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NYY: Some Early Observations

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To date the Yankees have played a mere six games, of which I’ve managed to see three: one was broadcast on FOX, and for the other two I schlepped, both times, through pouring rain on the bus to my son’s MLBTV-equipped home. (I’ve since learned I have a free preview of MLBTV, and will be happily ensconced in my armchair all of next week.) Three games is admittedly not much to go on, but would I let a little thing like that stop me from passing judgment? Certainly not!

First the good news: Curtis Granderson. I’m in love with this guy. He’s gorgeous, but even more important, he’s already contributed some great stuff to the team. He hit the second home run of the season, following Posada, who hit the first, in the lineup, and made some fantastic plays in the outfield. Today, against Tampa Bay, he made one of those stunning catches that fans remember for years, calling out “I got it, I got it,” then falling down sideways, hand and arm outstretched so the ball landed on the edge of his glove and slid neatly into the pocket. He had a look on his face that reminded me of a catch made years ago by Scott Brosius (see? we do remember these catches). His eyes focus like a laser beam, never leaving the ball for a second.

Granderson, 29, comes to us courtesy of the Detroit Tigers, for whom he played center field since 2005. Among his many accomplishments, in 2007 he joined Willie Mays and Frank “Wildfire” Schulte as the only players in major league history to reach 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in one season. On December 9, 2009, the Yankees traded pitcher Phil Coke and minor leaguer Austin Jackson for Granderson (like most MLB trades, the deal was a little more complicated, involving three teams). To top it all off, Granderson’s written a book, All You Can Be: Dream It, Draw It, Become It!, published last year by Triumph Books. As for the all-important question of marital status, I haven’t yet been able to uncover the details.

And now for the Bad News: We’ve got a few holes in the lineup–namely, Brett Gardner and the Nicks Swisher and Johnson, all of whom played like crap in the games I watched. Gardner’s been with the team awhile, playing occasionally as a fill-in. I never thought much of him, and I don’t know why he’s been elevated to regular status. Nick Johnson returns to the Yankees after a hiatus of a few years, during which he spent half his time on the Disabled List. And Swish, who I used to adore as an Oakland A and in his early days in pinstripes, tanked in last year’s World Series, and seems to have picked up right where he left off, with the exception of one homer late in today’s game. By then, though, I was disgusted with him for stranding A-Rod on second base, not once but twice.

Shortly after coming to New York, Swisher, a hairy dude, decided to be completely shorn. The lack of a beard exposed an alarmingly weak chin, and his head looks like it belongs to a Marine. I know George Steinbrenner runs a tight ship, but if AJ Burnett can exhibit his Bruce Lee tattoos, surely Swish can sport a little bit of a beard. He looks awful, and I’m convinced that, like Samson, his strength vanished with his hair cuttings. Crazy? Maybe. Still, stranger things have happened in baseball…

The thing that bothers me about these three under-performing guys is the palpable absence of Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. I don’t know why the former are in the lineup while these two were shipped off to Detroit and (ugh!) Anaheim, respectively. Matsui was the MVP of last year’s World Series–and the boss’s reaction was, Goodbye! At first I figured, well, these guys are getting older, Matsui’s knees are bad, they can’t afford to have a few guys that might have to play Designated Hitter in too many games. But Johnson, as I said, is prone to injury, while Matsui is now playing outfield for the Angels without any apparent problem.

I don’t know who is responsible for these decisions, but I’ll hazard a guess that it was Hal and/or Hank Steinbrenner, who, I get the impression, don’t know all that much and care even less. The whole thing reminds me of Billy Beane’s management of the Oakland A’s–he dumps a player as soon as the guy does well, figuring he’s peaked and will soon begin the long slide down. The philosophy is outlined in Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball. I for one have seen no evidence it’s effective, as I’ve watched one player after another get kicked out of Oakland only to go play stupendously for another team (case in point: Miguel Tejada, now with Detroit.)

I ranted so much about all this during today’s game, my son said I ought to host a baseball analysis show, that it would be hilarious. Hah! At least I have my blog. And, in the interests of not being a total grump, I’ll end on a high note: remember the announcement that Posada, Jeter and Rivera have been playing together for 16 years, longer than any trio of professional athletes? Well, after Rivera pitched the final strikeout today, Posada ran to the mound, as he has a thousand times before, and threw his arm across Rivera’s shoulders. As they walked off the field together, I was flooded with emotion, what with their history in the forefront of my mind, and I got all teary-eyed and mushy. I just love these guys.


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