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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.

Number 35, cleanup on aisle four.

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)

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

New York Mets at New York Yankees

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

Phil Hughes

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.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Minnesota Twins

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.

 

Youk can’t be serious

In light of the tragic events in Newtown, Conn. this morning – a tragedy that hit rather close to home – I thought it might be nice to blog about something good, or at least go back to Yankee matters. Instead of ending the day on a sad note, it might be nice to write about something positive, because positivity is what we all need right about now. Once again, thoughts and prayers are with those affected here in Newtown.

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Within the last 72 hours, the unfathomable has occurred. Longtime Yankee nemesis, third baseman Kevin Youkilis, has jumped ship. The former member of the Red Sox signed a one-year deal valued at $12 million, and will indeed play for the “Evil Empire” in 2013. Youkilis will be filling the void at third base which will be left by an aging and ailing A-Rod, who will not return to the team from rehabbing from his hip surgery until mid-season.

Yes, it’s really happening.

Youkilis joins a number of former Red Sox who have made the switch from Red Sox Nation to Yankee Universe, and even he admitted he was shocked that he’s changing teams – coming to the Yanks being painted so heavily with Red Sox colors.  According to Yankee beat writer Bryan Hoch, Youkilis was said to be “humbled” and “amazed.”

It’s important to keep in mind Youkilis was moved to Chicago last season and played for the White Sox before becoming a free agent this off-season, and the Red Sox never made him an offer to return. That might take a little bit of heat off him in the eyes of the Boston fans, but the reaction he receives when the Yankees first visit Fenway Park on July 19 this season will be interesting.

What will also be interesting will be his relationship with (now) teammate Joba Chamberlain.

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Youkilis and Chamberlain have a noted past – and by “noted” I mean hostile. Chamberlain has thrown at Youkilis multiple times over the years, and the so-called “Greek god of walks” never took too kindly to it. However, I did read earlier today that Chamberlain has already reached out to Youkilis on the phone – but Youkilis has said he hasn’t had time to return the call.

Hmmmm. OK.

Now, the Yankee fans can only hope Youkilis will help them, as oppose to punishing them, as he has in the past wearing the Sox; do some great things for them rather than against them. With Boston and Chicago Youkilis smacked 13 lifetime home runs vs. the Bronx Bombers, including one of the loudest blasts this writer has ever heard on April 24, 2009 – when he smashed a walk-off home run over the Green Monster off Damaso Marte; a well-struck shot to lift the Red Sox past the Yankees.

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If history shows us anything, this move could be good for the Yankees and has the potential to pay dividends. A few noted former BoSox have gone on to thrive in pinstripes.

It all started with

Babe Ruth

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Yes, the Sultan of Swat. The Colossus of Clout. The King of Crash…and every other one of his nicknames we learned in “The Sandlot.” The Babe brought his power and might to the Yankees, as we all know, after a stint in Boston.

It seemed almost instantly when Ruth joined the Yankees they became relevant. The Bombers won their first World Series in 1923 and the rest is basically history. His presence made the Yankees a better team – and before he got there, he was a member of the Red Sox.

Of course later in the century there was

 

Wade Boggs

Boggs brought his six batting titles from Beantown to the Bronx, where he rode off into the sunset in 1996. The one picture that remains printed in everyone’s mind is undoubtedly Boggs on the back of the horse after the World Series that year.

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Then after Boggs was

 

Roger Clemens

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Like Youkilis, Clemens spent time with another team after his time in Boston – the Toronto Blue Jays – before making his debut in New York in 1999. The Rocket accomplished with the Yankees what he couldn’t with the Red Sox: winning the World Series (in ’99 and 2000).

Clemens also captured the AL Cy Young in 2001, and remains the last Yankee to ever win the coveted award (CC Sabathia won the AL Cy in 2007, but as a member of the Cleveland Indians).

It might even make sense for Youkilis to take Clemens’s number, 22. I don’t think there’s a chance they give him number 20, which belonged to Yankee fan-favorite Jorge Posada for 16 years.

Anywho, the next notable BoSock to turn heel was

 

Johnny Damon

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Or, as the Red Sox fans called him, “Judas DamoNY.”

In making the leap from Boston to New York, Damon had to shave his beard and cut his hair; and it obviously didn’t affect his play on the field. The outfielder gave the Yanks four remarkable years of service, capping it off by stealing the show in the 2009 World Series.

Literally.

World Series Game 4 - New York Yankees vs. Philadelphia Phillies

Damon, in one of the most heads-up plays of all-time, stole second base and third base in one deft move, putting himself in scoring position to line the Yanks up for a 7-4 Game 4 win over the Phillies.

There are also a number of other players to go from Boston to New York and vice versa: Derek Lowe, Ramiro Mendoza, Alan Embree, Doug Mientkiewicz, Mark Bellhorn, Mike Myers, Don Baylor…the list can go on and on. Some have made lasting impressions, other haven’t.

Of the players mentioned, Ruth, Mendoza, and Damon are three that have won the World Series with both Boston and New York. Youkilis, a World Champ in 2004 and 2007 with Boston, will look to add his name to that list.

If the history among Ruth, Boggs, Clemens, and Damon is any indication, it’s certainly possible. And from a fan’s perspective, maybe Youkilis can serve as a lightning rod; spark the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, which was in a lot of ways dormant for most of 2011 and all of 2012.

……………………………………………………………………………………………

In other news

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Ichiro has decided to return to the Yankees, agreeing to come back on a two-year deal worth between $12-13 million.

The Yankee Stadium outfield, through 2014, can be called “Area 31.”

It surprised me to see Ichiro get two years, being 39 years old. The reason may have been because of the Phillies – they might have forced the Yanks’ hands.

From what I gather, Philly was ready to offer Ichiro two years and close to $14 million, probably looking to fill one of their outfield holes. Last year Philadelphia traded away center fielder Shane Victorino to the Dodgers – and now Victorino has signed with Boston for three years.

Lucky the Yanks were able to negotiate with Ichiro and get him back before Philly snagged him, being that Nick Swisher is basically gone and the option of signing Josh Hamilton is off the table. Not that I expected the Yankees to make a run for him, anyway, but nonetheless the option no longer exists with Hamilton’s agreement with the LA Angels yesterday afternoon.

Next year’s Yankee outfield is looking like:

 

                                             CF Curtis Granderson

LF Brett Gardner                                                                        RF Ichiro

 

If nothing else, the Yanks will have an awful lot of speed and athleticism in the outfield.

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.

Baseball Business on the Big Screen: A Review of “Moneyball”

Peter Brand:  It’s only been a few days. You have to give yourself some time to get over it.

Billy Beane:  I don’t get over these things. Ever.

After nearly beating the god-like New York Yankees in the 2001 American League Division Series, all hope seems to be lost for Oakland Athletics’ General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). He loses three of his key players to free agency – Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen – and is forced to rebuild the A’s.

Beane travels to Cleveland to discuss potential trades with the Indians’ General Manager when he discovers Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Brand is a player analyst whose opinion is valued by the Cleveland brass. Beane recognizes that and instead of gaining a player, buys Brand from the Indians and hires him as the assistant GM.

Together Beane and Brand use a philosophy no other team had ever utilized: signing players who are not necessarily power hitters, players who hit for average or players who rack up a great number of RBIs, but possess the ability to get on base.

They sign players who are on the downside of their careers, like David Justice, Jeremy Giambi, and Scott Hatteberg. Each of these players lack many of the tools needed to play the game, but have one thing in common: high on-base percentages.

Beane’s logic is simple: it doesn’t matter how you get on base. If you get on base, you’ll score runs. The strategy doesn’t sit too well with manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the two clash, disagreeing about necessary decisions such as who is in the lineup.

Although Oakland started the ’02 season slow, they eventually won 20 games in a row, setting an American League record for most consecutive wins in a single season.

The A’s overcome the odds and make the postseason, but get bumped in the first round for the second year in a row, this time by the Minnesota Twins. In the midst of the early playoff exit, the Red Sox recognize what Beane did in terms of building his team. Boston owner John Henry offers Beane a contract to be the highest paid General Manager in baseball history, which he declines.

Instead of going to the Red Sox, Beane opts to remain with the A’s, only for the Red Sox to win the World Series two years after he turned them down –  winning it all by using the philosophy Beane instituted in Oakland.

There are a few unique baseball movies out there, but “Moneyball” just might be the most unique. Based on a true story, it isn’t a coming of age flick like “The Sandlot” or a one last chance tale like “The Rookie.”

“Moneyball” is a movie that presents and exposes the business side of the game of baseball – a side of the game that isn’t always transparent to the average fan.

Right from the start of the movie you are taken into the corporate side of baseball when Beane goes to Cleveland to try and make immediate off-season moves. It really shows you how fast things happen when a baseball team’s season ends. Most people might get the impression that once the season is over the next time the team is worrying about anything is Spring Training.

That notion is quickly proved wrong right at the start of the movie.

Beane’s assistant Brand is based off Paul DePodesta, a savvy baseball expert who studied the game in and out and served as a catalyst in terms of changing the team. He enforced and supported building the A’s team by way of sabermetrics, which is defined as a system of analyzing baseball players by empirical evidence and specific in-game activity.

Bill James, a baseball writer and statistician, was “the man behind the curtain” so-to-speak, as he devised this crazy concept of sabermetrics. In fact, James wrote the book from which the movie is adapted. His ideas were was embraced by the Oakland General Manager. Beane knew exactly what he was hoping to accomplish and it shows throughout the movie.

One of the best and most relatable scenes in the movie to me was the scene that portrayed Brand breaking some potentially unsettling news to Carlos Pena. Beane had told his assistant that he might have to tell players they are cut or traded, as it comes with the job; a classic case of a boss making his employee do some not-so-fun work.

Ultimately Brand had to inform Pena that he had been traded to the Detroit Tigers.

Right as that scene concluded, I immediately thought of my internship with the Hudson Valley Renegades, a Single-A team affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays. I interned for them over the summer of 2010 and at times they would ask the interns to do some bizarre things.

One night the Renegades were playing the Jamestown Jammers, whose parent club is the Miami Marlins. One of the Jammers had been cut that day, but was still at the Stadium. He needed to be driven to the airport and they selected an intern (it wasn’t me) to give him a ride.

I saw a little bit of a parallel between the scene in the movie and the instance from my internship.

Something else I found interesting was the scene portraying the acquisition of reliever Ricardo Rincon. At the beginning of the movie when Beane is in Cleveland, he inquires about Rincon and expresses a sheer amount of interest in him. At the trade deadline the Indians are out of the playoff running. With the A’s still in contention and in need of a reliever, Beane gives the Tribe a call.

Cleveland refused to budge on a swap for Rincon citing interest from other teams, so Beane takes matters into his own hands. He orchestrates a ploy with some of the other General Managers and in the end lands the deal and acquires Rincon.

If I could take one still frame from the entire movie, it would be Brand’s reaction after he and Beane pulled off the trade. He looked like a little kid at Christmas, getting exactly what his heart desired.

What I also liked was how they threw in the little back story about Beane’s career as a player. He was drafted by the New York Mets out of high school, and instead of going to Stanford to play baseball on a full-ride scholarship he chose to sign with the Mets.

And it didn’t go well for Beane. At all.

His career was a flop and it kind of goes back to the idea of whether it’s smart to play in college or go right to the pros upon getting drafted. I’ve always had more respect for the ones that play in college. I feel you have a better chance at maturing as a player and as a person.

It certainly worked out for someone like Tino Martinez, who was drafted out of high school by the Red Sox, yet turned them down to play for the University of Tampa. He was drafted again by Seattle and eventually had a wonderful career.

At any rate, there are a few things I noticed while watching “Moneyball” that I was sort of able to nitpick at; things that didn’t make the movie any less enjoyable, but once I noticed them I picked them out.

For one, in the Ricardo Rincon trade scene, Brand is wearing an all-green Oakland A’s hat. The all-green hats, complete with black underneath the bill, weren’t introduced until 2007 when New Era released the polyester headwear to reduce sun glare. Up until then, grey was the color underneath the bill of the hat.

I only knew that because when the polyester caps were released (it should come as no shock) I purchased a Yankee hat.

In addition to the hat anachronism, the scene which portrays Beane at Fenway speaking to Henry caught my eye. Boston’s 2004 and 2007 championship banners are visible. The movie is taking place at the conclusion on the 2002 season, so the flags representing Boston’s titles shouldn’t be there.

At first I thought I had spotted another mistake, but as it turns out the director (Bennett Miller) got it right.

The scene in which the A’s were gunning for their 20th consecutive win, they are shown playing the Kansas City Royals at home. They show Mike Sweeney hit a towering drive to left field, homering to put the Royals within one run; KC eventually tying the game before the A’s picked up the 12-11 win on the power of a walk-off, solo home run off the bat of Hatteberg.

When Sweeney played, he wore a “C” on his jersey, denoting his status at team captain. In the movie Sweeney’s “C” was absent from the breast of his jersey, but it should have been. Upon research, he wasn’t named captain of the Royals until 2003.

I thought I had caught Miller on a mistake, but in the end he got me.

Overall I found “Moneyball” to be a riveting and informative movie. I wish I had seen it sooner than I had, but when it was in theaters last summer most of my friends went and saw it with their girlfriends. Naturally when I wanted to see it and asked my friends to go to the movies, I only heard the words,

“I already saw it with my girlfriend. It was really good, you should go see it.”

Yes, I should have gone to see it when it was in theaters. But I wasn’t going to the movies by myself.

Where’s the fun in that?

Blockbuster Friday

I was driving home from covering a high school basketball game tonight and I felt like the General Manager of a baseball team – or maybe more accurately a Yankees beat writer. My good friend Brian text messaged me, breaking the big news. I immediately called him, and we began discussing the moves and the circumstances surrounding the transactions the Yankees made.

Just when we all thought this off-season for the Yankees was dead, tonight happened. A pulse; some life in the dead of winter. The Yankees made a huge trade, swapping rookie catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero and reliever Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for flame-throwing, right-handed starter Michael Pineda and Single-A righty Jose Campos.

You’d think that would be enough for one night, but the Yankees weren’t done.

Along with swapping Montero for Pineda, they deepened their rotation with the signing of Free Agent starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who had been with the Los Angeles Dodgers since 2008.

Just like that, the Yankees have some pitching depth.

Pineda has the potential to serve the Yanks as a viable number two starter behind CC Sabathia – a role A.J. Burnett has failed to live up to these past two seasons. Kuroda can help fill the middle and back end of the rotation, along with Burnett, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, and Freddy Garcia.

Obviously with seven starters, the Yankees’ hurlers will be seriously duking it out in Spring Training for a spot in the suddenly-populated rotation. There were some rumblings after the Pineda deal was finalized that Hughes could be on the block, yet nothing is confirmed or set in stone. But trading away one of the excess starters is another story for another day; a bridge that can be crossed when the Yankees get to it.

Right now let’s look at what the Yankees gained and what they gave up.

Pineda was an All-Star in his first MLB season last year, finishing 2011 with a record of 9-10 and a 3.74 ERA. The 22-year-old (23-year-old on Wednesday, Jan. 18) logged 171 innings and struck out 173 batters over that span. He gave up 133 hits and walked 55 of the 696 batters he faced.

Pineda finished fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting – behind his new teammate Nova, who came in fourth place in the voting.

His numbers were acceptable for a rookie last year and for a 22-year-old kid to be handed the number two spot in the Seattle rotation behind Felix Hernandez – a rotation that didn’t exactly receive a great amount of run support – and flourish the way he did was nothing short of remarkable.

Although his overall numbers were stellar (all things considered) his line against the American League East teams kind of turns me off. Pineda had a 4.73 ERA in nine starts against AL East opponents. It almost goes without saying that as a Yankee starter, he will be expected to be able to beat the Boston Red Sox.

Case in point: July 24, 2011 vs. the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Pineda allowed seven earned runs on eight hits in just 4 1/3 innings pitched. He struck out four batters and walked one, as the Red Sox topped the Mariners, 12-8. Five of Pineda’s seven runs surrendered came in the first inning; pounded from the get-go.

Looking at that example doesn’t make me feel great about the trade.

I think the best thing the Yankees can do is let Pineda be himself; stretch him out and allow him to throw as many innings as he did last year, if not more.

What they can’t do is put him on an innings limit, given his age, and turn him into another version of Joba Chamberlain. I would also hope the Yankees learned the first time, and will choose to either permanently place him in the bullpen or in the rotation without switching him in and out.

Please. No “Pineda Rules.”

Considering what they gave up, I’m going out on a limb, but thinking the rotation is where we’ll be seeing Pineda.

While it remains to be seen how he fairs in Spring Training (let alone in the Bronx this upcoming year) I know one thing is for sure: whatever they do with him, they need to be careful. Otherwise they’ll end up with another young arm that needs Tommy John surgery. They wanted to avoid Tommy John altogether in Chamberlain’s case, and in the end he wound up needing it anyway.

As far as what they gave up: we barely knew Montero, although we knew the Yankees were preserving him for a long time. The 22-year-old powerhouse was called up in September and put on a little bit of a hitting show in the 18 games he played in ’11.

Montero clubbed four homers in 61 at-bats with four doubles, 12 RBIs, seven walks, nine runs scored, and 20 hits. Overall he notched a .328 batting average and secured a .590 slugging percentage.

For his short time in the show, he has certainly made it count.

Overall, I see this as a trade that could basically be a win for both sides. Seattle gets a power bat and a DH, something they hadn’t exactly possessed these past few years. The Mariners also have to realize they received a player who could be the 2012 Rookie of the Year, if he has a so-called “coming out party” this season.

Montero could do it. I have no doubt in my mind.

In return the Yanks get a potential number two starter, something they’ve had the last two years but haven’t had consistently. Hughes was the Yanks’ number-two man in 2010, but seemed to pitch with a tired arm down the stretch. Plus, we all saw how poorly he pitched in the ALCS vs. Texas.

Nova turned into the number-two starter last year – and let’s not forget that he left the deciding game of the ALDS vs. Detroit with an apparent arm injury. The Yankees needed that consistent second guy, and now they might have him.

And not only do they have a number two starter, they added a middle man: Kuroda.

Since 2008 for the Dodgers the 36-year-old Kuroda is 41-46 with an ERA of 3.45. Last year he tossed 202 innings giving up 77 runs on 196 hits while fanning 161 batters and walking 49. He also recorded 13 wins, a career-high for him in MLB. The Yanks signed him to a one-year contract worth about $10 or $11 million.

He was never an All-Star and he isn’t the flashiest pitcher in the world, but he provides the Yankees with a little bit of depth. If he can give them 10-12 wins from the third, fourth, or even fifth spot in the rotation, they have made a good move.   

There are only two things I see working against him:

1) The fact that he’s pitched his entire career in the National League.

2) The Yankees’ history with Japanese starting pitching.

If Kuroda can adapt to AL hitters, learn to work in and out of trouble – and shed the stereotype Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa left for him – I know he will do fine.

Now that the Yankees have a stacked rotation, essentially they gave away their designated hitter in Montero. It frees up a huge spot in their already-potent lineup and it begs the question: who will DH for the Yankees in 2012?

Andruw Jones?

Eduardo Nunez?

Will they sign Carlos Pena?

Is Johnny Damon coming back to New York?

Was giving away the DH a ploy by Brian Cashman to set up the signing a very powerful Free Agent?

Let the speculation begin…

RAWR! Bring on the Tigers

   

“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – Winston Churchill

There have been a lot of bizarre things happening around baseball these past 24 hours. The Boston Red Sox capped an epic American League Wild Card collapse, falling apart at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles…and maybe their 6-20 month of September.

The Tampa Bay Rays – who rallied back from a 7-0 deficit against the Yankees – stunned the world and captured the AL Wild Card.

It proved one thing: sometimes it takes all 162 games to make the postseason.

Now Boston (the team everyone and their mother picked to be representing the AL in the World Series) is going home for the winter, and the Rays will play the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series – a rematch of last year’s first round.

Then there are the Yankees, who are the AL East Champions. They finished with a record of 97-65, the best in the American League. The Bombers will square off with the AL Central winners, the Detroit Tigers, in the ALDS.

Right back to where we started on Opening Day.

But the last time the Yanks and Tigers faced off in the playoffs was 2006 – and it did not go well for New York.

The Yankees were predicted to go deep into the playoffs that year; they had a pitching staff featuring 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang, the tactical and crafty Mike Mussina, and the Big Unit, Randy Johnson.

Game One was easy to watch. The Yanks (with home field advantage) took care of the Tigers in convincing fashion, winning Game One 8-4. Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi both homered – as did Curtis Granderson – but he was on the other side of the field in the other dugout, a member of the Tigers.

After such an encouraging Game One, everything just came unglued.

Game Two was set to take place the night after Game One, but a rainout forced the two teams to play the following afternoon. I can’t say for sure whether or not it halted the Yankees’ momentum, but Joe Torre once said that “playoff rainouts hurt.”

And boy, did the Yanks hurt following that rainout.

Game Two started nicely, but turned into a nightmare. The Yankees had a 3-1 lead after four innings, and it looked as though they were going to be putting themselves in a favorable position: a two games-to-nothing lead going to Detroit.

But the Tigers were able to claw their way back into the game, scoring once in the fifth and once in the sixth. Then in the seventh, they plated a run to make it 4-3, and they never looked back.

The biggest spot in that game came on the shoulders of one Alex Rodriguez. He had been under heavy scrutiny for not putting up the best power numbers in ’06 – although he did smash 35 home runs and he drove in 121 runs. I don’t see what’s so bad about that.

Yet, he had been failing in clutch situations – and all season long, the Yankee fans booed him off the field whenever he didn’t come up big.

Rodriguez was standing in the batter’s box at Yankee Stadium in the bottom of the eighth of Game Two, two outs, the bases loaded, down by one run, and facing the flame-throwing Joel Zumaya.

Talk about pressure; needing to come up big in a huge spot.

Zumaya blew A-Rod away on the first two pitches before throwing a breaking ball, buckling Rodriguez’s knees and puzzling him for a called strike three. As he retreated towards the dugout a torrential shower of boos and jeers rained down on the Yankees’ third baseman.

Rodriguez was booed off the field – at home.

The Yanks were never able to capitalize and home field advantage was taken away from them. With the ALDS tied 1-1, they headed to the Motor City. What happened in Game Three still shocks me to this day.

Detroit sent former Yankee Kenny Rogers to the mound and his numbers against the Yankees were unreal. The lineup Torre posted had 20 home runs combined in their career off Rogers. The analysts all said this was the Yankees’ game to win; they even strategized how Jim Leyland, the Tigers’ skipper, should maneuver his bullpen – because they all believed Rogers was going to get shelled.

Not the case at all.

Rogers dazzled the Yanks, tossing 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball. He allowed five hits and two walks, but struck out eight on the way to a 6-0 Tiger victory.

It didn’t make sense. The Yankees owned this guy, how did they not hand him his rear end?

It was revealed when the Tigers made the World Series that Rogers had grease on his pitching hand – and that grease was on his hand during the ALDS vs. the Yankees (and subsequently the American League Championship Series against the Oakland A’s).

Perhaps his greasy hand was the reason the Yanks couldn’t touch him that night?

From there it was all but over. Torre decided to start Jaret Wright in Game Four and he fell apart in the second inning, allowing three runs. The Tigers eventually went on to win the game 8-3 and claim the ALDS.

With the way the Yankees played that year – full of passion and drive – a first round knockout was not how I envisioned the season ending. What shocked me the most was, instead of New York talking about how well the Mets were doing in the postseason, the Yankees dominated the backs of the newspaper pages.

“Why did the Yankees lose? Is Joe Torre Coming Back Next Year? What Happened to A-Rod?”

Even in defeat, the Yankees upstaged the Mets.

For as many differences I see between 2006 and now, some things look the same.

What’s Different This Time Around

Well, for one, different position players. Granderson was on the 2006 Tigers team and now he is a Yankee. It’s worth noting the centerfielder had a big ALDS against the Yankees: two homers, five RBIs, a triple, he slugged .765 and stole a base.

Instead of doing that against the Yankees, he’ll look to do it for them this time.

Gary Sheffield, Bernie Williams, Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and Giambi for that matter, were all in the starting lineup in the 2006 postseason.

Now, all of those players are on different teams – or retired. And it works both ways.

Some of Detroit’s difference-makers in ’06 are gone. Craig Monroe, Placido Polanco, Ivan Rodriguez, and Sean Casey are no longer on the team.

A lot of the pitchers have also moved on. Our starting three does not consist of Wang, Mussina, and Johnson – and thankfully Jaret Wright is no longer in pinstripes. CC Sabathia (19-7, 3.00 ERA), Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70 ERA) and Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62 ERA) will head up the Yanks’ ALDS rotation.

Aside from the big one, meaning Justin Verlander, the Tigers’ staff has also changed since 2006.

Throughout the season I knew what Verlander had been doing (24-5, 2.40 ERA). But I hadn’t been keeping up with the rest of Detroit’s starting pitching. In fact, the other day I asked myself,

“Who is their number two starter? RoboCop? He’s from Detroit, it makes sense.”

But then I looked up Doug Fister, who is 8-1 in 11 games for the Tigers this year with a 1.79 ERA. Behind him is Max Scherzer, another starter who is not exactly a slouch: 15-9 with a 4.43 ERA.

What works in the Yankees’ favor, though: no funny business or should I say “greasy action.”  

It’s clearly a different corps of players and it’s a different time. But I can’t help but be reminded of what happened in ’06 and parallel it to 2011.

What Looks the Same

The regular season records. In 2006 Detroit finished at 95-67, while the Yankees ended their campaign at 97-65. They met in the ALDS and look what happened.

Fast forward to 2011. The Tigers ended at 95-67; the Yanks at 97-65. They are about to meet in the ALDS, and…well…I am sure the Yankees hope the outcome will be much different, despite the eerie similarity.

There’s also the A-Rod factor.

This year was probably the worst season for Rodriguez. Numerically he failed to hit 30 home runs for the first time since 1997. He hit 16 this year with a .276 batting average and 62 RBIs – and he could not stay off the DL.

Rodriguez was hurt for the majority of the season, and even when he came off the disabled list he could not fend off the injury bug. A jammed thumb, followed by a sore knee – he couldn’t stay healthy.

I have this sinking feeling A-Rod is going to perform poorly in the postseason because of his injuries this year – which in a way mirrors what he did in ‘06. It doesn’t look good for him now, but as they say, the postseason is a new season, and maybe he can come out of his funk and get back to making good contact at the plate.

Once he does that, his power will return.

Along with A-Rod, home field advantage was something the Yankees also had in 2006, which didn’t work in their favor. Splitting the first two games takes home field away from the Yankees. Suppose Verlander outduels Sabathia tomorrow night, but the Yankees answer and get to Fister to take Game Two.

New York would have to go into Detroit and win at least one game – and Comerica Park will undoubtedly be shaking and baking; rocking and rolling. It was difficult for the Yankees to handle in 2006, and expect no difference this year.

Differences and similarities aside, this is looking to be an interesting postseason. Can the Yankees, who most skeptics doubted at the start of the year, win the World Series for the 28th time in their storied history?

If they learned anything from 2006, they certainly have a chance.

Basebrawl: The Connection Between Pro Wrestling and the Yankees

 

WWE and the Yankees: My Favorites

 

As far back as I can remember I have always loved the New York Yankees. But in the fall of 1996, a new form of sports (or sports entertainment, I should say) piqued my interest.

November 17, 1996 is when I watched my first World Wrestling Federation Pay Per View, a match called “Survivor Series.” The event took place at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden in New York City, some eight or nine miles away from Yankee Stadium.

MSG is a venue the WWE frequents and if you talk to any wrestling fan, they will agree that The Garden is to the WWE what Yankee Stadium is to the Bronx Bombers.

As a 9 year-old it was a crazy experience. I watched in awe as wrestlers like The Undertaker, Mankind, Bret Hart, The British Bulldog, Rocky Maivia (who later became The Rock and is now in the movies known by his real name Dwayne Johnson) and Shawn Michaels battled it out in the squared circle for glory, honor, and respect.

Ever since then, I have found wrestling and Yankee baseball to be two of my greatest interests; two sports that have kept me involved for a long period of time. In recent times, it’s been easy to make connections to the world of pro-wrestling and the Yankees.

Some Yankee players have openly admitted that not only do they watch wrestling, but they are fans of the WWE. In the WWE, the wrestlers have oftentimes referenced the Yankees–in both good ways and bad–in order to generate a reaction from the live audiences.

What some people do not understand is that pro wrestling, although considered by me and many others to be a real sport, is what is commonly known as “sports entertainment.” While there is a sheer amount of athleticism that goes on in each and every match, the storylines and a large majority of what happens on the TV shows (a la Monday Night Raw and Friday Night Smackdown) is scripted.

In laymen’s terms, it’s a soap opera with body slams. Yet wrestlers still get injured during matches and they put their bodies on the line to satisfy the crowds, which is why, to me, pro wrestling is in fact a real sport. People can say whatever they want to about wrestling being “fake” but as Bret “The Hitman” Hart once said,

“Wrestling is far more real than people think.”

As it relates to the Yankees, there have been a few moments that stand out to me which connected the WWE and the Yankees. One instance was January 28, 2008. WWE was at The Garden for their annual Royal Rumble Pay Per View.


Santino dissed the Yankees 

Santino Marella, a comedic character who is known more for his outlandish demeanor rather than his in-ring ability, came out to address the New York crowd. Being a heel, wrestling’s terms for a bad-guy (or a wrestler disliked by the crowd), Marella proceeded to put down my favorite team.

“The Yankees,” he said. “Chokers! Help, it’s a mosquito! I am going to blow the playoffs!”

The Bug Game :(

Of course he was making reference to the infamous 2007 postseason- Joba Chamberlain “Bug Game.”  Watching the PPV at a friend’s house, Marella’s remarks got me really angry; especially since the Boston Red Sox went on to win the World Series that year. I even remember rising up out of my seat and walking towards the TV set because he had hit a raw nerve of mine, as if I could do anything about it.

Over a year later, Marella (upon becoming a baby face, or a wrestling good guy) wore a Yankee jersey when the WWE returned to MSG for a show.


Santino later became a Yankee fan 

And that’s the beauty of wrestling sometimes–that it commands emotion. A wrestler can say things that just want to make you reach through the television set and strangle them, but at the same time, you love what they are doing.

Another great Yankee-WWE moment was back in either late 1999 or early 2000. Two wrestlers known as Edge and Christian (who like Marella were also heels) were the tag team champions. The WWE was in Atlanta for their Monday night television program, Raw.

The tag champs went out to the ring and did what they liked to call their “Five Second Pose,” A.K.A. they stood in the ring, told everyone in the audience to get their cameras out for a photo-op, and they mocked the sports teams of whatever city they were in at the time. The Braves were coming off their 1999 World Series loss to the Yankees and had also been beaten by the Yanks in the 1996 fall classic.

Edge said to the capacity crowd, “The Atlanta Braves are known for one thing–being the New York Yankees’ personal b*****s.”

Christian then put on a Braves jersey, while Edge sported the Yankee pinstripes. Christian got down on the canvas of the ring, hugging Edge’s ankles while Edge stood proudly with an evil smile on his face and gave a thumbs-up.

Edge teased the Braves fans with a Yankee jersey

The Atlanta faithful responded with a boisterous chorus of boos.   

As a Yankee fan, yes, it was hilarious and unbelievably entertaining. But I know that every Braves fan in attendance that night was furious; I believe they all felt the same way I did when Marella put down the Yankees, and more likely than not wanted Edge and Christian’s blood.

Again, wrestlers have the ability to command emotion. They can make you feel happy or so mad you want to beat them up.

Although the WWE wrestlers are known for making references to the Yankees, it works both ways. Numerous Yankees these past few years have admitted their admiration of wrestling.

Johnny Damon, a Yankee of four years, guest hosted Monday Night Raw in December following the Yankees’ 2009 World Series Championship. Damon, although an excellent baseball player, was not the best host for the show. I noticed throughout Damon’s tenure with the Yankees that he stuttered a lot during his postgame interviews; he never really gave the best sound bites for the media.

His stuttering, and in a lot of ways bad acting skills, did not come off looking any good on Monday Night Raw. I can remember saying one thing to myself after the show ended that night:

“Stick to baseball, Johnny. Stick to baseball.”

Stick to baseball, Johnny

Wrestling has evolved over the years and has gone through a number of huge changes. These days the WWE’s most popular superstar is a man by the name of John Cena, who has been in movies, has guest starred on TV shows, and has done a lot of charity work for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Basically Cena is the WWE’s top man and its hottest commodity.

 In February of 2009, Cena joined Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods (obviously before the controversy), Reggie Bush of the New Orleans Saints, and Denny Hamlin of NASCAR to help launch a new razor–the Gillette Fusion Gamer.


Derek Jeter teamed up with John Cena and other for Gillette's Fusion Razor product launchWWE interviewed Jeter and he said he told Cena that he needs to find the time and get out to a WWE show. It was funny to me, simply because I cannot picture in my mind Jeter, the classy captain of the New York Yankees, sitting ringside in an arena alongside a bunch of howling wrestling fanatics.

However, I would love to see it happen. As a person who has attended countless WWE live events, it is quite an experience. I highly recommend going to a WWE show, so I do hope Jeter can eventually “get out to one.”I guarantee he will have fun.

In 2009, the Yankees brought the spirit of WWE to their clubhouse. Pitcher A.J. Burnett’s son gave Damon a replica WWE Championship title belt to keep in his locker. From there on out, the Yankees awarded the belt to whoever was the hero of the game.

For example, Damon hit a walk-off home run on May 17, 2009 vs. the Minnesota Twins. After the game, the team declared him the champion and he got to hold the belt until the next hero was named.


Damon was champ on May 17, 2009 

WWE caught wind of this, and as it turned out, they rewarded the Yankees for it. CC Sabathia is good friends with WWE Hall of Famer, Jerry “The King” Lawler, stemming back to his days as a member of the Cleveland Indians–Lawler’s number one favorite team.

According to reports in June 2009, Lawler sent Sabathia an upgraded version of the WWE title. The report also mentioned that instead of the WWE logo, the belt featured the interlocking NY to fit the Yankees.


Yankee belt!    

From what I read, the Yankees eventually signed their original WWE belt and auctioned it off, with the proceeds going to charity. Knowing the WWE and the amount of charity work they undertake on a yearly basis, they were probably very happy with the actions of the Yankees regarding the belt.

To me, wrestling will always be a wonderful art form. Good guys, bad guys, drama, athleticism, high-risk action, exhilaration, and laying it all on the line–the WWE has everything.

Other than football, I can’t think of any other sport that interests me more in the baseball off-season than wrestling. And when the WWE and the Yankees collide, as they have in the past, it is the best feeling in the world for me; it is two of the greatest sports in the world coming together.

And it is my hope that the Yankees and the WWE maintain a great relationship in the future. Perhaps Wrestlemania, WWE’s version of the World Series, could be held at Yankee Stadium.

Talk about a dream come true.


Yankees. WWE. ...make it happen!!!!!!

A Look Ahead to 2011 and the Top 10 of 2010

 

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all!

I apologize for not blogging in quite awhile. I have been busy with work and the holidays set me back, so I haven’t really had a chance to do a lot of Yankee Yapping.

Since my last blog entry, Cliff Lee signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, going back to the city of brotherly love for his second tour of duty. Am I upset the Yankees didn’t land him?

Bye bye Andy? :(

Yes, but only because he was really their only option. Andy Pettitte is expected to retire any day now and looking at things objectively, the Yankees have about two and a half pitchers in their rotation: CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett, who counts as a half a pitcher.

I checked out the free agent starters on the open market. There’s not much to look at, unless you count Carl Pavano and Ted Lilly as top-notch pitchers–both of whom have already faltered in pinstripes in the past.

Bottom line: the Yankee rotation needs help. And soon. The bullpen? Well…

Yanks got Feliciano

Pedro Feliciano is coming across town from the Mets. Who knows how he will do, but he better pitch well. Kerry Wood is headed back to the Chicago Cubs, which upset me. He was probably the best part of our bullpen towards the end of last season, outside of Mariano Rivera.

Russell Martin came over from Joe Torre’s Dodgers, and hopefully he will exhibit better skills behind the plate (at least in terms of throwing out runners) than Jorge Posada, who has already been named the 2011 designated hitter.


Russell Martin is a new Yankee 

Posada lost his starting catcher job. Sad, because more likely than not, this is his last year as a Yankee.

Reportedly, the Yankees were talking to Johnny Damon about a possible return. I hope he does come back because I have always liked him. It was a mistake to lose him to Detroit in the first place and I hope a deal can be reached. He would definitely improve the lineup, because everywhere he goes, the team gets better.

I really don’t know what to expect for 2011. I know the Red Sox have certainly improved, adding Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Bobby Jenks–joining the already dynamic group of players the Red Sox have, like David Ortiz (who can still hit for power) Dustin Pedroia (pesky little punk) Kevin Youkilis (annoying, strong hitter) and J.D. Drew (who can’t stay healthy with any team but Boston).

Buster Olney already compared the 2011 Red Sox to the Yankee Dynasty teams of the late 1990s. 

As much as that scares me, it doesn’t make sense. They haven’t played a game yet. Who knows what kind of team chemistry the BoSox will showcase, and if they will click or stay healthy, or even pitch effectively. I mean, they haven’t even played a game yet.

On paper, they are the best team in the American League. But as Derek Jeter always says, “On paper doesn’t win you ballgames.”

Still, Boston scares me. Their off-season reminds me of what they did prior to 2007 and they went on to win the World Series that year. They missed the playoffs in 2006 and came storming back with a great off-season and a Championship year to follow.

Are the Red Sox already the winners???

I get the feeling they can do that again, as much as I hate to admit it. Boston is stacked.

But enough about that. Now that I have outlined some of the dreadful thoughts for this upcoming season, and in the spirit of the New Year, I’ll review the top 10 Yankee moments/plays of 2010.

10) CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes Flirt with No-Hitters

CC Sabathia (middle) and Phil Hughes (right) came close to no-hitters in 2010

2010 was definitely the year of the pitcher. Perfect games and no-hitters were thrown by the likes of Roy Halladay, Ubaldo Jimenez, Dallas Braden, Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson…and almost by Armando Galarraga, but we all know what happened there.

On April 10, CC Sabathia took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays. Through 7 2/3 innings, Sabathia shut down the Rays’ potent lineup until Kelly Shoppach lined a sharp single into left field to break it up.

So close. But the Yankees won 10-0 and Sabathia picked up his first win of the year–his first of 21 wins.

Fast forward to 11 days later in Oakland and Phil Hughes on the hill.

The Yankees played the Athletics on April 21, and Hughes nearly tossed a no-no of his own. The 23 year-old righty stud pitched 7 1/3 innings before giving up a come-backer to Eric Chavez–a hit that caromed off Hughes himself. He ended the night with 10 strikeouts, a career-high for him. He only walked two batters.

Although he did not get the no-hitter, the Yankees once again prevailed, beating Oakland 3-1.

9) Opening Day at Yankee Stadium

Yankees get their rings

I feel especially biased towards this day, simply because I was there to witness it.

On April 13 the Yankees celebrated their 27th Championship with a ring ceremony and a game vs. the Los Angeles Angels. It was a glorious day and it meant a lot to me, spending it with my friends and family.


My cousin got a BP ball on Opening Day 

My cousin Thomas got a batting practice ball, the Yankees got their 2009 World Series rings, and I got a whole bunch of memories that will last for the rest of my life.

The Yankees beat the Angels, 7-5.

8) Comeback vs. Boston

Thames wins it!

May 17 was a memorable night for all Yankee fans.

Down 9-7 in the bottom of the ninth, Alex Rodriguez clobbered a game-tying home run off Yankee pariah/ Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Marcus Thames came up later in the frame and crushed a walk-off home run deep into the left field seats to end the game. Yankees 11, Red Sox 9.

Papelbon walks off in shame, Thames walks off the hero. And the Yankee fans go home with smiles on their faces.

7) Grand Ol’ Days

10 Grand Slams--THAT's what's up!!!

The Yankees smacked 10 grand slams this season, more bases-loaded home runs in one season than I can ever remember.

Alex Rodriguez had three: May 14 vs. the Minnesota Twins, May 31 vs. the Cleveland Indians, and July 7 at Oakland. Rodriguez now has 21 career grand slams, and he will tie Lou Gehrig for most career grannies (23) if he hits two slams next season.

Jorge Posada crushed two grand slams this year: June 12 and 13 vs. the Houston Astros. Two grand slams in as many games–now that’s impressive.  

Robinson Cano also hit two: May 28 vs. the Indians and Aug. 22 vs. the Seattle Mariners.

Curtis Granderson smacked a granny in Baltimore against the Orioles on June 8.

On July 3, Brett Gardner crushed his first career grand slam at home vs. the Blue Jays, a game my friends and I were going to attend. We opted instead to make a trip to Cooperstown to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

I was however at Yankee Stadium on June 20, when Mark Teixeira clobbered a grand slam off Mets’ ace Johan Santana.

It’s safe to say the Yankees did a number on opposing pitching when the bases were loaded in 2010. What’s more, the Bronx Bombers won every game they hit a grand slam in.

6) Derek Jeter’s Inside-the-Park Home Run

Jeter slides in to complete his inside-the-park home run on July 22

On July 22, Derek Jeter rounded the bases all the way for an inside-the-park home run in the Yankees’ game against the Kansas City Royals. It was only his second career in-the-parker, and ironically enough, his first also came against the Royals.

One could argue it was not exactly the prettiest inside-the-park home run, because center fielder David DeJesus had a play on the ball. He could not come down with it however, and he crashed into the plexiglass in right-center field. Jeter caught a break and was able to motor all the way around to tie the game at three.

DeJesus injured himself on the play and was taken out of the game. If he hadn’t fallen down, Jeter may not have been able to complete the home run.

In any event, it was one of the coolest home runs of the year. The Yankees went on to beat the Royals that day by a score of 10-4.

5) Joe Torre vs. The Yankees

Look out, Joe.

Former manager vs. former team. Teacher vs. his students. Joe Torre vs. the Yankees.

In June the Yanks met the Dodgers for a three-game series during interleague play and for the first time since 2007, the Yankees saw their old skipper Joe Torre. It was an interesting weekend; a turning point in the Yankees’ 2010 season.

The Dodgers and Yanks rekindled their old rivalry and traded victories in the first two games. Los Angeles handed the Yankees a decisive 9-4 win in the second game while the Bombers slipped past the Dodgers 2-1 in the first game.

The rubber game looked to belong to the Dodgers, as they led 6-2 in the ninth with flamethrower Jonathan Broxton on the mound. The resilient Yanks would not have any of it, as they rallied to score four runs in the ninth to knot the game at six.

An RBI double by Robinson Cano, a two-run double by Chad Huffman, and a fielder’s choice by Curtis Granderson, and the Yankees are back in it.

Cano came up in the top of the tenth, belting a long two-run home run to left-center. The Yankees went on to win 8-6 and beat their former teacher, winning the series 2-1.

I cannot speak for the rest of the Yankee fans, but to me, it felt SWEET to beat Torre. Sweet.

4) Mark Teixeira’s Big Day in Boston

Teixeira blasted three homers vs. Boston on May 8

Once, twice, three times the “Tex Message.”  

The Yankees visited the Red Sox on May 8, beating them 14-3. It was one of those great days to be a Yankee fan, to say the least.

Mark Teixeira accounted for a large amount of the scoring, hitting three home runs and driving in five runs on a total of four hits. He scored three runs and became only the second Yankee in history to hit three homers in one game off Boston–second only to Lou Gehrig.

I can remember watching that game with so much joy. Anytime the Yankees embarrass the Red Sox on a Saturday afternoon Fox Game of the Week, it’s a good day.

What also made it more enjoyable was what happened afterward.

Me on the YES Network!

The YES Network hosted their “Extra Innings” postgame show, where they ask the audience to write in their thoughts, ideas, or comments. If they like them they use them on the show.

I noticed how Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre had eight errors to that point in the season, and it was only May 8. I wrote in a comment and it made it to TV. The YES Network analysts said my name on TV and discussed my comment on the show.

There could not have been a better way to cap off a big Yankee win over the Red Sox.

3) The ALDS

Pop champagne!

October of 2010 was certainly different than October of 2009. They ended in different ways, but began in the same fashion.

The Yankees swept the Twins in the ’09 American League Division Series and did the same in 2010. This year the Yankees did not have home field advantage and had to win two games at Target Field before coming home to clinch the division.

In all honesty, I thought this year might be the Twins’ moment; I thought it may have been time for the Twins to get over the hump and finally beat the Yanks in the playoffs.

No such luck.

Another year, another early exit at the hands of the Yankees for Minnesota.

Although the ALCS was painful–unbearably, absoluteLEE painful–to watch, sweeping the Twins was a great start to October. After the Yanks swept, I thought history would repeat itself yet again. Unfortunately the magic vanished to the Texas Rangers.

But nothing can take away the feeling of beating the Twins. It was a great feeling.

2) 600

Really?

Alex Rodriguez, one way or another, is going down in the history books. Whether or not people recognize him as the greatest hitter of all-time, or just another major leaguer who tried to cheat the system, he will always be known and remembered.

On Aug. 4 A-Rod crushed his 600th career home run–exactly three years to the day after he hit his 500th home run. He joined baseball’s “600 Home Run Club” with the likes of Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Sammy Sosa.

A lot of folks, namely the New York Daily News, were quick to judge Rodriguez’s home run as a tainted accomplishment. Many people and baseball fans believe that because Rodriguez admitted steroid usage in his career, the feat means nothing.

Me on the other hand…well, I believe it still means a lot. I have offered my opinion on steroids and do not condone drug usage. However, I believe it takes more than steroids to hit 600 home runs. Plenty of players who were on the juice never came close to 100 home runs, let alone 600.

I still consider it a great moment for A-Rod and a great moment for the Yankee organization.

1) The Game for the Boss and Sheppard


For Bob and The Boss 

On July 13 the Yankees lost their principle owner. I used to refer to George Steinbrenner as “The Godfather” of the Yankees, and this season he lost his life at the age of 80.

Steinbrenner was the longest tenured Yankee owner in team history and he died just two days after the Yanks lost their longtime public address announcer, the legendary Bob Sheppard.

On July 16, the Yanks’ first game following the All-Star break–and more importantly their first game after losing their Boss (and only their second game after losing Sheppard), they dramatically rallied back to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 5-4.

The night started off in emotional fashion. The team could barely hold in their tears and Jeter, our fearless captain, could hardly keep himself together as he addressed the crowd during the pregame ceremony. There was a two-minute period of dead silence during the ceremony, and not one Yankee fan made a peep.

All that was heard throughout Yankee Stadium during those two minutes: the whipping sounds of the flags blowing in the wind and a passing subway train. That’s how much respect Sheppard and Steinbrenner commanded.

Mariano Rivera placed two long-stemmed roses over home plate in remembrance of their fallen comrades.

The Yanks scuffled a bit during the game, giving the Rays a 4-3 edge heading into the eighth. Nick Swisher had other plans, crushing a game-tying home run in the bottom of the frame before recording the big game-winning hit in the ninth, a single which plated Curtis Granderson.

We win!!!!

Yankees win an emotional game for Sheppard and the Boss.     

Later in the season, Steinbrenner was honored with a plaque out in Monument Park. The Yankees invited many of their former players and dignitaries, including Joe Torre and Don Mattingly. Everyone filed out to the area behind centerfield and another ceremony was held unveiling the plaque on Sept. 20.

For George

Unfortunately the Yankees could not capitalize and win their 28th title the year of Steinbrenner’s passing. However, it’s important to remember that when he passed away, the Yankees were reigning champions.

It is only fitting that Steinbrenner went out a winner.

 

 

Well, that about puts a cap on 2010.

May 2011 bring many more great Yankee memories, and hopefully the 28th World Series Championship.

Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training next month!

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.

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