Memories of two icons distinct and different

When the Yankees begin their second half on Friday night, two lost icons will take centerstage. To honor the memory of their late owner and Bob Sheppard, the only man more identifiable with the Yankees than George Steinbrenner over the last six decades, the team will don a pair of commemorative patches. It will be but one of the many ways in which the club will honor two icons.

The patches, as shown above, are a change from the Yanks’ usual armband memorials. The microphone of the Voice of Yankee Stadium will be worn on the sleeve while the GMS patch will be worn on the chest of the uniform either above the interlocking NY while in the home pinstripes or the word “York” on the away digs. These two men had not been the same since illnesses felled them both in the mid 2000s, and now they will be remembered by the Yankees throughout the season.

I’ve had both the Boss and Bob Sheppard on my mind over the last few days, and I took Bob’s passing harder than I did George’s. For me, as with millions of other Yankee fans, Bob Sheppard was Yankee Stadium. Nothing signalled summer more so than walking through the tunnels behind the stands while hearing Mr. Sheppard go over the Yankee Stadium ground rules. “During the course of the game,” he would intone in his slow and precise manner, “hard hit baseballs and bats may be hit or thrown into the stands.” Who would fail to heed such a warning?

As I grew up going to baseball games, Bob Sheppard would always be there. He announced Mike Pagliarulo with deliberation and amused the crowd when Shigetoshi Hasegawa joined the Angels. His “Der-ek Jee-tah,” heard again last night on the national stage during the All Star Game broadcast, remains as iconic an announcement as any in sports. Through thick and thin, elementary school, high school, college, 9/11, World Series’ victories and defeats, thrilling playoff comebacks and crushing collapses, Bob Sheppard’s voice — such a booming voice on a slight man — would usher fans in and out of Yankee Stadium. He and longtime organist Eddie Layton were two peas in a nostalgic pod that never grew old.

In no small way, Bob passed with the old Yankee Stadium. He fell ill in late 2007 and missed all of the lasts at Yankee Stadium. He missed the last playoff games, the last Joe Torre appearance, the last All Star Game and the entire last season. As the Yankees counted down the games remaining until their move across the street, Mr. Sheppard never made it back to Yankee Stadium. He made a video appearance during the final game, and while frail, he still had the Voice as he read the lineups one last time. Bob passed away just a few weeks after the final pieces of the House that Ruth Built, and the parallels are too eerie to ignore.

My dad was born the year before Bob Sheppard took over the microphone, and he had, until the recent spate of indistinct public announcers, known no other voice at Yankee Stadium. “Bob Sheppard,” he said in recollection, “That voice is part of my life’s soundtrack and the loss runs deeper by reason of that. For more than 50 years (beginning with my first trip to Yankee Stadium as a 7-year-old) that voice was part of my summers…a powerful, disembodied presence that was woven deep into the fabric of something I dearly loved.”

With the Boss, on the other hand, his lasting legacy is far more complicated than that. In recent years, Yankee fans have celebrated George Steinbrenner. He’s become the patron grandfather of the Yankees. As the club spends his money, he hasn’t been the same hands-on control freak he was in the 1970s and 1980s. Maybe he mellowed with age, and maybe he realized his investments would increase if he allowed his baseball minds to put a more competitive product on the field. Despite some mid-2000s hiccups, though, the Yanks have flourished under his benevolent eye since his return to the game in 1993 from a suspension.

When I myself was a seven-year-old Yankee fan, coming of age with Tim Leary, Andy Hawkins, Lee Gutterman and a cast of offensive offensive characters, I found myself with my dad at Yankee Stadium on a warm night in late July. I have vague recollections of the game on the field, but what I do remember involved a long standing ovation in the middle of a Yankee victory. The fans were reacting not to the play on the field but the drama off the field. George Steinbrenner had just been suspended from baseball by Fay Vincent for hiring Howie Spira to dig up dirt on Mr. May himself, Dave Winfield.

As coverage from the time shows, Yankee fans were none too disappointed about the news. By 1990, many Yankee fans had decided that Steinbrenner’s meddlesome ways were a detriment to the ballclub, and they weren’t afraid to say it. ”I speak for all true Yankee fans when I say that getting rid of Steinbrenner is the best thing that could happen to this team,” Bobby Ricci, a 24-year-old fan from the Bronx, said. ”Now it’s time to get rid of all the guys who Steinbrener calls his baseball people. Obviously, they don’t know much about baseball.”

Another presciently predicted better days ahead. ”This is so sweet. Maybe it’ll save the team. Now they can build a dynasty again,” Mike Nisson said.

In a short paragraph I asked my dad to write about sitting in the stands for that game, he too remembers the joy of the crowd:

“It’s hard to overstate how satisfying it was to have been sitting in the stands at Yankee Stadium as word spread through the crowd that it had just been announced that George Steinbrenner had been suspended. As the news worked its way through the stands, a low murmur graduated into raucous cheers from fans who were jubilant in seeing retribution visited on the man who had spent years spending money on mediocre players, berating professional athletes to the point of public humiliation, repeatedly inflicting the pathological Billy Martin on the players and fans and, finally, spying on Dave Winfield. Punctuating the cheers were some shouts of disapproval from fans who expressed the opinion that a suspension was not adequate and that he should have been banned for life (I, of course, being among that chorus). That display struck me as a bit of the French Revolution coming to the venerable House that Ruth Built–and it felt great.”

That’s the real first impression I had of George Steinbrenner. It wasn’t of the loyal philanthropist or the dedicated owner; rather, it was of the mercurial interloper whose suspension was welcomed by people older and wiser than I. Even as George aged into someone who still wanted to win but could seemingly control this temper, I still wondered about the good and the bad in him. For those who didn’t know him in any personal context, he isn’t an easy man to describe.

Yesterday, as the Yankees in Anaheim gathered to talk about the Boss, Andy Pettitte‘s presence and words struck me as particularly telling. Pettitte and George Steinbrenner were never that close. For years in a row, George wanted his GMs to trade Andy Pettitte. He didn’t like his competitiveness and thought him too soft to succeed in the Bronx. Every year at the trade deadline, Pettitte would be the subject of rumors — to the Phillies for Adam Eaton, to somewhere else but the Bronx. In 2003, when the Yanks had the opportunity to let Pettitte walk, they did. It was a Boss move through and through.

Yet, Number 46 sat at the podium yesterday afternoon and looked as distraught as anyone else there. He had lost a mentor and a boss, the man who, eventually, showed enough faith in him to stick with him. Now, Pettitte has five Yankee World Series rings and forgave the Boss, as so many others have. That’s the man of contradictions that he was: flawed, temperamental, hated and ultimately accepted in New York as the wins rolled in. As he once said, “Winning is first, next to oxygen.”

Lefty bat should be Yanks’ first priority in the second half

Under normal circumstances the best team in baseball probably doesn’t need to change a lot around the trade deadline. They got there for a reason, and unless they have reason to suspect that one or more of their players’ performances will change in the second half a few tweaks will probably suffice. The Yankees, however, are not playing under normal circumstances. The AL East contains three of the best four or five teams in baseball, so even a modest losing streak can put their playoff chances in jeopardy. They would be best served by exploring all options that can improve the team in any way.

The Cliff Lee deal made sense from that perspective. He’s going to pitch better than the Yankees’ current fifth starter in the second half, so he would have been an upgrade to the rotation. He also would have rendered one of its members, probably Javy Vazquez, expendable, meaning they could trade him to help shore up another area of the team. At the same time, there are other deals out there that more directly address the team’s concerns. Those moves will not require the Yankees to trade Jesus Montero.

The bullpen presents one area of concern. Joba Chamberlain remains in the eighth inning role not only because the Yankees want to show confidence in him, but because there is no viable alternative on the roster. I sometimes delude myself into thinking that Robertson and Marte can handle that role, but it seems like every time they’re given a chance something goes wrong. The rest of the bullpen is probably closer to a DFA than a regular setup role, so something must be done to address this concern. Problem is, as I’ve repeated, that every team could use bullpen help, making relievers prohibitively expensive on the trade market. The Yanks might make a move here, but I see them focusing on a different spot.

Nick Johnson is done. The team might not have officially ruled him out for the season, but we should know better than that. It’s a shame, not only because the signing was a complete bust, but because Johnson is exactly the type of hitter the Yanks could use right now. A left-handed hitter probably ranks among the team’s biggest wants. Maybe a better utility player ranks among their wants as well, but a left-handed hitter with some power would make more of an impact, since the Yankees could use him as both a DH and PH.

Against left-handers the Yankees are set. They can play either Posada or Cervelli at catcher while using Marcus Thames, who was signed specifically to hit lefties, at DH. It’s against righties where the team hits a snag. Posada could DH in some of those situations, but that doesn’t make the best use of the team’s resources. It would mean more Cervelli at catcher, and considering his performance since May 18 (.197/.271/.239), the Yankees shouldn’t want more of that. It would essentially be surrendering the value they’d be gaining at DH for the value they’d be losing behind the plate. This means the Yankees should be on the market for a left-handed bat, preferably someone who can occasionally pop the ball over the porch in right.

Juan Miranda should and likely will get another shot in the role. He has hit well at AAA this season, and has been on a tear since returning from a minor injury. His performance at the major league level this year was nothing great, but he also appeared at the plate only 51 times, hardly a sampling by which to judge him. Even if he does get a full shot he’s not going to be a feared PH/DH option, but he can provide more value than, say Kevin Russo, who has a whole two plate appearances since June 19. Still, the Yankees might want to explore the market for a more reputable option.

There are a few left-handed DH types on the market right now, including Adam Dunn and Adam LaRoche. The Mariners will likely make Russell Branyan available, but I doubt Cashman would deal with them at this point. Lyle Overbay‘s season looks disappointing, but he’s hitting .309/.388/.463 since June 1 and is hitting .269/.358/.453 on the season against right handed pitching. All of these players will become free agents after the season, and so far it sounds like only Adam Dunn will carry a hefty price tag. The Diamondbacks might be apt to trade LaRoche and the Blue Jays might deal Overbay because neither figures to net them a free agent compensation pick.

Beyond these players the Yanks might be stuck. There are currently 17 teams either leading their division or within five games, so those teams almost certainly will be of the buying, or at least the holding, type. Looking at the rosters of the non-contenders, there don’t appear to be many players who fit the mold of LHB with pop. There is Carlos Delgado, who could return this month, but he brings no guarantees either. The upside is that he’d cost just money, and if he didn’t work out the Yanks would be in the same position as they are right now.

Considering the players available on the trade market and the Yankees’ current needs, the team probably won’t make a big splash in the next two weeks. The current team is strong, and if they continue realizing Mark Teixeira‘s production and if A-Rod truly is, as he said at the Home Run Derby, feeling stronger, then a lot of their minor issues will correct themselves. They could still use help with a left-handed bat, and they’ll have options. It just probably won’t be a big-time, sexy name. The team just doesn’t need that right now.

Hughes the loser as NL takes home field advantage

But Robbie did have the AL's only RBI | Photo credit: Mark J. Terrill/AP

Last night the All-Stars took mercy on us. After the folks at MLB tortured us with 50 minutes of pre-game dreck the game actually rolled along at a swift two hours and fifty-nine minutes, all the more impressive because of the extra-long Fox commercial breaks. A short All-Star game is a good All-Star game. The NL might have won, capturing home field advantage in the World Series for the first time since 2001, but it matters little. It was an exhibition, and if you’re a fan of watching hitters whiff it was a quality one.

A quarter of all batters in the game struck out against 12 different pitchers, three of them going down against Jose Valverde in the ninth. The pitching was so good that each team scored in only one instance. In the fifth Robinson Cano hit a sac fly to put the AL ahead 1-0, and then in the seventh Brian McCann hit a bases loaded double to capture the lead for good. Two of the baserunners were Phil Hughes‘s responsibility; he took the loss in the game.

The game itself was just as interesting as other All-Star games. The managers still manage it like an exhibition, and the players still play that way. It’s a spectacle for us to enjoy, and for the most part I enjoyed this one. That’s partly because I love watching strikeouts, but it’s also partly because Ben, Mike, and I got to watch Panasonic’s presentation of the All-Star game in 3D.

For the past few weeks YES has been running spots about the first ever HD game, so the details have been out for a while. The 3D broadcast only works on 3D TVs, and you need goggles to see it — but not the googles you get at the movie theater. These are battery powered and can focus on only one 3D image at a time. We could turn around the room and watch each TV, but it would take a few seconds for the image to come into focus.

Here are the googles:

And here’s me wearing the googles:

Ze googles! They do nothing!

As you can see, they’re pretty dorky and I’m pretty sure I’d prefer to watch a baseball game without them, even if the image is pretty neat. Then again, we got to listen to a different commentating crew, so by wearing the glasses I didn’t have to listen to Buck and McCarver. So maybe the trade-off is worth it.

A few of observations on the 3D experience:

  • It looks like they’re playing on a stage. The players do pop, almost like they’re inside a diorama, but the playing field and background are flat. I’m not complaining, because it’s kind of neat. You definitely see things in different proportions.
  • The primary camera angle was behind the left-handed batter’s box. That took some getting used to, but once I did I loved it. You can pick up the pitcher’s delivery much better. It also takes a while to follow the ball after it comes off the bat. The cameras don’t maneuver well (or else they just don’t have enough of them to match the number of cameras we’re used to). I never did get a feel for the strike zone because of the off-center angle.
  • There was a noticeable difference when viewing the screen from an angle and when viewing it from straight on. I was watching from an angle on the main TV, but found myself frequently turning to another because I had a better angle.

Two more days until real baseball.

Sanchez has to leave game during GCL loss

It turns out that Brandon Laird‘s injury may not be as bad as originally thought. He will be at the Double-A Eastern League All Star Game tomorrow. Meanwhile, word on the street according to a few emailers is that Slade Heathcott is dealing with some biceps tendinitis. No big deal, Nick Swisher had a similar issue earlier this season, CC Sabathia last season. They’re just going to take is easy with him, as always.

Finally, Adam Warren has been promoted up to Trenton. Kinda surprised it took this long, to be honest.

Both Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton are off until Thursday for their respective All Star breaks. High-A Tampa and Low-A Charleston both had scheduled off days while Short Season Staten Island had their game canceled due to rain.

Rookie GCL Yanks (3-0 loss to GCL Braves)
Kelvin Duran, RF & Anderson Felix, 2B: both 0 for 3, 1 BB – Duran K’ed … Felix got caught stealing
Gary Sanchez, C: 0 for 3, 1 K, 1 E (missed catch) – he left the game after running out a ground ball in the top of the 6th … not sure what that’s about, hopefully it’s nothing serious
Kyle Perkins, C: 0 for 1
Reymond Nunez, 1B & Cito Culver, SS: both 1 for 4, 1 K – Culver committed a fielding error
Henry Pena, LF: 1 for 3
Tyler Austin, DH: 0 for 2, 1 K, 1 HBP – 13th rounder has some big time power, might not cut it as a catcher long-term, though
Fu-Lin Kuo, 3B & Judd Golsan, CF: all 0 for 3 – Golsan threw a runner out at second, K’ed twice & committed a fielding error
Matt Richardson: 5 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 Balk, 11-1 GB/FB – picked a runner off first … love those grounders
Conor Mullee: 2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 2-0 GB/FB
Trevor Johnson: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 0-2 GB/FB

2010 All Star Game Thread

It's a good day for a smile. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It’s time once again for the Midsummer Classic, the game’s most important exhibition of stars. The AL should win it for home field advantage and win it for George. He was the biggest star of all.

Coverage starts at 8 p.m. on Fox, and Major League Baseball will offer a moment of silence in honor of the Boss prior to the start of the game. Here are Charlie Manuel’s and Joe Girardi‘s lineups:

National League
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Martin Prado, 2B
Albert Pujols, 1B
Ryan Howard, DH
David Wright, 3B
Ryan Braun, LF
Andre Ethier, CF
Corey Hart, RF
Yadier Molina, C

Ubaldo Jimenez, SP

American League
Ichiro, RF
Derek Jeter, SS
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Josh Hamilton, CF
Vladimir Guerrero, DH
Evan Longoria, 3B
Joe Mauer, C
Robbie Cano, 2B
Carl Crawford, LF

David Price, SP

Major League Baseball remembers the Boss

Just a few days after George Steinbrenner celebrated his 80th birthday, I pondered Cooperstown for the Boss. Despite his temper and problems with baseball’s top authorities, George has been one of the most influential and revolutionary owners in professional sports. He turned a $10-million investment in 1973 into something worth over $1 billion in 2010, and he of course made enemies along the way.

But while baseball history is littered with the names of those fired by Steinbrenner, the Boss had another side that didn’t make headlines. His charitable contributions were immense, and employees past and present say George, even at his worst, was always loyal to those loyal to him and the Yankees organization. He wasn’t all bad; he wasn’t all good; he just was.

For the Yankees, today is a day of mourning. George had been the face of the organization for 37 years, and during that time, the 29 other baseball teams had changed hands 100 times. Yet, the Steinbrenners endured. In George’s first year as owner of the Yankees, there were just 24 Major League teams. Today, they are 30, and the Yankees, winners of seven World Series trophies on his watch, rule the roost, and even as Yankee fans can forget how George’s meddling mired the franchise in 1980s mediocrity, those around baseball remembered the man today.

“This is a very sad day for me and Carmen and all of baseball,” Yogi Berra, who had a 15-year feud with Steinbrenner, said. “My sympathies go out to the Steinbrenner family. George was The Boss, make no mistake. He built the Yankees into champions and that’s something nobody can ever deny. He was a very generous, caring, passionate man. George and I had our differences, but who didn’t? We became great friends over the last decade and I will miss him very much.”

Bud Selig, who banded together with other owners in frequent attempts to rein in Steinbrenner’s spending, spoke: “I have known George ever since he entered the game in 1972. He was my dear friend for nearly four decades. Although we would have disagreements over the years, they never interfered with our friendship and commitment to each other. Our friendship was built on loyalty and trust and it never wavered. We were allies and friends in the truest sense of the words.”

Don Zimmer, another baseball figure who had a falling-out with Steinbrenner, wanted to remember the good times. “I would prefer to remember him just as he was the first time I met him. I was managing the Red Sox and sitting in the dugout several hours before a game at Yankee Stadium. He was on the mound in a white shirt pitching batting practice to his son. A father throwing to his son,” the Rays’ adviser said. “His impact on the game is impossible to measure. If you were a Yankee fan there was no better owner because he would do anything at any cost to put the best team on the field.

The Red Sox will honor George Steinbrenner with a moment of silence before the Thursday game at Fenway Park. “I had the good fortune to call George Steinbrenner both partner and friend,” current Boston owner and former Yankee partner John Henry said. “I had the privilege to watch George as he built a system that ensured his beloved Yankees would have a strong foundation for sustained excellence. And then we fiercely competed in the American League. George Steinbrenner forever changed baseball and hopefully some day we will see him honored in baseball’s Hall of Fame as one of the great figures in the history of sports.”

Echoed Larry Lucchino, who once called George’s Yankees the Evil Empire: “My respect for George went beyond the baseball field because of his sincere and longstanding commitment to charity, and to people in need. He had a giant heart, often well hidden from public view. Part of his legacy here in Boston will be the profound kindness he showed to numerous local philanthropic causes, especially as a regular and generous contributor each year to the Jimmy Fund of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.”

John Sterling, the homerist of Yankee homers, spoke about the Boss’ contradictions. “I’ve heard one million George Steinbrenner stories of things he did for people that would bring a tear to your eye. So he was a combination,” he said. “Was he a tough boss? Boy, you bet he was. But he also had the softest side to him. In my own way, I really loved him. He took care of so many people in so many ways. I’m really very sad today, but he did phenomenal things for the Yankees.”

Joe Torre, the last manager to be kinda, sorta fired by the Boss, added his own comment: “I will always remember George Steinbrenner as a passionate man, a tough boss, a true visionary, a great humanitarian, and a dear friend. I will be forever grateful that he trusted me with his Yankees for 12 years. My heart goes out to his entire family. He will be deeply missed in New York, Tampa and throughout the world of baseball. It’s only fitting that he went out as a world champ.”

It is indeed only fitting that George went out on top. His Yankees are World Series champions with the best record on baseball. He wouldn’t have had it any other way.

After the jump, a video from CNN of George in his own words. [Read more…]

Steinbrenner in video

It’s hard to think about anything other than George Steinbrenner today, so to continue our remembrance, here are some clips of Big Stein over the years. If you have any other embeddable clips, leave them in the comments and we’ll add them.

George and Billy for Miller Lite:

George and Derek for Visa:

The entrance at the 2008 All-Star Game:

Before that, George pulled the lever at the first home game in 2008 to start the countdown:

After the 2009 World Series, Hal talks about what the victory meant to his father:

And who could forget Larry David doing George Steinbrenner on Seinfeld? There are plenty of single clips, but if you click through to these two, you can find a compilation of them all. Here is Part 1 and Part 2.

Of course, there’s the time that Steinbrenner actually appeared on Seinfeld:

I’m kind of disappointed that I couldn’t find his SNL appearance anywhere. Again, if anyone can find it leave it in the comments and we’ll embed. Until then, here’s the transcript.