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Baseball Returns

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Here we go again! It’s baseball season, and all I can do is grumble. You’d think I was a Mets fan, or that my team was any one of a number of basement dwellers, the way I feel. I’m a Yankee fan, I’m supposed to be on top of the world all the time—that’s what ol’ G. Steinbrenner demanded, win the World Series every year or you’re losers. Okay, that, I think, went a little too far in wrecking morale. Still, he may have been a tyrant, but what’s gone on since Georgie’s demise is a nightmare.

As the 2014 season opens, I am facing the loss of Mariano Rivera (gracefully retired), Andy Pettite (ditto), Curtis Granderson (sold to the Mets by some moron in the Yankee org) and Robinson Cano (also moronically sold). Even outside of the Yankees I face a heavy loss: Barry Zito, former Oakland A and SF Giant, one of my favorite players and human beings, seems to have vanished after the Giants failed to renew his contract (and who could blame them? But that’s another story.Zito2012

 

 

 

DerekJeter

Last but not least, as we raise the curtain on another year of baseball, the one Yankee remaining on the team that saw its last period of glory during the late ’90s and early ’00s, Derek Jeter, announced this year as his Swan Song—so don’t bother shouting “Next year!” if things hit bottom. And, indeed, the guys lost their first game yesterday against one of my most hated teams, the F.O.B. (Friends of Bush) Houston Astros.

My allegiance to the New York Yankees is, like some people’s allegiance to a particular religion, by birth and by choice. I’m a Yankee fan by birth: I was born in the Bronx. But I chose to be a Yankee fan because in this one area of life, unlike politics and a few others I’ll decline to mention here, with the Bronx Bombers I get to be a winner more often than not. Unlike the hapless Met fan, I get to experience joy more frequently than pain. At least, that was the deal for decades. Now my Yankee fandom is going the way the aging experience goes: it’s all about loss, as beloved players and managers leave. No choice have I but to butch it out and adjust, the way I do over the loss of teeth and energy.

One thing I don’t have to lose, though, is hope: the Yankees might be great this year. As the little kid in Angels in the Outfield says of the improbable all throughout the movie, “Hey, it could happen!”

rivera-patch

 

So Play Ball!

 

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Yankees 2013: A Ghostly Team

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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

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!

Adios Jorge

Jorge Posada

Image via Wikipedia

Jorge Posada has never spent a summer with his children. That’s what he’s most looking forward to now that he’s retired from baseball.  Like everything else Posada said today at his press conference, the guy’s sincerity is never in doubt. Mental images of Jorge splashing about in the ocean with his kids fill my head as I write this.

It was a sad sad day for Yankee fans, some of whom were on hand for the press conference organized by the Yankees. The “Bleacher Creatures” who do roll call at the start of every game and other season ticket-holders were not only present, but featured in a video farewell. Thurman Munson’s widow, Diana, spoke, saying she was lucky she “loved two Yankee catchers in my life.” Also present were the Steinbrenners, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera.

It wasn’t only about baseball, either: from Wisconsin came Lisa Niederer and her son Brett, who has craniosynostosis, a condition shared by Jorge Jr. for which the Posadas started a Foundation. Niederer  said she found out about the group while watching the 2002 All-Star Game, when Jorge Jr. came out on the field with his father, and the announcers told his story. “It was the first time,” said Niederer, “I didn’t feel alone.” She now works with the foundation mentoring other parents of children with the condition. She called Posada “a hero, not just for what he did as a Yankee but what he’s done for craniosynostosis families.”

But the biggest tear-jerker of the day was Jorge himself, who choked up every time he referred to his Yankee “brothers” and the Yankee “brotherhood.” In response to the question of whether he’d play for another team — several have come calling — Posada said, choking on his words, “I can’t put on another uniform. I don’t have it in me.”

Posada caught for the Yankees for 17 years. At an early age he decided he wanted to play in the major leagues, and never doubted for a moment that he would. The only deviation from his plan was the catching part: the first time they decided to try him in that position, he said, “It wasn’t a pretty sight.” But gradually he came to love the challenge, and developed an identity so strongly tied to catching that last season, when told he’d be Designated Hitter and do no catching, it was “really tough…. I had to fight for my job.”

We all saw how Jorge suffered last season, some of us outraged by the way he was treated. So it was a surprise, to me at least, that retirement seems to be his own choice. At least, that’s how it looks—and like I said, it’s impossible to doubt anything he says.

My friend Nan, also a Yankee fanatic, is hoping Joe Torre, who just bought the Dodgers, will hire Jorge as a coach. I don’t see it happening, though; he’d have to wear a different uniform.

One time, during a baseball conversation with a few people in a bar, a guy I didn’t know pegged me as a typical “girl” who followed baseball just to ogle cute guys in tight uniforms. “Who’s your favorite player? he asked with a sneer, “Derek Jeter?” I retorted, with pride, “Jorge Posada!”  Nobody can accuse me of liking Jorge for his looks : they’re nothing to write home about. But as Diana Munson put it, he has “The IT factor,” something inexplicable but there. I’m gonna miss ya like crazy, Jorge. Adios and vaya con dios. 

We Stand Behind Jorge

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Yankee catchers: Martin, Posada, Cervelli

If you’re a Yankee fan, or even just a casual observer of baseball, then you heard about this weekend’s dustup, which the media upgraded to a tornado, surrounding Jorge Posada.  Briefly, Posada arrived at the stadium Saturday to find he was batting ninth, and one hour before game time told Manager Joe Girardi he was unable to play, for reasons left murkily undefined. This story, however, actually began at the end of last season, when Posada was told he’d be relieved of his catching duties and become the Designated Hitter for 2011. At 39, he’d been showing signs of slippage.

The Yankee’s Number One catcher since 1995, Posada is one of the Core Four, who, along with Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera, are the only group of athletes in any sport in history to have played together on the same team for 16 consecutive seasons. (Pettitte missed three of those seasons with the Yankees while playing for his hometown Houston Astros from 2004 through ’06.) They have won five world championships together.

Pettitte recently retired, and over the course of the next few years, the other three will inevitably follow suit, making this a sad and bumpy transitional time for them, the team, and their fans. Anyone with the least bit of emotional intelligence would expect problems to arise and try to minimize the damage. Joe Torre, for instance, would certainly have anticipated the challenge, and managed it with grace. So would almost every woman I know. Unfortunately, Brian Cashman, the Steinbrenner kids, and Joe Girardi don’t get high points for emotional intelligence.

I don’t know what goes on in the back rooms of baseball, but I’d wager a hefty bet that they don’t weigh in psychological fallout when making big decisions. The cruel mistake here was in yanking Jorge from behind the plate all at once, when his attachment to being a catcher is fierce; even physiologically speaking, it must be enmeshed in the marrow of his bones after all these years. He should have been gently weaned by being allowed to catch a few games this year. Because psychological fallout wasn’t taken into consideration, it’s now affecting team performance — borne out by the disheartening Red Sox weekend sweep.

After Jorge took himself out of Saturday’s game and sat down in the dugout looking suicidal, Laura Posada tweeted the world that Jorge had been complaining of a bad back, and, oh, by the way, ”he loves being a Yankee.” My previously high esteem for Ms. Posada, based on how she’s dealing with the challenges of raising a disabled child, immediately sagged: unless Jorge asked her to do it, which I doubt, her intervention made him look bad. He never said he had back troubles, in fact, he admitted a need to “clear my head.” The little woman’s interjections – and she became “the little woman” the minute she insinuated herself into the situation – fanned the flames of nonstop media speculations that went on relentlessly for the next 24 hours.

Not surprisingly, Red Sox fans could hardly contain themselves, expressing their joy in nasty comments all over the Internet. They should’ve taken a cue from their favorite player, David Ortiz (Big Papi), their own Designated Hitter:

“I’m going to tell you what I think. They’re doing that guy wrong. They’re doing him wrong. You know why? Because that guy, he is legendary right there in that organization. And dude, DHing [stinks]…from what I heard, they told him from the very beginning that you’re not even going to catch bullpens, that straight up starts messing with your head. You’re going to tell me that Posada can’t catch a game out there? Come on, man. Now, I got used to this because I got no choice, but I can imagine how hard it has to be for him. This is a guy that is a good hitter. I don’t care what anybody says.”

With those heartfelt, humane words Big Papi just entered into my small circle of favorite players. Smart, insightful, and respectful, he has more compassion in his big toe than many so-called Yankee fans, of the younger persuasion no doubt, who are calling for Posada’s retirement, ‘dissing his age, performance slippage, and “diva” behavior.

That was Saturday. At Sunday night’s game, true Yankee fans proved their loyalty with a sign reading, “We Stand Behind Jorge.” The “Bleacher Creatures,” a bunch of guys who at every game do roll call of on-field players only, made an exception for Jorge: After finishing their attendance check with A-Rod, they chanted “Jorge, Jorge” and got an appreciative wave back from his place in the dugout. In the eighth inning Posada was sent in to pinch-hit for Andruw Jones, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. He drew a walk against Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard, who later said, “I think that’s pretty cool that they’re sstanding behind him, but I still wanted to get him out.”

When the 2011 season opened, the Yankees charged the gates, bats blazing, and until a week ago were firing on all cylinders, at first place in the division. But their performance has steadily diminished, and a few days ago Tampa Bay leap-frogged right over them. Posada’s at-bat average was under .150, as opposed to his lifetime average of  .273, with a high of .338 in 2007. Still,  I didn’t realize it had been affecting the whole team. This weekend it became obvious that it has.

Captain Jeter, Jorge’s best friend, said,  “He’s a brother — we’ve been together a long time. If I thought he did something wrong, I’d be the first one to tell him.” Jeter himself is none too dazzling this season: his average is 260, and if I never see another groundout from him I still will have seen too many. Someone pointed out that Jeter is playing under circumstances similar to Posada, with retirement on the horizon, yet he’s not acting like a “pouty diva.” But if Jeter isn’t showing any emotional wear and tear, it’s probably because he’s not quite as attached to being a shortstop as Posada is to catching. Besides, Posada’s nature is that of a highly sensitive person; it’s like comparing apples and oranges.

Catching is, in my opinion, one of the hardest jobs in baseball. The physical position alone is enough to kill you. And this is the guy who tells the pitcher what to throw and when: he’s key to the progression and outcome of the game. I’ve always admired catchers, even more than pitchers, and Jorge Posada is my favorite player. He’s not glamorous like Jeter or A-Rod, not flashy or adventurous or given to grandstanding. He is in fact anything but a diva.  My affinity for him deepened even further when he and Laura had a son with craniosynostosis. Having been through a similar experience myself, I read their book and wrote them a letter in response, enclosing my own book on the subject, Perfectly Normal.

I’m fully confident that Posada will emerge from all this with his dignity intact. Losing his place and identity as a catcher is a significantly big deal, but it is, after all, neither the most difficult nor the most painful life experience that Jorge Posada has ever faced.

Other Yankee Notes

Friday night’s game with the Red Sox was the 2,048th time the rivals faced each other on the field.

The Yankees have made 26 errors this season, one of the highest in MLB. In a typical sloppy move, the ball came dribbling down the field heading straight for A-Rod, who casually bent over, his mind obviously somewhere else, and let it roll past his glove and through his legs while the hitter took first base.

The Yankees’ team average is .292, with only Eric Chavez and Felix Nunoz batting over 300.

Will Eric Chavez turn out to be this year’s Nick Johnson? You might not remember Nick, so brief was his tenure last season, when he hurt his wrist in May and stayed out the rest of the season. Chavez, who came over from the A’s this year, promptly pulled something or other and is on the DL. Having spent his last few Athletic seasons on the list, I don’t expect to see him again at Yankee Stadium.

Pitching: Yankees have a pitching problem for at least the third consecutive year. With the exception of C.C. Sabathia, none of the starters are completely reliable. Bartolo Colon, as well as A.J. Burnett, is inconsistent, and he’s also one of those maddeningly S-L-O pitchers who lengthen the game – as if it needs lengthening! – with long pauses between pitches. Worse, however, is that Colon frequently wears a blank face, giving the impression he’s not completely there. Phil Hughes is on the DL. Meanwhile, Girardi lets all of them stay in the game well beyond the bounds of decent performance. I guess he’s busy deciding who’s going to catch…uh oh, don’t get me started again!

Let’s hope for better news next week!