentions Phelps, he is remembered as “The guy that got traded for Jay Buhner.”
As a Yankee fan did losing Buhner upset me? Did watching him perform so well year after year against us annoy me because I knew he could have been doing it for us?
Yes and no.
I liked Buhner, even though he was on the Mariners. He had such poise and talent; he could swing a hot bat, could play stellar defense, and yes it was hard to watch him knowing he was once a Yankee.
But at the same time, the Yankees had a pretty good right fielder of their own named Paul O’Neill–a man who earned the nickname “The Warrior” by Steinbrenner. Having O’Neill may have even been better than having Buhner.
After all, O’Neill was a force in the Yankee Dynasty. Without him, the Yankees may not have won the title in 1996 and 1998-2000. O’Neill battled year in and year out and because of his work ethic, he helped guide the Yankees to the Championship.
And for as good as Buhner was, he never won a title. With O’Neill in right field, the Yankees did.
You know things aren’t going well for you when your boss calls you a “Fat P—y Toad.” Hideki Irabu was called this name by Steinbrenner, simply because he did not cover first base on a ground ball–in Spring Training, no less. In fact, The Boss didn’t even allow his pitcher to travel with the team to Los Angeles after the incident because he was so infuriated.
That’s what you would call a serious “FML” experience.
The San Diego Padres had purchased Irabu’s contract in 1997 from the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan. Believe it or not, his purchase led to the current format used today that MLB enacts to sign Japanese players. Without this deal, players like Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Hiroki Kuroda would have never made it to the Majors.
Apparently Irabu wanted to act as much like a big-name superstar as he could, because he refused to sign with San Diego. What’s more, he stated he would only like to play for the Yankees.
That’s a bit egotistical, wouldn’t you say?
The Yankees eventually had to offer San Diego players in exchange for the rights to negotiate with Irabu. When it was all said and done, the Yanks gave up, $3 million, Rafael Medina, and Ruben Rivera (cousin of Mariano Rivera) for Homer Bush and the rights to Irabu–who was later signed by New York for $12.8 million over four years.
A complicated exchange and one that never really did pay off.
The best season Irabu put up was 1998. His numbers:
· 13 wins
· 4.06 ERA
· 173 innings pitched
· Two complete games
· 28 games started
Not exactly worth $12.8 million, if you ask me. I suppose the Yankees could have gotten a little more bang for their buck; or they at least could have signed him for less money.
Irabu collected two World Series rings (1998 and ’99) but didn’t even last all four years he was under contract with the Yankees. After 1999, Irabu was traded to the Montreal Expos (now known to most fans as the Washington Nationals) for Ted Lilly, Christian Parker, and Jake Westbrook. He finished his MLB career with a 34-35 record, a 5.15 ERA and 405 lifetime Ks.
And much like the Buhner trade, Irabu was spoofed on Seinfeld for his poor performance. In the show’s final episode, Frank once again confronts Steinbrenner and yells,
“How could you spend $12 million on Hideki Irabu????!!!”
I guess we will never know, Mr. Costanza.
I can understand why Steinbrenner and the Yankees sought Kevin Brown. He had racked up a lifetime of accolades, including a World Series ring. He was even named “Pitcher of the Year” by The Sporting News in 1998. Brown had made a number of All-Star game appearances, and had the ability to carry a pitching staff working as the ace.
What I cannot understand however, is how a pitcher can get so frustrated that he throws a punch at a wall and breaks his pitching hand in the process. I mean, if you are a pitcher and you have a bad game and get called on it by your teammates or manager, slam your glove to the dugout floor. Take a bat to the dugout water fountain, if you are feeling especially psychotic. Or my personal favorite, knock over a Gatorade cooler.
But don’t ever, under any circumstances, try to pick a fight with a wall and use physicality. The wall is guaranteed to win every time.
With that sheer display of immaturity, I not only lost all respect for Brown but now consider him a terrible move the Yankees made. I don’t really see it as a “Brock for Broglio” per se, because the Bombers only gave up Jeff Weaver, Yhency Brazoban, Brandon Weeden, and $2.6 million for Brown.
Aside from Weaver, the Yanks did not let go anyone of note and Weaver struggled mightily in the 2003 World Series…although his fall classic struggles didn’t stop him from pitching like a stud for the Cardinals in the 2006 World Series…
In 2004 the Yanks probably felt Brown would help lead their pitching staff. But those feelings were not exactly well-founded.
In 2004 Brown went 10-6 with a 4.06 ERA, which weren’t bad numbers for an older pitcher who was playing for the first time in the crazy New York atmosphere. In fact, Brown pitched rather well in the ’04 ALDS vs. the Minnesota Twins, posting six innings and only giving up one run. The Yanks went on to win the series 3-1.
However, his ALCS Game Seven outing vs. Boston is what he is most infamous for; pitching less than two innings and allowing five runs, including a two-run homer to the hated David Ortiz. Essentially, Brown didn’t give the Yankees a shred of a chance to come back and win the pennant.
All Yankee fans, including myself, were outraged. He picked the worst day of the season to have a poor outing. The most important game ever and Joe Torre used the least intelligent member of his pitching staff.
In 2005, Brown attempted to come back, but was sidelined due to injuries. He finished the year in ’05 with a 4-7 record and an ERA of 6.50. The following off-season, he announced his retirement.
I don’t blame the Yanks for trying to catch lightening in a bottle with Brown; there is no denying that he was a decent pitcher in his prime. Yet, it did turn out to be a bad move because they caught Brown in the twilight of his career. As a Yankee, he was nothing but a shell of his former self and could not get the job done when it came to nut-cutting time.
Overall, I chalk Brown up as a big loss for the Yankees.
$39.95 million that could have gone to a better cause. Charity, I suppose.
Following the 2004 collapse to the Red Sox in the ALCS, the Yankees were convinced they needed starting pitching. Along with the big signing of the Big Unit, Randy Johnson, the Yanks sought and landed free agent hurler Carl Pavano.
I used the term “hurler” not because Pavano is a starting pitcher, but because just by mentioning his name makes me want to hurl.
Not for nothing, Pavano was coming off his best career season, numerically, in ’04. In his contract year with the Florida Marlins, he won 18 games while only losing eight and posted a respectable 3.00 ERA. His numbers made him a hot free agent commodity and multiple teams, including Boston and the Cincinnati Reds, wanted him.
Ultimately it was the Yankees who got Pavano and I wish they hadn’t. It would have been better for them if the Red Sox or Reds had wasted their money on him.
At first Pavano appeared to be a decent pitcher. He gave the Yankees quality in seven of his first 10 starts, putting together a 4-2 record and posting a 3.69 ERA–again, not bad for just starting out in the New York environment.
But by June of ’05 Pavano got hurt for the first of many times. Truthfully, his injuries and disabled list stints piled up more than his actual baseball statistics.
· Went on the DL in June of ’05 with right shoulder injury. Ultimately went 4-6 with a 4.77 ERA for the season.
· Began 2006 with bruised buttocks; on DL for first half of year. Then…
· Broke two ribs in a car accident in August of ’06; did not end up pitching at all in an MLB game.
· On April 15, 2007 was placed on DL after what was diagnosed as an “elbow strain.” The next month Pavano announced that he would opt to have Tommy John surgery and missed the remainder of the year.
· First start coming off Tommy John came on Aug. 23, 2008. He pitched five innings and gave up three runs on seven hits.
· The next month on Sept. 14, Pavano left the game with an apparent left hip injury.
I have two words for all that: cry baby. He never pitched a full season with the Yankees.
What really struck me were Pavano’s comments after his last game as a Yankee. The press questioned him about his ineffectiveness and his repeated injuries; they were probably about as skeptical about his excuses as most fans were.
Pavano responded by saying, “Well, what are you going to do, you know?”
Really? That’s the best he could do? $39.95 million should buy a little more thought than that. Pavano concluded his tenure (if you can even call it that) with a record of 9-8.
Prior to 2007, Mike Mussina stepped up and publicly called Pavano on his injuries. Mussina said, “His injuries don’t look good from a player’s standpoint. Was everything just a coincidence? Over and over again? I don’t know.”
Thank goodness one of his teammates spoke out against him. Quite honestly it needed to be done.
In 2009 Pavano joined the Cleveland Indians and was traded mid-season to the Twins. I couldn’t even believe it when I noticed that halfway through 2009 he was one of the league leaders in wins. He even finished 2009 with a record of 14-12–winning five more games in one year with Cleveland and Minnesota than he did in four years with the Yankees.
How ridiculous is that?
At any rate, it must have been fun for the Yanks to punish Pavano for all the grief he put them through by beating him in Game Three of the ’09 ALDS–en route to their 27th World Series title.
If I were the Yankees last year, I would have sent Pavano a Christmas card with a picture of everyone hoisting the World Series trophy. Along with that, the Yanks could have attached a note to the photo that read, “Thanks for nothing.”
The Yanks also beat Pavano in the ALDS this past season, another satisfying moment for all Yankee fans.
Javier Vazquez and Nick Johnson
I decided to combine these last two players simply because they failed in pinstripes not once, but twice.
I’ll begin with Javier Vazquez.
The day after the Yankees were eliminated from the ALCS at the hands of the Texas Rangers, it was reported that Vazquez was already speaking to the Washington Nationals about possibly pitching for them in 2011. His talks with the Nats obviously cooled off, and as reported on Sunday, Vazquez has apparently agreed to a deal with the Florida Marlins.
I have four words for him: good riddance, you bum.
Before this past season began, Vazquez was acquired from the Atlanta Braves along with reliever Boone Logan. In exchange for Vazquez, the Bombers gave up young outfielder Melky Cabrera and rookie reliever Mike Dunn.
I would not necessarily categorize the trade as a “Brock for Broglio,” although it kind of had that quality. Cabrera had an awesome year in 2009; he smacked three walk-off hits for the Yanks (including the first walk-off home run in the New Stadium), became the first Yankee to hit for the cycle since Tony Fernandez in 1995, and capped it all off with a World Series ring.
Cabrera was a beast and was looked at as one of the most pleasant surprises in ’09.
The Yankees however did need starting pitching. They only used three starting pitchers in the playoffs and were able to get over the hurdles on the strength of three horses: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte. They needed a fourth man and they looked to Vazquez.
Why they wanted Vazquez, I’ll never know.
Sure he was second in the National League when it came to ERA in 2009 (with 2.87) and he won 15 games for the Braves. I suppose the Yankees thought they would really be unstoppable if they could get that kind of production out of their number four starter–which made it somewhat understandable.
Yet, the Yankees must have forgotten how Vazquez busted for them in 2004, which was his first stint in pinstripes. In ’04 Vazquez went 14-10 with a 4.91 ERA. Like Brown, he pitched in Game Seven of the ’04 ALCS, giving up a grand slam and a two-run homer to Johnny Damon–once again, not giving the Yankees a shred of a chance to come back and win the pennant.
Maybe they figured he could do a lot better than that come his second go-round. Perhaps the Steinbrenners and Brian Cashman had the mentality of, “It can’t get any worse, he can only do better.”
In 2010 Vazquez pitched to a 10-10 season record with a 5.32 ERA. He started 31 games and allowed 32 home runs, pitching so poorly throughout the year that he did not even make it into the postseason starting rotation. Was the trade really worth giving up Cabrera?
Well I guess it didn’t matter. Cabrera finished 2010 with a .255 batting average for Atlanta and only hit four homers and knocked in 42 runs. But that doesn’t erase what he did in 2009, and if he had played in the Bronx in 2010, he might have had a better year.
The bottom line is that Vazquez was a bad move made by the Yankees. I knew he was going to bust before the season began; actually I knew he was going to fail again right after the trade was completed. It was just so foreseeable. And when he gave up that first-pitch home run to Jimmy Rollins on day one of Spring Training, I knew it was all over for him.
And then there was Johnson.
In 2001, Johnson served the Yankees as Tino Martinez’s backup at first base. When Martinez left for St. Louis after the season ended, Johnson became a little bit of a regular first baseman, albeit the Yanks did have Jason Giambi in their lineup and available to play first.
Johnson would go on to rank seventh in the league in hit-by-pitches in 2002, but did put up a somewhat decent year in ’03. Johnson clubbed 14 homers and drove in 47 runs with a .284 batting average, but his injury-prone nature kept him from truly breaking out.
The Yankees had no choice but to trade him at the end of ’03, ironically enough for Vazquez. Two useless Yankees got traded for one another. Really, what are the odds? And like Vazquez, as useless as Johnson was, the Yankees still could not manage to give up on him.
On Dec. 23, 2009 the Yanks signed Johnson back to a one-year, $5.5 million deal.
This past year Johnson was expected to be the everyday designated hitter, taking up the mantle of the great, 2009 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui. Unfortunately, Johnson saw little action because of a wrist injury. In fact, before the season even began, Johnson injured his back in Spring Training, proving once again that he did not belong in a Yankee uniform.
He finished 2010 very early with 24 games under his belt, only 98 plate appearances, two home runs, eight RBIs, and 12 runs scored.
The bottom line is, the Yankees have wasted a ton of money on terrible players and have given away some great players to get some rather mediocre ones. But they are not the only organization to do it; it happens to the best of teams.
I mean, the Red Sox gave up Jeff Bagwell for a reliever named Larry Andersen. (Who?)
The Blue Jays gave the Yankees David Cone for three minor leaguers who never made it.
The Devil Rays gave Bobby Abreu to the Phillies for Kevin Stocker. (Who?)
And who could forget the New York Mets giving up Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano?
Chan Ho Park–yes, Mr. Diarrhea himself–got $65 million from the Texas Rangers in 2002.
Juan Pierre received $44 million from the Dodgers in 2007.
Yes, baseball organizations are human and make bad moves sometimes. Maybe next week I’ll review some of the BEST moves the Yankees have made; off-season changes that have paid off royally and had a great impact on the team. I can think of quite a few right off the top of my head.
And while I’m waiting, I’ll hope the Yankees can decide on the right moves. The Baseball Winter Meetings begin next week and I’m hoping the Bombers can make a splash in Orlando.