At the end of April every year, football fans flock to Radio City Music Hall, bars, or friend’s houses to watch the spectacle known as the NFL Draft. College players eligible to be drafted by NFL teams, coaches, draft analysts, fans, and Commissioner Roger Goodell are all in attendance to watch the draft take place.
The MLB Draft takes place during the regular season (in June) and is hardly anything compared to the NFL Draft. This year’s draft is currently taking place this week and a number of high school players and collegiate athletes have been drafted to MLB teams.
To be honest, I had no idea the MLB Draft was happening until I saw it on Twitter. In fact, as I was writing this, ESPN acknowledged that there has barely been a word uttered about the MLB Draft, and right now it is in its third day.
There are so many reasons the MLB Draft is, in a lot of ways, meaningless.
First I will start with an obvious point: popularity. The MLB Draft does not get mainstream media attention because high school and college baseball is not nearly as recognized as high school and college football, basketball, and in some areas of the county high school and college hockey.
Simply put, more is known about prospective players in other sports than baseball.
To another point, many players who get drafted to MLB teams do not see an MLB diamond until years later. These kids get drafted but in no way make an immediate impact. In fact, some don’t make the majors at all.
31 of the first 53 picks in first round of the 1997 MLB Draft eventually made the majors. But only 13 of those 31 players appeared in more than 100 innings as of 2009.
In the sixth round of the ’97 draft, only five of the 30 players selected eventually made a big league appearance – and only two of those five (Tim Hudson and Matt Wise) have played more than 40 innings in an MLB game.
MLB drafted 64 players in the first round of the 2007 draft. At the end of the 2008 season, those 64 players – combined – totaled one inning of MLB playing time. What’s more, as of 2009, the majority of the players selected in the 2008 draft were still in the minor leagues.
Now compare that to the NFL.
Every first round pick in the ’08 NFL draft had played in the league by the end of the season.
On last night’s broadcast of the Yankees vs. Red Sox game, former Yankee Paul O’Neill made a great point when he and the rest of the commentators were discussing the MLB Draft:
“If you get drafted, you have a chance to make it,” O’Neill said.
“You go to minor league camp and find there’s 400 other guys trying to do the same thing you are.”
It’s such an excellent point. In baseball, you really are not guaranteed anything. You can be the best player on your high school or college team, but it doesn’t mean you are going to see an MLB diamond anytime soon. If a player gets drafted, they get a chance.
What the player chooses to do with the opportunity is up to them.
If a player gets drafted, tears through the minors, and demonstrates ability on and off the field, then he has a great chance at success.
However, if they falter in the minors and can’t keep up, the odds of making the majors are slim.
As far as first overall picks, there’s a little bit of a difference between baseball and football. For example, football has produced 28 players (drafted as the first overall pick) that have gone on to play in a Pro-Bowl, football’s version of the MLB All-Star Game.
12 football players who were picked first overall went on to become Hall of Famers.
21 overall first round baseball picks became All-Stars and two won Rookie of the Year.
Yet, what struck me is that two players in baseball who were drafted first overall retired without ever playing a Major League game.
That just proves the point: you can be as good as it gets, but still not make it to the show.
None of the first round overall MLB picks have gone on to the Hall of Fame, but keep in mind: the NFL Draft began in 1936. The MLB Draft only started in 1965, giving the NFL Draft 29 years on the MLB Draft, and thus more time to generate Hall of Famers.
Ken Griffey, Jr. was selected first overall (by the Seattle Mariners) in the 1987 MLB Draft, and in all likelihood, he will become the first player, taken first overall, to make it to Cooperstown. Alex Rodriguez was picked first in the 1993 draft, but with his admission of PED usage, his future in terms of the Hall of Fame is uncertain.
24 out of the 46 overall first round MLB draft picks were drafted out of college. In my mind, that demonstrates maturity. I have always maintained, whenever speaking about sports, that athletes who play in college are more mature than athletes who sign right out of high school.
Prime example: Tino Martinez, one of the more dominant players during the Yankee dynasty.
Martinez was drafted by the Boston Red Sox out of high school, but instead opted to go to the University of Tampa. His father always told him, “Anything can happen to you and you might not be able to play. Get a college education, and if they like you enough, they will draft you again.”
And that they did. But the second time he got the call it was from the Seattle Mariners. He was then traded to the Yanks, and the rest is history.
Bottom line: I respect those who play in college more than the players that sign right out of high school.
Another advantage football has over baseball in terms of the draft is the scouting combine. The NFL scouting combine takes place every year after the season ends, and coaches get the chance to see the draftees in action about two months before the draft – giving them ample time to see what their choices are before making their picks.
There is no equivalent in baseball. Scouts from different organizations go around to high schools and colleges across the country, with a book and a radar gun in hand. The scouts are the only ones who get to see the potential draft picks, the manager and coaches don’t see them first hand.
This spring season, I mostly covered high school girls’ lacrosse for the newspaper I work for. I did however get the chance to cover a baseball game last month. A Lakeland High School (Shrub Oak, NY) pitcher was two outs away from a perfect game, and he surrendered a home run.
I had the chance to cover him again last week, as he was named New York State Gatorade Player of the Year for the second year in a row. He became the first player from New York to win the award twice and on his senior night, Tommy John personally came to the game to watch him pitch.
Overall he tossed 40 innings this season and only issued five walks. He also racked up 59 strikeouts over those 40 innings and he only gave up seven earned runs all season. He finished with a 6-1 record and his ERA was 1.22.
Next year this player is going to Richmond to pitch.
Do all of his accolades mean he will get drafted?
Perhaps, but only if he keeps it up in college. He has a good chance to get a call from an MLB team and sign after his junior year.
Yet, does it mean he will see an MLB field and play Major League Baseball?
Who’s to say? Nothing is guaranteed in baseball.
Last night was a brutal night to be a Yankee fan, as the Bronx Bombers let a middle-innings lead slip away. The Seattle Mariners eked a 4-3 win over the Yanks. With the win, the Mariners are now a .500 team.
The highlight of the game was perhaps Mark Teixeira’s first inning solo home run off rookie phenom Michael Pineda, his 14th round-tripper of the year. Seattle’s defense played a huge role, considering Franklin Gutierrez’s brilliant thievery in centerfield, robbing a scuffling Nick Swisher of a home run in the top of the fourth.
After the game I asked myself, “How would this game have played out if Swisher had hit that home run?”
Probably a lot different, because it was a one-run game.
Instead of focusing on that ugly loss last night, I figured I would lighten the mood with an interesting blog topic: Stadium Giveaways.
Whenever I purchase tickets to a Yankee game or have the chance to go to a game, the first thing I ask myself is, “Are they giving anything away at this game, and if so, what?”
There’s nothing like taking a free keepsake away from the game you attend, along with memories of a day at a ballgame. Some of those Stadium Giveaways can become extremely valuable, depending on what happens in the game.
I’m not exactly sure what the precise value is, but something tells me if you went to David Wells’s perfect game on May 17, 1998, and received the Beanie Baby giveaway, you have yourself a truly valuable item worth a good amount of money.
Every Stadium, not just Yankee Stadium, uses promotions as a means to bring fans out to the park and get butts in the seats. And in the spirit of Stadium Giveaways, I am going to share my favorite treasures, as well as share the action that specific game provided.
Get ready for some stories! Here goes…
Batting Glove Day, July 22, 1999
I will never forget this day, only because it was the first time I sat in the upper deck at Yankee Stadium. It was quite interesting, considering me and heights mix about as well as peanut butter and ketchup.
The Yankee batting glove was given to children 14 and younger and it was a nice prize to carry up to the last row of seats at the old Stadium.
The Yanks hosted the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and beat them by a count of 5-4.
Bernie Williams went deep for the Yanks that day and Andy Pettitte tossed six innings on his way to his sixth win of the year.
Andy Pettitte Bobble Head Day, May 24, 2001
To this day, I am bitter about this.
My eighth grade class took a field trip to Yankee Stadium toward the end of the year. We were treated to a classic Yankees-Red Sox game, in which the Yankees won 2-1.
Mike Mussina and Pedro Martinez dueled it out, each fanning 12 batters in the game. Bernie Williams supplied some Yankees offense with a home run and Paul O’Neill notched an RBI.
The giveaway story was not a happy one, however.
The Pettitte bobble head was given to fans 14 and younger. I was only 13, turning 14 the next month. Because I had hit my growth spurt and I was tall, the Yankee Stadium bobble head distributors did not believe I was actually 13; they thought I was older and thus I did not receive a bobble head.
That day each of my eighth grade classmates got a bobble head and I didn’t. Words cannot describe how much that hurt me; I felt so left out. I was looking forward to a bobble head and I did not get one.
At least I still have the memory of a Yankee win over the Red Sox and a day with my eighth grade class at the Stadium. When we got back from the trip we all took a picture together. I guess I can carry that around with me instead of a bobble head.
Bat Day, June 30, 2001
Bat Day has been a longstanding tradition at Yankee Stadium, going back decades. It was my friend Vito’s 14th birthday and we celebrated at Yankee Stadium.
The Yanks played the Devil Rays that day; Ted Lilly vs. Ryan Rupe. Down 4-0 in the sixth, the Bombers struck back with a three-run inning. They put up two runs in the eighth and went on to beat the Rays 5-4.
Williams crushed two homers (his 13th and 14th of the season) and Tino Martinez also went deep for his 13th long ball of ‘01.
I left the Stadium that day with a bat and a Yankee win. And looking back it was almost déjà vu from the batting glove game; the Yanks beat the Devil Rays by the same score and the same player (Williams) went yard.
Yankee Binder Day, August 7, 2003
Although it was only the beginning of August, the Yankees knew school was soon set to begin. And what better way to bring us back into the school spirit with a Yankee binder, featuring legends and present players?
The Bombers were hosting the Texas Rangers on that hot afternoon, and played them to a 7-5 win.
The ball was jumping off the bats that day, and a number of players had big-time home runs. For the Rangers, Rafael Palmeiro smacked his 28th homer of the year in the first inning, a three-run bomb which gave Texas a quick lead.
But the Yanks answered in the bottom half of the second with four runs, all coming from the same source. Enrique Wilson stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and clubbed a grand slam, his second home run of the year, to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead.
Soon-to-be Yankee Alex Rodriguez also homered, his 30th of the season.
Starter Mike Mussina settled down and tossed 7 1/3 innings, allowing just four earned runs on eight hits. He walked none and struck out five en route to his 12th win of the year.
Not a bad way to end a day at the Stadium.
Old Timer’s Day: July 9, 2005 and July 7, 2007.
I was fortunate enough to be at Old Timer’s Day twice. If you are a Yankee fan, do yourself a favor and get out to an Old Timer’s Day at least once. You will not be disappointed.
Every Old Timer’s Day, the Yanks issue all fans a commemorative pin.
The first time I had the pleasure of attending Old Timer’s Day was July 9, 2005. The ceremonies were cut short because of rain, but the weather held up for the actual game.
The Yanks played the Cleveland Indians and lost 8-7, but nearly made miraculous comeback at the end.
Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, and Ruben Sierra each homered for the Yankees, as the ball was once again exploding off the bats.
Darrell May started for New York and did not impress anyone, pitching 4 1/3 innings and giving up seven earned runs on eight hits. On the bright side he didn’t issue any walks and K’d three.
On July 7, 2007, it was a much better experience.
We arrived at the game early, and it was a beautiful day – a contrast to my previous Old Timer’s Day experience. Our seats were behind home plate and Jorge Posada’s wife Laura was sitting a few seats in front of us.
The ceremony was classic; Don Mattingly, Reggie Jackson, Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius, Ken Griffey, Sr., and many, many more were on hand to play in the Old Timer’s game.
With the retired players divided, they split up into teams: the Bombers and the Clippers. The Bombers beat the Clippers, 4-0.
As for the modern-day Yankees, it was a slow game. They wound up losing 2-1 in 13 innings to the Angels.
What was so ironic about the whole day was that Roger Clemens started for the Yankees in their game vs. the Angels – and he was older than three players who participated in the Old Timer’s Game!
May 24, 2008, Yankee Baseball Card Day
It wound up being my third-to-last game at the old Stadium, and it was a good one. All fans received a pack of collectible Yankee baseball cards.
Let’s be honest, who didn’t love collecting baseball cards as a kid? It certainly brought me back to my youth in a good way.
The Yanks played the Seattle Mariners and (unlike last night) beat them 12-6.
Mike Mussina pitched rather well, capturing his seventh win of his eventual 20-win campaign. The Yanks did it with their bats too, receiving home runs from Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu.
July 15, 2006, Collectible Stamp Day
This was one the best days I can remember from 2006. A day at the Stadium with my Uncle John and his two sons, my cousins Thomas and Gordon.
Each fan was issued an envelope with stamps of all-time great players: Mickey Mantle, Hank Greenberg, Mel Ott, and Roy Campanella.
Before the game the Yankees held a special ceremony behind home plate with relatives of each player represented on the stamps, including Mantle’s sons.
The Yankees played the White Sox that afternoon and crushed them, 14-3.
Bubba Crosby and Andy Phillips were the only two Yanks to go yard, but they played plenty of small ball. Derek Jeter had three RBIs and two doubles.
July 22, 2009, Yankee Stadium Puzzle Day
One of my fondest memories of the magical 2009 season was going out to Yankee Stadium on July 22, when they faced off with the Baltimore Orioles. Every fan in attendance was given a Yankee Stadium puzzle.
Jorge Posada homered, backing a solid outing from A.J. Burnett. The Yanks won 6-4.
I never put the puzzle together. It’s still in the box.
Hopefully this year I can get out to a Yankee game on a day they give away something neat. It’s always fun to collect and reflect on each game and the memories attached to each giveaway.
Today I was flipping through the channels and came across Major League II on TBS. It made me think of all the great films out there that have portrayed the game of baseball on the big screen.
There have been so many baseball motion pictures that in Cooperstown, at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, there is an exhibit dedicated solely to baseball movies. I decided to write in my top 10 favorite baseball flicks. I know many people have written these already, but I figured to throw in my favorite movies.
10) Angels in the Outfield
I know, it’s not the strongest of movies, but Roger and JP love the game. They are both separated from their parents and turn to the greatest game in the world for support. With a little divine intervention from Christopher Lloyd, real Angels help the Anaheim Angels win. A great movie for the family.
9) Little Big League
Another one for the younger audience, but still a great picture. Billy Heywood’s grandfather passes away, but leaves him a fortune: the Minnesota Twins!
Heywood becomes manager of the team and guides them to a winning season. There are so many cameos of the greatest players at the time: Ken Griffey, Jr., Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Paul O’Neill, Randy Johnson, and Lou Piniella to name a few. Pretty decent flick that portrays our favorite sport.
8) The Benchwarmers
This movie kind of got a bad rap, but I was one of the ones that liked it. The overall theme of the movie was important: bullying is wrong.
I especially loved the fact that director Dennis Dugan used baseball as a means to stop the bullying and have the little leaguers work together. Plus, that Stadium they built was impressive; a touch of the Yankee Stadium frieze, Fenway’s Green Monster, and the ivy from Wrigley Field.
The geeks may have lost the final game in the movie, but at heart, they really won.
7) Rookie of the Year
Henry Rowengartner. He was living my dream as a kid pitching in the big leagues. An accident somehow made his velocity go up, and he was picked to pitch for the Chicago Cubs.
As a kid, I always wanted to have an accident so I could throw harder, but my parents and coaches told me accidents don’t make you throw harder. This will always be a great baseball movie in my book.
6) Major League
Not only was this one of the best baseball movies I’ve seen, it was by far one of the funniest. I loved Bob Uecker’s quote: “One hit?! All we have is one God damned hit?!” “You can’t say that we’re on the air! Well, nobody’s listening anyway.”
All the characters are colorful, from Ricky Vaughn to Willie Mays Hayes. The story is great, and after viewing this film, I think the Indians will forever be in Cleveland, even if some stuffy owner’s wife wants to move the team…
I gained a new level of respect for Billy Crystal after I saw this movie. Now I know it’s about the Yankees, and I want to be un-biased, but this was an amazing picture. The actors playing Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle (Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane, respectively) did such a masterful job of portraying their feelings during the roller coaster ride that was the 1961 season.
It’s not easy chasing the greatest record in baseball, and at the film’s end, I truly feel that Maris is the rightful single season Home Run King. After going through death threats, losing his hair out of stress, and the media making his life a living hell, Maris deserves the right to be called the King.
4) For Love of the Game
I saw this movie with my uncle and my cousin the weekend it opened. This was more of a love story, but it is such a touching movie.
The last place Detroit Tigers play the Yankees with washed-up Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner) on the mound. As Chapel pitches, he reflects on his love life with Jane Aubrey (Kelly Preston). He notices after seven innings that he’s pitching a perfect game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on the final game of the regular season.
Vin Scully’s quote still gives me goosebumps: “Tonight, Billy Chapel will take the walk to the loneliest spot in the world, the pitching mound at Yankee Stadium to use that achy arm to push the sun back into the sky and give us one more day of summer.”
When he finally records the last out and notches the perfecto, Scully says, “The Cathedral of Yankee Stadium belongs to a Chapel.” If you are a guy and love baseball, watch this movie with your girlfriend. There’s something there for both of you.
3) The Rookie
High School baseball coach Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid) tries his luck and makes it to the majors after his high school team makes the championship. It gives everyone hope that you can still fulfill your dreams, no matter how old you are.
After playing for the Durham Bulls, Morris makes it to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and pitches in a game against the Texas Rangers in Arlington. His players are there in the nosebleeds to root him on. This is a movie that will most likely stand the test of time, and will be watched for a long time to come.
2) Bull Durham
This movie came out exactly a year after I was born. Costner plays Crash Davis, who is an aging catcher called up to tutor rookie pitcher “Nuke” LaLoosh. Unfortunately for them, they are both romantically involved with a woman which makes a love triangle.
I learned something from this movie. 108 beads in a rosary, 108 stitches in a baseball. Coincidence? I think not. The “I believe in” speech that Davis gives is also gold. A little harsh, but brutally honest, which makes it classic. This will always be revered as one of the greatest baseball movie of all-time. They’ll be talking about Bull Durham for years to come.
1) Field of Dreams
Costner again. He must love the game. Anyone who has seen this movie knows how great it is. Ray Kinsella (Costner) interprets voices to build a baseball field on his farm. When he does, the Chicago Black Sox, or at least their ghosts, come to play there.
Who wouldn’t want to build a diamond and see their favorite players come out and play there? If I could pick a team, I would build my field and have the 1998 Yankees play on it. Kinsella’s line, “I’m pitching to Shoeless Joe Jackson…” speaks volumes. If I had it my way, it’d be, “I’m pitching to Tino Martinez…” being that he was favorite player on the ’98 Yanks. This movie is the best of the best.
According to the Internet Movie Database, this movie ranks a 7.6 out of a possible 10. I could easily rank this film 10 out of 10. After this movie is over, go play catch with your dad. You need to. It is one of the most engrossing films I’ve ever seen.
There you have it. My top 10 baseball flicks. There are so many other great ones, but this is just my opinion. If anyone would like to share their favorite baseball movies, feel free to comment!
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.
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.
First I’d like to apologize for not blogging in awhile. I have had a number of computer problems these past couple of weeks; my laptop has not been functioning properly and I haven’t been able to do any writing or Yankee Yapping.
Needless to say, not being able to write has been killing me!
My dad temporarily solved the problem and allowed me to borrow his laptop while mine gets fixed. So a big thank you goes out to him for that.
Anyway onto the topic of this entry…
Last Wednesday I visted Yankee Stadium for the fourth time this season and for the fourth time they won. The Bronx Bombers beat the Detroit Tigers 9-5 and went on to take three out of four from them. Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, and Curtis Granderson led the way for the Yanks, each with a home run on the night.
Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera put on a hitting show, smacking two homers of his own. Left fielder Don Kelly also homered for Detroit, as the ball was certainly exploding off the bats last Wednesday night.
The real story however was where I went before the game.
For the first time in the New Yankee Stadium I visited Monument Park. I only remember visiting Monument Park in the old Stadium once–July 2, 2002. Monument Park in the old Stadium was positioned behind the left-centerfield wall. It now sits directly behind the centerfield wall, and I have to say, the experience of going there in the new house just wasn’t the same.
Watching one of the first games in the new Stadium on TV last year, and subsequently taking notice of Monument Park, I remember thinking to myself, “How can the Yankees take any pride in what Monument Park looks like? In all honesty, it looks as if they decorated the area behind the centerfield wall with used furniture.”
I hate to think that way, but it’s the truth.
Modern day Monument Park simply doesn’t have the old school feeling anymore. With all the up-to-date features in the new ballpark, the place where the Yankees once honored their legends seems to have become just another meaningless, new-age attraction. Of course all of the same Monuments and plaques are still out there, but it is not the same.
Although I dislike the way Monument Park is constructed, I cannot say I am entirely unhappy with it. I loved seeing all the retired numbers and momentos, which I had not seen in eight years. For the first time I saw the monument built to remember those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, which was a moving experience.
Along with the 9/11 monument, it was great to see the plaque the Yankees put up for Pope Benedict XVI. His Holiness celebrated mass in April of 2008, following in the footsteps of Pope Paul IV and Pope John Paul II, both of whom also celebrated mass at the old Stadium.
The aren’t kidding when they say Yankee Stadium is a cathedral.
After I left Monument Park Wednesday night I got to thinking: who will be the next Yankee to have is number retired? I came up with a number of possible candidates. Here they are…
Bernie Williams, 51
The Yankee centerfielder spent 16 seasons in pinstripes. He won four World Series Championships, six American League pennants, four Gold Glove Awards, the 1996 American League Championship Series MVP Award, the 1998 Batting Title, and was selected to the All-Star Game five times.
That’s a lot of accomplishments for one player with one team.
Looking past all of the awards and accolades, the most telling point about Williams is that he spent his entire career with the Yankees. In this day and age with free agency and trades, it’s remarkable that he was able to stay with the Yanks his whole career.
Although it almost didn’t happen.
After the 1998 season, Williams came dangerously close to leaving, due to the expiration of his contract. The Boston Red Sox were one of the leading teams that seeked out Williams and believe it or not, he almost went to the Red Sox. The Yankees were trying to acquire Albert Belle and nearly gave up their prize centerfielder.
I just could not have imagined Williams in a Red Sox uniform. It would have broke my heart, but honestly, I still would have loved him for all he did as a Yankee. Thankfully it did not get that far.
The Bronx Bombers came to their senses, dumped the idea for acquiring Belle, and Williams was back in pinstripes—not only for 1999, but for the rest of his career. He went on tho scale the Yankee all-time lists in hits, doubles, extra base hits, home runs, walks, and RBIs.
No one has worn his number 51 since he retired…or I should say since he did not return to the Yankees in 2007. If you ask me, Williams deserves the honor of having his number sit in Monument Park alongside the Yankee legends of old.
Paul O’Neill, 21
“The Warrior” spent nine seasons with the New York Yankees, all of them as a fan favorite. The short-temepred right fielder was selected to five All-Star Games and won a total of five World Series titles, four of them in pinstripes.
If anyone should be in Monument Park, it’s Paul O’Neill.
The late George Steinbrenner gave O’Neill his “Warrior” nickname sometime in the mid-’90s. Steinbrenner had seen how O’Neill reacted to certain calls made by umpires. When he did not agree with a call, he would let the ump know about it…most of the time in angry fashion.
O’Neill’s toughness never came into question.
In the past I have given my opinion on O’Neill, and I cannot say enough good about him. He was one of my all-time favorite Yankees and one of the most fierce competitors I have ever seen play the game of baseball. He had a strong hatred for losing and he will always be remembered by me as a winner.
In 2008, LaTroy Hawkins wore the number 21. Running in from the bullpen at Yankee Stadium, he was booed overwhelmingly. He asked Derek Jeter why he was being booed at home, and Jeter responded by saying that his number was the issue.
The next day Hawkins swapped his number 21 for 22.
Since then, the Yankees have taken the number out of circulation and no other player has worn it. It is my best guess that it will be retired by the Yankees at some point.
Joe Torre, 6
Although he is the current manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Joe Torre’s number is worthy of retirement in Yankee lore. Torre served as Yankee manager from 1996-2007, standing at the helm of 12 playoff appearances, four World Championships, and six A.L. pennants. He is also one of the winningest managers in Yankee history.
Before the Yanks won the World Series in 1996–Torre’s first year as Yankee skipper–the Bronx Bombers had not been to the World Series since 1981. There is no denying the fact that Torre brought the Yanks back from mediocrity and led the team to a Dynasty.
There’s no way the Yanks would have been as good as they were without his leadership.
However, the one thing that might prevent his number from being retired was his book. “The Yankee Years” (in a way) strained his relationship with the organization, and overall his departure left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
Nonetheless he is still a legendary Yankee and like Williams and O’Neill, his number has not been used by another Yankee player since he left.
I have mixed feelings about Torre right now. I love and respect everything he did as Yankee skipper but some of the remarks he made left me thinking about him. I also don’t agree with how he managed the bullpen toward the end of his tenure in pinstripes.
Yet I still believe he deserves a spot in Monument Park.
The last Yankee to have his number retired was Ron Guidry, back in 2003. Before Guidry, Don Mattingly’s number was retired in 1997. Looking at every number out in Monument Park, it seems there is at least one Yankee represented for every era.
I think what the team needs now is a player from the Dynasty of the late ’90s represented. Williams, O’Neill, and Torre all fit the bill and are all deserving of the honor. The question is, when will the next Yankee number be retired?
I hope they don’t wait until Jeter is done playing. If you ask me, they should give some other players their due and then when Jeter retires, hold the biggest ceremony ever in his honor.
Until then, consider Williams, O’Neill, and Torre.
Luck: a force that brings good fortune or adversity. Yankee legend Lou Gehrig once claimed to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Yesterday afternoon, I felt I was the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
I was fortunate enough to spend the day with my friends and family at Yankee Stadium for the Bronx Bombers’ home opener against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Not only was it their home opener, it was their ring ceremony, held to commemorate their 2009 World Series Championship.
After a beautiful ceremony, the Yankees beat the Angels, 7-5.
But the day wasn’t just about RBIs, base hits, and runs scored. It wasn’t just about the Yankees receiving their championship rings. It went far beyond anything that anyone can really understand. Overall, it was a wonderful experience; one I will never forget.
A Meaningful Day
My cousin Thomas, who invited me and my other cousin Krystina to the game, could not have been more excited for Opening Day. He got the tickets and graciously invited us to this historic game. His father (my Uncle John) recently passed away. I know that Thomas would have loved nothing more than to share the day with his dad.
Since his dad could not be there, I find it so honorable that he wanted me there to share the day with him. I could not have felt better. The fact that he asked me to go with him nearly drove me to tears.
And it didn’t get any easier when we reached the ballpark.
Getting off the train, we noticed the old Yankee Stadium. The building is nearly torn down completely. It was an unbelievable sight to behold. I can remember so many great and meaningful memories for me in that Stadium, and my only thought was, “is it really right for them to just gut it and rip it down?”
I guess they had to do it, but it didn’t make me feel very good. I could tell Thomas was taken back by the whole thing; he was as overwhelmed as I was. The same building where Babe Ruth, Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and countless other Yankee legends made history is now in shambles; it’s merely a skeleton of what used to be a beautiful ballpark.
Heartbreaking, to say the least.
When we got inside the new Stadium, it was madness. Everywhere you looked the words, “2009 World Series Champions” were visible. The Great Hall was buzzing with Yankee fans, all ready to watch the team accept their 27th World Title.
Thomas, Krystina, and I went down to the field level. There we met up with Thomas’s sister (another one of my cousins) Ashley, who went to the game with her friend Matthew. We took a picture together–in my mind, the best picture I took all day. I took a ridiculous amount of photos of the players, the ceremony, and the game.
But I would say the group shot we took together was the best. I would not be anywhere without my family and they mean so much to me. I was honored that they invited me to the game, and for that I cannot thank them enough.
Ashley and Matt went to their seats while Thomas, Krystina, and I stayed on the field level to watch the Angels take batting practice, as the Yanks took BP before the gates opened to the public. We were literally pressed directly up against the wall in right field. We had a perfect view of everything!
Thomas kept yelling for a ball. He wanted one more than anything. Former Yankee Bobby Abreu was practically right in front of us. He lobbed a couple loose baseballs into the stands, but not any that came near us. Two security guards however were standing near us and Thomas chatted with them, trying to coerce them into getting him a ball.
Whoever was in the Angels’ batting cage smoked one down the right field line. The ball ricocheted off the side of the wall and onto the grass.
“Can you get that for me?” Thomas politely asked.
“We are not allowed to go on the grass,” one of the security guards answered.
Not long after that, another ball was ripped down the right field line in foul territory, landing safely on the dirt. It was right in front of the guards.
“Please!” Thomas persisted. “Please get that for me!”
The guard smiled, bent over, picked up the ball, and placed it softly in Thomas’s glove.
I have never in my life seen a child happier. Thomas, with a grin as wide as the Grand Canyon, had gotten a foul ball in batting practice, a feat I never accomplished at a Major League game. He was ecstatic and I was overjoyed that he was able to get it.
I’m sure it will be something he’ll remember forever.
What I thought was significant about the day was the team the Yankees were playing. They played the Angels. And I have no doubt in my mind that Thomas’s dad, my Uncle John, was one of the Angels at the Stadium yesterday–but he was an Angel for the Yankees. It truly felt as though he was right there with us.
After batting practice wrapped, the ring ceremony festivities were set to begin. I watched from behind centerfield and everything looked wonderful. Michael Kay and John Sterling emceed the ceremony and the World Series trophy was even on display.
First the team paid homage to owner George Steinbrenner, who was in attendance for the days’ events. I have never heard a louder ovation for a non-player in my life. The crowd roared for him and rightfully so. Without Mr. Steinbrenner, there would be no Yankee team.
Then Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra came out to help hand out the rings. Manager Joe Girardi also helped distribute the rings and he congratulated each player as they accepted their prize. One by one, every Yankee from last year’s team was called out to get their ring.
Really the only players who were missing were Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera. Jerry Hairston, Jr. (although no longer with the team) was in the ballpark to get his ring. As was Hideki Matsui, the MVP of the ’09 World Series who is now a member of the Angels.
They saved Matsui’s introduction for last, and he received a humungous, deafening ovation. I think every Yankee fan recognized Matsui’s hard work and dedication over the seven years he played in the Bronx. I know he will always be a Yankee in my heart.
When the ceremony was ready to conclude, the whole team ran in and showed Matsui a lot of love; the team got together one last time and embraced for a group hug. The hug almost brought a tear to my eye, because I know how close the 2009 team was.
I didn’t realize until I got home how they had tricked Matsui. Girardi handed him a bootleg ring and later during the Opening Day ceremony ran the real ring over to him. Matsui laughed and I could see his Angel teammates also teasing him for it.
A little playful humor now and then is relished by the best teams, I guess.
And speaking about the Opening Day ceremony: once again, overwhelming. They called the Angels out of their dugout and they all lined up along the third baseline. The Yankees lined up on the first baseline, and cadets from West Point stood in center field to unfurl the American flag. Not long after the anthem ended, two enormous jets flew over Yankee Stadium.
Those fighter jets were LOUD! When I tell you they were loud, they were LOUD! The ground literally shook as they flew over the new house. And once again, it was quite a sight to behold. My only word for it: “Amazing.”
After the anthem and beautiful aerial presentation, Bernie Williams, the great former center fielder, tossed out the honorable first pitch. Talk about an ovation! Williams received a rousing hand from us Yankee faithful, but it somewhat shocked us how he bounced the pitch. Being a former All-Star center fielder, you would think Williams would hit home plate! He missed, much to the surprise of the crowd. The gentleman standing next to me yelled, “Oh, come on Bernie! You gotta hit the glove!”
It’s Ok, Bernie. I still love you.
After the Yankees were finished warming up and all pre-game ceremonies were over, it was time to, as they say, play ball! Yankees vs. Angels.
The Yankees struck first in the bottom of the first. Designated hitter Nick Johnson blasted a solo home run to right field, a shot that (as I understand) landed right next to Bald Vinny–the legendary Bleacher Creature who starts the famous Yankee “roll call” at the beginning of each home game.
Unfortunately I was on line for food when this happened, but I heard the crowd roar and got into a spot just in time to see Johnson cross home plate. In any event it was the first of many home runs the Yankees will hit in their house in 2010.
As Andy Pettitte worked brilliantly through the first three innings, the Yankees held a 1-0 lead until the bottom of the frame. The Yankee captain, Derek Jeter, stepped up to the plate and crushed a solo home to right field, his first of the year.
It really is amazing how many games I have been to that have featured a home run by Jeter. It seems every game I get out to, he hits a home run. I can think of at least five games off the top of my head in which Jeter has homered. Maybe I bring some kind of luck to him, who knows.
In any event, 2-0 Yankees at the end of three innings of play.
One of the more special moments during the day was Matsui’s first at-bat. The former beloved Yankee received yet another rousing ovation from the fans while he stepped into the batter’s box. Pettitte respectfully tipped his cap and stepped off the mound and allowed his former teammate to soak up the moment.
Matsui removed his helmet and acknowledged the fans who once called him a hero. Unfortunately for the 2009 World Series MVP, the Yankees were not very kind to him in terms of his day at the plate. He was 0-for-5 on the day with a strikeout.
The Yankees tacked on three more runs before the end of the sixth inning. Jeter was at it again in the fourth, reaching on an infield single that scored Curtis Granderson. In the sixth, Alex Rodriguez reached on yet another infield single, which brought home Johnson and Nick Swisher.
5-0, all Yankees at the end of six innings. It was looking good for us.
That is, until Kendry Morales stepped up in the top of the eighth. The Angels’ first baseman smashed a long, solo home run into the second deck in right field, putting the Angels on the board, 5-1.
The Yankees got two runs back in the bottom of the eighth, both of them proving to be the difference in the game. Jorge Posada doubled to score Johnson and Granderson singled to score Robinson Cano, giving the Yankees a 7-1 edge.
Posada’s double put him ahead of Mantle on the all-time Yankee doubles list.
You would think with a 7-1 lead heading into the ninth inning everything would be safe and secure. Well, think again. Feeling that the game was practically over, my cousins and I watched the end of the game from the concourse on the first base side.
And we received a pleasant surprise followed by a not-so-pleasant surprise, followed by a happy ending.
Right before the ninth inning began, two gentleman sitting in the field box seats decided to leave. One of them tapped me on the shoulder and handed me his tickets.
“Here you go,” he said. “You guys can watch the end from the field level seats.”
“WOW!” I exclaimed. “Thank you very much!”
“Don’t mention it,” he replied.
How awesome is that?! You never really see that type of chivalry anymore. A man, not knowing who I was, just gave up his seats to me, a stranger. Granted, the game was almost over, it was still a very noble gesture and overall a kind act.
Who says New Yorkers are mean-spirited?
In any event my cousins and I, now sitting in comfortable, padded box seats, watched David Robertson surrender hit after walk after hit, eventually loading the bases. I still thought the Yankees were in great shape, even if they only gave up a run or two.
To our dismay, former Yankee Abreu stepped up and slaughtered a grand slam home run to left field, something he specialized in when he played for the Yankees. I will always like Abreu; in my mind he was the best Yankee right fielder since Paul O’Neill. But yesterday…I did not like him. He burned us pretty bad.
I mean, Abreu’s home run was a real shot. I’m talking way back into the left field seats.
Now with the score at 7-5 and a save situation in place, Girardi was prompted to bring in Mariano Rivera. The great Rivera struck Torii Hunter out swinging and then got his former teammate Matsui to pop out to end the game.
Ballgame over. Yankees win. THEEEEE Yankees win!
We stayed and watched the Yankees take congratulations and improve their record to 5-2.
We exited the ballpark and once again looked at the demolished old stadium. Thomas looked at it once more, and looking at it again, I could not help but think of all the games his father took us to. I think a part of us went down with that stadium.
But then we glanced back at the new stadium and thought about the days’ events. The Yankees had just won and we had just witnessed history; the first ring ceremony in the new Stadium, a batting practice foul ball, a great game, a seat upgrade from a gracious fan and a Yankee win.
And not only that, a day spent with my friends and family.
I could not have asked for anything better. It was just a day where nothing went wrong. I can truly say that I felt like the luckiest man on the face of the earth yesterday.
And Uncle John: I know you were there with us. We miss you.
Keep smiling down on us and the Yankees.