The 2013 baseball season is in its baby stages, Spring Training in full swing and the third annual World Baseball Classic underway. April will bring the full-time cracking of the bat and the popping of the leather, but the basketball craze known globally as “March Madness” is here.
And boy, did yesterday I witness some madness – in fact, madness might not even be the right word for it. Absurdity is more like it.
Yesterday was Championship Sunday in New York’s Section 1 high school hoops season. My beat this entire winter has been girls’ basketball; two teams I’ve been covering all season (Ossining and Peekskill) were playing in their respective title games. Not that it’s all that relevant (although interesting to me) the Ossining team even faced off with the team from the high school I graduated from in 2005, Our Lady of Lourdes (Poughkeepsie, NY).
I was excited to cover this pair of big games, so I arrived at the Westchester County Center – the site of the Section 1 finals – a little bit early. I found an open seat in the press row, and figured I’d tweet the final few minutes of the New Rochelle vs. Mount Vernon Class AA boys’ championship game.
At 1:35 p.m. I sent out:
New Rochelle down by nine and with such little time to bounce into a clean offensive rhythm, I thought it was a foregone conclusion Mt. Vernon would be taking home a gold ball; the Class AA crown theirs. Yet somehow, by a stroke of turnovers, defense, rebounds and foul shots, New Rochelle fought its way back into the game, the Huguenots turning a nine-point deficit into a two-point game: 60-58. New Rochelle even had possession, a glimmer of hope.
Despite that, time and location were not of the essence. 2.9 seconds left on the clock, and the Huguenots on the wrong side of the court; the inbounds pass needing to travel a long way in order for New Ro to even have a termite-sized chance of knotting the game up.
What followed would have probably left God himself in utter disbelief.
Khalil Edney, after making the inbounds pass, recovered the ball; took a 55-foot Hail Mary-esque shot from beyond half court that was eventually deemed good by the officials, who initially waved the spectacular basket off, thinking the game clock had expired before he got the shot off.
The refs conferred, ruled it good – a tenth of a second left on the clock before he shot the ball. Just like that, New Rochelle wins it 61-60 to snag the Class AA title from right underneath Mt. Vernon’s nose.
ESPN was all over this story, as were a number of national media outlets.
Two points I would like to make. First, I’m glad I arrived at work early, which has kind of been the story of this season for me. Come to think of it, my colleague and former editor at the North County News Rob DiAntonio nicknamed me “On Time A.J.” this year. I was not scheduled to cover the New Ro/Mt. Vernon epic (neither team is in my newspaper’s coverage area), but in getting there ahead of time, I was treated to some history.
Secondly, I was able to, I suppose, sneak my way into the footage of it; the MSG Varsity cameras facing the press row. Yes, that’s me (circled), the blur in the white sweater. If you look close enough, the video even shows my dumbfounded reaction; putting my hands on the top of my head in sheer amazement.
What I hadn’t realized until this morning is that, in October, I had seen Edney play football. New Rochelle visited one of the schools in my newspaper’s coverage area – Mahopac – and I covered that game. Edney was New Ro’s quarterback and led them to not only a 6-0 win over Mahopac in the game I covered, but a state football title.
It’s also worth mentioning New Ro beat Mahopac to reach the basketball finals vs. Mt. Vernon, the Huguenots really playing spoiler to Mahopac’s sports teams this season.
And on top of all that, Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice – New Rochelle high alum – won a Super Bowl back in February.
The Huguenots received a lot of glory this past year.
SportsCenter showed two more high school buzzer-beaters from half court yesterday, and in the first girls’ hoops game I covered (Ossining/Lourdes) a young lady headed to UConn next year by the name of Saniya Chong made two shots as time expired in the first and second quarters from beyond half court. (The first shot by Chong was ruled good; the second shot was waved off, as she was called for a travel).
I don’t know what it was yesterday. It’s inexplicable. But half court glory was the order of the day.
“Fumbling his confidence and wondering why the world has passed him by” – must be the motto of Alex Rodriguez’s life right now.
In about a week position players will be reporting to camp, preparing for the Spring Training grind. But it won’t be the case for A-Rod, the third baseman out until at least after the All-Star break – perhaps the entire season, depending on who you talk to.
Surgery to repair muscles in Rodriguez’s left hip on Jan. 16 was successful, yet it came with a price. Rehab for this particular procedure could potentially collect $28 million from the Yankees – money the Yanks will have to pay A-Rod to simply watch the action from the bench all season.
You’d think that would be enough to squash Rodriguez for one lifetime. Think again.
Ten days after his surgery A-Rod was linked to performance-enhancing drugs for the second time in his career, news breaking that he purchased HGH and other PEDs from a clinic known as Biogenesis, located in Rodriguez’s home state of Florida. Reports surfaced that the head of Biogenesis, Anthony Bosch, would go to A-Rod’s Miami home and personally inject him with steroids.
Right away Rodriguez denied the allegations, but perhaps the most significant aspect of the whole ordeal: not one of his teammates spoke up for him; no Yankee going to bat for A-Rod. Except for maybe Derek Jeter, who only had one thing to say:
“Let him speak first.”
Although this writer would hardly even call that “sticking up for your teammate.”
Since then the Yankees have tried to find a way out of his 10-year, $275 million contract – a pact that has five years and $114 million remaining. Their efforts to void his contract were futile, however, only because when the Yanks first struck the mega-deal with A-Rod, they made sure to provide no way out for the third baseman.
Why did the Yankees do this? Time for a history lesson.
A-Rod could do no wrong in 2007. Coming off a 2006 season in which he struggled mightily in clutch situations (despite putting up staggering numbers: 35 HR, 121 RBIs, .290 BA), he was nothing short of spectacular. It seemed whenever the Yankees needed a big hit in ’07, A-Rod was up .
And he always delivered.
In the midst of his 2007 MVP season, the Yankees wished to restructure his contract, knowing he was going to be able to opt out of it when the season concluded. Rodriguez wasn’t quick to jump at the chance to negotiate mid-season, and turned the Yanks down, forcing the organization’s hand.
Basically, in not so many words, the Yankees responded to Rodriguez’s refusal to negotiate by saying, “if you choose to opt out, we aren’t chasing after you.”
However when A-Rod did opt out – in the middle of the World Series, prompting another mess of criticism – the Yankees caved in and offered him the ironclad giant deal that is currently sticking them when the sun doesn’t shine.
The only way for the Yankees to dismiss Rodriguez, as of now, is for A-Rod to hang up his cleats and retire. Call it a hunch, but at 37 (though he’ll turn 38 on July 27) retirement just doesn’t seem imminent for A-Rod.
Last week Rodriguez made the front pages again, a report claiming that he said the Yankees and MLB are out to get him; baseball looking for a reason to bring him down.
Could it be paranoia, or just a way to get fans feeling sorry for him, back on his side?
Either way, A-Rod’s career will forever be mired in controversy. Even in his brightest days of 2007, the media went after him, finding pictures of him coming out of a club with a “mystery blonde” while he was still married.
Of course then it broke in 2008 that he and Madonna were an item, and remember, he tried to pick up some girls during the playoffs last year – a postseason in which he miserably failed, batting a measly .118 with no homers, no RBIs, and 12 strikeouts, proving his on-the-field strife is just as relevant as his off-the-field vexations.
Oddly enough, throughout this A-Rod chaos, only one person comes to my mind: Jason Giambi.
Like Rodriguez, Giambi was linked to PEDs, and had a sort of up-and-down, roller coaster-like tenure with the Yankees. In 2004, Giambi played only 80 games and didn’t do much for the Yankees living off a fat contract.
However, he rebounded and ended up hitting 32 or more home runs in three of his final four seasons in pinstripes. Not to mention when Rodriguez went through his trifles in 2006, Giambi was the one who stepped up and told A-Rod to “man up.”
That kind of attitude is probably why Giambi, even at 42, is still hanging around the game, the former Yankee signing a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians today.
The only way for A-Rod to find any more success in pinstripes is to heed Giambi’s words. Man up. Perhaps revert back to what he once was; turn back the clock to his glory days.
Otherwise he won’t be remembered for anything great he accomplished as a Yankee. His 2005 and 2007 MVP seasons will fade in the minds of the Yankee fans; his solid championship season of 2009 will be forgotten.
A-Rod will only be remembered as a weak individual who cracked at every corner. The Bronx Bomber who took the highest fall from grace in the history of the Yankees. A man trapped inside the vortex of a troubled life – like a mouse caught in a maze.
And I suppose that’s just it. Be a man, A-Rod. Or, well, be a mouse.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
In 2003 Godzilla came to New York. No, not the monster. Although one could argue what Hideki Matsui accomplished over the course of his MLB career was pretty scary; enough big hits to bring any city in the world – New York, Tokyo, anywhere – to its knees. Today the man from Japan has announced his retirement, the end of an outstanding career. And in a lot of ways, the end of an era in baseball.
What sometimes gets lost when talking about Matsui’s career is the fact that it didn’t begin in the United States. In 1993 Matsui started his baseball career in the Far East, in Nippon Professional Baseball, to be exact. He collected several awards and accolades as a member of the Yomiuri Giants, including three Japan Series Championships in 1993, 2000, and 2002, among countless other notable achievements.
As a matter of fact, there is a museum in Japan dedicated to Matsui’s baseball career. Think about it: the man is basically (and maybe arguably) the Babe Ruth of Japanese baseball. To the fans in Japan who have followed his entire career, today can be considered comparable to the day “the Great Bambino” hung up his cleats.
Throughout his time in pinstripes, Matsui afforded the Yankees many moments of excitement, and now it’s time to once again say goodbye and thank you – or domo arigato – to another beloved Bronx Bomber.
They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. Matsui made the most of that chance in his debut at Yankee Stadium in 2003. In the first game of the season at home, the left fielder stepped up to the plate in front of Yankee Universe and with one swing became an instant fan favorite.
With the bases chucked and a flurry of light snow falling, Matsui clubbed a grand slam home run which helped the Yanks beat the Minnesota Twins 7-3 in their ’03 home opener – the first Yankee in history to go to granny’s house in his first game at the “House that Ruth built” and a picture perfect way to kick-start a strong tenure in New York.
“I never dreamed of it,” he told the media after the game. “Certainly I feel a little relief.”
Helping stage the comeback
Matsui pieced together a strong 2003 season. 16 home runs, a .287 batting average, and 106 RBIs were not a bad way for him to introduce himself to the Yankees and for his solid production, he nearly captured the ’03 AL Rookie of the Year Award.
Because of his age at the time, 29, a pair of voters didn’t include him on the ballot – in this writer’s opinion, a whimsical reason to leave any player off the ballot for such an award. If it’s a player’s first season in the league, that said player is a rookie, whether they be 19, 29, 39, or 49.
But the ROTY award seemed inconsequential when Matsui and the Yanks made the ’03 postseason – a World Series title set in sight as opposed to individual titles. Matsui proved to be incredibly valuable to the team down the stretch and into the month of October.
That was never more evident than in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.
What most people remember about that night is, of course, Aaron Boone’s glorious blast in the 11th to send the Yankees to the World Series. The image of Boone swinging at Tim Wakefield’s hanging knuckleball is burned into all of our brains; the cowhide lifted deep into the New York night, and finally landing in the left field seats for an ALCS-ending win over the Red Sox.
We all know that. However, what sometimes gets forgotten is how the Yankees fought back in the eighth inning that fateful night. It was 5-2 Boston in the bottom of the eighth.
Derek Jeter leads off with a double.
Bernie Williams brings him in with a single, 5-3 Boston.
Matsui sharply lines a ground-rule double down the line in right to set up Jorge Posada, who knocked a blooper into center field, bringing both Williams and Matsui home to knot it up, 5-5, thus setting up the game’s happy ending.
World Series home run: a first
The Yankees made the fall classic in ’03, but fell in six games to the Florida Marlins, not the most gracious way to finish the season following the amazing fight back vs. Boston in the ALCS.
However in Game 2 of the World Series – a game the Yankees won, 6-1, Matsui became the first Japanese-born player to homer in a World Series game – a round-tripper in the first inning on a 3-0 pitch.
It was merely a small sample of Matsui’s World Series power: something we all became familiar with six years later.
A classy warrior
On May 11, 2006 the Yankees hosted the Red Sox at home, an early season rivalry game. In left field Matsui dove for a ball and landed awkwardly. He fractured his wrist; an injury that not only landed him on the DL and sidelined him for a good chunk of the season, but put an end to his streak of 518 consecutive games played with the Yankees – and 1,768 games in a row played professionally, going back to his days in Japan.
Matsui became the only player I’ve ever known who apologized for an injury.
He gracefully stood before the Yankee brass and said he was sorry for diving for the ball and hurting himself, something no common ballplayer would ever do.
When Matsui returned to the team on Sept. 12 he showed no signs of rust, going 4-for-4 with a walk, an RBI single, and two runs scored.
2,000 and 100
Matsui enjoyed two dates in 2007 that marked milestones in his illustrious career.
First, May 6 vs. Seattle at home. While Roger Clemens basically stole the show with the announcement of his comeback, Matsui made history with his 2,000th career hit, professionally; again dating back to his days with the Yomiuri Giants.
If that wasn’t enough, he made history again on Aug. 5, 2007 at Yankee Stadium vs. the Kansas City Royals – and was in the shadow of another Yankee who had just accomplished a career landmark.
The day after Alex Rodriguez smacked his 500th career home run, Matsui belted his 100th career home run (as a Yankee) in the bottom of the third; a homer off Gil Meche that cleared the wall in right field.
I remember the details of that home run fondly, only because I was in attendance that Sunday afternoon; box seats behind the third base dugout.
Matsui became the first Japanese-born player to reach 100 home runs in MLB, a feat that has only since been matched by current Yankee Ichiro Suzuki (104 home runs).
Matsui celebrated his 34th birthday on June 12, 2008 – and celebrated the best way possible: a grand slam home run. Coincidently, it was the only four runs the Yankees scored, as they went on to beat the Oakland A’s 4-1.
It doesn’t get much better than that. But how does he follow it up on his 35th birthday in 2009?
With a three-run shot. Against the Mets at home, Matsui homered in the sixth inning to give the Yanks a 7-6 lead over their cross-town rivals. The Bombers eventually won on a walk-off error on the part of Luis Castillo – another birthday present Matsui undoubtedly appreciated.
Matsui enjoyed a tremendous amount of success during his final hurrah in the Bronx. After a knee injury forced him out of left field Matsui took on the role of full-time designated hitter, a move that paid off royally for both him and the Yankees.
Comfortably Matsui smacked 28 home runs and drove in 90 runs while batting .274 in ’09, helping lead the Yanks to some big wins throughout the season.
On July 20 vs. the Orioles Matsui ended the game with one swing, crushing a walk-off home run to keep the Yankees’ win streak of four in a row following the All-Star break alive.
He earned the elusive Pepsi Clutch Performer of the Month honor in August, mostly for his mind boggling performance vs. the Red Sox down the stretch and knack for multi-home run games during the month. On Aug. 21 Godzilla homered twice and drove in seven runs on the road vs. Boston on the way to a 20-11 win, becoming only the second player in Yankee history to knock in seven runs in a single game at Fenway Park since Lou Gehrig in 1930.
And he wasn’t done there.
Two days later he once again smacked two home runs in a game, and when he hit his 26th of the season on Sept. 19, he broke the Yankee record for most home runs hit by a designated hitter – a record previously held by Don Baylor.
A banner year like 2009 could only be topped off in one way…
World Series Hero
The Yanks reached the fall classic in 2009 for the first time since Matsui’s first season in the majors in ‘03; a fitting way to conclude his time in New York, ending it the way it began, with a World Series appearance. And lucky for him (and all of us) it ended in much happier fashion.
The Yankees pummeled the Phillies and took the series 4-2 from them – a fall classic stage which allowed Matsui’s star to shine brighter than it ever had.
With an 8-for-13 clip (.615 BA) three home runs, eight RBIs, a double, and a walk, Matsui captured the World Series MVP award. He was the premier hitter in the clinching Game 6 with six runs batted in – the first Yankee since Bobby Richardson (1960) to drive in six runs in a single World Series game, the first full-time DH to capture the MVP of the World Series, and yet again, the first Japanese-born player to win the World Series MVP.
All kinds of history. And Matsui made it all.
A day for the Champs
Matsui left the Yanks after ’09 and headed out west, joining the LA Angels, signing as a free agent. And when the Angels joined the Yankees for their home opener on April 13, 2010 and for their 2009 ring ceremony, it was all love for the reigning World Series MVP.
Sure, he might’ve been wearing a different uniform. He might’ve been in the visiting dugout. He might’ve been an Angel, not a Yankee anymore. But Matsui received a deafening ovation from the Yankee faithful.
Being called to claim his ring, Matsui was embraced by his team – his old team – as the memory of his dominance in the ’09 World Series was not far from everyone’s mind that Tuesday afternoon.
It was an emotional moment for the team, but as a fan – a fan who was fortunate enough to see it live, in-person – it was even more bittersweet. I was happy for Matsui, but at the same time, much like today, it’s sad; knowing such a classy and extraordinary ballplayer is no longer playing the game.
It’s tough to gauge in this day and age whether or not a player is worthy of the Hall of Fame. Those who vote – the writers, I mean – sometimes throw away their votes; don’t care who gets in, suspecting every player of using PEDs.
I’ll go out on a limb and, for now, say Matsui is on the borderline. If you factor in all he accomplished in Japan, and then add it onto what he did in MLB, there’s no doubt he’s locked in.
After all, isn’t it called the NATIONAL Baseball Hall of Fame?
Am I wrong? I mean, it’s not the AMERICAN Baseball Hall of Fame, is it?
Derek Jeter, a no doubt first ballot player, once called Matsui his favorite teammate. Matsui’s numbers speak for themselves, but if you’re voting for the HOF based on class, dignity, and the right way to play the game, Matsui is a first ballot inductee.
If he ever gets the call from Cooperstown, I think we all know which cap Matsui will be wearing on his plaque: one with a proud interlocking NY. Even when he had to trade up his jersey number (55) in 2012 while playing for the Tampa Bay Rays, he chose to wear 35 – in honor of his old Yankee teammate of six years (2003-08), Mike Mussina.
Even when he was away from the Bronx, it is evident the Yanks were always in his heart of hearts.
On behalf of Yankee fans everywhere, THANK YOU HIDEKI! Your contributions to the Yankees and us fans will never be forgotten. You will long live in Yankee lore as one of the best hitters of the last decade, and more importantly the first Japanese player to accomplish so much in Major League Baseball.
I think it’s safe to say you have given a lot of young ballplayers in Japan hope for their future.
Domo arigato, Mr. Matsui. (Bow)
Four years ago this very day – two days before Christmas, 2008 – the Yankees agreed to terms with free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira, having already made agreements with free agent studs CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. By signing all three of them, the Yankees poised themselves for a strong playoff run; one that was capped by a 2009 World Series title.
Four years later on Festivus, or Dec. 23, it’s almost as if the Yanks are living in the Bizarro world. Instead of adding key players, the Yankees seem to be losing them.
Catcher Russell Martin chose the Pittsburgh Pirates on Nov. 29, and just last night, the Yanks’ seemingly only clutch player in October, DH Raul Ibanez, signed back with one of his old teams: the Seattle Mariners.
And now, just this morning, it was reported that free agent right fielder Nick Swisher signed a four year, $56 million deal to play for the Cleveland Indians, a nice early Christmas gift for the tribe.
It was almost common knowledge that Swisher was leaving. The fans didn’t expect him to return, and although I have no way of knowing, I would think the front office didn’t expect him to return, either. After a difficult 2012 postseason, both offensively (5-for-30 at the plate) and defensively (a costly misplay in right field in Game 1 of the ALCS) Swisher’s chances of returning to the Bronx were slim to none.
What strikes me the most is how the Yankees signed back three players who are older – Mariano Rivera (43), Andy Pettitte (40), and Ichiro (39) – but let two young(er) players in Swisher (32) and Martin (29, 30 in February) walk. Yes, they let Ibanez go, who is 40, but he was also basically the only hitter who did anything worthwhile in the postseason, so perhaps it evens out.
Bottom line: when the Yankees are accused of being a so-called “older team,” there’s no defense for it. If Red Sox fans – or Yankee haters anywhere in the world, for that matter – wish to call them the “Bronx Geezers” they are perfectly within their right, only because it’s accurate.
The youngest player the Yanks signed this winter was Kevin Youkilis – who’s 33 and will turn 34 on March 15, before the regular season begins. Add Youkilis to the mix of the 38-year-old Derek Jeter (39 on June 26 next year), the 37-year-old and injured Alex Rodriguez (38 on July 27 next year), and there’s no way around it:
The Yankees are old.
The way I see it, the only way for them to field a productive, young team again, like they did during the dynasty of the late ‘90s, is for them to draft better players (easier said than done, being that the Yanks will never have the first pick overall) – however, they will receive a first-round pick from the Indians because they signed Swisher and he declined the Yankees’ qualifying offer of one year and $13.3 million, an offer the Yankees made him on Nov. 9.
The Yankees get the pick as a result of a rule instituted under the collective bargaining agreement.
They also need to develop the minor leaguers they already have in their system now; groom the “Baby Bombers” to be big leaguers instead of letting their young guys fade away into obscurity down on the farm.
But I digress. Now that he’s officially leaving town, it’s time to say goodbye and thank you to Swisher; remember all the great moments he’s afforded the Yankees and Yankee Universe over the past four years.
Out of the ‘pen…sort of
What sometimes gets lost in the Yankees’ run for the 2009 World Series title is how awful a start they got off to. They were beaten 22-4 in April by the very team Swisher signed with today (the Indians) and in a lot of ways couldn’t buy a win, the Bombers taking their lumps in the early going of a championship season.
On April 13, 2009 – the Yankee bullpen already taxed and in need of assistance – Swisher came in, not from the ‘pen, but like a regular Little Leaguer right from his position in right field, and a tossed a perfect eighth inning on the road vs. the Tampa Bay Rays. It marked the first time Swisher took the mound since he was a freshman in high school.
Swisher was the first Yankee position player to pitch since Wade Boggs came on in relief on Aug. 19, 1997 vs. the Angels.
Manager Joe Girardi laughed about it after the season saying, “You have to wonder why I didn’t bring him in (to pitch) more. Swisher was the only one of our pitchers that didn’t have an ERA.”
September 8 was his date
The Yanks gradually got a lot better following the rough the start in ‘09, winning 103 games when it was all said and done – none of those wins more important than Sept. 8 at home vs. the Rays.
In the bottom of the ninth tied 2-2, Swisher came up and lifted Dan Wheeler’s offering into the seats in right-center field, giving the Yankees a 3-2 win over the Rays, putting them one step closer to their eventual AL East crown.
Exactly a year later to the day, it was the same story, only against a different division rival.
At home vs. the Orioles on Sept. 8, 2010, Swisher once again came up with a chance to end the game, and did so with one swing. Swisher clubbed the ball deep off Koji Uehara, all the way into the visiting bullpen, giving the Yankees yet another 3-2 win – a win that prevented a sweep.
Call it coincidence, freak luck; call it what you will, Swisher had a knack for winning games on Sept. 8.
A World Series Homer
Swisher may not have put together the strongest postseason in 2009 in terms of offensive numbers, but he did manage to do what most players can only dream of doing: he hit a home run in the World Series.
In Game 3, the fall classic knotted at 1-1, Swisher homered to help propel the Yankees to an 8-5 victory over the Phillies, an impressive road win in the hostile environment of Citizen’s Bank Park. The round-tripper was one of only two hits Swisher collected in the World Series, but hey, at least he made it count.
Beating Tampa Bay for Bob Sheppard & “The Boss”
The Yankees suffered two losses off the field in July of 2010. Bob Sheppard, the “voice of God” at Yankee Stadium had passed away on July 11 – and principal owner George Steinbrenner passed two days later on July 13.
The Yankees were off for the All-Star break when Steinbrenner died and when the news broke of Sheppard’s death. The Bombers faced the Rays in their first game back at Yankee Stadium on July 16, almost a must-win game.
After a beautiful pre-game ceremony, which concluded with Mariano Rivera placing flowers on home plate in memory of the fallen Yankee family members, the Yanks fell behind the Rays; trailed 4-3 going into the eighth.
Enter Swisher, who wouldn’t allow the Yanks to go down easy.
In the bottom of the eighth, Swish tied the game with a solo home run, and then ended it in the ninth with a spectacular, sharply-lined RBI single into right field for a 4-3 Yankee victory – one Sheppard and Steinbrenner would be proud of.
As per his classy personality, Swisher dedicated his big hits to the Boss.
“On a day like this when we celebrate his life, got to take him out on a W,” he told the media after the win. “Today was Mr. Steinbrenner’s day. Regardless of the situation, regardless of anything, we went out there and played that game as best as we could for him today.”
Taking out the Red Sox in grand style
When the Yankees trailed 9-0 on April 21 this year on the road vs. the Red Sox, most fans (including myself) had given up hope; the game a lost cause and the afternoon a stinker.
But, as the Yankees learned in 2004, no lead is safe. And the Red Sox learned the same lesson they taught, as the Bombers rallied back from a nine-run deficit.
Once again Swisher proved his value on offense, being at the forefront of the comeback. He smashed a grand slam and a two-run double in the seventh to put the Yankees ahead, 10-9. They added five more runs in the eighth and embarrassed Boston 15-9 for a stunning victory; one that left Red Sox Nation in disbelief.
On Aug. 17 Swisher continued to make the Red Sox collective life miserable.
He smacked two homers on the way to a 6-4 Yankee win over Boston at home; pouring salt in Boston’s wound and adding to forgettable Red Sox season.
To Swisher, at least, the game possessed the atmosphere of a normal, heated Red Sox-Yankees game.
“The way this game started, man, two teams battling it up…it felt just like a Yankee-Red Sox rivalry game.”
On behalf of Yankee fans everywhere THANK YOU Nick Swisher for four fun-loving years of service. The patented “Swisher Salute” to the bleacher creatures in right field during roll call will be sorely missed, as well as your affinity for big hits and ear-to-ear smiles following Yankee victories.
Although your time in New York ended on a sour note – a nasty elimination in Game 4 of the ALCS and a round of the blame game to boot – we truly appreciated everything you did in pinstripes.
Congrats on your lucrative, new deal and going back to your old stomping grounds in Ohio.
Best of luck with the tribe.
In light of the tragic events in Newtown, Conn. this morning – a tragedy that hit rather close to home – I thought it might be nice to blog about something good, or at least go back to Yankee matters. Instead of ending the day on a sad note, it might be nice to write about something positive, because positivity is what we all need right about now. Once again, thoughts and prayers are with those affected here in Newtown.
Within the last 72 hours, the unfathomable has occurred. Longtime Yankee nemesis, third baseman Kevin Youkilis, has jumped ship. The former member of the Red Sox signed a one-year deal valued at $12 million, and will indeed play for the “Evil Empire” in 2013. Youkilis will be filling the void at third base which will be left by an aging and ailing A-Rod, who will not return to the team from rehabbing from his hip surgery until mid-season.
Yes, it’s really happening.
Youkilis joins a number of former Red Sox who have made the switch from Red Sox Nation to Yankee Universe, and even he admitted he was shocked that he’s changing teams – coming to the Yanks being painted so heavily with Red Sox colors. According to Yankee beat writer Bryan Hoch, Youkilis was said to be “humbled” and “amazed.”
It’s important to keep in mind Youkilis was moved to Chicago last season and played for the White Sox before becoming a free agent this off-season, and the Red Sox never made him an offer to return. That might take a little bit of heat off him in the eyes of the Boston fans, but the reaction he receives when the Yankees first visit Fenway Park on July 19 this season will be interesting.
What will also be interesting will be his relationship with (now) teammate Joba Chamberlain.
Youkilis and Chamberlain have a noted past – and by “noted” I mean hostile. Chamberlain has thrown at Youkilis multiple times over the years, and the so-called “Greek god of walks” never took too kindly to it. However, I did read earlier today that Chamberlain has already reached out to Youkilis on the phone – but Youkilis has said he hasn’t had time to return the call.
Now, the Yankee fans can only hope Youkilis will help them, as oppose to punishing them, as he has in the past wearing the Sox; do some great things for them rather than against them. With Boston and Chicago Youkilis smacked 13 lifetime home runs vs. the Bronx Bombers, including one of the loudest blasts this writer has ever heard on April 24, 2009 – when he smashed a walk-off home run over the Green Monster off Damaso Marte; a well-struck shot to lift the Red Sox past the Yankees.
If history shows us anything, this move could be good for the Yankees and has the potential to pay dividends. A few noted former BoSox have gone on to thrive in pinstripes.
It all started with
Yes, the Sultan of Swat. The Colossus of Clout. The King of Crash…and every other one of his nicknames we learned in “The Sandlot.” The Babe brought his power and might to the Yankees, as we all know, after a stint in Boston.
It seemed almost instantly when Ruth joined the Yankees they became relevant. The Bombers won their first World Series in 1923 and the rest is basically history. His presence made the Yankees a better team – and before he got there, he was a member of the Red Sox.
Of course later in the century there was
Boggs brought his six batting titles from Beantown to the Bronx, where he rode off into the sunset in 1996. The one picture that remains printed in everyone’s mind is undoubtedly Boggs on the back of the horse after the World Series that year.
Then after Boggs was
Like Youkilis, Clemens spent time with another team after his time in Boston – the Toronto Blue Jays – before making his debut in New York in 1999. The Rocket accomplished with the Yankees what he couldn’t with the Red Sox: winning the World Series (in ’99 and 2000).
Clemens also captured the AL Cy Young in 2001, and remains the last Yankee to ever win the coveted award (CC Sabathia won the AL Cy in 2007, but as a member of the Cleveland Indians).
It might even make sense for Youkilis to take Clemens’s number, 22. I don’t think there’s a chance they give him number 20, which belonged to Yankee fan-favorite Jorge Posada for 16 years.
Anywho, the next notable BoSock to turn heel was
Or, as the Red Sox fans called him, “Judas DamoNY.”
In making the leap from Boston to New York, Damon had to shave his beard and cut his hair; and it obviously didn’t affect his play on the field. The outfielder gave the Yanks four remarkable years of service, capping it off by stealing the show in the 2009 World Series.
Damon, in one of the most heads-up plays of all-time, stole second base and third base in one deft move, putting himself in scoring position to line the Yanks up for a 7-4 Game 4 win over the Phillies.
There are also a number of other players to go from Boston to New York and vice versa: Derek Lowe, Ramiro Mendoza, Alan Embree, Doug Mientkiewicz, Mark Bellhorn, Mike Myers, Don Baylor…the list can go on and on. Some have made lasting impressions, other haven’t.
Of the players mentioned, Ruth, Mendoza, and Damon are three that have won the World Series with both Boston and New York. Youkilis, a World Champ in 2004 and 2007 with Boston, will look to add his name to that list.
If the history among Ruth, Boggs, Clemens, and Damon is any indication, it’s certainly possible. And from a fan’s perspective, maybe Youkilis can serve as a lightning rod; spark the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, which was in a lot of ways dormant for most of 2011 and all of 2012.
In other news
Ichiro has decided to return to the Yankees, agreeing to come back on a two-year deal worth between $12-13 million.
The Yankee Stadium outfield, through 2014, can be called “Area 31.”
It surprised me to see Ichiro get two years, being 39 years old. The reason may have been because of the Phillies – they might have forced the Yanks’ hands.
From what I gather, Philly was ready to offer Ichiro two years and close to $14 million, probably looking to fill one of their outfield holes. Last year Philadelphia traded away center fielder Shane Victorino to the Dodgers – and now Victorino has signed with Boston for three years.
Lucky the Yanks were able to negotiate with Ichiro and get him back before Philly snagged him, being that Nick Swisher is basically gone and the option of signing Josh Hamilton is off the table. Not that I expected the Yankees to make a run for him, anyway, but nonetheless the option no longer exists with Hamilton’s agreement with the LA Angels yesterday afternoon.
Next year’s Yankee outfield is looking like:
CF Curtis Granderson
LF Brett Gardner RF Ichiro
If nothing else, the Yanks will have an awful lot of speed and athleticism in the outfield.
Right now I’m at a time in my life that can be characterized as a “transition period.” I’ve been on a mad apartment search recently, along with trying to take the next step in my journalism career. For about a month I’ve kind of been “platooning,” if you will (or as I like to think of it, choosing the lesser of two evils); going back-and-forth between my dad’s place in Elmsford, N.Y. – and my mom’s house in Newtown, Conn.
Last night, this morning – and as I’m writing this, in fact – I’m in Newtown.
I woke up at about 9:00 this morning, which surprised me. I was up until the wee hours of the morning; updating the Yankee Yapping Facebook page for the first time in awhile, not needing to be up early. I fell back asleep and woke up around 11 to find out what happened at Sandy Hook.
20 schoolchildren dead at the hands of a gunman, 26 total fatalities.
When the shooting at Columbine in Colorado happened, I was in sixth grade. I was a sophomore in college when a young man at Virginia Tech went on a spree in the spring of 2007, taking the lives of 32 people, including his fellow students. And now, this tragedy – the tragedy of Newtown.
There are a few details about this case that are leaving me in utter disbelief. For one, the location. When the massacre took place at Columbine, I was a lot younger and didn’t think much of it. The shooting transpired somewhere near the Rocky Mountains, thousands of miles from me and my school.
Same story in terms of Virginia Tech. I went to college in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. – the distance between my school and where the shooting occurred not being as far as Colorado, but then again not exactly right down the street, either.
With no exaggeration, the shooting in Newtown unfolded literally minutes away from where I was sleeping; three miles to be exact. It’s terrifying to think this happened at all, let alone so close to home.
What’s also baffling to me is the age of the killer. According to the police officers currently issuing comments, the gunman, being identified at press time as Adam Lanza, was 20. Why would he target an elementary school?
I would think if Lanza, being only a 20-year-old man, were to go on any type of spree he’d almost duplicate the VT shooting; perhaps go after kids his own age. Instead of doing that, like an even bigger coward, he killed defenseless kindergartners.
I am not a psychologist, nor will I ever be one, so there would be no use for me to sit here and attempt to understand or deduce why this young man did what he did this morning. However, I can confidently say this: the man who committed this despicable crime obviously had serious problems – but even so, there’s no excuse for his disgusting actions.
There is never any excuse when children are involved.
The journalist in me also has to call into question the ethics of the media: my fellow press members who covered this tragedy. There was absolutely no reason to get sound bites from the kids in the school – the surviving students who witnessed what happened. If anything, interview the teachers and first responders on the matter.
According to the local news, the children were led out of the school by teachers and police officers, and were told to close their eyes until they got outside, only to avoid the gruesome and nightmarish sight of blood and dead classmates.
After having to endure that, stick to the adults, guys. The kids had been through enough.
Right now I’d like to extend my thoughts and prayers with everyone here in Newtown. As an honorary, or at least part-time resident of this town, my heartfelt condolences go out to the parents and families affected, as well as those 20 innocent children who lost their lives. I know that God has a special place in Heaven for each and every one of them.
As long as I’m sending out thoughts and prayers, I’d also like to take this time to remember Gloria Santiago, who was a dear and best friend of my older sister’s. Gloria passed away last week; she was a HUGE, TRUE BLUE Yankee fan – as a matter of fact, she was buried in a Yankee casket. But more importantly, she was a wonderful girl with a beautiful personality.
I last saw Gloria at my nephew’s christening back in August. She developed a sickness not long after that and before we knew it, she was gone. Especially on a day like today, it’s important to keep in mind how precarious life can be sometimes; how short it really is.
My prayers are with the Santiago family as well as Gloria’s friends. She touched a lot people’s hearts in her life. She will certainly be missed and not forgotten.
Jeesh. Just a bad time we’re living in, I’m afraid.
The Yankees got some good news this week and some bad news.
The good? Crafty veteran Andy Pettitte and the greatest closer of all-time Mariano Rivera will indeed be pitching in the Bronx next season, the Yanks inking one-year deals with both hurlers. Pettitte was signed for $12 million for 2013 while Rivera was locked up for $10 million.
For one more year, the Bronx Bombers will be treated with each pitcher’s services. Yes, good.
The bad news? The Yankees lost their starting catcher, Russell Martin, to free agency last night. Martin agreed to terms with the Pittsburgh Pirates; a deal worth two years, $17 million.
Just like that, the Bronx Bombers are without a viable starting catcher.
It was quite surprising the Yankees didn’t at least pursue Martin in free agency, coming off a year in which he set a career-high in home runs with 21. His batting average (.211) may have been the lowest of his career, but the subpar BA shouldn’t have completely ruined his chances of returning.
Last year Pettitte came back on a dime, only signing for $2.5 million. The 40-year-old lefty was injured most of last season with a fractured ankle, as was the 43-year-old Rivera – who as we all know tore his ACL shagging fly balls on the warning track in Kansas City in May.
Martin, only 29 (although will be 30 on Feb. 15), (in this writer’s opinion) should have, at the very least, been offered something. Perhaps the Yanks could have given Pettitte and Rivera a little less – being that they’ll only be around for one more year, anyway – and reached out to the catcher for a deal.
Now, along with the likelihood of right fielder Nick Swisher not making a comeback and the Yankees needing to fill the void in the corner outfield spot, they will now need to seek an everyday backstop – which they’ll most likely be hard-pressed to do.
Right now their options include signing A.J. Pierzynski, a 35-year-old (36 on Dec. 30) with a history of not being the “nicest kid in class,” so-to-speak; striking a deal with Mike Napoli, the 31-year-old free agent who put up numbers somewhat similar to Martin’s in 2012 (.224 BA, 24 HR, 56 RBI); or just using Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, and/or Austin Romine in 2013.
Stewart served as Martin’s backup last season, mostly working as CC Sabathia’s personal catcher, while Cervelli spent almost the entire season in the minors – not to mention Cervelli has suffered a number of concussions over the course of his young career. Romine also has an injury history and has not played a full Triple-A season his entire career.
Now the course of action is up to the Yankees’ front office; a catcher possibly on the Yankees’ wish list. In the meantime, I’d like to look back on a few of Martin’s best moments in pinstripes. Although he was only a Bomber for two years, he provided the team with jolts and boosts to make them a better ballclub in 2011 and 2012.
A part of history
The Yankees were off to a poor start vs. Oakland on the afternoon of Aug. 25, 2011. They had given the A’s a 7-1 lead by the third inning, the day looking like a lost cause; a stinker.
But Martin came up with a plan.
In the fourth inning he cut the lead down to 7-2 with a solo home run. Robinson Cano followed in the fifth with a grand slam to chop the lead to 7-6. Then in the sixth, Martin came up with the bases chucked and did Cano one better, crushing a grand slam of his own for his second homer in the game, giving the Yankees a 10-7 lead.
You would think the grand ol’ day was over, but there was more to come.
After Martin added another run on an RBI single as part of a six run seventh, Curtis Granderson smacked the Yankees’ third grand slam of the game in the eighth, the Yankees going absolutely wild on the way to a 22-9 win over the A’s. It was the first time a team had homered with the bases loaded in a single game three times in MLB history.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Martin told the media when it was over. “This game has been played for a long time. Pretty much everything has already happened. I’m waiting to see who’s going to hit four – I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen, but we’ll see. Three is pretty cool.”
Helping spoil the centennial
On April 20 the Yankees visited Fenway Park, joining the Red Sox in celebrating 100 years at 4 Yawkey Way in Boston. After a rather bizarre toast by former Red Sox Kevin Millar and Pedro Martinez, the Yanks got to work, putting some runs on the board and halting the BoSox behind the stellar pitching of Ivan Nova.
The Yanks basically had the game in the bag during the top of the sixth, up 5-2, but Martin added a run for good measure. The catcher clobbered a pitch off Clay Buchholz over the Green Monster – and over the Sports Authority billboard – a solo home run to give the Yanks a 6-2 lead to finish off the Red Sox.
Martin had already earned his pinstripes as a Yankee in 2011 when, towards the end of the season after a Yankee win over Boston, he said,
“We enjoy giving the Red Sox a hard time!”
Winning with the bat – and the arm
Martin had a rough go of it the first half of the 2012 season, only batting .179 before the All-Star break. Manager Joe Girardi even pulled him aside and spoke to him about his struggles, hoping his pep talk might turn his fortunes around.
And in the first game back from the All-Star break, he proved the tables had in fact been turned.
Against the Angels at home on July 13, Martin knocked in the go-ahead run with an eighth-inning RBI single. But his biggest contribution was yet to come.
With the Yanks leading 6-5 in the ninth, Howard Kendrick attempted to advance to second base on a ball in the dirt that almost got by Martin. But the catcher recovered nicely; picked up the ball and threw out Kendrick to end the game, propelling the Bombers to a win.
Sometimes it only takes one good game to give a player confidence going forward –and the solid effort certainly did give Martin confidence going into the second half of the season.
“I’m starting to feel a little bit better about myself,” he told the media afterward. “And that’s never a bad thing.”
A Twitter shout-out
This is more of a personal moment, but I’ll throw it in, nonetheless.
In April of 2011, Martin conducted a Twitter Q & A. Hoping to get some recognition, I sent him a tweet question. Little did I know he would respond to me! (Note: he answered me back when my handle was @OriginalAJ615)
(Follow me on Twitter @AJ_Martelli)
Walking off a hero
Twice this year, Martin made the most of clutch situations.
On June 10 after Rafael Soriano had blown a save vs. the Mets at home, Martin brought his big stick to the plate. Tied 4-4 in the ninth, he hammered a pitch off Jon Rauch deep to left field for a home run to not only lift the Yanks to a 5-4 victory over the Metropolitans, but a Subway Series sweep of their cross-town rivals.
Three months and 11 days later, it was the same story. This time however, vs. the Oakland A’s.
Tied 1-1 in the ninth on Sept. 21, Martin pounded another pitch to left; another solo, walk-off home run to beat the A’s 2-1 with one swing.
It’s safe to say Martin knew how to play the role of hero in 2012.
Leading the way in Game 1
The Yankees hadn’t beaten a team not named the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS since 2001, when they beat the A’s in five games. This year they were up against a familiar foe, the division rival Baltimore Orioles, in the first round of the playoffs, looking to finally quell a team other than the Twins in round one.
And it was Martin that set the table, playing a huge role in getting the Yanks out of the funk.
Knotted 2-2 in the ninth, the catcher broke the tie with a most impressive home run off Baltimore closer Jim Johnson, who had saved 51 games during the regular season – which led the majors. Martin’s round-tripper started a five-run rally for New York, as the Yanks went on to take Game 1 from the O’s, 7-2.
Yet it wasn’t just his offense that proved to be the difference.
Martin also made two remarkable plays on defense behind the plate in the fifth, preventing a pair of runs from coming in. It seemed he was just grateful to help the team win, no matter how.
“Whether I help the team win offensively or defensively,” he said, “I am happy.”
On behalf of Yankee fans everywhere, THANK YOU RUSSELL for the two years of service.
Best of luck in Pittsburgh. Tell A.J. Burnett and Jeff Karstens we say hi.