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July 8, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Well, in a way, Pedro Martinez beat the Yankees today. The injuries to Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano left the Yankees with a middle infield of Erick Almont-E and Enrique Wilson. Add John Flaherty, Todd Zeile, Ruben Sierra and Karim Garcia to the mix, and the Yankees appeared to have fielded the Columbus Clippers, with Matsui, Giambi and Posada on rehab assignments. Poor Jeff Weaver was the unlucky one that had to start this game, and while he struggled a little bit early, his overall performance was worthy of a victory.

Let's not take credit away from the brilliant pitching of Billy Traber, who still had to face 1/3 of a Major League team, and was able to hold them to a single hit.

But the defeat was as much due to the Yankees' lack of offensive talent on the field as it was to Traber's masterful performance. A healthy Yankees lineup would likely have worn Traber down and pushed runs across him or the bullpen. I don't think Pedro intended to hit Jeter and Soriano, and more than Clemens intended to bean Piazza. He was pitching up and in, trying to get them off of the plate, and their hands happened to be there. The fact that Jeter and Soriano both stand right on top of the plate didn't help them avoid the ball, either (Soriano's elbow, in fact, is often in the strike zone itself sometimes). From the perspective of the teams, no good can come from the Yankees' whining about the HBP's, but from the perspective of us, the fans, it adds some bad blood to the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry that was sorely missed.

Fortunately, the Yankees are not going to be stuck without their stars for long. Jeter pinch-hit in the ninth, indicating to me that he will likely be ready to play tomorrow, or at least the game afterwards. Soriano was more seriously injured, but will probably be back by this weekend's series against Toronto.

And, of course, tomorrow is the return of Bernie. The addition of Bernie's bat to the middle of the lineup will be a great help this weekend against the Jays, but they can maximize the benefit of his return by placing him in left, instead of center. Godzilla isn't a Gold Glove caliber CF, but he has as much range as Bernie, and a stronger arm. Placing Bernie in the less difficult defensive position might also be easier on his body, and allow him to stay healthier. It's a move that the Yankees should make. And it is a move that they will not make. Matsui will be in left field tomorrow night, unless Bernie DH's.

* * *

Joe Torre is an excellent clubhouse manager, but as a game manager he is lacking. He bases far too many of his decisions on gut instinct and loyalty. It is this kind of managing that resulted in the insertion of Ruben Sierra as the cleanup hitter throughout the Boston Series, something they paid for with lost scoring opportunities in the first two games.

John Sterling, Charley Steiner and Michael Kay don't get this, but 50 ABs does not a season make. It tells you so very little about the ability of a player, that making any decisions based on 50 ABs is likely to be a foolish one. And yet this trio of mediots has called the acquisition of Sierra a "great move" by Brian Cashman. It was no such thing. It was a panicked move that did little, if anything, to improve the Yankees, and while Sierra was very hot at the start of his second tenure, over the course of the season, his performance is likely to be similar to that which Marcus Thames could have put up.

Ruben Sierra has to be one of the most foolish batters in baseball. The comment he made on his departure in '96--"they only care about winning"--is apparent in his approach to an at-bat. He wants to hit home runs. He does not care how the pitcher is pitching to him, he does not care that his performance will improve if he changes his approach, he simply wants to hit home runs, and he approaches each plate appearance in a manner to maximize his chances of hitting a home run. He stands far away from the plate, because he likes the ball away, and he opens up as he swings, because he can hit it farther by pulling it. If you gave him the choice of having a .950 OPS with only 5 HRs or a .700 OPS with 25 HRs, I think he would take the .700 OPS every time. He is there to have fun, and to look good. He is not there to help his team win.

In 1996 I remember watching him try to pull every pitch. I was only 19, but I could see that he was opening up far too much on his swing, striding towards the base rather than towards the ball. The solution was to close his stance, so that his stride would take him forward, rather than away from the ball. Then, one afternoon in Cleveland, on a FOX game of the week, he actually did just that. And hit two home runs.

The next day, he was back to his old stance. From that moment on, I knew that Ruben Sierra was the dumbest hitter in baseball.

And so it continues. He has not changed, he is still doing the same thing. Pitch him away, away, away, and you will get strikeouts and weak grounders, though he will crush the few mistakes you leave in the middle of the plate. Just as Alfonso Soriano has no business being near the top of the lineup, Sierra has no business being in the middle of it.

* * *

With all the tears being shed over the Yankees' lack of an All-Star pitcher, where is the indignation over the All-Star that they didn't deserve?

Godzilla is fast becoming one of my favorite Yankees. His June was spectacular, and I am starting to feel like good things will happen every time he comes to the plate. By the end of the season, he might be one of the top three outfielders in the American League.

But not today. There were at least 10 American League outfielders more deserving of a spot on the team than Hideki Matsui, who was elected in by the Japanese fans (although I'm sure several dozen Americans voted for him). I suppose it's likely that until we get several regular Japanese position players in the Major Leagues, Ichiro! and Godzilla will be perennial All-Star starters.

The big mistake made with the All-Star Game this year was with the player vote. If the players and fans selected the same player, the players' second pick was sent to the All-Star Game. Because of this, Ramon Hernandez goes with only 61 votes, instead of the extraordinarily worthy Jason Varitek. Richie Sexson made it in over Jim Thome with 84 votes, and Mike Sweeney made it over Frank Thomas and Jason Giambi with only 21 votes. You could either go with Jayson Stark's idea to have weighted multiple votes cast for each position, or you could just say that if the players and fans vote for the same guy, that guy gets in, and the extra spot is left to the manager and league to decide. Either way, this system is idiotic.

The worst argument I've heard for a "snub" is from a fellow at work who insisted that Derek Lowe should have made the team because he has 10 wins.

Er, pitching for the best offense in the last 50 years doesn't have anything to do with those wins, does it? This is a memo to all the idiots out there who, like Joe Morgan, think that pitching Wins are a good indication of a pitcher's value: Just because the statistic "Wins" has the same name as the goal of the game doesn't mean that it has the same value. If you can't get past that basic idea, then you're hopeless, and you should just stick to watching the games and not offer up any opinions as to who is good or bad.

Yes, I said it. People who are ignorant and dismissive of such ridiculously simple concepts as "Earned Run Average" and "On Base Percentage" should just say, "I don't know what I'm talking about, so my opinion has no basis in fact. Let's just talk about how nice the game looks." Because beauty is subjective, there is no right or wrong. But value is objective. In baseball, it is measured in wins, which correlate to runs, and the events of a ball game each have a value in terms of runs, and it is by that value that a player should be measured.