Archive for Days of Yore

Those were the days. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Those were the days. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

By their own admission, the Yankees are heading into the season with some serious question marks on the infield. Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are both coming back from what amount to lost seasons while Brian Roberts has been battling injuries for almost a half-decade now. Kelly Johnson is a solid player but nothing more, yet he is the surest thing on the infield at the moment.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the infield was the strongest part of the Yankees’ roster. Jeter has been anchoring the infield (and the entire team, really) since 1996 and he’s had some truly great teammates over the years, so strong infield units are nothing new to New York. In fact, only five teams have had a 4+ WAR player at the four infield positions throughout baseball history, and a recent Yankees squad is one of them. Here’s the list:

Fifty-nine teams have boasted three 4+ WAR players on a single infield (most recently the 2013 Rangers), but only five teams have managed four such players. That’s it. It’s happened once in the last 30 years and three times in the last century. The Yankees, of course, had that one infield full of 4+ WAR players just five years ago, during their 2009 World Championship season. Let’s look back at their performances.

1B Mark Teixeira – .292/.383/.565 (141 OPS+), 43 2B, 39 HR, 5.1 WAR

Teixeira’s first year in pinstripes was his best by a not small margin, as he led the league in both homers and runs driven in (122). He finished second to Joe Mauer in the AL MVP voting but, in reality, he wasn’t even the best player on the Yankees’ infield. We’ll get to that in a bit. Following his typically slow start to the year — he was sitting on a .191/.328/.418 batting line as late as May 12th — Teixeira was a monster all summer, hitting .315/.396/.597 with 32 homers in the team’s final 129 games of the season. He just straight mashed that year. What a beast.

2B Robinson Cano – .320/.352/.520 (121 OPS+), 48 2B, 25 HR, 4.5 WAR

Man, remember how awful Robbie was in 2008? He hit .271/.305/.410 (86 OPS+) and was worth 0.2 WAR during that miserable campaign, which landed him in plenty of trade rumors. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten about all the Cano for Matt Kemp talk. My favorite part of that was signing then-free agent Orlando Hudson to take over at second. That would have been a disaster given the player Cano developed into. That 2009 season was Robbie’s first step towards joining the game’s elite, but on a rate basis, he was the least productive player on his own infield. Bananas.

SS Derek Jeter – .334/.406/.465 (125 OPS+), 27 2B , 18 HR, 30 SB, 6.6 WAR

Remember when I said Teixeira was not even the best player on the infield? That’s because Jeter was. The Cap’n was a monster from the leadoff spot, hitting for average, getting on base, stealing bases (30-for-35!), and, believe it or not, playing solid defense. The various metrics all say Jeter was above-average with the glove that year (+3 DRS, +6.3 UZR, +4 Total Zone), and while you can’t trust one season’s worth of defensive stats, I definitely remember believing he was playing better defense that year based on what I saw. Know how I always say you need unexpected contributions if you want to win the World Series? Jeter’s defense was an unexpected contribution in 2009. His bat was pretty awesome as well. What a season that was.

3B Alex Rodriguez – .286/.402/.532 (138 OPS+), 17 2B, 30 HR, 14 SB, 4.2 WAR

When the 2009 campaign opened, Cody Ransom was the starting third baseman. A-Rod was scheduled to miss the first few weeks of the season due to hip surgery, a surgery that kept him out until early-May. He famously hit a three-run homer on the very first pitch he saw in his first game back, then proceeded to hit (almost) like vintage A-Rod for the remainder of the summer. He and Teixeira were the most devastating 3-4 combination in the game for this one year. Rodriguez also managed to extend his record streak of consecutive seasons with 30+ homers and 100+ RBI to twelve thanks to a two-homer, seven-run batted inning in the final game of the regular season.

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Know what is really amazing about this infield? These four guys combined to play 594 of 648 possible games (91.7%) even though A-Rod missed the start of the year with the hip issue. They were awesome when they were on the field and they were on the field pretty much the entire season. The Yankees didn’t just have the best infield in baseball back in 2009, they legitimately had one of the best infield units in baseball history. It was the centerpiece of the championship team — everyone else was part of the supporting cast.

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Former Yankees infielder and broadcaster Jerry Coleman passed away at age 89 on Sunday. He spent his entire nine-year playing career in the Bronx, hitting .263 with 16 homeruns and 22 stolen bases from 1949-1957 while helping the team to four World Series titles (1949-1951, 1956). Coleman has made several appearances at Old Timers’ Day over the years.

After his playing career ended, Coleman broadcast Yankees’ games for WCBS radio and WPIX television from 1963-1969. He returned home to California in the early-1970s and broadcast the Padres from 1973 through last season. Coleman received several military medals after serving in both World War II and the Korean War. He is the only MLB player to see active combat in two wars and he spoke to Bryan Hoch about his military service a few years ago. Condolences to his family and friends.

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Former Yankees outfielder Paul Blair passed away at age 69 yesterday. He reportedly died shortly after collapsing at a celebrity bowling tournament in Maryland. Blair, who spent the majority of his career with the Orioles, was with the Yankees from 1977-1980 and helped the team to the 1977 and 1978 World Series titles. He was one of the best defensive center fielders in history and a staple at Old Timers’ Day. Condolences to his family and friends.

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Former Yankees first baseman and outfielder Mike Hegan passed away at his South Carolina home yesterday due to heart problems. He was 71. Hegan played two stints in the Bronx (1964-1967 and 1973-1974) and was part of the 1964 AL pennant squad. He later won a World Series with the 1972 Athletics. Hagen was the last player to bat at the pre-renovation Yankee Stadium in 1973 and he also hit the first homer in Seattle Pilots franchise history. He worked as a radio broadcaster for the Indians for 14 years after his playing days were over. Condolences to his family and friends.

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While speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees are planning to retire #6 in honor of Joe Torre at some point. “We haven’t given it out for a reason,” said the GM. “It’s been tucked away for quite some time. At some point, that’ll happen, not doubt about it. Clearly it has already unofficially happened.”

Torre, 73, was unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame by the Expansion Era committee on Monday thanks to his 12-year stint in the Bronx. The divorce was not pretty, but the two sides have since made amends and Torre has returned to Yankee Stadium on several occasions. Old Timer’s Day, Mariano Rivera‘s going away ceremony, stuff like that. He deserves to have his number retired and I’m glad the team will make it official at some point.

Fun Fact: The last player to wear #6 before Torre was Tony Fernandez in 1995. Here’s the full list.

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(Photo via Mark Feinsand)

(Photo via Mark Feinsand)

The manager of the most recent Yankees’ dynasty is heading to Cooperstown. Joe Torre was unanimously elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the 16-person Expansion Era committee, it was announced. Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa were elected unanimously as well. Former MLBPA head Marvin Miller, former Yankees manager Billy Martin, former Yankees pitcher Tommy John, and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner were not elected.

“It hits you like a sledgehammer,” said Torre after being elected to the Hall of Fame. “I really have to thank [Joe McDonald] and Donald Grant for allowing me to manage the New York Mets at the age of 36 … once you get into the competition, it never gets old.”

Torre, 73, managed the Yankees from 1996-2007 and led the team to six pennants and four World Series titles. The club went 1,173-767 (.605) during his 12-year tenure and finished in first place ten times. Torre also managed Mets (1977-1981), Braves (1982-1984), Cardinals (1990-1995), and Dodgers (2008-2010), but he is heading to the Hall of Fame because of his success in New York. He is the second winningest manager in franchise history behind Joe McCarthy, who won 1,460 games from 1931-1946.

CluelessJoeCover“On behalf of the Steinbrenner family and our entire organization, I’d like to congratulate Joe Torre on his induction today into the Hall of Fame,” said Hal Steinbrenner in a statement. “Joe led our team during one of the most successful runs in our storied history, and he did it with a quiet dignity that was true to the Yankee way. Joe’s place in Yankees history has been secure for quite some time and it is appropriate that he now gets to take his place among the greats in Cooperstown.”

As a player, Torre hit .297/.365/.452 (129 OPS+) with 2,342 hits and 252 homeruns in parts of 18 seasons. He spent the majority of his career as a catcher and first baseman but also played some third. He won the 1971 NL MVP with the Cardinals, when he led baseball in hits (230), batting average (.363), runs driven in (137) and total bases (352). Torre, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, also played for the Braves and Mets. Although his playing career was excellent, he’s going in as a manager.

Miller, Martin, John, and Steinbrenner all received fewer than six votes. Twelve votes are needed for induction. Miller not being elected is ridiculous given his impact on baseball and the union, but he’s been getting snubbed for years. It’s par for the course at this point. Steinbrenner’s legacy is a mixed bag with a lot of good and a lot of bad. I think he belongs and will eventually get in, but I can definitely understand him being left out. That’s a case worthy of much debate.

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The BBWAA announced the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot today, which you can see right here. It runs a ridiculous 36 players deep. Nineteen of those 36 players are eligible for the first time, including all-time greats Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas. Former Yankee Mike Mussina is among the first timers as well. He is right on the Cooperstown bubble — I think he belongs — and there are good arguments to be made on both sides.

Don Mattingly will be on the ballot for the 14th time, but he received only 13.2% of the vote last year. He’s a long way off from the 75% needed for induction with only two more years of eligibility. Other former Yankees on the ballot include Armando Benitez, J.T. Snow, Kenny Rogers, Richie Sexson, Roger Clemens, and Tim Raines. Obviously some have greater legacies than others. Voters can only vote for ten players maximum, and there looks to be about 15 Cooperstown-worthy player on the ballot this year. These next few years will be messy.

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George Steinbrenner, Joe Torre, and Billy Martin are part of the 12-man Hall of Fame ballot to be voted on by the 16-member Expansion Era Veterans Committee next month. Marvin Miller and former Yankee Tommy John are also on the ballot, which you can see right here. Twelve votes are required for induction. Electees will be announced on December 9th, the first day of the Winter Meetings in Orlando. The Boss should be a lock, but who really knows with this stuff.

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Former Yankees right-hander Johnny Kucks passed away at age 80 last week, according to the AP. The Hoboken native spent the 1955-1959 seasons in pinstripes and is best remembered for throwing a three-hit shutout against the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game Seven of the 1956 World Series, when he was only 23. Kucks was traded to the Kansas City Athletics in 1959 and went 54-56 with a 4.10 ERA (93 ERA+) in parts of six big league seasons. Condolences to his family and friends.

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I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but at some point recently the Baseball Hall of Fame partnered with the Scout of the Year Foundation to create a free and searchable online database of old scouting reports. The data is very incomplete — it doesn’t include every player and it only goes back so far — and the database itself can be slow and a bit of a pain, but those are minor nuisances compared to the wealth of information available.

Thanks to the database, we can look back at what professional talent evaluators — people who do this for a living — had to say about our favorite players once upon a time. For example, here are some bits and pieces of reports from various teams about a young high school senior from Michigan named Derek Jeter back in 1992:

Derek Jeter Scouting Reports

You can click every image in those post for a larger view, and I highly recommend you do just that.

Within those report snippets, future first ballot Hall of Famer Derek Jeter is described as having:

  • a good face
  • a hi butt
  • an impact both offensively and defensively
  • makeup 2b a star
  • some hot dog in him

Once upon a time, Jeter was a showoff. Wrap your head around that. All of the reports agreed he was a future star though, and in the end that is what was most important.

After the jump — lots of images and I don’t want to cripple anyone’s computer — are some opinions on Alex Rodriguez back from 1993, when he was a high school senior:

Read More→

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