Our old Joe

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The Dodgers and Yankees both sit at 4-4 a few games behind their respective division leaders. Despite the 3000 miles separating New York from Los Angeles, though, these teams this year will be linked by Joe Torre.

Today, Rick A., a new contributor at My Baseball Bias, waxes nostalgically about Joe Torre. With the Yankees seemingly struggling at 4-4 in the early goes, Rick wonders, “In hindsight, was it a bad move to essentially get rid of Torre?” He equivocates on the answer and ends by reaffirming something upon which all Yankees agree: We will always look back fondly on the Joe Torre Era.

I’d like to take a short stab though at answering the question posed by Rick. I think the answer is a resounding no. To me, Joe Torre and the Yankees will forever be linked. He was named the manager of the team before my 13th birthday and served in his role until I was 24. I doubt any Yankee manager will last as long as Torre did during my lifetime, and my high school years are filled with memories of the Yankees winning the World Series year after year.

Then, for me, along came college and with it, Joe Torre’s magic touch disappeared. I watched the Yankees lose two World Series, lose one divisional series in four games and lose historically to the Red Sox in 2004. It was, in fact, after that momentous ALCS that I believe Torre and the Yanks should have parted company.

Hindsight aside, during those last four games, we saw the Yankees outmaneuvered and out-managed. Torre showed his proclivity for his guys when he went with Bernie Williams over Kenny Lofton even in obvious situations. He showed his tendencies toward bullpen abuse. He showed a lack of creative strategy when he didn’t steal off of the Wakefield-Varitek battery or bunt off of Curt Schilling.

But the Yanks let Joe linger, and the last three seasons for Torre seemed more like a battle than anything prior had. It wouldn’t have been a kneejerk reaction to dismiss Torre in 2004, and it wasn’t a bad move to let him go in 2007.

So far, I have no qualms with Joe Girardi. I think he’s done a great job of managing the bullpen through the first eight games, and the players seem to respect him as they did Torre. He might not deliver four World Series championship in his first five seasons as manager, but who can? I’ll miss Torre for what he represented; I don’t miss him for his managing quite yet.

Categories : Front Office
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No, yesterday’s game was not pretty — and that’s an understatement. We watched a series of poor at bats combined with the sloppiest defense I’ve seen in quite a while. Oh yeah, and Phil Hughes didn’t exactly make things any better. The youngest pitcher in the majors didn’t even record an out in the fourth inning, leaving the game in the hands of a bullpen that will surely be tested over the next few weeks.

Of course, knee-jerk Yankees fans were quick to heap the insults on Hughes. I got one email that said keeping Hughes (not trading him for Santana) would be a move we’d regret for the next six years. I got plenty which noted that, once again, Hughes’s velocity wasn’t up to his scouting reports. True, many of these came from people watching the Kansas City broadcast — the gun was clearly slow in the Midwest. But the complaints rolled in nonetheless.

I found myself doing what I’ve done for the past year and change: Defending Hughes. I sometimes feel as if I want him to succeed so badly that I refuse to see the negatives he presents. But then I step back and remember that we’ve seen what he can do. I’ve seen it in his stats, and I’ve seen him do it to major league hitters.

But then I think back to what we all agreed on before the season even began. No one thought this would be a cruise ship season. You’re going to hit bumps with your young pitchers, especially when one of them is the youngest pitcher in the majors. Yesterday, we hit a bump. To see it any other way is, in my opinion, just plain shortsighted.

So what does this have to do with Melky Cabrera?

It’s no secret that I’m not the biggest Melky fan. I watch him at the plate, and I sometimes cringe at the hacks he takes. And I always see him taking circuitous routes to balls in the outfield, especially line drives.

The response most heard to my complaints: He’s young. And as you can see above, I constantly use the same defense for Hughes. I’ve said before that youth does not guarantee progress, but it certainly leaves the door open.

It’s completely conceivable that through experience Melky learns how to play line drives, especially those over his head. In fact, it can be said that the only way he can possibly get better at playing them is to, well, play them. This is no guarantee, but there’s a point where it’s a good idea to leave him out there and let him learn. I think we’re still at that point now, considering the alternatives.

So, because I’m so quick to defend Phil, I don’t think it’s quite fair of me to continually bash Melky. Yes, he frustrates me plenty. But on the other hand, Phil frustrates his share of Yankees fans, too. We’re going to have to learn to let these players grow, though. And if they don’t, well, that’s why the team has an aggressive plan to build the farm system.

Next time I rail on Melky for this or that, please, remind me of this post.

Game note: Just checked the Gameday data for Phil’s outing. His fastball was 91-92 the entire first inning. He slipped a few in under 90 in the second inning, but was still for the most part 90-92. He threw a lot more under 90 in the third inning. Ditto the fourth. So I’m not sure what to make of all that. But the reports of him throwing 86 are greatly exaggerated.

Also, this is kinda strange. With Billy Butler on second and two outs in the third, Hughes threw six pitches to Ross Gload, none of which were fastballs…he topped out at 78 for the at bat. The next batter, John Buck saw nothing but fastballs (though none topped 90). The strangest part of all is that he walked both guys.

Categories : Game Stories
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Triple-A Scranton (1-0 loss to Louisville)
Justin Christian & Greg Porter: both 1 for 4 – Christian K’ed three times … Porter stole a base and K’ed once
Cody Ransom: 0 for 4
Juan Miranda: 0 for 2, 2 BB – 6 games into a year, and he still hasn’t K’ed
Eric Duncan: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 2 K
Alberto Gonzalez & Bernie Castro: both 1 for 2 – the Former Attorney General K’ed once … Castro took a base on balls, stole one base and was caught trying to swipe another
The Ghost of Kei Igawa: 4 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 WP, 2-4 GB/FB – 50 of 74 pitches were strikes (67.6%)
Chris Britton: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 2-3 GB/FB – 16 of 22 pitches were strikes (72.7%)
Jon Albaladejo: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 3-1 GB/FB
Edwar Ramirez: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K – typical Edwar outing … 7 of 8 pitches were strikes

Read More→

Categories : Down on the Farm
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  • Hip, hip, oh, no.

    Jorge Posada botched two pitch-out attempts today and left the game early. Now word comes along that Posada is heading for the MRI machine and could land on the disabled list. If so, Chad Moeller and his career OPS+ of 60 will assume the back-up catcher duties for Jose Molina. Needless to say, this is not good news. · (9) ·

Stadium09 In my Inbox yesterday morning were more scenes from inside the new Yankee Stadium construction zone. These shorts, courtesy of again to reader Paul V., show some scenes from inside the construction site, and they show the final piece of the façade on the way up.

The photos, all taken by Robert Barkovitz, show the Stadium going up. You can view a slideshow below or check them out here at my flickr site. Some highlights:

  • Above, the final piece of the façade, decorated with the Union flag, the U.S. flag and the Yankee flag, rests on the ground before making the trip up to the top of the stadium.
  • That final piece if laid into place.
  • The view inside shows that the Stadium has a long way to go yet.
  • No seats yet on the lower level.
  • The view around the seating bowl looks pretty nifty.

Thanks again to Robert Barkovitz for this final set of photos from inside the new stadium, and we’ll have construction shots all summer long. The slide show is below.

Categories : Yankee Stadium
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After Mike Mussina’s outing last night in which he tied Bob Gibson for 44th on the all-time win list, a message mysteriously appeared on Mussina’s white board in the locker room. The note, according to Dan Graziano, read: “Thanks ESPN for the 4:00 a.m. arrival and day game the next day.”

For Mussina, it doesn’t really matter. He pitched last night and doesn’t throw again until the Yanks get to Boston. But it’s hard not to feel sympathetic for the Yankees. Because MLB wouldn’t tell ESPN that they could not have last night’s Yankee game, the Yanks were stuck playing a 7:05 p.m. game on get-away day. They had to fly to Kansas City after the fact and play a day game today. Had yesterday’s game been at 1:05 p.m. as originally planned or had today’s game been set for 7:05 p.m., everything would have been fine.

The Yankees aren’t making excuses for themselves. “It’s difficult, but it’s not something you don’t expect,” Girardi said. “When I played here, we did it a lot. It’s just part of the baseball life. You’ve got to be resilient and you’ve got to go through it, and there are no excuses.”

Even if there are no excuses, the Yankees are facing a scheduling fight this month. Because of the Pope’s trip to New York, 18 of their next 20 games are on the road, and they have one day off — on April 21 — this month. The last thing they need are day games on the road after night games at home. Either way, we play today; we win today.

Mister Hughes pitches today for the Yanks. Watch that velocity. The sky might fall if he’s not throwing fast enough. With Hughes on the mound, I’d be remiss not to mention the Big Three K Craniosynostosis pledge drive. Please consider donating if you haven’t already.

Damon LF
Cano 2B
Abreu RF
Rodriguez 3B
Matsui DH
Posada C
Giambi 1B
Betemit SS
Cabrera CF

Hughes P

Game Notes: Jeter out; Giambi in. Derek is day-to-day and could miss up to a week, but for now, the Yankees are saying he won’t land on the DL. An MRI showed a mild strain. A-Rod remains at third base.

Categories : Game Threads
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As most RAB readers already know, the three of us are rather fond of ESPN’s Rob Neyer. He’s got a new book out, Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Legends. This is the third, and he claims final, of his “Big Book” series. Previously, there was the Big Book of Baseball Lineups and the Big Book of Baseball Blunders. In “Legends,” Neyer looks back at baseball tall tales, and through the aid of fact-checking, let’s us know how accurate each one is.

Of course, this type of text isn’t for everyone. Some people want to go on believing these stories of heroes in eternal bliss. No problem there. But for some of us, the truth adds another dynamic to the stories. If you’re of this ilk, then read on, because “Legends” is quite the fun read.

There are plenty of Yanks stories in the book, which is to be expected. With so many legends having passed through the halls of Yankee Stadium, I’m sure Neyer could compile an entire book just for the Yankees.

Leading off for the Yanks is a story relayed in the YES booth (apparently during a My9 broadcast) by Ken Singleton. On the occasion of Louisiana Lightning’s 57th birthday, Kenny told a story of how Ron Guidry never used his changeup until he was nine years deep in the majors. Willie Wilson was the victim of the first offering, and Singleton said it was a strikeout to end the game. In said game, according to Singleton, Guidry struck out Wilson three times.

Neyer, using the power of readily-available data, finds that this can’t possibly be true. In fact, Guidry never struck out Wilson to end a game, nor did he ever strike out Wilson thrice in a game. Neyer does relay a Guidry-Wilson story, though, of how Guidry struck out Wilson looking to start an inning, got pounded, and then struck out Wilson looking to end the inning. But no, the changeup story, as told by Singleton, is debunked.

Unfortunately, there’s only one Steinbrenner story. The good news: It involves him firing someone. This comes from 1973, Big Stein’s inaugural year in the Bronx. Ralph Houk was managing, and he claims to have sent up Johnny Callison — who was OPSing .337 at the time — to pinch hit with runners on in a close game in Texas. Callison, according to Houk, “struck out or popped up,” ending the Yanks potential rally. After the game, Stein called Houk and told him to release Callison. Houk didn’t want to, but after GM Lee MacPhail talked to the Boss, he called Houk back to tell him to release Callison.

It appears Houk conflated the situation. In a game against the Angels in New York, Callison pinch hit for Felipe Alou and grounded out with runners on, keeping the score at 3-1 Angels, which is how it ended. He played a half inning in right field two nights later in Texas, but did not appear at the plate. That was his last major league game.

(In the end, Stein was clearly in the right in calling for Callison’s release.)

For the younger crowd, there’s an interesting story about Jeff Bagwell and Greg Maddux. I’ll quote George Will of Newsweek for the myth:

Leading 8-0 in a regular-season game against the Astros, Maddux threw what he said he would never throw to Jeff Bagwell–a fastball in. Bagwell did what Maddux wanted him to do: he homered. So two weeks later, when Maddux was facing Bagwell in a close game, Bagwell was looking for a fastball in, and Maddux fanned him on a change-up away.

Is Greg Maddux really that sly? He really had the wherewithal to groove one to Bagwell in a meaningless situation so that he could nail him in a meaningful one? Well, if anyone would do it, it’s Maddux. Still, something doesn’t seem right here.

Through Neyer’s inspection, we find that Bagwell hit seven career regular-season homers off Maddux. However, none of them came with an 8-0 or 7-0 score. Only two came when the Braves were leading by more than two runs. September ’96 was the first, but Maddux made zero starts against the Astros after that. The other was August 11 of ’99, which was also Maddux’s last start against the ‘Stros.

Ah, but the Astros did make the postseason that year, and they did face the Braves and Maddux. The two faced off in the series opener, and Bagwell did strike out. Further, it was a close game. However, it was the first inning, and no runners were on. So it appears that this is a rather overblown story.

(Mr. Will could have fact-checked this one himself. It was written in 2006, and Baseball Reference and Retrosheet were freely available.)

To quote Neyer on the conclusion:

I don’t doubt that Greg Maddux, in some fashion or another, set up Jeff Bagwell at some point during their long careers. Or rather, I don’t doubt that Maddux believes he did that. And maybe he did. Pitchers have been telling stories like this one for nearly as long as there have been pitchers. But believing you did something and actually doing it are sometimes different things.

As with all of Neyers’ work, this books is thoughtful and well-written. He’s conversational in his prose, which lends itself well to a book like this. Instead of plainly debunking baseball legends, Neyer acts as if he’s in your living room, sipping a cold Saranac and looking up the facts on his laptop. Which is nice, because that’s how the stories are told and spread in the first place.

Once again, some people might view this as a “That didn’t happen like that!!!111!!!!” kind of book. And if you don’t want to give up baseball lore, stay away from this tome. However, it’s hard to downplay the enthusiasm Neyer displays in his execution. You can tell he not only enjoys debunking old legends, but that he enjoys the legends themselves.

The book also represents a kind of melancholy about present-day baseball. There won’t be as much room for these kinds of anecdotes, since we have play-by-play data and a whole gamut of statistics a mouse-click away. It’s far more difficult to get away with telling a tall tale when someone can click back to last year’s game logs to prove it false.

There are plenty of other Yankees stories in the book, including the story of Thurman Munson and his feud with Carlton Fisk. Then there’s an always-intersting Reggie/Billy Martin story, plus one about Billy and Jackie Robinson. And no book of baseball legends would be complete without a little Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

I’d recommend parking this book in front of the toilet. The stories are short enough for even those of us who like to get in and out of the bathroom quickly. If you plan to pick up a copy, click here for Neyer’s Amazon affiliate. That gives him a commission on the sale, which is nice, since Amazon is notoriously skimpy on the royalties it pays to authors.

Categories : Reviews
Comments (5)
  • Checking in on an old friend

    While the Yanks won a game last night in which Brian Bruney, Kyle Farnsworth and LaTroy Hawkins all pitched, Joe Torre’s Dodgers were not so lucky. As Scott Proctor’s Arm relates, the only member of the Dodger bullpen made his fourth appearance in seven games. Last night, he gave up four earned runs on two home runs and sports a nifty 9.82 ERA on the season. Some things never change. · (3) ·

  • Here comes the short stop debate

    With Jeter injured, the great Yankees short stop debate kicks back up again. We all know Derek Jeter isn’t the best fielding short stop around, but how should the Yanks replace him? Jeff Passan at Yahoo! Sports thinks that using A-Rod at short is so crazy it just might work. John Harper thinks that A-Rod, who has played just a few innings at short since 2003, should stay at third. I think using Morgan Ensberg at third and A-Rod at short isn’t the worst idea the Yanks have put forth recently. · (43) ·