Results tagged ‘ New York ’
Frank William Abagnale, Jr. Does that name hold any meaning to you?
If you’ve seen the movie “Catch Me If You Can” you know who I’m talking about. At an early point in the film, Frank Abagnale, Sr. poses a question towards his son:
You know why the Yankees always win, Frank?
Frank Jr. gives the obvious answer: because they have Mickey Mantle.
No. It’s ’cause the other teams can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes.
Perhaps those vertical navy blue stripes are overlooked. Or, at least not thought about a whole lot.
The pinstripes are an important part of the Yankee tradition, as the team has been wearing pinstriped uniforms dating back to as early as 1912. The Yankees’ road uniforms have been the same since 1918: plain grey with NEW YORK across the chest (although from 1927-30 “NEW YORK” was replaced with “YANKEES”).
Consistency in every sense of the word. The Yanks have worn same home uniforms for roughly 104 years and the same road uniforms for 86 years.
In an age of alternate home and road apparel and a time when teams change colors and logos seemingly every year, the Yankees have been the aberration. The one team that hasn’t conformed to change.
Think about it. The Arizona Diamondbacks have only been in the league since 1998. They are going on only their 18th season in existence and have changed their uniform colors from teal, copper, purple and black to Sonoran sand (a shade of beige) and Sedona Red while maintaining black.
Not to mention when the Diamondbacks first made their Major League Baseball debut, they had three different logos for their cap: one for home games, one for away games and an alternate.
The Yankees, on the other hand, have had the same cap design — the solid navy blue hat with the interlocking “NY” — since 1922.
Ninety-four years with the same cap. Again, consistency in terms of fashion in the truest sense.
Save for spring training, that is.
As most fans know, the Yankees only don the pinstripes for their spring opener — which, as a friendly reminder, spring training begins in a few short weeks. After their first exhibition, the Yankees wear navy blue road and away jerseys in spring training games. This year, the Yanks and other teams across MLB will get snazzy new unis for spring training.
The Yankees’ new spring training jerseys come complete with designs inside the numbers on the back, as well as an “FL” inside a blue shield on the sleeve and on the side of the cap.
Seeing as how the Yanks are in Florida’s Grapefruit League for the spring, perhaps the image of a fruit would have been more clever as far as a special character for the uniform.
But hey. Maybe that’s why I blog and don’t design baseball unis.
Notwithstanding, it’s refreshing to see a team in the modern age uphold its tradition, and prove the point that swapping colors and changing logos frequently are unnecessary practices.
Sticking with something and going with it usually works out just fine.
Sunday marked the final day of the 2015 regular Major League Baseball season. Which, figuratively speaking, meant all 30 clubs used their might to push the sun back up into the sky and give us one more day of summer.
Even though it was a blustery October day.
The baseball world also learned the layout of this year’s postseason; who’s in the dance and who’s not. After days of waiting, we now know the Yankees will host the Houston Astros at 8:08 p.m. on Tuesday in a do-or-die Wild Card game. The defending American League champions and winners of the American League Central division, the Kansas City Royals, will take on whoever emerges victorious Tuesday night.
The road is going to be anything but easy for the pinstripers, who in terms of the playoffs, aren’t on the outside looking in for the first time since 2012.
But the playoffs start Tuesday. Now is yearly time for regular season reflection. A chance to tout the achievements of the 2015 Yankee team.
Yes, the annual awards.
Yankee Yapping Rookie of the Year
Winner: Greg Bird
Greg Bird flew in on Aug. 13, and could not have landed at a better time. Four days after he was promoted to the big club, first baseman Mark Teixeira fouled a ball off his leg and was injured. Bird was thrust into the role of everyday first baseman, and to say the least, he rose to the occasion and produced.
In his short time with the club (45 games), Bird knocked in 30 runs, slugged .523 and generated an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .862. What’s more, he flexed his muscles with 11 homers. This writer, in fact, saw one of those round-trippers live on Sept. 7, when he crushed a home run in the Yankees’ 8-6 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
The 22-year-old Bird truly soared like an eagle since his arrival. And if the Yankees want a deep run in the postseason this month, he really must spread his wings.
Yankee Yapping Comeback Player of the Year
Winner: Alex Rodriguez
The type of season Alex Rodriguez put together was nothing short of remarkable. Perhaps the most stunning aspect of his 33-home run, 86-RBI campaign is that no one predicted it.
If you would have asked even the staunchest proponent of A-Rod’s at the beginning of the season, they likely would have said his ceiling was 20 homers and 55 RBI.
Rodriguez not only proved the naysayers (including this writer) wrong, but he did so in historic fashion. On May 7 Rodriguez passed Willie Mays on the all-time home runs list, mashing a tater off Chris Tillman of the Orioles.
A month and 12 days later, Rodriguez blasted a first-inning home run off Justin Verlander of the visiting Detroit Tigers. It was his 3,000th career hit, and only the third time in baseball history (behind Wade Boggs and Derek Jeter) a player hit the ball into the stands for his 3,000th career hit.
Rodriguez also set an AL record for most career RBI, passed 2,000 career RBI, and passed Roberto Clemente on baseball’s all-time hits list.
Oh, and with three homers in one game against the Minnesota Twins on July 25, Rodriguez became the fifth-oldest player to hit three homers in a single game.
Some possible attribution to Rodriguez’s success: making him, at age 40, the full-time designated hitter. That decision by the Yankees has paid dividends. Rodriguez appearing in 150 games this season is proof of that.
Either way, the type of season he had – I’d call that a comeback. A comeback with a vengeance.
Yankee Yapping Ace of the Year
Winner: Masahiro Tanaka
Admit it. You thought Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow was going to fall off.
Last summer when it was revealed the Yankees’ big-ticket starting pitcher had a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm, most Yankee fans panicked. They feared the three words that are as common as a routine fly ball in this day and age: Tommy John surgery.
Tanaka opted to treat his tear with a platelet rich plasma injection, and came back to pitch in 2014. Before the season began, Yankee manager Joe Girardi said he expected Tanaka to make 34 starts.
Skip’ was 10 numbers off, as Tanaka made 24 starts. Forearm and wrist soreness sidelined him early in the season, plus when the opportunities arose, Girardi rested him.
Despite missing those 10 games and spending time on the disabled list, the man from Japan proved to be pretty effective when he needed to be.
On Sept. 13 in particular, he hurled seven shutout innings in the Bronx as the Yankees blanked the Toronto Blue Jays, 5-0. Although Toronto went on to win the AL East, the game was important in terms of staying in the race for the division title.
Against those same Jays at Rogers Centre on Aug. 15, Tanaka put on a virtuoso performance. He tossed a complete game five-hitter, and the Yanks beat the Jays, 4-1.
Tanaka’s won-lost record isn’t reflective of a very dominant season: 12-7. His season earned run average wasn’t bad, but not the lowest number out there: 3.51. He gave up 25 home runs over the course of the year, which in the eyes of many armchair managers, is probably too many.
But he gave the Yankees 150-plus innings. Tanaka kept the ball in the strike zone by fanning 139 hitters – and only issuing 27 walks. He performed when they needed him to perform.
And he will need to bring his maestro-like skills on Tuesday and serenade the Bronx with another rendition of the tune “Tanaka wins.”
Yankee Yapping Platinum Sluggers of the Year
Winners: Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran
The Yankees suffered a devastating blow on Aug. 17 when Mark Teixeira fouled a ball off his leg. The first baseman sustained a fracture, and the injury –a freak injury, at that – ended his season.
But before he was forced to watch the rest of the 2015 from the bench, Teixeira was raking. He crushed 31 homers and drove in 79 runs. He was on pace to smash 40 or more homers, drive in over 100 runs and analysts put his name and the term “American League Most Valuable Player” in the same sentence at certain times.
The injury may have negated it all, but make no mistake about it: Teixeira played well.
Carlos Beltran on the other hand avoided major injuries, and turned on the jets during the second half of the season. After the All-Star break, Beltran clubbed 12 of his 19 home runs. He finished with 67 RBI, 37 of which came after the midway point.
Beltran’s best may be yet to come, as he’s a well-known stud in the playoffs. So much so, in fact, that he’s earned the nickname “Senor Octubre” among some folks.
In the postseason, Beltran is a lifetime .333 hitter with 16 homers and 40 RBI. He’s also scored 45 runs, slugged .683 and owns a .445 on-base percentage.
In less than 48 hours we’ll see if he delivers, but he went out with a bang: three hits in the Yanks’ 9-4 loss to Baltimore in the season finale Sunday.
Yankee Yapping Reliever of the Year
Winner: Dellin Betances
Although he’s been struggling of late, Dellin Betances was as consistent as they come this year.
An almost automatic eighth inning shutdown machine, Betances struck out 131 hitters in just 84 innings pitched. Of those 84 innings, he only allowed 45 hits. However, his walk total was a bit high: he issued 40 free passes. But most of the time, he was able to wiggle out of danger.
Case in point: Sept. 7.
Betances walked the first three he faced, but bounced back to strike out the next three in order.
What’s more, he showed maneuverability. Betances took on the closer role when needed, and saved nine games.
Yankee Yapping Most Valuable Player
Winner: Andrew Miller
The formula was simple. A song with a statement played, the closer came in and then slammed the door.
“You can run on for a long time. Run on for a long time. Run on for a long time. Sooner or later, God’ll cut you down.”
The words heard each time Andrew Miller came in to finish off the opposing team.
Fightin’ words. One might even say words a little harsher than the lyrics to “Enter Sandman,” used by Mariano Rivera, one of Miller’s predecessors.
Harsher words, perhaps, but when the sweet sounds of Johnny Cash came blaring through the Yankee Stadium speakers, you knew the game was over.
Miller saved 36 games in 38 opportunities this season, striking out 100 batters in 61 2/3 innings. He held opponents to a .151 batting average, and tested hitters while attacking them.
A tactic Troy Tulowitzki knows about.
On Aug. 14 with the game on the line, the Blue Jays shortstop stood between the Yankees and a pivotal win. It took 12 pitches and the dramatic at-bat put the baseball world on the edge of its collective seat, but Miller got the job done.
His whiff of Tulowitzki was one of the most clutch performances of the season, and one of the many examples of how valuable he truly was.
Yankee Yapping Lifetime Achievement Award
Winner: Yogi Berra
The world – not just the baseball world, the world in general – lost a treasure the morning of Sept. 22.
Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, the Yankees’ famed catcher and legendary philosopher, passed away at the age of 90.
Berra won the most World Series of any player in history with 13 (10 as a player, three as a coach). He smacked 358 home runs and possessed a lifetime batting average of .285. It’d be easy to sit here and write out every noted accolade Berra amassed over the course of his career.
But let’s talk about the man for a second.
Let’s mention how in love he was with his wife Carmen, and his family. Let’s mention how he served our great country as a gunner’s mate in the United States Navy during World War II. Let’s mention how his wit and easygoing personality impacted everyone around him, even those he didn’t personally know.
His fantastic “Yogi-isms” will be a part of our culture forever. Our millennial generation can now pass on his wisdom. The next era needs to know that you can observe a lot by watching, and that baseball is 90 percent half mental.
The rest is physical.
The YES Network publicly aired Berra’s funeral – a beautiful sendoff for a beautiful man. I noticed the gospel passage, which was elegantly read by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, was the same gospel passage read at my grandfather’s funeral on April 15 last year. John 14:1-7, a reading that explores comfort in a time of impending sadness.
I felt that only fitting, especially because I read an article with the headline “Yogi Berra, ‘everyone’s grandfather,’ dies.”
Again, fitting. Grandfathers have a way about them, brightening the lives of their grandchildren. How many lives has Berra illuminated with his wit and charm?
Too many to count.
Berra has a prime seat in Heaven now for the postseason. Maybe the proverbial fork in the road is the World Series.
Go ahead, Yankees. Take it.
Yankees vs. Houston Astros
What: American League Wild Card game
When: 8:08 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6
Where: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York
Houston probable pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (20-8, 2.48 ERA)
New York probable pitcher: Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51 ERA)
A writer once penned that a catcher who can hit is a bonus.
The Yankees have had that bonus this season, and it’s never been more evident than the last few games. Brian McCann has been swinging the bat well – a far cry from what some might consider a disappointing 2014. The 31-year-old backstop enjoyed a nice homecoming this past weekend, equaling and surpassing a few offensive numbers from last year in the process.
In fact, he now leads all major league catchers in the home run and RBI categories.
Over the last seven games, McCann is batting .320, slugging .600 and has produced a .438 on-base percentage. He’s collected eight hits over that span – two of which have left the yard – and has driven in eight runs. He’s shown a keen eye, too, drawing six walks.
Three of those six walks were issued on Friday, when the Yanks rolled into Atlanta, McCann’s former stomping grounds. McCann, as we all know, started his career with the Braves in 2005 and stayed with them until the 2013-14 offseason, when the Bronx Bombers were waiting for him with open arms.
And an open wallet, of course. McCann, a native of Athens, Georgia, elected to leave home and sign with the Yanks to the lucrative tune of $85 million over five years. This weekend, he earned his keep, showing the Braves what they’re missing along the way.
On Friday, the catcher clubbed a three-run home run in the top of the eighth inning. A home run, by the way, for which he got boisterously cheered. For the lack of a better phrase, the Braves faithful just ate up McCann’s tater, appreciating the fact that he homered 179 times in a Braves uniform.
That is, McCann smacked 176 homers for Atlanta in regular season play, and added three more round-trippers in the postseason as a Brave (he hit two home runs in the 2005 National League Division Series and one in the 2010 NLDS).
McCann being cheered upon his return to Turner Field was almost reminiscent of Tino Martinez’s homecoming to the Bronx in 2003. Martinez, a key player in the Yankees’ dynasty of the late 1990s, left New York after 2001 for the St. Louis Cardinals.
When the red birds visited the Yankees in June of 2003, Martinez smacked a home run off Andy Pettite – a shot that found a familiar landing spot in the short porch at the old stadium. It generated a positive response from the Yankee fans.
Much like McCann on Friday, the hometown audience stood up and graciously applauded its former player.
McCann’s homecoming on Friday was finalized with four RBI and three runs scored, as the Yankees trounced the Braves, 15-4.
On Saturday it got even sweeter, as he drove in one of the Yanks’ three runs. Three runs were all the Yankees needed, as they handed the Braves a 3-1 loss.
And on Sunday, he put a nice bow on it. McCann collected a hit in the series finale, drove in two runs and scored two more. His offense was a small part of the collective effort, as the baseball score looked more like a football score when it was all said and done. The Yankees wrapped up the series against the Braves by pulling out the broom for a sweep in the form of a 20-6 victory.
This past weekend wasn’t just a spectacular hitting show with McCann in the starring role, but proof of improvement from a year ago. With his home run Friday, McCann matched his 2014 home run total. He entered the weekend with 75 RBI – the amount he finished with last year – and with seven over the past three games, he eclipsed his 2014 RBI total.
Now, heading into Monday’s series opener with the Red Sox in Boston, McCann has 23 homers and 82 RBI, the most among all backstops in the bigs. McCann also has an opportunity to set career-highs in both homers and RBI this season.
His season-high number in home runs?
24, in 2011.
The most amount of runs he’s knocked in over the course of one season?
94, in 2009.
With 33 games left on the schedule, there is plenty of opportunity for McCann, who has proven he’s a good hitter; who has proven he can handle himself in pinstripes.
McCann, who has proven he is that bonus.
It would almost be too easy to sit here and write about how Saturday’s 8-5 win over the Minnesota Twins was easily the best victory of the 2015 season for the Yankees.
It was. It was a statement win. A statement of resiliency.
How can anyone say differently?
Down by five, with CC Sabathia serving up meatballs, Alex Rodriguez decided to put on a hitting show. Actually, more like a hitting clinic. Two days before his 40th birthday, Rodriguez smashed three home runs. Each was spectacular, but his first tater traveled a remarkable 452 feet and into the third porch in left-center at Target Field.
Now that was a bomb.
Rodriguez’s third home run tied the game at five in the ninth, but it was the young J.R. … sorry, John Ryan Murphy who put the exclamation point on the comeback. Murphy belted a three-run homer over the big wall in right field later in the ninth, helping the Yankees snatch a win in the face of defeat.
But not to be underscored, closer Andrew Miller came in and set the Twins down in order to complete the come-from-behind victory. It marked Miller’s 23rd save of the year, and the 23rd he has converted – yes, he has yet to blow a save.
Despite a stint on the disabled list, Miller has been all but automatic this season. The 6-foot-7 southpaw has 54 strikeouts in just 34 1/3 innings pitched, with an earned run average of 1.57.
Miller has made Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman look good. Cashman’s critics can look at last year’s closer, David Robertson, and his five blown saves on the south side of Chicago for the White Sox. The GM opted to sign Miller over Robertson in the offseason, and so far, it appears Cashman knew what he was doing.
Maybe the signing of Miller was a statement of its own, and it’s silencing the haters.
And as predicted by absolutely no one, it’s now July 26, and the Yankees are in first place in the American League East. Entering Sunday, the Bronx Bombers are 5 ½ games up on the second place Toronto Blue Jays, and 6 ½ ahead of the third place Tampa Bay Rays. The Baltimore Orioles are in fourth, seven games out, and the lowly Boston Red Sox are in the cellar, 12 off pace.
“At the beginning of the season, I called it!” – Nobody.
The Yanks are winners of seven of their last 10, and are 13-5 in the month of July.
During the recent string of success, this writer got an opportunity to catch the Bronx Broskis live and in-person on Sunday, July 19 – a game that ended in a 2-1 pinstriped victory over the Seattle Mariners.
Felix Hernandez pitched well, but ultimately Mark Teixeira got the last laugh. The Yankee first baseman clubbed an eighth-inning solo home run, which was the game’s decider.
On second thought, everyone in attendance, including yours truly, got the last laugh. When you’re in the building and you get to watch Robinson Cano strike out twice and finish 0 for 3, you do tend to get a chuckle or two.
Like tonight, Miller came in to shut the door. And I noticed his entrance music.
Miller jogs in and warms up to “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” by Johnny Cash.
God’s gonna cut you down. Now that is one heck of a statement. Perhaps enough of a statement to induce fear into opponents.
One can’t help but think of Mariano Rivera, and how his entrance music also sent a message. One might also say Miller is pitching a lot like the legendary closer this season, not giving an inch when it comes to sealing the deal.
After they wrap up in Minnesota Sunday, the Yankees go to Texas to take on the Rangers. Following four games in Arlington, the Bombers will head to the windy city to take on their old friend Robertson and the White Sox for three-game set. Then it’s home for three games against Boston and three against the Blue Jays.
The Rangers, White Sox and Red Sox are each playing sub-.500 ball. The Blue Jays are only one game above .500. Therefore, the Yankees have an opening to take some series and pull further ahead in the AL East.
Putting everyone far behind in the rearview mirror by mid-August? Now that would be a statement.
These past few days have been reminiscent of another era.
The old days of Roger Clemens beaning Mike Piazza in the head came to mind. I couldn’t get the image of Piazza standing up to Clemens after he chucked that hunk of broken bat at him during the 2000 World Series. Even my personal memory of attending the very first Subway Series at Yankee Stadium during the regular season in 1997 echoed through my brain. The battle for bragging rights in New York was on this past weekend.
And for the first time in quite a few years, this Yankee fan felt it.
Whether it was in the Poughkeepsie Journal newsroom, listening to sports talk radio in the car, or going on Facebook and Twitter, talk of the showdown between the Yankees and Mets in the Bronx this past weekend dominated my life. Mostly I was forced to listen to how the Mets had won 11 straight games entering the Subway Series, how they are currently the team to beat and how Matt Harvey is the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Believe me, I took it all.
What most folks who talked up the Mets might have overlooked was the fact that, prior to the Subway Series, the Yankees had won seven of 10 on the road. They had taken one from the Baltimore Orioles, swept the Tampa Bay Rays in three games and took three of four from the Detroit Tigers.
Perhaps the hot start the Mets got off to was more impressive, and thus they got a little more ink than the Yankees.
But there the Yankees were on Friday to remind everyone who they are. In particular, Mark Teixeira and Michael Pineda made their presence felt. Teixeira clubbed two home runs of Jacob deGrom, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, while Pineda tossed 7 2/3 strong innings, giving up one run to the Mets on five hits. Pineda also struck out seven and kept the ball around the plate, walking just one batter.
It brought the Mets’ winning streak to a screeching halt, though it didn’t stop the orange and blue loyalists from reminding the pinstripers that Harvey (excuse me, Jesus Christ) was starting the following day.
Yet, their yapping was backed up and Harvey delivered Saturday. The ace silenced the Yankee bats, giving up just two runs on five hits over 8 2/3 innings. Harvey struck out seven Yankees and walked two en route to his fourth win of the season, proving that yes, he has a bright future and is a bona fide stud.
That brought us to Sunday: The rubber game. The game that decided who got the bragging rights until September, when the Yankees and Mets hook up at Citi Field.
For the first time in a long time, I really wanted the Yankees to win this game. Not that I don’t want them to win any other games; in fact, I want them to win every game, like most passionate fans.
This one, however, I truly wanted. The voices of the trash talk that was spoken, posted and tweeted at me by Mets fans ringed over and over, almost as if they were taunting me. That feeling was only fueled when ESPN opened its broadcast with a shot of a Mets fan holding a sign that read “A-Rod wears Matt Harvey underwear.”
Cute. But, not really that creative. I’m almost certain I heard that one back in 2005, when Chuck Norris “Facts” were a thing.
Alex Rodriguez, me and the Yanks got the last laugh, as it was. Rodriguez homered off Mets starter Jonathan Niese, his 659th career tater, as he continues to creep up on Willie Mays for fourth place on Major League Baseball’s all-time home runs list. Rodriguez finished the series finale 2 for 4 with two RBI and a run scored.
Now, the Empire State Building is shining in Yankee colors because the Bombers took the series.
The feeling is great, I’ll admit — not just the feeling of the Yankees winning, but the feeling of caring about the Subway Series again. Getting caught up in the rivalry was, in a word, fun this weekend. It’s what baseball is all about.
Maybe the players got wrapped up in it, too. It’s possible. Rodriguez even told the press after the game, “The buzz was incredible. I just felt a lot of energy in the building. It was fun … To feel that energy, it was cool.”
Whomever the social media directors are for both clubs also got enveloped in the cross-town rivalry.
Which, if I’m not mistaken, is a first.
The Mets are a team that, for at least right now, is competitive. Like 2000, the year they captured the National League pennant and faced off with the Yankees in the World Series, they have good players. More specifically the Mets have solid, young pitchers, and the organization probably feels this is the time to turn it around and return to relevance.
I can say for sure, that’s how Mets fans feel, and in a lot of ways they have the right to feel that way.
At the same time, it’s still April and there are still 143 games remaining on the schedule. Plus, the Mets clearly have other facets of their game to work on. Case and point, their defense. A team usually cannot commit four errors in a game and expect to win.
I can only hope that when September rolls around and the Yankees go to Flushing, it’s just as competitive and the rivalry is once again at a peak.
Not to mention if both the Yanks (11-8) and Mets (14-5) are racing towards a division pennant or a playoff berth when they next meet, it’ll be even more riveting.
The Yankees’ offseason thus far hasn’t been as eyebrow-raising as last year. In fact most has been quiet on the pinstripe front, save for the addition of Didi Gregorius as Derek Jeter’s heir at shortstop, the signing lefty flamethrower Andrew Miller, and the re-signing of Chase Headley to play third base. There have been more significant subtractions than additions, putting it into perspective, what with the departures of Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson and Francisco Cervelli.
Lately the conversation seems to be surrounding big ticket free agent starter Max Scherzer, and whether or not the Yankees will make a run to try and ink him. Your guess is as good as mine. General Manager Brian Cashman has pledged several times that the organization has no plans to pursue Scherzer, but keep this in the back of your head: they are still the Yankees. Just when you think they are nowhere near landing a top tier free agent, they swoop in at the last minute and snatch their man.
And if you don’t believe that, just ask Mark Teixeira. It happened to him nearly six years ago.
While the Yankees haven’t been making the loudest amount of noise this winter, my life was shaken up recently – shaken up in a good way.
For the past three-plus years I have been working for The Examiner, a local newsweekly in Westchester County, N.Y.
It’s been a great experience reporting on the local sports scene in Westchester. But a few weeks ago a new opportunity presented itself to me, I took advantage, and I am moving on to a new job. I’ll now be a full-time sports reporter for the Poughkeepsie Journal, a daily newspaper a couple counties north of Westchester in Dutchess County, N.Y., which coincidently is where I grew up.
The clichéd phrase I keep repeating to myself is, “Who says you can’t go home?”
The Poughkeepsie Journal is the oldest paper in the state of New York and the third-oldest newspaper in this country – just to give you an idea of how prestigious and renowned the Journal really is. What’s more, I think I made some history, because I was told I am the first new person PoJo has hired in the sports department since 2006.
These past few weeks have been draining on me; the interview process, waiting to know if I had landed the job. It was certainly a relief when it was offered to me a week and a half ago, although I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous taking on this new challenge. As a professional I obviously gave The Examiner notice that I was leaving and have finished up my duties there.
I won’t soon forget the lessons I learned over the past few years; the opportunities The Examiner has afforded me. From interviewing Eli Manning a handful of times and covering the Hudson Valley Renegades each summer, all the way down to high school hoops and lacrosse – it’s been a blast.
Not only will I remember the lessons and experiences from these past few years, but I won’t forget the wonderful people I’ve met along the way. That’s the beauty of life – those people and what they’ve done for you never leave; they stick with you for the long haul. And since I have the forum here, I’d like to take this time and individually thank those who helped get me to where I am, because I didn’t get here by myself.
First of all, I’d like to take a page out of the great Mariano Rivera’s book and thank God.
I have been doing what I love to do for a long time now and I wouldn’t be where I am without The Lord’s blessings. He provided me with writing and reporting talent worthy of this new job. I’ve been in constant contact with God by way of prayer these last few weeks, and my prayers have been answered. If I don’t say it enough, thank you, Lord. For everything.
Thanks to my parents. For always believing in me and being patient with my trying ways throughout my life and through this whole process of job changing. Your constant faith in me has gone a long way and will continue to go a long way in the years to come. Stating the obvious, but I wouldn’t be here without both of you.
Thanks to my sisters, and their kids: my nephew Ryan and my niece Avery. The four of you have given me a lot of support and love for the longest time. Ryan and Avery have also shown me that life can be simple and uncomplicated – though that probably has to do with the fact that Ryan is a 3-year-old and Avery just turned 1. Either way, the love hasn’t gone unnoticed.
At the same time, special thanks goes out to both my grandfathers (I lost one of them earlier this year, yet he always loved that I was working and writing, and I know he would be proud). Additionally, thanks to my entire family. You’re all one of a kind, that’s for sure. You have all taken good care of me over the years, and it hasn’t gone unappreciated.
To all my friends; past and present – thank you. There are far too many to name, which is probably a good thing. You can never have enough friends. I may not see or speak to as many of you as I’d like to nowadays; understandable because we’re grown-ups, and time is never on our side. But that hasn’t stopped most of you from reading my articles over the years and giving me feedback. Thank you for always letting me know I’m a good writer. It helped me land this job.
I can’t fill out this list without thanking Mike Perrota, my main journalism instructor from Mercy College. Naming me sports editor of The Impact in my second-to-last year at Mercy was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. Perrota, you have taught me the ins and outs, the dos and don’ts. I hope I’ve made you proud since I graduated in 2010, and I am glad we have remained friends ever since.
A big thank you is owed to Rob DiAntonio. Thanks for bringing me in as a freelancer with North County News on Nov. 5, 2010: the DeMatteo Bowl between Yorktown and Clarkstown North at White Plains high school – I won’t forget that. Thanks for also helping me realize my potential a little bit. I still have this e-mail saved, by the way:
I can’t go without thanking my friend Sean Faye, an outstanding reporter in his own right and my college newspaper teammate who recommended me to The Examiner. Your word opened the door to a new opportunity that I was able to take advantage of and make my own. I wouldn’t have done it without you.
To Adam Stone, the publisher of The Examiner – thank you. Professionally I’ve been in great hands these last few years. You have been a tremendous boss; as good as they come. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me at The Examiner, including speaking highly of me to PoJo. I would recommend any young sports journalist out there to go to The Examiner to cut their teeth. I know first-hand how much better a reporter can become from working at The Examiner – and not only do I think I became a better journalist working for you, I became a better person. Thanks for everything.
To Andy Jacobs and Ray Gallagher, the two sports editors I’ve worked closely with these last few years: thank you. I hope I didn’t drive you both incredibly nuts – I don’t think I did, because I always met my deadlines accordingly, and we always got along so nicely. The two of you have been a pleasure to work with, keeping me as busy as a bee with games to cover. It’s been an honor, gentlemen.
To my colleague David Propper: many thanks. We spent countless Tuesday mornings chatting about coaches and games; reminiscing on sports coverage, almost as if we were two old time journalists reflecting on the “good ol’ days.” It’s been great, my friend. Stay in touch.
My fellow reporter over at the Yorktown News, Mike Sabini, deserves a thank you for always supporting me and being one of my biggest fans. Likewise, I’ve been a fan of your work. I’ll miss hearing your voice at the Peekskill basketball games, but I will keep reading your bylines in the Yorktown News. Keep in touch, my friend.
Another fellow reporter of mine earned a shout out: Mike Zacchio. You were one of the only ones I really opened up to about going after this new job and you did nothing but encourage me and root for me. I can’t thank you enough for calling me “an awesome reporter who deserves this” and saying PoJo would “be lucky to have me.” I hope to see you at some games down the road that we both might be covering. And don’t think I’ve forgotten about our karaoke night – it will happen and we will sing “Runaround Sue” together.
There’s a coach out there whom I’ve known for the past few years, and he deserves a real hat tip. Coach Lance DeMarzo of Kennedy Catholic high school in Somers – you are a great man; as classy as it gets. Thanks for staying in touch all the time, making my job easier in the process. When I told you that, if all coaches were like you I’d have it really easy, I meant it 100 percent. I am truly going to miss you telling me that your team loves picking up The Examiner just to read my articles. That sort of spirit gives a reporter a positive feeling.
I should mention Jared Sandberg, the former manager of the Hudson Valley Renegades, former MLB player with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and nephew of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. The second time I interviewed Jared he asked which publication I was with. I told him the obvious, that I was with The Examiner, and he told me that not only did he read my first article about the Renegades, but he liked it. Again, that type of giveback never ceases to give a journalist a wonderful feeling.
To the readers of Yankee Yapping and all of my work in general, thank you. Thanks to you guys my writing has grown better, and this blog has blown up to the point that David Cone is mentioning it during Yankee telecasts. Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t be anywhere without all of you.
And last but never the least, I’d like to thank everyone at the Poughkeepsie Journal, particularly my friend and new colleague Phil Strum, who recommended me for the position. I can assure you I am going to work as hard as I can to ensure the best sports coverage. I will give it my all.
Now that I’ve exhausted myself of thanks and praise to all those who rightfully deserve it from me, and I’ve all but turned the page, it’s on to the next chapter…
When I was a kid I had an Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez poster hanging on my wall. To me he was one of the most unique pitchers the Yankees had, with his unorthodox leg kick and wild arm angles. The fact that he dominated opponents and led the Yankees to victory countless times also made me take a liking to him.
This past Tuesday, ESPN ran its 30 for 30 piece on El Duque and his brother Livan Hernandez entitled Brothers in Exile. There was so much more to the two brothers from Cuba that met the eye. For anyone that missed it or didn’t care to watch it, here’s (sort of) a BuzzFeed style article filled with did-you-knows and tidbits from the documentary.
The film was jam-packed with the Hernandez brothers’ story, so bear with me in terms of the length of this article and such. Maybe it’ll be so good BuzzFeed will pick it up and hire me, and I’ll get one of those special blue check boxes next to my Twitter name…
Dare to dream.
Anyway, here goes.
1) Orlando and Livan Hernandez are half-brothers
They share the same father, but not the same mother. Their father was a semi-pro pitcher, so you have to figure the baseball genes were passed down. Orlando is 10 years older than Livan, and the two didn’t meet until Livan was five years old.
2) The Duke of Havana
Long before Orlando Hernandez was fooling MLB hitters he was a stud in his native land, Cuba. He racked up 126 wins in the Cuban league throughout his career. His winning percentage was .728, good enough to give him the record for highest winning percentage by a pitcher – a record that still stands today in Cuba.
Orlando pitched for the Industriales, a team much like the Yankees. The Industriales had the best players, were tremendously successful, and maintained a huge fan base. What’s more, Orlando pitched for the Cuban national team from 1988-95. During that span, the team was undefeated in international play.
Becoming a superstar, as it was, Orlando went to visit Livan in school in later years. Livan’s classmates went insane; “fan-boyed” for his brother, because he was the best pitcher in Cuba.
He was the Duke of Havana. El Duque.
3) Times got tough
Cuba was economically dependent on the Soviet Union up until 1990, when the Soviet Union dissolved. Fidel Castro, the Cuban President, declared a “special period” on the island, although the only aspect of this period was poverty – and there is nothing special about that.
The special period didn’t just impact regular folks; baseball players were affected too. Orlando was paid three Cuban pesos per game, and if he played a doubleheader, he was only compensated for one game.
“That was tough,” El Duque described.
To combat poverty, ballplayers strived to play for the international team. That way, they could compete overseas and sell their jerseys for money, as well as accept gifts from fans in private. Players had to accept favors privately, because taking from fans was not permitted.
Resources were so scarce that Livan had to take soap and shampoo from hotels to bring back home. By 1994 the special period morphed into an economic crisis. Tons of people started leaving Cuba on makeshift rafts and boats, in hopes of reaching the United States.
4) Defection by way of Joe Cubas and Juan Ignacio Hernandez
A man by the name of Joe Cubas was the agent that recruited players to defect to the United States – and yes, it is indeed ironic that his last name is Cubas and he dealt with Cuban ballplayers.
His cousin, Juan Ignacio Hernandez was his helper, and would follow the Cuban national team around the world to scout potential defectors. El Duque said, “The thought of playing baseball in the majors was intriguing. But the thought of defecting also scared me.”
Orlando’s family was a priority. He had a wife and two daughters who he’d lose if he defected.
“I didn’t want to do it because I have two daughters. It was hard, it really was.”
Livan on the other hand was single and was growing tired of the poor conditions in Cuba.
5) Livan defects
In 1995 Livan was pitching for the Cuban national team. The Cubans went over to Japan to work out with the Tokyo Giants; Livan spent 45 days there. Of those 45 days (along with baseball) he spent 20 collecting soap and shampoo to bring back home. Security told him, though, that if they found anything that he was trying to sneak back to the island in his suitcase, he’d no longer be allowed to travel. He had to throw away all the soap and shampoo he’d gathered – which made him angry.
“I don’t want to go through this, anymore,” he said.
On the next trip – which was to Monterrey, Mexico – Livan started the process of defecting. He obtained Cubas’s phone number from a woman asking for autograph, which just goes to show how strict conditions were. Everything had to be done discreetly.
Livan was picked up by Juan Ignacio Hernandez in Monterrey and went to the Dominican Republic from there. In the D.R. all he had to do was gain residency in order to become an MLB free agent. He did just that, and was on the board.
6) Orlando’s thoughts
Livan was free; out of Cuba and about to be taken by an MLB team. He told his brother what was happening and that his mind was made up, to which El Duque responded,
“Don’t worry. I support you no matter what. If that’s what you want to do, go for it.”
7) Livan went to the Marlins, but other teams wanted him
In the Dominican Republic Livan was showcased and sought by the (then) Florida (now) Miami Marlins. A few other teams were watching him, namely the Yankees (shocking, right?) and the Toronto Blue Jays.
Coming from Cuba, the Marlins made the most sense. Miami is a Spanish-speaking city and Livan would likely be most comfortable there. The right-hander signed for $6.5 million with a $250,000 signing bonus. At the time it was the biggest contract given to a Cuban baseball player.
8) After landing the deal, Livan went splurging
Livan never had money before. When he came into the big bucks on account of the contract, Livan bought cars and lived the lifestyle most young, rich and foolish people live; spending money on expensive material. He also started gaining weight; eating at fast food joints such as McDonald’s.
The Marlins kept Livan in the minors for the bulk of the 1996 season as not only way of getting him to shape up, but also a way to spread some discipline on him.
It worked. Livan eventually wised up and everything panned out for him.
9) Back at home, things got unfair
The Cuban government began to feel Orlando might follow in Livan’s footsteps and defect, even though Orlando had a family and made it clear he was afraid to defect. It didn’t matter. He was harassed by Colonel Mesa – the man in charge of security for the national team.
El Duque told Mesa he didn’t support his brother’s decision (in contrast to what he told Livan) but nonetheless he respected him.
After that, Orlando started to suspect something was up.
Juan Ignacio Hernandez cut ties with Cubas, and got arrested for holding false travel documents, hoping to use them to get Orlando to defect. Police found the fake visas and they turned their attention to El Duque.
In fact, they brought him in and interrogated him.
The government wanted Orlando to testify against Juan Ignacio Hernandez, but he wouldn’t do it. Yet, even without El Duque’s testimony, they sentenced Juan Ignacio Hernandez to 15 years behind bars.
El Duque was also sentenced, but not to serve prison time. He was given a lifetime ban from Cuban baseball, essentially for not doing anything.
One cop even went as far as asking him for identification while he was sitting on his own front porch. When Orlando asked why he needed ID, the rude officer said,
“You used to be El Duque, now you’re a nobody.”
10) He wasn’t making a living playing ball – but he still played
Orlando’s feelings were not just hurt; they were shredded and left for dead. When he was banished, he vowed that he would play baseball again. It didn’t matter if “he was 65 or in Haiti,” he said he was going to play baseball again no matter what.
Since he couldn’t step foot on an official field, like the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana, El Duque played in unofficial pickup games on Cuban sandlots.
Orlando was basically the Benny “the jet” Rodriguez of his group: the best of all of them, who went on to play bigger and better games, as Scotty Smalls described it in the movie. El Duque didn’t pitch in these pickup games because it wouldn’t have been fair to the other players, but he hit and played the field.
11) Livan makes his mark
In 1997 Livan got the call to the show – and he was impressive, to say the least. He started the year with a 9-0 record, which was the best start from a rookie pitcher since Whitey Ford in 1950. The Marlins captured the National League Wild Card in ’97, and Livan pitched brilliantly.
Brilliant, in fact, was the operative word. In Game 5 of the National League Championship Series he went the distance and pitched the Marlins to a 2-1 win, striking out 15 Atlanta Braves along the way. He took advantage of home plate umpire Eric Gregg’s Grand Canyon-like strike zone. Livan’s 15 strikeouts in Game 5 set an NLCS record for most Ks in a single game.
He had also picked up the W in Florida’s 5-2 victory in Game 3. When it was all said and done, he was named NLCS Most Valuable Player.
It only got better for Livan in the ’97 World Series. He won Game 1, won Game 5 and was subsequently named World Series MVP. In hoisting the trophy over his head, Livan declared,
“I love you, Miami!”
12) A thought provoking World Series win
El Duque watched most of Livan’s excellence from back in Cuba. He was proud his brother was succeeding, but felt bittersweet about it. Orlando thought he could’ve been in the same position Livan was in: playing baseball freely.
He listened to Game 7 of the World Series on the radio, and rejoiced when the Marlins walked off to win the title. But after Livan became a winner, El Duque’s thought process changed; he considered defecting himself.
13) Help from an unlikely source
Cuba’s relations with the Catholic Church improved in ’97. Pope John Paul II visited the island and President Castro allowed the Christmas holiday to legally be celebrated in Cuba for the first time since 1960.
El Duque decided that, since everyone would be preoccupied with the holiday, he would stage his escape on Christmas night; the members of the Coast Guard wouldn’t be as alert and he’d be able to narrowly depart. His best friend Osmany Lorenzo helped orchestrate his flight from the island.
But, give an assist to the Pope.
14) Nerves were in the way
Just because El Duque decided he was fleeing Cuba didn’t make the idea of defecting any less scary. A study showed that between 1959 and 1994 an estimated 16,000 people died at sea attempting to leave Cuba for the United States.
Orlando could’ve made it to the U.S.A. or he could’ve become just another statistic.
He also had to leave his mother and two daughters behind, which pained him.
15) Not an easy exit
On Christmas night ’97 Orlando, his (now second) wife Noris, Lorenzo, and a smattering of other escapees set off for Caibarien – a city in Cuba where many defectors went to try and leave the island. They left Caibarien in a small fishing boat at 7 a.m. on Dec. 26, and had to hit the deck as to not be seen upon departure.
If hiding face down in order to leave the island wasn’t bad enough, the motor on the boat stalled not long after they left, and thus the owner of the boat wanted to turn back. El Duque protested, and the man swam into the water to fix the engine. After he managed to correct the malfunction, they continued on.
Jeesh. Not as simple as just speed-boating away.
16) Like Robinson Crusoe, it was as primitive as can be
The boat took El Duque and the group of runaways to a Bahamian island called Anguilla Cay. There they were to await another boat that was to come and ferry them to the U.S.A.
Seemingly everything was working out, as the first part of the plan had been executed, but they weren’t in the clear just yet. The second boat never came. The group was basically stuck, Gilligan’s Island style waiting for help that wasn’t showing up. El Duque’s wife Noris even noticed makeshift crosses on the island – figuring they were graves.
People had come to Anguilla Cay and never left. The thought struck terror into Orlando and everyone involved. Four days passed before the Coast Guard discovered them and brought them to Nassau, Bahamas.
17) More help
If you were a Cuban refugee, the Bahamas were not where you wanted to be. Cuba had a treaty with the Bahamas stating all refugees in the Bahamas were to be extradited back over to Cuba. When the Coast Guard brought El Duque to the Bahamas, they arrested him.
But he used his phone call wisely.
He dialed up Cubas, who was able to help him. He set up a press conference on Orlando’s behalf, and El Duque finally got to tell his side of the story to the media and the world; that he was trying to reach the United States in hopes of obtaining the freedoms and rights that were stolen from him in Cuba.
By Cubas’s doing, Orlando and his wife were approved for visas. He made sure Lorenzo, his friend, was approved for one as well. From there El Duque gained residency in Costa Rica, thus making him eligible to become an MLB free agent.
Just like Livan, El Duque was set up. But what team would get his services?
18) The big deal
Scouts from multiple MLB teams attended an El Duque tryout staged by Cubas. Orlando wasn’t particularly lighting up the radar guns, topping out around 88-90 mph, but the fact that he wasn’t throwing hard didn’t negate his value.
Gordon Blakeley, a scout for the Yankees, took an interest in him. However, General Manager Brian Cashman was a bit iffy about signing him, coming off a bust in the form of inking Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu. Blakeley assured him not to be afraid to go after him – and added if the Yankees didn’t grab El Duque, they could’ve been missing out on a potential Cy Young Award winner.
El Duque proclaimed his Yankee fandom, and when the Bombers offered him four years and $6.6 million, he gladly took it.
19) Reunited and it feels so good
When everything fell into place for El Duque, he eventually reconnected with Livan. They attended a press conference together, and when they saw each other they embraced. They cried tears of joy. They had a Kodak moment, if you will.
One reporter asked what kind of advice Livan would give Orlando, now that they were both major leaguers living in freedom. Livan’s answer:
“Stay away from McDonald’s!”
20) The Duke of New York
On June 3, 1998 Orlando made his MLB debut at Yankee Stadium. He was nervous, but when he looked up to the stands walking in from taking his warm ups in the bullpen – and saw Cuban flags fluttering around in the stadium’s upper deck – he calmed down. The show of support even brought tears to his eyes.
The first batter he faced in MLB was Quinton McCracken of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. El Duque pitched seven innings, and puzzled every hitter he faced, giving up just one earned run on five hits. He walked two and struck out seven on the way to his first big league win, the Yanks pounding Tampa Bay 7-1.
“He’s a warrior,” Livan said of his brother’s first MLB outing. “He proved it in that game.”
21) Not a simple catch
Jorge Posada mostly caught El Duque in 1998. And in looking at his record and ERA on paper, one would think they had an easy go of it most of the time when they went to work: Orlando finished 1998 with a 12-4 clip and an earned run average of 3.13.
Yet, much like El Duque’s path to the US, it wasn’t smooth sailing through calm seas.
“He wasn’t easy to catch,” Posada said, adding Orlando would shake him off a lot. “I’d go to the mound … Orlando, what do you want to throw?
“I called for the fastball twice and you said no both times!”
Apparently El Duque didn’t want to throw a fastball when Posada called it. He wanted to throw a fastball when a hitter least expected it, to get inside his head.
Very tactical, El Duque was. His numbers and approach gave him a fourth place finish, in fact, for ’98 American League Rookie of the Year.
22) Like brother like brother: playoff hero
The Yankees won a record 114 regular season games in 1998, and made it to the ALCS, where they were pitted up against the team that had eliminated them the year before, the Cleveland Indians. Down two games to one, they turned to El Duque in Game 4, who came up with a spectacular performance of seven shutout innings to lead the Yankees to a 4-0 win, keeping the pinstripers from going down 3-1 in the series.
Unlike Livan, Orlando didn’t capture the LCS MVP in ’98 – that honor went to David Wells. But El Duque did pick up the award the next year, winning the ALCS MVP in 1999 after the Yankees beat the Boston Red Sox in five.
El Duque went on to start Game 2 of the ’98 fall classic against the San Diego Padres. The Yankees were up 1-0 in the series thanks to some grand Game 1 heroics off the bat of Tino Martinez. The Cuban import made sure the Yanks stayed on point, tossing seven innings and letting up just one earned run on six hits.
He walked three and fanned seven on the way to a 9-3 Yankee win.
“He looked like a veteran of 15, 20 years,” teammate Mariano Rivera said.
23) Family first
The Yankees continued their assault on the Padres in Game 3 of the World Series, teetering on the brink of a world title. Yet El Duque’s thoughts were elsewhere. He couldn’t get his daughters, his ex-wife and his mother off his mind, thinking about their hardships back home.
Then finally, he got his chance to reunite with his family.
A woman by the name of Pamela Falk lobbied to bring his daughters, his mother and his daughters’ mother to the states. Falk used the positive relations between Cuba and the Catholic Church to her advantage, reaching out to New York Cardinal Archbishop John O’Connor.
After his conversation with Falk, O’Connor spoke to President Castro about the possibility of El Duque’s family coming to New York. Long story short Castro obliged, and even spoke highly of Orlando, calling him “a good muchacho; one of the glories of Cuba.”
And the rest was history. El Duque’s family was cleared to embark for the Big Apple.
24) A reunion in Teterboro, then a parade down the canyon of heroes
The Yankees swept the Padres in the 1998 World Series, giving the franchise its 24th world championship in history. El Duque found out his family was coming the night the Yanks clinched the series.
Doesn’t get much better than that, does it?
The next night his family landed at the Teterboro airport in New Jersey. El Duque walked right up the runway, to the plane to greet his family. He said he wasn’t nervous, just excited; he hadn’t seen his girls in about a year.
“I’m complete,” he said, embracing his daughters on the steps of the plane. “Finally happy.
His daughters then rode with him in the victory parade in New York City the following day.
“During the parade he was so happy that his family was there to celebrate with him,” Posada described. “He was so emotional during that time; we won but more importantly his family was there.”
His wife Noris couldn’t believe toilet paper rained down from the skyscrapers into the streets of New York – being that in Cuba they didn’t even have toilet paper, whereas in New York it was being thrown from windows.
When the Yankees reached City Hall, El Duque made the brotherly connection:
“I just want to tell you … Last year my brother shouted ‘I love you, Miami!’ And this year I declare, I love you, New York!”
Livan went on to say,
“There are players with 20-year careers who never won the World Series. But my brother and I did.”
25) Never going back
Both Livan and Orlando went on to have careers in MLB that anyone would sign up for. El Duque won three more world titles (two more with the Yankees, 1999-2000; 2005 with the Chicago White Sox) while Livan pitched in over 500 games and became a two-time All-Star.
Both are retired now, but maintain that sibling love. They live near each other in Miami, and both are doing well these days with their families. They can sit on the porch on hot summer nights and smoke fine Cuban cigars together, and share life stories from here on out; reflect on the good ol’ days pitching in the big leagues.
Oh, and neither has since gone back to Cuba – and they’ll never have to.
This past Sunday the 2014 MLB regular season ended, effectively finishing the Yankees’ activity until pitchers and catchers report to Tampa in February.
Fans are already going through so-called “pinstripe withdrawal.” However, the radical Royals-Athletics Wild Card game Tuesday night was certainly enough to divert attention off the fact that the Yankees aren’t playing and good baseball is still existent now that we’re in the month of October.
Yet, this is Yankee Yapping, not Royals or A’s Yapping. And the Yankees are about tradition. A tradition since the inception of this blog in 2009 has been the end of the year awards. Not one to break to tradition, this year is not any different. Therefore, YY proudly presents the sixth annual end of the year awards.
It’s only fitting to start with a born winner.
Yankee Yapping Lifetime Achievement Award
Winner: Derek Jeter
Proverbs 18:8 says, “The words of a talebearer are like dainty morsels that sink into one’s inmost being.”
The stories Derek Jeter has told us with his bat and with his glove over the years have not only sank deep into our inmost being, but are a part of us all forever.
Last Thursday Jeter captivated us with one final tale at Yankee Stadium, winning the game in dramatic fashion. It left everyone – everyone being the entire population of the country, because that’s who was watching – in disbelief. A 5-2 game became a 5-5 game by way of the baseball gods.
A 5-5 game then became the Yankee Captain’s game to win with a sharp single into right field to knock in the deciding run. Add the walk-off base hit in his final game in the Bronx to the laundry list of accomplishments and huge hits Jeter has racked up over the years.
World Series titles, All-Star Games, we can go on all day about how much of a winner Jeter is. But his attitude makes him even more of a winner; his humility and respect for everyone and everything only enhances his heroic image.
Now that he is officially retired from baseball, it’ll be interesting to see where life takes the former Yankee shortstop. I’m sure whatever adventures Jeter has in his life post-baseball, he’ll appreciate them all with dignity and grace.
His first adventure seems to be a blog for fans to connect with pro athletes entitled The Players Tribune, as announced today. Not a bad project to start right away, in this writer’s view.
Congrats on the YY Lifetime Achievement Award and congrats on a legendary career, Derek!
Yankee Yapping Most Valuable Player
Winner: Brett Gardner
I can’t count how many times this year I heard, “How crazy is it that Brett Gardner is our best player?”
Numerically Gardner proved it this year, setting career highs in home runs with 17, RBIs with 58, and plate appearances with 636.
For a guy that signed a big extension at the outset of the season, Gardner certainly gave the Yankees hope moving forward; perhaps showing that his best days are yet to come. It also helped that, in a Yankee season riddled with age and injuries, the 31-year-old outfielder could stay on the field, being that played 148 games.
Consistency also helped Gardner win the YY MVP. He was pretty solid overall. As the leadoff hitter for most of the year, he generally was able to get the job done.
Yankee Yapping Ace of the Year
Winner: Hiroki Kuroda
After the Yankees’ 5-3 win on Sept. 19 over the Blue Jays – a game Hiroki Kuroda won, getting there by tossing 6 2/3 strong innings – Jeter said, “if we scored any runs for him, he’d have 17, 18 wins.”
How can anyone object?
Kuroda went 11-9 this year with a 3.71 ERA, though his record doesn’t (at all) reflect the type of season he put together. Not only did he pitch well when Yankee run production was in short supply, he outlasted his fellow starters on the staff in terms of staying healthy.
A lot was talked about how the Yanks lost 80 percent of their starting pitchers to injury, and it was almost overlooked that Kuroda was the 20 percent who remained in the rotation and gave his team a chance to win every time he took the ball.
Kuroda pitched 199 innings this year, almost matching the 201 1/3 he threw last year. In 2013 he scuffled at the end of the season, citing arm fatigue as the reason for his late-season trifles. A year older this year, there was no such scuffle; no tired arm in the dog days.
Addressing the media on Monday, Yankee skipper Joe Girardi said he doesn’t know what Kuroda’s plans are as of now, and only that he went home for the offseason. It’s been rumored he might stay in Japan to finish his career in his native land. There’s also word he could retire, given his age: 39 now, 40 on Feb. 10.
If 2014 was the end of Kuroda’s time in New York, he gave the Bronx Bombers three serviceable years. And in his last year he went out an ace – at least in this scribe’s eyes.
Domo arigato, Mr. Kuroda. Congrats!
Yankee Yapping Rookie of the Year
Winner: Masahiro Tanaka
In a word, it’s unfortunate that Masahiro Tanaka didn’t pitch his entire rookie season, because he not only may have won the YY ROY, he may have been named AL Rookie of the Year by MLB. He was on pace for probably 20 wins or more and with all due respect to Jose Abreu of the White Sox (the likely winner) Tanaka could’ve swiped it from under him.
Or at least he’d have given Abreu a run for his money.
Before his partial UCL tear was revealed on July 8 after his start in Cleveland vs. the Indians, Tanaka was pitching like a virtuoso; an artist who had the ability to paint some elaborate and beautiful portraits. Mostly those portraits involved major league hitters looking like a herd of deer in a pair of headlights, as he could fool any hitter with his brilliant splitter.
He missed a big chunk of the summer when he was sidelined, but credit him in fighting back to make two last starts before the end of the season. Tanaka didn’t look like a pitcher with a partial UCL tear on Sept. 21, tossing 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball against the Blue Jays. He scattered five hits, didn’t allow a walk and struck out four to notch his 13th win of the year.
Yet it was a little disconcerting to not only see Tanaka give up seven runs (five earned) on seven hits in just 1 2/3 innings this past Saturday in Boston, but also hear Girardi say in his presser on Monday that he’s worried about Tanaka’s health moving into next year.
Totally warranted fear. One has to hope Tanaka’s arm makes a full recovery without needing Tommy John surgery, which is always a possibility when dealing with a UCL ailment.
Notwithstanding, I saw Tanaka pitch twice in-person this season. In those two starts he struck out 16 batters, going 1-1 (a 3-1 Yankee win over Toronto on June 17 and an 8-0 loss to the Orioles on June 22). After seeing how strongly the crowd gets behind this young man and the confidence he exudes, it’s easy to get excited about whatever the future may hold for Tanaka.
But as for his rookie year, he did a fantastic job. Minus getting hurt, that is.
Domo arigato, Mr. Tanaka. Congrats!
Yankee Yapping Best Trade Deadline Pickups
Co-winners: Chase Headley and Martín Prado
July 31 is always an interesting day in baseball, as GMs across the board are scrambling to add and subtract pieces to their respective team’s puzzle. Brian Cashman was a busy man this year, collecting quite a few players to help keep the Yankees glued together.
Chase Headley came over from San Diego on July 22 and made an immediate impact upon arrival. Walking into the Yankee dugout in the middle of the Bombers’ game vs. Texas, he greeted all his new teammates with handshakes and salutations.
The game went into the 14th inning and he came up huge, delivering a game-winning single to beat the Rangers 2-1. On Sept. 4 he outdid himself, crushing a walk-off home run to beat the Red Sox 5-4 in the Bronx, capping a huge ninth-inning rally.
Headley also exhibited heart, playing in games after being hit in the face with a fastball on Sept. 11 by Jake McGee of Tampa Bay. Any other player could’ve packed it in for the season sustaining such an injury, but he kept at it, knowing the Yanks needed his bat and tremendous defense at third base, as they stayed in the thick of it for that second Wild Card spot until the final six days of the regular season.
With Alex Rodriguez expected to return from suspension next year – and Headley now a free agent – there’s no telling whether or not he dons the pinstripes again. If not, He finishes his career as a Yankee with six homers, 17 RBIs, and a .262 BA.
Although Headley may not fit into the equation next year, Martín Prado is guaranteed to be back in the Bronx in 2015; under contract until the end of 2016, in fact. He was acquired from Arizona for catching prospect Peter O’Brien nine days after Headley, and didn’t really disappoint, collecting 42 hits in 133 at-bats. He ended the year with 16 RBIs with the Yankees, a .316 BA in pinstripes and drove seven balls out of the park.
It’s also worth mentioning Prado won a game for the Yankees on Aug. 22 with one swing: a walk-off single to give his new team a 4-3 win over the White Sox, specifically showing he can make a difference at the plate. A utility man, Prado offers skills at basically every position save for pitcher and catcher, so moving forward he’ll be a true asset to the team.
Both Headley and Prado fit in fine once they switched sides, thus earning this award.
Yankee Yapping Bring ‘Em Back Award
Winner: Brandon McCarthy
Like Headley and Prado, Brandon McCarthy came over in a trade. The Yankees dealt Vidal Nuno to the Diamondbacks and in return received the lanky right-hander. His first tweet in New York – a reference to the classic TV show Seinfeld – and his solid pitching quickly made him a fan-favorite.
Re-mastering his cut fastball, McCarthy won seven games with the Yanks this year and posted an ERA under 3 at 2.89. He filled one of the many holes in the starting rotation, and without question proved he was an important player.
In particular his start against Houston on Aug. 21 comes to mind.
McCarthy basically obliterated the Astros, twirling a complete game shutout. He only allowed four hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out eight. He not only led the Yanks to a 3-0 victory, but wasted no time doing it; making it the quickest game in the history of the new Yankee Stadium at just two hours and seven minutes.
What’s more, McCarthy tossed an immaculate inning on Sept. 17 in Tampa Bay, striking out three straight batters on nine pitches – a rarity in baseball.
Yes, immaculate Brandon. Your praises we sing.
If anyone has earned more time in a Yankee uniform, it’s McCarthy. He’s a veteran; he battled and could be a great middle-of-the-rotation starter next year. In the case he doesn’t come back to the Yankees, he’ll definitely find a landing spot.
But, the Yankees would be wise to bring him back. Congrats on opening some eyes this year, Brandon!
Yankee Yapping Best Season by a Newcomer
Winner: Jacoby Ellsbury
Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon could probably attest that the transition from Boston to New York is a real adjustment. All three thrived in both Beantown and the Big Apple along with countless others who’ve made the leap from “the nation” to “the empire.”
It’s nothing new. Since the beginning of time, it’s been happening; from Babe Ruth to Kevin Youkilis. When the Yankee front office retooled this past offseason, Jacoby Ellsbury became the latest turncoat.
This year it seemed Ellsbury made a pretty easy transfer, putting up some respectable numbers for his first year in New York: 16 homers, 70 RBIs and a BA of .271. Ellsbury added 39 stolen bases in 44 attempts, 27 doubles, and 71 runs scored.
Good general numbers, sure. Specifically, though, he offered a clutch dynamic, hitting some game-deciding home runs in extra innings away from Yankee Stadium. On May 24 he took a mighty hack in the 10th inning at U.S. Cellular Field to lift the Yankees over the White Sox 4-3. On July 9 he was at it again, helping beat the Indians 5-4 with one swing in the 14th at Progressive Field.
Winning extra inning games on the road has been such a lost art with the Yankees, especially in recent years. Ellsbury helped bring it back this year, a little bit.
Keeping healthy was also a gigantic concern in acquiring Ellsbury last winter, but in playing 149 games he demonstrated that he can stay healthy and be an effective player.
Congrats on a good year, Jacoby. Here’s to a lot more!
Yankee Yapping Relievers of the Year Award
Co-winners: David Robertson and Dellin Betances
There was no way I could decide one winner of this award. Both of these guys deserve it.
Last year Mariano Rivera retired, leaving his job open with astronomically high expectations attached to it. David Robertson was named closer, and had a reputation of getting into jams easily, although as setup man he was typically always able to wiggle his way out of danger.
Hence, his nickname “Houdini.”
Closers can’t exactly live on a reputation of constantly getting into predicaments and skimming their way out; they’re supposed to be automatic, which Robertson was anything but entering 2014.
Yet this season Robertson almost washed away that “Houdini” moniker, slamming the door 39 times in 44 save opps, finishing third in the AL in saves. He had his moments of difficulty, but always bounced back with ease.
By the way, he’s credited with five blown saves, but four in my book – the baseball gods intervened on Sept. 24 in order to allow Jeter to win the game.
Robertson can walk if the Yankees don’t re-sign him, and you can bet he’ll receive some good offers from other teams, because he was nothing short of outstanding this year. In my personal opinion, I’d like him to stay in New York. He’s a homegrown pinstriper, he’s now a proven closer, and he’d be a good guy to keep around moving forward.
Not to mention I like tweeting #AlabamaSlam every time he nails down a save.
Dellin Betances set Robertson up incredibly this year, striking out 135 batters to break a franchise record: most Ks by a reliever in a single season.
The man whose record he broke? The Great Rivera.
Betances’s ERA of 1.40 and record of 5-0 further show just how lights out he was. Mixing 90-100 mph fastballs with 80 mph changeups and frazzling hitters around the league, Betances rightfully was an All-Star this year – and something tells me he’ll be on another AL All-Star squad in the future.
If Robertson winds up walking this winter Betances would make a fine closer, but for now I like what he did as a setup man in ’14. It’d be nice if both relievers were around next year, giving the Yanks a 1-2 punch out of the ‘pen and shortening the game by two innings for the starting pitchers.
Whichever way it goes, these guys were rock solid this past year; both worthy of some end-of-the-season recognition. Congrats gentlemen!
Yankee Yapping Titan of Twitter Award
Winner: David Cone
Twitter has become a part of sports culture. Disseminating information about games, quotes from athletes, and the general idea of what’s going on around the sports world are all done through the advent of tweeting these days.
I created a Twitter page for Yankee Yapping in November of 2013. Within just one baseball season (and less than a year, to boot) it amassed over 1,200 followers.
(To those who have followed, thank you, by the way!)
It almost came as a shock to me that former Yankee, perfect game pitcher, World Series champ, and current YES broadcaster David Cone followed YY on Twitter. It was pretty cool to think he thought so highly of the blog to follow, let alone mention it during the telecast of a game!
Thank you again, Coney. You deserve an award for recognizing Yankee Yapping!
Yankee Yapping Rooting For You Award
Winner: Don Mattingly
This is an award I dislike giving out, because in October I usually like rooting for the Yankees. Alas, since the Yankees are watching the MLB postseason in front their TVs, it’s only right to pick a team to root for this month.
However, I’m not so much pulling for the Los Angeles Dodgers so much as I am former Yankee Don “Donnie Baseball” Mattingly, the Dodgers’ current manager.
The beloved Yankee first baseman of the 1980s to the mid-90s missed out on a World Series ring by just one year. Back problems forced Mattingly to retire after 1995, and as we all know 1996 was the start of the Yankee dynasty.
Mattingly, to my knowledge, is the only Yankee player to have his number retired without winning a World Series. For his sake, it would be cool to see him finally get the elusive piece of jewelry he never obtained in New York.
He’s got plenty of studs to help him get there; Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, and Hanley Ramirez to name a few.
As far as other candidates for this award: there’s no way I’d root for Joba Chamberlain to win (what would be his second ring) with the Detroit Tigers – and I don’t want to see Buck Showalter win it all as the Orioles skipper.
For me, it’s got to be Mattingly, who was a Yankee in the purest sense of the word, carrying the team through a number of lean years.
Well, that about wraps up the end of the year awards. Be sure to check back with Yankee Yapping throughout the winter for updates, highlights, and stories!
Sept. 25, 2014
I know after yesterday’s loss you are disappointed. Elimination from the playoffs, to you, is probably the equivalent of failing a test you’ve studied extremely hard for. After the game you called it “rough” and “frustrating.” This will only be the third time in my life as a true navy blue Yankee fan you and your teammates won’t be playing autumn baseball in New York – but trust me, I’m not trying to make you feel bad or drudge up negative feelings.
On the contrary, I’m writing to give you the praise you rightfully deserve, and say thanks.
I can’t even really remember my first Yankee game. I was too young; the picture of it in my head is about as fuzzy as a 1950s analog TV. My parents brought me to Yankee Stadium when I was practically in diapers. My earliest memories were just looking out and seeing the Stadium’s green grass.
1995, I’ve always felt, is the season I became a true fan. At eight years old I was overcome with investment in the New York Yankees. ’95 also happened to be your first season; and not to mention the year before all the glorious seasons of the Yankee Dynasty.
Although 1995 ended in tragedy at the Kingdome, the feeling of winning the World Series at the end of 1996 almost made me completely forget ’95 altogether. Additionally in ’96 you were named A.L. Rookie of the Year unanimously, to which you modestly remarked to the New York Times, “Unanimously? I think I had some family helping me out with the voting.”
While I’m sure your family – who raised you so well – would’ve voted for you, you didn’t need any help in terms with the voting. Hence, why you beat out James Baldwin of the White Sox by 76 points; 140-64.
Thanks for helping teach me humility.
1998 was arguably the best season the Yanks have had in my lifetime, and ’98 also happened to be the year I started playing Little League in Beacon, N.Y. – a city some 70 or so miles north of New York City in the suburbs. Everything about Little League in Beacon was fashioned after the major leagues, from the team names down to the uniforms. God must’ve had it in for me, because the team I wound up on was the Yankees.
Yeah, Tino Martinez was my favorite at the time, but believe me when I say you and him were basically tied for first.
Anyhow, it was my first year playing organized ball, and I had a rough go of it. If I wasn’t striking out I was grounding out. Once in awhile I drew a walk here or there. What’s more, I mostly stood out in left field idly; fly balls rarely ever coming my way.
Nonetheless, I learned how to play the position; how to back up throws to third base and how to hit the cutoff man. I never quit. I kept playing the game, even after wanting to give up after a slew of dreadful “0-for” days.
At last in one of the final games of the regular season, against the Indians, I hit a laser shot into centerfield for not only my first base hit, but my first RBI. When I reached base safely I heard the assistant coach say from the dugout,
“Look at that hit! That was like Derek Jeter, right there!”
That comment meant the world to me, at the same time giving me some much-needed encouragement. A season full of woes, I get one nice hit and all of a sudden it earns me a comparison to you. We beat the Indians, if you were wondering, and afterwards, the coaches gave me the game ball, which I still have encased.
It wasn’t until just now I realized you hit your first career home run against the big league Indians – perhaps a little baseball parallel between the two of us.
From that point on whether it was in Little League, Babe Ruth League at the high school level, in gym class or just playing ball with the kids in my neighborhood, I always wanted to emulate you; the way you have carried yourself: respectfully, gracefully and dignified – and not just on the field. I’ve never done drugs or smoked, because I know that’s not what Derek Jeter would do.
Thank you for leading by example.
Throughout my years as a Yankee fan I’ve seen you play live in the pinstripes countless times. I haven’t taken those times for granted. Though with each passing year, it seemed, you got better and better as opposed to the majority of other players, whose numbers steadily decline as they grow older.
You truly are a fine bottle of wine, getting better with age, as the old adage goes.
On six separate occasions, you have hit home runs in my presence. Of those six games, the Yankees emerged winners in five of them. The only game I saw in-person, in which you hit a home run and the Yanks lost, was against the Mets on June 29, 2002.
But hey, in the 2000 World/Subway Series – which you were an integral part of winning – you gave me and every other Yankee fan bragging rights forever more in beating the Mets in front of the world on baseball’s grandest stage.
Thanks for those bragging rights.
In May of 2010 I graduated from Mercy College in New York with a degree in journalism. It took a lot of hard work to earn that diploma. You’ve preached your entire career about how hard work pays off, and when I walked across the stage and was handed my degree, I finally understood what you meant.
You were right all along. Thanks for beating the hard work concept into my brain.
A couple months after graduation, in July ’10, I had the chance to interview Brian Sweeney, a relief pitcher who (like me) is a Mercy College alumnus. At the time he was pitching for the Seattle Mariners. Sweeney had faced you at the big ballpark in the Bronx just a few weeks prior to my chat with him. He, an opponent, spoke highly of you, saying,
“Obviously Jeter is one of the most celebrated ballplayers on the Yankees. He was a nice challenge.”
However, Sweeney did add, “I wish he had gotten into the box a little faster. Maybe he was trying to slow me down? It could just be his routine.”
A t-shirt should be made: “Derek Jeter: frustrating opposing pitchers since ’95.”
Earlier this year, on May 12 to be exact, I covered an event hosted by fellow New York sports captain Eli Manning. The Giants’ quarterback and two-time Super Bowl MVP does wonderful work with charity, namely Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Guiding Eyes’ annual spring tee-off event came just a week after Eli and his brother Peyton visited you at Yankee Stadium.
Eli had nothing but great things to say about you.
It is my hope that one day I am able to interview you, Derek. Even if I’m one of 100 reporters standing in a media scrum and I only get to ask you one question. I’d gladly welcome a funny response to a question from you, as you’ve been able to mix in some humor with the press all your life.
If I ever get that interview or that chance to ask you a question in a scrum, thank you in advance.
Tonight, Derek, you leave us – but only in the flesh. Everything you’ve done in New York, for New York, and for the fans will never be forgotten. In spirit, you’ll be with us for all of time. I wish you luck in starting your family and hope you enjoy your life after baseball. You have more than earned your days to sit back, take in the sweet aroma of the roses, and bask in the fruits of your labor.
Hopefully in five years, when you’re ticketed for permanent enshrinement in Cooperstown, I’ll be covering the joyous occasion and I’ll see you there.
Until then, for all the wonderful memories, Derek – thank you.
A.J. Martelli “Yankee Yapping”
If the Yankees somehow make the playoffs this year, tonight will go down as the game that saved them. Every team in front of the Yankees won – and this late in the season, the Bronx Bombers can ill afford to lose any more ground in terms of the standings. Down 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning against Koji Uehara, and more specifically the pesky Red Sox looking to play spoiler, the future didn’t exactly look bright; the season all but dangling in the balance.
Then Mark Teixeira came up.
Earlier this season in Milwaukee vs. the Brewers, Teixeira tied the game in the ninth with one swing against Francisco Rodriguez, who like Uehara is another established closer.
Did he have it in him again?
Yes. He sure did. The Yankee first baseman sent a “Teix message” into the second porch in right field, knotting the game up at four in the most dramatic way.
But that wasn’t even the best part.
Teixeira’s tater set up Chase Headley later in the frame, and the third baseman got around on a hanger, blasting Uehara’s offering into the bleachers in right field; a spectacular shot to give the Yanks a 5-4 win, keeping them alive in the AL Wild Card race.
Should the Yankees go on a run, this will be a game everyone will make reference to as the turnaround; it’ll be looked at as the game that kept them from drowning altogether and falling out of the postseason hunt for good.
It will be, in a word, remembered.
This writer, however, will not just remember Sept. 4 as the day the Yankees maintained a pulse in 2014. It will also go down as the day I met Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer to ever live.
On Sept. 22 last year, when the Yankees honored Rivera and retired his number 42, I never would’ve guessed I’d have the chance to meet him not even a year later. Yet when my friend had mentioned that he was going to be doing an appearance in Ridgewood, N.J. and asked if I’d be interested in going, I couldn’t pass it up.
Rivera was at a store called Bookends promoting his autobiography, The Closer.
On the way there, my friends and I were just on edge.
“He’s the best. What are you going to say to him?”
I hadn’t thought about it.
When it was my turn, I simply walked up to Mo, one of my childhood heroes and one of the most respected baseball players in history, and merely introduced myself. “Hi, I’m A.J. Nice to meet you” and shook his hand. With his regular, patented ear-to-ear Mo smile, he said – with kindness beaming out in his voice,
“Nice to meet you too!”
They took our picture and before I left I shook his hand again and sincerely said,
“Thank you. For all the wonderful memories.”
He was still smiling, but his expression changed after I thanked him. It’s hard to describe but he gave me almost a look of awe. His expression shortly morphed back into his regular smile, and before I walked away he patted me on the back and said,
“Awwww, thank you, buddy!” He stressed the words “thank you.”
I basically left the bookstore with the same expression Mo shot me when I thanked him – awe-struck; mesmerized. I’m not quite sure what other adjectives I could use to properly word how I felt, except “amazing” or “awesome.”
All of the above.
Overall, it was a phenomenal experience, even if it was just for a brief couple minutes.
Driving home, I also thought to myself how significant the meeting might be in the future.
Rivera resides in New Rochelle, N.Y. and attends/hosts numerous events throughout Westchester County, N.Y.
Working for a Westchester newsweekly, it’s not crazy to think I might someday have to cover an event that Rivera is on hand for, and perhaps interview him. By meeting him today, though, I got the manner of being “star-struck” out of the way. Now, if I cross paths with him again as a reporter (and not a fan) I won’t be as mind-blown as I was today.
For example, when I first interviewed New York Giants’ quarterback and two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, I was admittedly overwhelmed – even as a reporter. But after interviewing him multiple times, there’s not as much pressure talking to him anymore. To me, interviewing Manning is just business as usual – which is how it’ll likely be now, if I interview Mo, because I’ve already met him.
If that makes sense.
Nevertheless, it was a memorable day. For the Yankees, for the Yankee fans, and for a reporter who happens to be a Yankee fan.