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July 12, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Call it a letdown after the Red Sox series, or a choke, or a slump, or just plain bad luck, but the results speak for themselves. The Yankees were in a position to put the Red Sox away this week, and they didn't get the job done. A series loss to Cleveland, and a split of the first two games in Toronto, and the lead is down to a single game, as the Red Sox have done what they needed to, playing hard and coming back, winning five straight.

And you can't blame today's loss on the opponent's pitcher, either. Doc Halladay is no Pedro Martinez, and he's not even Mike Mussina yet. He pitched very, very well, but the Yankees were still tied going into the bottom of the seventh. And then the wheels came off. Mussina loaded the bases with two outs, and then got a hard ground ball to the left side. A hard hit ball on turf was bad enough, but add in the fact that it was right in Derek Jeter's zone, and you've got big time trouble. Two steps and a dive, two runs.

Then the bullpen came in and pitched horrifically. Chris Hammond, who has been pretty good this year, loaded the bases. Then Antonio Osuna, fresh off the DL, who had also pitched well, unloaded them, and put up three runs of his own, to boot. It wasn't a bad decision by Torre to bring in either of those guys, but by the time the eighth had ended, the game had gone from nail biter to laugher. Even Juan Acevedo, coming in for the ninth to show the Yankees how well he pitches with facial hair, couldn't blow this lead. 10-3, one game lead. Much broken furniture.

Of course, if someone on the Tigers could, say, hit a freaking fly ball instead of striking out against Todd Jones, the lead might still be two. Stupid Tigers.

So now, the Yankees are in a position where they have to count on Jeff Weaver to beat Kelvim Escobar in order to keep first place for themselves going into the break. Towelie has pitched decently in his last two starts, but those were against the mighty Mets and Indians, so you might want a little salt with that. Escobar has the ability to dominate, but has been pretty average since his last win. The Yankees can get to him, but they can't count on it. They need Weaver to pitch well.

* * *

Doug Pappas' Business of Baseball Pages is absolutely, positively one of the best baseball websites around, and is a must-visit for anyone who wants to understand the business of the game, particularly because most baseball columnists are wholly unqualified to write about it. Doug, who is Chairman of SABR's Business of Baseball Committee, is indirectly responsible for this weblog, because if I hadn't accidentally stumbled on his "The Numbers" series over at Prospectus, I never would have gone to his site, and never would have visited Primer, and never would have learned all I have in the last year. So thanks Doug for helping me find the way here.

But back on topic, Doug just started up a weblog of his own a few months ago, which offers quick hits on current topics, and is definitely worth reading. Last Wednesday, though, he said something I don't quite agree with:
The Yankees have two 40-year-old starting pitchers, no help coming anytime soon from the farm system, and Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter and Mike Mussina due huge raises. By 2005 they'll be a third-place club.
Whoa whoa whoa there, Doug. I can't say I agree with that completely.

Doug isn't an unbiased observer on this one (not that I am, either, of course). He's a Mets fan, so he would obviously like to see the Yankees fail, and as a sabermetrician, would probably like to see the Red Sox and Blue Jays succeed (I admit that as a stathead, I'd like to see the A's and Jays do well, though I was terribly disappointed when the Sox started preaching the Gospel). These biases may have creeped into Doug's analysis a little bit, and changed "They might be a third-place club" to "They'll be a third-place club".

The Yankees do have two 40-year old pitchers, but Clemens insists he's retiring at season's end, and Boomer probably isn't coming back. And while he's no slam-dunk, Brandon Claussen looks like he could do a very good job at the back of the rotation next season, which I think qualifies as "anytime soon" for help from the minors. Let's not forget that Jeff Weaver is only 26, and huge raise or not, Mike Mussina will still likely be a good, perhaps great pitcher in 2005.

And speaking of huge raises, has there been anything the Yankees have done this season to indicate that they're so concerned about revenue sharing and the luxury tax that they'll be handcuffed by the raises for Giambi, Moose and Jeter? The tax penalty will be the same for them, anyway. Doug is more likely to know than I am, but the Yankees can probably hide a lot of revenue in the YES network, and George is likely to use that money liberally to make sure his team doesn't slip into mediocrity. There's already talk about the Yankees signing Kaz Matsui after the season (and foolishly moving him instead of Jeter, which is the one thing that makes me think he might go to LA instead).

Might the Yankees be in third in two years? They might be in third next year. But they might also be in first in 2003, 2004, 2005...

The Yankees have been an old team for a decade. I'm not going to start worrying now.

* * *

On my break at work today I grabbed a copy of USA Today Sports McWeekly so I could look at the pretty pictures and mock the lame analysis. McWeekly publishes a few letters from the fans in each issues, most of which are comically stupid. I can't figure out whether they publish them because they're funny to read, or because the editors are too stupid to know that they suck. Anyway, especially considering the discussion we had at the end of the game the other day, this letter stuck out to me:
It's time we quit glossing over an issue concerning the Major League Baseball Players' Association and the way Angels pitcher Brendan Donnelly repeatedly gets treated as a former replacement player. His name has been left off official World Series merchandise, and now many players refuse to vote for him as an All-Star because of a decision he made during the last players' strike.

A player illegally alters his bat or the ball, or takes a cheap shot at another during an altercation on the field, or is caught using drugs or otherwise violating the ethics of the game, and the MLBPA goes to bat for him in the appeals process. Yes a minor league player crosses a picket line to make enough money to feed his family, performs like a professional for 10 years, contributes greatly to his team winning a World Series, and he is prevented from joining in the brotherhood of his teammates?

Union leaders Denny Hocking and Tom Glavine, among others, grandiosely accused the greedy owners of not caring about the players last year. Now who's being hypocritical?

Come on, MLBPA, he's already paid his dues off the field; surely you can collect them off of it.

Erik Schmidt

Erik, may I suggest checking out Doug's site?

Brendan Donnelly, whether it was to "feed his family", or just save his career because he was unfairly threatened by the owners, or maybe because he thought this was really his big shot at The Show; crossed the picket line. He aided the owners when they were trying to screw the MLBPA over in 1994-95. Regardless of his motives, he helped the owners try to destroy the MLBPA. Allowing him into the Players’ Association now, or ten years from now, or ever, is a reward. What has he done to earn that reward? Taken a roster slot that would have been filled by someone who didn’t help to try and screw the union?

Brendan Donnelly isn’t being punished, and he hasn’t “paid his dues”. You don’t make up being a replacement player by being a good player for several years, you make up for it by doing something to help the union, something I don’t think Donnelly has any opportunity to do. So he should be kept out of the union, just like all the scabs. They hurt the union. They should NOT be rewarded for that.

Nor do I have a problem with players refusing to vote for scabs, if they are really doing that. If someone helped my boss try to screw me over, no matter what his motivation, I probably wouldn’t be nominating him for Employee of the Month.

And Erik, the MLBPA is not a protectorate of the ethics of the game, it’s the representative of Major League Players. Its responsibility is to the players, not any higher morality. They are right to aid a player’s appeal on a corked bat or scuffed ball or drug case. That’s their job.

Besides, Donnelly isn’t hurt very much by not being in the union. It’s not a closed shop, he still gets to play under the same CBA, with all the same rights. He just doesn’t get his name on a t-shirt. Boo-hoo.

* * *

And finally, to make this truly a Gleeman-length entry, I have to address the Bubba Trammell saga. According to an article that I sent to Repoz to post at Primer, Bubba left the team because he is suffering from depression. As someone who has himself suffered from clinical depression, I can tell you that it certainly is hard to work when depressed, and probably impossible to play ball with any skill. I can understand why he was depressed as well, as it probably doesn’t make one feel to good to be benched for Juan Rivera.

It’s somewhat reminiscent of the Alex Johnson case in the early 70’s. However, while Johnson was placed on the suspended list for “failure to give his best efforts toward the winning of the club’s baseball games,” and only later placed on the restricted list by Bowie Kuhn, Trammell was immediately placed on the restricted list, because he actually failed to report to work. He had his agent call Cashman, tell him he wouldn’t be showing up, failed to give an explanation, then gave a false one later on.

I understand why Bubba doesn’t want to play, and why he thinks he should be on the DL. And if he had acted in a professional manner, I would agree with him. But it doesn’t appear that he sought out any help, or told anybody how he felt. He just left. Because of that, I can’t take his side.

On the other hand, if he really is depressed, he shouldn’t get the full punishment, either. I suggest that he be kept on the restricted list until he is pronounced fit to play, and then be reinstated. It would be nice if he could come back to the Yankees, who could use the help in right, but the relationship between him and the team is probably irreparably damaged.