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Yankees 2013: A Ghostly Team

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YankeeStadium

Derek Jeter: Broken ankle still not healed, on 60-day DL. A-Rod: Hip surgery during off-season, on 60-day DL. Curtis Granderson, fractured forearm, on 15-day DL. Mark Teixeira, strained right wrist, 15-day DL. Francisco Cervelli, fractured right hand, playing it day-by-day. Ivan Nova, triceps inflammation, 60-day DL. Joba Chamberlain, strained right oblique, 15-day DL. David Robertson, sore left hamstring, day by day. Kevin YouKillUs (yes, the former Red Sox guy), lumbar spine strain, 15-day DL.

Enough?derek-jeter

Bear in mind that most of these guys have been on the DL since before Opening Day, so they haven’t played yet this year at all. More important, those 15 or 60 DL days are frequently extended once they’re up. Jeter, for instance, spent most of the off-season with his ankle in a brace, riding around his mansion on a scooter.  He was expected to play come April 1st but has yet to swing a bat other than in practice—and after seeing him hanging around the dugout, I think he’d best get himself on a weight reduction plan, stat!

Yesterday, May 4th, I watched a complete game for the first time this season. It took me a month to face the sight of my beloved team replaced by a former Red Sox player and a bunch of strangers. Yankee Stadium was half empty—unprecedented—so apparently I’m not alone. I knew precisely four of the guys in the lineup. It was like watching the A’s—who in fact they were playing—at the start of every new season when they’ve invariably been overhauled. I knew just

Joe Torre

Joe Torre

two of their players–but that’s not unusual. When Joe Torre managed the Yankees I could easily recite the rarely changed lineup. It isn’t my aging brain cells at fault; it’s the players’ aging process. That and demented management.

Despite the Yankees’ decimation-by-injury, they’re doing all right. Except for Nova’s recent injury, the pitching rotation seems to be in good shape. Yesterday Phil Hughes threw eight scoreless innings. The Yankees won 4-2, but the score leaped there from 4-0 as soon as a reliever came in. Joe Girardi did the right thing for once, and immediately called in Mariano Rivera. (He’s got 11 Minnesota Twins v New York Yankeessaves so far in what he’s declared will be his final season.) Robinson Cano is on the top ten MLB home run list  with 8, and he has an OBP of 352 and a 309 average.  They’ve won 17 games and lost 11, putting them in second place in AL East. The Red Sox are ahead with 20 wins, riding the wave of good will in the wake of the intense emotions swirling around Boston. (Not saying they’re doing anything wrong, just that some of the love pouring over Boston after the marathon bombing spills naturally over the Sox, who are so closely identified with the city, state and just about all of New England.)

A few ranting words at management for dumping Nick Swisher and Raoul Ibanez are in order. Instead we now have Lyle Overbay and Travis Hafner, both baseball elders even though we constantly hear that the Yankees desperately

Lyle Overbay

Lyle Overbay

need young blood.

Still, if the guys can do as well as they are with a Red Sox and strangers, just imagine what’ll happen when the Old Guard returns, well rested and ready to kick ass!

English: Cap logo of the New York Yankees

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New Yankee Songs

Before I get too far into this post, I’m going to indulge in a bit of meta-writing, i.e., writing about writing, specifically about baseball. Some readers may have noticed that my output in this category has, over the years, steadily declined, down now to barely a trickle. I doubt any of you care: according to my stats, baseball is my least-read category.

After a year or so of writing about baseball I discovered that I mostly dislike doing it. Sportswriting is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult and tedious genres I’ve ever attempted, what with all the history, statistics, and the shadows of long-gone players (not to mention the ones still around!) looming over my shoulder, ready to pounce on the least little error. I’ve always been bored reading sportswriting; I’d estimate that only maybe 20% of it is any good. In fact, most of it is so bad that readers remember the names of the very few who do it well: Red Smith, Jimmy Breslin, Howard Cosell. After a few years plugging away at it, I finally decided life’s too short to waste it on researching hundred-year-old stats.

Once in awhile, though, when a personal drama or team dynamic emerges as the fascinating human saga they sometimes are, I’m drawn in. Not only do I want the details for personal consumption, I also want to spout my opinion on whatever’s going down. So here I am, at the end of the 2012 baseball season, with a few words to throw down.

Actually,  it hardly seems like season’s end, what with a whole bunch of games still to be played, and nobody sure of what’s going on. A second wild card team was added to the endgame this year, generating even more confusion than usual. October is always confusing anyhow; nobody knows when who and where games will be played until the winners win and the losers lose. Maybe its just me, and I’m saying this to make myself feel better—but it seems to be universal. Announcers, for instance, aren’t calling  “Magic Numbers” at the start of games this year; I think it’s because they’re clueless.


Even before this month it was a weird season for me. First there was the devastating absence of Jorge Posada, my favorite player—but at least I was prepared; I knew last season that Posada was leaving, being pushed out, so I had time to grieve. However: I never expected—and neither did anyone else—that Mariano Rivera (my Number Two Guy) would be injured and have to sit out the whole season. In fact, I figured Rivera’s accident was the result of some sort of voodoo retribution to avenge Jorge. (Guess I’ve been reading too many Haitian mysteries!) Everyone feared a major meltdown for the Yanks after Rivera’s collapse, but it turns out to be true that Necessity is the Mother of Invention: Rafael Soriano stepped up to the mound and became a terrific closer. That was definitely something to cheer about.

And, as in all of Major League Baseball, the Yankees had an extraordinary number of injuries this year: Andy Pettite, back on the mound after a year of retirement, broke his left fibula (that’s the leg bone) and was out of commission almost the entire season. More infuriating, because, I suspect, it was intentional, was A-Rod’s hand, broken after being slammed by “King”  Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners.  Why intentional, you ask? I’ll tell you why: this “accident” occurred during Ichiro Suzuki’s first game as a Yankee, the team he’d just left the Mariners to join; and during this game Hernandez also hit the above mentioned A-Rod, the above-mentioned Ichiro, and  Captain Derek Jeter. Hello? It doesn’t take paranoia to put those pieces together. I cannot understand why these attacks weren’t at least investigated. Rather, Hernandez was named MVP. (Don’t worry, karma will get them: Mariners ended the season, not for the first time, with a losing record.)

My New Favorite Yankee (With apologies to Jorge)

I fell in love with one of our newbies: Raoul Ibanez.

That’s Raoul “he’s so cool” Ibanez. Raoul Ibanez, who in 2012 hit 19 homers (so far). Ten of these tied the game or gave the Yankees the leadRaoul Ibanez, who seems to give the Yanks precisely what they need at the exact moment they need it!

Cool Raoul (sung to the tune of “Cool” from West Side Story)

Raoul Raoul, Cool Raoul
He’s such a cool boy
Breeze it, buzz it
Easy does it
Keep cool Raoul boy!

Don’t get hot
’cause man you got
some great games ahead.
Keep it slow
and you know
you can play with Yankees til you’re dead.

Raoul, cool Raoul
Stay cool boy
Got a rocket
in your pocket
Just keep it cool boy.
You’re so hot
You know you got
Some great games ahead
Take it slow
and you know
you can stay a Yankee til you’re dead.

Another Yankee earned a song this year (42 Saves!)

Rafael Soriano (Sung to the tune of Poinciana, a 1936 Cuban song)

Soriano

He stepped in for Mariano
When a disaster took our closer
and we all thought “OY vey, it’s over!”

–but–

Soriano
stepped right up for Mariano
I never thought someoe could do that
but Rafael, oh yes he did that.

Soriano
He filled the shoes of Mariano
and he saved our team, the Yankees
so all we can say now is
Thank Ye!

Ichiro Suzuki

Onward and upward to the playoffs and the World Series!

Baseball Mid-June

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I’ve been baseball blogging at the end of each month, planning to continue this way, but considering recent events on the field I cannot wait another minute. There’ve been 2 no-hitters; a perfect game; a contested one-hit that might be upgraded; several shutouts; the breaking of the Grand Slam record—and that’s just among the teams to which I pay close attention! Let’s begin with the perfect game pitched by SF Giant Matt Cain on June 13th.

Cain’s achievement is exciting for me up close and personal, since it involves the team that has my # 2 home-town loyalties. More important to them and to baseball, however, this was only the 22nd perfect game in history, and a first for the Giants. Three days later, emotions and celebrations are still running high in San Francisco. Giants first baseman Brandon Belt said he was so nervous from 7th inning on that he thought he’d vomit. Like his teammates, he was terrified of making a mistake that might blow it for Cain. Late in the game he sat in Cain’s regular dugout spot, only realizing his error when manager Bruce Bochy stared at him in disbelief. The game of baseball is rife with superstitions, and this is how people behave during potential no-hitters and perfect games. Announcers trip all over their tongues to avoid direct mention of what’s at stake. Umpires prefer not to know what’s going on until it’s over. Cain’s perfection was a second for umpire  Ted Barrett at home plate: he’d previously worked David Cone’s, in 1999 (Yankees v. Montreal).

Cain himself can hardly believe he goes out to pitch again Tuesday, as if nothing’s happened, when, as he says, his life has been changed. The game was his 8th win of the season with another personal best: he struck out a career-high 14 batters.

For the final item of Giants news, Barry Zito, the pitcher who was once on top of the world as an Oakland A until the Giants bought him for an over-the-top sum of money, followed by the collapse of his arm, pitched 8 and 1/3+ shutout innings! Zito was already doing better this season than previously, but the shutout was unexpected.  I’m beyond happy for the guy. He must have a helluva talking tape in that pretty little head of his, and I hope this event tips him to an uplift. The shutout, against the  Chicago Cubs, was Zito’s 5th win of the season. He has 4 wins / 4 losses, with an ERA of 4.31

Let’s give Los Gigantes a great big round of applause!

Mets No-Hitter

A couple of weeks before Matt Cain’s perfection, Mets pitcher Johan Santana started June off with a no-hitter. Again, the accomplishment was notable for several reasons. For one thing, up ‘til now the Mets and the San Diego Padres were the only MLB teams to have never accomplished this feat; now San Diego stands alone. As sports blogger and Mets loyalist Daryl Hochheiser succinctly put it, “It took 8019 games but…A METS PITCHER THREW A NO-HITTER. The celebration was tremendous!”

Of Santana’s 134 pitches, 77 were strikes.  He walked 5 batters and struck out 8, shutting out none other than the St Louis Cardinals (8-0), the reigning World Champions.

As if this weren’t enough nachas for the frequently underdog Mets, 12 days later R.A. Dickey, one of a handful of knuckleball pitchers, did it again! This time, though, it was rated as a one-hit game; the Mets petitioned MLB to have it changed. What happened was this: In the first inning,  B.J. Uptown hit a high bouncer which David Wright tried but failed to catch barehanded.  The Mets want the hit classified as an error charged to Wright. A successful appeal would give them their second no-hitter in 12 days after going 50 years and 8000 games without one. (Note: MLB Decision rendered; see article highlighted below.)

As of today (Sat., June 16th) the Mets are in second place in their division, (National League East), 4 ½ games behind the first place DC Nationals. By the way, their rivals on the other side of a bridge or two are also in second place, in the American League East. Do I hear a Subway World Series barreling towards October?

The Sound of Subways Clacking

I’m not jumping the gun on the World Series here, but talking about last weekend’s Yankee/Mets 3-game series, which the Yanks swept. I’ll try to reign in my enthusiasm, since I watched it side by side with my co-blogger Mr. Hochheiser, and my joy came at his expense—not a great feeling for a mother! In fact, I kind of hoped the Mets would win the final game; after all, I’d already sealed the deal on our Frappuccino bet, which is a 2-out-of-3 games won. (When we’re really flush we sometimes bet merch, like team jackets and other MLB gear.)

As for the Yankees, they didn’t crawl, they flew, out of a string of bad games, and are now on a 7-game winning streak. Batters are still freezing when the bases are loaded, or even with two runners on, what I call The Curse of the RISP, but they’re compensating for that in other ways, primarily home runs. The most exciting hit of the season was A-Rod’s Grand Slam on June 12th, when a loss loomed inevitably; not only did the GS win the game for the Yanks, but it tied A-Rod with Lou Gehrig for most Grand Slams in history.

The Return of Andy Pettite. I cannot say enough about how wonderful it is to have Andy back on the mound. Andy Pettitte, Good Ole’ Reliable, with that face, that form; that steady, reliable, excellent craft master. Truly a blessing, no disguise.

Department of Sports Racism Inc.

During Interleague games the Yanks played, and swept, the Atlanta Braves, which made a lot of people happy, particularly those of us who cringe at the Braves’ incessant, idiotic, monotonous, insulting-to-Native Americans, Tomahawk Chop.” Ugh!

Most cringe-worthy is watching little kids younger than a year making the move like tiny robots-in-training, with no idea what they’re doing; they’re just imitating, or following instructions from the so-called grownups around them. As they say in the musical South Pacific, “You’ve got to be carefully taught how to hate.”

Players and fans love the chop, and don’t seem to think it has any deep significance. It originated in 1991 when Deion Sanders, a former football player, joined the Braves. Sanders had played for Florida State, whose team did the chop—so when he came to bat the first time, fans spontaneously began to chant. Team bigwigs encouraged it by having the organist play chanting music.

But while they make it sound perfectly innocent, those of us without sentimental associations hear only a mocking call and can’t help being offended. Says critic David Churchill on Sports Critics At Large:

This chant is a parody of the supposed Native American war dance song from thousands of Hollywood western movies…This drone is actually quite ignorant, if not outright racist, towards Native American peoples. The ‘savage’ warrior message contained within the drone and the cartoon red tomahawk is unseemly… Do they not have any clue how this is being perceived throughout the rest of the baseball-watching fans in North America? Or do they really just don’t give a flying fig what the rest of the US and Canada thinks?

Oakland Athletics

Update on Manny Ramirez, June 17th: Manny has asked for and been granted release by the A’s. Apparently they feel he’s still not up to par, and they’re getting what they need from outfielder Collin Cowgill. Not wanting to wait any longer to play, Manny will try to get placed elsewhere. Unlike the usual blame-and-rant Manny, he expressed only love and gratitude for the A’s. “Oakland is a great place,” he said. “They gave me a chance. I was proud to get an opportunity there.”

In 17 games for Triple-A Sacramento, Ramirez hit not a single homer, and scouts for the As say he doesn’t resemble his former self anymore. It’s too bad–I for one was looking forward to watching Manny and his dreads fly around  Oracle Field. His would-be teammates said they had a great time with him in spring training, and are sorry to see him go.

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Yankee Collapse

Blecch!

I’ve never seen the Yankees play so poorly. They stranded players — bases loaded — twice. A-Rod was dramatic, as usual, in his  fuck-ups. Mariano Rivera, the only reliable pitcher, did a 1-2-3 out 9th inning, but there was nothing there to save: the score was 3-2 Detroit. I’m so mad at them — I’m not even sad, don’t feel sorry for them, I’m just pissed off at the way they threw away the pennant and the chance to play in the

World Series. Joe Girardi made his usual idiotic choices; I can’t help wondering if George Steinbrenner would fire him, were he alive. Nobody talks about firing Girardi.

Most likely it was Posada‘s last game as a Yankee, probably in baseball altogether. When asked about it, he turned away to hide his tears.

I fell in love with the Tigers‘ manager, Jim Leyland, a cool and warm guy if you know what I mean; it’s all there in his eyes. Two years older than me, he smokes and defends it. Because of him I’m rooting for the Tigers to annihilate the Texas Rangers, owned by right-wing conservative Nolan Ryan, who’s pals with  George Bush. So at least there’s a team to care about; usually once the Yanks go so do I.

I got to see Moneyball at last. Very entertaining, but I hate it that audiences now think Billy Beane is some kind of hero. He isn’t. Just take one look at where the Oakland A‘s are today, and at what BB’s been doing on the side (lecturing to financial companies) and draw your own conclusions.

Also, while it’s true that the statistical method he used to choose players, sabermetrics, worked well for awhile and was adopted by other teams to a certain degree, Beane went way too far with it. Baseball is a game with heart, and done by the numbers it wouldn’t be the same. What kind of person bases the fate of players and teams on statistics? A cold person, IMO. In fact, I read that the movie producers put the storyline of his daughter in  just to humanize the guy.

So the Yankee season’s over, and soon the rest of baseball will be also. I just wish I’d had time to write more about it this year. As they say in the game: Wait’ll next year!

Confessions of a She-Fan: The Course of True Love with the New York Yankees

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Confessions of a She-Fan: The Course of True Love with the New York Yankees, by Jane Heller

In 2007 the New York Yankees had a baaaaad season. They started badly, didn’t even make it to a .500 winning percentage until mid-season, barely slid into the postseason, and then went down to ignominious defeat against the Cleveland Indians in the first round of playoffs. Well before that point, Jane Heller, a writer and passionate fan, gave up on the team she’d loved for years: in a fit of disgusted rage, she served notice, in an op-ed piece for the New York Sunday Times, her intention to “divorce” the Yankees. In a city where people live and die by this team, reactions were intense and critical: a true fan is supposed to stand by her team in sickness and in health. Heller was vilified as a “bandwagon fan,” the equivalent of a fair-weather friend. The week her piece ran, it was the most emailed and talked about article in the Times.

Stunned by this response, Heller took a long look at her relationship with the Bronx Bombers, and, smelling a book contract on the road, decided to follow the team around the country for the rest of the season. Her husband Michael (your average fan as opposed to a rabid maniac) went along to lend his support. The result, Confessions of A She-Fan, is the best book I’ve ever read on the subject of baseball. I admit this is a  totally biased, lopsided, and personal opinion, that I’m well aware  She-Fan is far from The Best Book  – but on a personal level, it is. More important, She-Fan is the first book that talks about the game from a female perspective. My perspective. The perspective of She-Fans.

As with most areas of life, there’s a difference in the way women participate as sports fans, specifically baseball, from the way in which men participate. This is something I’ve long suspected, but, conceding sports as the exclusive province of the male, I didn’t much talk about it. I’ve been afraid my POV is less valid than men’s, and stifled some of my observations. In baseball conversations with men, I’m insecure, afraid of sounding idiotic. I’ve written all my life about gender differences in attitude towards food, sex, movies…you name it. I’ve never been intimidated about expressing my opinions, and certainly never thought my perspective was inferior to men’s. But sports? It’s a whole other ball game (pun intended).

Men know and care about statistics, more important in baseball than in any other sport. Men remember plays in games that took place years or even decades ago. I envy this skill of instant recall. Women, on the other hand, watch interactions between teammates – not as mere celebrity gossip, but as to how it affects their game. Heller acknowledges these differences, and more, without self-judgment or apology. In doing so, she’s given women permission to speak our baseball minds. That crackling sound you hear is the shattering  of another glass ceiling.

Heller’s relationship to the Yankees will resonate with other New York fans; at least, it did with this one. I was born and spent the first six years of my life in the Bronx. Rooting for the Yankees was in my blood and my bones, a given, something you just did. The world was smaller back then, and Yankees filled a big piece of mine.

The tone of the writing is intensely personal and insanely funny; at times Heller flips into a kind of Woody Allen-esque self-deprecation. Comparing herself to a friend who, she says, is shaped like “a normal woman,” she describes herself as looking like “a pencil.”  Her pet names for various Red Sox players are laugh-out-loud funny: Jonathan Papelbon is Pap Smear; Big Papi is Big Sloppy.  And she lives up to the “confessions” of her title, letting readers see her quirks and vulnerabilities.

She manages to turn the book’s major weakness – lack of access to the team; she wasn’t even allowed in the press box – into a strength, by creating an element of suspense, sprinkling in quotes from an unnamed Yankee player. Naturally, I kept trying to figure out who the mystery speaker was, guessing and un-guessing Jorge Posada, A-Rod, Joe Torre, or even Steinbrenner himself. The suspense built until I could stand it no longer, and if Heller hadn’t eventually revealed the truth I would’ve killed her. (I won’t spoil it by revealing it here.)

Speaking of Joe Torre, 2007 was, as every Yankee fan will remember, the year he left after 12

English: Photograph of Joe Torre taken by Goog...

Photograph of Joe Torre taken by Googie Man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

seasons as manager. It was also, in hindsight, the beginning of the end of King George’s rule, when his health began to fail and his sons stepped in to take over. For Heller, these transitions were emotionally difficult, and she holds  nothing back, revealing without shame moments like her gut-wrenching crying jag in the stands, where she remains long after the last out of the final losing game.

What does it mean to love a baseball team like this? Why does Jane Heller – why do I, for that matter – love the Yankees with such passion? As a kid I simply accepted that I was a Yankee fan. As I got older, this unquestioned loyalty began to fade. I was disillusioned to learn that a team’s players don’t necessarily come from or live in the city they represent – and to tell the truth, I’ve never fully recovered from the shock of that. From it I deduced that loving a team is purely arbitrary, that you could simply choose a team ro love. When there was no choice in the matter, it was somehow easier to be loyal.

But it turns out that the Yankees are more like family than just a team: love ’em or hate ’em, you’re stuck with ’em. I suspect that’s why so many New Yorkers were outraged when Heller announced she’d simply up and divorce them. It’s like divorcing your family, never mind just your spouse.

By the end of the book, though, Heller reaffirms her love for the Yankees; she’s grown, she’s moved to  a whole other level of fandom. She’s been to hell and back, learned a few things about love, loyalty, patience, and commitment, and she’s in it for the long haul. Win or lose, in sickness or health, she’ll stick with pinstripes til the day she dies. There’s no choice when you’re to the Bronx team born.

Welcome to the family, Jane. We’re glad you decided to stay.