ESPN, the oh-so-pro Red Sox sports network, plans to pay tribute to the final season at Yankee Stadium through a series of 30 vignettes focusing on famous moments in stadium history. The first ten will debut on March 22 and air during the lead-up to Opening Day, and the next batch are set to hit prior to the All Star Game. Considering ESPN’s penchant for running the same commercial over and over again, I’m guessing we’ll all be sick of these promos rather quickly. · (13) ·
In my younger and more vulnerable years, I caught for a variety of baseball teams at different levels. I caught for eight years and bore the brunt of my fair share of dings, bruises, black-and-blue marks and home plate collisions. So when I saw Elliot Johnson run into Francisco Cervelli and the Yanks’ young catcher come up in pain, I was empathetic.
What I did not feel was outrage or this sense of injustice that seems to be emanating from some — but not all — Yankee blogs and from the Yankees and their fired-up manager himself. In fact, to me, the collision looked like a clean play between youngsters trying hard to make an impression with their Big League coaches. Cervelli’s injury was an unfortunate freak accident; it didn’t stem from any malice between the two players.
Back during my baseball days, I would spend the months from the spring through the summer playing ball. After school or in school, over the summer and into the fall, I would be on the diamond playing games. I wasn’t great, but I wasn’t terrible. I could hold my own on my high school varsity team and could have played in college too if athletics had been a priority.
Every year in March, my high school team would fly south for our own spring training. Seven or eight years ago, the weather in New York in March and April was unreliable, and with a short season, we had to get as much practice time and as many games in as possible. During out trips to Arizona and later on during our season, we would play games that didn’t count against out-of-league opponents. Some of these teams — the ones from Arizona — were really good; others — the ones from up north getting in practice in the sun — weren’t. During the season, we would play games against out-of-league teams such as Iona Prep and tense in-league contests against Poly Prep or Hackley that would determine how and when our season ended.
But day in and day out, one thing held true: No matter who we were playing, we came to win, and once we as a team stepped on to the diamond, it was very, very hard to turn it down until after the game was over. We would, in March, play to win. We would play hard; we would play tough. If that meant a tough slide or a play at the plate, so be it. Even if the games didn’t count in our overall record, we couldn’t just dial it down out of some sense of fairness. Baseball is baseball.
So now look at the Cervelli/Johnson collision. A then-23-year-old was rounding third heading home with a 21-year-old catcher blocking the plate. As any baseball player knows, you have to score, and in the split seconds between the base path and home plate, instinct takes over. Did Johnson have time to think to himself, “It’s Spring Training. I shouldn’t barrel over the catcher. I should try to slide around”?
As a former player, I can safely say, “Of course not.” Johnson knew what he had to do; he knew it from years of playing baseball, and he couldn’t just turn it off. That’s not how it works at any level. Once a baseball player hits that third base bag, years of baseball training and instinct take over.
What surprises me too are the reactions from the Yankees. Joe Girardi, an intense player and an intense manager, should know this. Shelley Duncan, mouthing off about retribution, should know this. Clearly, Don Zimmer knows this. He’s spoken the most sense over the last few days.
What happened over the weekend was unfortunate. It was also a bad accident. It involved a player trying to field his position and a runner acting as any baseball runner does. Maybe — but doubtfully — a veteran with years of experience would have tried to find a way to avoid a collision. Maybe another catcher tries a swipe tag. But Cervelli stood his ground; Johnson stood his; and neither the twain shall meet. This collision shouldn’t involve retribution; it should simply involve Cervelli’s healing as fast as he can and everyone else’s remember that a baseball player can’t just turn it down five feet from home plate.
This is Part Two in my series of ripping off ideas from Jason Churchill at Prospect Insider. Yesterday I took a look at the best tools in the AL East, and now I’m ranking the best overall players. There’s no set formula used to determine the rankings, I basically went on track record and how I think everyone will perform this coming season. There’s not much separation between spots four and, like, 21, so don’t get too worked up if you disagree with a ranking. This wasn’t nearly as easy as you think.
I followed Jason’s lead and included some projected stats in the rankings, although my foray into sabermetrics won’t last much longer than this post. Thanks to Jason for giving me the okay to steal his ideas; I really appreciate it. The good stuff is after the jump.
Shoring up their offense today, the Yanks signed one of the biggest free agents left. Actor Billy Crystal will join the Bombers on Wednesday for a one-day audition. Crystal, 60, will practice with the team for a day and make his spring debut on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. While a cute publicity stunt, this move speaks volumes about the Pittsburgh Pirates. Can they even get out a 60-year-old actor?
Update: Just to be clear, this is part of a 60th birthday present from the Yankees to Billy Crystal. It’s not a giant publicity stunt about which some of the more skeptical folks have grumbled. · (20) ·
As New York awaits for its governor to resign, Yankee fans await a truly dominant spring performance by Joba Chamberlain. The 22-year-old celebrity goes tonight against the Reds. He throw 3-4 innings followed by this guy named Mariano Rivera who’s trying to crack the roster. Ian Patrick Kennedy will throw a few innings, and time-permitting, LaTroy Hawkins, Brian Bruney and Jose Veras will close out the game.
The game starts at 7:15 p.m, and it’s on MLB.tv. You can follow along here once it gets closer to game time.
The lineup please:
In other news, the Yanks signed Chad Moeller to fill in as a Minor League catcher for the next two months. I’ll have my thoughts on the Francisco Cervelli collision later this evening.
Jon Heyman at Sports Illustrated relays the story of how A-Rod almost wasn’t a Yankee anymore. It’s a nice look back on a story that was pretty much lost in the rest of the off-season hoopla. Once the Santana derby took front page, we all kind of swept A-Rod under the rug. Which is nice, since he was taking the brunt of it from the fans for the few weeks in which this situation was up in the air.
According to Heyman, the Angels, Dodgers, Mets, Red Sox, Tigers, and Giants were in on A-Rod, whether explicitly or implicitly. Further, A-Rod planned to meet with all of them, if for no other reason than to increase his leverage. However, it appears his desire to remain in the Bronx remained at the forefront of his mind.
So why did he opt out?
Rodriguez and Boras had believed that the Yankees needed to see, 1) that A-Rod was willing to leave, a serious concern since Boras thought A-Rod tipped his hand too much throughout his glorious 2007 season, and, 2) that others were willing to pay much more. Boras always believed the Yankees would get back in and pay the market rate, which he felt was 10 years for at least $300 million, for the three-time MVP with as much marquee power as home-run power — but only after he opted out and gave them a reason to.
And so we had the opt-out situation, in which many of us waved goodbye to A-Rod, even though it wasn’t our ~$21 million he had blown. The Yankees had made it pretty clear that he wouldn’t be welcome back if he opted out.
Boras felt the Yankees needed to be shocked. And while the opt-out did that, it apparently also shocked A-Rod. Rodriguez understood he’d be opting out, but he didn’t plan on the quick negative reaction by fans, media, and especially by the Yankees, including new boss Hank Steinbrenner, who publicly said the Yankees were done with A-Rod. “Good-bye,” Steinbrenner announced on opt-out night.
We did plenty here at RAB after the opt-out. Namely:
- Bid him adieu, noting that the opt-out signaled that he never intended to re-sign.
- Moved his category from “Current Yankees” to “Selfish Jerks.”
- Created a new one: “A-Rod’s Shimmy Makes the Women in New York Puke.”
- Explored the myriad options open for the Yankees to fill the third base vacancy.
A few weeks later, though, we learned that A-Rod was talking to the Steinbrenners about a contract. We were baffled a bit — and I talked to more than one person who thought it was a facade to extract more value from the other teams on the market. But after a day or so, it became apparent that these talks were serious, and that A-Rod would be a Yankee for the rest of his career.
Rodriguez triumphantly called Boras from the meeting with the Steinbrenners. He mentioned some hope for incentives but didn’t seem to care too much about them. Boras nonetheless pressed for $30 million in very attainable home-run milestones and finalized the contract language. So with the $10 million Texas was obligated to pay after the opt out, that could bring the total haul to $315 million — which is not too bad for a guy who was portrayed as crawling back. Yet, it probably still fell short of what he could have gotten elsewhere (or maybe even from the Yankees, had he waited it out).
Given the treatment of A-Rod by the fans and media in the past, I was pleasantly surprised by the reaction to his re-signing. While a number of fans thought that we were making a mistake by giving him 10 years and $275 million, he was for the most part welcomed back with open arms.
And A-Rod is glad to be back, too.
“New York brings out the best in you. And the worst,” Rodriguez said the other day. “You have to be able to look in the mirror and be honest with yourself I didn’t want to go to a place and hide and have my weaknesses be swept away. New York has made me a better man. And it’s made me a better baseball player.”
It might be spin, it might be PR speak. But it’s damn nice to hear those words from the best player in baseball.
In January, word broke that an outdoor New York Rangers game could be the last sporting event at Yankee Stadium. At the time, I was not too thrilled to hear that the Yanks would not be closing out Yankee Stadium. Today, the Daily News reports that this proposed game is moving closer to a reality. While this game will be exciting for all of the Ranger fans out there, I still want to see the Yanks play the last sporting event at the Stadium. Call me a traditionalist, but the Yanks should close out their 85-year-old home. · (11) ·
In the never-ending search for some bullpen support, the Yanks have their eyes on Damaso Marte and Brian Fuentes, the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote yesterday. As our buddies at MLBTR point out, Fuentes is owed $5.05 million this year, and Marte will make $2 million in 2008 with a 2009 club option for $6 million. If I had my choice, I’d go with Marte. He has AL success and better numbers overall. · (22) ·
Joba Chamberlain, 22, is a New York celebrity because of and in spite of throwing only 24 innings at the Big League level last season. During the winter, he seemingly became the face of the Yankees, garnering press conference and media attention at every fundraiser and holiday event. now, according to The Post’s Kevin Kernan, the Yanks would like Joba to set aside the celebrity and focus on his preparation. With Joba’s own admission that the popularity is impacting his preparation, I’m glad to see the Yanks step in to set their young pitching stud on the right path. · (4) ·