Results tagged ‘ World Series ’

Playing Dress-Up: The Yankees’ Halloween Costumes

“Witch and ghost make merry on this last of dear October days. “ – Author Unknown  

In one week’s time, people will be dressing up in costumes for Halloween, the one day on the calendar you can be whoever or whatever you want to be. Whether it’s a super hero, a movie character, or a spooky creature, Halloween is one of the more celebrated holidays in this country.

To me, Halloween has sort of lost its luster. When I was a youngster I absolutely loved Halloween. It was always a tossup trying to figure out what I should dress up as, and the thought of getting free candy just by uttering the phrase “Trick-or-Treat” put a smile on my face and got me excited.

In first grade I dressed up as Superman, one of my favorite costumes:

It was always a night of fun for me. Yet these past few years I’ve found myself basically doing nothing on Oct. 31, merely sitting around alone watching old horror movies like “The Exorcist” and “Scream.”

This year I might change that, perhaps; maybe try to rally some friends together and relive the days of Halloween past by donning costumes. But onto the point of this entry:

If the Yankee players were to dress up for Halloween, what could they be?

Here are some suggestions…

CC Sabathia: Cleveland Brown

I could have just taken the high road and suggested CC Sabathia dress up as Fat Albert, but I figured I would change it up this time.

Put a yellow shirt and blue pants on the Yankee ace and he just might be able to pull it off. However, he might need to grow his mustache in a little more.

Hmm. Maybe Derek Jeter’s father, Dr. Charles Jeter, would be better off going as Cleveland…?

Derek could even go as Quagmire!

Nevermind.

Mark Teixeira: Jared from Subway

I don’t know about anyone else but if you take the glasses off Jared, I think he sort of resembles Mark Teixeira.

Sort of.

The Yanks’ first baseman, who batted just .248 this year, might be able to get one of those “Free Subway for Life” cards (Happy Gilmore reference) if he goes as Jared this year. Maybe some meaty, cold cut sandwiches can help him swing the bat a little better and get that BA back up to a respectable .300 next year.

Scott Proctor: John Cena

 I know I’ve made mention of this in the past but Scott Proctor, who went 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA for the Yankees this year, looks an awful lot like 12-time WWE Heavyweight Champion John Cena.

Proctor was basically a real-life loser this season. Therefore, if he wants to dress up like a real-life winner, he can be Cena for Halloween.

All he would need for the costume is one of Cena’s colorful shirts, a hat that reads “You Can’t See Me,” some wrist bands, and a pair of denim shorts.

Oh, and maybe some talent. That wouldn’t hurt.

A.J. Burnett: Beavis

A.J. Burnett pitched a decent Game Four in the American League Division Series vs. the Tigers, but only had a handful of acceptable starts during the regular season. With a record of 11-11 and an ERA of 5.15, he hasn’t exactly been what the Yankees were anticipating when they signed him to a lucrative contract worth $82.5 million prior to the 2009 season.

But we already knew that.

Perhaps he can help get the Yankee fans back on his side if he loosened up a little bit and dressed as Beavis from MTV’s…umm…hit show, “Beavis & Butthead.”

Not only do they bare a striking resemble to one another, their personalities are eerily identical. And if he doesn’t like the Beavis idea, he can always go as Dennis the Menace.

Andruw Jones: Dr. Dre

I’m not sure why, but Andruw Jones has always reminded me of rap star and hip-hop mogul Dr. Dre. When both of them were young, they were well-liked and everyone knew their name.

Dr. Dre was one of the more revered rappers in the world and most people knew Jones because of the power show he put on in the 1996 World Series as a member of the Atlanta Braves.

But that was in the 1990s. If you were to ask anyone back then who Dr. Dre was, undoubtedly they’d say, “Of course!” Nowadays if you ask about him, the answer would probably be more along the lines of, “Oh yeah. Whatever happened to him?”

Same applies to Jones.

And while we all know what Jones was doing this year – batting .247 for the Yankees and hitting 13 homers with 33 RBIs as a fourth outfielder – we may never know where Dr. Dre is.

I guess we all “forgot about Dre.” I believe that was one of his last hit singles; I can remember him releasing it before he vanished off my radar somewhere around 1998.

Alex Rodriguez: Anakin Skywalker

The Yankees’ superstar third baseman had a sad 2011 season, spending most of it on the disabled list. Hurt, he only managed to club 16 homers, bat .276, and drive in just 62 runs.

It was one of the worst years Alex Rodriguez has had since he started; in fact, it was the first time in his career he failed to hit 30 home runs since 1997.

To get rid of some of the bad feelings from this past season, I could picture A-Rod dressing as Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars franchise. Not only are they practically each other’s doppelganger, but it fits so well.

For those who do not know, Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, one of the sworn leaders of the “Dark Side.” The Yankees have always been compared to the Star Wars “Evil Empire” so who better than Rodriguez – probably the most hated Yankee – to play the Jedi who turns his back on the force for the sake of evil?

It’s a perfect match and it makes sense.

Bartolo Colon: Hamburglar

I have an unsettling admission to make right now. One of the last years that I went out trick-or-treating on Halloween (probably in sixth or seventh grade) I was indeed the Hamburglar, one of the McDonald’s “McDonald-Land” characters.

Yep. Insert obligatory/witty Chicken McNugget joke here.

Bartolo Colon, just judging by his face, would be perfect for this costume. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if during the off-season he makes appearances at local McDonald’s in the Dominican Republic as the Hamburglar for extra money.

Also, judging by his weight, it looks as though he might be the real-life Hamburglar. He is very porky.

Robinson Cano: Steve Urkel

Back in the early 1990s ABC launched its Friday night lineup known as TGIF. Shows such as “Step by Step,” “Boy Meets World” and “Full House” all kept us laughing – albeit with cheesy, light-spirited, and family-oriented jokes.

One of my favorite programs to watch every Friday night was “Family Matters,” a show centered around the lives of the Winslow family and their pesky, annoying, nerdy neighbor, Steve Urkel.

Robinson Cano is no nerd: 28 home runs, 118 RBIs, and a .302 batting average is nothing to shake your head at. It certainly does not put him in the same category as Urkel.

However, if you take Cano’s face, put some coke bottle glasses on him, some suspenders, a nerdy shirt, and if he speaks with a high-pitched squeaky voice, you have the spitting image of the legendary doofus known as the Urk-Man.

Well, that about wraps it up folks. Hope you enjoyed my suggestions for the Yankees’ Halloween outfits.

If you happen to go out next week, be safe, and Happy Halloween.

What I’ll Remember About the 2011 Season

Casey Stengel once said, “Most games are lost, not won.” And let’s be honest the Detroit Tigers did not win Game Five of the American League Division Series – the Yankees lost it. The Bronx Bombers dropped the decisive game of the ALDS 3-2, forcing them to an early postseason exit.

It marked the first time the Yanks have been knocked out in the first round since 2007, when they were bumped at the hands of the Cleveland Indians.

And with their loss, they collectively became the second person (if you will) to break my heart this year. That’s no lie. More on that later in this entry.

In the bottom of the fourth the Yanks had the bases loaded with one out and failed to score a run. Russell Martin popped out to first base for the second out, and Brett Gardner – who had been raking this entire series – popped the ball up in foul territory behind third, and it landed in the waiting glove of Don Kelly.

Then in the seventh with one out, the Yanks put the ducks on the pond again. Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging, but Mark Teixeira drew a walk forcing home a run to make the game 3-2. But Nick Swisher came up to the plate and murdered the rally with a K.

The Yankees received their first run on a solo home run off the bat of Robinson Cano in the fifth, his second of the ALDS  – his first being a Game One  grand slam. Derek Jeter nearly clubbed what would have been a go-ahead, two-run home run in the eighth.

With Gardner on first, the Captain launched a ball deep to the right field warning track, but it slowly lost wind and fell short of a potential game-winning round-tripper.

What can you say? It just wasn’t meant to be this year.

The Tigers – not the Yankees – will now advance to the American League Championship Series to face the Texas Rangers. A rematch of last year’s ALCS was just not in the cards.

The postseason magic was not there; the aura was absent. But there are a lot of memories and thoughts I am going to take away from this year. Here are a few things I’ll never forget about the 2011 baseball season:

Opening Day

There is nothing like the thrill of Opening Day. Spring is in the air, you get the sense of new life, and warm, happy feelings envelope you. Baseball is back and the Yankees did what they couldn’t do in the ALDS: they beat the Tigers.

Curtis Granderson punished his former team with a tie-breaking home run in the seventh inning, and threw in some defensive, game-saving web gems, leading the way to a 6-3 Yankee win over Detroit.

The Bronx Broskis started their year with a clean win over the Tigers. I think I speak for most Yankee fans when I say I wish they could have finished off Detroit in the ALDS the way they did on Opening Day.

May 12 vs. the Kansas City Royals

The Yanks hosted the Royals on May 12, and it was my first trip to the big ballpark in the Bronx this year. Just as Opening Day has a certain, special appeal to it, going out to your first game of the season is always fun.

The game turned into a stinker in a hurry, as the Royals put up six runs in the second inning. The Yanks wound up losing 11-5, really only receiving offense from Cano and Rodriguez, who both went yard.

What I remember isn’t so much the game action, but the people (and more particularly a person) I was with at that game. I am not the type of writer who would bury anyone I personally know in this or any other blog or column, but let’s just say (using no names) I was with the other person who broke my heart this year.

If she is reading this, I don’t know about you, but I had a blast at that game; the time of my life, and I was very happy and blessed to have spent that time with you. Thanks again for the chili dog you bought me, too.  I still think it was the best chili dog I ever had. :)

This game was the only time I can ever recall seeing the Yankees lose, but still being happy at the end of the night. In fact, I was probably the happiest person at the Stadium that night, and I can only hope she shared my happiness at the game.

I wouldn’t have traded the feeling I had for anything, not even a Yankee win.

June 15 vs. the Texas Rangers

On my birthday the Yankees met up with the Rangers – the same team that eliminated them from the ALCS in 2010. I once again went out to the Stadium, and wanted so badly for the Yanks to exact a little bit of revenge on Texas – and boy did they ever.

The Bombers squadoosh’d the Rangers 12-4, playing long ball to an eight-run victory.

Teixeira crushed two homers in the game, and Cano and Ramiro Pena also went deep. But the most special home run the Yankees hit probably came off the bat of Eduardo Nunez – it was his 24th birthday too!

A group of people, who I believe was Nunez’s family, were sitting in front of me, going absolutely crazy after his home run.

They held up signs that read, “Happy Birthday Eduardo!” and they were all wearing “Nunez 12” tee-shirts. Plus, they all bore a striking resemblance to him – so I’m convinced to this day it was the Nunez family in the row of seats in front of me that night.

A home run must have been a nice birthday present for Nunez. And a convincing, vengeful Yankee win was a nice gift for me.

Derek Jeter Leaves the Yard for 3,000th Hit

In what was probably the biggest story of the summer, the Yankee Captain, sitting on 2,999 career hits, smacked a home run on July 9, becoming the first player to ever record his 3,000th hit wearing pinstripes.

It was a moment for the ages.

All the Yankees came out of the dugout and congratulated Jeter, hugging him and giving him his legendary credit. The only picture I take away from that moment was Jorge Posada, his teammate since 1995, embracing him in celebration right after he crossed home plate.

If you were to ask Jeter, I’m sure he would say he was happy to have reached his milestone – but even happier the Yankees won the game. The Captain has always put the good of the team above himself and the Bombers topped the Tampa Bay Rays on July 9, 5-4.

Robinson Cano Wins the Home Run Derby

The prelude to the All-Star Game is the Home Run Derby. Certain clubs show off their most powerful sluggers, and Cano participated in this year’s home run contest in Arizona. To everyone’s surprise, the studly second baseman won it.

Now, I have to ask, what’s better than having a Yankee win the Home Run Derby?

How about a Yankee beating a Red Sox player to win the Home Run Derby!

Because that is exactly what happened.

Cano outdueled Boston first baseman Adrian Gonzalez 12-11 in the final round, becoming only the third Yankee (Tino Martinez, 1997, and Jason Giambi, 2002) to take home the Home Run Derby crown.

August 23 vs. the Oakland Athletics

 

This would mark my third and final trip to the Bronx this summer, a game against the A’s. My good friend and fellow die-hard Yankee fan Micheal Robinson was in New York, visiting from Atlanta.   

He got incredible seats right behind the wall in left field, and although the Yankees once again lost, they nearly capped an unreal comeback late in the game.

Down 6-0 entering the bottom of the eighth, the Yanks plated three runs on a three-run Swisher home run to cut the lead in half. In the bottom of the ninth Posada clobbered a solo home run, and the Yanks later loaded the bases.

We thought we were in for an improbable comeback.

With the bases chucked and two outs, Cano drew a walk, cutting the lead down to 6-5. Then Swisher came up again and clubbed a towering drive to deep left-center field. On the edge of our seats, Micheal and I slowly stood up watching the ball fly, ready for a whipped cream pie celebration…

Only for the ball to slowly die on the warning track for the final out. Yanks lose, 6-5.  

Nonetheless, we enjoyed the game. It was a great night with a great friend. My record in attendance at 2011 Yankee games ended at 1-2.

 

Mariano Rivera Becomes Baseball’s All-Time Saves Leader

On Sept. 19 at Yankee Stadium Mariano Rivera recorded his 602nd career save, passing Trevor Hoffman on the all-time saves list. Rivera, who has been lights-out at the end of each Yankee game for the better part of the past 15 years, only solidified what we have known all along:

That he is the greatest closer in the history of baseball.

In typical Rivera fashion, he mowed down the Minnesota Twins 1-2-3 in the ninth inning, wrapping up a 6-4 Yankee win. When he was finished closing the game, he humbly put his head down, and shook his catcher’s hand.

But after that show of sportsmanship Rivera (of course) realized what he had done and acknowledged the love and support he received from his home crowd. Posada even pushed him back out to the mound where he was cheered overwhelmingly.

Again, in typical Rivera fashion he thanked God, his family, the Yankees, and the fans.

It was just another wonderful moment in 2011 – and in Yankee history.

Boston Losing Out of the Postseason

I know I’ve told this story more than once, but for one last time, I’ll tell it again.

All the way back in January I was with a few friends down at a New York City bar watching the Jets’ AFC Title game vs. the Steelers. Although it was a football game, me and each of my friends were wearing Yankee apparel.

In walks a drunken Red Sox fan, wearing a 2004 Championship shirt. And he began to taunt us.

“Are you guys ready for Michael Kay this year? Swisher on the track, at the wall, looking up, SEE YA! Another home run for Carl Crawford and the Red Sox lead, 7-3!”

We just laughed it off and walked away. On the way home from the bar we made fun of him for not even teasing us the right way.

“Hey, at least he gave the Yankees three runs in his little fantasy game,” we snickered. “If he were smart, or maybe sober, he would have made it 15-0 in favor of the Red Sox.”

Boston failing to make the postseason – when practically everyone on this planet had them picked to win the World Series – in my eyes, was just epic; one of the worst, if not the worst collapses I have ever seen.

I would have loved to see that guy’s face when Tampa Bay battled back from nine games behind the Wild Card standings – and when Baltimore crushed Boston’s hopes at a postseason run on the last day of the regular season.

Unbelievable.  

I will never forget how that Red Sox fan basically had his team in the World Series before the season even began and they didn’t even make the playoffs, going 6-20 in the month of September.

The Boston collapse proved two things to me:

1)      You can never speak too soon, and

2)      You can’t win games on paper. The Red Sox may have had the best-looking team on a lineup card, but if the best-looking team folds like an accordion when it matters, it doesn’t guarantee you anything.

Well, Yankee fans. It was one helluva season; one I’ll probably never forget. It is unfortunate the Yanks could not create the magic for us and bring home Championship No. 28.

I’d like to thank everyone for sticking it out this season and reading Yankee Yapping. I promise to write as much as I can during the off-season while the MLB hot stove cooks, boils, bakes, burns, or does whatever it does.

Hopefully I’ll be blogging about Ivan Nova winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award, and either Granderson or Cano winning the AL MVP.

Until then, I’ll say the same thing I did when the Yanks got booted in last year’s ALCS:

Keep your heads up, Yankee fans.

And just remember: we still own 27 World Titles, and we’re still the best team in the world.

RAWR! Bring on the Tigers

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right back to where we started on Opening Day.

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

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

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

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

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

And boy, did the Yanks hurt following that rainout.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rodriguez was booed off the field – at home.

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

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

Not the case at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even in defeat, the Yankees upstaged the Mets.

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

What’s Different This Time Around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Looks the Same

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

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

There’s also the A-Rod factor.

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

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

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

Once he does that, his power will return.

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

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

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

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

September 11, 2001 From My Eyes

It was only my fourth day as a freshman at Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. – and I was hating it with a true passion. I was struggling to fit in and although I hadn’t been there very long, I somehow got the feeling I was an outcast; barely anyone knew who I was and if I wasn’t there, 90% of the people in the school would not have known the difference. I only had a handful of friends from middle school and I wasn’t in a lot of the classes they were in.

I was a minnow in the Atlantic Ocean – and I could not stand it.  

Some of the teachers weren’t making it any easier for me. Every freshman was placed in a biology class entitled, “The Living Environment,” as their first science credit. In eighth grade I had heard horror stories about an unbelievably stringent biology teacher by the name of Mrs. Cuesta. From the day I heard about her, I prayed every night that I would not get her as my biology teacher.

What do you think happened? Yes. Of course I got her (this is, after all, my life we’re talking about here). I was not very good in science as it was, so she and I were a very, very bad combination. I was terrified just to step foot in her classroom every single morning.

She would not allow her students to utter the words, “Yeah,” “What,” or “Huh” in class. If you were answering a question affirmatively, you were to use the word “Yes,” because “the word ‘Yeah’ is not in the dictionary.” If you could not hear a word someone said, you were not permitted to say, “What?” or “Huh?” You were to say, “Pardon me?” or “Excuse me?”

If you did use any of those words in her presence, you were required to give $1 to her – which she would then donate to some type of fund or mission charity. Luckily for me, I avoided ever giving her any money for saying “Yeah” “What” or “Huh.”

I made sure to choose my words carefully in her class – and most of the time I just tried not to talk at all, unless I was called upon to answer a question. Not for nothing it was for a good cause, but if you ask me, it is overkill.

I sat there in Mrs. Cuesta’s biology class on that fateful Tuesday morning, in the worst mood a 14-year old ninth grader could possibly be in. I would have wanted to be anywhere in the world but there in that classroom with a teacher who was more strict than most of the professors I had at Mercy College.

Looking back, however, I am grateful I was safe in school and not in New York City, like many other unfortunate people.

Around 10:15 the principal came over the PA system and addressed the student body. He only claimed there “was a fire at the World Trade Center” and he asked us to pray for those involved: the rescue workers and those inside the twin towers.

It’s funny how I can remember the exact thought that first ran through my mind the second after he made that announcement.

“The New York City Fire Department is the best of the best,” I thought.

“I’m sure they are going to do all they can to make sure everyone is safe and it probably won’t be a big deal; it’ll probably just be something I see when I pass by Dad watching the news on the couch later tonight and mom might briefly mention it over dinner, or something.”

It may have been ignorance or maybe me just being aloof. Then again it may have been the fact that I was a freshman and I was young, but I didn’t notice anyone’s franticness that day. There must have been kids in the school who were scared because their parents worked in New York City, but I never picked up on it.

Although the thought never even occurred to me, I didn’t have to worry about my parents. They weren’t divorced yet (as they are now) and neither one of them was in New York City at the time of the terrorist attacks. My dad was working for a software company in Connecticut and my mom worked at a radio station in nearby Fishkill, N.Y.

When I got on the bus to go home that day – that was when I was told real story; that it wasn’t just a fire at the World Trade Center. The principal only told us there was a fire so panic would not ensue within the walls of his school. The principal’s version of the story wasn’t altogether false – but it wasn’t altogether true, either.

I suppose I understand why he offered that explanation, though. He didn’t want his students to freak out. In hindsight, it was probably wise to go with that explanation rather than cause chaos among the students.

The bus driver, on the other hand, explained that not only did planes fly into the twins towers, but one smashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. What’s more, a plane supposedly headed for the White House came down in a Pennsylvania field.   

It was a little overwhelming. I just wanted to get home, turn on the TV and see this for myself – and getting home took forever; it was just another reason I disliked school. I was living in Beacon, N.Y., some 16 miles away from my school in Poughkeepsie. I got out of school at 2:30, but it practically took all afternoon to get home because there were a number of stops on the way back.

When I finally made it home a little before 4:00, I turned on the TV and bore witness to the carnage; thousands of people dead. Innocent people lost their lives at the hands of a sadistic and soulless man named Osama bin Laden and his band of terrorists.

The image of those two buildings imploding has not left my brain since that day.  

My mom came home from work a few hours later in tears; her car had an American flag waving proudly from the antenna. She was devastated, and the gravity of the situation didn’t strike me until I saw her face. I had never seen my mother in such disarray; she’s always been the strongest woman I have ever known, and to see her that heart-broken was scary.

I obviously knew what was troubling her, but I couldn’t understand why she was crying. So I asked her.

“Do you realize how many people, just like you, won’t ever see their moms or dads again?” she said to me.

“A.J., I’m sad more than anything else; sad for everyone who lost their lives today and their families and friends. And I’m a little scared. What happened today – you can see that on the news any day of the week. But it happens in places that are on the other side of the world. This happened an hour and a half away from my house.”

After she said that, I understood her tears.

Even my dad, a strong-willed man himself, was visibly shaken.

“This may be worse than Pearl Harbor,” he pointed out. “This is tragic; so sad.”

My neighborhood friends couldn’t believe it, either. A lot of them were just as young as I was, some of them even younger. We tried to wrap our heads around the whole thing and played a game of kickball that evening to take our minds off what had happened. We had some fun in the wake of such tragedy; we kicked the ball, caught the ball, ran the bases, and played until dusk fell and the porch lights came on.

I think it may have been our way of showing that the American spirit, although dented on 9/11, was not dead. We may have even dedicated our kickball game to those who lost their lives that day – it’s something we would have done. It’s just the type of kids we were – always thinking of other people before ourselves.

Just as we turned to kickball to take our minds off the terrorist attacks, a lot of people in New York turned to baseball – and New York’s favorite team – the Yankees. The Bombers were looking like another championship-caliber squad. It seemed as though nothing was going to stop them on their quest for their 27th title, and their fifth in six years.

MLB halted play for a week following September 11 and when the Yankees (and to be fair, the Mets too) returned to the diamond, they were cheered by every baseball fan. I remember one sign a fan held up that read, “We are all New Yorkers today.”

Longtime Yankee favorite Bernie Williams once said that whoever he could get his hands on during that time, whether it was a police officer or a firefighter, he would hug them. The players were just as shaken as the citizens and it was clear they did all they could do help those affected on 9/11.

The Yankees had some incredible moments the following October. One of the more famous plays happened in the American League Championship Series vs. Oakland, when Derek Jeter made the famous flip play.

Jeter raced out of position and flipped the ball to Jorge Posada, nailing Jeremy Giambi at home plate to preserve a 1-0 Yankee lead in the bottom of the seventh. The play might have saved the Yankees’ chances at going to the World Series.

One word: spectacular.

When the Yankees reached the fall classic, the four -year old Arizona Diamondbacks awaited them. New York dropped the first two games, but the Yanks took Game Three, winning a tight one, 2-1.

Before Game Three, then-President George W. Bush was on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. He wore an FDNY fleece, complete with a bulletproof vest underneath. In the clubhouse before he took the field, the President ran into Jeter, and asked him if he should throw off the mound or the grass in front of the mound.

Jeter advised Bush to throw from the mound – but not to bounce the ball, because if he had, the fans would boo him.

The President walked out to the mound and gave a thumbs-up, symbolizing that America was going to be OK. He then tossed a perfect strike, a perfect way to begin the night. Nobody booed; everyone in attendance at Yankee Stadium chanted “U-S-A!” in unison. It also marked the first time a President threw out an honorary World Series first pitch since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956.

Game Three was historic. But Game Four, however, was the game to be at.

Jeter came up in the bottom of the 10th, the game tied 3-3. The clock had just struck midnight and for the first time ever, there was baseball being played in the month of November.

With Arizona closer Byung-Hyun Kim (who had been lights-out automatic throughout the ’01 season) in to pitch, the Yankee shortstop pounded a pitch that landed in the short porch of the old stadium. As Jeter rounded the bases, he held his arm in the air; his fist clenched. World Series knotted, 2-2.

The next day at school my Global History teacher Mr. Umlauft lectured us about many things; the Byzantine Empire, the Code of Hammurabi, and the four noble truths. But at the end of class he had one last thing to teach us.

“There is some footage I want to show you that is very significant to the world,” he explained. “Let me show you.”

He rolled out his TV and proceeded to show us the clip of Jeter’s walk-off home run the night before, and the shot of the person in the crowd who held up a sign that read, “Mr. November.” According to Mr. Umlauft, he knew the person holding the sign quite well.

“You see that guy?” he asked us, pointing to the sign. “That’s my nephew. He was the one who held up the sign.”

Fascinating. Of all the people in New York who could have held up the famous “Mr. November” sign, it was my Global History teacher’s nephew.

The Yanks did it again in Game Five, coming back from a 2-0 deficit in the ninth inning (on the strength of a two-run homer hit by Scott Brosius). The Yanks went on to win the game in the 12th on an RBI single off the bat of Alfonso Soriano.

Magic and aura were appearing nightly at the big ballpark in the Bronx. But their momentum disappeared in the desert, as the Yankees dropped Game Six in the worst way, losing 15-2.

Game Seven was the last night of the Yankee Dynasty. The Yankees held a 2-1 lead going into the ninth with the greatest of all-time, Mariano Rivera, on the mound. He allowed two runs in the inning and the D’Backs won the Series. Sitting in my room stunned watching that game, I could only let out four words:

“The other team won?”

I had been so used to the Yankees winning the World Series year in and year out that it left me all but speechless. It would have only made sense for the Yanks to win the 2001 World Series, and give the people of New York a ticker tape parade – it would have helped even more in terms of coping with September 11.

Truthfully baseball wasn’t the main issue that year. America regaining its composure and getting back to its feet was more important. Yet, baseball did exactly what it is there to do during that tragic time: make people happy. In that regard, it was important and helped people deal with the tragedy.

Over the years I have become a little bit more understanding about things that happened on 9/11; I have heard people’s stories and have seen how crushed and heart-broken they were (and still are). Each of them lost loved ones to a senseless and callous act of terrorism. I have watched documentaries and it pains me to see some of these people who no longer have friends and family members.

I have also come across still frames of the twin towers while they were under attack. A pair of them piqued my interest…

It looks as though a demon’s head appeared in the fire when the second plane hit the south tower.

As the tower collapsed, it almost resembled another demon.

Who is to say if these really mean anything at all, but the fact is there is evil in the world; 9/11 proved that. These pictures look as though they are demons, but then again I understand that demons were the ones who orchestrated these horrific attacks.                                  

Although there is evil that manifests itself in our lives, it’s important to know that divinity and goodness are also present. New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, and America in general banded together during 9/11. Citizens helped each other and showed that even in the wake of such disaster, good things can come of it, like people doing everything and anything they can to aid a stranger.

There were so many Good Samaritans as a result of 9/11.

A lot of things have happened in my life since September 11, 2001. But I don’t believe a day has gone by when I don’t at least once think about sitting in Mrs. Cuesta’s biology class and the principal telling us of a fire at the World Trade Center – and the footage of the planes slamming the twin towers when I got home that day.

My mom crying, my dad upset: it’s still very fresh in my mind. I remember it all.  

But when I think of that time, I also think about good things, like the kickball game my friends and I played that very night, and the ’01 World Series.

No, the Yankees did not win which isn’t good, but if you were to ask me one thing I remember about that fall classic, it’s Jeter’s arm outstretched triumphantly in the air, rounding the bases after crushing that walk-off home run. It’s the one picture in my head I took away from the entire World Series.

That home run lifted everyone in New York, including me.

The point is to never forget where you were, how it affected you, and consider everyone who was affected. September 11 has been dubbed “Patriot Day” and the best way to honor it is to always think about those people on the airplanes and in the buildings; how many kids went home from school that day to no one, and were left wondering if their mom or dad was going to come home at all.

Remember those people; never forget 9/11/01.

I promise, for as long as I live, I will never forget.

My Journey Through Baseball

 

 

It snowed. On the first day of spring. Come on, man!

“I’m more entranced  than the average fan…I used to play, you see, and I know I still can.” – Robert DeNiro in The Fan (1996)

Although you wouldn’t know it here in New York, today is the first day of spring. The reason you wouldn’t know it: because it snowed this morning and it feels as though winter is giving us one last jolt of cold to remember it by.

I woke up this morning and the first thought that came to my mind was, “Wow. I cannot believe that less than 24 hours ago I was wearing shorts and playing baseball.”

It was hard to believe, even though it happened. Yesterday I went to the park with my friends and we played baseball. It was such a nice day that we couldn’t pass up the chance to play our favorite game.

 

Yesterday me and buddy Brian played baseball at the park.

As we were playing catch and batting the ball around, we found ourselves remembering all the times we played organized baseball for the towns we lived in. We recalled what jersey numbers we had, the games we excelled in, and what it was like to play baseball in a coordinated environment.

I figured I would share a little bit of my journey through baseball, and sports in general; the years I played, the triumphs I enjoyed, the tragedies I endured, and how to this day I still love to go outside when the spring comes and play baseball with my friends.

Before I even started my baseball career, I played soccer and basketball – two sports that in this day and I age I do not particularly care for. When I was young I played soccer in the Peewee League. I scored one goal the whole time I played – and it was in a scrimmage.

 

Why I played soccer, I'll never know.

To this day I’m not sure why I picked up soccer at such a young age. I suppose I needed to run around and drain away some of my pent-up energy, but other than that, I can’t think of a reason why I played it.

When I stopped playing soccer I started CYO Basketball. I played for four years and was on different intramural teams each season. The first year I played I was forced to sit out; I was on the bench the entire season with a broken wrist. It was the worst feeling in the world. I broke my wrist on the same day of my first ever basketball practice.

Ironically enough, my broken wrist had nothing to do with basketball. I fell off a bed.

The second year I played, my team was very good. We won every single game with the exception of one, nearly going undefeated for the season. The problem was, it was intramural CYO – there was no playoff system or trophy presentation at the end of the year. My team was the best, yet we had no concrete evidence to show for it.

I can remember the final year I played basketball, though I’d like to forget it. From being on the best team I went to the absolute worst team. The squad I was on was ridiculous; I have no problem admitting that. We lost every single game we played because most of the kids on the team were ball-hogs and had no clue how to play basketball. I think my ears still hurt from the amount of times the refs blew their whistles calling fouls on my team.

 

CYO for four years.

Come to think of it, my team lost a game that season by a score of 69-16. That’s how bad it was.

After that beating, I knew it was time to give up basketball and concentrate on the best sport in the world: baseball. In February of 1998 I signed up to play Rookie Ball – the level right below Little League.

A few days later my family got a call saying I was too old for Rookie League. I was already 10 years old and by the time the season began I would be 11, meaning if I wanted to play, I had to play Little League. They put me on a team and believe it or not, my team was the Yankees. In the town of Beacon where I played, each team was given the name of a Major League Team.

There were the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Giants, the Indians, the Dodgers…you get the idea. It was pretty cool. The uniforms were also great: we were given jerseys that boasted the logos of each team you were on. I was on the Yankees, and my uniform looked like this…

 

Little League days...

I was given number 19 to wear, which at the time was being worn by Luis Sojo. But looking back, some of the best Yankees have worn number 19. Dave Righetti, Robin Ventura, Al Leiter, and Aaron Boone (among others) have worn it; 19 is a pretty solid number in Yankee lore.

 

No. 19

My team was coming off a strong season; in fact, the year before they had won the town’s Little League Championship. It was an incredible feeling walking in the Opening Day Parade with them and being introduced as a defending champion – although I did realize I had nothing to do with winning the championship and I was new.


I walked with my team in the Opening Day parade. They were defending champions.Thankfully my teammates weren’t mean to me and didn’t try to make me feel as if I didn’t belong there. They welcomed me to the team with open arms, although I think they knew in their minds I wasn’t going to be very good, considering it was my first year playing.

Those thoughts were well-founded. I wasn’t good at the beginning.

In my first year, I drew a few walks here and there, but I couldn’t buy a hit. I played left field and didn’t see a lot of game action. Despite taking my first year bumps, we kept winning. My Yankee team was undefeated for quite some time, before the Orioles finally stopped our winning streak halfway through the year.

On one of the last days of the season I finally got my moment to shine. I stood in the batter’s box, saw the pitch coming, and swung the bat, cracking a line drive base hit to centerfield. My hit drove in a run for my first career RBI and we went on to beat the Indians that day. I stood on first base and looked over to the dugout. I smiled, looking at my whole team standing up and clapping for me.

After each game, the coach on the winning team awarded the game ball to the standout player on the team. It was almost like winning the “Chevy Player of the Game” award, if you will.

My coach tossed me the game ball and said, “Congratulations on your first hit and your first RBI.”

 

My first hit & my first RBI.

I was speechless. All season long I had watched the other players on my team receive the game ball and the honor went to me. It was an unbelievable feeling and one I’ll always remember.

The second year I played Little League I was a lot more comfortable. I knew what to expect and I had more than one hit all year. The first game of the season, we played the Mets. I struck out in my first at-bat and my coach had asked me if I was comfortable bunting before I stepped up to the plate. I told him I wanted to swing away, and he obliged.

My next at-bat however, he didn’t ask me if I wanted to bunt. He told me I had to.

I laid down a beauty and reached safely to drive in a run. That bunt almost set the pace for the rest of the season, and I went on to have a pretty good year. I remember laying down a lot more bunts after that game and my coach once called me “the best bunter on the team.”

That was evidenced when we played the Dodgers, and I once again laid down a perfect bunt. Pitching was a young man named Steve, who was in my class. During the day he and I talked a lot of smack about who was going to win, especially since he was pitching.

My bunt drove in a run and I reached second on an error. We won the game and for the second time I was awarded the game ball. Again, it was a great feeling to receive the honor and afterward there were no hard feelings between me and Steve. I think he actually congratulated me the next day.


My second game ball.Little League was quite an experience and I will not forget it. But it was just the beginning of my journey through baseball and the game afforded me even better memories as I continued to play at the next level.

I was in eighth grade when I started to play in the Babe Ruth League. The first day of practice was unreal. The field was so much bigger than the Little League field, most noticeably the outfield dimensions. Right and left field were 285 feet while dead-center was 315 feet – a foot longer than right field at Yankee Stadium.

Another change was the team names. No more MLB team names, but instead our teams were sponsored by the local clubs and organizations. My team was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and our team name was K of C.

 

K of C

I was only in eighth grade but played against high school kids. I knew that I was going to have to start from scratch again and I probably wasn’t going to be very good, much like how I was in my first year of Little League. However, the town put all us Babe Ruth rookies on a travel team as well our regular teams, just so we could get some more at-bats and fine-tune our fielding.

Suffice it to say, I had a better first year playing on the travel team than I did on K of C, the Babe Ruth team. On my travel team, I had a few key hits and played against another friend from school. Once again my team won that game, 7-6. I even had a hit that went right over my friend’s head; a bloop single that landed in between the right fielder and my friend who was manning second base.

Sorry Vito.

The biggest change going from Little League to Babe Ruth was my position. The whole time I spent in Little League, I was an outfielder. I played mostly left field, but was tossed around quite a bit and saw time in right field and center field.

The first game I played at the Babe Ruth level, my coach announced my name and told me I was starting at second base. I had never been more confused – and scared – in my life. I had never played the infield before, and I was worried I was going to make a million mistakes.

 

I played second base my first year in Babe Ruth

I surprised myself by not performing poorly. I made a few defensive stops and before long I became comfortable at second, although I did see a lot of time in right field throughout the rest of the season. My travel team ended the year with a good record, but my K of C team had a rough year. We finished the season in fifth place out of sixth.

 The second year I played was a different story.

I knew from the first day of practice that there was something different about our team. We went into these practices and performed as if we were playing in actual games. We were steadier, a little bit younger because we had some Little Leaguers coming in, and we wanted to erase finishing fifth the year before.

All in all, we were hungry.

There were so many defining moments that stand out to me in that season, but two come to mind. The first was painful, at least for me. We were playing the Lions, a team sponsored by (you guessed it) the local Lions Club. They had a very powerful left-handed hitter, who just so happened to also pitch and was one of the hardest throwing hurlers in the league that season.

He came up to bat with two outs in the fifth inning and we only held a small, 3-2 lead.

In right field, my coach told me to shade over toward the foul line. I knew that as a lefty, if he had gotten around on a pitch, it was coming to me. He had taken the first two pitches for balls one and two, but on the third pitch he saw, he swung and delivered a high fly ball…that was going over my head.

I turned around and immediately started to run. Frantically, I raced toward the right field wall as my hat flew off my head. I stuck out my glove and by some act of God, the ball landed in its webbing. Three outs with the lead intact. The parents and supporters of my team went nuts from the bleachers after I made the catch.

It was almost reminiscent of Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series. It was beautiful.

 

My catch was like Mays's catch.

As fate would have it, after my web gem, I was due up first in the next half-inning. Facing the guy whom I had just robbed of an extra base hit, I walked up to the plate. He threw a fastball that came in so fast, I didn’t have a fraction of a second to react – and the ball plastered me, right on the outside of my left thigh.

I fell to the ground in such pain that, for a moment, I didn’t know where I was.

The coaches ran out and helped me get to my feet. I walked around behind home plate for a couple of minutes before my coach asked me if I wanted to stay in the game. Even though my leg was aching in excruciating pain, I refused to let him beat me. I made up my mind that I wasn’t leaving the game and I chose to stay in, bad wheel and all.

We wound up winning the game 3-2 and it was one of the better games I remember playing, just because of my attitude. Not the fact that I got hit or the fact that I made an outstanding defensive play, but for the fact that I stayed in the game and didn’t allow myself to be bullied.

To this day, I am convinced he beaned me on purpose. He may have won that little battle, but I feel I won the war. Not only did my team win, but I stayed in the game.

The second moment that stood out came later in the season. We were playing BPBA (Beacon Police Benevolent Association) and at that point we were scuffling a bit. We were down early in the game and for some reason that day, my coach decided to plug me into the number three hole in the lineup. In the fourth hole we had a tall, powerful right-handed hitter named Brian; a kid capable of hitting the ball out of the cavernous ballpark.

In the fourth inning I led off with a single. I remember checking the defense and every single outfielder backed up – they knew what kind of power he possessed.

Brian swung and hammered the ball to the deepest part of the park: centerfield. I came off first base a little bit, took a few steps back in case the ball was going to be caught, and then checked the center fielder. He looked up and watched the ball sail out of the park for a two-run home run, right over the 315′ sign.

I rounded the bases with a smile on my face; with joy in my heart. I knew that I was never going to hit a home run at this field, and this was the next best thing: being on base when my teammate hit one. The whole team waited for us at home plate and high-fived us after we crossed the plate.

 

I was on base when a homer was hit.

Brian whacked the top of my helmet as we walked back to the dugout.

“Good job kid,” he said to me. “Thanks for that single. Because of that it was a two-run homer!”

I looked up at him, smiled, and simply replied, “No problem.”

We went on to win that game big, 14-3. From there we got hot and went on a winning streak. We finished the season with a record of 12-6 and were headed to the playoffs. No champagne celebration for us, but we were very happy and satisfied with getting there. We also knew that as well as we had played during the season, it meant nothing if we didn’t win the championship.

The playoffs were a four-team tournament: single elimination in the first round, and best two out of three in the championship series. We had a huge challenge in front of us, playing the Lions in the first round. We had faced them four times during the regular season and split the series, 2-2. This was the rubber game; the chance to show once and for all which team was better.

Not to mention the winner had a one-way ticket the championship series.

 

We made the playoffs the years after we finished 5th

My team was not fazed by pressure. We obviously didn’t feel it because we pounded out 16 hits and went on to win the game 10-0. We were going to the championship series and for the first time in my baseball career, I would know what it felt like to play in a series for all the marbles.

I couldn’t help but think of my Little League days when we won the first round game. I remembered how I was recognized as a champion, even though I hadn’t earned it. This was my chance to earn it.

Unfortunately for K of C, the magic vanished.

We played a team named Palisi in the finals, a squad named after one of the local auto body shops. They were the only team that we lost a series to during the regular season, as they edged us, three games to one.

In Game One, they pounded every mistake we made. They went up 6-0 in the first inning and never looked back. They let us know that, in no uncertain terms, they were not going to lay down for us. After the game we obviously felt discouraged but knew we needed to win the next game in order to stay alive and push the series to a deciding Game Three.

We lost Game Two. But it wasn’t nearly as lopsided as Game One, as we were only beaten by a score of 6-2. We faced another power pitcher; a flame-throwing righty named Mark who was tall and built like Phil Hughes. In my only at-bat in Game Two, I drew a walk to lead off the fifth inning. Mark struck out the next three batters and the score remained 6-1.

In the sixth inning Brian came up and led off with a solo home run to bring it within four, 6-2. We all went out to greet him as he came to the plate, but our spirits just weren’t there; our enthusiasm had worn off. We tried to stay as positive as we could, but there was nothing that could be done. We lost.

After it was over, I watched from the dugout as Palisi celebrated. Crushed, I saw them get their picture taken for the local newspapers. My coach sat us down on the bench and told us not to feel bad about anything; he told us that from day one he loved coaching us and that we made a huge stride, coming from a fifth place finish to a second place finish.

I felt a little better when I found out that, despite our loss, we were getting rewarded for finishing second. We were going to receive the runner-up trophy and we were going to be a part of the trophy presentation ceremony.


We won 2nd place. 
  

“Ladies and gentlemen, your 2001 runner-up, K of C!”

Standing at the edge of the dugout, my name was announced first.

“A.J. Martelli!”

I jogged out to the area behind home plate and I was given my trophy. I shook my coach’s hand as he looked at me. With a reluctant smile he said, “Hell of a season, pal.”    

The trophy presentation made me feel a lot better. It’s almost as if I forgot we had lost. It didn’t feel like a loss when I left the ballpark that day. I felt as though I had been a part of something special and I was honored to play with such a dedicated and hard-working group of players.

To this day I look back on that season and wish I could live through it again.

The final year I played organized baseball was bittersweet. I saw a good amount of game action, especially at second base, being that it was my final year and I was a team veteran. We had a decent year and again we made the playoffs.

But it was BPBA’s turn to feel what we felt; their opportunity to play in the championship series. They beat us in the single elimination first round game and I watched them celebrate as my Babe Ruth career came to a close.

But it wasn’t exactly over just yet.

After that loss I had one more game: an end-of-the-year battle between the departing veterans and the coaches. The league designed this so that all the players who were leaving could have one last game and go out in a good way.


Went out nicely. 

Against the coaches I had a single, a walk, a stolen base, and two runs scored. We wound up losing count of the score, because we were beating them by such a wide margin. All in all, it was a fun night but I also understood that I would be closing a chapter in my life.

While I was playing in the Babe Ruth League, I wanted to try out for my high school team. In my first year in high school, I wanted to make the freshman baseball team and eventually work my way up to the junior varsity team, and if I was lucky, make the varsity team in the ensuing years as an upperclassman.

I attended a few open gyms during the off-season and got to know a lot of the players. The open gyms were intense; a lot of running, suicides, long toss, and fast-pitch batting practice. But I knew that, if nothing else, the workouts would prepare me for the Babe Ruth season.

Lady Luck was not on my side as a high school freshman, though. I struggled both academically and personally throughout the year and as a result I was placed on academic probation, prohibiting me from trying out for the freshman baseball team. I knew that if I couldn’t play in my freshman year, I probably wouldn’t be able to play at all for my high school, at least not without enormous competition for a roster spot.

So in a nutshell, although I played in the Babe Ruth League for two years while I was in high school, I never did get to play for my high school’s team.

And yes, I regret it. Had I had an easier time in my freshman year, and maybe pushed myself a little harder academically, I have no doubt in my mind I could have played for my high school and kept my baseball career alive.

I am not saying I would have continued to play in college, but it could have happened for me. I would have loved to go through the experience of facing other schools and possibly winning a few more trophies.

These days it’s nice to just go to the park on a spring day and put on my baseball glove. And when I do, I think about that base hit on the Beacon Little League Field that drove in a run for my first RBI.

I think about all those bunts I laid down in my second year of Little League.

I think about how special I felt when I was awarded the game ball.

I think about how I felt looking at the Babe Ruth Field for the first time.

I think about that Willie Mays-like catch I made to rob the best player in the league of extra bases – and how he exacted his revenge on me, and how I refused to leave the game when I was hurt.

I think about that home run Brian hit, and how awesome it felt to round the bases with him.

I think about the championship series, and how good I felt, even though we lost.

I think about the trophy presentation and how it felt to have my name called.

I think about how fun the game against the coaches was.

I think about how I wish I had played for my high school, and even though I didn’t, how fun the open gyms were.

I think about all these things…and wish I can have them back.


I love this game. Always have, always will.

Reliving History: 1998

 

Newest piece of my collection

Yesterday I added a new piece to my seemingly never-ending Yankee memorabilia collection. I purchased the official “Winning Streak Dynasty” banner from Modells, since they were having a sale and marketing it for a relatively low price.

Just by glancing at the banner, and each of the 27 years the Yankees have won the World Series, gave me an idea: a look inside some of the World Series the Yankees have won. I figured I would explore the reasons why the Yankees won that specific year, provide some background on the regular season, examine turning points that made each fall classic special, and identify the key players who made it what it was.

 

I figured I would first relive a very magical season: 1998.

1998 Yankees

 

Regular season record: 114-48

Postseason record: 11-2

Manager: Joe Torre (3rd season)

Key off-season additions: David Wells, Scott Brosius, Chili Davis, Chuck Knoblauch

Home Run Leader: Tino Martinez (28)

RBI Leader: Tino Martinez (123)

Hits Leader: Derek Jeter (203)

Wins Leader: David Cone (20)

Saves Leader: Mariano Rivera (36)

 

 

Slow Start

The 1998 Yankees, who went on to set a Major League record for most games won overall in a season, began their year in a slow fashion. They lost four out of their first five games to start the year, including a 10-2 beat-down at the hands of the California Angels.

Manager Joe Torre called an “angry meeting” and aired out some of his feelings to his players. The pitchers and the position players noticed somewhat of a rift between each other; some batters were hit and felt the pitchers did not do enough to retaliate.

They eventually found their groove on April 7 against the Seattle Mariners, beating the M’s 13-7. From there, they won their next seven games and wound up ending April with a record of 17-6.

 

Perfection

 


Perfect Game.On May 17 starting pitcher David Wells tossed a perfect game at home vs. the Minnesota Twins. He retired 27 consecutive batters leading the Yanks to a 4-0 win. It was only the 15th perfect game in MLB history and only the second perfecto thrown by a Yankee.

Later in the season on Sept. 1, Wells almost threw another perfect game. Facing the Oakland Athletics, Wells was perfect through 7 2/3 innings. Needing only seven outs for another perfect game, Jason Giambi lined a single off an 0-2 count to break it up.

 

Base-brawl

 


Fight w/ the O'sMay 19 marked a turning point in the season. After Baltimore Orioles’ closer Armando Benitez allowed a three-run home run to Bernie Williams, he pegged Tino Martinez in between his shoulder blades. He was immediately run from the game, but the HBP practically caused a riot.

A fracas ensued and the Yanks and O’s exchanged shoves, and eventually punches.

The Yankees went on to beat the Orioles 9-5 in that game, and also swept them in that series three games to one.

 

A Year-Long Tear

The Yankees only lost 17 games in the summer months of July and August, while winning 42. Williams described the season as a “year-long tear,” as there really was no other way to characterize how the Bronx Bombers played.

They basically rolled into towns and beat teams up, clinching the American League East with a 7-5 win over the hated Boston Red Sox on Sept. 4–the earliest they had clinched the AL East since 1969. To that point in the season they won 102 games and were set to meet the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series…

 

 

Playoffs

 

1998 playoffs

In the ALDS, the Yankees easily handed the Texas Rangers a clean sweep. Juan Gonzalez, the player who eventually captured the 1998 A.L. MVP Award was no match for the starting pitching the Yanks had. David Wells, Andy Pettitte, and David Cone shut down the Rangers three games in a row, each notching a playoff win.

Rookie Shane Spencer, Brosius, and right field warrior Paul O’Neill led the Yanks, all hitting home runs in the first round of the postseason.

The American League Championship Series pitted the Yanks against began the defending A.L. Champs, the Cleveland Indians. New York was looking to erase their 1997 ALCS defeat and beat the Tribe 7-2 in Game One.

Game Two however was an ugly defeat for the Yanks. The game was tied up until inning number 12 when Travis Fryman laid down a bunt. Reliever Jeff Nelson threw the ball to first base, as the second baseman Knoblauch covered the bag. The ball hit Fryman in the back and Knoblauch argued with the umpire instead of retrieving the ball, which at that point was trickling down the first baseline.

Enrique Wilson scored and the Indians went on to win 4-1. The momentum carried into Game Three, as the Indians brought the lumber with them. Playing at home, sluggers Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez left he yard twice, and Mark Whiten added a homer en route to a 6-1 win over the Yanks. They pounded Pettitte while newly acquired Yankee Bartolo Colon cruised to a complete game victory.

Thome killed the Yanks in the ALCS

But the Game Three loss marked the last time the Yanks would lose a playoff game in ’98.

Down two games to one, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez took the hill, needing a clutch outing to keep the Yanks alive. Seven shutout innings later, and with some help from O’Neill (who homered) Hernandez and the Yanks picked up a 4-0 Game Four win.

Game One winner Wells took the ball again in Game Five. Now with the ALCS even at two, the Yanks rolled to a 5-3 win, under the strength of a fourth inning home run off the bat of Davis to give the Yanks a three-run lead. Kenny Lofton and Thome both hit home runs, but the Yankee bullpen was able to hold off the rest of the Cleveland lineup.

Now needing one win to get the fall classic, the Yanks came home to play Game Six. They jumped all over Charles Nagy, scoring six runs in the first three innings. Cleveland did not give up easily however, scoring five runs in the fifth, with the main blow being a grand slam from Thome.  

The Yankees answered with three runs in the six, plating runs on a triple by Derek Jeter and a single by Williams. They went on to make a winner out of Cone, beating the Indians 9-5 and winning the A.L. pennant for the 35th time.

The Yankees were then headed for the World Series, set to play the San Diego Padres.

ALCS MVP: David Wells (2-0, 2.87 ERA, 15 2/3 IP, 12 Hits, 5 ER, 2 BB, 18 K)

 

 

   The World Series

 

Yankees vs. Padres

1998 was the 94th World Series played in MLB history and the Yankees were gunning for their 24th title in franchise history. The Padres were looking for their first World Series victory, having lost the fall classic in 1984–the only other year in their history that they won the National League pennant.

In Game One, San Diego took a 5-2 lead, getting home runs from sluggers Greg Vaughn and Tony Gwynn. But going into the seventh inning, the Yanks came up with a plan. Knoblauch atoned for his ALCS blunder, smacking a game-tying three-run home run into the left field seats.

Later in the frame with the bases loaded, everything changed.

Martinez came up with the bases loaded and on a full count, blasted a grand slam home run into the upper deck tier seats in right field, giving the Yankees a 9-5 lead.

Grand Slam Tino!

Yankee Stadium exploded.

And it was the turning point in the series, simply because the Yankees carried the momentum from that home run with them the rest of the way. In Game Two, the Yankees beat the Padres 9-3, with home runs off the bats of Williams and Jorge Posada.

Heading out to San Diego and the Yankees up two games to none, Cone took the mound in Game Three. Both teams didn’t score until the sixth, when the Padres plated three runs. The Yanks answered with two in the seventh, receiving a two-run home run from Brosius.

Trevor Hoffman was called on in the eighth inning. San Diego manager Bruce Bochy wanted his closer to nail down a six-out save leading 3-2 going into the frame. Hoffman folded however, giving up a three-run home run to Brosius, which gave New York a 5-3 lead.

Vaughn cut the lead to one with a sac fly in the bottom of the eighth, but the Padres could not rally all the way back, and the Yankees took Game Three, 5-4.

Many people argue that Game Four was just a formality, and in a lot of ways it was. The Padres were all but defeated in the ’98 World Series after Game Three, having been outscored 24-13 in the previous three games. Pettitte toed the rubber, hoping to wrap up New York’s 24th Championship.

He succeeded.

Both teams were kept off the board until the sixth, when the Yankees plated a run on a groundout by Williams that scored Jeter. The Yankees added two more runs in the eighth, with an RBI single by Brosius and a sac fly by Ricky Ledee to score O’Neill.

The Padres made an effort to come back in the eighth, loading the bases on Nelson. However, Mariano Rivera wiggled out of the jam and pitched a scoreless ninth to clinch the World Series title.

Bliss.

 

World Series MVP: Scott Brosius (8-for-17, .471 BA, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 3 R, 14 total bases)


MVP 

  

 

Winners.

1998 was just one of those special seasons that nothing went wrong. They have been described as “The Greatest Team Ever” being that they won 125 total games and only lost 50. Those types of seasons don’t come around very often and when they do, it’s important to remember them.

I will always remember the 1998 baseball for the Yankees–not Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa breaking the home run records. I had more fun watching a team play every game as if it were their last than watching two guys race for a hallowed baseball record.

I think that says a lot about how exciting the Yanks were.

A Look Ahead to 2011 and the Top 10 of 2010

 

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all!

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

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

Bye bye Andy? :(

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

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

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

Yanks got Feliciano

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

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


Russell Martin is a new Yankee 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are the Red Sox already the winners???

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9) Opening Day at Yankee Stadium

Yankees get their rings

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

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


My cousin got a BP ball on Opening Day 

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

The Yankees beat the Angels, 7-5.

8) Comeback vs. Boston

Thames wins it!

May 17 was a memorable night for all Yankee fans.

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

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

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

7) Grand Ol’ Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) Joe Torre vs. The Yankees

Look out, Joe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Mark Teixeira’s Big Day in Boston

Teixeira blasted three homers vs. Boston on May 8

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

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

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

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

What also made it more enjoyable was what happened afterward.

Me on the YES Network!

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

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

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

3) The ALDS

Pop champagne!

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

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

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

No such luck.

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

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

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

2) 600

Really?

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

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

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

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

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

1) The Game for the Boss and Sheppard


For Bob and The Boss 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We win!!!!

Yankees win an emotional game for Sheppard and the Boss.     

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

For George

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

It is only fitting that Steinbrenner went out a winner.

 

 

Well, that about puts a cap on 2010.

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

Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training next month!

Bomber Busts: Worst Trades and Free Agent Signings

 

 

Lou Brock was traded for Ernie Broglio.

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

Not bad for a career’s work.

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

 

Broglio...who???

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

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

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

Here we go…

Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps

 

Jay Buhner!

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

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

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

A classic “Brock for Broglio,” no doubt.

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

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

 

Who is this guy?

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

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

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

Yes and no.

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

 

Once a Yankee...

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

 

Warrior

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

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

 

Hideki Irabu

 

what a bum.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Terrible.

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

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

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

·         13 wins

·         4.06 ERA

·         173 innings pitched

·         Two complete games

·         28 games started

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

 

LOL

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

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

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

I guess we will never know, Mr. Costanza.

 

Kevin Brown

 

Awful move.

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

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

 

Knock it over!!!!

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

 

 

Kevin Brown is an idiot.

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

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

Anyway….I digress.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Carl Pavano

 

Moron.

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

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

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

 

Good in Florida. Abysmal in NY.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

Bonehead.

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

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

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

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

How ridiculous is that?

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

 

Thanks for nothing, Carl.

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

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

 

Javier Vazquez and Nick Johnson

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

I’ll begin with Javier Vazquez.

 

BUM.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why they wanted Vazquez, I’ll never know.

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

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


Psssh. 

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

Not.

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

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

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

And then there was Johnson.

 

Waste of time and money

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Winter Meetings start next week.

The Joke’s on Washington, Sabathia, and Price

 

2010 MLB Awards. What a joke.

“What do a Momma Bear on the pill and the World Series have in common?…

No Cubs.”

I have heard some pretty funny jokes in my life. The 2010 Major League Baseball End-of-the-Year Awards, though, have probably been some of the funniest jokes I have heard over the last couple of days.

To begin with, Ron Gardenhire of the Minnesota Twins was named the American League Manager of the Year yesterday. It marked the first time Gardenhire won the award and he won it because…um…why?

I don’t have an answer. He won it because the Twins took on and defeated a weak A.L. Central? He won it for going 2-8 over the last 10 games of the season?

2010 AL Manager of the Year. Hahahahahaha!!!!!! That's a good one.

Or maybe the Twins’ skipper won the award for getting booted in the first round of the playoffs for the fifth consecutive time. Do any one of those reasons make any sense?

I thought not. In reality they gave the award to the wrong Ron.

The Texas Rangers produced the best manager in the A.L.; no questions asked. Ron Washington took his team to the World Series for the first time in their franchise history. To get there, they beat a potent Tampa Bay Rays team in the American League Division Series as well as the defending champion New York Yankees in the ALCS.

In addition to that, Washington managed Texas past the Los Angeles Angels, a team that is almost locked in every year to win the AL West. Los Angeles had won the West three straight years entering 2010, but Washington and the Rangers did not let it happen again this year.

The REAL Manager of the Year

Apparently that is not worth anything in the voters’ eyes. Instead they gave the award to the Twins’ skipper, who although is good, clearly did not deserve it. I do not wish to take anything away from Gardenhire, but Washington was the logical choice.

So the writers made a boo-boo. You wouldn’t think they would do it again in a matter of one day, right?

Wrong.                                                                                                    

Today it was announced that Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners won the American League Cy Young Award.  The 24 year-old right-hander went 13-12 with a 2.27 ERA and 232 strikeouts in 2010.

13-12 and he won the Cy Young. Excuse me for a second…

(Laughs uncontrollably)

OK, I’m back.


You've got to be kidding me.  

I had every expectation that either CC Sabathia of the Yankees or David Price of the Rays would win the Cy Young this year. I understand Hernandez had a great ERA, the lowest among A.L. pitchers, in fact. But I truly feel that it comes down to which pitcher is the most valuable to their team.

After all, the award does say MOST VALUABLE PITCHER on it.

MV Pitcher. Not pitcher w/ the best ERA.

Was Hernandez valuable to the Mariners? Perhaps yes, but look at the team in question. By the All-Star break, were they even playing for anything? Does the fact that they were out of the playoff race long before the season ended mean anything to any of the voters?

I guess not, so the joke is on me.

Yet, I think it should. Sabathia and Price pitched like studs under extreme pressure in a heated pennant race down the stretch and into the final week of the season. Hernandez has never been in that type of situation–needing to win in order to keep his team alive.


The two most deserving candidates.There are many who are currently arguing that wins do not mean anything; that Hernandez did not receive a great deal of run support and his overall individual stats were far superior to the rest of the candidates.

I understand the run support argument. I get the idea regarding individual stats. But please, do not try to sell me on the idea that wins mean nothing. I am not buying it. Winning is the whole reason the game is being played, isn’t it? Why would you not consider the most important thing when making a decision on who wins the Cy Young Award?

Sabathia won 21 games. Price won 19. Hernandez won 13. And in my mind, that’s how the Cy Young Award should have played out:

Sabathia wins it. Price is the runner-up. Hernandez comes in third.

And believe it or not, the fact that I thought Sabathia should have won it has nothing to do with the fact that I am a Yankee fan. In my mind, he was just the most valuable to his team–a team that competed in a division where it was anybody’s to win. The Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox were all fighting for the AL East up until September whereas the Mariners were cooked by the middle of July.

No pressure whatsoever on Hernandez. But with every pitch up until the last day of the season, there was enormous pressure on Sabathia and Price. I’m sure both of them had the mentality of, “If I don’t pitch well, we won’t win. If we don’t win, we are not winning the division.”

There’s no telling what was running through their minds every time they took the ball.

Hernandez could have taken the ball and potentially thought to himself, “Well, if I don’t win it’s not a big deal. We are going to finish in last place anyway, so it’s not like it matters.”

There’s a huge difference in that regard in terms of mindset.

Last year, it was a little difficult for me to accept Zack Greinke winning the award. But there were a lot of variables to consider. For one, he won more than 15 games and was at least eight games above .500 (at 16-8). He also overcame anxiety-ridden circumstances, something that I know (first-hand) is difficult to deal with.

Zack Greinke overcame obstacles to get to the Cy Young.

And much like Hernandez, Greinke had the lowest ERA in the A.L.

Was Greinke on a particularly strong team? No, not at all. However his overall record and what he went through off the field to get himself back to prominence certainly means something. I would hope the writers took that into consideration when they voted for him last year.

In 2007 when Sabathia won it for Cleveland, I didn’t believe the right man won it. To this day, I still feel Josh Beckett was the best pitcher that year (and I am NOT a fan of his, so that really says something right there!) Beckett won 20 games, and as the ace of the Boston pitching staff he led the team to a championship. Again, he was the most valuable pitcher.

Should have won it in '07

Sabathia won 19 games and helped lead the Tribe to the postseason. Yet when it came down to nut-cutting time, Beckett was the man who got the job done. He was clearly more dominant than Sabathia when it mattered.

I’d really like to know why the writers voted Hernandez the winner this year. I am still mind-boggled by the whole thing. Seriously, I mean I am really stunned.

Why don’t wins matter to anyone anymore?

When did the idea of being a valuable commodity to the team become obsolete?

Why is everyone caught up in ERA, WHIP, and IP?

Why is a guy who just barely made it over .500 this year our Cy Young Award winner?

What were the writers even thinking when they made this decision?

I guess I’ll never know. What I do know is that if I ever make the Baseball Writer’s Association, I intend to consider wins and how valuable the pitcher was as the most driving aspect of the Cy Young Award. I’d certainly never give a first-place vote to a player who was one game above .500, that’s for sure.

Thief.

So on that note, congrats “King Felix.” You succeeded in winning an award that (in my eyes) you did not truly deserve. At all. Apologies to Mr. Sabathia and Mr. Price, both of whom were robbed of the Cy Young Award by a bunch of writers who don’t even think about winning, the whole reason baseball, or any game for that matter, is played.

Ron Gardenhire: 2010 A.L. Manager of the Year.

Felix Hernandez: the 2010 A.L. Cy Young Award winner.

Those aren’t award-winners. They are punch-lines.

Gold Gloves and a Trip to Arkansas

Now that the off-season has begun and the hot stove will be burning for the next few months, I felt it necessary to talk about the two major Yankee headlines this past week–the Gold Glove Awards and the Yankees’ visit to Arkansas to speak with big time Free Agent Cliff Lee.

First…

Gold Gloves

Jeter, Teixeira, and cano took home gold this year

Three Yankee infielders took home Gold Glove Awards on Tuesday. Robinson Cano won the American League Gold Glove for second base, the first time he has ever won the award. Mark Teixeira won his fourth Gold Glove (second with New York) and then there is Derek Jeter.

Jeter won his fifth Gold Glove and all I have been hearing since he won it is how much he did not deserve it; how his range is down, how he cannot move to his left, and how many balls get through the infield holes because he cannot get to them.


No range.All true. I am not going to say Jeter is the best defensive shortstop in the A.L. because it’s not really a fact. However, numbers do not lie, and that’s why I think Jeter received the honor.

In 2010, Jeter secured a higher fielding percentage than any other shortstop in the A.L. along with committing the fewest errors (six) among any other shortstop in the league.

Honestly, I think those numbers won him the Gold Glove. It really wasn’t because he was the best fielder. However, many people have been saying that he did deserve it because everything else he does (like leading the team) makes up for his lack of range.

And, in addition to his numbers, his ability to (after all these years) utilize his patented “Jeter spinning jump throw,” which we did see at certain points this season. Case in point, May 26 in Minnesota.

Still got it?!

For me, I look at Jeter’s defense as a two-sided coin. I completely understand his critics’ arguments about his defense. Did he deserve the Gold Glove? Probably not. Were his numbers better than the rest of the shortstops in the league? Yes, but there is still no denying his range is not what it used to be. The Yankee Captain now struggles at getting to grounders he could once reach in a flash.

However…

When people criticize his defense, I tend to remember some of the better things he has done playing the field, such as:

·         His backward plunge into the third base seats, Game Five of the 2001 American League Division Series vs. Oakland at Yankee Stadium; a catch which ended an at-bat by Terrence Long

 

·         His infamous dive into the seats on July 1, 2004 at Yankee Stadium vs. the Red Sox to rob Trot Nixon of what could have been a game-changing RBI hit.

 


Flies into the stands! 

·         His famous “flip play” in the ’01 ALDS in Oakland. While out of position, Jeter flipped the ball to catcher Jorge Posada to nail Jeremy Giambi at home plate for a huge out. 

 


The flip 

The most telling aspect of these three defensive plays? The Yankees won all three of those games.

And if you ask Jeter, that’s what he cares about most: the Yankees winning. The Captain could probably care less about individual awards and accolades. Not saying he probably does not appreciate it, but every season we hear him say the same thing: “We (the Yankees) need to win the World Series. If we don’t accomplish that, it’s a failed season to us.”

Jeter cares more about the strength and the good of the team than he does himself, which is an admirable quality about him. He does not seem to pride himself on winning things by himself, but rather he takes honor in the team’s overall success.

If you were to ask Jeter, he would certainly say he would have taken another World Series ring–for he and his team–over the Gold Glove this year.

I, for one, am proud to see a player exhibit that kind of morale. Jeter is a leader who wants the best for all of his teammates and not just himself. Congrats to Jeter, Cano, and Teixeira on winning the 2010 A.L. Gold Gloves.

 

Cliff Lee

The next Yankee?

Let the bidding, the rumors, and the possible offers begin.

The Yankees reached out to big-name free agent starter Cliff Lee yesterday, paying him a visit at his home in Arkansas. According to several reports, Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman flew out to meet Lee, one of the Yankees’ top off-season priorities.

The Yankee GM is looking to land Lee

Several reporters said the meeting was informal; almost a “meet-and-greet” if you will, which is not uncommon when a team is seeking a free agent. After all, communication is always important when it comes to making deals. Just ask the Red Sox when they wanted Alex Rodriguez at the end of the 2003 season.

Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker said he probably will not make a decision until the winter meetings begin next month. Braunecker also stated that what happened during the ALCS probably will not affect Lee’s decision on where he will pitch in 2011.

To refresh your memory, Lee’s wife Kristen was apparently called names, taunted, and spat at during the ALCS at Yankee Stadium–all happening as Lee was dominating the Yankees on his way to helping the Texas Rangers claim the A.L. Championship. 

According to reports, an apology for those despicable actions may have been given to Lee’s wife when Cashman visited Lee yesterday.


Lee just might be a Yankee 

Looking at the situation right now, I feel it will come down to Texas and New York for Lee; one or the other. It will be almost a proverbial “off-season ALCS rematch,” but with the Yanks and Rangers competing for Lee instead of the A.L. title.

Lee has said that he would not mind returning to Texas in 2011, but what also has to be considered is the Yankees’ aggressiveness.

There’s no telling what kind of a deal Cashman and the front office will piece together; they sought Lee back in July and came within an eyelash of landing him in a trade, but were ultimately beat out by the Rangers. It’s no secret that the Yanks want him.

Not to mention the fact that Yankee ace CC Sabathia is good friends with Lee off the field, going back to their days on the Cleveland Indians. He could certainly play a role in deciding where Lee ends up next season.

There are many Yankee fans who want to see Lee in pinstripes. Considering how he has owned the Yankees in the past and how valuable he could be as a number two starter, of course the Yankee faithful is going to want him in pinstripes. Sabathia and Lee have the potential to be the most lethal “one-two punch” in the American League, maybe in baseball.

Yet, there are those who do not want to see it happen. Even the most die-hard Yankee loyalists are arguing that it’s not fair for the Yankees to spend the kind of outrageous money to land Lee in a signing–and in a lot of ways they have a valid point.  Lee is going to ask for a Sabathia-like deal, probably lobbying for a huge contract with a number of years and a lot of money attached to it.

Too much $$

Is it really fair for the Yankees to go out and do that? Probably not, and I say that as a die-hard Yankee fan. They already spent a quarter of a $billion on three players prior to 2009, and that got them a championship.

It’s just another reason there should be a salary cap in Major League Baseball. Payroll disparity is becoming more and more of issue as the years go by, and no, it’s not fair. Teams like the Kansas City Royals, the Oakland Athletics, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Seattle Mariners could only dream of signing a free agent for big money and multiple years.

However…I am all for whatever makes the Yankees World Champions in 2011. And, although it really isn’t fair, if Lee is going to help bring the title back to the Bronx, I say go for it; offer him the world and sign him.

Lee just better live up to the contract, should he get it. If he gets the big deal and they lose in 11 months…we are going to have a serious problem on our hands.

 

Right now I’d like to say some thank yous!

First off, thanks to the readers of MLBlogs for their support. Yankee Yapping was ranked no. 3 in October, surprisingly beating out a lot of the San Francisco Giant blogs, which really shocked me. I stopped blogging after the ALCS ended (call it depression, lol) yet still secured the number three spot.

No. 3!!!!!!

So thanks for that everyone!!! No. 3 is the highest I’ve been so far. (If I ever make it to no. 1 it would be a miracle; it’d be extremely difficult to knock my good friend Jane off the top. She blogs every day and certainly deserves the no. 1 spot month in and month out!)

I’d also like to thank the North County News here in New York for giving me my first writing job. Last weekend I covered the local high school football game and submitted my first article as a freelance reporter.

 I will be at it again this weekend, this time covering high school field hockey.

Yeah, I know, it’s not exactly my dream–the press box at Yankee Stadium–but it’s definitely a start.  I understand the concept of working my way up and hopefully/eventually I’ll be covering the Yankees; living out my dream and sitting in that press box with the rest of the writers.

Please check out my first article for the NCN and thanks again for all the support.

Go Yankees!!!


Thank you, Everyone!!!!! :)

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