January 2013

Moving Right Along

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While there’s plenty of offseason left and the Yankees haven’t seen a lot of back page action, there’ve been a few recent stories from the so-called “Bronx Bomber Front,” if you will.

First and foremost, the Yankees signed back 2007’s two breakout pitchers, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, inking both to one-year deals to avoid arbitration. Hughes was signed back for $7.15 million while Chamberlain was given just $1.88 million – startling, considering these two were pegged as the future of the Yankee pitching staff, and they’re coming back on a dime with no long-term commitment.

The 27-year-old promising rookies of ’07 haven’t exactly shown much promise.

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In this writer’s opinion, 2013 will be their final chance to prove whether or not they are truly the new breed of Yankee arms. Last year Hughes went 16-13 with an ERA of 4.23, which is somewhat respectable for a middle-of-the-rotation starter, but he was second in the majors in the home runs allowed category with 35. Not to mention he gave up two more long balls in the playoffs while posting a record of 0-1 in October.

If Hughes doesn’t get it straightened out this coming season, I’m afraid his time in pinstripes may be up. His main problem, as noted every year in Spring Training, seems to be his faith, or lack of faith, in his breaking ball. Hughes is characteristically a high-fastball pitcher, and when he hangs his breaking ball, hitters absolutely feast off it.

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Bottom line: Hughes needs to right many wrongs this year, if he wants to stay a Yankee.

Chamberlain’s biggest problem in recent seasons has undoubtedly been his inability to stay healthy. In 2012 Chamberlain logged just 20.2 innings in 22 games, a bizarre ankle injury claiming most of his season.

It got worse for him in the playoffs when, in Game 4 of the ALDS, Matt Wieters of the Baltimore Orioles shattered his bat facing him; the broken shard of wood coming back and striking Chamberlain in the elbow, forcing him out of the game.

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Aside from an electric debut in 2007 and a 2009 World Series ring, I would say it’s not unfair to compare Chamberlain to another injury-prone pitcher: Carl Pavano – who, I just read today, ruptured his spleen shoveling snow.

Why am I not surprised? Only Pavano. I mean…who else would that happen to?

But back to Chamberlain.

2013 will be a test for him. And if he fails, like Hughes, Chamberlain might have to bow out of the Bronx – and as we saw with Nick Swisher, it could potentially be a not-so-gracious departure.

Along with Hughes and Chamberlain, the Bombers announced the re-signing of another 27-year-old pitcher, David Robertson. The setup man from Alabama received $3.1 million for one year, also avoiding arbitration.

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Typical move that made sense. Obviously the Yankees weren’t letting go of him. I suppose they got him for so cheap because of his 2-7 record last year – as he also proved he may not be suited to fill Mariano Rivera’s cleats. In his first save opp following Rivera’s season-ending injury, Robertson blew it vs. Tampa Bay and lost the closer role out to Rafael Soriano, who as we recently learned walked to the Washington Nationals.

Thankfully for the Yankees, Rivera is returning. And I expect Mo to be Mo, barring any lingering effects from his torn ACL. If his body responds nicely, it’s good news for the Bombers. However, as we saw with Chien-Ming Wang a few years back, leg injuries can damage a pitcher’s footing, causing a world of problems.

Then again, Wang’s injury was different from Rivera’s. Wang injured his pivot foot running home during an interleague game in Houston. Nonetheless, we’ll find out just how Mo will do after he runs out of the Yankee bullpen in April, “Enter Sandman” blaring through the Yankee Stadium speakers.

In addition to the retention of some pitchers, the Yankees announced that on March 30, in their last exhibition before Opening Day, they will travel to West Point and face the ARMY baseball team at the United States Military Academy.

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Ever since they announced this special game, I’ve been wondering which key players the Yankees will bring to West Point. Being two days before Opening Day, I’m not exactly sure if many of the regulars, like Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis, Ichiro, Mark Teixeira, and Robinson Cano, will be playing.

I could see them bringing a few bigs, but certainly not all of them. I’d also like to explore the possibility of covering this game, if humanly possible. I might have to ask my publisher and editors to contact West Point for a credential to get in. I’d be honored to cover such a game, even though it’s simply an exhibition.

One player who won’t be at West Point on March 30 (at least not there to play, anyway) is Alex Rodriguez. The third baseman had surgery on Jan. 16 to repair a torn labrum, a procedure that was said to have gone off without a hitch.

Today Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman was interviewed on WFAN radio in New York and said Rodriguez may miss the entire 2013 season, although it is believed he could be back after the All-Star break.

A-Rod is signed on for a long time – through 2017, to be exact. I’m probably not in the minority here; a lot of folks probably feel the same way, but I for one would be interested to see how the Yanks would fare for a whole year without the 37-year-old slugger-in-decline. The postseason, should the Yankees make it, would be most interesting sans A-Rod, for sure.

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Think about it: if the Yankees go all the way with no Rodriguez, it’ll be the classic “we never needed A-Rod to win” mind frame. By chance the Yankees get ousted early – or don’t make the postseason at all, for that matter – it’ll be the heavy “we need A-Rod to win” spiel.

Again, interesting for sure.

In the meantime, pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Tampa on Feb. 12 and their first full workout will take place the very next day. Position players report to camp on Feb. 17; their first full team workout scheduled, again, for the following day.

The Yanks’ first exhibition game will happen on Feb. 23 at the Braves – the tune-up games beginning nine days earlier because of the World Baseball Classic this spring. Teixeira will play for the USA team, which will be managed by former Yankee skipper Joe Torre.

Cano will play for the Dominican Republic squad, so even though real, meaningful baseball will not completely return until April 1, we’ll be treated to some Yankees playing in games featuring quality competition.

Until then, basketball and next Sunday’s Super Bowl are dominating the sports pages. Just for the heck of it, I’ll entertain you guys with a story from a high school girls’ basketball game I covered a couple weeks back.

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Basically this winter my editor put me on the girls hoops beat. My responsibility is to attend games and write about the girls’ basketball teams in our coverage area – and our newspaper has two of the top-ranked teams in New York state, which makes the job a lot of fun. The girls have been enjoying a tremendous amount of success these past two months.

On Thursday Jan. 10 I was covering a game; the final score being 38-32. Pretty close and low-scoring game, all the way through.

After interviewing the coaches from the winning team and the losing team, collecting their thoughts and impressions, I went to interview the girl with the most points on the winning side. The young lady, a junior forward, finished with 19 points (including two, 3-point field goals) leading all scorers.

Before I could conduct my interview, her friend ran up to her and embraced her, giving her a big hug. Standing next to her with my recorder in hand, ready to conduct the interview, her friend (in an attempt to be discreet, although I heard every word) asked her,

“Is that your boyfriend?”

She looked at me chuckled and replied, “No, he’s…the interviewer.”

Confused, yet aware of what her friend had asked her, I looked at her and said,

“Wait, did she just…”

Smiling, and clearly a little embarrassed, she mustered the response,

“Yeah, she did.”

With a beat red face I tried my best to shake it off, and then carried on, conducting my interview with her.

First of all, at 25 years old I’m so glad I look young enough to still be in high school. Makes me feel so grown up. And secondly, when things like this happen, it gives me more and more motivation and incentive to want to take the next step in my career; cover pro sports and not just high school games – risking incidents similar to this one because I apparently look as if I belong on “Barney & Friends.”

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Not that I haven’t had a taste of pro sports coverage – I did, covering the Hudson Valley Renegades and Eli Manning’s appearance at the Guiding Eyes Golf Classic this past summer – but I’d like to expand upon that; do a lot more of it, more consistently.

MLB.com. YES Network. #GetAtMeBro

Empty classroom: 2013 Hall of Fame Class without a player

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In 2009 MLB did away with the annual Hall of Fame game, played every year at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y. – a place that many believe was the birthplace of baseball. “Scheduling conflicts” prevented a game played every year since the year the Hall of Fame’s inception in 1936. A meaningful game to the people of Cooperstown – and in respect to the Hall – eliminated.

Not much of an uproar was heard over this decision; in fact, no one really talked about it.

Today, for only the eighth time in the 77 year history of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and for the first time since 1996, not one player was elected to have a plaque with their face on it plastered on the fabled walls in Cooperstown; no class of 2013. No class of players, anyway.

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That being said, upstate New York on the last weekend in July will be rather quiet this year. And unlike the choice to drop the Hall of Fame game, this time, there was uproar.

Current players, team beat writers, journalists, analysts, fans, and basically everyone on Twitter (this writer included) criticized the voters, namely the Baseball Writers Association, for the absence of a player in the 2013 Hall of Fame class. The criticism was well-earned, considering there were a number of players who many deemed worthy of enshrinement.

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The voters are only allowed to vote for 10 players, and players need 75% of votes to make it in. On the ballot for his first year eligible, Houston Astros superstar Craig Biggio was the closest to getting in, receiving 68.2% of votes.

Jack Morris (67.7%) was right behind Biggio, followed by his old teammate Jeff Bagwell (59.6%) and New York Met icon Mike Piazza (57.8%).

Longtime Montreal Expo and Yankee fan-favorite Tim “Rock” Raines fell short, 52.2% in his sixth year on the ballot. A former Yankee killer, Seattle Mariners DH Edgar Martinez, was given 35.9% of votes in his fourth year on the ballot.

In his 13th year on the ballot, Don Mattingly finished with 13.2% of votes.

Two huge names on the ballot for the first time this year were Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds: guys who have accomplished a lot during their respective careers; broken records, World Series titles, Cy Young awards, MVP awards, which are all achievements that put players in great positions to be elected and sit alongside baseball’s very best forever.

However, the thought of either one of them making the Hall of Fame on their first year of eligibility is farfetched – only because of their linkage to steroid usage and PEDs. Clemens publicly said he wasn’t surprised; “The Rocket” only receiving 37.6% of votes. Bonds finished right behind Clemens with 36.2%.

In this writer’s opinion, most of these players could have made it – and at least one of them should’ve.

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Biggio, albeit this year being just his first year of eligibility, was no doubt worthy of getting the call. Same can be said of Piazza. 3,000 hits (Biggio) and 400 home runs off the bat of a catcher (Piazza) should be enough to get in – and I believe both of them will get in down the line. Bagwell, to me, will always be a borderline guy: great numbers for a 15-year career, but will always be straddling the line of good and great.

Raines was close to 3,000 hits (2,605) and nearly ended his career with a BA above .300 (.294), but it being his sixth year of eligibility – and Rock being a seven-time All-Star, a batting champ (1986), All-Star Game MVP (’87), three-time World Series Champ (twice as a player, ’96, ’98, once as a coach, ’05) – should at least get him closer to that elusive 75% than his mark of 52.2%.

It surprised me that Martinez hasn’t received a higher percentage of votes. His career numbers weren’t at all bad – 309 homers, a lifetime .312 BA, 1,261 RBIs, and over 2,000 hits. All numbers that may not jump off the page, yet go nicely with his two batting titles (’92, ‘95), his five Silver Sluggers and seven All-Star Game appearances.

To me, Martinez is highly underrated. There are those who are always going to turn their heads away from him because he mostly played as a designated hitter; to some fans he might even be considered a “part-timer.” But remember, he played the field (specifically third base) in his career, too.

Time to face facts: Mattingly will never make it. Thirteen years and a small percentage of votes to show for it is not exactly a ticket to Cooperstown.

But we all have to understand that it’s called the Hall of Fame. Not the Hall of Very Good.

Which brings me to Clemens and Bonds – who were famous, not just “very good.” Each then fell from grace and became infamous. And for the record, in the future I believe both could make it in – but considering the direction both players’ careers have gone in, I had a reasonable feeling neither one wasn’t a first ballot player.

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During his 2008 interview with 60 Minutes, which explored the controversy surrounding his alleged use of steroids and PEDs, Clemens was asked about his HOF chances, given the accusations brought against him. He responded curtly, saying,

“What makes you think I give a damn about the Hall of Fame?”

I thought right then and there, Clemens was doomed to never be considered for the Hall, let alone make it in; his statement being a slap in the face to every baseball player enshrined in Cooperstown. He later respectfully recanted his asinine remark, and last June was acquitted for lying to congress about steroid and PED usage.

Legally Clemens’s name was cleared. But he will always have that smudge next his name – a smudge that hurt him today, his quest for Cooperstown undoubtedly an uphill battle.

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Bonds will have that same hill to climb, his name also associated with steroids and PEDs. A liar, a cheater, and an overall arrogant player with a superiority complex– but because of his numbers, and the fact that he broke the home run record in 2007, Bonds still has a chance to make the Hall.

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The bottom line here is that sure, maybe all of these players aren’t overly worthy. Perhaps Tim Raines was just a regular player. Maybe Edgar Martinez shouldn’t be in because he was mostly a DH. Mattingly sure as heck won’t make it, even with his impressive merits.

And I get it: not everyone gets in.

However, at least one of the players on this year’s ballot should have gone in. It’s disgraceful how the Baseball Writers Association is unable to vote a player into Cooperstown, considering voting for a HOF’er is probably the most important aspect of their job.

It’s only going to get tougher as the years go on for the players currently on the ballot; keep in mind, players can stay on the ballot for 15 years. The likes of Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, and Greg Maddux will be eligible next year, and in the not-so-distant future names like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Randy Johnson will be on the list – names not linked to anything illegal or incriminating.

I will be curious to see how it plays out for these gentlemen. But as for today…

It’s tough to feel good about baseball. Jon Heyman, a respected baseball writer, even described it as “a sad day for baseball.” They nixed the Hall of Fame game, which was bad enough. Now they can’t elect a player to the Hall of Fame?

If you ask me, today showed me that respect for the game’s history is being devalued. Time-honored tradition is becoming extinct, shamelessly. History is being discarded.

What’s next? They take two dozen bulldozers to Cooperstown and plow the whole town away?

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The Treasure Trove, Edition One

Treasure Trove 1

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