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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

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. 

Is Baseball Losing Its Heart?

Miguel Tejada. © Rubenstein, photographer Mart...

Image via Wikipedia

(Photo: Miguel Tejada)

This season baseball fans have been witness to a sad spectacle as Jorge Posada, Yankee catcher for over 15 years and undoubtedly in his final year as a pro, was first thrown out of the catchers’ position and then taken out of the lineup indefinitely. Fortunately, the fans went crazy supporting Posada with standing ovations and signs professing their love, so he’s occasionally allowed up at bat now. But it’s been disheartening to see a long-time loyal team player be roughed up and unappreciated.

Last week the SF Giants dumped Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada for lackluster season performances. Being older veterans of the game, chances are they’re not going anywhere else. Tejada is an icon of major league baseball, a kid who rose from abject poverty in the Dominican Republic to become a great shortstop beloved by teammates and fans alike. His story is so emblematic of the DR kids who eat, sleep, and breathe baseball in hopes of making it in America one day as a player that several children’s stories and bio’s have been written about him. For his rags-to-riches story to end like this is sad. Sad and shameful.

Baseball is known for swimming in sentimental swill over everything from the American flag to the retirement of an announcer. While it can sometimes be a bit much, we’ve come to expect regularly scheduled sobfests on the diamond; I for one usually find myself caught up in whatever event is being milked for all it’s worth. Given this propensity for emotion, it seems strange and cruel that someone like Miguel Tejada should go out on such an ignominious ending. And despite an extensive search I could find no sports writers expressing regret or sadness about it; almost everyone is cheering the Giants for “finally” making the decision to “get rid of dead weight.”

Could baseball be losing its heart as it continues down the path of greed and wins at any cost? Is it going to become a game where the bottom line is produce or get lost? Of course, it already is; but will it get even more heartless? After all, this is the sport with “Ya Gotta Have Heart” as one of its most famous anthems. The sport in which most teams host an annual old-timer’s game, during which guys who played 30 or more years ago toddle onto the field to weakly throw a pitch and get wildly applauded. This is the sport that honors its human resources.

Let’s hope Posada, Tejada, and Rowand get more of a farewell than they’ve been shown so far, and that baseball starts wearing its heart on its sleeve again.

Ya Gotta Have Heart

You’ve gotta have heart
All you really need is heart

When the odds are sayin’ you’ll never win
That’s when the grin should start.

You’ve gotta have hope
Mustn’t sit around and mope
Nothin’s half as bad as it may appear
Wait’ll next year and hope.

When your luck is battin’ zero
Get your chin up off the floor
Mister you can be a hero
You can open any door,
there’s nothin’ to it but to do it

You’ve gotta have heart
Miles ‘n miles n’ miles of heart
Oh, it’s fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart
First you’ve gotta have heart

“Heart,” from Damn Yankees

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The Man Behind the Plate

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After months of struggling to play through shoulder pain, Yankee catcher Jorge Posada finally conceded, after Saturday’s game against Oakland, that he couldn’t go on like this. Dr. David Altchek confirmed that Posada needs surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. He’ll most likely have the operation soon—if he waits until November, he’ll miss most or all of next season: the surgery he needs requires six months of rehab.

This just about breaks my heart, not so much for what it means to the Yankees, though that’s considerable; as blogger Peter Abraham says, “they can make do with Molina’s terrible production.” God knows they’ve already been making do without Hideki Matsui, who was out-hitting everyone at the start of the season, and who’s been out several weeks. Matsui’s been told he needs knee surgery, but is trying to delay it, and may return soon.

Nor am I heartbroken just because I won’t get to see my favorite player for the remainder of the season, though that’s a real bummer. No, my heartache comes from empathy: more than any other player, Jorge suffers when he can’t fulfill his obligation to the team. He expressed those feelings when he went on the DL this season, for the first time in his career. This is surely tearing him up inside.

Tyler Kepner, who blogs about the Yankees for the New York Times, says Posada’s ordeal “has been evident enough just by watching his throws this season. Watching him in the clubhouse has been revealing, too. Some days, he has been short with reporters, curtly insisting that he is a catcher,
period. That was Posada’s pride talking, I think – catchers, more than players at any other position, find much of their identity in the position they play.” He also notes that “Posada is one of few players who speaks from genuine emotion, unafraid to let people know how he is really feeling.”

What he’s feeling is frustration, from months of not performing at his usual high level. Posada just signed a contract for $39.3 million over three years as starting catcher. (Or maybe it’s $52.4 for four years; I’ve found conflicting reports.) Jewish mother that I am, I’m now starting to worry that surgery might leave him less capable than before—I’ll have to look for information about catchers’ abilities following shoulder surgery. Anyone?

Meanwhile, I’m off to get some kind of Get Well card for Jorge–even though he never responded to the witty and wonderful birthday card I made for him two years ago. It must be love.

Laura Posada and their kids. Jorge Jr. (L) has had
several surgical procedures for a neurological condition.