Archive for Days of Yore

The BBWAA announced the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot today, which is headlined by first-timers Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio, and former Yankee Roger Clemens. David Wells and Mike Stanton are also among the first-timers while Don Mattingly is entering his 13th year of eligibility and Bernie Williams is entering his second.

We’ve now entered the PED thunderdome with guys like Bonds, Sosa, and Clemens becoming eligible, and if Mark McGwire’s six years on the ballot are any indication, they’re going to have to wait a while for induction. Hell, there’s zero evidence linking Jeff Bagwell to PEDs and he only received 56% of the vote last year. I count no fewer than eight guys I would definitely vote for plus at least six others I’m on the fence with. The ballots are going to be very crowded the next few years.

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Former Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert is among this year’s Pre-Integration Era Hall of Fame candidates. Ruppert, who made his fortune through his family’s brewing company, owned the club from 1915-1939 and was behind both the purchase of Babe Ruth and the construction of the original Yankee Stadium. The team won nine pennants and six World Series championships under his watch.

Voting will be conducted by the 16-person panel and take place during the Winter Meetings in Nashville next month. Here’s more on this year’s ballot and more on the Pre-Integration Era Hall of Fame in general, if you’re interested.

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Nine years ago today…

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We all need some positive vibes this afternoon, so let’s take a quick look back at something that happened nine years ago today. I’m talking about this…

And this…

And finally this…

Aaron Boone had three hits in his previous 27 at-bats prior to that. All it takes is one swing.

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Last weekend I had the privilege of attending the Yanks-Sox game with a couple of first-timers. Not only had they never been to the current Yankee Stadium, but they’d never been to any Yankee Stadium. They were quite curious about the various aspects of the new park, and how it all looked at the old park. It made me nostalgic for the Stadium across the street, of course. That’s the park I grew up with. But it also got me thinking about the old Yankee Stadium.

It’s hard to imagine any park looking quite like the one in which the Yankees played before the 1970s renovations. The dimensions were, by the modern standard, incomprehensible. Imagine you’re Alex Rodriguez and you hit one right on the sweet spot. It soars out to left-center and lands 390 feet from the plate — but is in the field of play.

(Or, better yet, imagine his 500th home run. That also would have been in the field of play, thanks to a 461-foot fence in center.)

True, the Yankees typically pound their homers to right. Back in the day the Stadium still had that short porch — it was actually a little shorter down the line, though it was a bit deeper in right-center — so it would have still played to the Yankees’ primary strength. But it’s hard to imagine the Yankees hitting many of their homers anywhere near right field.

Of course, there were righties who hit for power at Yankee Stadium. Joe DiMaggio led the league in home runs in 1937 while playing more than half of his game at Yankee Stadium. He hit 27 of his 46 homers on the road, sure, but that’s still 19 at home. He also produced a near .300 ISO at home, and an overall 1.061 OPS. Apparently that cavernous right field didn’t hold him back a bit.

(I haven’t seen the stat anywhere, and I’m sure he went opposite field plenty, but I have to wonder how many of DiMaggio’s homers were inside the parkers.)

A park so oddly shaped could certainly benefit a team. We’ve already seen the Yankees amass players who can park pitches over the right field porch. Imagine a lineup that balances those players with ones that can poke the ball into that enormous right-center field gap. In-his-prime Ichiro, for example, would have been great for that kind of gap hitting.

Modern field technology would make such a park even more attractive. While I wouldn’t want to remove the monuments from center field, there wouldn’t be any career-changing sprinklers in the outfield. Basically we’d have the old-time layout with modern technology. I’d be game for that.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be room in today’s game for a park as oddly shaped as the old Yankee Stadium. Which is a shame. Sure, it might be difficult to lure pull-heavy right handed power hitters, but it’s not as though the Yankees attract, or even seek, many of them anyway. (A-Rod, for example, had superb opposite-field power). I’d love to see modern teams play in a Stadium like that.

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With a victory over Washington yesterday afternoon the Yankees swept their third straight series, extending their winning streak to nine games. After an uninspiring start to the season, this is just the jolt that they needed. They now come home with the best winning percentage in the AL, and the second best win percentage in the majors. The best part: the streak is still going.

The current win streak harkens back just three years to 2009, when the Yankees also got off to a relatively poor start. After losing a pair of two-game series to Boston and Tampa Bay, the Yanks sat at 13-15. They got the ball rolling the next game, when Alex Rodriguez hit a three-run homer on his first swing of the season and CC Sabathia shut out the Orioles. They won that series, but then lost the first game against Toronto. After that, however, they started to turn around the season.

Against Toronto, Minnesota, and Baltimore they rattled off nine straight wins, improving to 24-17. After the losses to Boston and Tampa Bay they were 5.5 games back in the East. Two weeks later, after the nine-game streak, they were just 1.5 games back in the East and had moved a whopping four games ahead of Tampa Bay. There were fits and starts after that, but that win streak got them moving in the right direction. A seven-game streak in late June turned them around for good.

Yet that might not have been the most season-altering streak in recent memory. In 2005 the Yankees got off to their now infamous 11-19 start. They were nine games back in the East at that point, but things would turn around quickly. Tino Martinez fueled the ensuing 10-game winning streak, going 12 for 38 with a double and eight home runs on his way to 19 RBI. The Yankees went from nine back in the East to five back. Though it took two months for them to finally reach first place, it’s the win streak that got them moving.

The Yankees started this current streak in quite a different position. They were already 31-25 before it started, and were just a half game back in the AL East. That’s because they rattled off a five-game win streak in late May, after dropping to .500 against Kansas City. So while the streak is only at nine, it’s really 19 of 23. The best part about this stretch is that during it they’ve played just three teams below .500: Kansas City, Oakland, and Detroit. The entire nine-game streak has been against teams above .500.

In 2005 and 2009, the Yankees absolutely needed those streaks. In 2005 they were at a low point and needed an immediate turnaround. In 2009 the expectations were so high that the constant losses to Boston stung that much more. During those streaks they made up lost ground and got themselves back in the picture. This year is a bit different. They had started playing well before the streak, and this surge sent them to to the top. If the aftereffect is anything like those years, though, we can expect dominance from here on out.

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Catching up with A.J. Burnett

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(Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Once upon a time, the Yankees had a surplus of starting pitching. So much so that they traded one of the only 16 pitchers to make at least 32 starts in each of the last three seasons to the Pirates for a pair of fringe prospects and $13M in salary relief. New York’s rotation has been inconsistent and adequate at best while A.J. Burnett has toiled in relative obscurity in Pittsburgh. Contending is a pipe dream, but Burnett recently told both Brian Costa and Andy McCullough that he’s enjoying his new surroundings.

“It’s completely different,” he said. “I can go out there and do what I want, how I want, when I want to. If I want to turn around upside down, I can do it — as long as I throw a strike. It was always the pressure I put on myself to do so good. And now, I’m just out there, just doing it.”

Like every other ex-Yankee, Burnett takes advantage of the freedom to don some horrible facial hair. He traded a college fund for a uniform number and keeps fishing poles at his locker in PNC Park while his 2009 World Series ring is tucked away at home. He still talks to CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, David Robertson, and others regularly but also acknowledges that he prefers the levity of his new situation.

“I’d get 3-0 on the first batter, and you’d hear a bunch of people,” he added. “My first start, I walked the bases loaded here. I can’t even imagine what [Yankee Stadium] would have sounded like over there, and there was maybe like two words that came out of the crowd here. So it’s just different.”

Burnett owns an unsightly 4.78 ERA in six starts for the Pirates, but most of that stems from a 2.2-inning, 12-run disaster against the Cardinals a few weeks ago. He’s allowed no more than two runs or thrown fewer than six innings in any of his other five starts, including seven shutout innings against St. Louis in his first appearance of the year. As you know, he missed the first few weeks of the season after fouling a ball off his face in Spring Training and fracturing his orbital bone. His 3.46 FIP is by far his best since a 3.45 mark with the Blue Jays in 2008, the year before he came to New York.

Do the Yankees miss Burnett? Despite their sketchy rotation, I don’t believe so. Burnett helped the Yankees win a World Championship and if you do that, you’re cool with me. That doesn’t mean you get to keep your job forever though. He was good for innings but not much else these last two years and the move to the easier league seems to have served him well at this point of his career. It doesn’t sound like A.J. misses the Yankees but not in a mean-spirited way. Things here had run their course.

“I had my good times there, though” said Burnett. “I don’t regret it at all. I don’t. I regret not performing better.”

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The Yanks will sport throwback 1912 hats today to honor the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park.

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.

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As Yankee fans in the early 21st Century, we have it good. Anyone who grew up in the 1980s barely remembers the team when they were bad, and fans who came of age during the last 17 seasons know only the good. In fact, most Yankee fans alive today know only the good. In the team’s history there are only three distinct periods of bad: the Don Mattingly years, the New York Highlander years and that time from the end of the Mick’s playing days until 1976.

That second era of bad Yankee years started in around 1965 when my dad was a teenager. After losing the 1964 World Series, the Yanks finished 6th, 10th, 9th, 5th and 5th again, and they lost Mickey Mantle, a generation-defining great. For those who came of age, then, during that late 1960s/early 1970s period, this Dan Barry piece in The Times should ring true. He came of age during one of those rare moments in Yankee history when the team bad. When he was 8, the Yanks finished in last place; when I was 7 the 1990 Yankees accomplished the same feat.

Today, we forgot those eras when another team ruled New York. In the early 20th Century, the Giants captured the town while the 1969 Mets and 1986 Mets were the feel-good stories those years. Today and for most of the past two decades, it’s always been about the Yanks. Maybe one day, they’ll be a so-called second division team, but it’s tough to say when. They just keeping winning, and those of us who remember the mid-1960s or early 1990s think of those seasons, rightly so, as blips on the long-running Yankee radar of greatness.

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(Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

The Yankees said goodbye to A.J. Burnett over the weekend, eating a big chunk of the $33M left on his contract in order to send him to the Pirates. He seemed like a nice enough guy but was one of the most frustrating pitchers to watch that I’ve ever seen, and while we appreciate his contributions to the 2009 World Championship, none of us are going to lose sleep over his departure. It’s just the way it is.

A.J. did have some fine moments as a Yankee, though over the last two seasons the team had a knack for giving him zero run support whenever he did throw a gem. Of the 12 times he threw at least seven innings and gave up no more than two runs since the start of 2010, the Yankees lost four times. That’s just not supposed to happen with this offense and bullpen. Anyway, we’re going to look back at Burnett’s five greatest starts as a Yankee using a simple metric called Game Score. Wikipedia has the nuts and bolts, if you’re interested. Fifty is an average Game Score, and the highest ever recorded was Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game (105). Anything above 75 or so is pretty stellar.

Game Two of the 2009 World Series does not make this list; it was the eighth best start of Burnett’s three years in the Bronx with a Game Score of 72. That said, it was easily his biggest moment as a Yankee given the pressure and everything riding on that game. As you’ll notice, four of Burnett’s five best games came back in 2009, which isn’t surprising given how awful he’s been over the last two years.

5. July 27th, 2009 @ Rays (box) (video) (RAB recap)
Pitching Line: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 114 pitches
Game Score: 74

The Yankees were in cruise control by this point of the season, already well on their way to clinching the AL East title in late-July. The lineup gave Burnett an early three-run cushion by starting the second inning with a single, a double, and a triple off Jamie Shields, allowing their right-hander to pitch around baserunners in the first (walk), second (walk), and third (single) innings. A.J. was perfect in the fourth and fifth before allowing a run to score on an Evan Longoria ground ball double play in the sixth.

The Phils – Coke and Hughes – were both unavailable that night, so the bullpen was pretty thin. Joe Girardi sent Burnett back out for seventh with his pitch count already over the century mark, but he got three outs on just ten pitches. He gave up only two ground ball singles (one towards third and the other between first and second), though he did allow one other baserunner when B.J. Upton reached base on a wild pitch following a strikeout. The offense blew things open late and the Yanks sailed to an easy win.

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The phrase “the dark ages” covers a little more than a decade of modern Yankees’ history, from 1982 through 1993. While there were some decent teams during that period, we tend to lump the postseason-less years into one big era. Yet there is a great difference between the 1985 team, which won 97 games and missed the playoffs, and the teams that came came later. It seems as though the Yankees steadily declined during that period, trimming a few wins off their total every year. The worst came at the end of the decade.

It’s unsurprising that the 1989 Yankees won only 74 games, 11 fewer than the ’88 team. Dave Winfield, an offensive force on the ’88 team, was out for the season. The only young pitcher to show any real promise, Al Leiter, has just been traded away. Rickey Henderson had been traded back to Oakland. The pitching staff in general was a shambles. Yet that wasn’t the worst of it. No, the Yankees had yet to bottom out. That would come one year later, in 1990.

Only two of the Yankees regulars produced above-average offensive numbers that year. Jesse Barfield, in his first full pinstriped season, was by far and wide the team’s best player that year. He hit .246/.359/.456, a 127 OPS+. The only player with better rate stats that season was Kevin Maas, who, after being called up mid-season, hit his first 10 home runs faster than anyone in MLB history (and I have the commemorative baseball card to prove it). But he came to the plate only 300 times. It was Barfield’s team, which is indicator No. 1 that they were going to be really bad.

This was the year that Don Mattingly’s back issues came to the fore. From 1984 through 1989 he’d played in at least 141 games every year. In ’90 he was limited to just 102 games, and he posted by far the worst numbers of his career. This was also the year that the Yankees gave Alvaro Espinosa 472 PA; he rewarded them with a 50 OPS+. Bob Geren wasn’t much better. After impressing the Yankees in ’89, he floundered in his first full season, producing a 63 OPS+. Remember, Geren’s limp noodle bat is one reason they went out and acquired Matt Nokes.

There was some youthful spirit on the 1990 team, but none of the players would work out particularly well — and none of the under-25 crowd worked out for the Yankees. That crew included Oscar Azocar, whose MLB career consisted of 460 PA; Roberto Kelly, who was the only starter other than Barfield to produce above-average numbers; the aforementioned Maas, who provided some longball excitement; Deion Sanders, whom they’d release that September; Hensley Meulens, who performed well enough in a cup of coffee but would never meet expectations; and Mike Blowers, whose career as a part-time player didn’t take off until the Yanks traded him to Seattle.

The pitching, on the other hand, was a collection of recycled veterans. All five starters who made double-digit starts that season were right around 30 years old. Only two pitchers aged 25 or younger made even one start for the Yankees that season: Dave Eiland and Steve Adkins. Neither was much to dream on. It would be another year before the Yankees’ farm system produced the hype of Wade Taylor and Jeff Johnson, and two before we were introduced to Sam Militello and Sterling Hitchcock. The staff in 1990 wasn’t so much bad as it was bland; they did manage to finish with a 95 ERA+.

All told, the Yankees managed to win just 67 games that year, finishing last not only in the AL East, but the AL overall. That netted them the No. 1 overall pick in the 1991 draft. We all know that story. But that’s not the most striking part about the 1990 Yankees.

I had originally titled this article “The worst team of my lifetime,” because that was my perspective of it. From the end of the ’80s, during my years as a budding baseball fan, through the present, they had never won fewer games. But that really doesn’t cover the whole issue. Before 1990, the last time any Yankees team won fewer than 67 games was in 1918, when they won 60 games. Of course, they lost only 63 games that season, so that’s not very good for perspective. The last Yankees team to produce a win percentage below .414 was the 1913 Yankees — yes the first year they were called the Yankees. That team, along with the 1912 and 1908 Highlanders and the 1902 Baltimore Orioles, join the 1990 Yankees as the worst in franchise history.

Still, the Yankees went a long way between historically bad seasons. If they can manage another 77 seasons between, we won’t see another .414 win-percentage team until 2067. I think we can handle that.

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