Two ex-Yankees on their times in the Bronx

If the Yankees manage to snap out of their World Series-less funk and return to their smart team-building ways of the late 1990s, Jason Giambi and Randy Johnson will forever live as the two biggest symbols of Aught-Aught decadence. The Yankees spent a whopping amount of dollars on both of those players and additional prospects on Randy Johnson. When Johnson left after 2006 and Giambi left this winter, their departures were quick and rather forgettable.

Over the weekend, the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea checked in with the Big Unit and the Giambino as they settle in to their new digs and their new old digs, respectively. The two former Yankees had widely divergent views on playing in the Bronx.

Neither Randy Johnson nor Jason Giambi won a World Series with the Yankees, which is why neither is viewed in that Paul O’Neill-Scott Brosius “True Yankee” sort of way, whatever the heck that is. Johnson’s and Giambi’s sin was playing on teams that fell short of winning it all, the Yankees’ only goal.

“If you don’t win the World Series, it’s considered a failing year,” said Johnson, who’s working near his Livermore roots after signing a one-year, $8 million contract with the Giants. “Those are extremely high expectations. It’s not that easy, though. I don’t think you should be measured on whether you won a World Series or not because the best team doesn’t always win the World Series.”

[snip]

“I loved having that pressure on you,” said Giambi, who returned to the A’s for a $5.25 million guarantee. “If you’re an athlete and really love the game, it’s pretty incredible. The expectation level from the media to the fans, it’s awesome, an incredible environment to play in. I know some people don’t thrive in it, but I enjoyed it.”

For some reason, Shea’s main goal seems to be taking jabs at the Yankees. He openly mocks the “True Yankee” moniker that some players have earned, and he notes in the omitted section the Yanks’ winter spending spree. In a way, though, he misses the point.

For Giambi, his time in New York was about excelling on the big stage, and he seemed to do that just fine. While his contract and tenure here will be forever marked by steroids, the Yanks got their money’s worth out of Jason, and it wasn’t his fault the Yanks’ pitching fell apart.

Between Randy Johnson and the Yanks, though, there is no love lost. Even in Johnson’s words — “I don’t think you should be measured on whether you won a World Series or not because the best team doesn’t always win the World Series” — are hints of excuses. He’s still trying to defend himself as the man who couldn’t put away the Angels in 2005 and couldn’t deal with the Tigers in 2006. He is every bit the insecure pitcher Joe Torre describes him to be in his book and nothing like the bulldog the Yankees thought he was.

When all is said and done, neither Randy nor Jason will go down in the annals of Yankee history as representative of a good time. This decade has seen the team try to find a way to return to World Series glory with no luck. For one of them, it certainly wasn’t from a lack of trying, and from the other, it will always just be sour grapes.

Yanks content with Alex being Alex

It’s been said before, and it will be said many times in the future: Alex Rodriguez is a polarizing figure. Some look at his production and let the conversation end there. Others look to his numerous (to be generous) quirks and his recent history of poor Octobers, and decide they don’t like him. Whether the fans like him or not, he’s under contract with the team for the next nine seasons, so it’s advisable to get used to his antics. The Yanks already have.

That’s the subject of Buster Olney’s column for today, and it’s quite amusing:

The rest of the world might ask: Why has A-Rod befriended Madonna? Inside the Yankees’ family, the response is That’s Alex.

The rest of the world might ask: Why would A-Rod host a press conference about his past steroid use and create more questions than he answers? Inside the Yankees’ family, the response is That’s Alex.

And today, the rest of the world might ask: Why would A-Rod pose for a picture in which he appears to be kissing himself in a mirror? Inside the Yankees’ family, the response is That’s Alex.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be sure to make fun of him for it,” one teammate told Kat O’Brien.

Fans, of course, will do what they please. Many feel a sense of entitlement, in that they spend so much time and money on the team that they have the right to boo whomever they please. I won’t argue with that, though I don’t agree with it. I root for the laundry, and even though I’ve disliked Yankee players in the past I’ve refrained from booing. Why would I boo someone I want to succeed?

Still, this seems like the best mindset at this point. Let Alex be Alex. As long as he produces on the field, nothing else matters in my mind.

Swisher put in tough position with ChiSox, Yanks

On January 3, 2008, the White Sox acquired Nick Swisher from the Oakland A’s for Ryan Sweeney, Gio Gonzalez, and Fautino De Los Santos. This seemed like a pretty good trade for the Sox. They had seen Swisher play center field more than any other position with Oakland in 2007, and thought adding his bat to their lineup would make the team better. As we know, things didn’t work out all too well there. Says his former manager Ozzie Guillen:

“When you have a bad season like that, a lot of people can be blamed if you want to be negative,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen recalled on Sunday. “(Swisher) did do some good things for us, playing out of position all season long. But when he started having trouble and was struggling, he couldn’t get control of that.

Part of the problem, I think, is that not only was Swisher playing a relatively new position for him — he hadn’t really played any center except for in 2007 — but also that he hit atop the batting order. Before 2008 he had hit leadoff a total of zero times in his major league career.

Ozzie is right in saying that “a lot of people can be blamed,” but it’s not only if you want to be negative. Swish definitely hit better when placed lower in the lineup, though “better” is a relative term here. In his 215 plate appearances from the seventh spot, Swish OPS’d a decent .779. That was a better OPS than what Ken Griffey Jr. mustered from center field in the second half.

Established players and rising stars stood in Swisher’s way. If the White Sox weren’t happy with Swish as a center fielder, they were stuck. Carlos Quentin, acquired exactly one month before Swisher, was in the midst of a breakout year, and established right fielder Jermaine Dye was having a good season. At first base, where Swisher did get reps, Paul Konerko was going to get every chance to prove that he could still hit. He did in the second half, posting a line of .270/.374/.535. In other words, there was no place to play Swish regularly if he wasn’t going to play center.

When the Sox traded him to the Yanks in November, it seemed like he’d finally have a starter’s role at one position: first base. Then, of course, the Yanks went out and got Mark Teixeira, complicating matters further. Where would Swisher play? That seemed to be a big question following the Teixeira acquisition.

Despite being displaced at one position, Swisher has a real chance for playing time with the Yanks, a chance he couldn’t get in Chicago unless he flourished in center field. All three outfield positions are open in one way or another. Swish could win the starting right fielder job over Xavier Nady, which is probably his best bet for playing time. He could take a good number of reps in center field if the Yanks so chose to do that, since there’s no budding superstar or established vet in that spot. Even at DH and left field, Swish could see some reps. Matsui and Damon are both 35 years old this year and could use days off here and there to stay fresh.

Had the White Sox hung onto him, Ozzie believes that Swish “would be in the same position he was last year — a fourth outfielder.” That’s the situation he could face on the Yankees too, but given the construction of each team, it looks like he’ll get a far better shot at significant playing time in New York. Which, I believe, will be Chicago’s loss and New York’s gain.