Along with a subpar May, comparisons to 1965 and premature eulogies for Alex Rodriguez, unsourced whispers of an impending Yankee sale seem to crop up annually. This year, it all happened during the same week as a few hours after Joel Sherman compared the 2012 Yankees to the 1965 crew and A-Rod homered twice to end a long dinger drought, The Daily News reported that the Yankees may be for sale.
The article itself announcing the alleged sale was replete with Wall Street insiders and baseball sources. No one wanted to go on the record saying much of anything. “There has been chatter all around the banking and financial industries in the city for a couple of weeks now,” a baseball source said.
Noting that the Dodgers’ sale could lead to a $3 billion valuation for the Yanks, another unnamed source agreed on the timing. “It would definitely be the right time for the family to sell,” the source said. “The value of the team couldn’t be higher, but at the same time, it’s an older team in a division with younger teams getting better at the same time a lot of the Yankees’ core veterans are starting to go into decline.”
Of course, the age of the current team would have little impact on the intentions of someone looking to make a long-term investment in the Yanks. No one today cares about who was on the Yankees in 1973 when George Steinbrenner bought the team.
Reading the Daily News article closely though, we see the thesis begin to fall apart. The unsourced quotes concern timing. Everyone agrees now would be a great time to sell the Yanks, but “now” is always a great time to sell a baseball team. As baseball is growing with no signs of slowing down, any team — and especially the Yankees — is a valuable commodity. The News’ strongest argument for the sale seemingly is Hal Steinbrenner’s reluctance to hand out large contracts and his hands-off ownership approach. I’m not so sure either of those are negatives.
The Yankees, meanwhile, went into full-scale on-the-record denial mode. “I can say to you there is absolutely, positively nothing to this,” Randy Levine said. “The Steinbrenners are not selling the team.”
“I just learned of the Daily News story,” Hal Steinbrenner said in a statement. “It is pure fiction. The Yankees are not for sale. I expect that the Yankees will be in my family for many years to come.”
Even as Bill Madden stuck by his story, Lonn Trost too denied the rumors. “We’re aghast at such a story,” he said on the radio this morning.
“My impression is not only do they all love being part of it, I think they are interested in handing it to their kids,” Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman said to Joel Sherman. “I think they want the family to be involved for generations to come. The Steinbrenners love owning the Yankees — and they are damn good at it. I have gotten no impression that they want to do anything but own the Yankees. They are the only ones who know the truth, but my impression is they are not even entertaining selling the Yankees.”
Furthermore, Major League Baseball, involved in the sale of all of its member clubs, put out its own statement: “Major League Baseball has received no indications from any representatives of the Yankees or anyone else that the Club is for sale.”
So on the one hand, we have speculation that the club could be put up for sale, and on the other, we have everyone on record denying that the club is for sale. That doesn’t even account for Richard Sandomir’s note on the Yankees trust. In my mind, the fact that the family would incur significant tax penalties is likely the biggest factor keeping the club off the market.
As fans of the team who have long grown accustomed to the Steinbrenner’s free-spending and largely hands-off ownership, what are we to make of this? Yankee fans live in fear that a rich New York family with sports ties such as the Dolans could buy the team and ruin it. No names, though, have been attached to this offer. So are the Yanks floating this story to gauge interest? The across-the-board denials suggest not. Is someone trying to make interest in the team known? Perhaps.
Right now, we know what’s on the record: The Yankees are not for sale, and no one is on the verge of buying them. But money talks, and if the right offer comes around, the Steinbrenner family will be tempted to cash out. It’s only, after all, a business, and the Yankees today aren’t for sale until the day they are.
The bad news on Mariano Rivera from Joe Girardi: “It appears that he has a torn ACL. He will obviously go back to New York and be examined by our guys.” If this initial diagnosis holds true, Rivera will likely be out for at least 6-8 months. Rivera had hinted that 2012 would be his final season, but he had also said he wanted to go out on his terms. We’ll see what this means for his future.
Rivera, speaking through tears in the clubhouse, talked of his injury and future. He said he caught his spike between the grass and dirt and could not pull himself up. He injured his ACL and meniscus. “It’s more mentally than physically,” he said. “I let the team down.”
The Yanks’ closer injured himself in the outfield during batting practice but said he had no regrets. “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it over again,” he said of shagging in the outfield.
When asked if he would return to pitch again this year, Rivera teared up. “At this point, I don’t know. I’ll have to face this first,” Rivera said.
The Yankees, meanwhile, now have an immediate hole in their game plan. With Mariano out of the picture for the foreseeable future, the club will have to find a new pitcher for a role Mariano has filled since 1997. While speaking with reporters after the game, Girardi spoke about the current state of the bullpen. “You lose a Hall of Famer. That changes it a lot,” he said “If that’s what it is, that’s about as bad as it gets.” Either David Robertson or Rafael Soriano could fill in, and Girardi said he was going to sleep on this decision. Considering how Girardi uses the closer, I’d rather see Soriano take the 9th inning and Robertson stay in the fireman role. They can’t really go wrong with either though.
After the game, David Robertson spoke honestly of the injury and his future role in the bullpen. “I don’t know if I’m prepared to do it or not, “he said of closing. “I’m going to go out there and give it my best. I’ve never done it.” For what its worth, Robertson has not allowed a run since August 29 and has given up just one run since July 24 over a span of 37.2 innings.
Girardi, grim during his interview, tried to find some glimmer of hope, but this news is dismaying. “That’s a preliminary report, and that’s not a good report,” the Yanks’ manager said. “Good teams find ways to overcome things, and if we want to play in October, we’ll have to overcome it.”
“It’s bad. It’s bad. There’s no other way you can put it,” Derek Jeter said after the game.
Rivera, 42, is Major League Baseball’s all-time saves leader with 608. A 12-time All Star, Rivera has won five World Series with the Yanks and earned himself the 1999 World Series MVP. He is widely respected throughout baseball and has been a durable and steady presence at the back end of the Yanks’ bullpen since 1996.
Update by Mike (7:49pm): They’re calling it a “twisted right knee” at the moment and Rivera is headed for an MRI. He was examined by the training staff and the Royals’ team doctor.
7:19pm: According to multiple reports out of Kansas City, Mariano Rivera was taken off the field during batting practice this evening after he apparently hurt his right knee while shagging balls in the outfield. According to MLB’s Whitney Holtzman, Rivera was “writing in pain, holding his knee” after going down. Royals’ broadcaster Nate Bukaty says Yankee players believe Rivera slipped on the warning track while others say he “stumbled or hit the wall.”
Either way, he was carted off the field with assistance from Joe Girardi and the team medical staff. David Waldstein reported that the Yanks’ closer was in obvious pain, and he is putting no weight on his right leg. As of 7:30, the YES Network is on the air covering this story.
Clearly, this is not a good development, but we have no prognosis now. We’ll have word from the team as soon as they release anything. If 2012 truly is Rivera’s last season, this is not a good way for him to go out.
Bill “Moose” Skowron, a mainstay of the great Yankee dynasty of the 1950s and long-time fan favorite at Old Timers’ Day, has passed away at the age of 81. Moose was a first baseman during the years of Mickey Mantle and was a five-time All Star with the Yankees and White Sox. He also won five World Series win the Yanks and Dodgers and is the only player to baseball history to homer for one team in the World Series and then homer against that team in the following year’s Fall Classic. He completed that feat in 1963 while with Los Angeles.
In 1087 games with the Yankees, Skowron hit .294/.346/.496 with 165 home runs. He always drew a rousing ovation during his myriad Old Timers’ Day games, and his baseball card from the mid-1950s that my dad had when I was a child remain one of my earliest memories of card collecting. He will be missed in the Bronx this year.
On Monday morning, New York City’s long-running R&B station Kiss FM will lose its music. Shortly after midnight, the station will flip from music to sports talk radio as ESPN is moving its operations from 1050 on the AM dial to 98.7 FM. It’s a big move for New York City radio as sports now invade FM, and it’s a move that could impact the future of the New York Yankees’ radio broadcasts as well.
Currently, the Yanks are wrapping up an extended radio stay on WCBS AM 880. Their long-term deal expired after the 2011 season, but with an ESPN move rumored since early last year, the club opted to re-up for one more season with CBS before setting off a radio bidding war. In doing so, the club allowed ESPN to find a radio home that would boost its signal and provide a more inviting home for the Yanks’ radio broadcasts.
With this weekend’s looming format change, then, the pieces are in place for a fight over the rights to the Yanks’ broadcasts, but it’s currently unclear what that deal will resemble. Currently, according to Phil Mushnick, CBS pays $14 million to broadcast the Yanks and $7 million for the rights to the Mets on WFAN. Supposedly, the media company loses money on the Yanks’ broadcasts, but that doesn’t mean WCBS isn’t interested. In fact, with the Mets’ deal expiring after 2013, CBS could retain the Yanks but move them to 660 AM a year later.
Of course, ESPN may have something to say about that as well. According to numerous reports, ESPN is spending big bucks on the move to FM in order to attract some baseball. With a better signal, they’re in a position to make an enticing offer for a New York team. While these behind-the-scene machinations are all well and good for clubs looking to line their pockets with broadcast dollars, what does it mean for those of us listening at home?
For starters, if the Yanks were to move to FM, their extended radio network becomes a lot more important locally. Take a look at the vast WCBS signal coverage map and compare that with 98.7 FM’s map. While the FM signal will be crisper — the better to hear John Sterling — its reach is not nearly as expansive as WCBS’. (For what its worth, night-time coverage for AM 1050, ESPN Radio’s current home, is limited.) So while New York City residents and those who live nearby will be able to better hear Yankee games, the folks a little farther away will have to find a local affiliate. As an AM landing home, WFAN, with its vast signal coverage area, would be ideal.
The bigger question though concerns two of the most controversial members of the Yankee family. Would the club retain John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, not-so-affectionately dubbed Ma and Pa Pinstripe by the New York City tabloids? If it were up to those same tabloid writers, the two broadcasters would be replaced tomorrow. Phil Mushnick of The Post has held a vendetta against the liberties Sterling takes with his play-by-play duties. Recently, Mushnick slammed Sterling for botching a call in the bottom of the 9th of a one-run game. Yesterday, he claimed a new radio deal could spell the end of Sterling and Waldman. “It’s highly unlikely,” he wrote, “that ESPN, if it lands the Yankees — especially attached to a big price tag — would be bound to retain the team’s current longtime broadcast duo of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman.”
In The Daily News, Bob Raissman has pushed a similar argument, but I don’t agree. For better or worse, Sterling is a part of the Yankees’ image right now. He’s been with the club since 1989 and serves as an M.C. on TV and at Yankee-related events. The club will likely require its next rights partner to retain Sterling. Waldman’s job is less secure, and last year, Moshe ran down a list of possible replacements. Still, I’d be more surprised if the duo weren’t together next year on a new station than if they are.
So the wheels are turning indeed. It doesn’t sound as though the Yanks are inclined to start their own radio network, but their rights will be in play. I’ve heard the games on FM up in New England, and the sound is certainly clearer than that traditional AM broadcast. To win the games though with a more limited signal, ESPN Radio will have to pay heavily. With the Yanks, though, money talks, and they won’t say no if the dollars are right.
While watching the Twins and Yankees play on Wednesday night, I took stock of the field and shook my head at the Twins’ uniforms. Minnesota sometimes sports these alternate road jerseys with grey pants, and the team looked as though they were more prepared for a Spring Training game than a regular season affair.
The Twins though aren’t the only team with solid color tops. All across baseball, either as part of a marketing effort or to vary up the styles, clubs have added alternate uniforms. The Angels were sporting solid red tops over the weekend; the Blue Jays wear something that’s, well, very blue; and the Red Sox too have solid red or blue tops for home or away games, respectively. Call me old fashioned — or a Yankee fan — but I much prefer the solid look.
The Yankees, meanwhile, have not broken with tradition. Except for one game during which MLB honored the Negro Leagues, the Bombers have steadfastly refused to discard their now-famous home pinstripes or road greys. The uniform may have looked a little different in the earlier decades of the 20th Century but for over 50 years, since the Yanks ditched the alternate road jersey in 1943, the club has adhered to tradition through thick, thin and whatever MLB marketing gimmick crossed its path.
That is, they’ve adhered to this tradition until today. When the Yankees and Red Sox take the field in a few hours at Fenway Park, they will be dressed in modern garb updated to resemble the 1912 team. It’s Throwback Day for the Yanks for the first time in franchise history. It’s finally okay to tinker with obdurate tradition as long as the club is honoring that tradition, and I like it.
For the game today, the Yanks will sport the cap atop this post. It’s an updated look on the 1912 original. This one, from New Era, is a bit different from the 1910-1911 Cooperstown Cap. The interlocking NY is the modern version and not the compressed version from the past. The colors though — a grey cap with a navy blue bill — are sleek.
The jersey, above, are similar yet different. Gone is the New York in block letters across the front, and the interlocking logo looks a bit more historic. The serifs on the letters are more pronounced and wider, and there will be no names or numbers on the back. It’s a look straight of the time when the AL ball club had yet to settle on an identity. They weren’t quite the Highlanders as many believe today, but they weren’t yet fully embraced as the Yankees yet. (The club will also be sporting appropriate stir-ups with the high-sock look.)
I enjoy this nod toward tradition. It’s not garish; it’s not ruining the Yankee brand or the Yankee legacy. It’s a glimpse of history in 2012. And at least the Yankees of 1912 had that identifiable logo and branding. The Red Sox throwback hat is, on the other hand, such a hilarious beauty that you’ll just have to see it for yourself.
For a few minutes in the top of third, things started getting dicey in the Bronx. The Twins had a 3-1 lead against CC Sabathia, but then the Yanks’ ace bore down. You could see the determination on his face as he blanked the Twins, and the Yanks’ bats carried the Bombers to an easy 8-3 win over the Twins. Order was restored to the Bronx.
CC’s Big Game
Coming into tonight’s game, CC Sabathia hadn’t pitched much like an ace. An ill-timed intentional walk on Opening Day led to a four-run first inning, and he struggled against the Orioles last week. Sporting an 0-0 record, he carried a 6.75 ERA into the game, and through the first 2.1 innings, it looked like more of the same. He couldn’t locate his pitches, and his breaking balls were tailing out over the plate.
After allowing back-to-back run-scoring hits to Clete Thomas and Jamey Carroll, CC seemed to discover his pitches. To my eye, he appeared annoyed with himself, and he responded by striking out Joe Mauer. Josh Willingham flied out to a sliding Brett Gardner — who said after the game that he felt a sting in his wrist on the play — to end the threat. From there, it was smooth sailing.
Sabathia retired 13 Twins in a row before Trevor Plouffe walked, and he pitched into the 8th inning. With seven strike outs in 7.1 innings, CC upped his total to 22 on the year and walked away a winner for the first time in 2012. Order had seemingly been restored to the top of the Yankee rotation.
Stewart’s Big Day
At the plate, the Yanks were making Twins’ starter Francisco Liriano work. He had reached 76 pitches when the Twins went to their bullpen, and the Yanks continued to feast. Tonight’s stars were the bottom half of the order as Eduardo Nunez, Brett Gardner and Chris Stewart went 6 for 10 with 5 runs batted in. Derek Jeter added a hit and a pair of RBIs, his 8th and 9th on the season. It took him until the Yanks’ 32nd game to reach that mark last year.
Stewart though should earn some recognition. The Yanks acquired him to boost their Minor League depth and give them a solid defensive back-up. Any hitting he does is gravy, and tonight, he helped with the bat. With one out and the bases loaded in the 3rd, Stewart lined Liriano’s 76th pitch into left field for a two-run single. The Yanks grabbed the lead, and they would never relinquish it.
In the 7th, with the Yanks holding to a 7-3 lead, Stewart found himself at bat again with Brett Gardner in scoring position. He again lifted a pitch into left field for his third RBI of the night, a new career high. Stewart won’t hit much; that’s not his role anyway. But for a night, he came through when he had to and helped cement the game for the Yanks.
Odds & Ends
After Monday night’s disappointing loss, the Yanks bounced back with a stress-free game over the Twins. We could use a few more of those this year — although three of the last five games have been stress-free wins.
While Derek Jeter picked up another hit, the middle of the Yanks’ order continued to do nothing. Robinson Cano and A-Rod went 1 for 9, and three of Cano’s outs came with runners on base. It’s been a rough beginning for those two, but they should break out in a big way soon enough.
Brett Gardner had a great night and saw his early-season triple slash line take a big jump. He’s now 9 for 28 with 5 walks and 5 runs scored on the season. His defense, as he showed with that diving play, has been spectacular in left. Andruw Jones‘ home run was a monster shot into the night.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
The third of this four-game series kicks off at 7:05 p.m. on Wednesday. Jason Marquis will make his Twins debut, and he’ll face Hiroki Kuroda, coming off a stellar outing on Friday afternoon. RAB Tickets has all the good deals.
When the Yankees return home on Friday to open the Bronx-based part of the 2012 season, they’ll bring with them a familiar face. The newly-retired Jorge Posada will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game. Posada, you may recall, was a part of five World Series teams, played in five All Star Games and has a strong case for a spot on a wall in Cooperstown. Depending upon how generous the Yanks are with uniform numbers, his could earn a spot in Monument Park as well.
The club also announced today that a star of the Broadway musical Newsies will sing the national anthem while a star of Jesus Christ Superstar will perform “God Bless America” in the seventh inning. I guess those Nederlander ties still run deep. The pre-game festivities will start at 12:40 so plan accordingly if you’re one of the lucky ones who gets to attend Opening Day in the House that George Built.
Magic Johnson and a group of investors sent shockwaves through baseball on Monday when Frank McCourt revealed the group’s $2 billion bid for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Coupled with a $150 million deal for the parking lots that surround Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine, it was a monstrous deal that not only dwarfed the next highest bid but set a new mark in professional sports. Of course, it left many in New York wondering for just how much the Yanks could be sold.
The Yankees brass, of course, noticed the sale. How could they not, after all, considering they control the most valuable franchise in baseball right now? “It is an incredible price. If they are worth $2 billion, one can only imagine how high the Yankees’ value is,” Randy Levine said to ESPN New York.
Hal Steinbrenner seemingly spoke in awe of the big figures as well. “It’s certainly a big price. It’s interesting,” he said. “No, I haven’t thought about how this would impact it. We’ll have to see what happens with that sale. It’s a big number.”
It’s a big number indeed, and the Steinbrenners insist they aren’t looking to sell the Yankees. They’re quite content to hold onto their inheritance and allow the team to continue to thrive. Between the YES Network and the team itself, the owners are sitting pretty. We can still play that “what if” game though. What if the Yankees were put up for sale?
As a starting point, we have the recent Forbes valuations. With little explanation, the business mag pegged the Yanks’ value at $1.85 billion, tops in the game. The Dodgers were second at $1.4 billion. A back-of-the-napkin calculation would lead one to believe the Yanks could sell then for $2.775 billion.
Yet, as Richard Sandomir writes in The Times today, not all things are equal. The Dodgers’ deal is a creature of good circumstance and geography that came in $650 million above the next highest bidder. Essentially Magic Johnson and his co-investors — who are going to pay in cash — were bidding against themselves. Sandomir summarizes:
Johnson and Walter are betting on reviving the Dodgers’ fortunes now that the Frank McCourt era is over. More important, the sale price is enormous because the buyers anticipate a huge windfall from a new cable TV deal that would go into effect after the 2013 season. [Investor Mark] Walter said: “It will be substantial.”
It will have to be. To get the most money, the Dodgers will probably be the centerpiece of a regional sports channel that will funnel enormous annual rights fees to the team and amass monthly subscriber fees from the cable, satellite and telephone companies that will carry its games.
A bevy of media companies are likely to line up to give the Dodgers the most lucrative deal, which could couple ownership of a channel with huge yearly rights payments. Time Warner Cable, for instance, is creating two networks, one in English, one in Spanish, with Johnson’s old team, the Los Angeles Lakers, at their core. The Lakers are expected to ultimately realize huge profits from the deal.
It’s worth noting as well that the Dodgers’ deal involved a significant chunk of change for the rights to revenue from the vast acres of parking lots that surround Chavez Ravine. The Yankees would enjoy no such luxury. The city controls the parking lots around Yankee Stadium, and in fact, the city controls the land underneath the stadium as well. No one wants to park in the transit-rich South Bronx, and the city would raise hell if it tried to sell the former park land. Ultimately, then, TV is king.
In contrast to the recently-acquired Cubs, who carried a purchase price of $845 million, the Dodgers’ next owners will benefit tremendously from a brand new TV deal, and that’s a luxury the Yankees also do not have right now. Their rights lie with the YES Network, in which, according to reports, the Yanks have a 30 percent share. Now, that alone could be worth around $1-$1.5 billion, but how to structure such a sale? To maximize their take, the Steinbrenners would have to sell the entire club and their YES share. Even without the fortuitous circumstances in Los Angeles, a Yankee sale involving the team and the TV network could reach $3 or even $4 billion.
At that point, questions begin to shift from “how much” to “who.” Who would spend $3 billion for a baseball franchise and a broadcast TV station that has no chance of controlling much of its Internet broadcast rights? (Those rights belong to MLB Advanced Media and will for the foreseeable future.) It may be a moot point as the Steinbrenners continue to say the club is not for sale, but one thing is certain: Baseball franchise values are on the rise.
On paper, the rich are getting richer, and so too are the smaller market teams. The Dodgers’ sale is a tide that can lift all boats. Frank McCourt, who invested just over $400 million in the Dodgers, walks away a very wealthy man. The Boss, on the other hand, spent just $10 million on the Yanks 40 years ago, and even as his children vow to keep the team, that allure of the cash must be strong indeed.
By now, as he enters his 18th season, Mariano Rivera has had nearly every sports accolade showered upon him. Considered the greatest reliever of all time, Rivera has been a constant for the Yanks in the ninth inning since 1997, and he was a force the season before. Now, five World Series and five Presidential elections later, Rivera is just as good as ever. He just allowed his first Spring Training hit on Sunday.
Rivera’s career has been, by any stretch, an odd one for baseball analysts to comprehend. For years, they’ve predicted a decline. He threw 80 innings as a 31-year-old in 2001 and appeared in only 45 games the next season. Joe Girardi has limited Rivera’s innings over the last few years, but even while throwing around only 60 innings, Rivera is still at the top of his game.
Last year, at age 41, Rivera with his cutter managed to strike out nearly a batter an inning while issuing just eight walks all season — two of those intentionally. He gave up just three home runs all season and made his fourth straight All-Star team en route to a season with 44 saves and a 1.91 ERA.
So what can we expect from Rivera? Over the past few years, his velocity has dipped to the low-90s, but his pinpoint control and the movement he gets out of his pitches has allowed him to excel. As analysts see his pitches grow less fine and slow down, the end is always near for Rivera, but the end has never arrived.
We could then worry about what a 42-year-old closer may bring to the Yanks, but that’s not the storyline that will surround Rivera this year. Earlier this spring, with rumors of an impending final season and subsequent retirement swirling, Rivera announced, well, nothing. He knows what he’s going to do, but he’s keeping it to himself. We’ll just have to wait it out until Rivera is good and ready to announce his plans for 2013.
Of course, by saying nothing, Rivera seemingly speaks volumes about his future. Observers in Tampa feel he is savoring Spring Training more so this year than ever before. He has his family in tow, and he’s treating it like a year to remember. These are signs that scream “the end is near.”
If it’s the end, Rivera will earn his toasts. He’ll take his farewell tour through the league, and the calm professionalism with which he does his job will be long remembered. The Yanks will try to find another closer, something they haven’t had to do since the mid-1990s, but as life moves forward, so too will baseball. Rivera will become part of the Yanks’ rich history.
Maybe Rivera will surprise us all. Maybe he’ll announce that he’s never going to quit. But with Andy Pettitte set to return, the Yanks could be set up for a literal storybook ending. No closer has saved more games for a starter in baseball history than Rivera has for Pettitte. So the season — and Rivera’s career — could very well end with Number 42 nailing down a save for Number 46 one more time. What Yankee fan would have it any other way?