Open Thread: 1979 Yankees @ Royals

Every once in a while, I stumble across something on the internet that restores my faith in humanity. The video above is one of those things.

Just check that out, it’s the entire June 9th, 1979 game between the Yankees and Royals in Kansas City. All 13 innings, including Willie Wilson’s walk-off inside-the-park homer off Ken Clay. Tommy John started for the Bombers and Jim Kaat eventually pitched in relief. The starting lineup featured Mickey Rivers, Willie Randolph, Thurman Munson, Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, and Bucky Dent. George Brett battled cleanup for the Royals, and Pete LaCock came off the bench. This is gold people, internet gold.

Once you’re done watching all four hours of that video, use this as your open thread. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing, but Time Warner customers are still MSG-less thanks to the Dolans. Apparently the two sides are negotiating again, so that’s cool. The BCS Title Game is also on (LSU vs. Alabama, 8:30pm ET on ESPN). Anyway, you folks know what to do, so have at it.

(Video via YouTube user 22glew)

Scouting the Market: Mark Teahen

Unless they make a move for a pitcher in the next month and change, the Yankees are pretty much done assembling their 2012 team. In terms of position players they’re pretty set. You can already pencil in the nine starters, and three of the four bench slots are already filled. That last bench spot is pretty much a toss-up. With Andruw Jones and Eduardo Nunez, the Yankees already have backups for every position. That last player can come from nearly anywhere, and can play nearly any role.

Hiroyuki Nakajima might have filled that spot, but he’s headed back to Japan for one more season. Eric Chavez seems like the frontrunner for it now, but his fragility works against him heavily, since part of his job would be subbing for the unreliable Alex Rodriguez. There are some other internal options, such as Justin Maxwell and Chris Dickerson, but the Yankees might want someone who plays the infield. Better yet, someone who can play the corners in both the infield and outfield. As it happens, someone who fits that description just became available.

The Blue Jays designated Mark Teahen for assignment this morning, after he came to the plate just 47 times for them. Really, Teahen had no part in the Jays’ plans; they only took on him, and his salary, to make the Edwin Jackson acquisition easier. With a full roster and nowhere to put Teahen, a DFA was almost inevitable. No one’s going to claim him and his $5.5 million salary, but the Yanks might have interest should he clear waivers and reach free agency. Here’s the breakdown.

Pros

  • He’s versatile. While he has limited experience at first base and left field, he has plenty at third base and right field. That gives the Yankees a backup to A-Rod who can also sub in the outfield if need be.
  • He’s left-handed. The three current bench players — Andruw Jones, Eduardo Nunez, and Francisco Cervelli — all hit right-handed. The Yankees also got a bit more right-handed in general by swapping Jesus Montero for Jorge Posada. They’d probably prefer a lefty for that last bench spot.
  • He can take a walk: 8.2 percent career walk rate, and it’s been at or above 9 percent in each of the last two seasons.
  • He’s relatively healthy. An oblique injury kept him out for a bit in 2011, but otherwise he’s been pretty healthy. His most significant injury has been a fractured middle finger, suffered in 2010, but that’s more of a freak thing. His shoulder, surgically repaired in 2006, hasn’t been an issue since.

Cons

  • He’s not that good with the bat. After a very good 2006 season, at age 24, it appeared that Teahen — who was part of the A’s Moneyball draft — might be coming around. He’s been a complete disappointment, though, producing below average offensive numbers every year since. Last year was a low point: 52 wRC+.
  • He plays terrible defense. While defensive metrics can portray players inaccurately, it’s tough to argue when they all agree. All major defensive stats rate him as a patently horrible third baseman, and a barely passable outfielder.
  • He’s not even that good on the platoon split. He has a career .322 wOBA, .328 against righties. If he’s going to be a generally mediocre player, he might as well at least mash righties. Alas.

That cons list might contain only three items, but they’re three pretty damning ones. Teahen might be worth a sniff on a minor league deal, but his name value could fetch him a major league contract. The Jays might even trade him during the DFA period. If he’s not worth signing to a major league deal, he’s certainly not worth trading for living, breathing players.

In essence, Teahen’s value is mostly associated with his name recognition. If he were just some random John Smith with those numbers, he wouldn’t get a sniff — never mind the $5.5 million he’ll make this year. The Yanks might desire to add a left-handed bat to the bench, but Teahen shouldn’t be that guy. Even Eric Chavez, for defensive value if nothing else, would provide more value than Teahen.

Barry Larkin elected to Hall of Fame

The BBWAA has announced that Barry Larkin is the lone inductee into the Hall of Fame this year. He received 495 votes (86.4%), well above the 75% required for induction. Larkin spent his entire 19-year career with the Reds, hitting .295/.371/.444 with 198 homers, 379 stolen bases, 939 walks, and just 817 strikeouts. During his peak from 1991-2000, Larkin hit .304/.392/.478. He made a dozen All-Star Teams and won the 1995 NL MVP. Needless to say, he’s very deserving of this honor, so congrats to him.

Yankees great Bernie Williams headlined the newcomers on the ballot, but he received just 55 votes (9.6%). That’s enough to keep him on the ballot another year. Tim Raines received 48.7% of the vote while Jeff Bagwell received 56.0%, up from 37.5% and 41.7%, respectively. That’s progress. Don Mattingly received 17.8%, up from 13.6% last year. Former Yankees Tony Womack and Ruben Sierra received zero votes. The full voting result can be found at the BBWAA’s site.

Baseball America’s Conor Glassey published a (free!) collection of old scouting reports for some players on this year’s ballot, including one on a 22-year-old Williams from 1991. That’s a worthy read.

Snakebitten

(Schilling photo by The AP; Johnson photo by Harry How/Allsport; IPK photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty; Haren photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty)

In the aftermath of the Arizona Diamondbacks non-tendering Joe Saunders — the mediocre left-handed pitcher who was the only Major Leaguer in the package sent by the Angels to the Snakes for Dan Haren in July 2010 — last month, it occurred to me that despite the fact that the franchise has only been in existence for 14 seasons, there’s a strong possibility that the Diamondbacks have been the greatest off-the-field thorn in the Yankees’ side of any team in Major League Baseball in recent history*.

* Though it’s not as if they’ve been pleasant to deal with between the lines either, given that they were responsible for perhaps the most heartbreaking loss an entire generation of Yankee fans have ever experienced in the form of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

Anecdotally, we’ve heard stories detailing a mutual dislike on the part of former Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo and George Steinbrenner, both known for their hard-nosed ownership styles, and as best I can tell the problem initially stemmed from a now-famous meal shared by Steinbrenner and David Wells in January 2002, in which the Boss re-signed Wells four days after the burly lefty reached a handshake agreement with the D-Backs.

This incident no doubt left Colangelo steaming, and it would come back to bite the Yankees in the 2003-2004 offseason, as the team desperately needed to upgrade a rotation that was losing three-fifths of its members. The Yankees were very interested in Curt Schilling, but the talks didn’t go anywhere as Arizona’s asking price — which appeared to include both Nick Johnson (coming off a 2.1 fWAR season) and Alfonso Soriano (5.0 fWAR), at the very least — was rightly deemed excessive. It’s unclear who Cash may have been willing to part with, and whether talks ever progressed between the two teams, but before they even had a chance to Theo Epstein and Boston swooped in, joined the Schillings at their Thanksgiving table, and somehow convinced the Diamondbacks to trade Schilling, coming off thee seasons in which he racked up 7.6, 9.7 and 5.9 fWAR, respectively, for a package headlined by Casey Fossum and rounded out by Brandon Lyon and minor leaguers Jorge De La Rosa and Michael Goss.

In a vacuum I suppose that’s a fair amount of talent for Boston to have surrendered, but in hindsight it turned out to be an absolute steal for the Red Sox, as Fossum was basically never an effective pitcher again following the deal; Lyon’s carved out a career as a pretty good middle reliever, the most fungible asset in all of baseball; De La Rosa’s been a #3-ish starter at best in the National League and Goss never made it to the Majors; while Schilling accumulated 17.8 fWAR in four seasons with the Sox while helping lead the franchise to its first World Championship in 86 years and another three seasons later.

While you could drive yourself crazy playing the what-if game, it’s probably fairly safe to say things would’ve unfolded quite a bit differently had the Yankees acquired Schilling that offseason instead of the Red Sox.

Of course, the Yankees finally did get a Diamondback ace of their own the following offseason, in Steinbrenner’s long-coveted Randy Johnson. The Big Unit had a strong debut season in pinstripes in 2005, but was pretty mediocre in 2006, and famously flubbed both of his postseason appearances. Fortunately the Yankees likely didn’t regret the cost to acquire Johnson — Javier Vazquez, coming off an execrable first season in pinstripes, along with Brad Halsey and Dioner Navarro — especially considering that prior to the deal being executed Robinson Cano had been a long-rumored chip in a potential Johnson trade, but in hindsight I think this can still be considered another low point in the Yankees’ and Diamondbacks’ mutual history.

Following his disappointing 2006, the Yanks decided they’d had enough of Johnson — who, as it so happens, expressed a desire to return to Phoenix — and shipped him back to the Diamondbacks for nothing special in Alberto Gonzalez, Steven Jackson, Ross Ohlendorf and Luis Vizcaino. I suppose receiving four warm bodies for a pitcher who appeared to be well past his glory days is somewhat commendable, though Johnson still went on to put up two more decent (if injury-plagued) years out in the desert, while the 2007 and 2008 Yankee pitching staffs weren’t exactly anything to write home about.

The Yankees and Diamondbacks hooked up again in December of 2009, in the three-way trade that brought Curtis Granderson to New York and shipped Ian Kennedy to Arizona, a deal that also saw Detroit send Edwin Jackson to the D-Backs but also gain Austin Jackson and Phil Coke from the Yankees and heist Max Scherzer from the Snakes. Two years later this would appear to be the rare three-way trade in which all involved parties appeared to benefit. I’d do this deal all day every day, although it somehow figures that Arizona would wind up turning Ian Kennedy — who I maintain would never have become a 5.0 fWAR player in the Bronx — into a frontline starter.

This brings us back to the Saunders-Haren trade of July 2010. Granted, the Angels also sent Tyler Skaggs — currently ranked by Baseball Americas as Arizona’s 3rd-best prospect — Patrick Corbin (10th in the system) and Rafael Rodriguez to the desert in the deal, so it’s not quite as cut-and-dry as just “Saunders-for-Haren,” but given that Saunders wasn’t even retained by the D-Backs a mere year-and-a-half after being acquired, while Dan Haren has been a top 10 pitcher in baseball the last two seasons, it’s difficult not to wonder how things might have played out had the Yankees and Diamondbacks managed to consummate a deal.

It’s difficult to say given that all we really know is that Joba Chamberlain‘s name was the primary one bandied about during the trade talks of July 2010. If we were to try to build a comparable package to the one Arizona received, the Yankees’ #3 prospect at the time (per our own Mike Axisa) was Manny Banuelos, while #10 was Jose Ramirez. At the time, would you have been willing to trade a package of Joba Chamberlain, Manny Banuelos, Jose Ramirez and some low-level filler for a 29-year-old Dan Haren? Pretty sure I’d have been willing to pull the trigger on that one.

Again, we have no idea whether something like that was ever offered and/or whether it would have been an acceptable haul for Arizona, but on paper it seems like a pretty fair swap, especially when you consider that Saunders has been worth 2.7 fWAR in two full seasons of starting while Joba has been worth 1.8 fWAR in a season-and-a-half of relieving during that same time period. You have to figure Arizona almost certainly would’ve given Joba the chance to start that the Yankees never will, and the Yankees would’ve had a right-handed ace to complement CC Sabathia.

Of course, at the end of the day the majority of this is hearsay and conjecture, and there’s no way of really knowing whether Arizona has had it in for the Yankees over the years. However, as I’ve illustrated above, the two teams’ transaction history — and it certain cases, lack thereof — would make me considerably wary of doing business with Arizona in the future.

The Jorge Posada Game

(Barton Silverman/The New York Times)

The Yankees had lost two in row, three of five, and four of seven. Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui were on the disabled list with wrist injuries and a neck strain kept Jason Giambi on the bench for the day. Coincidentally, he was mired in a 1-for-18 slump. Miguel Cairo started at first base, Andy Phillips at designated hitter. The Rangers were in town with their .283/.349/.454 team batting line, and Shawn Chacon was scheduled to get the ball for the Yankees even after taking a line drive off his left shin in his previous start. The date is May 16th, 2006.

Predictably, Chacon put the Yankees in an early hole. They were down two-zip before they even came to the plate, and six-zip when Joe Torre pulled Chacon with one out in the second. Long reliever Aaron Small’s second pitch was clobbered into the right field bleachers at the Old Stadium for a three-run homer. The Yankees managed to get one back when Cairo singled in Bernie Williams in the bottom half of the inning, but Small gave it right back in the top of third when Mark Teixeira doubled in the junior Gary Matthews.

This one had all the feel of a blowout, one of those inevitable games that occur during the course of a 162-game season. The Yankees were already down nine runs with three of their best offensive players on the sidelines, and the soft part of their bullpen was being thrown at the feet of one of the league’s best offenses. Their win expectancy at that point was two percent, and that felt a little generous. A comeback was unthinkable, but the Yankees and their de facto cleanup hitter had a different idea.

The chipping away officially started in the bottom of the third inning. Johnny Damon singled to start the frame and came around to score on Derek Jeter‘s double. Jeter managed to steal third before Alex Rodriguez popped out in foul territory, bringing Jorge Posada — that de facto cleanup hitter — to the plate. Posada worked the count full before singling back up the middle to drive in Jeter for the team’s third run. A seven-run deficit is still rather significant, but it’s better than a nine-run deficit. More importantly, the comeback wheels were in motion.

Small managed to keep the Rangers in check the next two innings, allowing his offense to chip away a little more in the fifth. Jeter led off the inning with a walk and went to third on A-Rod‘s double. Posada skied John Koronka’s 72nd pitch of the night to deep left field, but it stayed in the park for a sacrifice fly. Jeter trotted home and Alex moved over to third. Robinson Cano, batting fifth for just the third time in his career, plated A-Rod with an RBI ground out. Those two runs turned a 10-3 games into a 10-5 game and effectively ended Koronka’s day.

The Rangers started to make a little bit of noise in the top of the sixth, but Posada helped put an end to a potential rally. Small was lifted with two outs and Teixeira on first, as Torre went to the southpaw Ron Villone to face lefty swinging Blalock. Blalock clobbered Villone’s first pitch the other way to left. Melky Cabrera, playing in just his 12th career game, retrieved the ball and fired back towards the infield. Teixeira was running on contact with two outs and was chugging around third by the time Jeter made the relay throw. Posada received the ball at the plate, then received Teixeira’s left shoulder into his chest as he blocked the plate.

“It was pretty tough,” said Posada after the game. “That was probably the hardest I’ve ever been hit.”

Teixeira, who was listed at 6-foot-3 and 210 lbs. at the time, was running at full speed and said afterward that a collision was his only play in that situation.

“It’s a tough play for a catcher, obviously, but he’s one of the best,” said Teixeira after the game. “He made a very nice play. I’m out if I just slide. Because of the timing of it, if I could have hit him to knock the ball loose, that was my only option to be safe.”

The play at the plate ended the inning and prevented the Rangers from piling on any more runs, and it seemed to inject some life into the offense. Jeter homered in the bottom half of the inning after Melky started the frame with a single and Damon followed with a walk. Suddenly it was a 10-8 game, and the Yankees kept coming after Joaquin Benoit replaced Scott Feldman.

A-Rod walked next, making it four straight batters to reach base to open the inning. Posada then drew a walk of his own to put the tying run on base, and he eventually moved over to third when Bernie doubled in a run to make it 10-9. Cairo slashed a single to left with two outs to score Posada and Williams, turning a one-run deficit into a one-run lead. The Yankees had come all the way back from nine runs down, tying the largest comeback in team history. Of course, the game was far from over.

That 11-10 lead was short-lived thanks to Scott Proctor, who started the seventh inning by walking Kevin Mench and giving up a two-run homer to Brad Wilkerson. Five pitches into the inning, the Yankees were down a run again. In the bottom half of the inning, Damon and Jeter again applied pressure by starting things off with back-to-back singles. A-Rod grounded back to the pitcher, but it allowed Jeter to move up a base and put runners at second and third with one out for Posada.

Jorge worked the count to 2-2 against the forgettable Rick Bauer, then lifted the fifth pitch of the encounter towards left-center. It wasn’t deep enough for a homer and it didn’t even drop in for a hit, but his second sacrifice fly scored Damon and re-tied the game. Two-hundred and seventy four pitches, 39 base runners, and 24 runs into the game, the Yankees and Rangers were tied after seven.

The eighth inning went by without a hitch thanks to Kyle Farnsworth and Ron Mahay, the only pitchers in the game to record a 1-2-3 inning. Farnsworth was the only guy to appear in the game and not allow someone to reach base. Go figure.

Tied at a dozen in the top of the ninth, Torre gave the ball to Mariano Rivera. On this crazy night, not even Mo was safe. Mench opened the inning with a broken bat bloop single, then pinch-runner Adrian Brown moved to second on Wilkerson’s bunt. After a walk to Mark DeRosa, Rod Barajas drove in Brown with another broken bat bloop hit to give the Rangers a 13-12 lead. That put the game in the hands of closer Akinori Otsuka with the top of the order due up.

As he had done all night, Damon got things started with a leadoff single that was nothing more than a ground ball that took a bad hop past Teixeira at first. “This field gets very choppy,” Teixeira later said. “The last one almost hit me in the hand. I just kind of got my hand up there to block it.”

Damon moved up to second on Jeter’s ground ball back to the pitcher, the first time all game the Cap’n failed to reach base. A-Rod nearly tied to game with a line drive back up the middle, but Matthews reeled the ball in to bring Posada to the plate with two outs, the team’s final chance.

(Kathy Willens/AP)

Otsuka was a fastball-splitter pitcher, and he went after Jorge with splitter after splitter. The first three were down below the zone for balls, then Posada took the get-me-over fastball for an autostrike one. Otsuka went back to that fastball in the 3-1 count, and Jorge was looking for it.

“I was just hoping it was out of the park so we wouldn’t have to keep playing,” said the Yankees’ backstop after the game. “I didn’t want to play anymore. As soon as I hit it, I knew it was gone.”

As Jorge said, the ball was gone off the bat, a walk-off two-run shot deep into the right field bleachers. Posada rounded the bases and hopped on home plate with his hands in the air, mobbed by his teammates as the comeback bow was officially tied.

In terms of win probability added, good ol’ WPA, it was the greatest regular season game of Posada’s career at +0.93. It’s not particularly close either. He went 2-for-3 with the walk-off homer, a walk, and two sacrifice flies. Jorge scored the tying run in the sixth, drove in the tying run in the seventh, then won the game in the ninth. He also went 1-for-1 protecting the plate, and years later he and Teixeira would share a laugh over the collision after becoming teammates.

Aside from the game-tying double off Pedro Martinez in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS, this game was the first that jumped to mind after I’d heard about Posada’s intention to retire over the weekend. It was just so perfectly Jorge. He helped drive the offense with his patented power and patience, and he took a pounding behind the plate when he needed.

Posada did exactly that for the Yankees for a decade and half, but his contributions often went under the radar because of others on the team. In Game Seven it was Aaron Boone. In Game Three of the 2001 ALDS — when his solo homer accounted for the only run of the game — it was Derek Jeter’s flip play. There was always something that stole the spotlight from Posada, but not in this game. The injuries allowed his star to shine as he carried his team to one of the biggest comebacks in franchise history.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 9th, 2012

2011 Record: 97-65 (855 RS, 657 RA, 102-60 pythag. record), won AL East, lost to Tigers in ALDS

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