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When I was a kid I had an Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez poster hanging on my wall. To me he was one of the most unique pitchers the Yankees had, with his unorthodox leg kick and wild arm angles. The fact that he dominated opponents and led the Yankees to victory countless times also made me take a liking to him.
This past Tuesday, ESPN ran its 30 for 30 piece on El Duque and his brother Livan Hernandez entitled Brothers in Exile. There was so much more to the two brothers from Cuba that met the eye. For anyone that missed it or didn’t care to watch it, here’s (sort of) a BuzzFeed style article filled with did-you-knows and tidbits from the documentary.
The film was jam-packed with the Hernandez brothers’ story, so bear with me in terms of the length of this article and such. Maybe it’ll be so good BuzzFeed will pick it up and hire me, and I’ll get one of those special blue check boxes next to my Twitter name…
Dare to dream.
Anyway, here goes.
1) Orlando and Livan Hernandez are half-brothers
They share the same father, but not the same mother. Their father was a semi-pro pitcher, so you have to figure the baseball genes were passed down. Orlando is 10 years older than Livan, and the two didn’t meet until Livan was five years old.
2) The Duke of Havana
Long before Orlando Hernandez was fooling MLB hitters he was a stud in his native land, Cuba. He racked up 126 wins in the Cuban league throughout his career. His winning percentage was .728, good enough to give him the record for highest winning percentage by a pitcher – a record that still stands today in Cuba.
Orlando pitched for the Industriales, a team much like the Yankees. The Industriales had the best players, were tremendously successful, and maintained a huge fan base. What’s more, Orlando pitched for the Cuban national team from 1988-95. During that span, the team was undefeated in international play.
Becoming a superstar, as it was, Orlando went to visit Livan in school in later years. Livan’s classmates went insane; “fan-boyed” for his brother, because he was the best pitcher in Cuba.
He was the Duke of Havana. El Duque.
3) Times got tough
Cuba was economically dependent on the Soviet Union up until 1990, when the Soviet Union dissolved. Fidel Castro, the Cuban President, declared a “special period” on the island, although the only aspect of this period was poverty – and there is nothing special about that.
The special period didn’t just impact regular folks; baseball players were affected too. Orlando was paid three Cuban pesos per game, and if he played a doubleheader, he was only compensated for one game.
“That was tough,” El Duque described.
To combat poverty, ballplayers strived to play for the international team. That way, they could compete overseas and sell their jerseys for money, as well as accept gifts from fans in private. Players had to accept favors privately, because taking from fans was not permitted.
Resources were so scarce that Livan had to take soap and shampoo from hotels to bring back home. By 1994 the special period morphed into an economic crisis. Tons of people started leaving Cuba on makeshift rafts and boats, in hopes of reaching the United States.
4) Defection by way of Joe Cubas and Juan Ignacio Hernandez
A man by the name of Joe Cubas was the agent that recruited players to defect to the United States – and yes, it is indeed ironic that his last name is Cubas and he dealt with Cuban ballplayers.
His cousin, Juan Ignacio Hernandez was his helper, and would follow the Cuban national team around the world to scout potential defectors. El Duque said, “The thought of playing baseball in the majors was intriguing. But the thought of defecting also scared me.”
Orlando’s family was a priority. He had a wife and two daughters who he’d lose if he defected.
“I didn’t want to do it because I have two daughters. It was hard, it really was.”
Livan on the other hand was single and was growing tired of the poor conditions in Cuba.
5) Livan defects
In 1995 Livan was pitching for the Cuban national team. The Cubans went over to Japan to work out with the Tokyo Giants; Livan spent 45 days there. Of those 45 days (along with baseball) he spent 20 collecting soap and shampoo to bring back home. Security told him, though, that if they found anything that he was trying to sneak back to the island in his suitcase, he’d no longer be allowed to travel. He had to throw away all the soap and shampoo he’d gathered – which made him angry.
“I don’t want to go through this, anymore,” he said.
On the next trip – which was to Monterrey, Mexico – Livan started the process of defecting. He obtained Cubas’s phone number from a woman asking for autograph, which just goes to show how strict conditions were. Everything had to be done discreetly.
Livan was picked up by Juan Ignacio Hernandez in Monterrey and went to the Dominican Republic from there. In the D.R. all he had to do was gain residency in order to become an MLB free agent. He did just that, and was on the board.
6) Orlando’s thoughts
Livan was free; out of Cuba and about to be taken by an MLB team. He told his brother what was happening and that his mind was made up, to which El Duque responded,
“Don’t worry. I support you no matter what. If that’s what you want to do, go for it.”
7) Livan went to the Marlins, but other teams wanted him
In the Dominican Republic Livan was showcased and sought by the (then) Florida (now) Miami Marlins. A few other teams were watching him, namely the Yankees (shocking, right?) and the Toronto Blue Jays.
Coming from Cuba, the Marlins made the most sense. Miami is a Spanish-speaking city and Livan would likely be most comfortable there. The right-hander signed for $6.5 million with a $250,000 signing bonus. At the time it was the biggest contract given to a Cuban baseball player.
8) After landing the deal, Livan went splurging
Livan never had money before. When he came into the big bucks on account of the contract, Livan bought cars and lived the lifestyle most young, rich and foolish people live; spending money on expensive material. He also started gaining weight; eating at fast food joints such as McDonald’s.
The Marlins kept Livan in the minors for the bulk of the 1996 season as not only way of getting him to shape up, but also a way to spread some discipline on him.
It worked. Livan eventually wised up and everything panned out for him.
9) Back at home, things got unfair
The Cuban government began to feel Orlando might follow in Livan’s footsteps and defect, even though Orlando had a family and made it clear he was afraid to defect. It didn’t matter. He was harassed by Colonel Mesa – the man in charge of security for the national team.
El Duque told Mesa he didn’t support his brother’s decision (in contrast to what he told Livan) but nonetheless he respected him.
After that, Orlando started to suspect something was up.
Juan Ignacio Hernandez cut ties with Cubas, and got arrested for holding false travel documents, hoping to use them to get Orlando to defect. Police found the fake visas and they turned their attention to El Duque.
In fact, they brought him in and interrogated him.
The government wanted Orlando to testify against Juan Ignacio Hernandez, but he wouldn’t do it. Yet, even without El Duque’s testimony, they sentenced Juan Ignacio Hernandez to 15 years behind bars.
El Duque was also sentenced, but not to serve prison time. He was given a lifetime ban from Cuban baseball, essentially for not doing anything.
One cop even went as far as asking him for identification while he was sitting on his own front porch. When Orlando asked why he needed ID, the rude officer said,
“You used to be El Duque, now you’re a nobody.”
10) He wasn’t making a living playing ball – but he still played
Orlando’s feelings were not just hurt; they were shredded and left for dead. When he was banished, he vowed that he would play baseball again. It didn’t matter if “he was 65 or in Haiti,” he said he was going to play baseball again no matter what.
Since he couldn’t step foot on an official field, like the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana, El Duque played in unofficial pickup games on Cuban sandlots.
Orlando was basically the Benny “the jet” Rodriguez of his group: the best of all of them, who went on to play bigger and better games, as Scotty Smalls described it in the movie. El Duque didn’t pitch in these pickup games because it wouldn’t have been fair to the other players, but he hit and played the field.
11) Livan makes his mark
In 1997 Livan got the call to the show – and he was impressive, to say the least. He started the year with a 9-0 record, which was the best start from a rookie pitcher since Whitey Ford in 1950. The Marlins captured the National League Wild Card in ’97, and Livan pitched brilliantly.
Brilliant, in fact, was the operative word. In Game 5 of the National League Championship Series he went the distance and pitched the Marlins to a 2-1 win, striking out 15 Atlanta Braves along the way. He took advantage of home plate umpire Eric Gregg’s Grand Canyon-like strike zone. Livan’s 15 strikeouts in Game 5 set an NLCS record for most Ks in a single game.
He had also picked up the W in Florida’s 5-2 victory in Game 3. When it was all said and done, he was named NLCS Most Valuable Player.
It only got better for Livan in the ’97 World Series. He won Game 1, won Game 5 and was subsequently named World Series MVP. In hoisting the trophy over his head, Livan declared,
“I love you, Miami!”
12) A thought provoking World Series win
El Duque watched most of Livan’s excellence from back in Cuba. He was proud his brother was succeeding, but felt bittersweet about it. Orlando thought he could’ve been in the same position Livan was in: playing baseball freely.
He listened to Game 7 of the World Series on the radio, and rejoiced when the Marlins walked off to win the title. But after Livan became a winner, El Duque’s thought process changed; he considered defecting himself.
13) Help from an unlikely source
Cuba’s relations with the Catholic Church improved in ’97. Pope John Paul II visited the island and President Castro allowed the Christmas holiday to legally be celebrated in Cuba for the first time since 1960.
El Duque decided that, since everyone would be preoccupied with the holiday, he would stage his escape on Christmas night; the members of the Coast Guard wouldn’t be as alert and he’d be able to narrowly depart. His best friend Osmany Lorenzo helped orchestrate his flight from the island.
But, give an assist to the Pope.
14) Nerves were in the way
Just because El Duque decided he was fleeing Cuba didn’t make the idea of defecting any less scary. A study showed that between 1959 and 1994 an estimated 16,000 people died at sea attempting to leave Cuba for the United States.
Orlando could’ve made it to the U.S.A. or he could’ve become just another statistic.
He also had to leave his mother and two daughters behind, which pained him.
15) Not an easy exit
On Christmas night ’97 Orlando, his (now second) wife Noris, Lorenzo, and a smattering of other escapees set off for Caibarien – a city in Cuba where many defectors went to try and leave the island. They left Caibarien in a small fishing boat at 7 a.m. on Dec. 26, and had to hit the deck as to not be seen upon departure.
If hiding face down in order to leave the island wasn’t bad enough, the motor on the boat stalled not long after they left, and thus the owner of the boat wanted to turn back. El Duque protested, and the man swam into the water to fix the engine. After he managed to correct the malfunction, they continued on.
Jeesh. Not as simple as just speed-boating away.
16) Like Robinson Crusoe, it was as primitive as can be
The boat took El Duque and the group of runaways to a Bahamian island called Anguilla Cay. There they were to await another boat that was to come and ferry them to the U.S.A.
Seemingly everything was working out, as the first part of the plan had been executed, but they weren’t in the clear just yet. The second boat never came. The group was basically stuck, Gilligan’s Island style waiting for help that wasn’t showing up. El Duque’s wife Noris even noticed makeshift crosses on the island – figuring they were graves.
People had come to Anguilla Cay and never left. The thought struck terror into Orlando and everyone involved. Four days passed before the Coast Guard discovered them and brought them to Nassau, Bahamas.
17) More help
If you were a Cuban refugee, the Bahamas were not where you wanted to be. Cuba had a treaty with the Bahamas stating all refugees in the Bahamas were to be extradited back over to Cuba. When the Coast Guard brought El Duque to the Bahamas, they arrested him.
But he used his phone call wisely.
He dialed up Cubas, who was able to help him. He set up a press conference on Orlando’s behalf, and El Duque finally got to tell his side of the story to the media and the world; that he was trying to reach the United States in hopes of obtaining the freedoms and rights that were stolen from him in Cuba.
By Cubas’s doing, Orlando and his wife were approved for visas. He made sure Lorenzo, his friend, was approved for one as well. From there El Duque gained residency in Costa Rica, thus making him eligible to become an MLB free agent.
Just like Livan, El Duque was set up. But what team would get his services?
18) The big deal
Scouts from multiple MLB teams attended an El Duque tryout staged by Cubas. Orlando wasn’t particularly lighting up the radar guns, topping out around 88-90 mph, but the fact that he wasn’t throwing hard didn’t negate his value.
Gordon Blakeley, a scout for the Yankees, took an interest in him. However, General Manager Brian Cashman was a bit iffy about signing him, coming off a bust in the form of inking Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu. Blakeley assured him not to be afraid to go after him – and added if the Yankees didn’t grab El Duque, they could’ve been missing out on a potential Cy Young Award winner.
El Duque proclaimed his Yankee fandom, and when the Bombers offered him four years and $6.6 million, he gladly took it.
19) Reunited and it feels so good
When everything fell into place for El Duque, he eventually reconnected with Livan. They attended a press conference together, and when they saw each other they embraced. They cried tears of joy. They had a Kodak moment, if you will.
One reporter asked what kind of advice Livan would give Orlando, now that they were both major leaguers living in freedom. Livan’s answer:
“Stay away from McDonald’s!”
20) The Duke of New York
On June 3, 1998 Orlando made his MLB debut at Yankee Stadium. He was nervous, but when he looked up to the stands walking in from taking his warm ups in the bullpen – and saw Cuban flags fluttering around in the stadium’s upper deck – he calmed down. The show of support even brought tears to his eyes.
The first batter he faced in MLB was Quinton McCracken of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. El Duque pitched seven innings, and puzzled every hitter he faced, giving up just one earned run on five hits. He walked two and struck out seven on the way to his first big league win, the Yanks pounding Tampa Bay 7-1.
“He’s a warrior,” Livan said of his brother’s first MLB outing. “He proved it in that game.”
21) Not a simple catch
Jorge Posada mostly caught El Duque in 1998. And in looking at his record and ERA on paper, one would think they had an easy go of it most of the time when they went to work: Orlando finished 1998 with a 12-4 clip and an earned run average of 3.13.
Yet, much like El Duque’s path to the US, it wasn’t smooth sailing through calm seas.
“He wasn’t easy to catch,” Posada said, adding Orlando would shake him off a lot. “I’d go to the mound … Orlando, what do you want to throw?
“I called for the fastball twice and you said no both times!”
Apparently El Duque didn’t want to throw a fastball when Posada called it. He wanted to throw a fastball when a hitter least expected it, to get inside his head.
Very tactical, El Duque was. His numbers and approach gave him a fourth place finish, in fact, for ’98 American League Rookie of the Year.
22) Like brother like brother: playoff hero
The Yankees won a record 114 regular season games in 1998, and made it to the ALCS, where they were pitted up against the team that had eliminated them the year before, the Cleveland Indians. Down two games to one, they turned to El Duque in Game 4, who came up with a spectacular performance of seven shutout innings to lead the Yankees to a 4-0 win, keeping the pinstripers from going down 3-1 in the series.
Unlike Livan, Orlando didn’t capture the LCS MVP in ’98 – that honor went to David Wells. But El Duque did pick up the award the next year, winning the ALCS MVP in 1999 after the Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox in five.
El Duque went on to start Game 2 of the ’98 fall classic against the San Diego Padres. The Yankees were up 1-0 in the series thanks to some grand Game 1 heroics off the bat of Tino Martinez. The Cuban import made sure the Yanks stayed on point, tossing seven innings and letting up just one earned run on six hits.
He walked three and fanned seven on the way to a 9-3 Yankee win.
“He looked like a veteran of 15, 20 years,” teammate Mariano Rivera said.
23) Family first
The Yankees continued their assault on the Padres in Game 3 of the World Series, teetering on the brink of a world title. Yet El Duque’s thoughts were elsewhere. He couldn’t get his daughters, his ex-wife and his mother off his mind, thinking about their hardships back home.
Then finally, he got his chance to reunite with his family.
A woman by the name of Pamela Falk lobbied to bring his daughters, his mother and his daughters’ mother to the states. Falk used the positive relations between Cuba and the Catholic Church to her advantage, reaching out to New York Cardinal Archbishop John O’Connor.
After his conversation with Falk, O’Connor spoke to President Castro about the possibility of El Duque’s family coming to New York. Long story short Castro obliged, and even spoke highly of Orlando, calling him “a good muchacho; one of the glories of Cuba.”
And the rest was history. El Duque’s family was cleared to embark for the Big Apple.
24) A reunion in Teterboro, then a parade down the canyon of heroes
The Yankees swept the Padres in the 1998 World Series, giving the franchise its 24th world championship in history. El Duque found out his family was coming the night the Yanks clinched the series.
Doesn’t get much better than that, does it?
The next night his family landed at the Teterboro airport in New Jersey. El Duque walked right up the runway, to the plane to greet his family. He said he wasn’t nervous, just excited; he hadn’t seen his girls in about a year.
“I’m complete,” he said, embracing his daughters on the steps of the plane. “Finally happy.
His daughters then rode with him in the victory parade in New York City the following day.
“During the parade he was so happy that his family was there to celebrate with him,” Posada described. “He was so emotional during that time; we won but more importantly his family was there.”
His wife Noris couldn’t believe toilet paper rained down from the skyscrapers into the streets of New York – being that in Cuba they didn’t even have toilet paper, whereas in New York it was being thrown from windows.
When the Yankees reached City Hall, El Duque made the brotherly connection:
“I just want to tell you … Last year my brother shouted ‘I love you, Miami!’ And this year I declare, I love you, New York!”
Livan went on to say,
“There are players with 20-year careers who never won the World Series. But my brother and I did.”
25) Never going back
Both Livan and Orlando went on to have careers in MLB that anyone would sign up for. El Duque won three more world titles (two more with the Yankees, 1999-2000; 2005 with the Chicago White Sox) while Livan pitched in over 500 games and became a two-time All-Star.
Both are retired now, but maintain that sibling love. They live near each other in Miami, and both are doing well these days with their families. They can sit on the porch on hot summer nights and smoke fine Cuban cigars together, and share life stories from here on out; reflect on the good ol’ days pitching in the big leagues.
Oh, and neither has since gone back to Cuba – and they’ll never have to.
The Boston Red Sox are your 2013 World Series Champions. And in case you haven’t heard, just look to your left. Or your right. Or up. Or down. You haven’t been able to look in any direction without seeing or hearing about “Boston Strong” these past few days, and not one to be a sore sport, congratulations to the Red Sox.
The team that wins the World Series is the best team, and there’s no doubt Boston put the best team in baseball on the field in 2013, capping a tremendous turnaround. Any Yankee fan or Red Sox hater would clearly look like an idiot trying to deny the resiliency, power, and fortitude the BoSox put forth this year.
Boston winning the World Series doesn’t bother me. However, there is an issue that has gotten underneath my skin, not just as a Yankee fan, but as a baseball fan.
Since the Red Sox clinched the title last Wednesday, the Twitter and Facebook feeds of MLB Network, MLB, and ESPN have gone absolutely berserk. Each social media contingent has gone fawning over Boston’s World Series victory – almost to the point of absurdity.
Sure, there was bound to be a lot of chatter on social media the night of and the day after Boston beat St. Louis in Game 6. That’s acceptable and inevitable. Yet now, some four (nearly five) days after the fall classic has ended, social media is still abuzz with Red Sox pictures, posts and praise.
It’s funny. I do not remember the San Francisco Giants receiving this much laud days after winning it all last year. In 2011 I do not recall the Cardinals being shoved in the MLB fan base’s collective face so strongly.
Even in 2009, the Yankees were not worshipped this much by MLB and ESPN. It’s almost as if everyone (running these social media sites) believes the 2013 Red Sox represented the second coming of Christ. In fact, I’m not even positive the New York Giants received this much adulation from the world in the days following their upset of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42.
We understand. We comprehend. We get it. The Red Sox won. Point taken.
Probably the cheesiest picture and aspect of it all was the Twitter account I came across representing the World Series trophy. Yes, a Twitter account made for the World Series trophy. The “trophy” sent out a picture of itself with a fake beard on it, coinciding with the Red Sox trademark, scraggly facial hair this season.
Could you get any tackier, or any more shallow, MLB?
I also found it quite ironic that, on ESPN Baseball Tonight’s Facebook page, posted was a photo of Boston celebrating. Adjacent to it was a story with an attached picture of Alex Rodriguez, posing the question, “when his career is over, will Alex Rodriguez have been bad for baseball?”
It should come as no shock. Ever since 2004, a lot of fans have been under a well-founded impression that ESPN does the Red Sox bidding. Something like this only helps prove the point.
When Boston swept Colorado in 2007, it was much easier to take, at least for me. I was a junior at Mercy College in New York with no Facebook and no Twitter. I had no interest in watching Boston win, and only watched briefly during Game 4 when Rodriguez opted out of his contract, a few short innings before Boston went on to win the title.
The Red Sox clinched the ’07 World Series on a Sunday night. With an early Monday morning class, I didn’t watch any TV; I was not subjected to the agony of watching the Red Sox dog pile, or the pain of the Boston champagne party.
The only tidbit I heard from anyone in 2007 – on Boston’s World Series victory – was from a professor, when I arrived at school that Monday. Wearing my Yankee jacket, the prof spotted me with a (bleep)-eating grin and remarked,
“Yankees, huh? I’m from Boston. A Red Sox fan. I’m having a good day today!”
I forced a laugh and replied, “Yeah, man. Live it up.”
That was it. Other than that, I heard absolutely nothing about it.
Fast forward to 2013 and it’s a totally different story. The advent of Facebook and Twitter did all but whack me over the head with a “Boston Strong” sign. The posts have gotten way out of hand and taking it as far as creating a Twitter account for the trophy is downright ridiculous.
This year took winning the World Series to a new atrocious level – and I mean a whole new level. Boston won. Congratulations Red Sox Nation.
Now, can we “take it down to about a 4” in terms of glorifying the Red Sox?
We can only hope the Yankees are not visiting Fenway Park when the Red Sox receive their rings next season. The Yanks had to suffer in 2005 (for the ’04 ceremony), the least the schedule maker can do is keep them away from Fenway for the 2013 ring party.
Then again, looking back on all these tweets and posts, MLB just might give us Yankee fans one final kick in the face for good measure, and schedule the ring ceremony on a day the Yankees are in Beantown.
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.
I have been told in life there are three types of people: those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happened.
As a current high school sports reporter and MLBlogger trying to take the next step in his career, I’m at the point where I want to make it happen. And what I have in mind might provide me with that chance.
Recently I was tossing ideas around in my head, thinking of companies to apply to while job hunting, and I somehow managed to venture over to the YES Network’s career page. In the past I’ve checked out the YES Network’s career page, but there was never anything listed. This time was a little different; there was one job posted:
Social Media Specialist.
As soon as I noticed the listing, I jumped on it. I tweaked my resume, pieced together an appropriate, well-written cover letter, and gathered the right material together to apply for the job – the right material basically being proof of all the times YES has used my insight via social media on its TV shows.
On May 8, 2010 YES used a comment I posted on its official Facebook page for the “Extra Innings” postgame show. There were no words to describe my excitement level, seeing my name and comment on TV when it first happened.
Fast forward to April 10, 2011. I wrote in another Facebook comment, and once again YES used my name and my words on “Extra Innings.”
June 9, 2012, same thing.
All of this YES Network social media craze reached new heights on Aug. 6 this year when YES actually used my question during the “YES Network Games,” a contest designed for viewers to tweet in trivia questions with the commentators trying to answer them.
After my name appeared, a few of my friends attempted to stage a Twitter hashtag rally entitled, #HireAJMartelli.
The YES Network should already know (just based on the history) how finely tuned my skills are when it comes to social media. In fact ESPN should also have the same idea, considering two of my comments made it onto the exclusive Baseball Tonight show during the “Chatter Up” segment in 2008 and 2009.
It’s also not as if I’m an uneducated, inexperienced stranger. My past work in other media outside of social media speaks for itself. If I could show something to the YES Network right now, this would be it; some highlights of my young career:
- B.S. in journalism from Mercy College (class of 2010) where I served for two years as the sports editor of the Mercy student newspaper. The Mercy student paper won two New York Press Association awards while I served as sports editor, and I was awarded two Quill Awards (2009, ’10) for sports reporting, given to me by Mercy’s media studies department.
- Interviewed former Yankee and current YES personality John Flaherty while at Mercy and wrote a feature story about his career for the paper.
- Interviewed Brian Sweeney, a Major League relief pitcher who had faced the Yankees weeks before I conducted the interview.
- Worked for the Hudson Valley Renegades in 2010, assisting with baseball operations.
- Went on to cover the 2012 Hudson Valley Renegades this past season. The ‘Gades captured the New York-Penn League Championship, beating the Tri-City Valley Cats. For their successful and winning campaign, the Renegades were voted the 2012 Minor League Baseball team of the year.
- Interviewed two-time Super Bowl Champ and MVP Eli Manning at the sixth annual Guiding Eyes for the Blind Golf Classic this year.
- Have worked for the past two years (and continue to work) as a high school sports reporter. To coincide with the Yankee motif, one of my favorite times covering a high school game was sitting next to Bernie Williams, covering his daughter’s basketball game this past February. I even wrote an OP/ED that ran in the paper about how interesting it was, sitting next to a Yankee legend while working.
But I think what puts it all over the top for me is what you’re reading right now. Yankee Yapping has been lauded by MLB. It has been ranked in the top three MLBlogs and featured multiple times; it has garnered a solid amount of fanfare since I launched it in July, 2009.
The bottom line is, I have done a lot of work and paid a lot of dues. And now, if there is a chance to move up the ladder, I’d like to take it.
To anyone reading this with a Twitter page, and would like to help, tweet the link to this blog to @YESNetwork and help #HireAJMartelli.
Together, we can make it happen. Not watch it happen, or wonder what happened.
In the meantime, I have high school ice hockey to cover this weekend after the holiday. And if you were to ask me what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving, it’s having a job in the print media field, covering sports. No matter what level it happens to be on.
On May 20, 1927, a fight was held at Yankee Stadium. Jack Sharkey vs. Jack Dempsey. Joe Humphreys, the ring announcer, came to the center of the ring and asked for silence.
He had no megaphone, and no microphone, but he screamed at the audience to quiet down.
“May I have your attention? Silence please! Silence please!”
After a few more times, the audience finally quieted down.
“Ladies and gentlemen, young Charles Lindbergh is in the air. May God save him for a safe flight. Bow your head in prayer.”
After a moment of silence, the capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium said, in unison, “Amen.”
I first heard this rather unique story told by Bert Randolph Sugar, a renowned sports historian, writer, author, journalist, and analyst. Sunday evening ESPN reported Sugar, 75, passed away from cardiac arrest and heart complications.
The news of Sugar’s passing in a lot of ways shook me up. He was a colorful reporter, and a well-spoken individual. Sugar’s forte, or his passion if you will, was boxing. Typically seen with his trademark cigar, he was probably the best writer ever when it came to reporting on action inside the squared circle, as evidenced by his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005.
But writing and reporting about boxing wasn’t all he could do from a sports journalism standpoint. Sugar had such range, being able to talk about and analyze sports other than boxing.
As a matter of fact, Sugar wrote a baseball book and even co-authored a book about pro wrestling. A wealth of sports knowledge and a well-respected historian, Sugar will be sorely missed.
There were just so many things that made him an elite, top-notch sports writer.
As a young journalist, cutting my teeth into the business, Sugar has left me a wonderful example of what a sports writer should be. The ability to story-tell, range, and knowledge are three essential skills that are basically must-haves for all sports writers, and there’s no question Sugar possessed each of them.
The media studies department at my alma mater, Mercy College, holds an award ceremony called the Quill Awards at the end of every academic year. Typically at the Quills, a Mercy alumnus is given an award, a journalist in the field receives a special recognition, and students in the department are rewarded for their hard work throughout the school year.
I served two years as sports editor of The Impact, Mercy’s student newspaper. Because of that service, I received the Quill for sports reporting in 2009 and the year I graduated, 2010.
The second time I was given the award (which also happened to be about a month before I graduated) for my work as far as sports reporting, it felt good to hear my journalism professor acknowledge my dedication. He announced to everyone in attendance at the ceremony that I would be “a sports writer you will be hearing about.”
And in a sense, I have gotten my name out there. At least a little bit.
ESPN has featured my insight on their “Baseball Tonight” show multiple times, the YES Network has put some of my thoughts on their “Extra Innings” postgame show, and even MLB has showcased Yankee Yapping on its main page.
I had the chance to interview former baseball coach Rick Wolff, who is the son of former Yankee announcer Bob Wolff – the famed announcer who called Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. In fact, it was Mr. Wolff that encouraged me to start my own blog, putting the idea of Yankee Yapping in my head.
Recently, I had the chance to cover a high school basketball game sitting next to Yankee legend Bernie Williams – and got to chit-chat with him watching his daughter play ball.
If I had to sum it all up in one word, to this point: blessed. I personally know sports writers who have graduated from college that are struggling greatly to kick-start their careers, so taking into consideration everything I have accomplished thus far, I truly believe “blessed” is the correct word to use.
Either “blessed” or maybe just “lucky.”
Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren once said, “The front page chronicles man’s defeats. The sports page chronicles man’s triumphs.”
Sugar made his whole life chronicling man’s triumphs – which is why I think I love the sports writing business so much. I take so much pride in attending games and writing about the swagger of individual players and teams.
I’ve had quite a few people use certain adjectives to describe my writing. An old friend once called it “amazing” and “incredible.”
As nice as that is to hear, I look at Sugar’s work and a lot of the other writers out there, and the same logic repeats in my mind:
“I may be good, but it’s going to be awhile before I get up to that level.”
And it is my hope that one day I am at the level of a Bert Sugar, because when it was all said and done for him, he was one of the most respected, renowned, and well-loved sports pundits in the world. For his intelligence and wide array of sports knowledge, he will never be forgotten – at least not in this writer’s mind.
Rest in Peace Bert Randolph Sugar (1937-2012)
In college I learned a lot about feature stories. If you are not familiar with them or if you are unfamiliar with the journalistic term, feature stories are basically a break from the hard news; a look at people’s lives without the craziness of what is happening at that moment. They can be interesting, unique, and moving, if written or conveyed properly.
Tonight ESPN’s series E:60 began its new season. The show airs every Tuesday night and it is basically a program about feature stories; a break from SportsCenter and the game recaps with a focus on different athletes and their personal triumphs and tragedies.
On tonight’s season premiere, my eyes were opened – and eventually swelled. ESPN did an investigative and gripping piece on Christina-Taylor Green, the 9 year-old girl who was killed in Tucson, AZ on Jan. 8 of this year.
I didn’t realize until tonight that Christina was the granddaughter of Dallas Green, manager of the Yankees in 1989. Green also managed the Philadelphia Phillies to their first World Series in 1980.
Christina was born on Sept. 11, 2001, one of the worst days in American history. Her parents said she was a “glimmer of hope” in the wake of such tragedy; out of the worst day in America’s history came their sparkling little girl.
Christina enjoyed baseball and she was very close with her Little League teammates. I suppose she had to be, considering her background. There was only one other girl on her team, 8 year-old Mae Sinclair. Even as a girl, she had the respect of all her male teammates, and she never thought of herself of as a female ballplayer – just a ballplayer.
When she died, at the hand of a sick gunman who was looking to assassinate Senator Gabrielle Giffords, everyone around her seemed to be impacted in such a major way. Although I am not a parent myself, I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to lose a child at such a young age. Her grandfather seemed devastated and heartbroken while her young teammates expressed how sad they were, not to be playing with her this year.
“It feels good to be playing baseball again, but without her it’s a little bit lonely,” remarked one of her teammates.
Another said, “I think that it’s just sad that she’s not here anymore.”
The sincerity in the eyes of these young ballplayers was just overwhelming. I think the sadness in their eyes is what turned my eyes into Niagra Falls.
ESPN takes you the viewer through the whole story, as emotionally draining as it is. The most breathtaking part of the whole story is the end. They show how an angel, fashioned out of steel from the World Trade Center, now sits behind the field Christina once played on – as well as how that field is now named after her.
There have not been many programs or movies that I have seen that have driven me to tears. This story did, and more importantly, it taught me a lesson. One person, no matter how small, can make a world of difference in someone’s life. Christina’s personality seemed to touch so many people around her and I think it lives on through her legacy.
I also feel I learned that no matter how bad I think I have it, things can be worse. A young lady, who had such a zest for life and possessed such a positive attitude, is now gone. And not only is she gone, her loving family is without her and I know that I shouldn’t take my life for granted because there are other people who valued their life and aren’t here anymore.
If you would like to be moved and watch Christina’s story, click here.
Also, be sure to catch E:60 every Tuesday night at 7:00 on ESPN. You will see some wonderfully compiled feature stories and some top-notch reporting. I don’t agree with some of what ESPN has to say, but trust me, this show is a must-see for any sports fan.
The Major League Baseball Winter Meetings are in full-swing and so far a number of deals have been completed. There are players on the move, players staying put, and some free agents who have drawn interest from teams, but so far nothing has happened.
Here’s a little rundown of some Winter Meeting notes and thoughts. As always, I’ll begin with the Yankees:
· Derek Jeter was reintroduced…well, not technically, but he had a press conference yesterday to announce his new deal with the Yankees. He told the media that he was upset with them because his negotiations became public. He wanted to keep his talks with the Yankees private.
I can’t blame Jeter for getting upset about it. If he wanted everything kept under wraps, in terms of negotiations, and did not want everything to become public knowledge, the media should have respected that. I suppose that’s the press these days; they stir the pot and bring out the worst of everything in professional sports.
I love how Jeter responded by saying he didn’t like the way he was portrayed. In fact, I’m glad he finally spoke up for himself. In his words, “All the sudden I have an ego? I’m greedy?”
Jeter has had respect for the media his whole life. Yes, I understand his interviews are about as boring as watching an entire soccer game, but he never crosses the line; he never breaks down and makes a spectacle of himself. Jeter never explodes in front of the cameras and microphones. He always gives the media a professional sound bite–which is his job as captain of the New York Yankees.
You would think after all those years the papers would have a little more respect for him. You would think they wouldn’t photo-shop his face on a Mets or Red Sox uniform. Well, I guess we all have to think again.
Jeter simply laughed at photo-shop nonsense.
At any rate, I’ve already offered the majority of my thoughts on the Jeter deal in my last video blog. Now that the deal is complete and I have offered all of my thoughts on Jeter’s “return,” I will no longer mention anything about it.
Jeter is back and we all knew he wasn’t going anywhere from the very beginning.
· Brian Cashman apparently sat down for dinner with Carl Crawford and his agent last night. Interesting, but he is also set to meet with the Los Angeles Angels. I don’t really expect him to come to the Yanks. However, it has been said that if the Yankees don’t sign Cliff Lee, they will probably make a bid for him.
I think the Angels will land him, or another team like the Red Sox will make a huge push for him. The Rangers are also looking to sign Crawford, as reported today by MLB.com, so Texas could be in his future. Although sources are now saying he is most likely headed to L.A. Right now nothing is certain.
What is certain is that Crawford’s deal is basically being held up because of, well… Lee. And…
· According to reports today, the Yankees offered Lee a preliminary deal. Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker claims a team is out of the sweepstakes (he wouldn’t say which club) and also stated he has “zeroed in on a few things.”
What that means, I have no idea. What I do know is that the Yankees and Rangers (obviously) are not the clubs that were eliminated from the sweepstakes. Today Cashman said that he is willing to “get serious” about Lee and the Yanks could possibly offer him six years at around $140-150 million.
Now that the Jeter drama has ended, I am tired of hearing about the Lee drama. I know he is the hottest free agent on the market this off-season, and all the teams that were contenders last year want to try and get him.
Yet, he is making himself look bad; it’s almost like the LeBron James decision revisited. I understand he is good enough to earn a fat contract, but he needs to make a decision already. I really hope wherever he goes, he wins a lot of games next year. God help him if he doesn’t. A lot of other deals are being held up because of him, including the future of…
· Andy Pettitte. According to ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, Joe Girardi said he was going to reach out to Pettitte in a couple of days to see whether or not he has made a decision on his future.
Originally reported, Pettitte was leaning towards retirement. But other sources have now said he may want to pitch in 2011. If he does come back, I cannot imagine him pitching anywhere else but New York.
There was a report a few weeks ago claiming the Rangers contacted Pettitte. The report was later denied by Rangers’ President Nolan Ryan, who said the team never talked to Pettitte or tried to lure him away from New York.
Again, his future depends on what Lee does. If the Yankees sign Lee, their efforts to bring Pettitte back might subside, or at least dwindle. If the Yankees don’t land Lee, however, his decision regarding his future will certainly have an impact on the Yankees.
If you ask me, the Yanks should make a run for Pettitte any way it goes. If Pettitte chooses to pitch next season and the Yanks sign Lee, the starting rotation will be phenomenal. Lee would join CC Sabathia at the top half of the rotation, which would mean practically two aces pitching in success of each other. Both starters are capable of winning 18-20 games per season.
Add Pettitte to that mix along with Phil Hughes, who won 18 games last season. And even if A.J. Burnett has another off-year and only wins another 10 games, it’s not bad; if a team receives 10 wins from the fifth spot in the rotation, in my mind that’s a plus.
But as stated before, Lee needs to make a decision first–preferably sooner than later.
· Today the Chicago Cubs signed former Tampa Bay Rays’ first baseman Carlos Pena. He received a one-year deal at $10 million. Not bad for only averaging .196 this past season.
I’m just glad we don’t have to face him anymore. I was pretty tired of watching him these past few seasons, blasting the ball over the Yankee Stadium right field wall. I see it as a plus for the Yanks. Obviously Pena is not a great hitter for average but he does have pop. Maybe he can help the Cubs out.
· Jayson Werth went to the Washington Nationals on Sunday, agreeing to a seven year, $126 million contract.
I hope money buys happiness. Werth went from the Philadelphia Phillies, a team that in recent years is always contending and usually winning the NL East, to the Nationals–a team that basically fights for last place every year.
Werth has never driven in 100 runs in his career and at best is a good, above average right fielder. I don’t think he really deserved that much money and time. He is a good player, but not good enough for $126 million.
We’ll see if he lives up to that contract, and maybe in the distant future, the Nats will get better. I think they might be going in the right direction in terms of players–perhaps building around Stephen Strasburg and now Werth. But they won’t be making an immediate impact, that’s for sure.
· The A’s are interested in Hideki Matsui. Don’t do it, Godzilla!!!
· ESPN said yesterday that Kerry Wood might come back to the Yankees. I sure hope he does. Wood solidified the bullpen last year and was the only reliever worth anything in the postseason.
· Paul Konerko re-signed with the White Sox. Good for him! I look at him almost like Jeter. He has been with the organization for a long time and I cannot picture him with another team.
The Baseball Winter Meetings will conclude tomorrow in Orlando. Rule 5 drafts will take place and hopefully this Cliff Lee nonsense will end.
As I said, it’s like LeBron James. He and his agent are making things difficult and negotiations are taking a long time, probably because he can’t decide where he wants to go or what he wants to do.
Why don’t they just give him an ESPN hour-long special? Where will Lee take his talents next? All I know is, he better decide. Soon. Because I’m quickly becoming tired of hearing about it.
The San Francisco Giants are World Series Champions for the first time since 1954. I wonder if that means Danny Tanner, Jesse Katsopolis, and Joey Gladstone will be attending the victory parade…
I am just kidding about the second part, of course. But in all seriousness, hats off to the G-Men on a well-played 2010 World Series. They had everything go right for them; solid pitching, stellar defense, and incredible offense.
Last summer ESPN’s Baseball Tonight program hosted their “Chatter Up” segment, a part of the show in which viewers can submit their ideas and thoughts about a subject chosen by the panel. ESPN picks the best comments sent in, puts them on TV, and the analysts discuss them. The topic in question was, “Which team in the National League, currently not in first place, do you think has the best chance of making the postseason?”
My comment was, “I think it’s the Giants, because Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez remind me of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz.”
As I was watching the program, to my surprise, my name and comment showed up on ESPN.
Steve Berthiaume, the panel moderator, said, “OK, I get the Greg Maddux-Tim Lincecum thing; I’m with him on Matt Cain-Tom Glavine…but I’m a little lost on John Smoltz-Jonathan Sanchez. I don’t think…But that’s OK…”
My sports writing inspiration and BBTN panelist Buster Olney then said, “A.J., I’m not sure about Sanchez. He’s not quite at the level yet, but good idea.”
I had only mentioned Sanchez in comparison to Smoltz because..well…they are both pitchers who started in the bullpen and became starters. Plus, Sanchez had already thrown a no-hitter, which I feel made him worthy of the mention.
The point is, even last year I knew the Giants were good. It was only a matter of time before they put it all together.
In a lot of ways the Giants had exactly what the 1996 Yankees had; that’s the team I thought of when I looked at them. When Madison Bumgarner tossed a shutout in Game Four, it reminded me of the same way Andy Pettitte battled in ’96.
Brian Wilson was a stud shutting down Texas, the same way John Wetteland mowed down Atlanta.
The Giants had the right mixture of talented rookies–players like Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, and Buster Posey–and chiseled, championship-tested veterans, like Edgar Renteria, Juan Uribe, Aaron Rowand, and Pat Burrell–all of whom have already played in (and won, no less) at least one World Series prior to 2010.
Renteria was a great choice for World Series MVP, as he has come a long way in his career. He became only the fourth player in MLB history to knock in the game-winning run in two World Series clinching games. In 1997, Renteria knocked in the go-ahead run for the Florida Marlins in their clinching game, and of course his three-run homer won the game for the Giants last night.
With that, Renteria joined legendary Yankees Yogi Berra, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio on the list of players who have knocked in game-winning runs in the clinching game of a World Series twice in their careers. The veteran Giant journeyman is certainly in great company.
What I also liked about the Giants winning was the fact that since 2005, the World Series Champions have alternated from league to league. Meaning:
· 2005 Chicago White Sox (A.L.)
· 2006 St. Louis Cardinals (N.L.)
· 2007 Boston Red Sox (A.L.)
· 2008 Philadelphia Phillies (N.L.)
· 2009 New York Yankees (A.L.)
· 2010 San Francisco Giants (N.L.)
It makes it more interesting because one league has not been dominating for a number of years; it’s been a back-and-forth battle for the past six years and I hope it continues this way for the next few seasons.
As for the Texas Rangers? Well, they were an excellent team this season. They just seemed to have run out of gas. We found out Cliff Lee is not Jesus Christ and is a human being after all. In Game One of the fall classic, Lee only tossed 4 2/3 innings and gave up seven runs on eight hits. On the bright side the invincible Lee demonstrated his solid control and only walked one batter and struck out seven, but unfortunately it was a losing effort.
In the decisive Game Five Lee had it going right until the seventh, when he gave up a three-run home run to Renteria. As we saw in Game Four of the ALCS–A.J. Burnett’s home run to Bengie Molina–even when you are throwing a good game, one pitch can cost you the game; one bad inning can kill you.
Lee was just not the same guy in the seventh inning last night. And now, for the second year in a row, he has been on the losing World Series team. However, it does not mean he has pitched poorly in the World Series; the only forgettable game for him was Game One this year.
And of course most Yankee fans remember how incredible he was in 2009 for Philadelphia.
That being said, will Lee be in pinstripes next year? Right now, who’s to say? Lee has already said he would like to stay in Texas, but if the Yanks make him the right offer, there’s no telling where he will decide to go.
It’s going to be a long off-season and the Yankees already have other deals to make first, namely re-acquiring Derek Jeter who just filed for free agency. Signing back Mariano Rivera is also at the top of the Yanks’ to-do list and they also have to make Pettitte a deal, should he choose to play next season.
Yet, Yankees’ General Manager Brian Cashman has already said that another frontline starter and left-handed relief will be the focal point of this off-season. That only adds to my belief that they will indeed make a strong push for Lee when the winter meetings begin next month.
But that’s another story for another day. Today is the Giants’ day. And they deserve to be called World Series Champs in 2010. Once again, congratulations from Yankee Yapping to the fans in San Francisco and the Giants on a great season and a World Title.
I know that somewhere out in the bay area, there’s a Giants fan feeling the same way I did last year. And in 2000. And 1999. And 1998. And 1996…
As the end of the 2010 regular Major League Baseball season rapidly approaches, the Yankees once again have lived to play autumn baseball in New York. At the very least, the Bronx Bombers will go into the postseason as the American League Wild Card team. Yet they can still capture the American League Eastern Division over the Tampa Bay Rays.
At press time they are a ½ game out of first place in the AL East.
With only three games left after tonight’s 8-3 loss vs. the Toronto Blue Jays, it is once again time to hand out the Yankee Yapping End of the Year Awards. Last year I gave out various commendations to numerous Yankees who showed what being a Bronx Bomber is all about.
Since 2010 was a stark contrast to 2009, there are new awards this year to accommodate what each player has done or accomplished this past season. Without any further ado, here are the 2010 Yankee Yapping Awards!
Yankee Yapping Most Valuable Player
Winner: Robinson Cano
The Yankees are very lucky to have a player like Robinson Cano. This season, the slugging second baseman has put together an MVP caliber season with 28 home runs and 106 RBIs to this point. His numbers indicate a great year, but he did not win the YY MVP simply because of his offensive production.
His defense and overall character put him over the top.
In 155 games at second base this season (talk about durability!) Cano has only committed three errors. He has also helped turn 111 double plays and has secured a fielding percentage of .996.
Can you say Gold Glove?
Cano has also had the most consistent season among all Yankee hitters. Derek Jeter is currently hitting under .300, Mark Teixeira got off to a tortoise-like start, and Alex Rodriguez spent time on the disabled list. Cano did not slip under .300 this year, nor did he start off slow or get injured.
His season has all the makings of a valuable player.
Yankee Yapping’s Most Pleasant Surprise
Winner: Marcus Thames
I’ll be the first to admit that when the Yankees let Johnny Damon go…or he let himself go…that I thought picking up Marcus Thames was a bad idea. He had already been a Yankee in 2002, although he was not what we would call a real Yankee.
Everyone knows that, in his first stint in pinstripes, Thames clubbed his first career home run in his first career at-bat off brand-name future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. What most people don’t know is that home run was the only long ball Thames hit in his first go-round with the Yankees and he only played seven games.
2010 was his second chance and he certainly took advantage of it.
To go along with his batting average of .291, Thames has smacked 12 home runs this year and has driven in 33 runs. Two of his homers this season stand out to me.
First off, his third home run of the year, which came on July 11–only because of who he hit it off: Brian Sweeney of the Seattle Mariners.
As almost everyone knows by now, I interviewed Sweeney over the summer and he is a graduate of my College. That home run was bittersweet for me. I was happy to see Thames get around on a hanging curveball and smash a homer, but at the same time I felt bad for Sweeney.
Being such a nice guy and, without any sarcasm, the best interview I have ever conducted, I had no choice but to feel remorseful for my fellow Mercy alumnus. But Thames did a fantastic job of clubbing the ball!
The second home run that sticks out was his walk-off blast against Jonathan Papelbon and the Boston Red Sox on May 17. After A-Rod tied the game with one swing of the bat, Thames played the role of hero and swatted Papelbon to a loss.
A glorious home run to cap off a glorious victory over Boston in the Bronx.
I may have said some harsh things about him at the beginning of the year when he struggled, but he has proved me wrong. Congrats Marcus!
Yankee Yapping Player Who Needs to Improve for 2011
Winner: A.J. Burnett
He had a terrible season. I know. All of Yankee Universe knows. The whole world knows.
A.J. Burnett has one more start this season (on Saturday in Boston) and will finish 2010 under .500. He is currently 10-15 with an earned run average of 5.33. In his last 10 games Burnett is 1-6 with an ERA of 6.26. Opponents are hitting .286 against him and he has allowed 107 earned runs this season.
If that doesn’t scream the words “off-year” I really don’t know what does.
Many Yankee fans are skeptical about how he will perform in the postseason and would not trust Burnett with the ball in an important game. Yankee Universe also feels he should be bumped from the number two spot in the starting rotation; some are even going as far as saying he should be put in the bullpen.
I agree. He should be bumped from the number two spot and I doubt that he will be plugged into any spot in the starting rotation, at least for the American League Division Series. If he goes to the bullpen, he might be able to carve a niche for himself, the same way Phil Hughes did last year in relief.
Although Burnett had an abysmal year, the one thing I will not do is give up on him. I understand how poorly he produced over the summer, but something many fans forget is that he began the year at 4-0 with an ERA under three. He got off to the best start of his career only to have it collapse on him; the most successful start of his life tragically morphed into the worst season he has ever had.
The other day I was asked if the Yankees would trade Burnett over the off-season because of his poor season.
The answer is easy: No. Here are three reasons Burnett is staying in pinstripes.
1) His salary. He is owed $49.5 million over the next three years. Give me the name of a team who is going to pick up that tab? Oh, that’s right. You can’t.
2) His trade value. With his lopsided numbers, who would want him?
3) The Yankees’ faith in their big free agent pitchers. Anyone remember Carl Pavano? He was owed less money than Burnett, pitched worse than Burnett, and the Yankees held onto him without even trying to shop him.
It’s no contest. Burnett will be in pinstripes for awhile.
And while he is in pinstripes, he needs to learn how to handle himself, go out and win games. I have seen how physically capable Burnett is really is when he is pitching. He can throw 96-98 mph fastballs, something not even Mike Mussina could pull off in 2008, the year he won 20 games.
I think it’s all mental when it comes to Burnett’s struggles. Perhaps he should consult the team psychiatrist. Wait, is there a team psychiatrist?
At any rate, it’s a not a particularly good award to win, A.J. But I still have faith that you can improve, bounce back, have a solid postseason like last year and return strong in 2011.
I still believe in you, A.J. We A.J.s have to stick together through thick and thin.
Yankee Yapping Sayonara Award
Winners: Javier Vazquez and Nick Johnson
First of all, allow me to explain the nature of this award. I am handing out this award to two players who the Yankees signed, are not under contract for next season, and are most likely not coming back next year.
I had no choice but to give it Javier Vazquez and Nick Johnson.
When the Yankees decided to acquire Vazquez during the off-season, I was unbelievably confused. With a somewhat failed season in pinstripes already under his belt (2004) it shocked me that the Yanks went out and traded Melky Cabrera for Vazquez during the winter meetings.
This season just proved to me that Vazquez is not and never was suited for pinstripes. The reason the Yanks wanted him was because of how well he pitched last season, but what they did not take into consideration was that he pitched in the National League.
Vazquez made the move from the NL to the AL, and not just the AL–the AL East, where the best of the best play. And when he made that move, he traveled to a 10-10 record this year with an ERA over five.
That’s enough to say, “Thanks, but no thanks. See ya, Javy.”
Now onto Johnson…
Talk about a waste of money and time. I think his uncle, Larry Bowa, should chastise him for being such a mediocre and otherwise useless ballplayer. The Yanks signed Johnson to be an everyday designated hitter and replace Hideki Matsui in the lineup.
His numbers: 24 games played, two home runs, eight RBIs, and a .167 batting average.
Sorry, I had to run to my bathroom and puke.
Both Vazquez and Johnson are no longer under contract for 2011. Thank God.
Congrats on the award, fellas. Have fun on another team next season!
Yankee Yapping Ace of the Year
Winner: CC Sabathia
When all the dust had cleared at the end of 2009, CC Sabathia had 22 wins, including the postseason. The postseason has not even begun this year and the Yankees’ number one man has 21 wins. With that, he became the first Yankee to win 21 games in the regular season since Andy Pettitte, who accomplished the feat in 1996.
If the regular season is any indication of how Sabathia will perform in October, the Yankees will be in excellent shape every time he toes the rubber. Just as Burnett has had the worst season of his career, Sabathia has statistically had the best season he has ever had.
Needless to say, he is a shoe in for the Cy Young Award. CC might very well be “Cy Cy.”
Sabathia logged 237 2/3 innings this year, coupled with 197 strikeouts. He made 34 starts, tossed two complete games, and opponents only hit .239 against him.
If all goes right for him again, he could capture another postseason MVP award, as he was the American League Championship Series MVP in 2009. Either way, I have no doubt that Sabathia will have more hardware in his trophy case very soon.
Until then he is the Yankee Yapping Ace of the Year. Congrats CC!
*Note: CC has won this award for the second year in a row!
Yankee Yapping Best Trade Deadline Pickup
Winner: Kerry Wood
When the trade deadline neared the end, the Yankees picked up three notable players: Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns, and Kerry Wood. Without a doubt, Wood has made the best impact of all three players.
Wood was the Cleveland Indians’ closer and the Yankees needed to add a reliever to aid their scuffling bullpen. Suffice it to say, they added the right man. Wood has posted a low ERA in pinstripes and has really become a solid arm in relief.
Throughout his career, Wood has taken a lot of criticism because of his injuries; I am sure the Yankees knew about that when they traded for him. However, he was a former National League Rookie of the Year (1998, with the Chicago Cubs) and certainly possessed the capability to change the atmosphere of the bullpen.
It’s almost as if when Wood arrived, things started to turn around for them.
I remember his first outing as a Yankee against the Tampa Bay Rays. When Wood tossed that knee-buckling breaking ball and caught Evan Longoria looking like a deer in headlights, I knew right then and there he would fit in right away.
And he has.
Looking at his last 10 appearances alone is proof of that: 10 innings, no runs, four hits, five walks, 12 strikeouts, and an ERA of 0.00. He has flourished in his role as a late-inning relief pitcher and if he keeps it moving, he will be a wonderful asset when the playoffs begin.
Yankee Yapping Reliever of the Year
Winner: David Robertson
I know what everyone is thinking: how in the world could I have not awarded this honor to Mariano Rivera?! I would just like to say that The Great Rivera is his own “Walking Award,” so-to-speak. Rivera won it last year and he followed that up with another Mo-like season.
32 saves and a puny 1.32 ERA. Typical Mo.
But I am giving it to David Robertson simply because of how far he has come this year. At the outset of the season, Robertson could not get anyone out. He was placed in easy-going situations and lost control of everything.
Case-in-point: Opening Day vs. the Los Angeles Angels.
Robertson came into the game in a situation where there was absolutely no pressure; the Yankees were ahead 7-1 in the top of the ninth inning and he allowed that pressure get to him. He wound up surrendering a grand slam to Bobby Abreu and he nearly gave up the game because of it.
Yet, what struck me was what he said the day after it happened. I remember reading in the news the next day that he grabbed his glove before the game and had two words:
That’s precisely the attitude that won him this award. Well, that and his 67 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings pitched this season. He never gave up, battled back from defeat, and is a solid and trustworthy arm out of the bullpen.
He deserves the honor. Congrats David!
Yankee Yapping Warrior Award
Winner: Mark Teixeira
As I mentioned before, Mark Teixeira began the season awfully slow. He was singled out on ESPN and every other sports media outlet about how he was not producing along with being criticized for his low batting average and meager power numbers.
But by around June it all changed and the sleeping giant woke up.
The power-hitting first baseman flipped the “on switch” and quickly became the dangerous hitter he has always been. Teixeira will finish 2010 with over 30 home runs and 100 RBIs for his second straight year in pinstripes.
He has 33 home runs and 107 RBIs at press time.
The reason he is regarded as a warrior is because he has been playing for a number of days, possibly even weeks, with a broken toe. Despite a relatively painful injury, he managed to keep himself in the lineup and at first base every day.
Obviously playing in pain, Teixeira maintained his season and never let it affect him; Paul O’Neill, revered as the consummate “Yankee Warrior,” would certainly be proud of him.
Yankee Yapping Grand Slam Champion
Winner: Alex Rodriguez
Whip out the mustard and rye: it’s grand salami!
Not once. Not twice. But three times this season Alex Rodriguez has delivered with the bases loaded. The former three-time AL MVP clobbered three grand slams this season, which accounts for 3/10 of the Yankees’ grand slams this year.
In fact, the Yankees tied their single season record for grand slams, originally set in 1987–Don Mattingly led the Yanks that year with six grannies out of their 10.
On May 14, Rodriguez visited granny for the first time this season. Minnesota Twins reliever intentionally walked Teixeira to pitch to Rodriguez–a strategy that never seems to pay off, according to the numbers. The Yankee third baseman responded by crushing a go-ahead grand slam over the left field wall to give the Yanks a 7-4 edge.
They went on to win 8-4.
On May 31, merely 17 days after the slam vs. the Twins, A-Rod stepped up to the plate against the Indians. With a full count, Rodriguez smashed a bomb into Monument Park, a glorious grand slam home run to give the Yanks a 6-1 lead over the Tribe.
Once again the Bombers cruised to a victory, 11-2 over Cleveland.
Rodriguez struck one last slam on July 6 in Oakland vs. the Athletics. A-Rod helped slam the Yanks to a 6-1 win. He came up in the top of the third and blasted a grand slam off Trevor Cahill, driving in four out of the Yankees’ five runs that inning.
In addition to his slam, Rodriguez later came up in the sixth and hit a solo homer, as he knocked in five of the Yanks’ six runs by himself.
A-Rod’s excellence and ability to come through when the bases are loaded earned him this award. Hopefully he can continue to rake when the postseason starts.
Well that does it for this year. Either way it goes, the Yankees have an opportunity to repeat as World Champs. While whether they win it all or not remains to be seen, it’s clear these standout players made a difference in New York this season.
Congrats to all the Yankee Yapping Award winners and to all of the Yankees.
We’ll see you in October. Good luck!
As the Major League Baseball non-waivers trade deadline rapidly approaches–tomorrow afternoon at 4:00–Alex Rodriguez continues his chase for 600 home runs.
The Yankees did not panic when Andy Pettitte hurt his groin and went to the disabled list. They first allowed Sergio Mitre to take Pettitte’s place in the rotation, a move that did not pay off. On July 24 Mitre lost to the Kansas City Royals, tossing 4 1/3 innings and giving up five earned runs on seven hits.
Manager Joe Girardi said Mitre “wasn’t stretched out enough to be starting.”
Yesterday Dustin Moseley took the ball for Pettitte and put on quite a performance. The 28 year-old right hander pitched six innings of solid ball. He gave up one run and scattered four hits while walking two batters and striking out four. For his effort he earned himself a win over the Cleveland Indians.
Not bad for a spot start. I think he earned himself another start on Tuesday vs. Toronto.
In a blog post last week I said the Yankees need another arm, but if Moseley can handle the load and pitch the way he did last night, the Yanks may not need one. I suggested Dan Haren, but he has already been traded to the Los Angeles Angels. (He’s also already injured, as he was hit on the right forearm with a comeback line drive, but that’s another story for another time)
It doesn’t seem as if the Yankees are interested in Brian Bannister, the second hurler I pointed out as a possible target for the Bronx Bombers. Bannister was beaten by the Yankees on July 23, a game in which he only pitched 4 2/3 innings. He was touched up for four earned runs on six hits; he walked two batters and struck out five.
His season record fell to 7-9, but I still think he has potential. If he was on a team that gave him more run support (like the Yankees) I have a feeling his numbers would be a lot better.
It doesn’t look as though the Yankees are seeking any pitching help. I am however hearing a lot of yapping about “adding another bat” and the name that keeps popping up is Adam Dunn, the Washington Nationals’ first baseman. He would be a good addition to the team. Being a power-hitting lefty, Dunn could certainly use the short porch in Yankee Stadium to his advantage.
According to Buster Olney of ESPN, the two teams that are interested in Dunn are the Yankees and their opponent for this weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays. Olney said that each team is trying to make sure the other team doesn’t land Dunn, as they are in a heated race for the American League Eastern Division.
This morning, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported that the Yankees “are not out on Dunn, that they may be using negotiation tactics to try and get him, and to not count them out on any player.”
Will he be traded to New York before tomorrow afternoon at 4:00? At the moment, nothing is etched in stone. It could happen and I would like to see it happen, but if it doesn’t, then it’s not a huge blow to the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers still have the best record in the majors without Dunn; getting him can only help and not getting him can’t hurt.
So do the Yankees really need to make a huge trade at all?
Well….any sort of minor trade can also help them. Consider last year’s trade for Jerry Hairston, Jr. Was he the best hitter on the team? No. Was he a Gold-Glove caliber fielder? Probably not. But did he do little things to help the team win and make a difference when it mattered?
Absolutely. He had that utility quality about himself, and he was a good pickup right before the deadline last year. After all, he did score the winning run in Game Two of the American League Championship Series. And as I understand, he is having a decent season over in San Diego for the N.L. West-leading Padres.
Even if the Yanks make a small trade a la the Hairston swap last year, it could make a world of difference come October.
As for A-Rod…
The Yankees’ third baseman clubbed his 599th career home run on Thursday July 22 vs. Kansas City. After a week, he has failed to put one in the seats and join the exclusive 600 Club–a club only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willy Mays, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Sammy Sosa are currently members of.
Rodriguez was 4-for-21 in the last four games vs. Cleveland and overall is 9-for-30 since smacking number 599 last Thursday. He has gone 34 plate appearances without a round-tripper and seems to be pressing just a little bit.
It’s almost as if he is going through the same thing he went through in 2007 before reaching 500 home runs. Rodriguez had to wait eight days and 28 at-bats to belt number 500, so he certainly knows how it feels.
If he were to reach 600 homers this weekend, it wouldn’t be the first time Rodriguez has hit a meaningful home run at Tropicana Field. On Oct. 4 of last season, Rodriguez clobbered two home runs in the same inning, one of which was hit off tonight’s starter Wade Davis. The other homer was a grand slam to give him 30 home runs and 100 RBIs for the year.
Talk about a hitting show.
This season, Rodriguez has not left the yard at Tropicana Field, but is hitting .417 with three RBIs and three runs scored. Obviously his chances to hit 600 are good this weekend, so long as he doesn’t press and maintains an easy, fluid swing.
I noticed last night when Jess Todd struck him out swinging in the eighth inning, A-Rod looked like he wanted to hit a 15-run home run. He swung too early and he looks like he is trying too hard. If he eases up and stops pushing (which he is fully capable of doing) he will reach the milestone and get it over with.
Once again, all eyes on A-Rod this weekend.
I’d like to take the time and thank MLBlogs for featuring Yankee Yapping on their main page! I came across this and enjoyed the little write-up they did on me.
This was very cool and I do hope to write for MLB.com sometime in the NEAR future!
Just to clarify something, however; I just graduated from Mercy College and there will only be one more story I am submitting to my school’s newspaper–that would be a story on Brian Sweeney, who pitched for Mercy when he attended the school.
I am taking my interview, which I conducted here on MLBlogs, and turning it into a feature article for the school paper. Even though I graduated, I am still going to use it for a clip to put into my portfolio. That will be my last article as Sports Editor.
Once again, thanks MLB.com for the write-up and the exposure. I hope to be working for you very soon!!!😉