God help the Yankees.
Before Boston just landed the Angels’ ace righty John Lackey, the Yankees needed to sign a major arm. We all watched New York strain through the postseason on 3 starters and the fumes of their fabled closer Mariano Rivera. Make that 2 starters and a Burnout. Having dropped tens of millions last year to acquire the top half of their rotation plus a first baseman who can field even better than he hits, the Yankees were nonetheless widely reported ready to take on another huge starting salary for one of 2 newly free agent righties: Toronto’s perennial phenom Doc Roy Halladay (RHP) or Bulldog John “It’s Mine” Lackey. This surprised me, and I could not take it for granted, especially after Detroit’s Curtis Granderson joined their outfield committee a few days ago.
When I heard that Boston was loosening its hold on their expensive left fielder Jason Bay, the quease started. What were they going to do with that money? Was it worth it to switch-up Matt Holliday for Bay? Or,…
Sure enough, early today I read the Twitter sighting: Lackey was seen at Fenway. I couldn’t eat for hours. Next thing I knew, the MLB Network was reporting a 3-way deal that would send Halladay to the reigning NL Pennant holders, the Phillies, whose recently-acquired World Series star lefty Cliff Lee would move to Seattle. Well, if a hunger strike could help the Yanks, well, by now I was losing my appetite the way some people lose keys. Good thing Guinness is food.
We are in trouble. And who knows how tired-out Sabathia and Pettite will be. While we are wondering, let us pray that God continues gracing Mo’s cutter with divine inevitability and ministerial conviction.
I’m home. Well, that’s not technically true because I never lived here, in my mother’s place outside Chicago.
I’m here because she died. I can’t understand that. We never got to finish watching Kevin Costner’s movie about Shoeless Joe, though she did take the El with me down to see the White Sox in 2005, when the Yankees’ Shawn Chacon beat former and soon-to-be-again Yankee El Duque. She actually said aloud that she wished Mariano Rivera, her favorite player, had gotten to pitch. She knew about him because she loved me and baseball was the only thing besides fear of not going to work that could get me to stop sleeping back then when I was sick. So she watched Yankee games so that we could talk about them, and that’s how she learned about him. So I’m going to use this blog to steal away for a minute and talk about baseball. And the Dodgers, whom she and my dad took me to see so many times in LA, where she helped me dress up as Ron Cey for Halloween one year, and where I grew up until my Dad was transfered to the Chicago area just before Postseason of 1981, setting off 15 years of avoiding baseball, except a few games at Wrigley. And Brooklyn, where I work now, in the high school where Sandy Koufax played (Lafayette). And Jackie Robinson, who made that team what it is, and whose number is worn only by my mom’s favorite baseball player. Because, as Mark Gremse said so often “That’s baseball.”
But, on the surface, these are really just a few trivial lines about movie: WYIN – public television out of NW Indiana – is showing The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), which, as I just discovered, can be viewed on Google Video here.
Regular readers know I’m a softie for great lines from broadcasters. Here’s one from the movie, spoken right before Jackie steps to the plate in the 9th, with the Dodgers down by 1 and hoping to clinch the Pennant: “Brooklyn hearts have skipped more beats than an absent-minded policeman.”
Today before the game Joe Torre took the line-up cards tothe chief umpire himself. Since when does Joe take the line-up card
out himself, except during the World Series? He went on to shake the
hand of every umpire. Except Jeff Nelson.
NOTE: If the NY DAILY NEWS (or anyone else) covers this story, they should credit Suzyn Waldmann for the idea. Anthony McCarron, who was a guest of WCBS Radio booth during the "DAILY NEWS 5th" inning, said he had not noticed when Ms. Waldmann mentioned the line-up card and hand-shaking routine. They discussed yesterday’s post-game report with John Sterling, who calls play-by-play during the game. He said he had been struck by how intensely Mr. Torre repeated the sequence of events that led to the game-ending call by Jeff Nelson.
I enjoyed the game at Yankee Stadium yesterday, my first of the season. We lost to the Angels, but Wang kept us in the game, and Mo closed us out beautifully, 1-2-3. Our bats q up about halfway through, and the slumping players got on base by hit or walk — Cano, Melky, Abreu. A-Rod hit a single and fielded well. Mank…witc (However you spell it — first baseman, #11) got on base and made an incredible stop. Damon pinch-hit a single in the 9th.
Early in the game I joked to Floraine Kay — who got me these 2 tickets for my birthday a long while ago — that John Sterling must be appreciating the home plate umpire, who was calling the pitches expeditiously. (Mr. Sterling can be eloquent and very funny filling time while waiting for the more deliberate umpires to signal "strike" or "ball.") We didn’t know his name at the time, but that home plate umpire was Jeff Nelson.
Throughout the game, we noticed a number of questionable calls which could have affected the score of the game. Having forgotten to bring my radio, we were cut off from what was apparently a lively discussion, particularly at the end of the game.
#42 paves the way. Finally, we can stop listening to arguments about whether the last player to wear that number — fellow closer Mariano Rivera — will make the Hall. It’s not the color line, but a different sort of threshold in baseball has been crossed by a relief pitcher wearing that historic number, the first to enter the Hall of Fame pitching out of the bullpen. Congratulations to Bruce Sutter for his admission to Cooperstown, where he will highlight his Game 7 close of the 1982 World Series by going in as a Cardinal. Thanks to Andrew Tarica, who took the time to write the MLB.com article about his pitching coaches, — an undercovered topic, I think — we’re reminded that he was raised by the "father of the split-fingered fastball," ace Fred Martin, who "taught the young hurler how to throw the derivation of the forkball that he’d mastered back in the Texas League while pitching for the Buffs." That would be the 1941 Houston Buffaloes, whose rotation he aced as the club played its way into minor league greatness. On the Class A Midwest League Cubs in 1973, Martin taught the rookie who’d secretly just had elbow surgery how to throw his signature pitch. 1974 was his breakout season in the minors, with AA Midland, and he was promoted from the AAA Aeros to the Cubs in 1976. After 1979, when Martin died, another Cubs coach, Mike Roarke, picked up his mantle. Tanica quotes Sutter’s movingly matter-of-fact tribute to his 2 mentors: "’I owe an awful lot to those two men,’ Sutter said. ‘Without their help, my stuff was just average.’"
Selected quotations from Tarica’s article:
"When I used to throw hard, I would split my fingers when I threw my change-up," Sutter said. "But I never used my thumb, the way I do with the split-fingered fastball. The pitch has a spin on it, so it’s harder for the hitter to tell whether it’s a fastball or a split-finger.
"They say that if the hitters just laid off of it, it’d fall out of the strike zone. But it’s hard to lay off because they have to make that decision in a split second."
"’We’d go two weeks without winning,’" recalled former Major Leaguer Dennis Lamp, who pitched with Sutter at each stop in the Minors and ultimately with the Cubs as well, ‘but once Bruce started throwing that split-fingered fastball, it was like, "Oh my God." No one had ever seen a pitch like that.
"’It looked like it was over your head, and then it landed in the strike zone. He’d strike guys out and the ball would get by the catcher and roll all the way to the backstop.’"
Written with great debt to Andrew Tarica’s MLB.com article "Sutter Mastered Special Pitch in Minors: Split-fingered Fastball Put Reliever in Cooperstown," published 1-11-2006. Why the replay here? I am interested in pitching coaches as well as relievers (obviously) and wanted to have the information handy.
- WANG was spectacular. With him, Chacon and Small, we have 3 big-game pitchers who are healthy. All have indicated that they can handle Yankee-style pressure on the mound, and they seem impervious. Thank goodness. I’m still a big fan of the seniors — and, in fact, I’d like to raise the average age of the rotation by restoring our favorite emotional rollercoaster David Wells to his rightful place. I still think we used bad, if not immoral, judgement when we forced Kevin Brown to make his first rehab start at Yankee Stadium; we may be responsible for ruining his career and his memory in the minds of many. The way we treated Brown, Wells — twice, Mendoza ("I want to die as a Yankee") and Stanton when letting them go, etc., has created bad karma. I’m not superstitious enough to say that’s why we haven’t won since…, am I?
- BUBBA CROSBY interfered with Derek Jeter’s catches twice. Is he just overeager, now that he has felt the good feeling? (Scoring the winning home run on Sept 2 plus a couple fabulous catches) He reminds me of the CANO, who was fielding everywhere but 2nd base earlier this season. He’ll settle down soon. Soon enough? We need to keep an eye on Cano, too, — yes, without killing his spirit, of course. That was a big running error today.
- GARY SHEFFIELD. The Man. RBI sac fly and an important 3-run home run, widening the gap in a game in which confused fielding (see Crosby above) cost the Yankees a run off Mariano in the 9th.
Off my proverbial chest I foist the following:
- ERRORS are not being called on sloppy and questionable fielding plays. Managers are taking out pitchers for relievers when sharper fielding would prevent baserunners. This undermines pitchers and destabilizes weary late-season teams. To paraphrase a dazzled, recently traded starter: ” It’s so different when there are people behind you who might catch the ball.” Losers: Esteban Loaiza: WAS @ PHI — 8-17-05, Aaron Heilman: NYM — at least twice this season — I haven’t followed the Mets closely lately. Steve Trachsel: NYM — several times over the last couple years. David Wells: as a NYY (I’m not talking about the first time, when Jeter talked to him about trusting that his teammate-trust needed work) If I were a pitcher, I would feel secure, even fortunate, if Aaron Rowand had my back in Center, Tino Martinez covered 1B, etc. More on this to come.
- STRATEGICALLY SIGNIFICANT CALLS AGAINST SOME TEAMS IN HIGH PLACES ARE INCREASING (and not against their opponents): Losers: CWS, NYY, WAS, etc. I stick my neck out with the inference, but announcers wonder about the calls even when their own team benefits. Full disclosure: I support the Yankees, obviously. However, to me, they do not appear prepared for this year’s post-season. I have no interest in false wins. It’s hard that everyone comes to the park with their best game when they play the Yankees, but the players are paid well because they are expected to handle the extra attitude and prepartion that opponents bring to the game. When they fail to do that, they fail, and an umpire has naught to contribute. They can fail on their own, and I have seen them fall by their own hand a lot this season. They can handle the responsibility. I don’t need to blame umpires for stupid mistakes that players make on on their own. Given that every fan wants their teams to get lucky breaks, “we’re all in” the same boat as I see it. However,… keep your eyes open if your team is doing too well, is too popular, or is too rich to BE popular!) More on this to come.
- That said, GET OFF THE LATE-SEASON YANKEE-BASHING! I mean it. It’s amazingly predictable to correlate cheap shots about the Yankees with poorly-researched commentary. You really can’t buy a World Series team. They would have. Look at the last 4 years. If you could buy one, they’d have 29-30 rings by now, not 26. Can you buy advantage that may be unfair? Sure. Before we go there, please find out and tell me what the low-performing and under-funded teams DO with the dollar-for-dollar cash that Steinbrenner hands over when the Yankee payroll exceeds the salary cap. When their payrolls hold steadily low, and when they annually collect the Yankee subsidy, do they really think that building a newer-than-Yankee-Stadium (est 1923, fyi) will foster a fanbase more reliably than investing in a productive farm system? I grow cliched. I stop. in new stadiums that lose money rather than invest i continue Serious observers have noted fatalistically that the Yanks have been “building” up not just a hugely talented and expensive team, but also a twisted underdog status — as in, how could they possibly keep losing? This is complex as well as painful to write about. Unless you believe they are intentionally dropping games for betting, or are covertly planning some sneaky (and risky) come-from-behind surprise (WHEN? After how many losing postseasons?! Hurry!! Just kidding), you are wise and sane enough to be weighing alternatives. Your stomach may be stronger than mine. More on this later.