Results tagged ‘ World Series ’

El Duque’s rocky road shown in “Brothers in Exile”

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.

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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…

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Dare to dream.

Anyway, here goes.

1) Orlando and Livan Hernandez are half-brothers

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez (L) and brother Livan

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

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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

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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?

“Fastball.”

“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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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Drawing Swords

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There were probably moments King Arthur regretted pulling the sword from the stone. It only set off a series of unlikely events when he could’ve just led a normal life, depending on which version of the story you read.

In February of 2009, Alex Rodriguez’s personal sword was pulled from the stone. He was busted for PED use between 2001 and 2003 when he was with the Texas Rangers, and perhaps more accurately he became unstuck to the web of lies he spun in the past. In December of 2007 he sat in front of Katie Couric on 60 Minutes, looked her dead in the eye and claimed he not only never used any kind of performance enhancing drugs, but was never even tempted to try PEDs.

Fast forward to the day he was outed. Or maybe more specifically the day of his interview with ESPN’s Peter Gammons, trying to explain himself. He was asked why he lied to Couric and the rest of the world. A-Rod responded,

“At the time I wasn’t even being truthful with myself. How am I going to be truthful with Katie or CBS?”

Solid answer, right? Maybe for the time. The polarizing third baseman went on to say,

“I’m going to have a sample of 14 years past this Texas era where I get to show and prove to the world, you know, who I am as a player.”

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Many Yankee fans (and even writers and analysts, for that matter) were quick to forgive him; he admitted his wrongdoing, returned to the Yankees and came up with clutch hits that lent a hand in propelling the pinstripers to their 27th World Series title – and he did it clean, free from any kind of steroid, PED or helping of HGH.

A-Rod went on to smack his 600th career home run in 2010, and climb the ranks on MLB’s all-time home run list – he’s currently fifth on the list with 654 mashed taters. It seemed all the nonsense was behind him.

Or was it?

Last year Rodriguez appealed a 211-game suspension laid down on him by Major League Baseball for being involved in the infamous Biogenesis scandal. His suspension was reduced to 162 games and A-Rod missed the all of this past season. Yet he relentlessly fought for himself, feeling he didn’t deserve the type of punishment MLB dealt him.

Rodriguez made that clear when he appeared on Mike Francesa’s radio show in New York about a year ago and denied any further PED use after the 2003 season, even after Francesa asked him several times and in different ways if he was guilty.

His story didn’t change.

What’s more, he fired verbal shots at MLB for trying to take him down personally and vowed he would do anything and everything to clear his name – including filing multiple lawsuits in federal court against those who were supposedly out to get him, including a medical malpractice suit against a Yankee team doctor.

As if this saga couldn’t have gotten any more ridiculous, we come to this week. Tuesday it’s reported that Rodriguez paid his cousin Yuri $900,000 to keep quiet about his history with steroids. And Wednesday we find out A-Rod came clean to the Drug Enforcement Agency in January, saying he used banned substances supplied by the Biogenesis clinic in Florida from 2010-12.

Another sword drawn from a stone. But this time, not a lot of forgiveness to be had.

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Rodriguez proved that not only did he not learn the first time around about the pure stupidity of using PEDs knowing he could surely be caught again, he proved he is a pathological liar. In a way history repeated itself when he sat with Francesa on WFAN and claimed innocence – it was a throwback, if you will, to the Couric interview nearly six years earlier.

The news that broke Wednesday of his confession to the DEA only confirmed what Yankee fans have been hearing from non-Yankee fans since his arrival to the Big Apple in 2004:

A-Rod is a-fraud. There is no way around it.

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In a nutshell Rodriguez’s situation leaves the Yankees in somewhat of a strange position. It has to; the trust level must be completely disintegrated by now. A-Rod has cheated and lied now on more than one occasion. His behavior has made the organization look bad, and when Spring Training hits the whole Yankee scene is going to resemble a three-ringed circus.

And number 13 will be driving the tiny car.

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Every other question Joe Girardi and the Yankee players are going to have to answer this year is going to be about Rodriguez. Thus A-Rod’s mere presence could potentially cause a huge distraction to a team that already has no identity and no clue what the future holds, considering its captain and entire perennial championship foundation (the “Core 4”) has moved on into retirement.

So, why can’t the Yankees just cut him, axe him somehow? The question that will inevitably be asked from now until he doesn’t produce when the 2015 season starts.

Well, plain and simple, he’s still under contract for three more years and is owed $61 million. Only a brain dead General Manager would want to pick up that kind of contract for a 39-year-old (soon-to-be 40-year-old) player whose numbers have declined, who is virus to his team, and would walk in the door mired in controversy.

The bottom line is, A-Rod is still an investment. However, he’s becoming an investment the Yankee have probably regretted making, and they have very few options in terms of ridding themselves of this nightmare.

A-Rod Just Go

In order for the Yanks to get Rodriguez out of their hair, he’d have to show up to Spring Training unable to physically play. Or, he’d have to retire. The more likely of the two options is the former, being that A-Rod has had surgery on his hips more than once. Even if he shows up seemingly healthy, the Yankees will be lucky to get 80-95 games out of him at third base next year – and luckier if he puts up offensive numbers even remotely similar to an average player.

But, he’s not going to retire. He wouldn’t make it that easy for the Yankees.

There’s pretty much no telling where this whole epic is headed next. Is A-Rod going to recreate that scene in The Scout in which Steve Nebraska (Brendan Fraser) is lowered into Yankee Stadium by way of a helicopter? How much more negative attention is he going to project onto himself? What kind of excuse is he going to come up with for being caught again?

What’s the next sword he’s yanking from the stone?


 Some Personal Thoughts

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.”

New Boston Red Sox ace pitcher Pedro Martinez resp

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)

Dear Derek

Sept. 25, 2014

 

 

Dear Derek,

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

Sincerely,

A.J. Martelli “Yankee Yapping”

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The Yankees are five games away from complete postseason elimination, yet have somehow hung in the AL Wild Card race just enough to have a microscopic chance at a run. Every player on the roster not named Derek Jeter, surely, would love to give The Captain one last go at some autumn baseball in New York.

While it doesn’t appear likely at the moment, and Jeter’s baseball career will probably end on enemy soil at Fenway Park a week from Sunday, last night the Yanks emerged walk-off winners for the eighth time this year, beating the Blue Jays 3-2.

Tied 2-2 in the ninth, Chris Young led off with a single to centerfield and was promptly lifted for Antoan Richardson. The speedy pinch-runner swiped second and moved to third on a Brett Gardner sac bunt. Chase Headley, who already had two walk-off hits under his belt as a Yankee this year, then delivered the death blow with a sharp liner past Adam Lind at first base for the win.

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Headley may have notched the big hit in the ninth – and got to take the “Gardner Gatorade Cooler Challenge” so-to-speak – but the hit everyone buzzed about after the game was Jeter’s solo home run in the bottom of the sixth. It marked The Captain’s fourth round-tripper of the year, and his first bomb of 2014 at the big ballpark in the Bronx.

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The fans were so amped up after Jeter’s long liner over the wall in left field that everyone on hand stood cheering, hoping he would come out for a curtain call and tip his cap.

Jeter would modestly say postgame, “Mac (Brian McCann) was in the middle of his at-bat, so I didn’t want to disrupt anyone’s hitting at the time.”

It was quite a nice way to begin Jeter’s last career homestand, but he isn’t even focused on the finality of it all, and basically said he just wants the Yankees to win out the rest of the way.

“I’m trying not to think about it being the last homestand,” Jeter added. “I’m going to go out there and play hard like I’ve done my entire career until there are no games left.”

The Captain might be trying not to think about the end, but in reality, last night we may have seen the final home run of his legendary career. Jeter has had plenty of significant helpings of
“mashed taters” (if you will) in his lifetime; World Series home runs, a home run in 2001 All-Star Game. He’s clubbed game-winning homers, and who could forget the pitch he sent into the left field bleachers at Yankee Stadium for his 3,000th hit that beautifully historic July Saturday in 2011.

Perhaps the most ironic aspect of it all: Jeter isn’t exactly, and was never, really, a home run hitter. Still, he will finish with 260 homers (barring another home run between now and Sept. 28) and 20 postseason homers – three of which were smacked in the Fall Classic.

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Off the top of my head I was able to personally remember six games I’ve attended over the course of my fandom in which Jeter has homered. All of these homers I’ve seen Jeter hit live were solo home runs – or “2olo 2hots” – in the Bronx. What’s more, each homer tied the game, gave the Yankees a lead, or started them off on a rally.

Indulge me if you will, as I take a stroll down memory lane and share these Jeter home runs I have witnessed firsthand.

June 29, 2002 – vs. the New York Mets

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It was a hot day at the beginning of summer ‘02, as well as the middle game of a Subway Series. Those pesky Mets brought some gusto with them to the Stadium that afternoon, and took a 1-0 lead on Ted Lilly in the first.

But into the box stepped Jeter, batting third that day. The Captain sent Al Leiter’s offering deep and gone to knot the time game up 1-1 right away.

Lilly however couldn’t keep his team in it. Mike Piazza, Vance Wilson and Mo Vaughn each hit homers of their own, and the Yankees didn’t muster much more offense, making this the only game the Yanks lost in which I beheld a Jeter home run.

Final: Mets 11, Yankees 2.

Jeter Home Run Total in 2002: 18

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June 21, 2005 – vs. Tampa Bay Devil Rays

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This particular game was almost a lost cause. Randy Johnson made the start for the Yanks, and was fully expected to give the Devil Rays hell. That couldn’t have been further from what happened, as the likes of Damon Hollins, Jorge Cantu, Carl Crawford and Johnny Gomes turned the Big Unit into a small component.

Believe it or not, the Yankees trailed 10-2 in the fourth inning.

Yet, you can never count them out. Jeter kick started his boys in the sixth inning, knocking a solo homer off Chad Orvella, who was on in relief of washed up Tampa Bay starting pitcher Hideo Nomo.

The Yankees chopped it to 11-7 going into the bottom of the eighth and scored 13 (yes, 13!) runs in the bottom half of the frame, going on to win. Thirteen runs by the Yankees in a single inning of a game was indeed possible at one point in time, although it is hard to believe now, given the foibles of the offense these past two years.

Balls also left the yard that night off the bats of Gary Sheffield (who in fact smacked two homers that night), Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada.

Final: Yankees 20, Devils Rays 11.

Jeter Home Run Total in 2005: 19

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Aug. 2, 2006 – vs. Toronto Blue Jays

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In a rather delicious dose of irony, Jeter had a chance to get back at Lilly in this game from the June 29, 2002 shellacking by the Mets’ hand. The Yankees had traded Lilly to Oakland after ’02 and in exchange were presented with Jeff Weaver (with Jeremy Bonderman ticketed for Detroit, because it was a three-way deal)…

But anyway, Jeter came up in the third inning and sent Lilly’s delivery out of the park, his eighth homer of ’06, to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. They tacked on with more runs later; the additional offense highlighted by a Posada two-run homer in the sixth (also off Lilly) to run away with a win. A lights-out pitching performance by Chien-Ming Wang also contributed to the victory.

Final: Yankees 7, Blue Jays 2.

Jeter Home Run Total in 2006: 14

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April 22, 2009 – vs. Oakland A’s

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Not only was this my first game live at the new Yankee Stadium, it was only the Yankees’ sixth game in the new house built by George Steinbrenner and company.

I guess it was only fitting The Captain offered me a fond memory of my first game across the street.

Jeter came up in the fourth inning and smacked a solo shot over the wall in right-center off Jason Anderson; his fourth home run of the young ‘09 season and his second in the new ballpark. His round-tripper gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead, but they didn’t win the game until the 14th inning, when Melky Cabrera sent everyone home happy with a walk-off bomb.

Cabrera also homered in the second inning, as did Matsui; the ball jumping off the bats that blustery day.

Final/14: Yankees 9, A’s 7.

Jeter Home Run Total in 2009: 18

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May 15, 2009 – vs. Minnesota Twins

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Less than a month later I found myself back at the new Yankee Stadium to see the Bombers host the Twins. For the most part it was a battle, the Yanks and Twins trading blows. Justin Morneau homered. Joe Mauer homered. Minnesota led 3-0 going into the bottom of the fifth.

Enter Jeter.

The Captain blasted one off Francisco Liriano, cutting the Twinkies’ lead to 3-1. Gardner shocked everyone with an inside-the-park home run in the seventh, and Cabrera came through in the clutch with the game-winning hit, capping a three-run ninth to give the pinstripers a win.

The Yankees would go on to win the following two games against the Twins in walk-off fashion, and beat Minnesota in their final at-bat in Game 2 of the ALDS that October, by way of a Mark Teixeira walk-off homer.

But that night – the night that started it:

Final: Yankees 5, Twins 4.

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April 13, 2010 – vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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It was a day of celebration. Euphoria. Happiness. Rings.

A wonderful ceremony took place before the game; the Yankees being honored for what they had accomplished some five months earlier – beating the Philadelphia Phillies in the ’09 World Series. Jeter was given his fifth ring, while so many others around him were receiving only their first.

After the touching, sentimental moments the ceremony provided, the Yankees had a game to play. They grabbed an early 1-0 lead over the Halos. In the third inning Jeter came up and took Ervin Santana way out and gone for a solo homer, his first of the ’10 season.

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Nick Johnson also homered, but how is this for a nod to the days of old:

Yes, Jeter homered. But Andy Pettitte started the game and recorded the win. Mariano Rivera saved Pettitte (his third save of the year to that point), and Posada went 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI.

Talk about efficiency from the members of the “Core 4.”

Final: Yankees 7, Angels 5.

Jeter Home Run Total in 2010: 10

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How nice it was, sharing these special moments Jeter gave me.

What are some The Captain gave you…?

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Sights and Stories from an Afternoon in Cooperstown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I stumbled across this, too:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All ex Yankees kill the Yankees

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

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

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

Allow me to demonstrate.

April 27, 1982 – Reggie Jackson

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

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

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

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

This is where it started.

 

June 14, 2003 – Tino Martinez

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

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

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

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

And he wasn’t done.

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

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

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

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

 

July 10-12, 2009 – Bobby Abreu

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

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

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

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

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

April 15, 2010 – Hideki Matsui

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

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

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

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

More from Hughes later.

 

May 10, 2010 – Johnny Damon

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

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

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

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

 

May 14-15, 2013 – Raul Ibanez

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

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

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

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

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

April 4-6, 2014 – Melky Cabrera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 11, 2014 – Mark Reynolds

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

May 12-13, 2014 – Curtis Granderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

June 1, 2014 – Phil Hughes and Eduardo Nunez

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

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

No such luck.

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

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And it only got worse.

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

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

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A double dose of former Yankee torture.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All ex-Yankees kill the Yankees.

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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.

 

Shipp’d up to Boston

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Without you, there’s no us. The greatest lesson I took from these past two days.

I spent this weekend up in Boston, Mass., my first trip to Beantown since a field trip I took with my seventh grade class in either 1999 or 2000. The primary reason I was in Boston this weekend was for the WWE’s annual November event, Survivor Series, which was held at Boston’s TD Garden.

My best friend and main bro Brian Chaires was able to snatch incredible floor seats for the show, and we even managed to get ourselves in the line of the TV cameras during World Champion and Boston native John Cena’s entrance for his title match vs. Alberto Del Rio.

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Some inside jokes and infamous quotes of this trip include:

“This looks like a post office, not a rest stop.”

“Dude, Zack Ryder is in the bathroom!”

“These drivers are Mass-holes.”

“I’m a New York driver. … I got this.”

“We are stuck in this hotel stairwell. We may need to call 911 to get us out. Help! Help!”

(Walking the TD Garden in Yankee gear) – “Where’d this guy come from???”

“Sweet home Oklahoma! Lord, I’m coming home to Normand!”

“Break me off that whole Kit-Kat bar, King!”

You had to be there to really appreciate how funny the situations were from which these quotes stemmed, but believe me, it was a riot. The wrestling event last night was just awesome, and today the baseball journey of our trip commenced.

Brian and I took a tour this morning of (you guessed it) Fenway Park, home of the reigning World Series Champions, the Boston Red Sox.

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Typing that made me cringe, but the ballpark and the tour itself were absolutely marvelous. It was a little different than the Yankee Stadium tour, which I experienced last year, but overall I’d rate the tour of Fenway with a solid A+.

The tour, believe it or not, began at the Red Sox team store across Lansdowne Street. Each tour begins at the start of every hour; we missed the 10 a.m. tour and settled for the 11 a.m. go-around. We made some bad timing, arriving at Fenway only a little after 10, and had to brave the arctic freeze for a little while, but it didn’t stop us from some shenanigans while we waited.

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Our tour guide took notice of our obvious Yankee apparel, and joked with us about it. He went on to tell us that he doesn’t know what all the Yankees-Red Sox hype is all about sometimes, and that there are teams far more hated by the Red Sox right now than the Yankees. In his words,

“I probably hate the Rays more than the Yankees, at this point!”

After everyone assembled, we journeyed from the team store into the historic Fenway Park to begin the jaunt. Our tour guide first explained (briefly) the history of the ballpark; its age (101), how many World Championships the team occupying the park has won (8), and even went on to explain that a number of movies have been filmed at Fenway, including a pair of my favorites: Ted  and Field of Dreams.

The first thing I took notice of upon entry into Fenway was the “Boston Strong 617” jersey hanging from the wall, and in light of the tragedy that took place at the Boston Marathon earlier this year, I thought it was pretty neat.

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From there we ventured inside and saw the field. It was quite a sight, not having seen Fenway in-person and only seeing it on TV, watching Yankees-Red Sox games. The television really doesn’t do the ballpark justice; you have to see it for yourself to truly understand its glory.

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They then let us into the visitor’s clubhouse. With couches and HD TVs, it looked like pretty nice accommodations, for a visiting team’s locker room. While we were in there, all I kept asking was, “Which one is Jeter’s locker?”

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We were then taken to seats along the left field line, which we were told are the oldest seats in Fenway; a section of wooden, navy blue seats. There we sat and got a more in-depth history of Fenway, with a lot of facts I didn’t know – and some I already knew. Here are some of my favorite factoids spoken about today:

  • Harry Frazee is the person most Red Sox fans blame for the Curse of the Bambino. Frazee, owner of the Red Sox in 1920, apparently disliked Babe Ruth so much because of his hardcore lifestyle (partying after games, etc.) that he sold him to the Yankees – that was of course after the Red Sox won five of the first 15 World Series in history. Additionally, Frazee cared more about Broadway musicals than baseball.
  • The Yankees owned Fenway Park when they signed Ruth, because the pact included a $300,000 loan backed by a mortgage on the Red Sox home field.
  • New England schoolteachers apparently disliked the spelling of “Sox” initially. Also, the Red Sox only started spelling their team name with an “x” because the White Sox had done it.
  • The Green Monster was built to keep fans from watching the games for free behind the left field wall. Our tour guide called this “the biggest overreaction in baseball history.”
  • The ladder on the Green Monster: “the most pointless ladder in baseball history,” according to our guide.
  • Three men work the manual scoreboard inside the Green Monster. “There were four, but Manny Ramirez left,” kidded our tour guide. (I’ll admit, he was a knowledgeable joker). There are only three light bulbs inside the monster and no air conditioning during the summer or heat in the fall/early spring/winter. Two of the scoreboard operators have been doing their job for 20 years; the other has been there for 10. Those positions won’t be opening up anytime soon.

From there we scaled our way up to the top of the Green Monster to take in the view.

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I liked how “Boston Strong” was still mowed into the outfield grass.

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After the view from atop the Green Monster we climbed up to the press box, which seemed like a longer ascension than going up to the monster. Not for nothing, it was a hike! On the way there, we came across an artifact that made for a great story.

The Los Angeles Angels apparently gave every team in baseball a statue of Mickey Mouse for their respective ballparks – and each statue corresponds to each team. For instance, they gave the Yankees a statue of Mickey Mouse painted with pinstripes and interlocking NYs, looking like a real Bronx Bomber.

The Red Sox were given their Mickey Mouse in poor condition; in fact, his arm was broken when they received him. They made a joke out of it though, going as far as putting a sling around his broken arm. However, they eventually fixed him– and almost immediately after they fixed their statue of Disney’s lovable mouse, they started winning. And, as we know, went on to win the World Series this year.

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Perhaps I should’ve re-broke the arm before leaving.

Once we arrived at the press box, we got some more history of the park. A cool fact about the Fenway press box is that there is a row reserved for the Baseball Writer’s Association of America. It’s fantastic that Fenway acknowledges that elite group of baseball writers.

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We then went over a lot of things I already knew about, such as the instance of assigned seating in the press box, the names of the foul poles: the left field being the (Carlton) Fisk pole and right field being the (Johnny) Pesky pole, and the Red Sox retired numbers.

Number 42, as we all know, is retired throughout all of baseball. Our tour guide asked us, “who is this number retired for?”

In the spirit of the pinstripes I vociferously answered, “Mariano Rivera!”

 “Nice try,” he replied, as everyone laughed. He assured us that Boston, collectively, is relieved Rivera has hung ‘em up.

Relieved. Get it?

(Of course we all know 42 is retired for Jackie Robinson).

We were also told a wonderful story in the press box – fitting, because wonderful stories are usually produced in the press box.

According to this tale, the Citgo sign is Boston’s proverbial North Star; if you see the Citgo sign, you know Fenway isn’t far.

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A great player by the name of Joe Carter, famed for being a Toronto Blue Jays World Series hero, loved hitting at Fenway because of the Citgo sign. A reporter remarked,

“C’mon, Joe. Citgo’s a gas station.”

Carter replied, “When I hit, I can C-IT-GO (see it go)!”

You can’t script baseball. And you have to be romantic about it.

After our time in the press box we walked down to the right field deck, where we got a good look at the famous lone red seat in the right field grandstand – denoting where the farthest-hit ball landed in Fenway’s 101-year history. Ted Williams owns the blast measured at 502 feet, crushed on June 9, 1946.

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The ball struck a straw hat-wearing gentleman in the head, who apparently fell asleep at the game. When the man woke up he was flanked by a medic and a reporter. The journalist asked him, “how do you feel?”

He replied, “How far away must one sit to be safe in this park?”

Poor guy.

The tour concluded in the Red Sox archive room, where a plethora of notable memorabilia is shown off. Among the hardware displayed: a bat signed by Babe Ruth, lineup cards, pictures of Red Sox teams past, ticket stubs to notable games (including the 1999 All-Star Game held at Fenway), MVP awards won by various Red Sox players, and the American League Championship trophies.

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I asked for the whereabouts of the World Series trophies, as they weren’t present in the archive room. They are stored in the corporate offices and there aren’t any replicas of them showcased. I explained how, at the museum in Yankee Stadium, there are replicas of the 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009 trophies for show.

Even the tour guide and personnel at the end of the tour admitted there should be replicas for Boston’s trophies on display.

———————————————————————————————————–

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I would say Brian and I had a lot of guts, strutting around Boston this weekend with enemy colors. It wasn’t easy; we heard some boos, received some heckling, ran into only two other Yankee fans, and we were even told the “NY” on our hats stands for “next year.”

On the tour a professional photographer took our picture at Fenway. He looked at us and asked, “Yankee fans?”

We apologized. “Sorry.”

But he didn’t make a joke out of it. He said something that’ll stick with me for the long haul:

Hey. Without you, there’s no us.

I had never really considered that. Every hero needs a villain. Every team needs a nemesis. Batman needed The Joker. Superman needed Lex Luthor. And the Red Sox need the Yankees, although in our minds, the Yankees are the heroes and the Red Sox are the villains. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, would the Yankees be . . . the Yankees?

I knew going to Fenway I would learn a lot I didn’t know – and I did learn a lot. Harry Frazee’s role in the Curse of the Bambino, the history of the Green Monster, and even an amusing anecdote about Mickey Mouse.

But I didn’t think going to Fenway would teach me a lesson. I suppose that’s the beauty of baseball.

Can we take it down to about a 4?

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The Boston Red Sox are your 2013 World Series Champions. And in case you haven’t heard, just look to your left. Or your right. Or up. Or down. You haven’t been able to look in any direction without seeing or hearing about “Boston Strong” these past few days, and not one to be a sore sport, congratulations to the Red Sox.

The team that wins the World Series is the best team, and there’s no doubt Boston put the best team in baseball on the field in 2013, capping a tremendous turnaround. Any Yankee fan or Red Sox hater would clearly look like an idiot trying to deny the resiliency, power, and fortitude the BoSox put forth this year.

Boston winning the World Series doesn’t bother me. However, there is an issue that has gotten underneath my skin, not just as a Yankee fan, but as a baseball fan.

Since the Red Sox clinched the title last Wednesday, the Twitter and Facebook feeds of MLB Network, MLB, and ESPN have gone absolutely berserk. Each social media contingent has gone fawning over Boston’s World Series victory – almost to the point of absurdity.

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Sure, there was bound to be a lot of chatter on social media the night of and the day after Boston beat St. Louis in Game 6. That’s acceptable and inevitable. Yet now, some four (nearly five) days after the fall classic has ended, social media is still abuzz with Red Sox pictures, posts and praise.

It’s funny. I do not remember the San Francisco Giants receiving this much laud days after winning it all last year. In 2011 I do not recall the Cardinals being shoved in the MLB fan base’s collective face so strongly.

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Even in 2009, the Yankees were not worshipped this much by MLB and ESPN. It’s almost as if everyone (running these social media sites) believes the 2013 Red Sox represented the second coming of Christ. In fact, I’m not even positive the New York Giants received this much adulation from the world in the days following their upset of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42.

We understand. We comprehend. We get it. The Red Sox won. Point taken.

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Probably the cheesiest picture and aspect of it all was the Twitter account I came across representing the World Series trophy. Yes, a Twitter account made for the World Series trophy. The “trophy” sent out a picture of itself with a fake beard on it, coinciding with the Red Sox trademark, scraggly facial hair this season.

Could you get any tackier, or any more shallow, MLB?  

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I also found it quite ironic that, on ESPN Baseball Tonight’s Facebook page, posted was a photo of Boston celebrating. Adjacent to it was a story with an attached picture of Alex Rodriguez, posing the question, “when his career is over, will Alex Rodriguez have been bad for baseball?”

It should come as no shock. Ever since 2004, a lot of fans have been under a well-founded impression that ESPN does the Red Sox bidding. Something like this only helps prove the point.

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When Boston swept Colorado in 2007, it was much easier to take, at least for me. I was a junior at Mercy College in New York with no Facebook and no Twitter. I had no interest in watching Boston win, and only watched briefly during Game 4 when Rodriguez opted out of his contract, a few short innings before Boston went on to win the title.

The Red Sox clinched the ’07 World Series on a Sunday night. With an early Monday morning class, I didn’t watch any TV; I was not subjected to the agony of watching the Red Sox dog pile, or the pain of the Boston champagne party.

The only tidbit I heard from anyone in 2007 – on Boston’s World Series victory – was from a professor, when I arrived at school that Monday. Wearing my Yankee jacket, the prof spotted me with a (bleep)-eating grin and remarked,

“Yankees, huh? I’m from Boston. A Red Sox fan. I’m having a good day today!”

I forced a laugh and replied, “Yeah, man. Live it up.”

That was it. Other than that, I heard absolutely nothing about it.

Fast forward to 2013 and it’s a totally different story. The advent of Facebook and Twitter did all but whack me over the head with a “Boston Strong” sign. The posts have gotten way out of hand and taking it as far as creating a Twitter account for the trophy is downright ridiculous.

This year took winning the World Series to a new atrocious level – and I mean a whole new level. Boston won. Congratulations Red Sox Nation.

Now, can we “take it down to about a 4” in terms of glorifying the Red Sox?

FINAL THOUGHT:

We can only hope the Yankees are not visiting Fenway Park when the Red Sox receive their rings next season. The Yanks had to suffer in 2005 (for the ’04 ceremony), the least the schedule maker can do is keep them away from Fenway for the 2013 ring party.

Then again, looking back on all these tweets and posts, MLB just might give us Yankee fans one final kick in the face for good measure, and schedule the ring ceremony on a day the Yankees are in Beantown.

Joe Girardi will return … oh, and my dad met him!

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News broke this afternoon that Joe Girardi, Yankee skipper since 2008, signed a new four-year contract to return as manager of the Bronx Bombers. The pact is worth $16 million with postseason bonuses, and it quells all the rumors of him leaving the team – rumors that have been swirling since the Yankees’ season ended on Sept. 29 in Houston.

Sources said the Chicago Cubs were prepared to offer Girardi a lot of dough to lead their fledgling ballclub in 2014. This writer, however, can forgive Girardi if he wasn’t ready to accept a pool filled with dollar bills in exchange for leading a team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1908.

Cubs fans should forgive him too.

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Girardi is 564-408 as Yankee manager, and will unquestionably pick up a lot more wins by the time his new deal is done at the conclusion of the 2017 MLB season.

Had Girardi not re-signed, there were only three individuals, realistically, in mind to succeed him. The first choice would have been the obvious choice: bench coach Tony Pena.

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With experience managing not only the Kansas City Royals from 2002-05, Pena was at the helm of the 2013 Dominican Republic team that won the World Baseball Classic.

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The next possible choice was Willie Randolph, who, although has never won a title as manager, led the New York Mets to a near World Series berth in 2006 and a league-best 97-65 record. Randolph also served as a Yankee third base coach and bench coach from 1994-2004 – and despite not possessing any World Series jewelry as a skipper, owns six rings as both a Yankee player and a coach. What’s more, Randolph has been a part of the Milwaukee Brewers and Baltimore Orioles coaching staff in recent years.

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The last prospective successor to Girardi was Don Mattingly, but the former Yankee first baseman is currently in the middle of a hunt for a ring at the helm of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Donnie Baseball quickly shot down any notion of managing the Yankees, saying he had no interest in being Yankee skipper just six days ago. Mattingly’s contract is up for expiration at the end of this season, but given the huge turnaround the Dodgers have had, it’s likely he’ll be staying put in LA-LA Land.

Of course winning a ring this year can’t hurt his odds at a return as manager of the big blue team out west, as well.

On a personal note, I’ll probably remember this day not just for the announcement of Girardi’s return, but for my little anecdote about the whole deal.

At the risk of keeping all readers guessing, I’ll explain.

Exactly 17 minutes after the news broke of the Yankee skipper’s new contract, my dad sent me a text message that engulfed me with envy:

“I was doing some work here at our deli in Purchase and I just met Joe Girardi! … He went next door to the restaurant with his two kids. I told him to stay and that #28 was next year! He just smiled and said thanks. And I shook his hand!”

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Even typing that, the jealousy continues to envelope me. The day Girardi gets the big contract, my dad meets him. What a story. With that, it’s possible my dad was the first person to congratulate Girardi – or at least acknowledge him remaining in pinstripes the day the news broke of his deal.

You cannot script Yankee Yapping.

Girardi’s name is now added to list of sports figures my dad has met while working; now it’s up there with Vernon Wells (who my dad saw while working the day after Opening Day this past April) and Lawrence Taylor, whom he met working at the Westchester Airport this year.

Again. Jealousy.

At least I had my moments with Bernie Williams. And Eli Manning.

And hopefully someday (soon) I’ll get to meet, or at least interview, a lot more famous athletes.

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