A Personal Essay on the Babe and Being a Fan

Can you guess what he did this in this at-bat? (AP)

If there was ever a “True Yankees Fan” contest, I would probably lose it if we were judged by traditional standards. I stopped watching baseball for four years in college (blame World of Warcraft and 2004), I have absolutely no memory for remembering plays and events before the most recent season, and I can’t identify pitch types. I’m more a personal essay kind of person than I am a statistic nerd kind kind of person, if you haven’t already figured that out. But, obviously, I consider myself a pretty big fan. Once you start running around blogging, it’s serious. The Yankees are extremely important part of my own identity, in my own way, including personal essays about it.

Aside from March being the first month of real baseball, it’s also my birthday. I don’t get a lot presents, but this year, I received a collection of New York Times Yankees covers that stretched all the way back through Yankees history. As a devoted fan, I can’t quite explain how it felt to be looking at a replica of the newspaper proclaiming the Yankees (then Americans) had acquired Babe Ruth from the Red Sox. Goosebumps spread down my neck and across my arms. I felt like I was holding history.

To me, Babe Ruth is more of an icon in history than an actual living and breathing person. As a Yankees fan, Babe Ruth is part of who I am – he made this team, he made me. To think that, in the past, he was traded for just like Curtis Granderson or Nick Swisher is a little like seeing a strict teacher in a liquor store. Of course, Ruth’s trade went on to symbolize the “curse” the Sox manage to only recently broke, but back then who could have known that? How did people feel when they looked at this cover proclaiming the New York Americans acquired Babe Ruth for $125,000? Had there been blogs, would we have sung the praises of this trade like Blue Jays fans celebrated the departure of Vernon Wells? The newspaper said Ruth was expecting such a trade – could he have predicted that he would go on to be so deeply and intrinsically linked with this franchise? Like my teacher, I have certain expectations for Babe Ruth in my head: that he is a hero despite his less than stellar off-the-field personality, that he represents the great franchise we all know and love, and that he’s closer to a saint than an actual person. To think that New York Times articles were written about him, rather than biographies and documentaries, is a strange thing to think for me. Perhaps the Francesas of that era blasted him. Hard to imagine anyone saying bad about the baseball prowess of the Babe. But maybe they did. Despite the weakness of the Yankees fan to canonize Ruth, he was only human. He probably struck out with the bases loaded once or twice. I’m sure he botched a play or two. To think that perhaps, in those singular moments, people were calling for his head just boggles my mind.

These two vaguely related events got me to one awesome conclusion: that I am extremely, extremely lucky to be raised a Yankees fan. While I mean no offense to the expansion teams – I like the Rays even if I want them to come in second place every year, and the Rockies are just adorable – the full history and legacy of the Yankees is something I am extremely glad to be a part of in my own small way. I am very grateful to be part of the successful, expansive history of the Yankees and, in the most insignificant way possible, adding to it with my blog posts, my bold proclamations of Montero success, and, the most important, my wallet. The Yankees help make me who I am. Every Spring Training, I realize that these total strangers running around in uniform hitting balls with sticks are so deeply sewn into my being that watching them run around makes me think about last year, and the year before that, and all the family history I have watching them,.

It also got me thinking: in 80 years, will Derek Jeter be an absolute saint? Hard to imagine people bringing up this dramatic off-season, considering the way we talk in reverent voices about a womanizing alcoholic. Maybe we’ll find out he was a womanizer in the tell-all unauthorized Derek Jeter biography. Either way, I’m just grateful to be a part of it, and I’m glad you’re all here with me. Yes, even the haters.

Spring Training Game Thread: Bring on the Sox

The world's wealthiest ball boy. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Okay, so it’s only a meaningless Spring Training game, but it’s always a fun time when the Yankees and Red Sox face off. Except this time, because the game is meaningless. I feel like I’m repeating myself.

If you’re looking for a reason to be excited, well have I got one for you: Manny Banuelos is scheduled to throw two innings tonight, which is as good as baseball gets in March. Mark Prior is also slated to throw an inning, so that’ll be cool. I think we’re all pulling for him. Russell Martin is starting behind the plate for the first time all spring, and will do so wearing a light-weight knee brace that he’s been using in drills. Apparently it’s more of a precaution than anything. Here’s the starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Russell Martin, C
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robbie Cano, 2B
Jorge Posada, DH
Andruw Jones, LF
Melky Mesa, CF
Greg Golson, RF

Available Pitchers: Bartolo Colon (scheduled for 50 pitches), Manny Banuelos, Pedro Feliciano, Mark Prior, Andy Sisco, Luis Ayala, Erick Wordekemper, Steve Garrison, and Ryan Pope.

Available Position Players: Austin Romine (C), Jorge Vazquez (1B), Ramiro Pena (2B), Doug Bernier (SS), Brandon Laird (3B), Jordan Parraz (LF), Austin Krum (CF), Justin Maxwell (RF), and Jesus Montero (DH).

Apparently the Red Sox didn’t get the memo about how serious this game is, the only regulars they sent are Darnell McDonald, Ryan Kalish, Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie, and Clay Buchholz. The game will be aired live on both YES and MLB Network starting at 7:05pm ET. Enjoy.

March 4th Spring Training Notes

Don't hurt that arm, we need you to opt out after the season. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees-Red Sox game is coming up later on tonight, so let’s get the notes out of the way a little earlier than usual…

Cervelli out at least four weeks with broken foot

(AP Photo/Rob Carr)

The Yankees have announced that Frankie Cervelli has a fractured bone in his left foot and will be in a boot and unable to perform baseball activities for the next four weeks. Six-to-eight weeks is the realistic timetable for when he’ll be able to return to the team. Cervelli suffered the injury when he fouled a ball off the top of the foot earlier this week. He stayed in that game for another inning but was eventually lifted.

Joe Girardi told reporters that the competition for the backup catcher’s job is wide open right now, but the plan is for Jorge Posada to remain at DH according to Bryan Hoch. Girardi has “no plans” of starting Jorge behind the plate in any games this month. This really opens the door for Jesus Montero, who has to be considered the favorite to backup Russell Martin at this point. I’d be in favor of that. Austin Romine and Gustavo Molina will be given long looks as well.

This is the third time in four years that Cervelli’s been hurt in Spring Training. He had his wrist broken in that infamous home plate collision with Elliot Johnson in 2008, and last year he was hit in the head by a pitch, resulting in a concussion. That’s what brought about the Rick Moranis helmet.

Vernon Wells would have accepted trade to New York

Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees were one of three teams Vernon Wells would have waived his no-trade cause to join. The Rangers and, obviously, the Angels were the other two. Wells grew up in Arlington, so it’s no surprise why he would have gone there, and I can only assume he would have come to New York for the chance to win pretty much every season. Either that or he really enjoys the “You’re name’s Vern-non clap clap clapclapclap” chant from the creatures.

Anyway, the Yankees had no need for a guy like Wells, who I’m not sure is an upgrade over any of their three starting outfielders. Oh, and that contract. Yikes.

2011 Season Preview: Nick Swisher

As we count down the days and weeks leading up to the season, we’re going to preview the 2011 Yankees by looking at each of their core players and many, many more. A new preview will go up every day, Monday through Friday, from now until Opening Day.

(Bill Kostroun/AP)

It remains one of Brian Cashman‘s finest trades. In early November, 2008, as a prelude to his big score in free agency, he traded Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez, and Jhonny Nunez for Kanekoa Texeira and Nick Swisher. Coming off a 2008 season in which he hit .219, Swisher must have been seen as a risk, since Ken Williams traded him for so little. That was an odd notion, considering Swisher’s numbers from his previous two seasons. It all played into the Yankees’ game, and they’ve benefitted greatly from the deal.

A year later Betemit left the White Sox while Marquez and Nunez had their shares of struggles. The Yankees, on the other hand, got a career year out of Swisher, who played a significant role on the 103-win regular season team. He did struggle in the playoffs, but his Game 3 RBI was certainly an important one. Swisher followed that up in 2010 with what was perhaps a better year. Hitting coach Kevin Long thinks that we can’t expect Swisher to be even better in 2011, because he was that good in 2010. Unsurprisingly, Swisher himself does not agree with that assessment.

Best Case

(Peter Morgan/AP)

Prior to 2010, Swisher had always been a low-average, high-walk, high-strikeout guy. That worked well enough for him. He hit for power and got on base frequently, which more than made up for the low average. But last season he displayed a more aggressive approach at the plate. He swung far more often than he ever had in his career. This led to a remarkably lower walk rate — just 9 percent, down from 16 percent in 2009 — but it also led to more hits. Swisher’s .288 batting average was a career high by a long shot. His OBP suffered a little bit, but the extra hits helped him provide more value at the plate — a 133 wRC+, which topped his 125 from 2009.

The best case, then, would have Swisher putting together the best of both worlds. That is, putting something like a .275 average on top of a 15 percent walk rate, while adding his 2009 power numbers to the mix. Working on a 650 PA scale, since it would represent a healthy season between the Nos. 2 and 6 spots in the lineup, that would mean a .275/.383/.525 line. That’s better than Swisher has ever hit in a season, which would mean a third straight career best year while in pinstripes. It’s also a realistic take on the best case. Considering what we’ve seen from Swisher, it’s not all that unbelievable.

Worst Case

(Kathy Willens/AP)

Chances are that Swisher has already seen his worst season. In Chicago he was moved both in the order and in the field. During his days in Oakland he was a corner outfielder who hit fifth or sixth in the order. The White Sox, noting his high OBP, put him in the leadoff spot. They also stuck him in center field, which, considering his speed and range, probably isn’t the best position for him. Those factors, along with a reportedly tumultuous relationship with manager Ozzie Guillen, played into Swisher’s only below-average offensive season.

Could he reach those depths again? It’s possible, but while he’s been in New York he has proved that 2008 was an outlier and nothing more. How low can Swisher sink, then? If we combine the low points for Swisher, 2009’s BA with 2010’s walk rate and ISO, we’d get .250/.317/.473. That would make him look fairly pedestrian. Injury is part of every player’s worst case, but with Swisher it’s not a big risk at all. He hasn’t hit the DL since 2005, though he did miss a number of days in 2010 thanks to a series of nagging injuries.

What’s Likely To Happen

The most likely case from Swisher is an approximation of his production from the past two years. He’s in his prime and, by his own indications, more motivated than ever. While he might not quite hit his lofty best case scenario, he probably won’t be a great deal worse. Think .265/.370/.500 or thereabouts. On most teams that would easily make him one of the three best hitters on the team, and on the bottom feeders he’d be the star. But on the Yankees he’s at best fourth.

In the last two years Yankees fans have had the pleasure of knowing Nick Swisher. He rubs some people the wrong way with his lively, talkative nature, but that doesn’t take away from his on-field production. He might be prone to the occasional bonehead play in the field or on the base paths, but day in and day out he’s a solid contributor to a championship team.

To close, I’ll leave you with a graph that we’ve seen plenty of in the past year or so. Click to make it larger.