Archive for Days of Yore

Both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui will make their Old Timers’ Day debuts later this month, the Yankees announced. That’s going to be a lot of fun. Former right-hander John Montefusco will make his Old Timers’ debut as well. The full roster of Old Timers can be seen right here. The usual cast of characters will be there.

Old Timer’s Day is June 22nd this year, so not this coming Sunday, the following Sunday. The Yankees will be unveiling the second of four new Monument Park plaques that day, this one in honor of Goose Gossage. Tino Martinez’s plaque will be unveiled one day earlier. Plaques for Paul O’Neill and Joe Torre are coming later this summer. Torre is having his number retired as well.

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Jun
04

Don Zimmer passes away at 83

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(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Former Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer has passed away at age 83, his family confirmed. He had surgery in April to correct a leaky heart valve and had been in a Florida rehabilitation center ever since. Zimmer spent the 1983 and 1996-2003 seasons on the Yankees’ coaching staff.

“Don spent a lifetime doing what he loved,” said Hal Steinbrenner in a statement. “He was an original—a passionate, old-school, one-of-a-kind baseball man who contributed to a memorable era in Yankees history. The baseball community will certainly feel this loss. On behalf of our organization, we offer our deepest condolences to his wife, Soot, their two children and four grandchildren.”

“I hired him as a coach, and he became like a family member to me,” added Joe Torre in a statement. “He has certainly been a terrific credit to the game. The game was his life. And his passing is going to create a void in my life and my wife Ali’s. We loved him. The game of Baseball lost a special person tonight. He was a good man.”

Zimmer spent 66 years in baseball as a player, a manager, a coach, and a front office executive. He played with Jackie Robinson, managed Carl Yastrzemski, and coached Derek Jeter. Zimmer was also an original Met and had worked most recently with the Rays as a senior advisor. He left the Yankees following the 2003 season because he felt he was being treated unfairly by George Steinbrenner.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to watch it no more,’” said Zimmer to Tom D’Angelo in 2010. “George was my friend for 25 years, and all of a sudden, he just turned.”

Zimmer grew up in Cincinnati, married his wife at home plate before a minor league game in 1951, and had two kids and four grandkids. Condolences go out to his family and friends.

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The 2008 free agent signings

So long ago. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The 2008 season might not have been as bad as 2013, but Yankees fans would still like to forget it. It seemed that every little thing went wrong that season. Whenever it looked as though the Yankees might have a charge in them, the suffered another blow.

Let’s consider a (perhaps incomplete) list of those maladies:

  • Both Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, top prospects who showed promise in 2007, started off the season in disastrous fashion.
  • Then Hughes got hurt.
  • Darrell Rasner started 20 games.
  • Much worse: Sidney Ponson started 15.
  • Save for a brilliant start here and there, Andy Pettitte was thoroughly mediocre.
  • The only two starters under age 30, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, had wholly disappointing seasons. Cano was benched for lack of hustle, while Carbera got sent back to AAA after more than two service-time years in the bigs.
  • Jorge Posada, fresh off signing a new contract, played the first half with a bum shoulder which required surgery, forcing a cast of offensively inept backups into starting roles.
  • Hideki Matsui‘s balky knees limited him to under 400 PA and sapped him of his power.
  • Chien-Ming Wang suffered a foot injury that would indirectly end his career.
  • Derek Jeter had his worst season since 1996. (Sure, he won the AL Rookie of the Year Award that year, but we’d come to expect more of him.)
  • Joba Chamberlain dazzled out of the pen, and then in the rotation — until he suffered a shoulder injury that cut his season short (and probably ended up causing a lot more long-term damage than we typically account for).
  • They traded a reasonably effective Kyle Farnsworth and got back a wholly terrible Ivan Rodriguez.
  • Xavier Nady hit .330/.383/.535 before the Yankees traded for him, .268/.320/.474 for them.
  • Damaso Marte was terrible and then broke after the trade. Thankfully, they didn’t end up giving away anything of consequence.
  • All told the Yankees used 27 — twenty-seven! — pitchers.

What went right? Mike Mussina’s resurgence was nice to watch. Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi both stayed healthy and produced decent numbers. Alex Rodriguez wasn’t his 2007 MVP self, but he was still a top-five hitter. Unfortunately, he started his streak of six straight years on the disabled list. (Which he’ll have snapped at season’s end.) The Yanks did discover Al Aceves, which was nice, and Brian Bruney, which was nice for a very short period of time.

Despite all that, had there been a second Wild Card, or had the Rays improved by 22 wins, instead of 31, the Yanks would have made the playoffs. So how bad could the season have been?

It could have been a fatal sign going forward. The franchise players were getting older. Each had been hurt or saw diminished production during the 2008 season. The only starters under age 30 took steps backwards. Maybe it didn’t feel like it at the time, but the potential for disaster loomed during that off-season. The Yankees needed big changes, and that’s not easy to achieve through free agency.

Thankfully for the Yankees, the 2008-2009 free agent class featured a number of players who fit their exact needs. Even more thankfully, they shed a number of their biggest, and in some cases worst, contracts at the exact right time.

The 2008 payroll was a then-franchise-record $209 million (just a bit more than the 2005 payroll). Without some of those bigger contracts coming off the books, there’s now way that even the Yankees can afford to add contracts for CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira (and to a lesser extent, Nick Swisher). But the exact right contracts expired at the exact right time.

Jason Giambi cost the club $22 million in 2008. They essentially shed $17 million, though, since they had to pay him a $5 million buyout on his 2009 option.

Carl Pavano cost the club $11 million in 2008.

Bobby Abreu cost $16 million, but with a $2 million buyout the Yankees saved $14 million.

Mike Mussina cost $11 million, but the Yankees probably weren’t glad to be rid of him at that point.

Andy Pettitte cost $16 million. Worthwhile in 2007, but not so much 2008.

They also saved some money when Ivan Rodriguez’s contract expired. Trading away Wilson Betemit’s $1.6 million was like finding some loose change in the couch cushions.

In total the Yankees shed more than $70 million in salaries, mostly for players they were glad to be rid of, of who were considerably overpaid in 2008.

Time to reallocate those resource to more productive players.

Add up the guys they signed. At $23 million for Sabathia. $22.5 million for Teixeira, $18.5 million for Burnett, and $5.3 million for Swisher, plus another $5.5 million for bringing back Pettitte, you get $74.8 million.

They were able to fill their needs with such high-priced guys, because they had a number of lower-cost players on both sides of the ball. It took some faith in them rebounding, but Cano and Cabrera cost them a combined $7.4 million in 2009. Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes earned the minimum, as did almost everyone in the bullpen. If they didn’t have those major-league-ready younger players, then spending $75 million on top-tier players makes less sense. You can have a core of great players, but you still need 25 players on the roster.

At the end of 2008, the Yankees were in a tough spot. Their younger players saw their flaws exposed during the season. There was plenty of uncertainty about the tested veterans. Without the perfect free agent class and money to lure them, the 2009 Yankees might not have been much better than 2008. Without some of those younger guys returning to form, or performing well for a change, the successful free agent signings might not have mattered.

The Yankees found the exact guys to fill needed spots. It cost them plenty, but each of the free agent signings (and trade bounty, in Swisher’s case) added significantly to the 2009 team’s production. Perhaps just as importantly, the Yankees stuck with those younger players and saw their patience rewarded. The entire off-season could have gone a lot differently. But it played out perfectly. We all know the reward.

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(Al Bello/Getty)

(Al Bello/Getty)

The Yankees will be making some additions to Monument Park this summer. The team announced they will retire Joe Torre’s uniform No. 6 later this year, as well as honor Goose Gossage, Paul O’Neill, and Tino Martinez with plaques. Bernie Williams will be honored in some way next year. Here is the ceremony schedule:

  • Martinez – Saturday, June 21st
  • Gossage – Sunday, June 22nd (Old Timers’ Day)
  • O’Neill – Saturday, August 9th
  • Torre – Saturday, August 23rd

No date has been set for Bernie’s ceremony next year, and there is no indication whether he will have his number retired or simply receive a plaque. No. 51 has been out of circulation since Williams left and it should be retired, in my opinion.

CluelessJoeCoverTorre, now 73, was unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame by the Expansion Era Committee over the winter. He had one heck of a playing career and did manage four other clubs, but he is going to Cooperstown for his success leading the Yankees through their most recent dynasty.

Torre managed the club from 1996-2007, and during that time the Yankees won ten AL East titles, six AL pennants and four World Series championships. They went 1,173-767 (.605) under his watch. Torre is second on the franchise’s all-time wins and games managed (1,943) list behind Joe McCarthy.

The divorce was ugly, especially once Torre’s book The Yankee Years was published. The two sides have repaired their relationship over the last few years and Torre is now a regular at Old Timers’ Day and other team events. I’m glad they worked it out. Torre is very deserving of having his number retired.

With No. 6 being retired and Derek Jeter‘s No. 2 certain to be retired at some point in the future, the Yankees are officially out of single digit numbers. They are all retired. Here’s the list:

  1. Billy Martin
  2. Jeter (eventually)
  3. Babe Ruth
  4. Lou Gehrig
  5. Joe DiMaggio
  6. Torre
  7. Mickey Mantle
  8. Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey
  9. Roger Maris

The numbers 10 (Phil Rizzuto), 15 (Thurman Munson), 16 (Whitey Ford), 23 (Don Mattingly), 32 (Elston Howard), 37 (Casey Stengel), 42 (Mariano Rivera and Jackie Robinson), 44 (Reggie Jackson), and 49 (Ron Guidry) are also retired. Williams, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada are strong candidates to have their numbers retired. Add in Torre and Jeter and maybe it’ll be one number retirement per year from 2014-18? We’ll see.

Martinez spent seven years in pinstripes and had more than his fair share of huge moments, particularly in the postseason, but giving him a plaque seems like a stretch to me. They re-issued his No. 24 almost instantly. O’Neill played nine years with the Yankees and won a batting title while with the team (.359 in 1994), though his No. 21 has been mostly out of circulation since his retirement, outside of the LaTroy Hawkins fiasco. Gossage played seven years in New York and is wearing a Yankees hat on his Hall of Fame plaque. Giving him and O’Neill plaques works for me.

The Yankees, particularly Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman, indicated over the winter that the team is planning to beginning honoring its recent history. Rivera’s number retirement last September was the first big ceremony and we now know there will be several more over the next two years.

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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.

* * *

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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