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The Boone Identity: Remembering the Radical 2003 Yankees-Red Sox Saga

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If you’re a Yankee fan, Oct. 16 holds a warm place in your heart. The memory of a mighty swing by Aaron Boone in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series to crush the dreams of Red Sox Nation has held up, and will continue to hold up forever more.

In honor of the 11th anniversary of this profound piece of Yankee history, this writer is going to take you on a ride back to the past and muse about the goings-on of the 2003 Yankees-Red Sox saga; perhaps point some things out that didn’t necessarily meet the eye to the average fan.

Join me, will you?


 

The background

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It took a long time before the Yanks and BoSox reached the climactic Boone game. A really long time, in fact. The two hated rivals had faced each other 25 times in ‘03 leading up to Game 7 of the ALCS. Their 26th meeting in the decisive game was historic, in the sense that no two teams – in any sport – had faced each other more times in a single season.

But so much more happened before Game 7.

In squaring off against each other so many times, the Yankees and Red Sox had generated some disdain for one another. Earlier in the season on July 7 in the Bronx, Pedro Martinez, Boston’s ace, had plunked both Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter – bean balls that were so intense they sent the two hitters at the top of the Yankees’ batting order to the hospital.

Jeter was hammered on his right hand while Soriano suffered a shot on his left hand. The after effects of the HBPs were so great that, after more than two weeks later, both hitters felt the pain of Martinez’s missed location; the captain’s hand was still swollen and Fonsy felt some aches just by checking his swing.

Roger Clemens, the Yankee ace, in return struck Red Sox first baseman and team ringleader Kevin Millar with a pitch. Millar, a colorful and outspoken player who had urged his team to “Cowboy Up,” would later express anger towards Clemens for the Yankees act of retaliation.

The late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner even got in on battle. The Boss was asked if Martinez was headhunting; throwing at the Yankees with intent. His response:

“I can’t answer that. But if he was, he’ll regret it.”

Steinbrenner had every reason to be suspicious about whether or not the hit-by-pitches were deliberate. In the past, 2001 to be exact, Martinez told the Boston Globe,

“I’m starting to hate talking about the Yankees. The questions are stupid. They’re wasting my time. It’s getting kind of old … I don’t believe in damn curses. Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. I’ll drill him in the ass, pardon the word.”

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Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino then got his jab in, giving the Yankees a moniker in homage to the Star Wars franchise. He dubbed the Bronx Bombers “The Evil Empire.” Yankee Universe happily (or at least sarcastically) welcomed the nickname.

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So was Jeter Darth Vader? Sure, that makes sense.


 

How we got there

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The physical and verbal blows during the regular season were only the beginning, laying the groundwork for what was to come in the playoffs. The Yankees finished 2003 with a record of 101-61, six games ahead of Boston for the AL East. The 95-67 Red Sox captured the AL Wild Card – keep in mind that in ’03 there was no play-in game; the BoSox were automatically in the eight-team postseason tournament without having to fight their way in the door.

Most fans may not remember that the ’03 Yankees-Red Sox ALCS clash wouldn’t have happened if the Oakland A’s didn’t collapse. In the ALDS the A’s handed Boston a 5-4 loss in Game 1; Oakland winning in the 12th on a walk-off bunt single by catcher Ramon Hernandez. Game 2 wasn’t any better for the Red Sox, as the A’s poured it on and beat Boston 5-1 – Oakland was only one win away from the next round.

Yet, maybe in the spirit of some foreshadowing, the Red Sox fought back.

Boston won Game 3, 2-0. They then took Game 4 by a count of 5-4, and completed the comeback with a 4-3 win in Game 5. The Yankees were already waiting for the winner of the Boston-Oakland series, having disposed of the Minnesota Twins in four games to reach the League Championship Series; the Yanks outscoring the Twins 16-6 in their divisional round.

The rally vs. the A’s and the thrashing of the Twins set the New York-Boston rivalry up for an epic showdown. Yes, the Baseball gods had done it again.

Players on both sides knew the World Series was not just at stake, but bragging rights were up for grabs and in a lot of ways, the ending or the continuation of Curse of the Bambino was on the line.

“Everyone says, ‘we played them towards the end of the year, does it get any bigger than that?’ Well, yeah it does. And this is it,” Jeter told MLB before the ALCS.

The Red Sox took Game 1, beating the Yankees 5-2. However, the first salvo seemed to be fired in the seventh inning when reliever Jeff Nelson hit Red Sox big man David Ortiz with a pitch. The Yanks went on to take Game 2 with a 6-2 win, but in terms of the HBP battle, Boston punched back.

Future hero Boone was beaned by Red Sox starter Derek Lowe and Soriano was plunked by Bronson Arroyo. The ALCS was split 1-1, tensions were at an all-time high, and the teams were beginning to get rather physical.

What’s the worst that could happen in Game 3?


 

And then, everything explodes

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The energy level at Fenway Park on Oct. 11, 2003 was off the charts – not that I was there, but listening to the words of the players and examining everything that had led up to Game 3, everyone from the fans to the media was on edge.

What’s more, the fact that Clemens and Martinez were on the hill for their respective clubs made it even more enticing. During batting practice, Millar was about as hyped up as an 8-year-old after consuming 50 sugar cubes, enthusiastically saying,

“We got Roger and Martinez, Game 3 split, Championship Series, American League, all eyes on the Sox!”

To this day I wonder if even he knew how jumbled that sounded. Mic’d up, he stood next to Ortiz and yelled,

“You’ve got to be going with the Sox! This is the Sox Nation! Two thousand and three! And screw that curse!”

Ortiz couldn’t help but laugh at Millar’s zeal, but a few short innings later, no one was laughing.

In the top of the fourth, Martinez let up an RBI ground rule double to Nick Johnson, which gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. The very next hitter, outfielder Karim Garcia, took a pitch behind his head which appeared to nick him on the shoulder for another hit-by-pitch.

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Soriano came up next and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, though another Yankee run scored. Leaving the field, Garcia had some choice words for the Red Sox and a heated exchange ensued.

Yankee catcher Jorge Posada, chest protector and shin guards on, came out of the dugout looking like a Roman centurion ready to attack Martinez. The two feisty foes got into some jaw-jacking and a bit of a “pointing battle” – Martinez using his index finger to point at his temple, as if to say to Posada, “I’ll hit you there.”

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The Yankees, in a nutshell, were unhappy with Martinez’s antics, and had no problem expressing their grief. Yet somehow the umpires settled matters down.

That is, until the bottom half of the inning.

Clemens delivered a high and tight 1-2 fastball to hothead Manny Ramirez, who believed there was intent behind the pitch – when clearly there wasn’t.

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Ramirez angrily tried to approach Clemens with the bat in his hand before being subdued by his teammates when the benches cleared. Needless to say all Hell broke loose at Fenway, but the victim of the fracas wound up being a coach, not a player.

Yankee bench coach, the late Don Zimmer (72 at the time) lunged towards Martinez, who grabbed him by the head and force-fed him to the ground. The Yankee trainers were able to help him up and get him back into the dugout free of serious injury, but the ugly incident further proved how the Yankees and Red Sox were at extreme odds.

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Eventually the situation calmed, and Clemens fanned Ramirez with a fastball on the outer part of the plate to get the game going again; the players back to their professional ways.

But just when it seemed everything was back to normal, it became a mess again.

An altercation broke out in the Yankee bullpen in right field between Nelson and a Boston grounds crew member, Paul Williams. Garcia, stationed in right field, also sampled the action. He hopped the wall into the ‘pen and got involved; a scrum of police officers, security officials, and Yankee relief pitchers creating an unpretty scene.

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Days later the Yankees’ personnel, notably president Randy Levine, defended the New York relief corps. Meanwhile the Red Sox brass were less than happy, and went to bat for their groundskeeper, explaining that he did nothing wrong. The Yankee side relented, though, and contended Williams had antagonized Nelson, and wanted an apology issued from the Boston side.

Yeah. That never happened.

Once the roller coaster ride finally ended, the Yankees escaped with a 4-3 win and a 2-1 ALCS lead. The reaction by a couple of individuals after Game 3, however, was unlike anything this writer had ever seen in sports – ever.

In terms of the Martinez-Zimmer incident, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg went on the record saying, “If that happened in New York, we would’ve arrested the perpetrator. Nobody should throw a 70-year-old man to the ground, period.”

That would’ve been quite a sight: the Red Sox ace being cuffed and escorted off the Yankee Stadium diamond by New York’s finest.

BoSox skipper Grady Little only had this to say:

“I think we’ve upgraded it from a battle to a war.”

The war raged on. The Red Sox won Game 4, 3-2, to even the series, then the Yankees grabbed Game 5 with a 4-2 win, taking a 3-2 series lead back to the Bronx. The Red Sox raised the eyebrows of the world by beating the Yanks 9-6 in Game 6, overcoming both Andy Pettitte and a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd.

Game 7. Roger and Pedro, again. He we are.


Is this happening?

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Before Game 7 took place, Boston sportswriter Howard Bryant caught up with Willie Randolph, a longtime pinstriper who had endured the “Bronx Zoo” era of the late 1970s as a player, and enjoyed the year-by-year success of the dynasty of the ‘90s as the Yankees’ third base coach.

Bryant asked Randolph what he thought about the deciding game. What do you think?

“Listen,” Randolph said. “Every single time we’ve had to beat them, we’ve beaten them. Tonight’s not going to be any different.”

But in the early going, it was  different – a lot different. Clemens struggled, surrendering a second inning, two-run home run to Trot Nixon. Later in the frame a throwing error by starting third baseman Enrique Wilson allowed Jason Varitek to come in, making it 3-0 Red Sox.

Clemens pitched into the fourth, although “the rocket” was all but gassed by then. Millar backed up some of his talking by sending Clemens’s offering into the seats in left field, a solo blast to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead. Yankee manager Joe Torre had told starter Mike Mussina that he might use him out of the bullpen, which would’ve been the first time in his MLB career he would’ve pitched in relief.

A caveat, though:  Torre had told “Moose” that, if he were to use him, he’d bring him into the game when nobody was on base. That plan went by the wayside, as Mussina was summoned to mop up a first-and-third, no out mess.

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Mussina was brilliant, striking out Varitek by utilizing his patented knuckle curveball, and followed by getting Johnny Damon to bounce into an unassisted 6-3 double play to skim out of further peril.

After the game Mussina teased Torre, inquiring, “I thought you said you were only bringing me in if there weren’t going to be men on base.”

Torre quipped back: “I lied.”

Jason Giambi, whom the Yankees had acquired after the fall of the dynasty in 2001, kept the Yanks close with two solo home runs off Martinez – a bomb in the fifth and another in the seventh.

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The Yankees trimmed the deficit to 4-2 but in the top of the eighth, Ortiz played pepper with the short porch seats, homering off another starter playing the role of reliever that night, David Wells. The solo job (that left Wells in utter disgust, putting it mildly) gave the Red Sox a run right back, making it 5-2 in favor of Boston.

Now Martinez, his pitch count over 100, came out to toss the bottom half of the eighth with a three-run lead, and while most members of Red Sox Nation thought this might ultimately be the year the Curse of the Bambino would be vanquished, some fans back in Beantown were not so convinced.

Baseball historian and Red Sox fan Doris Kearns Goodwin explained:

“When Pedro came back out in the eighth inning, we all started screaming ‘No! No! You can’t be doing it!’ I mean, fans think they know more than the managers – and often we don’t – but at that point everybody knew the pitch counts that Pedro would suddenly fall off the cliff, if he were over that pitch count.

“He was way over that pitch count, and so there was this huge sense of dread when he came to that mound.”

That dread was well-founded and soon realized.

Jeter pounded a one-out double off the wall in right field. Bernie Williams brought him in with a well-struck single in front of Damon in centerfield, cutting Boston’s lead to 5-3. The RBI base hit prompted a mound visit from Little, who shockingly stuck with his ace; Martinez not leaving the mound after the powwow, even with hard-throwing righty Mike Timlin and lefty specialist Alan Embree going double-barreled in the Red Sox bullpen.

Hideki Matsui, a left-handed hitter, was due up next. Embree would have been the obvious choice to match up with Matsui, but Embree could only watch from the ‘pen as Matsui ripped a ground-rule double down the line in right field off a tired Martinez, passing the baton to Posada.

The switch-hitting Yankee catcher, batting from the left side, punched a blooper into centerfield, falling in the middle of shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, second baseman Todd Walker and Damon to bring both Williams and Matsui to the plate. Posada reached second base – getting the last laugh off Martinez, thinking back to their chinwag in Game 3 – and Game 7 was tied, 5-5.

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Martinez then departed to a Bronx cheer; there was no undoing the damage the Yankees had done. The decision to keep Martinez in the ballgame haunted Red Sox Nation for a year. Fans were outraged at Little for not removing Martinez before the game turned, but Martinez – and others – have defended the move.

“I was just trying to do it,” Martinez said. “That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. Why didn’t Pedro give away the ball? Well, they didn’t ask me to give away the ball. They asked me if I could face the guys. I said yes! Of course I can! I’m in the middle of the game; I’m here to do this.

“When Grady came out, the simple question was whether I could pitch to Matsui or not. And I said yes.”

Former Red Sox favorite Johnny Pesky (for whom the foul pole in right field at Fenway Park is named) also was a proponent of allowing Martinez to stay in the game, and was quoted as saying,

“When he’s your best pitcher, and he tells you, ‘skipper, I got enough left in my tank’ you’re not going to take him out.”

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The fans on the other hand turned their ire on the call, and even went as far as constructing a poem about it, penned by Boston loyalist James Bair:

Why Did You Keep Pedro In?


We couldn’t have got there without you.
We were five outs away from a win.
You were the smartest guy in the stadium.
But why did you keep Pedro in?


We don’t believe in those curses.
We could care less about old Harry’s sin.
But with such a powerful bullpen,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


Oh, Pedro was awesome for seven,
And it looked like he could hang in.
Those two liners showed he’d become shaky—
Why did you keep Pedro in?


Though whacked cold, Johnny Damon kept waving;
The guys always want to stay in.
Of course, Pedro’d say he could blow them away,
But why did you keep Pedro in?


He could have left the hill as a hero—
We’d say Pedro had smoked them again!
You could not deny that his pitch count was high,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


We know there is one consolation:
We know you’ll never do it again.
Still the cry rises from Red Sox Nation:
Why did you keep Pedro in?


With each move you had out-managed Torre.
Yankee cheering was growing quite thin.
With such talented benches for backup,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


You made us now root for the Marlins,
And we hardly know how to begin.
You almost upended the Empire,
Why did you keep Pedro in?


You brought new pizzazz to the clubhouse:
The crew found the cowboy within.
You did so much for the guys, but with tears in our eyes,
We say, why did you keep Pedro in?

 

The question could be asked until the end of time. But it was moot. The game was knotted at five, and the Yankees used the unflappable closer Mariano Rivera for the 9th, 10th, and 11th innings. The stage was set. The question was no longer, “why did Grady leave Pedro in?” Rather it became “how is this saga going to finally end?”


 Sleeping on the X-Factor

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What probably gets lost in the shuffle was the fact that Boone had come into the game as a pinch-runner during that eventful bottom of the eighth. He took over at third base for Wilson on defense, who was surely not the Yankee fans’ favorite player that evening, because remember – he committed that costly error in the third which led to a Boston run.

It’s funny to me because, personally, I can recall the “due up” graphic in the middle of the 11th inning, watching in my Yankee pajamas from my bed in Beacon, New York; soon to be a droopy-eyed high school junior the following day, but the exhaustion coming with the excitement of a possible World Series berth. I even said to myself,

“Aaron Boone. Forget it, easy out. The next few guys have to hit, though! Let’s win this game!”

Perfectly logical assumption. In 31 postseason at-bats, Boone collected just five hits. The Yankees, however, had a lot more faith in Boone than this scribe did. Before he went into the on-deck circle while knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was warming up, Torre told Boone,

“Just hit a single. It doesn’t mean you won’t hit a home run.”

Randolph then issued the ultimate sign of faith:

“That inning, he came to the dugout and I met him at the top step. I patted him on the back and I said, ‘listen. You’re my sleeper pick. You’re the x-factor of the series.’”

Keith Olbermann – a bright sports pundit and someone for whom I have respect, albeit I disagree with him on plenty of topics – analyzed Boone’s at-bat this way:

“The odds were favoring a hitter in a slump. Because a hitter in a slump’s timing is already off. A knuckleball pitcher throws your timing off. Put a guy with bad timing, and add more bad timing to him, suddenly he has good timing – it’s a zero sum game in terms of timing.

“So you’re thinking, who on earth is going to get the base hit for the Yankees? Who can do anything against Tim Wakefield? Boone.”

Sure enough, the timing worked out. Everything worked out.

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Aaron Boone after hitting homerun in 2003 ALCS

Boone slaughtered Wakefield’s first pitch for a home run deep into the New York sky; the ball landing behind the wall in left field to give the Yanks a 6-5 win, sending the Bronx Bombers to their 39th World Series in franchise history. Pandemonium commenced; Yankees Stadium completely erupted, became unglued.

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The Red Sox were crushed, the pennant was won, and the Curse of the Bambino was alive and well.

Boone was speechless after clubbing the death blow, and managed just a few words:

“Derek told me the ghosts would show up eventually. And they did.”

The Captain verified those words postgame, saying,

“I believe in ghosts, and we got some ghosts in this Stadium!”

Torre went on to admit he thought there was some divine pinstriped intervention, later saying,

“It is weird to me that certain things happen that don’t seem logical. Yeah, you have to believe we’re getting some help from somewhere.”

What’s also not well known is that, after the bliss of a love-fest at home plate for Boone and the champagne celebration; after the presentation of the Will Harridge Award, and after Rivera was named ALCS MVP, the Yankee players made a pilgrimage out to Monument Park, donned with championship hats soaked in champagne. Specifically, they made a visit to Babe Ruth’s monument.

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“Look, he’s smiling! He’s smiling!” the Yankees gleefully exclaimed, whilst rubbing the forehead of the Great Bambino’s likeness on the monument.


 The aftermath and the impact of another curse

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While Little was quickly fired by the Red Sox and the image of Boone’s home run was tattooed on the minds of Red Sox fans everywhere, the Yanks were in the 2003 fall classic, matched up with the Florida Marlins – who Chicago Cubs fans felt had snaked their way in on account of fan interference in the ’03 NLCS. The Cubs had been winning 3-0 in the eighth inning of Game 6, and had they held on would’ve punched their first ticket to the World Series since 1945.

Steve Bartman, a Cubs fan sitting in the front row of the left field stands, accidently reached for a foul ball that was perhaps catchable for left fielder Moises Alou near the wall. Bartman got his hand on it, and the ball took a wrong bounce back into the seats, not going for an out – much to the infuriation of not only Alou, but every Cubs fan in the ballpark. Almost right after the gaffe, the Marlins wound up rallying to score eight runs to win the game, and carried on to win Game 7 by a count of 9-6.

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Not unlike the Red Sox and their Curse of the Bambino, the Cubs had the Curse of the Billy Goat hanging over their heads – a long story about a Chicago bar owner, who in 1945 was asked to leave Wrigley Field because the stench of the pet goat he brought to the park was bothering other fans.

He proclaimed, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

Subsequently the Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908.

I can’t help but think how the ’03 World Series would’ve gone had it been Yankees-Cubs, the matchup America wanted to see, instead of Yankees-Marlins – a bland fall classic that ended in a six-game series win for the fish.

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Would the Yankees have been able to beat the 1-2 punch of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior? Would they have been able to silence the bat of Sammy Sosa, who just five seasons earlier had smashed 66 home runs, and had hit 40 during the ’03 regular season? Would the Curse of the Billy Goat been upheld in the fall classic, the same way the Yanks kept up the Curse of the Bambino in the ALCS?

Would 2003 have been the year of title number 27 in the Bronx, if only the Yankees faced the Cubs and not the pesky Marlins, equipped with the likes of scrappers Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Josh Beckett and Juan Pierre?

We’ll never know.

To this writer, though, the ALCS was the World Series in 2003. Passion, heat, unmitigated physicality, the will to win intense rivalry games, and excitement that puts you on the edge of your seat – you want nothing more than that as a fan, or at this stage in my life as a journalist.

Hopefully we see it again, in baseball, sometime soon.

And hopefully, again, it’s between the Yankees and Red Sox.

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 SOURCES FOR THIS PIECE: Websites: Baseball Almanac, Baseball Reference.

DVDs: The Boston Red Sox vs. The New York Yankees: The Ultimate Rivalry (2005)

Ken Burns: The Tenth Inning (2010)

Sights and Stories from an Afternoon in Cooperstown

The Yankees have finally hit a little bit of a hot streak, winning three in a row this week to pull to within three and a half games of the first place Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East. Last night Derek Jeter turned back the clock with three hits and two RBIs, while some clutch play on both sides of the field from Jacoby Ellsbury led the Bronx Broskis to a 6-3 win over Robin$on Cano and the Seattle Mariners to complete the sweep.

Tonight they’ll look to keep the ball rolling at O.Co Coliseum against the AL West-leading Oakland A’s.

While the Yankees are contending, yesterday, before their win over the Ms, my friends and I took a trip up to Cooperstown to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. It marked my third trip to the baseball Mecca, and my first since July 3, 2010.

I figured I would share some pictures, tell some stories, and give my two cents on yesterday’s getaway – and the shenanigans that ensued.

First of all, living downstate, a drive up north is humbling to say the least. As most of us are used to cities and overpopulated areas, you learn quickly by a drive through the country that things are different; farms and wastelands abound, and you pass houses on back roads that look as if they’re owned by Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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My friends and I passed the time accordingly, however. We sang songs (notably “December, 1963”) and told inside jokes to make the three hour trip seemingly go by faster. It took a little while but we finally made it to Main St. around 3 p.m.

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The first thing I noticed were the banners hanging up outside the Hall, complete with the images of those who will be inducted at the end of next month. I had to take an obligatory picture of the banner with Joe Torre’s face on it. What kind of Yankee fan would I be if I didn’t?

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When we walked in to get our admission tickets, we were told that yesterday was in fact the 75th anniversary of the Museum’s opening. We were then given a special (and free!) keychain in honor of the day.

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Torre’s image (as well as a few of his baseball mementos) was on display right as we walked in – such is the tradition of the Museum. I remember my first trip to Cooperstown in 2007, giant almost Fathead-like pictures of Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn were in the same location, along with some of their baseball knick-knacks. (Ripken and Gwynn were the ’07 honorees).

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After that we checked out the room dedicated to the Negro Leagues. The great number 42 Jackie Robinson’s jersey was on display – and evidence of how difficult he and the rest of the African American players had it back then.

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There were also exhibits dedicated to the Ladies’ Leagues; showcased were the uniforms Geena Davis and Rosie O’Donnell wore in A League of Their Own.

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We then made our way around. There were plenty of artifacts from the days of old, specifically the days of Yankee past – which is what I was primarily aiming to get pictures of. Unfortunately the legendary Babe Ruth Room was closed for renovations, but his uniform was still on display. Lou Gehrig’s locker and belongings were also out, in addition to Phil Rizzuto’s Ray Hickock Award, one of Yogi Berra’s MVPs, and Mickey Mantle’s locker.

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I also found this scale model of Wrigley Field pretty neat.

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Then we got into the good stuff: artifacts from the Yankee Dynasty of the late 1990s, with some 2009 memories even exhibited. Among them some photos, Jeter’s spikes from 1998 and jersey from 1996; and his helmet from 2000 Subway/World Series, one of David Cone’s jerseys from 1999 (I believe it was the one he wore during his perfecto), Mariano Rivera’s cap from the ’09 Fall Classic, and the 1996 World Series trophy.

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In the locker room of the Hall of Fame, treasures from recent memories are shown off. In the Yankee locker was Rivera’s cap from last year’s All-Star Game at Citi Field, Andy Pettitte’s hat from the ’09 World Series, and Hideki Matsui’s bat from the ’09 World Series.

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The jersey Jeter was wearing when he whacked his 500th career double was also in the Yankee locker, and the jersey Alex Rodriguez was wearing when he whacked his 500th career double – Jeter and A-Rod are the only teammates in history to accomplish the feat in the same year (Jeter notched his 500th career two-base hit on May 3, 2012, and A-Rod reached 500 doubles on May 21, 2012).

We also noticed the Seattle Mariners’ card. Read the number of championships and weep, Cano.

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We then journeyed into a few different rooms with lots of pictures. Most of them speak for themselves.

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I also decided to give Big Papi a piece of my mind.

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I stumbled across this, too:

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Reading it made me proud to be a reporter, although it puts a lot into perspective, what with the advent of Twitter and live-tweeting games in this day and age.

The “Baseball at the Movies” exhibit is one of my favorites at the Hall. Kevin Costner’s jersey from Bull Durham was there, along with a no. 61 jersey Billy Crystal donated from his movie, 61*, about the famous home run chase during the 1961 season between Mantle and Roger Maris.

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I also loved how John Fogerty’s original draft of “Centerfield” which is (in my opinion) baseball’s unofficial National Anthem, was there. I didn’t notice that the previous two times I visited.

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From there we went to the Promised Land: the plaque room. I tried to snap pictures of all the Yankees I could. Ruth’s lifelike statute rightfully is located in the plaque room, which I also got a picture of.

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After that we went into the room with all of the World Series rings in it. I managed to take some shots of the ’96, ’98-00 and ’09 Yankee bling, although I’m unsure why the 1999 ring was upside down.

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From there we left the Museum, making sure we saw everything there was to see, then took a walk about town. The rustic, old school, small town feel of Cooperstown is just amazing – and using the word ‘amazing’ it underselling it in a huge way. You have to live it and go there for yourself to truly appreciate it.

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We took a jaunt over to Doubleday Field, hoping there might be a game going on, but the weather was uncooperative to say the least. We were the lone pilgrims at the “birthplace of baseball.” Literally.

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And, living in the year 2014, we had to take a selfie. Quota filled.

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We left town afterward and took a tour of the OmmeGang Brewery right outside of town. I’m pretty sure my friend Alicia Barnhart over at “Ballparks on a Budget” would appreciate this part of the trip!

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The tour wasn’t that long, but we wound up staying for the tasting. The beer was delicious; it left me with a bit of a buzz, though my friends suffered no ill effects from drinking. Needless to say the ride home was interesting with a lightweight like myself riding as a passenger.

Overall, it was a fun day. I do think we rushed the trip a little bit; we didn’t take a full, complete day like last time, but it’s Cooperstown. Some never make it in their lifetime to this historic landmark town.

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But me – I can now say I’ve been there three times. And I’m sure at some point I’ll go again, because it gets better and better every time.

All ex Yankees kill the Yankees

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The Yankees are currently on a cold streak that makes Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance as Mr. Freeze in the god-awful Joel Schumacher film “Batman & Robin” look like an Oscar-worthy portrayal. The Bronx Bombers have become the Bronx Bums, losing four straight, however they did snap the losing skid by beating the Oakland A’s 2-1 this afternoon. The Yanks have dropped six of their last 10, falling to third place in the AL East standings in the process.

Six games out of the division lead behind both first place beasts the Toronto Blue Jays and second place contenders the Baltimore Orioles, the Yanks obviously have some catching up to do. What’s unfortunate about some of their recent bad luck has been, specifically, the players who have been beating up on them.

A slew of former Yankees have come back to burn the Yankees – and as a junior baseball historian (if I may call myself that) I’ve noticed the evident concept of former Yankees punishing the Yankees, and it’s not a series of random isolated incidents; rather a pattern that’s developed over time: all ex-Yankees kill the Yankees.

Allow me to demonstrate.

April 27, 1982 – Reggie Jackson

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Reggie Jackson became one of the most beloved Yankees in the late 1970s, helping carry the team to two World Series titles in 1977 and 1978. With three home runs in (the series clinching) Game 6 of the ’77 fall classic, a candy bar named after him, and a tremendous amount of popularity, his legions of Yankee fans were disappointed when management didn’t bring him back for the 1982 season.

So, in his first at-bat in his return to Yankee Stadium, Mr. October showed them what they’d lost.

As a California Angel, he hammered a home run off former teammate Ron Guidry. Yankee Universe was so upset that he wasn’t in pinstripes anymore, that as he rounded the bases they chanted “REG-GIE! REG-GIE! REG-GIE!” in support of its old flame.

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George Steinbrenner would later say, “letting him go was the biggest mistake I made as Yankee owner.”

This is where it started.

 

June 14, 2003 – Tino Martinez

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Tino Martinez was not re-signed after the Yankee Dynasty fell in the 2001 World Series, getting supplanted by powerhouse Jason Giambi (to play first base). He went to the St. Louis Cardinals, and was pleasantly surprised when a trip to Yankee Stadium appeared on the 2003 MLB schedule.

When the “Bam-Tino” returned he was greeted with open arms by the Yankee fans; cheers and fond memories abounded the night of June 14.

He dug in to a chorus of applause in the second inning, and took his former teammate Andy Pettitte deep for a two-run homer – much to the delight of all in attendance.

After the game Martinez lightheartedly said, “Andy Pettitte was a little flustered because, here I hit the home run and they’re giving me a standing ovation. He’s like, I really love you, but c’mon!”

And he wasn’t done.

In the ninth inning he clubbed yet another two-run tater, showing the Yankees what they’d been missing. He accounted for all four runs the Cardinals scored, albeit it was a 13-4 Yankee win.

“My teammates were like, this is the greatest place I’ve ever seen,” Martinez continued. “And I said, I told you – this is the greatest place of all to play.”

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It’s also worth noting that Martinez smacked his 300th career homer on March 30, 2004 against the Yankees as a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He touched up Felix Heredia for the milestone home run in an 8-3 Rays win.

It’s no wonder the Yankees brought him back in 2005.

 

July 10-12, 2009 – Bobby Abreu

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Bobby Abreu was a stellar trade deadline pickup in 2006, filling a void the Yankees needed to plug in right field. He may not have been the best when it came to defensively playing the outfield wall, but man could he swing the bat.

And when the Yankees didn’t return him for the 2009 season, he made them pay.

Like Jackson, Abreu went to the Angels. When the Halos hosted the Yankees for three games right before the ’09 All-Star break, he slammed his former ‘mates hard. The numbers tell the whole story.

In those three games, Abreu went 6-for-14 (.428) with six RBIs and three runs scored. He played a huge part in the Yankees losing all three games – getting swept before a few days off. The Angels beat the Yankees 10-6 in the first game, 14-8 in game two of the series, and 5-4 in the finale.

Abreu also smacked a grand slam on April 13, 2010, the day of the Yankees’ 2009 ring ceremony, off now-Yankee closer David Robertson. He nearly spoiled the day, crushing the slam in the ninth inning, but the Yanks held on for a 7-5 win.  

April 15, 2010 – Hideki Matsui

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The man known as “Godzilla” pieced together quite an amazing career in pinstripes. Coming over from the Far East in 2003, he was a Yankee through 2009, when he went out with a bang: winning the World Series and collecting MVP honors of the ’09 fall classic.

Yet, like Jackson and Abreu before him, the Angels came calling when the Yanks didn’t bring him back for 2010.

The night of April 15 in his first year not playing Major League Baseball in pinstripes, Matsui took his former teammate Phil Hughes deep in the second inning.

Hughes watched the ball sail over the right field wall at the big ballpark in the Bronx with the countenance of a stiffened corpse.

More from Hughes later.

 

May 10, 2010 – Johnny Damon

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Johnny Damon was one of the Yankees best turncoats, putting on the pinstripes after becoming a revered player in Boston. Following Matsui’s example, he helped the Yankees reach and win the World Series in 2009, stealing two bases in one deft move in Game 4 to damage the morale of the Philadelphia Phillies.

The proverbial “man of steal” went to the Detroit Tigers after 2009, and was pitted up against his old team on May 10 the following season; the Yankees in MoTown for a four-game set.

In his first game facing off with his old friends, Damon blasted a solo home run off starter Sergio Mitre. His round-tripper proved to be significant, being that the Tigers beat the Yankees by one run, 5-4.

Damon wound up collecting four hits on his former team in the four-game series while scoring two runs.

 

May 14-15, 2013 – Raul Ibanez

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Raul Ibanez was as clutch and as solid as they come in 2012 for the Yankees, seemingly creating magic on a nightly basis in the ’12 postseason. Time after time he came up to bat in key spots, and always delivered.

The Yanks let him go after 2012, and he signed with the Mariners for 2013 – and he basically wasted no time showing the Yankees what they were missing.

On May 14 Ibanez teed off on CC Sabathia, warping a two-run homer. He finished the night 2-for-4 with the tater and a run scored, although the Yankees escaped the night with a 4-3 win.

The next night, however, Ibanez stuck it to the Yankees big time.

In the first inning he took Phil Hughes deep for a grand slam, and ended the night with six RBIs and two runs scored. The Mariners went on to win in a squadoosh, 12-2.

April 4-6, 2014 – Melky Cabrera

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Melky Cabrera spent 2005-2008 up and down with the Yankees, but in 2009 found a permanent home on the 25-man roster. Like Damon and Matsui he left after winning the ’09 title, getting traded for Javy Vazquez.

One of radio announcer John Sterling’s quirky calls for Cabrera (whenever he did anything positive as a Yankee) was, “the Melk man always knocks twice.”

At the beginning of this season, the Melk man knocked his old team three times as a Toronto Blue Jay.

On Friday April 4 he welcomed newcomer Masahiro Tanaka to the bigs with a leadoff home run; a rude welcome to MLB for the Japanese import. The Yanks had the last laugh, however, beating the Jays 7-3.

The next day he gave David Phelps something to think about, taking him deep in the eighth inning. His solo job paid dividends, because the Jays won 5-4.

The third time was the charm on April 6 – the series finale. Cabrera punished the Yankees yet again, homering off his former teammate CC Sabathia. The Yankee offense picked the big man up, and the Yankees went on to win 6-4.

The Yankees may have won the series, yet three homers in three consecutive days – off the bat of a player they gave away for a lousy pitcher (Vazquez) – is enough to make any Yankee fan face-palm.

May 11, 2014 – Mark Reynolds

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Mark Reynolds was acquired by the Yankees on Aug. 15 last year after being designated for assignment by the Cleveland Indians. The Yanks may have thought they could catch some lightning; perhaps get a much-needed offensive spark from an unlikely source.

In all, Reynolds played 36 games in pinstripes. He finished his short-lived Yankee career with six homers, 19 RBIs, 15 runs scored and with a .236 BA. However, combining his numbers with the Indians, he finished 2013 overall with 21 home runs, 67 RBIs, a .220 BA and 55 runs scored.

Not too bad, but maybe his low batting average and his strikeout count from ’13 (154) was too much for the Yankees. Whatever the reason, they allowed him to walk and he caught on with the Milwaukee Brewers.

On Mother’s Day this year, as fate would have it, Reynolds had a chance to remind the Yankees what they let go of when he was at the plate with a runner on third in a 5-5 game at Miller Park in the bottom of the ninth.

Reynolds wrapped a single to left field to plate Rickie Weeks, giving the Brew Crew a walk-off, 6-5 win over the Yankees.

A former player burned the Yankees yet again, and something else to chew on: Reynolds has 13 homers this year and 28 RBIs – more than the Yankees’ team leader in both categories. Mark Teixeira leads the Yanks in homers with 10 and RBIs with 27.

 

May 12-13, 2014 – Curtis Granderson

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Not long after Reynolds made the Yankees remember him, Curtis Granderson gave them a grim reminder of how deadly he can be. Granderson, a Yankee from 2010-13, became a fan favorite while in pinstripes. His stroke was perfect for Yankee Stadium, and it showed.

When his four-year Yankee career was all said and done, Granderson finished with 115 homers (for the Bronx Bombers, not counting his time in Detroit) and 307 RBIs. Yet a cumulative batting average of .242 – and an injury plagued 2013 – most likely made the Yankee brass shy away from bringing back the “Grandy Man.”

That’s when the cross town Mets came calling. Granderson answered for four years and $60 million.

When he returned to Yankee Stadium May 12, Granderson took his old buddy Hiroki Kuroda deep in the sixth inning, a two-run bomb that proved significant: the Mets beat the Yanks by two, 9-7.

The very next night he showed the Yankees up again, this time with a three-run tater in the top of the first off Vidal Nuno. The Mets wound up winning 12-7, taking two Subway Series games at the big ballpark in the Bronx.

Lucky for the Yankees he cooled off when the Subway Series took the Citi Field: Granderson went 0-for-7 in the final two rivalry games with three strikeouts.

 

 

June 1, 2014 – Phil Hughes and Eduardo Nunez

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Phil Hughes came up in 2007, dubbed by The Sports Illustrated the “next Roger Clemens” or in SI’s own words, “the pocket rocket.” Hughes was anything but, finishing his tenure in New York with a record of 56-50. Last year alone, his final year in pinstripes, he went 4-14 with an ERA of 5.19, letting up 170 hits in 145 2/3 innings.

Altogether he allowed 112 home runs as a Yankee pitcher, so naturally the Bombers had a chance to chastise him for all that grief this past Sunday, when he made his return to Yankee Stadium as a Minnesota Twin.

No such luck.

Hughes tossed eight innings of two-run ball on just three hits. He walked only two and struck out six, on the way to his sixth win of 2014. The Yanks couldn’t figure out their former middle-of-the-rotation hurler.

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And it only got worse.

Earlier this year the Yankees opted to designate shortstop Eduardo Nunez – the untouchable piece they wouldn’t let go of in a deal that would’ve sent ace Cliff Lee to the Yankees in a potential 2010 trade that fell through. Nunez was acquired by Minnesota on April 7.

On Sunday the Twins took a 3-2 lead in the ninth – doable, perhaps, for the Yankees to battle back from. But Nunez came up and doubled in Aaron Hicks and Brian Dozier, padding the Twins’ lead. Thus, the game was out of reach and the Yanks ended up falling 7-2.

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A double dose of former Yankee torture.

 

April 29, May 1, & June 2, 2014 – Robinson Cano

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Robinson Cano is not welcome at Yankee Stadium anymore, as evidenced by these three games. After inking a lucrative deal with Seattle this offseason, leaving Yankee fans high and dry, it seemed, Cano made his return to Yankee Stadium on April 29.

An RBI and a run scored on Cano’s part helped the Mariners win a 6-3 game against the Yanks.

A rainout pushed the second game of the series back a day, and on May 1, Cano snatched another hit off his old team and drove in two more runs. Seattle won 4-2.

The makeup of the rainout happened this past Monday night; Cano went 1-for-3 with a run scored and two walks. Seattle once again bested the Yankees, 10-2.

The numbers don’t exactly leap off the page, but looking at the box scores closely, the former beloved second baseman quietly helped slam the Bombers down in the Mariners’ games vs. New York this year. Cano still has a chance to do more damage on his former ‘mates next week, when the Mariners host the Yanks June 10-12 at SafeCo.

And more damage was exactly what Cano did. The slugging second baseman once adored by Yankee fans and now reviled homered off Masahiro Tanaka in the ninth inning to break up a shutout, although the Yankees won 4-2.

After all this proof one has to wonder what’s next. When the Yankees host the Tigers Aug. 4-7, is Joba Chamberlain going to record some saves on the Yankees?

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Will Hughes throw a perfect game vs. them when the Bombers go to Target Field on July 3? Is Cabrera going to smack three more home runs off Yankee pitching on June 17, when the Yankees get back from their upcoming road trip and host the Blue Jays?

It wouldn’t be shocking if they did. Because it’s as factual as it gets.

All ex-Yankees kill the Yankees.

………………………………………………………….

July 10 – UPDATE!

As I typed this blog up on June 4-5, I continually had to go back and keep adding to it. Now, a little over a month later, (not thinking it was possible) I am returning to pile on even more pain caused by former Yankees.

Here goes.

Steve Pearce – June 20-22, 2014

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If you blinked at all during the 2012 season, you may have missed Steve Pearce. He was acquired by New York from the Astros for cash on Aug. 27 and designated for assignment on Sept. 25, probably going hardly noticed bysome fans.

A journeyman, he made his way to the Orioles this year – and made sure the Yankees knew what they’d willingly given up not even two years ago.

On June 20 Pearce went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored in what would’ve been an Orioles win over the Yanks had it not been for some late-game heroics off the bat of Carlos Beltran.

The next day Pearce duplicated his performance from the day before; in fact he did it in more spectacular fashion. Pearce homered off Vidal Nuno, a two-run tater that helped lead the O’s to a 6-1 win over the Yankees.

In the series finale he finished off his assault with a 2-for-4 clip. In that three-game set, overall he went 6-for-13 with a homer, four RBIs, two runs scored and two walks.

Not bad for a guy the Yankees axed right before the playoffs. He’ll have a chance to leave more of a lasting impression on his old team this weekend, as the O’s host the Yankees right before the All-Star break.

 

Nick Swisher – July 7-10, 2014

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The “Swisher Salute” was a staple of every roll call at the outset of every Yankee home game from 2009-2012, but when Nick Swisher got offered a huge deal from the Cleveland Indians, it was time to say goodbye to the beloved right fielder.

This week Swisher darn sure made the Yankees pay for giving him up.

On Monday night he took a mighty hack and broke up Shane Greene’s no-hitter in the fifth inning, homering over the big wall in left-center field.

That’s right. One Swisher swing; no-hitter gone, shutout gone. Yet it made little difference, because the Yankees went on to get the better of the tribe, 5-3.

However Tuesday night, he took another swing that surely made a difference.

Off Tanaka, the Yankee ace, Swisher smacked a go-ahead two-run homer over the wall in right-center to give the Indians a 4-3 lead. Cleveland would go on to hand the Yanks a 5-3 loss, playing to win from behind.

If that wasn’t enough, on Wednesday Swisher was at it again; knocking in two runs with a single right away in the first inning off new Yankee starter Brandon McCarthy. The Yankees would fight back and take that game 5-4 in 14 long innings, but just for good measure, Swisher added a base hit in the series finale tonight – which ended in a 9-3 victory for the Indians

 

Chris Dickerson – July 7-10, 2014

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Believe it or not, Chris Dickerson was originally drafted by the Yankees in 2000, but opted for college instead of pro ball. He was good enough to be drafted again, the second time by the Cincinnati Reds. After making his MLB debut in Cincy in 2008 and enjoying a stint with the Brewers, he was eventually picked up by the original team that drafted him in a deal that sent Sergio Mitre to Milwaukee.

Dickerson was up and down with the Yankees throughout 2011 and 2012, but they ultimately designated him for assignment and released him.

The reason? An overabundance of left-handed hitters.

Great reason to cut somebody, right?

A free man, he went to the Orioles and Pirates before finding a home recently with the Indians. In this past four-game set this week, Dickerson collected seven hits and scored four runs on the Yankees.

That’s not even the best part.

In an even funnier story, last year when he was with Baltimore, he clubbed two homers off Phil Hughes on May 21 – this of course being in 2013, when Hughes was still wearing pinstripes.

Dickerson gets bonus points: he went back-to-back; killed the Yankees last season and this season.

I’m just going to go ahead and end this post with,

To be continued….

UPDATE! Sept. 23

Yes. There is more.

Kelly Johnson – Sept. 14, 2014; Sept. 23, 2014

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Kelly Johnson, we barely knew ye. This year Johnson became the first player ever to put on the uniform of every team in the AL East. In fact, in 2014 alone he’s played with three of the five beasts from the east. He started with the Yankees in New York, where he played 77 games and hit .219 with six homers and 22 RBIs.

At the trade deadline Brian Cashman swapped him for Stephen Drew, shipping him over to Boston. Johnson played in just 10 games with the reigning champs and batted .160 with no homers and just one RBI.

The Red Sox let him go and the Baltimore Orioles took him from there.

On Sept. 14, in a Sunday night game the Yanks needed to take from the O’s for the sake of the standings, Johnson delivered the death blow in a 2-2 game; an RBI double capping a ninth inning Orioles rally to finish off the pinstripers by a count of 3-2.

Johnson proved yet again that all ex-Yankees kill the Yankees Sept. 23 in the Bronx when he homered off Brandon McCarthy. He finished the night 3-for-5 with the round-tripper, in what turned out to be a 5-4 Baltimore win over New York.

 

Domo arigato, Mr. Matsui

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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.

Grand opening

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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World Series home run: a first

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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

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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

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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).

Birthday bashing

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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.

2009

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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

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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.

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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

Hideki Matsui

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.

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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.

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Even when he was away from the Bronx, it is evident the Yanks were always in his heart of hearts.

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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)

New York Yankees World Series parade

The Grand Tour

With the Texas Rangers’ win over the Los Angeles Angels tonight, the Yankees have officially clinched a spot in the postseason this year, but they will go in knowing full well it took almost all 162 games to get into the party.

This afternoon was an indication of that.

Tied with Baltimore for the AL East lead entering play today, the Bronx Bombers weren’t helping themselves when they trailed the Toronto Blue Jays 5-1 after five innings; Phil Hughes pitching about as poorly as it gets in a hugely important game.

Thankfully for him, the offense bailed him out.

The Yanks pieced together an epic rally, shredding away at the Jays’ four run lead, scoring one run in the sixth, three in the seventh, and two in the eighth and ninth innings for a necessary 9-6 victory.

Unfortunately for the Yanks, the Orioles also won their game this afternoon, beating the Red Sox 6-3 at home, and thus leaving the AL East in a stalemate going into the final three games of the 2012 regular season.

While the Yankees staged their comeback on the road, I spent the better part of my day at their home – Yankee Stadium. My friends and I were fortunate enough to take a tour of the ballpark, a trip I’ve wanted to go on for a long time.

We even took the tour with Ichiro’s brother!

Just kidding. But he looked almost exactly identical to him.

The first stop on the tour was the Yankee museum inside the Stadium. Our tour guide, a nice guy by the name of Tim, showed us the new Mickey Mantle exhibit. He then told some neat stories (most of which I already knew about) highlighting Mantle’s career.

For instance, during the 1951 World Series Mantle tore all the cartilage in his knee chasing down a fly ball struck by Willie Mays of the Giants – one of the multiple injuries Mantle suffered over the course of his legendary career.

I first learned of that story in the movie 61*

From the museum, we journeyed to Monument Park, behind the center field wall. I’ve been to Monument Park a number of times, and never knew the story behind the door.

According to Tim, there originally was no door linking the Yankee bullpen to Monument Park. Mariano Rivera made a special request for a door to be put in – all because of his pre-appearance ritual. Before every time Rivera runs in from the bullpen, he goes into Monument Park and rubs Babe Ruth’s monument.

Don’t ask me why. For luck, I suppose? Like he needs it…

At any rate, it was a nice little factoid; nothing I knew about before. I also bent over and picked up a rock from behind the Monument wall, and discreetly put it in my pocket for keeping. I’m not sure if was allowed to do that or not…

But I won’t tell if you don’t. I just wanted to keep a piece of the day – and Yankee Stadium – for myself.

After our tour of Monument Park concluded, we made our way to the Yankee dugout, which in my opinion was the best and most fun part of the tour. We were allowed to snap pictures and make all the funny poses we wanted. My friends and I actually came up with a small running joke for this picture:

I was told I could be “Ellen Page’s boyfriend.” Don’t ask.

We then decided to pretend we were in the middle of a heated game, and posed as if the Yankees crushed a walk-off home run. We made sure to take full advantage of the dugout photo-ops.

I’ve always dreamt what it was like to be in the Yankees’ dugout – and it was pretty cool knowing that, in only a matter of hours, the entire team would be back and buzzing; right in the same spot I was in, as the Yanks come home to host Boston tomorrow, Tuesday, and Wednesday to close out the year.

Before we left, I sat down and slid my rear end across the entire bench, then declared,

“Derek Jeter always sits on this bench. And now I did, too.”

The two security guards laughed hysterically at my shenanigan.

We were then taken into the clubhouse, but with one small caveat: no pictures allowed. The organization feels the clubhouse is the Yankee players’ personal space, and snapping photos inside that personal space isn’t right.

I have to agree – if I was in their shoes, I wouldn’t want people coming in and taking pictures of my locker and my personal belongings which it holds.

Some things I did take notice of, albeit I don’t have pictures – and some clubhouse facts from Tim:

  • Boone Logan has a Yankee lawn gnome in his locker.
  • Jayson Nix had a bottle of what looked like prescription pills in his locker. And an iPhone charger.  
  • For most of the season, Derek Jeter has two lockers: one for his baseball equipment and one for fan mail and gifts from his sponsors. In fact, Tim said, “If they could fit a Ford truck into this clubhouse, they would, and it would be right in that locker with the rest of Jeter’s stuff.”
  • With all the September call-ups, Francisco Cervelli is using Jeter’s second locker, for now.
  • David Aardsma, who was just activated, didn’t have a name/number plate above his locker. That was to be expected, however. He hasn’t pitched at Yankee Stadium yet.
  • Ichiro’s locker is the same locker Hideki Matsui used.
  • The visiting clubhouse is “big and nice, but not as big and nice as the Yankees’ clubhouse.”
  • When leaving the new Stadium, the players don’t have to leave from the outside of the building – unlike the old Stadium.

The elevator from the clubhouse took us right up into the Great Hall where the tour started, and Tim gave everyone a little souvenir: a Yankee Stadium tour keychain. My friends and I then took a walk over to the Hard Rock Café for some lunch, which surprisingly was very affordable and not overly pricey. (My friend Alicia over at Ballparks on a Budget would appreciate it!)

We watched the Yanks take the win over the Jays as we ate, and before we left, we basically got a little bonus. It turns out part of the frieze from the old Stadium is now sitting outside Heritage Field. We went over and took some photos with it, and I placed my hand on it; kind of touched it with my heart, in a way.

As much as I like the new Stadium, I truly enjoyed the original House that Ruth built. And it felt only right to pay homage to a relic.

Overall, it was one of the best and most fun days of my life.

Was I the happiest kid in New York today?

Yes. But then again, I was probably the happiest kid alive.

My First Trip to the New Yankee Stadium

This afternoon I found myself organizing a bunch of documents on my laptop. School assignments from my College years, newspaper articles from the school paper, and all of my recent work assignments were stockpiled in my computer folder.

I came across a personal experience story I had to write for my feature writing class in May of 2009. It should come as no shock that I wrote about my experience from the first trip I took to the new Yankee Stadium.

Reading this back, I felt like a little kid. It was priceless. I figured it might be nice to share it on here; put it on the blog. Most of the pictures in this entry are ones I shot that day.

 Enjoy!….

I was exhausted as I looked out the window on the train ride home. As a die-hard baseball fan, I had just been through an absolute whirlwind. The day of my baseball-loving life.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 was a very special day for me. I was privileged enough to make my first trip with my friends and family to the new Yankee Stadium.

In only the sixth regular season game at the new ballpark, the New York Yankees hosted the Oakland Athletics in an afternoon game.

Wearing my pinstriped Mariano Rivera jersey on my back and one of my many fitted Yankee caps on my head, I met up with my friends, Brian and Jenn, and my cousin Joe for what would be a memorable day.

On the train ride to the Bronx, we really did not know what to expect, other than a great time. I, for one, was not sure if the new Stadium would live up to the hype.

Sure, it looks incredible on television and in the newspapers, but how is it going look in-person? Will it be the same feeling as enjoying a game at the old Stadium? I couldn’t help but think.

We walked off the number four subway in the Bronx to an overwhelming site: The new Yankee Stadium in all its glory.

As we approached the building, we did not know what we were in for.

“The Kingdom of Heaven!” I exclaimed, while I was glaring at the building.

“This place looks absolutely amazing, and we are not even inside yet.”

The first thing we had to do was take pictures. I reached into my bag and pulled out my camera. I shot the façade of the stadium. I snapped pictures of the new Babe Ruth Plaza outside the Stadium.

And I got a picture of the new electronic game day board that read, “Oakland Athletics vs. New YorkYankees Today1:05.”

With seats in the bleachers, we were unsure of where to enter. If you had seats in the bleachers at the old Stadium, you could only enter through the back of the building. But we wanted to see everything in the new stadium. We walked up to Gate Six, and asked where to go.

“As long as you have your ticket, you can enter at any gate,” the gentleman informed us. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the bleachers. We treat everybody equally at this Stadium!”

We happily entered the gate, right into the Great Hall. What I saw left me in disbelief. Yankees everywhere I looked.

“Wow,” I said in amazement. “I…I just can’t believe this. This place is unreal.”

 Of course we had to take more pictures. My friends got a shot of me standing in the Great Hall with all the Yankee banners behind me.

Reggie Jackson. Paul O’Neill. Thurman Munson. Me. What a picture.

After walking around and snapping a ridiculous amount of photos, we finally settled into our seats. Left field bleachers, Section 236, row five, seat 16. That was mine.

It was about11:00 a.m.by the time we made it to the seats. The A’s were out on the field, stretching and taking batting practice.

I noticed so many baseballs fly out of the park. One flew right over our heads, landing about 20 feet away. Not long after that, one came within ten feet of Joe’s seat, landing directly in the glove of the kid next to him.

“Holy cow,” I said. “Pretty close!”  

I then took a few minutes to take it all in. I looked at the frieze which now surrounds the top of the entire stadium. I looked out at the field. I looked at the flags around the top of the stadium, indicating the league standings.

“We are in second place right now,” I noted. “Right behind Toronto.”

And then I beheld the press box, which is located in the mezzanine behind home plate.

“I’ll be there someday,” I quietly said to myself.

“I just need my journalism degree, which I’ll be getting very soon, and a little bit of time to work my way up. I’ll be sitting up there with the rest of the writers, eventually.”

It had started to lightly rain during batting practice, and I began to feel very skeptical as to whether or not the game was going to be played. There was rain in the forecast, and I was not certain they were going to get it in.

But the grounds crew thought differently. They did not come out to put the tarp on the field. They chalked the lines and the batter’s box, raked the mound, and put the bases in, as if they were starting the game on time.

Then I noticed CC Sabathia chug from the dugout to the outfield to play long toss with the bullpen catcher. Pitching Coach Dave Eiland and Jorge Posada soon followed Sabathia out to centerfield.

I felt a little more confident now that the pitcher was warming up.

“If the game was not going to start on time, they would not have CC out there throwing,” I thought to myself. “We’ll see some baseball today.”

It got to be 1:00, and the P.A. announcer gave us the starting lineups. Oaklandfirst. The visitors are always announced first. Then the home team.

“…And for the Yankees: led by their manager, number 27, Joe Girardi. Batting first, the shortstop, number two, Derek Jeter!”

I could not contain myself as each Yankee was announced. I am a passionate Yankee fan, and I marked out for every single Yankee in the lineup.

“YAY, Derek! YAY Johnny! YAY BigTex!” …and so on.

Then came the National Anthem. And after the on-the-field warm-ups, the start of the game.

The first pitch was so exciting. Everybody was up and cheering. The roar of the crowd gets to you, even as a fan. I don’t know how the players handle it, but as a fan, it’s extremely intense.

After the first pitch, which was ball one from Sabathia, we heard it.

“YOOOOOO, Melky!!!!!”

“Bald Vinny,” the main bleacher creature who always sits in right field, started the Yankee roll call. He did this for every game in the old Stadium and apparently the tradition lives on.

“Some things will never change,” I said with a smile on my face.

I watched as the fans standing in the bleachers cried out for every Yankee until they were acknowledged. I could only laugh as I watched right fielder Nick Swisher turn around, face the bleacher creatures, and salute them, as if he was an Army soldier.

In the top of the second inning, Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki slaughtered Sabathia’s offering to left field. Brian, Jenn, Joe and I all stood up as we gazed at the ball flying out to left field.

It carried far enough for a fan sitting in the front row to snatch the ball. He closed his glove and caught the ball for a three-run Oakland home run.

As the boos reverberated throughout the Stadium, Girardi came out to argue that the fan interfered.

“Here we go again,” I said. “Just like Sunday against Cleveland – bring on instant replay!”

The umps went into the tunnel for what seemed like only five minutes to decide whether or not the ball was a home run.

“Here come the umps,” Brian said to me as they walked from the third base tunnel out onto the field. “I hope it gets overturned!”

Third base umpire Brian Gorman twirled his index finger, signaling that the ball was indeed a goner. The Yankees were now down, 3-0.

A little depressed, we knew the Yankees needed a spark. Being down 3-0 early on in the game never puts any fan in a good mood.

But the bottom of the second inning lifted our spirits in a great way.

Hideki Matsui stepped up to the plate, and cracked a long, solo homer into the right field seats, putting us back within two runs.

“YES! I joyfully cried out. “We’re back in it!”

After Matsui’s blast, I high fived everyone around me, including two Yankee fans I had never met.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the other fans when a Yankee hits a home run. We’re all Yankee fans, which makes us family at the game.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” one of the fans said to me as I slapped his hand.

The next batter was Melky Cabrera. We had just seen one Yankee home run, and Cabrera made it two.

Back-to-back jacks – the first set of back-to-back home runs in the new house, in fact. Cabrera clobbered Oakland starter Brett Anderson’s offering into the area right below us.

Again, I yelled out, “YES! 3-2!”

While Cabrera rounded the bases, I borrowed Yankee announcer John Sterling’s cheesy catch-phrase and shouted, “The Melk-man always knocks twice!”

With the Yankees now trailing by only one run at the end of the second inning and the rain pouring down rather steadily, we had no choice but to leave our seats and take cover.

One of the best facets of the new stadium are the standing rooms. You can leave your seat, and still view the on-the-field-action.

Now protected from the rain and perched over the centerfield gate with Monument Park beneath us, we stood and watched Sabathia and the Yankees give up another run in the top of the third, making the score 4-2.

“Are you kidding me? This just is not right,” I told Joe while shaking my head in confusion.

Down 4-2, the Yankees received a much-needed lift in the bottom half of the third.

With Posada on second and Teixeira on third, Robinson Cano was able to push Teixeira across the plate for a run, bringing the Yanks back within one.

Soon after Nick Swisher came up and singled to drive in Posada, knotting the game at four runs apiece.

“Alright, we’re making some progress here,” I said as I peered out onto the field at the end of third inning.

“I have a gut feeling we’ll be on top when this game is all said and done.”

In the bottom of the fourth inning, we were treated to yet another Yankee home run. This time it was the Captain.

Jeter came up and blasted a solo home run directly below us in centerfield, taking the ball into Monument Park. If you looked closely enough on the replay, for a split second, you could just see the group of us cheering on the home run from the standing room platform above centerfield before it landed.

“Way to go, Captain! He did it again,” I gleefully exclaimed.

According to the scoreboard, Jeter was playing in his 2,000th career game. A home run must have been a nice way to remember it by.  

Oakland would get a run back off Sabathia in the top of the sixth, as Mark Ellis singled to score Jack Cust.

I could hear the other fans’ disgust at Sabathia’s pitching.

“Why does this guy suck? He’s terrible,” I heard one upset fan say.

“Go back toMilwaukee, you waste of money,” I heard another disgruntled fan cry out.

The bad feelings towards Sabathia temporarily evaporated in the bottom of the sixth, as the Yankees re-took the lead.

Tied at five, Jeter doubled to score Cody Ransom, and Teixeira singled to score Jeter, giving the Bronx Bombers a 7-5 edge.

“This is real Yankee baseball,” I thought to myself. “It doesn’t matter how bad CC is, as long as the offense does its job.”

With the Yanks up by two at the end of six, we decided to leave the standing area and see the rest of the palace.

 The new stadium offers so much, and there’s a lot to see and do. We heard that there was museum inside the ballpark, open to the fans. We asked around, and found out that we had just enough time to visit the museum before it closed.

So we went.

We walked in the Yankee museum, and just as I had been blown away coming off the subway, I was taken aback by everything in the room. There was so much to see.

We took pictures with the World Series trophies from the 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000 Championship years. The years I fell in love with the Yankees and with baseball.  

I couldn’t help but think of the great teams of those years, and how much I loved watching them at the old Stadium.

“I remember when Tino Martinez crushed that grand slam into the upper deck in right field in first game of the ’98 series,” I said to Brian.

“Tino was one of the greatest players to ever put on the pinstripes, and my favorite during the dynasty.”

Then we made our way to the “ball wall,” an incased shelf of baseballs autographed by practically every player ever to wear a Yankee uniform.

I was amazed, saying to my friends and cousin, “Hey, look here’s Yogi! Oh man, it’s Jeter’s ball. And here’s Tino’s! And the greatest player to ever live: Babe Ruth.” 

After viewing the ball wall, we journeyed over to the replica clubhouse locker. You can type your name into the computer, and it will appear above the locker, as if you are in the Yankee clubhouse as a player.

I typed my name in, and it appeared.

“A.J. Martelli” appeared above the locker, much to my delight.

I thought to myself, “This is what it feels like to be a Yankee. It feels pretty good.”

Of course, I got a picture of me in the locker with my name posted over my head to remember it by.

As all this was going on, we noticed on the high definition television screen that Sabathia was blowing the lead.

Ex-Yankee and current Athletic Jason Giambi grounded out to short while Bobby Crosby scored, and Matt Holliday singled to score Ryan Sweeney, knotting the game again, this time at seven.

Sabathia exited to a mixed reaction from the Yankee faithful, and those bad feelings toward him from the sixth inning came back.

We made our way out of the museum, and back to a standing area, this time by first base.

We could only look on as the Yankees and A’s could not get anything offensive going. With the game still knotted at seven heading into the top half of the ninth, we watched Mariano Rivera come in to pitch.

As Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blared through the new stadium speakers and Rivera dashed in from the bullpen, it all looked so different to me. 

“It’s so weird to see him enter from right field,” I said. “I’m so used to seeing him come in through the left field gate.”

The new Stadium features the Yankee bullpen behind the right field fence, in contrast to the old Stadium, where it sat behind left-center. 

Rivera mowed through the A’s in the top of the ninth. The Yankees could not generate a winning run in the bottom of the ninth, and the game went into extra innings.

The 11th. The 12th. The 13th. After awhile we found ourselves completely wiped out.

With our legs tired and already harboring a seven and a half-hour day at the stadium, we contemplated whether or not to stay or hit the subway back to Grand Central.

“If they don’t win after the 13th, you want to head out?” I asked.

“We are all really tired, I don’t care what we do,” said Brian.

 “I just hope they win, either way!”

With sore legs from walking, a horse voice from cheering, and a tired mind, my friends, my cousin, and I made our way back to the subway.

Many others had the same idea, as the subway was crammed with Yankee fans.

“Was this your first game at the new stadium?” a man wearing a Yankee hat sitting across from me asked.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“How’d you like it?” he followed up.

“It was amazing. I can’t believe how stunning the Stadium really is. The television does not do it justice. You have to come down here and physically enter the building to really appreciate it,” I again replied.

He agreed with everything I said.

When we reached Grand Central, we found that the Yankees were still playing in the top of the 14th inning.

We finally boarded the train back home, exhausted and worn out. However, I was not going to rest until I found out if the Yankees had won or lost.

Strangely enough, I looked out the train window as we passed the Stadium on the way home. Staring in awe at the ballpark from the train, I received a text message from another friend, Micheal.

“Melky just hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the fourteenth. Yankees win!”

As I was glaring at the “Kingdom of Heaven” from the train, the Bronx Bombers were celebrating at home plate, mobbing Cabrera in a 9-7 Yankee victory. The first walk-off home run in the new Yankee Stadium. History.

I smiled, and knew that even though we didn’t exactly see the game-winner, it was like I did.

I was satisfied knowing that I’ll always remember my first trip to the new stadium. I was just an infant when my parents took me to my first game in the old stadium. I can’t exactly remember that first visit to the old ballpark vividly.

But now I’ll have memories that will last for the rest of my life. Memories from my first trip to the new Stadium that I’ll remember forever.

Exhausted and staring out the window as we passed Dobbs Ferry, I finally shut my eyes.

The Yankees won. Now I could rest easily.

Braves Best Yankees in Exhibition, Posada Homers, Other Notes

 

First game Saturday.

On Tuesday the Yankees played the Atlanta Braves to a 5-4 win. Today the Braves gained a measure of redemption, beating the Yankees 6-2 in an exhibition at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Tied at two heading into the top of the seventh, Yankees’ reliever Steve Garrison imploded. The Braves scratched four runs across the plate to take lead and eventually the game. Brent Clevlen singled to score Diory Hernandez to give Atlanta a 3-2 edge. Matt Young followed with an RBI single which plated Brooks Conrad, giving the Braves a 4-2 lead.

Later in the frame Wilkins Castillo grounded out to short, allowing Clevlen to cross the plate. Ed Lucas topped out the huge inning with a single to score Young, giving the Braves six runs in the game.

The Braves scored their initial run in the top of the first on a single by Chipper Jones to score Martin Prado. Jordan Schafer clubbed a solo homer in the second to give the Braves their second run.

The Yankees scored their first run in the second inning on a long solo home run over the right field wall off the bat of Jorge Posada. In the bottom of the sixth, Alex Rodriguez grounded to third, which allowed Andruw Jones to score, tying the game at two.

Tommy Hanson made the start for Atlanta and turned in a good outing. He tossed four innings and gave up one earned run on five hits. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out two.

Phil Hughes started for New York. He pitched four innings, and gave up two earned runs on seven hits. He walked one batter and K’d two.

 


Yankee notes! 
 

Notes & Things to Look Out For

·         First off, thoughts and sympathy go out to all affected by the earthquake in Japan. An 8.9 on the Richter scale? – Now that is serious. Yankee pitcher Kei Igawa was permitted to leave the Minor League training facility in an attempt to contact his loved ones in Japan. Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Takashi Saito was also allowed to leave camp, concerned for his relatives back home. We as Americans are left praying and hoping everyone in the Far East will be OK. I can’t help but think of Hideki Matsui, too. I am praying for him and everyone else in Japan. May God be with all of them during this crisis.


We pray for you, Japan. 

·         Phil Hughes has a 5.00 ERA this spring. Today he fell behind a few hitters and surrendered a home run, also allowing seven hits and nine total base runners. Was I impressed? Not really. Did he look sharp? Not really. Am I concerned? A little bit. A lot of people jump all over A.J. Burnett’s back for having a poor record and an inflated ERA last season – and rightfully so, Burnett had an off-year. 


Phil Hughes has to step it up. 

But what they don’t realize, or seem to remember, is that Hughes pitched to a 4.19 ERA last year (about one run lower than Burnett, who notched a 5.26 ERA) and lost the deciding game of the American League Championship Series. His record last season was 18-8, which is probably why everyone is quick to forgive him. I’m just worried Hughes had a “fluke year” in 2010 and will not be as effective in 2011. His arm seemed to tire towards the end of last year and if it happens again, it could cause some problems for the Yankee rotation.

 

·         Derek Jeter had a hit today and his average is now at .333. It’s good to see the Captain hitting above .300 again and I’m sure he will continue to work on the stride adjustment.

 

·         It was documented that Mark Teixeira is in mid-season form. The slugging first baseman is batting .364 this spring and was 1-for-3 today. The Yanks need a lot of production out of Teixeira this year and right now he is proving that there are no carryover effects of his injuries last year – the hamstring and the broken toe. Traditionally he is a slow starter, but maybe he can leap that hurdle this year and have a big month of April.

 

·         Jorge Posada’s home run today was a BOMB. At 39 years old he is still showing that power he has generally possessed throughout his career. Today he homered from the left side of the plate and the ball would have landed in the second deck at Yankee Stadium, had the game been played there. Although he probably won’t catch at all this year, he might still see some field time. In yesterday’s 7-0 loss to the Phillies, he played first base.


Jorge hit a bomb today. 

·         Regulars Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and Nick Swisher did not play. Granderson and Swisher played in Dunedin against the Toronto Blue Jays, as the Yanks were in split squad action. Granderson was 1-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored. Swisher was also 1-for-3 with an RBI.

 

·         Although Granderson and Swisher both had good days at the plate, the other squad lost to the Jays, 10-3.

 

·         Austin Krum made a diving catch to rob Ed Lucas of a hit in the sixth inning. Highlight-reel worthy catch, if I do say so myself. Joba Chamberlain tipped his cap to Krum – and his line: one inning pitched, no runs, two hits, no walks, and one strikeout. Chamberlain’s spring ERA is now 3.60.

 

·         Rafael Soriano made his second appearance of the spring today. He tossed a perfect fifth inning, striking out Brooks Conrad and Martin Prado while getting Chipper Jones to ground out. Soriano will be the eighth inning setup man and I am really excited for him. He looks as though he will be lights out.


Rafael Soriano has been excellent so far. 

·         Soriano will be setting up the incomparable Mariano Rivera, who has yet to throw a pitch in a game this spring. He will however get his first spring action on Sunday, according to the YES Network.   

 

·         Ivan Nova started against the Blue Jays today. His line: three innings pitched, two earned runs on five hits, two walks, one K, and he gave up a homer to Jose Bautista. He’s been fairly solid up until now. He can bury one shaky start. He has to come out strong next time to stay in contention for a spot in the rotation.

 

·         Steve Garrison will not make the team. Not after today. But I have a feeling he wasn’t making it anyway. He recorded the loss and basically blew the game against the Braves.

 

·        Jesus Montero went 0-for-3 without a hit today at the Blue Jays. His batting average has dipped below .200 and yes, I am a little worried about that. Especially now that he has a chance to make the team because of Francisco Cervelli’s foot injury.

 

·         Behind the plate for the Braves today was Brian McCann. He threw out Jeter and Justin Maxwell trying to steal. The guy has a great arm.

 

·         Former Yankee Scott Proctor got the win today, even though he blew a save. He is now 1-1 this spring, trying to resurrect a career torn down by arm problems. He has Joe Torre to thank for that. On a side note about Proctor – he really resembles WWE superstar John Cena. It’s uncanny how they look alike.


Scott Proctor's doppelganger is John Cena 

·         The Yankees are now 6-7-2 in Grapefruit League play.

 

·         Tomorrow the Yankees will visit the Washington Nationals. On Sunday they will come back to Tampa to play the Minnesota Twins – which is also the next televised game on the YES Network.     

Analysis of the Winter Meetings

 

Winter Meetings start next week.

 

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's P.C.

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.

 

Really?

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.

Come on, man!!!

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.

Crawford to the Angels?

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.

Lee a Yankee?

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.

To be or not to be?

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.

 


Some deals have gone down.·        
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.

I hope he can continue to wow the fans on the south side and good luck to him this year. $37.5 million is a lot of coin and he earned it because of his good numbers year in and year out, coupled with his faithful service to the White Sox.

 

 

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 Decision pt. 2...?

Bomber Busts: Worst Trades and Free Agent Signings

 

 

Lou Brock was traded for Ernie Broglio.

On June 15, 1964, The Chicago Cubs traded away left fielder Lou Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals for a right-handed pitcher named Ernie Broglio. Brock went on to enjoy an outstanding career; six All-Star selections, two World Series Championships, The Babe Ruth Award, The Roberto Clemente Award, his number 20 is retired by the Cards, and in 1985 he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Not bad for a career’s work.

Broglio on the other hand…well. Not many people remember his name and he didn’t do much else with career after he was dealt to the Cubs. He finished his pitching career with a 77-74 record, a 3.74 ERA, and 849 strikeouts. His only accomplishment: winning the most games in the National League in 1960.

 

Broglio...who???

Who got the better end of that deal? The Cardinals, of course. Nowadays, whenever a lopsided trade occurs, in baseball terminology, it’s called a “Brock for Broglio.”

Being a devout Yankee fan, there are several instances (in my lifetime) I can think of when the Yankees either made a terrible trade or a bogus free agent signing. With the recent departure of Javier Vazquez, and in the spirit of “Free Agent Frenzy,” I got the idea to write about some of the worst moves the Yankees have made over the years.

So without any further ado, I give you my top Yankee trade/free agent busts.

Here we go…

Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps

 

Jay Buhner!

“What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for? He had 30 home runs and over 100 RBIs last year. He’s got a rocket for an arm. You don’t know what the hell your doing!!!!”

On an episode of the TV show Seinfeld, George Costanza’s father Frank (played by Jerry Stiller) scolded George Steinbrenner for trading away a 23 year-old right fielder by the name of Jay Buhner.

The Yankees gave Buhner to the Seattle Mariners in July of 1988 along with two minor leaguers–Rich Balabon and Troy Evers–in exchange for Ken Phelps. To this day, the trade is considered by many fans to be one of the worst trades the Yankees ever made in their history.

A classic “Brock for Broglio,” no doubt.

Buhner went on to become an All-Star and win a Gold Glove in 1996, and in 2004 he was inducted into the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame. As far as numbers are concerned, Buhner averaged almost 22 home runs per season after leaving the Yankees and knocked in over 100 runs for three consecutive seasons from 1995-97.

It is obvious Buhner established himself on both sides of the field and overall was an excellent player.

 

Who is this guy?

Phelps on the other hand just faded away. He had only caught Steinbrenner’s eye initially because he was able to hit 14 home runs in half a season–a feat the Yankee owner viewed as impressive. Unfortunately he gave away a player who went on to enjoy success and in return received a player who went on to become a nobody.

Now whenever someone mentions Phelps, he is remembered as “The guy that got traded for Jay Buhner.”

As a Yankee fan did losing Buhner upset me? Did watching him perform so well year after year against us annoy me because I knew he could have been doing it for us?

Yes and no.

I liked Buhner, even though he was on the Mariners. He had such poise and talent; he could swing a hot bat, could play stellar defense, and yes it was hard to watch him knowing he was once a Yankee.

 

Once a Yankee...

But at the same time, the Yankees had a pretty good right fielder of their own named Paul O’Neill–a man who earned the nickname “The Warrior” by Steinbrenner. Having O’Neill may have even been better than having Buhner.

 

Warrior

After all, O’Neill was a force in the Yankee Dynasty. Without him, the Yankees may not have won the title in 1996 and 1998-2000. O’Neill battled year in and year out and because of his work ethic, he helped guide the Yankees to the Championship.

And for as good as Buhner was, he never won a title. With O’Neill in right field, the Yankees did.

 

Hideki Irabu

 

what a bum.

You know things aren’t going well for you when your boss calls you a “Fat P—y Toad.” Hideki Irabu was called this name by Steinbrenner, simply because he did not cover first base on a ground ball–in Spring Training, no less. In fact, The Boss didn’t even allow his pitcher to travel with the team to Los Angeles after the incident because he was so infuriated.

That’s what you would call a serious “FML” experience.

The San Diego Padres had purchased Irabu’s contract in 1997 from the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan. Believe it or not, his purchase led to the current format used today that MLB enacts to sign Japanese players. Without this deal, players like Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Hiroki Kuroda would have never made it to the Majors.

Apparently Irabu wanted to act as much like a big-name superstar as he could, because he refused to sign with San Diego. What’s more, he stated he would only like to play for the Yankees.

That’s a bit egotistical, wouldn’t you say?

 

Terrible.

The Yankees eventually had to offer San Diego players in exchange for the rights to negotiate with Irabu. When it was all said and done, the Yanks gave up, $3 million, Rafael Medina, and Ruben Rivera (cousin of Mariano Rivera) for Homer Bush and the rights to Irabu–who was later signed by New York for $12.8 million over four years.  

A complicated exchange and one that never really did pay off.

The best season Irabu put up was 1998. His numbers:

·         13 wins

·         4.06 ERA

·         173 innings pitched

·         Two complete games

·         28 games started

Not exactly worth $12.8 million, if you ask me. I suppose the Yankees could have gotten a little more bang for their buck; or they at least could have signed him for less money.

 

LOL

Irabu collected two World Series rings (1998 and ’99) but didn’t even last all four years he was under contract with the Yankees.  After 1999, Irabu was traded to the Montreal Expos (now known to most fans as the Washington Nationals) for Ted Lilly, Christian Parker, and Jake Westbrook. He finished his MLB career with a 34-35 record, a 5.15 ERA and 405 lifetime Ks.

And much like the Buhner trade, Irabu was spoofed on Seinfeld for his poor performance.  In the show’s final episode, Frank once again confronts Steinbrenner and yells,

“How could you spend $12 million on Hideki Irabu????!!!”

I guess we will never know, Mr. Costanza.

 

Kevin Brown

 

Awful move.

I can understand why Steinbrenner and the Yankees sought Kevin Brown. He had racked up a lifetime of accolades, including a World Series ring. He was even named “Pitcher of the Year” by The Sporting News in 1998. Brown had made a number of All-Star game appearances, and had the ability to carry a pitching staff working as the ace.

What I cannot understand however, is how a pitcher can get so frustrated that he throws a punch at a wall and breaks his pitching hand in the process. I mean, if you are a pitcher and you have a bad game and get called on it by your teammates or manager, slam your glove to the dugout floor. Take a bat to the dugout water fountain, if you are feeling especially psychotic. Or my personal favorite, knock over a Gatorade cooler.

 

Knock it over!!!!

But don’t ever, under any circumstances, try to pick a fight with a wall and use physicality. The wall is guaranteed to win every time.

 

 

Kevin Brown is an idiot.

With that sheer display of immaturity, I not only lost all respect for Brown but now consider him a terrible move the Yankees made. I don’t really see it as a “Brock for Broglio” per se, because the Bombers only gave up Jeff Weaver, Yhency Brazoban, Brandon Weeden, and $2.6 million for Brown.

Aside from Weaver, the Yanks did not let go anyone of note and Weaver struggled mightily in the 2003 World Series…although his fall classic struggles didn’t stop him from pitching like a stud for the Cardinals in the 2006 World Series…

Anyway….I digress.  

In 2004 the Yanks probably felt Brown would help lead their pitching staff. But those feelings were not exactly well-founded.

In 2004 Brown went 10-6 with a 4.06 ERA, which weren’t bad numbers for an older pitcher who was playing for the first time in the crazy New York atmosphere. In fact, Brown pitched rather well in the ’04 ALDS vs. the Minnesota Twins, posting six innings and only giving up one run. The Yanks went on to win the series 3-1.

However, his ALCS Game Seven outing vs. Boston is what he is most infamous for; pitching less than two innings and allowing five runs, including a two-run homer to the hated David Ortiz. Essentially, Brown didn’t give the Yankees a shred of a chance to come back and win the pennant.

All Yankee fans, including myself, were outraged. He picked the worst day of the season to have a poor outing. The most important game ever and Joe Torre used the least intelligent member of his pitching staff.

In 2005, Brown attempted to come back, but was sidelined due to injuries. He finished the year in ’05 with a 4-7 record and an ERA of 6.50. The following off-season, he announced his retirement.

I don’t blame the Yanks for trying to catch lightening in a bottle with Brown; there is no denying that he was a decent pitcher in his prime. Yet, it did turn out to be a bad move because they caught Brown in the twilight of his career. As a Yankee, he was nothing but a shell of his former self and could not get the job done when it came to nut-cutting time.  

Overall, I chalk Brown up as a big loss for the Yankees.

 

Carl Pavano

 

Moron.

$39.95 million that could have gone to a better cause. Charity, I suppose.

Following the 2004 collapse to the Red Sox in the ALCS, the Yankees were convinced they needed starting pitching. Along with the big signing of the Big Unit, Randy Johnson, the Yanks sought and landed free agent hurler Carl Pavano.

I used the term “hurler” not because Pavano is a starting pitcher, but because just by mentioning his name makes me want to hurl.

 

Good in Florida. Abysmal in NY.

Not for nothing, Pavano was coming off his best career season, numerically, in ’04. In his contract year with the Florida Marlins, he won 18 games while only losing eight and posted a respectable 3.00 ERA.  His numbers made him a hot free agent commodity and multiple teams, including Boston and the Cincinnati Reds, wanted him.

Ultimately it was the Yankees who got Pavano and I wish they hadn’t. It would have been better for them if the Red Sox or Reds had wasted their money on him.

At first Pavano appeared to be a decent pitcher. He gave the Yankees quality in seven of his first 10 starts, putting together a 4-2 record and posting a 3.69 ERA–again, not bad for just starting out in the New York environment.

 But by June of ’05 Pavano got hurt for the first of many times. Truthfully, his injuries and disabled list stints piled up more than his actual baseball statistics.

·         Went on the DL in June of ’05 with right shoulder injury. Ultimately went 4-6 with a 4.77 ERA for the season.

 

·         Began 2006 with bruised buttocks; on DL for first half of year. Then…

 

·         Broke two ribs in a car accident in August of ’06; did not end up pitching at all in an MLB game.

 

·         On April 15, 2007 was placed on DL after what was diagnosed as an “elbow strain.” The next month Pavano announced that he would opt to have Tommy John surgery and missed the remainder of the year.

 

·         First start coming off Tommy John came on Aug. 23, 2008. He pitched five innings and gave up three runs on seven hits.

 

·         The next month on Sept. 14, Pavano left the game with an apparent left hip injury.

 

I have two words for all that: cry baby. He never pitched a full season with the Yankees.

What really struck me were Pavano’s comments after his last game as a Yankee. The press questioned him about his ineffectiveness and his repeated injuries; they were probably about as skeptical about his excuses as most fans were.

Pavano responded by saying, “Well, what are you going to do, you know?”

 

Bonehead.

Really? That’s the best he could do? $39.95 million should buy a little more thought than that. Pavano concluded his tenure (if you can even call it that) with a record of 9-8.

Prior to 2007, Mike Mussina stepped up and publicly called Pavano on his injuries. Mussina said, “His injuries don’t look good from a player’s standpoint. Was everything just a coincidence? Over and over again? I don’t know.”

Thank goodness one of his teammates spoke out against him. Quite honestly it needed to be done.

In 2009 Pavano joined the Cleveland Indians and was traded mid-season to the Twins. I couldn’t even believe it when I noticed that halfway through 2009 he was one of the league leaders in wins. He even finished 2009 with a record of 14-12–winning five more games in one year with Cleveland and Minnesota than he did in four years with the Yankees. 

How ridiculous is that?

At any rate, it must have been fun for the Yanks to punish Pavano for all the grief he put them through by beating him in Game Three of the ’09 ALDS–en route to their 27th World Series title.

 

Thanks for nothing, Carl.

If I were the Yankees last year, I would have sent Pavano a Christmas card with a picture of everyone hoisting the World Series trophy. Along with that, the Yanks could have attached a note to the photo that read, “Thanks for nothing.”

The Yanks also beat Pavano in the ALDS this past season, another satisfying moment for all Yankee fans.

 

Javier Vazquez and Nick Johnson

I decided to combine these last two players simply because they failed in pinstripes not once, but twice.

I’ll begin with Javier Vazquez.

 

BUM.

The day after the Yankees were eliminated from the ALCS at the hands of the Texas Rangers, it was reported that Vazquez was already speaking to the Washington Nationals about possibly pitching for them in 2011. His talks with the Nats obviously cooled off, and as reported on Sunday, Vazquez has apparently agreed to a deal with the Florida Marlins.

I have four words for him: good riddance, you bum.

Before this past season began, Vazquez was acquired from the Atlanta Braves along with reliever Boone Logan. In exchange for Vazquez, the Bombers gave up young outfielder Melky Cabrera and rookie reliever Mike Dunn.

I would not necessarily categorize the trade as a “Brock for Broglio,” although it kind of had that quality.  Cabrera had an awesome year in 2009; he smacked three walk-off hits for the Yanks (including the first walk-off home run in the New Stadium), became the first Yankee to hit for the cycle since Tony Fernandez in 1995, and capped it all off with a World Series ring.

Cabrera was a beast and was looked at as one of the most pleasant surprises in ’09.

The Yankees however did need starting pitching. They only used three starting pitchers in the playoffs and were able to get over the hurdles on the strength of three horses: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte. They needed a fourth man and they looked to Vazquez.

Why they wanted Vazquez, I’ll never know.

Sure he was second in the National League when it came to ERA in 2009 (with 2.87) and he won 15 games for the Braves. I suppose the Yankees thought they would really be unstoppable if they could get that kind of production out of their number four starter–which made it somewhat understandable.

Yet, the Yankees must have forgotten how Vazquez busted for them in 2004, which was his first stint in pinstripes. In ’04 Vazquez went 14-10 with a 4.91 ERA. Like Brown, he pitched in Game Seven of the ’04 ALCS, giving up a grand slam and a two-run homer to Johnny Damon–once again, not giving the Yankees a shred of a chance to come back and win the pennant.


Psssh. 

Maybe they figured he could do a lot better than that come his second go-round. Perhaps the Steinbrenners and Brian Cashman had the mentality of, “It can’t get any worse, he can only do better.”

Not.

In 2010 Vazquez pitched to a 10-10 season record with a 5.32 ERA. He started 31 games and allowed 32 home runs, pitching so poorly throughout the year that he did not even make it into the postseason starting rotation. Was the trade really worth giving up Cabrera?

Well I guess it didn’t matter. Cabrera finished 2010 with a .255 batting average for Atlanta and only hit four homers and knocked in 42 runs. But that doesn’t erase what he did in 2009, and if he had played in the Bronx in 2010, he might have had a better year.

The bottom line is that Vazquez was a bad move made by the Yankees. I knew he was going to bust before the season began; actually I knew he was going to fail again right after the trade was completed. It was just so foreseeable. And when he gave up that first-pitch home run to Jimmy Rollins on day one of Spring Training, I knew it was all over for him.

And then there was Johnson.

 

Waste of time and money

In 2001, Johnson served the Yankees as Tino Martinez’s backup at first base. When Martinez left for St. Louis after the season ended, Johnson became a little bit of a regular first baseman, albeit the Yanks did have Jason Giambi in their lineup and available to play first.

Johnson would go on to rank seventh in the league in hit-by-pitches in 2002, but did put up a somewhat decent year in ’03. Johnson clubbed 14 homers and drove in 47 runs with a .284 batting average, but his injury-prone nature kept him from truly breaking out.

The Yankees had no choice but to trade him at the end of ’03, ironically enough for Vazquez. Two useless Yankees got traded for one another. Really, what are the odds? And like Vazquez, as useless as Johnson was, the Yankees still could not manage to give up on him.

 

"Yay!! I wasted the Yankees' $$!!"

On Dec. 23, 2009 the Yanks signed Johnson back to a one-year, $5.5 million deal.

This past year Johnson was expected to be the everyday designated hitter, taking up the mantle of the great, 2009 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui. Unfortunately, Johnson saw little action because of a wrist injury. In fact, before the season even began, Johnson injured his back in Spring Training, proving once again that he did not belong in a Yankee uniform.

He finished 2010 very early with 24 games under his belt, only 98 plate appearances, two home runs, eight RBIs, and 12 runs scored.

I would certainly characterize that as a waste of $5.5 million.

 

 

The bottom line is, the Yankees have wasted a ton of money on terrible players and have given away some great players to get some rather mediocre ones. But they are not the only organization to do it; it happens to the best of teams.

I mean, the Red Sox gave up Jeff Bagwell for a reliever named Larry Andersen. (Who?)

The Blue Jays gave the Yankees David Cone for three minor leaguers who never made it.

The Devil Rays gave Bobby Abreu to the Phillies for Kevin Stocker. (Who?)

And who could forget the New York Mets giving up Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano?

Chan Ho Park–yes, Mr. Diarrhea himself–got $65 million from the Texas Rangers in 2002.

 Juan Pierre received $44 million from the Dodgers in 2007.

Yes, baseball organizations are human and make bad moves sometimes. Maybe next week I’ll review some of the BEST moves the Yankees have made; off-season changes that have paid off royally and had a great impact on the team. I can think of quite a few right off the top of my head.

And while I’m waiting, I’ll hope the Yankees can decide on the right moves. The Baseball Winter Meetings begin next week and I’m hoping the Bombers can make a splash in Orlando.


Winter Meetings start next week.

ALCS Over, Yanks Out

 

The ALCS IS HERE!

Last night, several memories from October of 2006 came back to me. That was a month which started off nicely and ended terribly. The Yankees had made the postseason after convincingly winning the American League East and were the favorites to win the World Series.

The Detroit Tigers dashed the Yanks’ dreams of winning the fall classic by eliminating them in the ALDS. What’s more, by the end of the month, my girlfriend broke up with me. Needless to say, in more ways than one, my spirit was overwhelmed within me; my heart was broken.

Minus the girlfriend issue, the same defeated feeling enveloped me after last night’s 6-1 loss.


Not our night.The Yanks will not go back to the World Series to defend their crown and the Texas Rangers will represent the American League in the fall classic. Texas will face either the San Francisco Giants or the Philadelphia Phillies, pending the outcome of the NLCS.

28 will have to wait. Until next year, at the very least.

A number of things went wrong for the Yankees in the ALCS and there are plenty of things to consider heading into the off-season.

The ALCS: WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED?!

I’ll start with the obvious: Phil Hughes.

In the division series against the Twins, Hughes started Game Three and he was an absolute stud. The young righty shut the Twins down in seven scoreless innings of work and picked up the win in the clinching game.

When I heard Hughes was starting Game Two of the ALCS vs. Texas, I was confident. Knowing Hughes’s past against the Rangers and taking into account that he won 18 games during the regular season, I had a great feeling about his chances. After Game Five, I had said that Hughes possessed the ability to bounce back after a rough outing, and he usually did during the regular season.


Phil Hughes was ineffective in the ALCS.Although those feelings were well-founded, it did not translate to anything good.

Hughes pitched 8 2/3 innings over his two ALCS starts and coughed up a total of 11 earned runs on 14 hits. He walked seven batters and struck out six, becoming a huge part of why the Yankees lost this series. He did not give the Yankees quality, he did not give the Yankees a chance to win the two games he started, and he put the Yankees in a tough spot heading into Game Three.

In both games Hughes started in the ALCS, he registered the loss.

If Hughes had been able to win Game Two, with the Yankees going into a Game Three vs. Jesus Christ A.K.A. Cliff Lee, things could have been quite different. Every news outlet had the Yankees defeated in Game Three at the hands of Lee, and unfortunately for the Yanks it came to fruition.

And speaking of Lee, he was another vital part of the Yankees’ failure to win the pennant.

:/

In Game Three, Lee simply dominated. He made the Yankees look like Little Leaguers and his numbers this postseason (vs. Tampa Bay and New York) are absoluteLEE ridiculous.

·         24 innings pitched

·         13 hits

·         Two runs (both earned)

·         One home run allowed

·         One walk allowed

·         34 strikeouts

·         Record of 3-0

·         ERA of 0.75

Lee was plugged into the number three spot in the Rangers’ rotation because he started the final game of the ALDS vs. Tampa Bay and could not take the hill in Game One. If the pitching matchups had gone accordingly (Lee vs. CC Sabathia, ace vs. ace) I suppose things could have been different–not saying they would have, but who knows.

The Yankees would have had to face Lee tonight of they had gotten past the Rangers last night. I have a feeling now that it would not have gone well for the Bronx Bombers, but as I stated, anything can happen in a Game Seven. Would the Yanks finally have been able to get to Lee and finally remove him as thorn in their side?

 Who’s to say what could have been. I guess it makes no difference now.

Another reason they were done for was the inconsistency in the offense. Save for their 7-2 Game Five win, when runners were in scoring position, the Yankee bats turned into ghosts. They could not get it done when runners were on second and third.

Prime example: Game Three. Brett Gardner led off with a single. Derek Jeter struck out, but Gardner moved to second on a stolen base. Nick Swisher grounded out allowing Gardner to move to third. Finally Mark Teixeira came up and was set back down, ending the frame without a Yankee crossing the plate.

They were only down by two runs at that point. They could not build the run; could not even cut the lead in half. And that was just one issue.


0-for-14. Then a season ending injury. Greaaaaaat.The two key players that needed to be producing and igniting the bats were about as silent as a 1920s picture film. Teixeira (before the injury) and Alex Rodriguez were as off as they could be and could not come up with the big hit when the Yanks needed it.

Teixeira was 0-for-14 in the ALCS before the hamstring injury put him out for the remainder of the year.


A-Rod wasn't so great this year. 

Rodriguez hit .190 in the ALCS with no homers, two RBIs, three walks and four strikeouts.

No offense, no pennant.

Teixeira and Rodriguez are two huge bats in the Yankee lineup. When they are not coming up when it matters, the Yankees do not win games. The offense went dead cold at the absolute worst time to go dead cold and as a result, they did not win.

Along with the offense, the middle relief served no help. Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, and David Robertson practically gave it up in the middle-to-late innings in close games, notably Games Three and Four. In Game Three the Yankees were trailing by two runs entering the top of the eighth inning.

We couldn't get no relief.

Because of them, two runs turned into eight runs, making it impossible for the Yanks to even attempt to mount a comeback in the last two frames. The Yanks lost Game Three 8-0.

In Game Four, the Yankees were only down by two runs (5-3) going into the late innings. Logan and Chamberlain both surrendered earned runs and Mitre gave up three, once again not giving the offense a chance to come back from a deficit.

The Yankees lost Game Four 10-3.

One last factor I believe was pivotal in the Yankees’ ALCS loss was Manager Joe Girardi’s decision in Game Four. I am not going to say A.J. Burnett pitched a bad game; that could not be anything further from the truth. He made maybe one or two bad pitches (notably the Bengie Molina home run) but other than that he held his own very nicely; decent command of his pitches, nasty breaking ball, and a fastball up around 96-97 mph.

We needed Game Four, Joe. CC should have pitched.

However…

The Yankees were down two games to one. They had just been dominated by Lee and they were up against a pitcher who could easily be beaten in Tommy Hunter. Down by two games and in danger of going down 3-1 (which ultimately they did) I feel Girardi should have used CC Sabathia to get them back in the series.

Had Sabathia pitched Game Four, he would not have been on three days rest, but in actuality he would have been pitching on the fourth day of rest. I truly believe that had Sabathia started, pitched the way he usually does, and won Game Four, it would have gotten the Yanks’ morale back and things may have been different.

Burnett could have pitched Game Five on Wednesday afternoon and he probably could have won, especially if he had gone out and thrown the ball as well as he did in Game Four. Not to mention it would have given the Yankees a good chance to go up 3-2 on the way back to Arlington as opposed to down 3-2.

Again, who is to say if it would have been different. But I do know that if I were Girardi, I would have gone in a different direction down two games to one and going into Game Four. Using Sabathia on three days rest worked out perfectly in 2009.

If it worked then, why should it be any different now?

There were so many things not going the Yankees’ way; the Rangers had everything clicking for them. And for a team to win the World Series (let alone get to it) everything has to be going their way.

As for Next Year…


2011.... 

I expect a number of things to be different and the Yankees need to make a few decisions regarding some of their players.

·         For one, Nick Johnson and Javier Vazquez should not be welcomed back. If the front office so much as talks to either one of these two at the possibility of coming back, they need to have their heads examined.

 

·         Marcus Thames. Do they want him to be the everyday designated hitter or would they rather have an All-Star in Lance Berkman? It’s a toughie. Thames hit 12 homers and came up in some big spots during the season. But aside from being a DH, Berkman can play the field and alleviate some pressure on Mark Teixeira at first base.

 

·         Something needs to be done about the catching situation. As much as I love Francisco Cervelli, he has no power and struggles in terms of throwing runners out. Jesus Montero and/or Austin Romine in 2011? We’ll see how they do in Spring Training…

 

·         Derek Jeter’s contract is up. The Yankees need to pay the captain and show him some respect. I would say give him four years with the option for a fifth and pay him well.

 

·         Mariano Rivera said at the beginning of the year that he doesn’t know if he is going to pitch next year. I get the feeling he will (call it a hunch) but like Jeter his contract is up. The Yankees need to make him a respectable offer and get him back.

 

·         Andy Pettitte will be 39 years old next June and a groin injury sidelined him for the better part of this past summer. His contract is also up, so it’s certainly up to him what he intends to do. If he wants to give it another try and re-sign with the Yanks, great. But if he wants to hang it up, that’s alright with me too. He’s done pretty darn well for himself over the years.

 

·         If I were the Yankees I would definitely hold onto Kerry Wood. Unlike the majority of the bullpen, he pitched like a champ in the postseason. If Rivera signs back, he is the perfect man to set him up.

 

·         Carl Crawford is a free agent. The Yankees need to decide whether or not Brett Gardner is the left fielder of the future or if they want a player with a little more power in Crawford (19 homers in 2010). I heard it said best earlier this year: “Gardner is almost like a cheaper version of Crawford.” Very true. If you want my opinion at the moment, Crawford no. Gardner yes.

 

·         The manager. Along with Jeter, Rivera, and Pettitte, Joe Girardi’s contract is up.  There has been some speculation as to whether or not he will come back to manage the Yankees and I have heard some chatter about the possibility of the Chicago Cubs wanting the Yankee skipper to manage them.


Joe Girardi to the Cubs? 

 That speculation has me wondering, especially since the Cubs recently told Ryne Sandberg they do not want him to manage them. Are they waiting to negotiate with Girardi? I’m unsure. Kim Jones of the YES Network tweeted last night that she expects Girardi to return. She is more of an insider than me, so right now I believe her.

But then again, anything is possible when a lot of money is involved. If the Cubs make him the right offer, he might be leaving town. And the question is, if he does leave town who replaces him? I certainly have no answer to that question.

 

·         The biggest free agent of them all: Cliff Lee. This past July, Lee was literally within hours of becoming a Yankee. The Yanks were ready to ship out minor leaguers and money to Seattle and land the dominate lefty, but it was not meant to be. Texas swiped him out from under the Yanks’ nose and as a result, he helped lead them past the Yankees to the pennant.

Next year Lee is a free agent and according to several insiders, Texas will never be able to pay him, especially if the Rangers win the title; if Texas wins it all, Lee’s value will steadily rise and all the big market teams including the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels will undoubtedly be out to get him.

 

Lee a Yankee in '11???

If you want my insight as of right now, Lee will be in pinstripes in 2011. When the Yanks almost got him from Seattle this year, Lee and Sabathia’s wives were talking about where he might live in New York.

Plus from their Cleveland days, Sabathia and Lee are great friends. In fact when they squared off against one another in the ’09 World Series, they spent time with each other off the field. Just from that, I have a feeling Lee is headed for the big apple.

Bottom line: we could not beat him so we might as well join him.  

 

 

 


:(Derek Jeter usually says, “It’s a failed season if we (the Yankees) do not win the World Series.” The captain has the attitude of the late George Steinbrenner, and I know that somewhere in Heaven last night, the Boss had that disappointed look on his face; he was turning his head and throwing his hands outwardly as if to say, “The hell with this.”

I know that’s what I was doing.

I felt at the beginning of the season that a lot of the magic had left the team. I know Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Melky Cabrera did not have the best years numerically this season (especially Cabrera) but they were all part of what made the 2009 Yankees so special.

Remember these guys?

While the yanks were getting beaten last night by a clearly better team in the Texas Rangers, I thought about Damon stealing two bases in one play and later scoring on an Alex Rodriguez double. I thought about Matsui single-handedly tearing apart the Phillies in Game Six of the World Series last season–an accomplishment worthy of the World Series MVP honor.

I even thought about Cabrera’s weak groundout that turned into an error in Game Two of the ’09 ALCS, in which Jerry Hairston came around and scored the winning run.

And then I wondered where that all magic went? It simply wasn’t inside the group of players known as the 2010 Yankees.


Texas had the magic.Yet it was inside the Texas Rangers and I tip my cap to them. I won’t act as a sore loser; I won’t be angry with them, they wanted it more. The magic that was in the 2009 Yankees is in the 2010 Rangers. Perhaps now they can do what the Yankees did last year; go into the fall classic and show the National League who rules the MLB.

In any event it was disappointing for every Yankee fan. We took a huge step forward last year, we seemed to be moving in the right direction but it was just halted at the hands of a hotter team.

Yet who knows what can happen next year. If the Yankees make the correct moves in the off-season, they will be the team to be beat. 2009 may serve as our modern day 1996, meaning:

The Yanks won it all in 1996. They lost it in 1997, only to go on a huge World Series winning streak in 1998, ’99, and ’00.

In 2009 the Yankees won the World Series, but came up short in 2010. Maybe 2011, 2012, and 2013 can be the next Yankee Dynasty.

New dynasty starts next year?

We’ll see. Anything can happen in baseball.

 

 

 At this time I’d like to extend a HUGE THANKS to everyone who read and kept up with Yankee Yapping this year. It was a fun season. I only wish it had turned out a little better in the end for our beloved Bronx Bombers.

The Yankee Yapping Facebook page is up to just over 730 “likes.” I hope it can grow a little more and maybe get up to 1,000 soon! Once again thanks for the support. This blog would be nothing without its loyal readers.

I’ll definitely be blogging during the off-season and over the winter while the hot stove cooks.

Just keep your heads up Yankee fans. And remember that we’ll always have 2009 and our 27 titles. It’s not the end of the world and the Yankees WILL be back on top in the future. It always happens.

Until then, GO YANKEES!!!


27-time Kings. Maybe 28 next year.

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