A dissenting opinion on the Cervelli-Johnson collision

In my younger and more vulnerable years, I caught for a variety of baseball teams at different levels. I caught for eight years and bore the brunt of my fair share of dings, bruises, black-and-blue marks and home plate collisions. So when I saw Elliot Johnson run into Francisco Cervelli and the Yanks’ young catcher come up in pain, I was empathetic.

What I did not feel was outrage or this sense of injustice that seems to be emanating from some — but not all — Yankee blogs and from the Yankees and their fired-up manager himself. In fact, to me, the collision looked like a clean play between youngsters trying hard to make an impression with their Big League coaches. Cervelli’s injury was an unfortunate freak accident; it didn’t stem from any malice between the two players.

Back during my baseball days, I would spend the months from the spring through the summer playing ball. After school or in school, over the summer and into the fall, I would be on the diamond playing games. I wasn’t great, but I wasn’t terrible. I could hold my own on my high school varsity team and could have played in college too if athletics had been a priority.

Every year in March, my high school team would fly south for our own spring training. Seven or eight years ago, the weather in New York in March and April was unreliable, and with a short season, we had to get as much practice time and as many games in as possible. During out trips to Arizona and later on during our season, we would play games that didn’t count against out-of-league opponents. Some of these teams — the ones from Arizona — were really good; others — the ones from up north getting in practice in the sun — weren’t. During the season, we would play games against out-of-league teams such as Iona Prep and tense in-league contests against Poly Prep or Hackley that would determine how and when our season ended.

But day in and day out, one thing held true: No matter who we were playing, we came to win, and once we as a team stepped on to the diamond, it was very, very hard to turn it down until after the game was over. We would, in March, play to win. We would play hard; we would play tough. If that meant a tough slide or a play at the plate, so be it. Even if the games didn’t count in our overall record, we couldn’t just dial it down out of some sense of fairness. Baseball is baseball.

So now look at the Cervelli/Johnson collision. A then-23-year-old was rounding third heading home with a 21-year-old catcher blocking the plate. As any baseball player knows, you have to score, and in the split seconds between the base path and home plate, instinct takes over. Did Johnson have time to think to himself, “It’s Spring Training. I shouldn’t barrel over the catcher. I should try to slide around”?

As a former player, I can safely say, “Of course not.” Johnson knew what he had to do; he knew it from years of playing baseball, and he couldn’t just turn it off. That’s not how it works at any level. Once a baseball player hits that third base bag, years of baseball training and instinct take over.

What surprises me too are the reactions from the Yankees. Joe Girardi, an intense player and an intense manager, should know this. Shelley Duncan, mouthing off about retribution, should know this. Clearly, Don Zimmer knows this. He’s spoken the most sense over the last few days.

What happened over the weekend was unfortunate. It was also a bad accident. It involved a player trying to field his position and a runner acting as any baseball runner does. Maybe — but doubtfully — a veteran with years of experience would have tried to find a way to avoid a collision. Maybe another catcher tries a swipe tag. But Cervelli stood his ground; Johnson stood his; and neither the twain shall meet. This collision shouldn’t involve retribution; it should simply involve Cervelli’s healing as fast as he can and everyone else’s remember that a baseball player can’t just turn it down five feet from home plate.

Cervelli out indefinitely with broken wrist

As if getting hit in the wrist by David Price wasn’t bad enough, Frankie Cervelli had his wrist broken on a collision at the plate with Elliot Johnson during today’s game. Slated to start the year with Double-A Trenton, Cervelli will be out for an undetermined length of time. “I think it’s uncalled for in spring training. You get people hurt and that’s what we got, we got Cervelli hurt,” said Joe Girardi. I can’t agree more–there’s no place for a play like that at this time of year, and I’m fairly certain there will be some retribution at some point. The two teams meet again on Wednesday, and the Rays visit the Bronx for a weekend series starting April 4th. Watch out.

(Hat tip to barry for the link.)

Matsui’s knee not quite there yet?

My Baseball Bias tips us off to this post at the Let’s Go Yankees Blog about Hideki Matsui‘s knee. Let’s Go Yankees Blog sends us to an article on MLB.com’s Japanese affiliate. Got all that? There will be a quiz.

The article, according to Jessica Lee’s Taiwan-based blog, concerns Hideki Matsui and his road to recovery. While I tried to run it through Google Translate’s Japanese-to-English Beta translate program, the output included the following line: “Godzilla’s ass with a fire.” Clearly, that’s not Matsui’s problem right now.

Lucky for us, Jessica lives with a Japanese-speaking roommate who gave us this translation:

Matsui is going to go to USA 10 days earlier in order to check his right knee condition with the doctor in New York who help him operate his right knee surgery. He will then go to Tampa to check his right knee condition with Yankee Trainers again. This is not a normal action which go to USA earlier for Matsui. He usually trains with his formal Japanese team and then reports in spring training.

Right now, Matsui doesn’t feel pain about his right knee, but he can’t run. He is not sure he can run or not when he reports to Tampa. He understands he has to fight with Johnny Damon for left outfielder job and wants to do his best. That’s why he decides to go to USA earlier.

So basically, Matsui is coming back to the States earlier than anticipated because his knee may not to be responding to treatment as quickly as it should. He can’t run and doesn’t know when he’ll be able to run.

If this holds up through Spring Training, the Yankees will be trying to fill both their DH and 1B positions from a combination of injured, old guys – Jason Giambi, Matsui – and young role players not yet suited for prime time – Wilson Betemit, Shelley Duncan. Good thing the rest of the offense is so potent.

Farnsworth OK after ‘hip pop’

With two outs in the ninth yesterday, Kyle Farnsworth pulled up a bit lame, and Joe Torre and the trainers rushed to the field. No one said much about it after the game, and the only word on his leg comes from Kat O’Brien. Farnsworth felt his hip pop and says he’s feeling OK. As any athlete knows, pop – shoulder, knee, elbow – happen, and the lingering effects are usually minimal. It’s all good.

Alex Rodriguez and the Still-Sore Hamstring?

I had nearly forgotten about this, but on July 2, the Yankees’ season hung in the balance. The Yanks hadn’t yet pushed to within 5 of the Red Sox and 0.5 of the Wild Card, but there went A-Rod, limping off the field with a hammy problem. The Yanks’ season could have ended in July, but Rodriguez returned quickly. We breathed a sigh of relief.

However, things haven’t quite been the same. Look:

AB AB/HR AVG OBP SLG
Pre-Hammy 299 10.68 .321 .419 .669
Post-Hammy 117 14.62 .239 .370 .496

Statistically, the post-hammy injury is a small sample. It’s been just a shade over 100 at-bats, and A-Rod’s hitting around .250 during that time. It could happen to anyone at any point in the season over that stretch really. Additionally, during the last month, A-Rod’s had 500 on the mind. We know how he deals with the psychology of sports and competition. This slump could have been spurred on as much by that drive as by anything else.

But in the back of my mind, I can’t help but think that Alex Rodriguez, a tough competitor, just didn’t give his hamstring the rest it needed. Maybe I’m wrong; his stolen base numbers are right on par and his mobility in the field seems fine. Meanwhile the Yankees are winning and scoring runs without as much production from A-Rod as they were enjoying when he was all but carrying the team.

But I can’t stop thinking about that hamstring now that the memory’s been triggered. What if it’s still bothering him?