The Yankees will be all right.

November 4, 2007

As we say farewell to the man in charge of baseball’s last dynasty, as well as the league’s best hitter, its easy to take a pessimistic look on the Yankees’ upcoming season. As the token haters start yapping, and as you entertain those thoughts of ineptitude, inferiority, and all the fights you will be forced to start in order to retain your manhood, I submit to you this, Yankee fans: Keep your head up, we got this.

It’s no secret what the Yankees have been lacking in recent years. Its what makes a good team great, and without it, you don’t stand a chance. What I’m talking about here, obviously, is Chuck Knoblauch…Shelley Duncan

But seriously, they haven’t had consistent, deep starting pitching since 2001. It’s been the cause of their unraveling postseason after postseason. Check out this list: Jose Contreras, Esteban Loaiza, Jeff Weaver, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens, Carl Pavano. They all have two things in common. One, they were all in the Yankee rotation at some point between ’02 and now, and two, their performance was uglier than Shelley Duncan.

With all that said, I optimistically propose that the Yankees have one of the best rotations in baseball by July ’08. My biased ass is guaranteeing it, and I offer you some marginally speculative reasons why.

Johan Santana, the best pitcher in the game, is coming to New York. He’s got no business (or intention) ruining his career with an extension that keeps him in Grim-esota, and that $30 mill the Steinbrenners just saved by losing ARod is burning a Cruise-Ship-sized hole in their pocket. The Steinbrenner family has an infamous flair for the dramatic, and what better way to forget about the league’s best hitter than by acquiring the best pitcher. The Yanks are going to have to throw a ton of talent at the Twins, but if it can be done, the Steinbrenner kids will be kicking and screaming until it is.

Lets say they lose Hughes in the deal, plus a starting position player and a nice prospect. That leaves them with a rotation like this: Santana, Wang, Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy. That’s assuming Pettitte takes the $16m option and comes back, which he may or may not do ($16 mill, tough decision, really?). For the sake of my babbling, I’m going to again take the optimistic view and say he returns.

That gives the Yankees rotation great balance in a couple ways. They’ve got two lefties and three righties. I can’t remember the last time the Yankees had two lefties. The other thing that is even more exciting is the fact that the Yankees will have more young guys in the rotation than they do veterans. From a Yankee standpoint, that is unheard of. But the incredible talent that the young guys Wang, Chamberlain and Kennedy bring to the bump is even more unheard of for anybody except maybe the Marlins every 5 years or so.

Chamberlain’s stuff… –you know what, lets hold up a second. The word stuff is used a ton in baseball, and I think the word is so lame. And if you disagree with me then you are wrong… So I was just thinking of what else I could call it, and I reminded myself that Joba has Native American blood in him, and since it is coming up on Thanksgiving, from now on I’m going to refer to Joba’s stuff as his “corn, beans and squash.” If you don’t mind.

If you’ve had the chance to get a good look at him you’d see that he’s got some of the best corn, beans and squash in the game. He throws 98 mph, spots a ridonculous slider, and we’ve seen flashes of a top-to-bottom curveball, which we’ll see much more of this season since he’ll be throwing more than 15-20 pitches an outing. Corn. Beans. Squash.

Ian Kennedy is a finesse guy who’s got a 2-seam fastball at around 90, a slider, a curve, and his go-to pitch is a changeup he can spot. Both of these guys have very good potential, and it should be fun to watch them develop.

I already know how the haters will respond to this: “Oh, I JUST CAN’T WAIT to see how Yankee fans react when they have to deal with young guys who are struggling, blah blah blah.”

Well, in response to that, with the Yankee lineup, they can struggle–because a mid-4 era and the stamina to get past the 6th inning gets you about 15 wins (+/-1) with the Yankees’ ability to score runs, and that’s with or without PAY-Rod. As good as he was, the Yankees averaged only .22 more runs a game than 2006 when the Yankee third basemen had, by his standards, an off year. With ARod, the lineup was a nightmare, without ARod, the lineup is a nightmare.

In the offseason after a first round postseason loss in ’95, the Yankees hired a controversial new manager, and went into the next season as an underdog with a few young guys forced to play key roles throughout the season. The manager turned into the second winningest manager in Yankee history, the young guys turned out to be Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera, and the underdog perception was a means of motivation that transformed them into a dynasty.


Joe Torre: I love you.

October 10, 2007

WARNING: The following is for educated people only, toolbox Yankee-HATERS need not apply.

Yanks lost.  Besides ’04, I haven’t felt worse.  It hurts me because this was my last shot at pride living in the city of Boston.  I won’t go on and on about being a Yankee fan in Boston, but for those who haven’t: going to a bar with a Yankee hat on is like going to church with a big scarlet A on your chest (See Hester Prynne), except Hester didn’t have to listen to drunken idiots with a bloodline flooded with losing impulsively chant “Yankees suck! Yankees suck!” after a Manny Ramirez walk-off homerun in the playoffs.  Losers.  A particularly tolerant constituent of “Red Sox Nation” sincerely asked me the other day, “How can you go to school in Boston and be a Yankee fan?”  Well, there’s an easy answer to that, and here it is: Because I’m not a tool, like you.

This conversation inspired me to speak a little further on the subject, so here’s a message to the more casual (by casual I mean 90% of Boston-area college kids) citizens of Red Sox Nation who just love to spout verbal poopy from their faces:

It is no longer cool to hate the Yankees.  Your “A-Rod sucks the Big Unit” shirt was never funny, and to help update your wardrobe, here’s some suggestions for a replacement: “I couldn’t name one guy in the Red Sox infield.” or “I call runs points.” or “I know nothing about baseball.”

So as you sit at the bar, comparing biceps with your homies, just remember: legitimate Red Sox followers have no respect for you and wish you didn’t exist.  And the louder you are, the dumber you sound, so if you’ve had a few Twisted Teas and you feel the urge to start a “Jeter sucks A-Rod” chant, please, resist, for all of our sake.

Moving on.

In the wake of the loss, and the potential disassembly of the Dynasty’s last pieces, I’m in a reflective mood.  So here I go.

Torre and Rivera

I would love nothing more than to see Joe Torre win a World Series with the Yankees.  To see a guy as classy and genuine and honorable as him get his 5th would be the sweetest one in my lifetime, and I’m sure his too.  Not only was this guy a hell of a player and one of the greatest managers ever, he’s a hell of a man, who has seen his brothers through their darkest hours and survived cancer himself, and has been a very charitable man, while having unprecedented success as Yankee manager, the toughest job in sports.  Don’t think I’m trying to make him into a war-hero, just understand that he is a respectable man.

Last night, he talked about his players like they were his own kids, “If you have children growing up, maybe some of them will make A’s, other will make C’s, but they work their ass off either way and you hug them.  That’s basically the way I feel about those guys.”  This is a guy who managed $200 million dollars worth of the most hyped, most drooled-over lineup in the sport year after year, and his character and presence elicits so much respect that these national superheroes (or villains) call him “Mr. Torre.”  We’re talking about a mini-van full of first-ballot Hall of Famers, Jeter, Clemens, Rodriguez, Rivera, Posada, not to mention a bus load of guys with legitimate Cooperstown resume’s right behind them.  And these guys lived and died with him for 13 years without a peep of displeasure from anybody who mattered.

Should he lose his job?  Yesterday, I’d have said yes.  But I also would have said that there was no reason for me to live, and sometimes when things don’t go our way, we start to think less rationally than we would if we would just stop and give it some thought.  Steinbrenner acted just like I was last night when he gave that ultimatum.

The Yankees’ seven-year drought is not a matter of coaching.  Its a deviation from the formula that made them a Dynasty in the late 90s, a deviation that can be attributed to the same post-loss irrationality that might just dig the Yankees that much deeper if they let it consume them in the coming months.

The Yankees won four rings with one essential ingredient: Team, above all.  Chuck Knoblauch didn’t sit out with a sore ass.  Scott Brosius wasn’t involved in an adultery scandal with a stripper.  David Cone didn’t demand a “Only-Show-Up-For-Games-I-Start” clause in his contract.  Jeff Nelson didn’t cry when he didn’t get the ball in the 8th inning (or about anything else for that matter, Farnsworth).  Paul O’Neill didn’t make up stories about Torre being a racist.

No one was above the team, and they played for the Yankees, not for themselves.  That’s got nothing to do with coaching, that’s just a personnel issue.  The demise of the Dynasty rests in the hands of Steinbrenner, who after the 2001 World Series, the greatest World Series ever played, immediately started breathing down Brian Cashman’s neck to write a check to any big name free agent whose name he could spell.

And the influx of overpaid hype meant the departure of overachieving performers.  Jason Giambi in, Tino Martinez out.  Aaron Boone and Alex Rodriguez in, Wade Boggs and Scotty Brosius out.  Javier Vazquez in, David Wells out. Carl Pavano in, Andy Pettitte out.  Octavio Dotel in, Mike Stanton out.  Kyle Farnsworth in, Jeff Nelson out.  Johnny Damon in, Bernie Williams out.  Bobby Abreu in, Paul O’Neill out.  The list goes on.  And not that these guys were the immediate replacements, and not that any one of them are bad players or were the reason for the team’s failures, but there is an unmistakable trend here that cloaked the franchise from the beginning of the 21st century.  Individual superstars replaced self-motivated winners, and paper champions replaced a team of intangibles.

Steinbrenner just this year admitted his mistake and gave the reins back to Cashman, and besides A-Rod’s historic year, it is that decision that saved us from missing the playoffs.  Guys like Phil Hughes, Robinson Cano, Joba Chamberlain, Melky Cabrera, these are guys that would have been dealt if it were up to Steinbrenner, but thankfully, Cashman managed to salvage them and the talent and winning attitude that they all show.

When Steinbrenner first bought the Yanks for $9 million dollars in 1973, an astute businessman, he recognized his abilities and his boundaries, and his first statement as owner resonates today, as the Evil Empire seems to have fallen to its rock bottom.  Understanding the need for front office decision-makers with a knowledge of the game, Steinbrenner said, “We’re not going to pretend we’re something we aren’t. I’ll stick to building ships… It’s important to me, it’s important to all of us, and it’s particularly important to New York and to the Yankees, that the group that gets behind the Yankees at this point has the where-with-all and the interest to get the kind of job done that the sportswriters, that the fans, that the city and the media in New York deserve.”

Its not Joe’s fault, its not A-Rod’s fault, its not Jeter’s fault, its not Cashman’s fault, its not the media’s fault.  Its Steinbrenner’s irrational temperament and impulsive trigger finger that has destroyed the Yankee Mystique that Red Sox, Mets, and Braves fans were so sick of, and that Yankee fans were so proud of.

So, George, here’s what I propose, as a Yankee fan and a baseball fan:

Flip your turtleneck over your mouth and bite it, and let the best Manager and General Manager in the world figure it out, and you just stick to ships.