Look what people have to say about Larry Mahnken's commentary!
"Larry, can you be any more of a Yankee apologist?.... Just look past your Yankee myopia and try some objectivity." - Bernal Diaz
"Mr. Mahnken is enlightened." - cordially, as always,
"Wow, Larry. You've produced 25% of the comments on this thread and
said nothing meaningful. That's impressive, even for you." - Anonymous
"After reading all your postings and daily weblog...I believe you have truly become the Phil Pepe of this generation. Now this is not necessarily a good thing." - Repoz
"you blog sucks, it reeds as it was written by the queer son of mike lupica and roids clemens. i could write a better column by letting a monkey fuk a typewriter. i dont need no 181 million dollar team to write a blog fukkk the spankeees" - yan
"i think his followers have a different sexual preference than most men" - bob
"Boring and predictable." - No Guru No Method
"Are you the biggest idiot ever?" - Randal
"I'm not qualified to write for online media, let alone mainstream
media." - Larry Mahnken
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August 31, 2004
YES announcer report cards by TVerik
Hi, it's not Larry. I had an idea for a little post during his sabbatical, but never got a chance to write it. So one night only:
I have been watching YES for almost all of the games this year. Some of their announcers are good, and some not so good. They all have good points. In trying to rate their performance, I found it necessary to give them two "grades". One is for each individual's specific area of expertise - Jim Kaat and pitching, Bobby Murcer and hitting, etc. The other grade is for their overall performance - how much they bring to the broadcast booth. So without further ado...
Joe Girardi is a newcomer to the booth this year. I watched his ESPN work during last year's postseason, and was really impressed. My guess is that he'll be a fine broadcaster for years, as long as he doesn't decide to get into coaching or something. He can be a bit rough around the edges - this past week, he was left to do the play-by-play duties (Ken Singleton was the only other one in the booth that day). Girardi had a bit of a rough time - he stumbled when reading promos, billboards, and scouting reports. But when he's talking about recent Yankee teams from an insider's perspective, it's generally really good for the broadcast. Call me a rough grader - I suspect he'll improve on that second score a great deal, and soon.
In his area: A
I had been watching Fred Hickman for years on CNN. I think he's very talented, and is used very well. I like his voice a lot. That's about it, though. He hasn't ended up on game telecasts yet (as far as I know), and I feel the unscripted nature of a game showcases a broadcaster's strengths and weaknesses far more than studio updates and pre- and post-game shows. By the way, I think Fred was a significant "get" for YES. He has national noteriety as a sportscaster, and could have undoubtedly found a national job. To get a person with his credentials to go on a local cable network, they must have backed up the money truck to his front door.
In his area: A
Jim Kaat has been doing this for a long time. I really liked him better prior to this year - his uninformed rants about sabermetrics and Moneyball can get under my skin. He has a nice little sense of humor, and is a really good storyteller. But I wonder if today's Yankee fans can really relate to all of his stories - when he goes on about his experiences with Cap Anson, I often go to sleep. The man knows about as much about pitching as any analyst in the game. Last year, I think his overall score would have been a bit higher. I'm concerned that he might be at an age where his opinions become more calcified - he'll need to prove that he's capable of embracing new streams of thought.
In his area: A-
Michael Kay. All right, here it comes - many sabermetric types would bash him mercilessly. But I can see good. His voice is adequate. He really reads things well (that sounds like a bit of a backhanded compliment, but it's really not easy to integrate written copy into a broadcast well, and he has this ability). He stays out of some broadcasting traps that might make other play-by-play men look foolish. Also, you just have to like his story - he's a local guy who just loved the Yankees and managed to make a career out of it. I can respect that.
Unfortunately, he has fallen for the Conventional Wisdom philosophy really, really hard. Combine that with his assertiveness and arrogance, and he often can be very harsh to philosophies that don't match his own. I've seen him adopt a "Professor Baseball" mantle, similar to Tim McCarver. But he isn't as good at it as Tim is. Again, I believe that Kay has talent and can be useful. He's skillful at the lesser-noticed minutia of broadcasting. But his presence often annoys me. I think he might be one of the most closed-minded men in the business.
In his area: B
Bobby Murcer was a Yankee broadcaster for most of my youth - I remember him working with Phil Rizzuto, and that's a point in his favor. Full disclosure - I just plain like Murcer. I find his Oklahoma drawl relaxing and his homerism fun. I wouldn't call him the most interesting member of the team, but I'm glad he's on TV doing Yankee games. I had a fairly happy childhood, and a lot of my memories were of Bobby and Scooter talking about the Yankees as I did "kid stuff" around the house - I wasn't a baseball fan then, but I knew who Bobby was.
In his area: A-
I really wanted to love Paul O'Neill as a broadcaster, but it really hasn't happened. One of my favorite players just hasn't taken well to the booth. He's stiff, he sounds rehearsed, and he's not versatile. If he were not a beloved recent Yankee, I don't think he'd have a job in the business. He's been at this for long enough that if it were going to click for him, it would have already. I like that he gives us insight into recent Yankee clubhouses, but Joe Girardi does that a bit better and brings more to the party. YES clearly doesn't know what to do with him either - he has alternated between a studio analyst and game analyst, not really achieving distinction in either.
In his area: B
Here comes my favorite single member of the broadcast team. I think Ken Singleton does it all, and does it well. He seems to be comfortable with sabermetric thought (he did, after all, play for Earl Weaver), but not overly so as to be hostile to his main audience. He is very smooth with reading scripted stuff, and is a gifted storyteller. He was an All-Star level player, and is capable of conveying that without blowing his own horn overly. He even has a really good sense of humor - he had me on the floor last year when the Yankees had Jesse Orosco and a pitcher named Erasmo Ramirez was on the hill for Texas; Singleton wondered what would happen if Erasmo was in Jesse's family - resulting in Erasmo Orosco! Trust me, it was funny. I think of Singleton as the YES MVP - I wouldn't want to lose him.
In his area: A
Finally, we come to Suzyn Waldman. Again, there's significant baggage here. But let's start with her good points: She has better access to today's Yankee team than anyone else, and she's been able to do this for years. She's capable of giving hungry fans the news that they'd like to hear about injuries or managerial decisions or lineups faster and more concisely than anyone else. Like Kay, I really respect her backstory: She's a breast cancer survivor, and has made a notable career in a traditionally male-dominated atmosphere.
But she might have the most annoying voice ever put on display on TV. Also like Michael Kay, she's fallen for the Conventional Wisdom tract hook, line, and sinker, and has displayed some hostility towards new baseball ideas. I believe she thinks she knows more than anyone else about her specialty - not a wonderful quality in a broadcaster.These grades seem fairly low. But I really think that her shoes could be filled well with another (that's right) replacement-level broadcaster.
In her area: B
That's it... this was a longer post than I envisioned. Anything you've read here is just my opinion, so please feel free to disagree with it.
I was going to rate the radio guys, but I simply haven't heard them as much as the TV people. So I'll leave that to someone else if they so desire.
Hey, Larry hasn't gone anywhere; he just let me post tonight. So don't worry, a talented writer will be along soon. Everyone reading, please have a nice day. And Lock the State!
Since winning last Monday, the Yankees have played 6 straight games in which they've trailed at some point. Through Saturday, they had won four of those games, and yesterday they were only nine outs away from doing it a fifth time.
But then it all fell apart, as Mike Mussina ran out of gas and gave up the lead, and Paul Quantrill came in, and seeing runners on his flank and in his rear, went into suck mode. By the time it was over, the Yankees trailed 6-2, and despite a valiant effort, fell 6-4.
Despite losing this game, despite a poor line from Mussina, despite dropping yet another game in the standings to Boston, the Yankees did well on this latest road trip. They won 5 of 7, and both series they played. They could have, and probably should have won every game, but their opponents can make an equal claim.
They have, however, broken out of their offensive slump. A-Rod came alive with runners in scoring position over the weekend, and they generally beat the crap out of the Blue Jays. Yeah, you can chalk a lot of it up to bad pitching, but sometimes a good lineup needs some bad pitchers to get out of a slump.
While they only got one win from their starters, the results were more positive than they appeared. With the Yankees' lineup, they don't need great pitching, they just need their starters to be good enough that they don't have to bludgeon their way to victory.
Kevin Brown gave up four early runs on Saturday, but pitched exceptionally well after the third inning. What's more, he threw 120 pitches, alleviating fears from earlier in the week that his back might be acting up.
While Moose's lines haven't looked at all inspiring, the actual efforts have been very much so. Early struggles putting batters away on Monday knocked him out early, just as he was starting to breeze through the lineup, and yesterday he was dominant for 95 pitches before breaking down in the seventh. Obviously you want more than 95 pitches from a starter, but considering that this is merely his third start back from the DL, those 95 pitches are a great sign.
Jon Lieber also struggled early, then was brilliant the second half of the game. It was pretty much the theme of the week.
What can be worrisome is that when the starter puts you behind by three or four runs in the first few innings, you're not always going to be able to come back, as the Yankees have the past week. For the whole season, the Yankees are +38 runs in the first 6 innings, and +45 after that. If QuanGorMo's rested, the team can shut opponents down late, but against the better teams, the scoring late part is going to be the problem. They're either going to need to score more early, or give up fewer early.
This last month of the season is the time for the Yankees to figure out who they're taking to the postseason, and how they'll be using them. At this point, the rotation appears like it will be:
with the exact order to be determined by how they pitch down the stretch.
Torre needs to get Enrique Wilson out of his system, because as bad as Cairo's been lately, he's more likely to be useful in October.
Tony Clark and John Olerud have actually been steady filling in for Giambi, posting a combined .802 OPS. I'd still like Jason back, but they can survive with this combo. Now if only Clark got on as much as Olerud and Olerud hit with Clark's power...
Sheffield needs to stay healthy...ish. And why, incidently, was he only given a double on Saturday? He touched third base. It's a triple.
A-Rod needs to Lock The State, and keep hitting with runners in scoring position.
Jeter needs to stop bunting.
Bernie needs to... Bernie needs an infusion of stem cells or something, like that South Park with Christopher Reeve.
And frankly, the Yanks really need Steve Karsay to run out of that bullpen. Not to be a stopper, but just to be a filler, to keep Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera out of the game. Yeah Joe, I know Quantrill says he wants to pitch every day. It's more important that he pitch in October, give him some rest. And don't bring him in to pitch the day after he stinks up the joint, when he was pitching the day after he stunk up the joint. Making him tired probably ain't gonna fix that.
The Yanks have the day off, and then head into the last easy stretch of the season. They need to keep their intensity level high and win at least 12 or 13 of these games, and tack on a game or two in the standings. Boston's unlikely to sweep the Yankees two more times, but just in case, they need to add more of a cushion. They blew it two weeks ago against very good teams, now's their chance to redeem themselves. 14 or more victories will almost certainly lock up the East heading into the Boston series.
A couple of days ago, I wrote about the struggles of Alex Rodriguez when a runner finds his way to second base. It's this bad: if Alex Rodriguez were to hit as well with a runner in scoring position as he does when there isn't one, his line this season would be .305/.383/.553/.937. We might not be talking MVP with those numbers, but nobody would be asking what's wrong with him, and the Yankees might not have to fend off one last run by the Red Sox.
For a while last night, it seemed certain that Inanimate Carbon-Rod and the Yankees were going to be sending their fans to bed unsatisfied, and furniture dealers in Fairport were going to get a bit wealthier.
With Sheffield on first and two out, ICR popped up to end the first inning, and Carlos Delgado put them behind 2-0 right away by crushing a ball into the right-center field seats. Orlando Hudson popped another 2-run shot in the third, and never did a 4-0 deficit feel so large to me. The weight of this recent slump began to push down on me, and I began to lose confidence.
Let me digress. We know that this is a slump, that this is not the real Yankees we're seeing out there. We know this is a slump because the numbers being put up by their players are even worse than even the biggest pessimist could have predicted, and that we can be almost entirely certain that these players will almost all put up numbers better than the past week and a half over the remainder of the season, and for most, those numbers will be appreciably better. We know that, considering the unusual fact that nearly the entire team has entered a slump at the same instance, the slump is likely to end soon, if gradually. And more than this, we know that because of the relative ease of the remaining schedule, the possibility of the Yankees dropping the final 5½ games of their lead and more is exceptionally unlikely, regardless of the events of the past week and a half. Even if Kevin Brown is out, that would have a much greater impact on their postseason fortunes than their chances of getting there.
But I am an emotional being, and often my logical conclusions are vetoed by my impatience, and I have, to a degree, lost faith in the entire Yankees lineup. Only Sheffield has my confidence, when anyone else comes up, particularly with two outs, I feel as though an out is certain. Of course this feeling will pass, but as I watched the game last night, this depair took over, and 4-0 felt like an insurmountable mountain.
Particularly considering that the Yankees had failed to get a single hit off of David Bush through the first four innings. But in the fifth, the lineup awoke. Well, maybe not awoke, but they showed signs.
Posada reached on a throwing error, John Olerud broke through with a single just in front of Reed Johnson, Cairo singled to left to load the bases. Lofton singled, bringing home Posada and keeping the bases loaded, and Bernie drove the ball to deep center to score another run. Jeter brought home one more with a base hit to center, and Sheffield walked to load the bases with one out.
And then ICR did his thing, bouncing a 2-0 pitch to short for a rally-killing double play.
My spirt had begun to lift before ICR's double play, and it immediately sunk again. Would they rally again, could they score that next run to tie it? I doubted it, but my doubts were answered with an RBI single with two outs in the sixth by Lofton, and the Yanks had a new game.
And Lieber had turned his game around admirably after his rough start. After giving up the homer to Hudson, Lieber had allowed a double and a walk, then retired 16 of the last 17 batters he faced, keeping the game tied into the eighth. C.J. Nitkowski took over from there, getting the last two outs before the Yankees tried one more time to take the lead in the ninth.
Jeter led off with a walk, and on the first pitch, Gary Sheffield hit a ball down the left field line so hard that it traveled backwards in time and space, and killed the squirrel that was running in the outfield in Cleveland on Wednesday night. With runner on second and third and nobody out, only disaster could cost the Yankees the go-ahead run -- and disaster was coming up to the plate wearing #13. A swing and a miss, a foul ball, and A-Rod was quickly 0-2.
But just then a woman in white stood up in the stands, and a bolt of lightning streaked across the skydome, destroying the Jumbotron and killing 30 fans.
Rodriguez ripped a single into left, scoring both Jeter and Sheffield, giving the Yankees a 6-4 lead. A balk and a base hit later and it was Enter Sandman, and the Yankees had won 3 of 4 -- albeit the hard way -- and retained their 5½ game lead for another day.
I highly doubt that a single base hit is going to end A-Rod's horrid struggles with RISP, but if they do end, last night is going to be remembered as a much more important game that it really was. It wasn't a meaningless game, of course, but it was hardly a must-win. But if A-Rod stops being Inanimate Carbon-Rod after that game, the impact of it will be monumental.
* * *
Not baseball-related, but I'd just like to extend my congratulations to local soccer hero Abby Wambach, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime to give the USA Women's Soccer team the gold medal. I'm sure she reads this site every day.
On a sorta baseball-related note, I didn't think it did while it was happening, but I guess the hiatus helped. I don't know where it went, and I'm still not sure what I'm doing, but I'm enjoying doing this again, and I feel like I'm back to where I was last year.
The only sure thing about luck is that it will change.
- Bret Harte
Clearly, the Yankees have yet to completely break out of their slump, but quite fortunately, they're playing a weaker team that's sliding much worse than they have. For the second night in a row, the Yankees won a hard-fought contest against the Indians, scoring the winning run in the top of the ninth inning.
Frustrating though it is, slumps happen. They're a fact of life, a product of random variation. Players and teams will go into slumps at completely unpredictable times, even in a simulation. And they'll come out of those slumps at completely random times.
Sometimes a slump is real, the result of an injury, or a mechanical flaw, or maybe a player getting exploited when opponents find a weakness in their game. But usually they're just a random fluctuation -- just like hot streaks. A slump can be self-sustaining, as a player starts to exacerbate the problem by adjusting their play to try and get out of their slide, but it isn't always.
There's an interesting thing happening this year to the defending MVP, Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod isn't having a bad year by normal standards, but it's one of the worst seasons of his career by his established standards. Some of his statistical decline can be explained by a change from a great hitters' park to a more pitcher-friendly one, but his road numbers are among his career worst, too (although better than the home ones).
Most bizzare is his sudden inability to hit in the clutch. With nobody on this year, A-Rod's put up this line:
Which is not substantially different from his career line of (pre-2004):
Especially considering his move to Yankee Stadium after playing in Arlington and the Kingdome for most of his career. But when runners get on...
Oddly enough, when there's a runner only on first, A-Rod's line is .346/.417/.617/1.034 -- better than his regular numbers. I guess when A-Rod's up, runners on first should stay put, huh?
There could be real reasons for A-Rod's struggles in situations where hits are most valuable, though he has come through in a few crucial situations. It's clearly not because he's not "clutch" -- he's been plenty clutch in the past, and four months do not erase ten years. But he's clearly not coming through this year. Last night he had three hits, but in his most crucial at-bat of the game, with a runner on third and one out, he tapped out to shortstop, failing to score the run.
We can expect A-Rod to do better than this next year, and we should expect him to do better this year, but Rodriguez might allow these problems to be self-sustaining, and continue to struggle.
Where A-Rod failed, Godzilla came trough, ripping the game-winner into center. Rivera came in to get his 42nd save, just 8 short of his career high (as well as the answer), and Tom Gordon got another win, in another game where he didn't pitch that great. Javier Vazquez had one bad inning in the third, but finished strong and kept the Indians at four runs through seven innings, giving the Yankees the opportunity to come back, and ultimately win.
The Yanks go for the sweep today, starting El Duque. They've won every game he's started this season, so that's a good omen. What they're really hoping for is that the lineup can break out and put up some runs -- though Jake Westbrook has pitched pretty darn good this year, so it won't be easy. A sweep would feel good after the lackluster week they just finished, but breaking out of their slump for real would be much more comforting.
Boston won yesterday, because the Blue Jays couldn't score a run with the bases loaded and nobody out. The Yanks still lead by 6½ games... WHICH IS A BIG LEAD, PEOPLE!!!
Seriously, there's concern, and then there's just plain stupidity. CBS Sportsline's latest Power Rankings rates the Yankees ninth in MLB, down from second a week ago. The Yankees currently have the second-best record in baseball, the third best team is five games behind them.
But what's more foolish is that the Boston Red Sox, 5½ games back at the start of the week, are rated sixth. Yes, they're closer than they were a week ago, but they still have a long way to go to catch the Yankees, let alone make a claim to being clearly better than them!
Friends, one week does not a season make. One week does not negate four months. A slump does not reveal the true face of a team, any more than a hot streak does. It's something that happens, it's something that goes away, it's something that will happen again.
Are the Yankees the best team in baseball? Maybe, though they haven't played like it for anything more than short spurts. Are there teams better than them? There probably are, though maybe not many. But are there eight teams better than the Yankees? I find that highly unlikely.
Clearly, the creator of this power ranking is being heavily influenced by the last week -- SG suggests it's just a report on how they've played lately. Well, I can't buy that latter explanation -- how could the Yankees be rated ninth and the Indians rated 14th then? Surely more than eight teams have played better than the Yankees in the past week. Wouldn't they kind of had to? And besides, couldn't you just look at the last ten games record on the sports page and see the same thing?
No, the author has to believe that the last week offers some underlying truth about these teams that was hidden for all this time. One week makes the Yankees worse than the Red Sox, Cardinals, Braves, A's, Angels, Dodgers, Rangers and Twins. How silly for us to think the standings mattered.
And not a moment too soon, it would appear. The Yanks were doing okay when I first took off, but they just came off the week of hell, losing six of seven -- their only win by way of a dramatic comeback.
It was a total team effort, to be sure. The starting pitching was horrid, the lineup was impotent, and the bullpen was unreliable. These weren't the Yankees who had run out to a 10½ game lead, this was some horrible watered down version of the Yankees.
But on the other hand, perhaps that gives good cause to not be so alarmed, since we know that this isn't the real Yankees team that's been getting it's butt kicked. From Sunday to Sunday, the Yankees' lineup put up these numbers:
Flaherty, John 1.667
Sheffield, Gary 1.340
Rodriguez, Alex .945
Matsui, Hideki .803
Williams, Bernie .632
Posada, Jorge .636
Olerud, John .583
Lofton, Kenny .431
Jeter, Derek .401
Sierra, Ruben .400
Wilson, Enrique .286
Cairo, Miguel .190
The top four hitters had a 1.103 OPS -- though Flaherty batted only 6 times, and Rodriguez only 17 thanks to his suspension. The rest of the team, batting more than twice as often as those four, posted a .465 OPS.
Now Bernie Williams may be washed up, but he's not dead. Derek Jeter's had a bad year, but he's still facing the right way at the plate. The only players at the bottom of that list who aren't that unlikely to stay there are Olerud, who may indeed be done, and Enrique Wilson, who the Yankees can't expect to be that hot the rest of the way.
Well, it's not anything to be happy about, of course, but I think we can put last week behind us, and not mistake it for revealing some unknown weakness in this team.
But before we could put last week away, the Yankees had to break their losing streak, and they'd have to do it against a team that was sliding even worse, the Indians.
When a team's in the middle of a long losing streak, you hear some announcers and columnists say that their opponents should be worried about having to play them, because they're due to break out of it. Well, I don't buy that, because you have to believe that when a team is overdue for a win, they're more likely to win. They're not -- they're equally likely to win as they would be had they been playing fine the whole time.
It's possible that a team could be less likely to win when they're in a long losing streak, because a team that's not hitting as well as normal, not pitching as well, and not fielding as well clearly isn't as likely to win as much as normal. But to say they're more likely to win, that means that you're more likely to win if you play poorly... huh?
Regardless, the Yankees and Indians played a fun game last night. The Yanks jumped out to a quick lead in the first off a Bernie double and a Jeter single, then scored another couple in the second when Tony Clark homered. It looked for a moment like the Yankees had awoken, but Cliff Lee settled down to pitch a solid game, and Mike Mussina, gave back the lead in the fourth. Mussina actually pitched reasonably well on balance, though he gave up three runs in five innings, having to give way to Paul Quantrill because he struggled to put batters away in the first two innings.
Quantrill came out to start the sixth, and seeing that there was nobody on base already, didn't suck. He pitched to strong innings, giving way to Tom Gordon in the eighth.
Gordon came in with the lead after Ruben Sierra ripped a single to right field to score the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth, but after getting the first two outs in the bottom of the inning, Travis Hafner ripped a double to right-center, and Casey Blake hit a game-tying single on the next pitch.
In the top of the ninth, Kenny Lofton and Bernie Williams made out, and Derek Jeter was hit on the elbow with a pitch. While the injury turned out to be a mere bone bruise, Jeter had to leave the game, and with Cairo having been lifted for Lofton already, the Yankees were going to have to shuffle their defense again. With Gary Sheffield dealing with a painful shoulder injury, a tough situation had the potential to get much worse. If the game went into several extra innings, Sheffield might get seriously hurt playing a hard ground ball, and the Yankees would be in serious trouble.
"C'mon, hit a home run Sheff..." I mumbled to myself as he batted -- never really expecting it to happen. But once again, Sheff came through, drilling the ball just over the high left field wall. 6-4 Yanks, Enter Sandman.
And Rivera, of course, shut the Tribe down, and the Yankees were victorious once more. Boston lost, so they're back up to 6½. WHICH IS A BIG LEAD, PEOPLE!!!
Sheffield is making a powerful case for MVP. This isn't one of those stupid, Ichiro!, Shannon Stewart or anyone-in-the-NL-whose-name-isn't-Barry-Bonds arguments, Sheffield's numbers are MVP vintage, as good or better as anyone else's when adjusted for park, and the timing of many of his hits only adds to his value -- whether you believe clutch hitting or a skill or not, when something happens does change it's value.
More amazing is that Sheffield is putting up these numbers after putting up poor numbers for the first two months. On June 1st, Sheff had a .789 OPS, since then he's put up a .316/.429/.680/1.109 line. With a bum shoulder.
There's no reason why Sheffield shouldn't be a favorite for the award, aside from the fact that there's still a month left in the season. But I don't see anybody who's been clearly better (though I guess you could make a good case for Melvin Mora), so over the last few weeks, this will be a legitimate argument. And even if he doesn't get the hardware (something he said he doesn't really care about anyway), he's played like an MVP, which is what really matters.
Hey now you're an All Star get your game on, go play
Hey now you're a Rock Star get the show on get paid
And all that glitters is gold
Only shooting stars break the mold -Smash Mouth, "All Star"
Thanks to another horrendous start by Two Time All StarEsteban (PP™/TTAS™) Loaiza, with an assist to a non-existent Yankee offense, the lead over Boston has been reduced to 6.5. While it's not quite panic time yet, there is cause for concern. The fact that the Yankee offense has disappeared at the same time that they are facing potential playoff caliber opponents with good pitching staffs is not coincidental. I will at some point in the future post my feelings about the events that led to the Yankees trading Contreras for Loaiza, but I want to wait for them both to pitch a few more times to validate my initial thoughts. If you look at Larry's tracker, you can probably guess where I'm headed.
Looking in my rear view mirror,
Looking in my rear view mirror,
I can make it disappear,
I can make it disappear (have no fear), -Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Aeroplane"
One of my favorite baseball books is The Bronx Zoo by Sparky Lyle. It was a day-to-day journal of the season after Lyle won the Cy Young in 1977. It turned out to be an amazing chronicle of one of the most unlikely seasons in baseball history, the great Yankee comeback in the division race against Boston in 1978. I thought it might be interesting to look at the 1978 season.
Pythagorean record is often a good indicator of team quality.
Actual 1978 American League East standings:
Team Name G W L PCT GB RS RA
New York Yankees 163 100 63 .613 - 735 582
Boston Red Sox 163 99 64 .607 1.0 796 657
Milwaukee Brewers 162 93 69 .574 6.5 804 650
Baltimore Orioles 161 90 71 .559 9.0 659 633
Detroit Tigers 162 86 76 .530 13.5 714 653
Cleveland Indians 159 69 90 .433 29.0 639 694
Toronto Blue Jays 161 59 102 .366 40.0 590 775
Team Name G W L PCT GB RS RA
New York Yankees 163 100 63 .615 - 735 582
Milwaukee Brewers 162 98 64 .605 1.5 804 650
Boston Red Sox 163 97 66 .595 3.0 796 657
Detroit Tigers 162 88 74 .520 11.5 714 653
Baltimore Orioles 161 84 78 .545 15.5 659 633
Cleveland Indians 159 74 88 .459 25.5 639 694
Toronto Blue Jays 161 59 102 .367 40.5 590 775
According to pythag, the Red Sox weren't even the second best team in the league. Regardless, they led second place Milwaukee in the AL East by nine games on July 19. The Yankees, in fourth place, were back by fourteen. Going into September, the Boston lead over New York was cut to 7-1/2.
The weekend of September 7 is now known as "The Boston Massacre." The Yankees had a total of 67 hits, and won all four games by an average margin of over eight runs. The Red Sox committed twelve errors. It was the first time since 1943 that New York swept a four-game series at Fenway.
New York arrived in Boston for a four games series, four games back (with 24 remaining). Ex-Yankee Mike Torrez faced Catfish Hunter. The first inning began with Butch Hobson throwing away a routine grounder that the Yankees turned into two unearned runs. Torrez gave up four straight singles in the second and was sent to the showers. Before Boston's number-nine hitter (Hobson) had his first at-bat, Thurman Munson had three hits and the Yankees had a 7-0 lead. By the end of the fourth, the Yankees were ahead 12-2. New York finished the game with 21 hits and a 15-3 victory. Willie Randolph and Roy White joined Munson with three hits each.
Mickey Rivers hit Jim Wright's first pitch of the game for a single. Rivers stole second on Wright's second pitch, and advanced to third when Carlton Fisk's throw got away from Rick Burleson. Before the Red Sox rookie had delivered his third pitch, New York's leadoff hitter was on third base. Wright gave up four runs before being relieved by Tom Burgmeir in the second inning. Burgmeir gave up a single, a walk, and a homer to the first three batters he faced. Boston had seven errors that led to seven runs, and the game ended with a 13-2 Yankee victory.
Dennis Eckersley took his 16-6 record (9-0 at Fenway) to the mound to face Ron Guidry. Guidry worked out of trouble in the first inning, and the game was calm until the fourth. With two outs, Chris Chambliss singled. Graig Nettles walked, and Lou Piniella's single to short-center fell in between five Red Sox. Bucky Dent blooped a two-strike pitch to short left. Another walk, a passed ball, a wild pitch, and an error contributed to a total of seven Yankee runs. Those were the only runs scored, as the game ended at 7-0. Ron Guidry, throwing a two-hitter, became the first lefty to shut out Boston at Fenway in four years.
Boston's rookie lefthander, Bobby Sprowl, started the game by walking both Mickey Rivers and Willie Randolph. Sprowl could not make it out of the first inning. Ed Figueroa built up a 6-0 lead, and Goose Gossage finished the game with a 7-4 victory. Graig Nettles, Roy White, Thurman Munson, and Bucky Dent all had three hits.
Boston managed to fight back and eventually tie the Yankees atop the AL East, by winning their last eight scheduled games of the season, forcing one of the most famous playoff games in baseball history, the October 2, 1978 infamous Bucky Dent game.
Monday, October 2 Boston It was strange, but for a game that was so important to both teams, there was very little tension. Last night a bunch us went out and had a few drinks, and we were sitting at the hotel bar, and the general consensus was "We're gonna win tomorrow." We just knew we were going to win. And the Red Sox weren't tight because they had just had the Division championship taken away from them, and now they were getting a second chance. So they played as good a game as they could play because they felt they had absolutely nothing to lose.
It was a tremendous day, I'll tell you, it really was. It was like being in the seventh game of the World Series. Gid started and he didn't really have his good stuff 'cause he was going with only three days' rest again, but he was still good enough to hold them to two runs in six and a third, quite an accomplishment for a left- hander in Fenway. In the second Yaz got up, and he knew Gid was going to try to pump a fastball by him, and Gid got the ball up, and Yaz has such power in his hands, he just turned those wrists over and boom that ball was gone.
They scored again in the sixth when Rice singled Burleson home. Everything was real quiet in our bullpen, and I said to Tidrow, we're just teasing them. In the ninth inning, we're gonna win this son of a bitch three to two and go home. Dirt said, "I think we're gonna win eight to two.” We were both wrong-the score was actually 5 to 4--but we just knew, we had a feeling out there, that we were going to win. We had all those goose eggs up there on the scoreboard, but the way the game was going, Torrez had been lucky, and there was no way he was going to shut us out. And there wasn't.
In our half of the seventh Chambliss singled and Roy singled and Bucky Dent got up. Because Willie Randolph's still out, Fred Stanley went in to play second when Lem pinch-hit for Doyle, so they didn't pinch-hit for Bucky like they usually do. Torrez threw Bucky a slider, Bucky swung, and he hit the ball off his ankle.
Bucky went down, and when he dragged himself back up, he hobbled over to third-base coach Dick Howser, and he said, “lf that son of a bitch comes in there again with that pitch, I'm going to take him into the net.” And Torrez threw it in there again, and bang there it went. Bucky hit it into the net for a three-run homer.
In the bullpen we were laughing because our shortstops have devastated Torrez. In June, Stanley hit that grand slam off him, and now Bucky hit this three-runner. Seven RBI's in two swings. Torrez just can't get our shortstops out! Then Rivers walked and stole second, and he scored when Thurman doubled off reliever Bob Stanley.
When Reggie got up in the eighth, Mr. October, as he likes to call himself, hit another home run to make it 5 to 2. Despite the fact that Reggie at times can be hard to take, there's no question that in the big games, he can get way up and hit the hell out of the ball. No one's ever denied him that. I can't figure out why he does it, but he does it. I think that in the big games a pitcher has a tendency to be finer around the plate, and that makes the hitter more selective. If Reggie could concentrate all year long like he does in the play-offs and the Series games, his records would be unbelievable. Reggie's so strong, and he has-so much power that a pitcher can't fool with him. If he makes a mistake, and Reggie gets his bat on it, Reggie swings such a heavy bat that it's gone.
Goose relieved Gid in the seventh and got the last two outs, but in their half of the eighth, the Red Sox came back with two runs against him. Remy doubled, Yaz singled to drive him in, Fisk singled, and Lynn singled for their fourth run.
They got us out in tie top of the ninth, so the score was still 5-4 ours when Boston batted in the bottom of the inning. Goose walked Burleson with one out. Remy then hit a line drive to Piniella in right. Lou lost it in the sun, which was beating right in his eyes, but he pretended he was going to catch it, pounding his glove, so Burleson had to hold up and could only go to second when the ball bounced in front of him. That won the game for us, cause Rice flied out, and had Burleson been on third, he would have tagged and scored and tied up the game. With Burleson on second, though, it was just a harmless fly ball.
Now there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The Red Sox were down to their last batter: Carl Yastrzemski. I had seen the way the game was going, and l was heating up pretty good in the bullpen cause l thought to myself, ''Goddamn, the way this is going, I'm going to face Yaz if he comes up in the ninth.'' Even Tidrow had said, "They're gonna be using you. Stay ready.” I guess he figured Yaz is left-handed and they'd bring me in to face the lefty.
If I could have gone in there and gotten him out and saved the game, that one out would have let me be part of something. Just one fucking out, which is all it would have been. I've always been able to get Yaz out, and if ever there was a time to bring me in: this was it.
I stood out in the bullpen waiting for Lemon to come out of the dugout and get Goose. Lemon, however, never left the bench. He left Goose. in to pitch to Yaz. I said, “Screw it,” and I stopped warming up.
I suppose I should have been annoyed, pissed off, angry, but I wasn't any of those things. You gotta look at it from Lem's way too. When you have a reliever like Goose-just like I was last year-you gotta go with the guy all the way. You can't be making too many moves.
Yaz stepped in, Goose fired the ball in there, and Yaz sent a high pop behind third. When Graig settled under the ball and caught it and the game was over, suddenly I felt a tremendous surge of happiness come over me. Even though I had hardly contributed at all, for the first time since the spring I really felt part of this team. l was proud of what we did, and all the records the team set. I was happy for Guidry, who won his twenty-fifth, and I felt happy for Goose, who got his twenty-seventh save. I was thinking about how no other team in the entire history of baseball had ever done that. The events were rushing through my mind. There were so many things that happened to this team this year, I’ll probably remember this season more than any other season of my baseball career.
Anyone who wants a day-by-day description of the 1978 season from a Yankee player perspective should check this book out.
The point of all this, is that there are quite a few Red Sox fans who are pointing to 2004 as 1978 in reverse. They are hoping for another parade, like this one from the last time they won it all. This time, the Yankees are the team that jumped out to the big division lead, and the Red Sox are the team that is trying to pull off the miraculous comeback. As a Yankee fan, I mocked this thought process, especially after what looked to be a horrendous trade of Nomar Garciaparra for two mediocre players. However, the events of the last few days have caused me to look at this scenario in a new light. Granting that the Yankees have had the more difficult schedule in August, the Red Sox have still done what they needed to do, and get the deficit reduced. With the Yankee rotation still suspect, and with Sheffield hurting, it's not unreasonable that the Red Sox could overtake them. Another problem for the Yankees with this is that resting the bullpen is now not an option for Joe Torre, as he doesn't have the luxury of the "safe" lead. This could possibly have an impact in September, and the postseason if they get there.
On August 15 the Yankees held a 10.5 game lead over Boston.
As of August 21 the Yankees now hold a 6.5 game lead over Boston.
Team Name G W L PCT GB RS RA
Boston Red Sox 121 72 49 .593 - 697 578
New York Yankees 122 67 55 .552 5.5 668 602
Baltimore Orioles 121 58 63 .476 14.0 622 652
Toronto Blue Jays 123 54 69 .442 19.0 540 607
Tampa Bay Devil Rays 123 53 70 .431 20.0 530 609
Looking a little deeper into the standings, using Baseball Prospectus' adjusted standings(these haven't been updated since Friday 8/20):
Team W L RS RA W1 L1 EQR EQRA W2 L2 AEQR AEQRA W3 L3 D1 D2 D3
Boston Red Sox 67. 52. 677 570 69.4 49.6 695 529 74.9 44.1 698 536 74.4 44.6 -2.4 -7.9 -7.4
New York Yankees 76. 44. 667 591 67.1 52.9 665 571 68.8 51.2 677 576 69.4 50.6 8.9 7.2 6.6
Baltimore Orioles 57. 62. 614 628 58.2 60.8 619 612 60.1 58.9 625 620 60.0 59.0 -1.2 -3.1 -3.0
Tampa Bay Devil Rays 55. 66. 525 595 53.4 67.6 523 580 54.7 66.3 533 571 56.6 64.4 1.6 0.3 -1.6
Toronto Blue Jays 49. 72. 516 599 52.1 68.9 521 602 52.3 68.7 533 598 54.0 67.0 -3.1 -3.3 -5.0
According to component stats, the Red Sox are a better team than the Yankees. I always take these kinds of things with a grain of salt, because not all runs are equal, and as the margin of the game increases, the value of each subsequent run scored or allowed decreases. If a team suffers a lot of blowout wins or losses, it can skew these numbers. The common belief is that these types of things even out of the course of a season, so let's assume that these numbers have some validity for comparison. The Yankees have outperformed their expected win total by 9, while the Red Sox have underperformed theirs by 3. If we assume that the current trends continue, the two teams would approach their true talent level. Boston has won 57% of their games, but should have won 59%. Therefore, they could reasonably expect to win 24 of their remaining 41 games. The Yankees, have won 62% of their games, but their run differential projects to a 56% winning percentage. Therefore, with 40 games left, they would win 22 of them. If both things happened, the Yankees would lose only 1.5 more games in the standings to Boston, and still finish the division comfortably ahead.
There are other things to consider though. First off, the Yankees have the easier schedule in September.
Games remaining for Boston 1 @ Chicago
3 @ Toronto
4 vs. Detroit
3 vs. Anaheim
3 vs. Texas
3 @ Oakland
3 @ Seattle
3 vs. Tampa Bay
3 @ Yankees
4 vs. Baltimore
3 vs. Yankees
3 @ TB
4 @ Baltimore
Games remaining for the Yankees 1 vs. Anaheim
3 @ Cleveland
4 @ Toronto
3 vs. Cleveland
3 vs. Baltimore
5 vs. Tampa Bay
3 @ Baltimore
3 @ Kansas City
3 vs. Boston
3 vs. Toronto
3 @ Boston
3 vs. Minnesota
More importantly, the two teams have six games remaining against each other, Sept 17-19 at New York, and then Sept 24-26 at Boston.
If the Yankees are unable to maintain at least a five game lead heading into that first series, a repeat of 1978 would not be unlikely in my opinion. While the loser of the divisional race would still have the wild card to fall back on, the impact of Boston coming from behind to take the East could be huge for both teams. This would give Boston home field advantage in an ALCS matchup, and it could also manifest in the games on the field, and through panic moves in the front office. It would be exciting to watch, and great for baseball, but as a Yankee fan, I sure as hell hope it doesn't happen. Boston deserves a lot of credit for hanging tough in what has been a difficult season for them, both injury-wise and with their bad luck/underperforming at times.
"Both as a man and as a ballplayer, this boy Howard looks every inch a Yankee"
-- Paul Krichell, scout for the New York Yankees on prospect Elston Howard
In 1884, a catcher--ironically enough--would play his final game with the American Association's Toledo Blue Hens. What made him stand out was not his hitting, nor his ability to call a game....but rather his skin colour.
He was black.
That catcher, Moses Fleetwood Walker, would be the signpost for an era that would stretch for 53 years; an era where only two colours mattered. The green grass, and the greenbacks, along with the white baseball, and the white baseball player. For the Yankees the drought would continue for another eight years.
"I will never allow a black man to wear a Yankee uniform. Boxholders from Westchester don't want that sort of crowd. They would be offended to have to sit with niggers."
-- New York Yankees general manager: George Weiss
So deep was this ennui toward those of African heritage the Yankees passed on a youngster who played for the Birmingham Black Barons. He eventually would be signed by New York's other team--the Giants. This youngster was a strapping youth by the name of Willie Mays.
"The Yankees will bring up a Negro as soon as one that fits the high Yankee standards is found."
-- George Weiss
Again: "Both as a man and as a ballplayer, this boy Howard looks every inch a Yankee"
-- Paul Krichell
It was easy to see, right from the start, that Elston Howard's tenure with the New York Yankees would be difficult. It was for the first player to break the colour barrier--the Brooklyn Dodgers' second baseman Jackie Robinson; not to mention the first man to break that barrier in the American League--Cleveland Indian outfielder Larry Doby.
Initially Howard--despite hitting .375 with the Kansas City Monarchs--was signed by the Yankees as more of a token gesture than anything else. Bowing to public pressure, the Yankee organization signed a handful of black players. Included along with Howard was a slick fielding first baseman named Vic Power (who would be dealt to the Philadelphia Athletics and debut there in 1954); Artie Wilson (who would have a cup of coffee with the New York Giants in 1951); Ruben Gomez, a right handed pitcher who likewise plied his trade at the Polo Grounds--where he would win 17 games for the World Series champion Giants in 1954 (winning Game Three of the Fall Classic against the Cleveland Indians); and Frank Barnes--also a right handed pitcher who had a brief, undistinguished career with the St. Louis Cardinals.
It appeared initially that the Yankees, or more specifically, George Weiss was doing everything in his power to keep Howard from making the major league roster. By the spring of 1954, Howard was the only black player still in the Yankees minor league system. Suddenly, without warning, Howard was being groomed as a catcher (having been taken from the outfield). Bear in mind that Howard was a good enough outfielder as witnessed by the fact that he was often used in left field at the major league level. This caused a new round of allegations that the Yankees were trying to bury Howard. Why? The Yankees were deep in catching, mostly in the person of the durable Yogi Berra. As Charlie Silvera and Ralph Houk could well testify, you didn't get a lot of playing time as Berra's understudy.
The positional change didn't slow Howard a whit. Despite spending the International League season as a backstop for the Toronto Maple Leafs at Tip Top Park, Howard hit .330, blasted 22 home runs, and plated 109 runs. He walked away with the International League Most Valuable Player award and because of this achievement, the Baltimore Orioles--freshly transplanted from their St. Louis roots as the Browns--offered Weiss $100,000 and a top minor league pitching prospect for Howard.
Weiss reluctantly refused.
The Yankees were among the very last teams in baseball to integrate their roster. Since the Bronx Bombers were the flagship team in the American League (if not all of baseball) public pressure was enormous to have the 1954 International League MVP join the Yankee varsity.
The Yankees left Spring Training with Elston Howard as a backup catcher and outfielder.
The Adjustment Period
With Spring Training held deep in the southern United States, it didn't matter whether you had a NY on your cap, or a B, or a STL; if you were black, you were still a "nigger" as far as attitudes went. Howard had to live in a different area of Florida during Spring Training. Heading north to open the season, the Yankees had an exhibition game in Birmingham Alabama against one of the Yankees minor league affiliates. However Birmingham had an ordinance that stated it was unlawful for white players to compete against blacks and so Weiss sent Howard on up ahead of the team. The Brooklyn Dodgers, who broke the colour barrier with Jackie Robinson, when faced with a similar situation [in Birmingham] simply cancelled the game rather than comply with that bylaw.
It was only the beginning.
When the Yankees went on their first road trip, Howard was barred by hotels in Kansas City and Baltimore from staying with his teammates. However the New York Post pressured Weiss to apply some pressure of his own to the hotels to accept Howard's presence. The hotels finally, reluctantly, acquiesced.
The First Black Yankee
Although he had to endure the slings and arrows that a man of colour had to tolerate during that time period, one place where he did feel welcome was among his teammates. The majority of Yankee players went out of their way to make Howard feel like part of the team. After a game winning hit, Howard returned to the locker room after an on field interview to see that his fellow players had given him "the red carpet treatment"--lining the path from the clubhouse door to his locker with towels as a tribute. When a heckler was hurling racial epithets at Howard, teammate and former United States Marine, Hank Bauer climbed up on top the dugout trying to find the person responsible. The heckler at least had the common sense to shut up. When queried later about the incident, Bauer simply shrugged and said: "Ellie's my friend."
Then Yankees’ manager Casey Stengel--despite a vocabulary that would be considered very politically incorrect today (Jackie Robinson often assailed Stengel for his infamous comment about Howard: "I finally get a nigger, I get the only one who can't run")--spoke glowingly of Howard. For his part, Howard never sensed any negative feelings from Stengel.
At any rate, Howard enjoyed a fine rookie season. He was given 279 at bats, hit 10 home runs--which was an impressive number for a right handed batter playing half his games in a stadium where 425 foot blasts were often turned into long, loud outs. He also plated 43 runs while hitting a solid .290 with an OPS+ of 119. Despite Stengel's quip about his speed, or lack thereof, Howard also legged out seven triples.
Howard’s first World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers saw him play the series in left field. In was an inauspicious debut as he batted .192, struck out eight times, and was the final out of the 1955 Fall Classic as he grounded a Johnny Podres pitch to Pee Wee Reese who threw him out at first.
1956 saw Howard suffer through "the sophomore jinx." He got off to a slow start, mostly due to a fractured finger. He only got 290 at bats that year, batting .262 (80 OPS+), hitting just five home runs, and driving in a mere 34 runs. Howard saw limited action in the World Series, (again against the Brooklyn Dodgers) however his five at bats produced two hits--a double and a home run in Game Seven....a 9-0 romp. Howard's hitting funk persisted into 1957 (82 OPS+)--although he remained fairly productive. Casey Stengel thought enough of his play to name him to the All Star team roster. It was still an impressive feat seeing as he didn't really have a set position; Howard logged time behind the plate, spelling Berra when he needed a rest, and filling in occasionally at first base.
Regardless, his eight home runs and 44 RBI were respectable enough considering he'd yet to have a season where he got 400 at bats. In the World Series against the Milwaukee Braves he hit his second Fall Classic four bagger in Game Four. It went for naught as the Braves won in seven games.
Howard started to find a groove with his bat. He enjoyed his first ever .300 season -- batting .314 and knocking 11 out of the yard (130 OPS+)-- Howard’s best total at this point in his career. Howard also notched 66 RBI that year--also a personal best at this juncture. Howard accomplished this despite not getting 400 at bats.
Stengel again rewarded his efforts with a trip to the All Star Game.
Howard would appear on the All Star roster every year until 1965. The Yankees would avenge the previous year's loss in the World Series triumphing over the Braves in seven games. 1959 would mark the first season Howard topped 400 at bats. He also saw considerable playing time at first base where he appeared in 50 games. Despite a new career high 18 home runs (and 73 RBI), the Yankees -- ravaged by injuries -- didn’t win the pennant for the first time since 1954.
The Bronx Bombers rediscovered their winning ways in 1960; but Howard's bat went south as his body had to adjust to the rigors of regular catching duty. Howard backstopped in 91 games--the most of his career. In the World Series Howard hit very well, batting .462 and notched his third career Fall Classic circuit clout. It went for naught as Pirate second baseman Bill Mazeroski homered off Ralph Terry in the bottom of the ninth of Game Seven (at Forbes Field) giving the Bucs the title.
The Yankees organization underwent a complete overhaul in the offseason. Casey Stengel was let go, and his shift-players-around-the-diamond philosophy went with him. New skipper and former backup catcher Ralph Houk, announced that Howard would be the number one catcher. Given a regular job and regular at bats worked wonders for his hitting. With expansion pitching, coupled with being part of an explosive lineup, enabled Howard to finish second in the American League batting race hitting .348 (153 OPS+). Howard also topped twenty homers for the first time (21) and drove in 77. He was one of six Yankees who topped 20 dingers in that magical year. Howard went on to prove that it wasn't a fluke season in 1962 as he matched his 21 four baggers of 1961 although his OPS+ fell to 113. Howard also drove in a career-best 91 runs. Unfortunately, Howard slumped during the World Series batting just .143. Regardless, 1960 World Series goat Ralph Terry would find redemption as he threw a Game Seven shutout against the transplanted San Francisco Giants.
American League Most Valuable Player
"Whatever can go wrong will go wrong" is the fabled phrase known as "Murphy's Law" and it applied to the 1963 Yankees. First baseman Bill Skowron's booming bat was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Stan Williams. Roger Maris opened the season with back miseries. In June, a collision between left fielder Tom Tresh and shortstop Tony Kubek put Kubek on the shelf for two weeks and his bat for the rest of the season. On June 5th, with Whitey Ford pitching [in Baltimore], the southpaw gave up a long drive to right center to third baseman Brooks Robinson. Centerfielder Mickey Mantle gave chase and slammed into the fence. Mantle got his foot caught in the wire mesh of the fence and broke his foot. “The Mick” wouldn't return to full-time duty until September. Roger Maris added to his woes by slamming a pitch into his ankle and had to undergo rectal surgery (seligectomy) in July. The resultant side effects from those experiences limited his effectiveness.
Picking up the shortfall was the slugging and defense of Elston Howard. In just 487 at bats he would slug a career high (and team leading) 28 home runs. Howard’s 85 RBI was his second best total ever (which also lead the Yankees). For good measure, Howard chipped in 21 doubles and six triples (and second best OPS+ of his career....141). Even more important to the Yankees was handling a pitching staff beset by injuries and inexperience. Howard guided a young Jim Bouton through his best season ever (21 wins). Howard’s superlative work behind home plate earned him both his first of two Gold Gloves and the American League MVP (the first African American player to do so in the junior circuit). Howard continued his stellar play into the World Series. Howard led the Yankees in hitting in the Fall Classic but the pitching of Sandy Koufax ended whatever hopes the Yankees had of winning their third consecutive world championship.
Unfortunately, some things hadn't changed. The following spring Howard had trouble finding lodging in Fort Lauderdale. Howard may have been American League Most Valuable Player, he may have have been the best catcher in the American League, he might have had four World Series rings gracing his hands, but in the deep south, all they could see was the pigmentation of his skin.
Regardless, Howard would pick up where he left off the following year. He continued to supply brilliant defense coupled with another fine offensive season (127 OPS+). Howard hit .300 for the third time in his career (.313), and set career bests in doubles (27) and walks (48). For the third consecutive campaign Howard would top the 80 RBI plateau with 84. He finished third in Most Valuable Player voting, finishing behind Baltimore Orioles’ third baseman Brooks Robinson and teammate Mickey Mantle. Howard also copped his second straight Gold Glove award for catchers. Howard’s efforts in the 1964 World Series accounted for seven runs, and a lofty .393 on base percentage. His efforts went for naught as the Cardinals edged the Yankees in seven games.
The Beginning of the End and "The Impossible Dream"
The Yankees decline coincided with Elston Howard's. Now 36, Howard began the phase of his career where the mind and experience make up for the inevitable physical shortfall that occurs at this stage of an athlete's career. Over the next two plus seasons with the Yankees, Howard hit just 18 home runs while batting .235. In 1967, Howard would find himself in a most unusual position. The Boston Red Sox--trying to shore up the roster for the stretch drive--needed a veteran catcher with pennant race experience. Howard fit the bill perfectly. However when Ralph Houk informed Howard that he had been traded for "two players to be named later," Howard said he was retiring. Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey called Howard personally to urge him to reconsider. Howard wouldn't contribute much offensively--other than a game winning single against the Senators--but his knowledge of American League hitters was invaluable for the Red Sox pitching staff. Howard also contributed a key defensive play against the White Sox when he took an off line throw from Jose Tartabull and still managed to tag Ken Berry who was tagging up from third base. Regardless, Howard only hit .147 with the Red Sox and .111 in the Fall Classic against the Cardinals. Howard’s experience, savvy, and knowledge of rival hitters played an important role on an inexperienced Red Sox team, but at 38 there wasn't much left. The following season Howard stayed with the Red Sox, caught 68 games, ripped five additional home runs, (bringing his lifetime total to 167) and left the game just as he had broken in the major leagues.
The true sabermetric types who read this blog may not like to hear it, but I suspect that Jeter fans will. Conventional Wisdom, exemplified by Tim McCarver and Michael Kay, seems to hold that Derek Jeter’s intangibles are very valuable to his team and that this cannot be measured statistically.
Some of our sabermetric brethren seem to delight in reducing Jeter to the sum total of his measurable numbers. They insist that his intangibles are way overvalued by the public at large.
This may be true; as a matter of fact, I’m reasonably sure that it’s true. But they define “value” in a narrow, baseball-related way. The object of an offense is to score runs, and scoring runs results directly in wins.
I submit that we fans really enjoy some parts of baseball that are not overly valuable in a wins vs. losses kind of way. In tonight’s game, Jeter covered third base, making Vladimir Guerrero out at third trying to advance on a single. Does Derek deserve the Nobel Prize for this contribution? No. Did it help the Yankees win the game? Babe Ruth resurrected wouldn’t have helped them tonight. Was it a play that all shortstops should make? I don’t really know, but I doubt it.
Derek Jeter, the ballplayer, did something small to help his team. It didn’t really help. But Derek Jeter, the entertainer, gave millions of fans a certain sense of satisfaction.
The Mariners are going through a horrendous year. But their fans still watch (although their numbers are reduced). They won’t be winning a pennant. So why do people pay attention? Because they’re entertained; the results of the game are secondary in some cases.
I don’t even know if one argument supports another here. Is DJ generally overrated? Is Derek valuable to his team? He certainly is. Does Jeter make the games somewhat more interesting for viewers? I could point to a hundred good examples of this.
But please weigh in on this issue. It’s just my opinion.
Blast From The Past....Remembering Tommy Henrich by Mad Mike
A sweltering afternoon at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, October 5, 1941. It was as tight a World Series as you can hope for. The Brooklyn Dodgers had managed a split at Yankee Stadium yet the Yankees had gotten the advantage back the day before, edging the Dodgers 2-1 as a late Dodger rally fell short. However Brooklyn was about to even the series. They were up 4-3 in the top of the ninth with two outs and right handed spot starter/reliever Hugh Casey was in command. He had come in the fifth inning and had blanked the Yankees in innings six, seven, eight and into the ninth. He completed his stellar relief effort fanning the last Yankee hitter knotting the series at two game apiece. The cheers died in the throats of the almost 34,000 Brooklyn faithful when they saw that strike three had skipped past catcher Mickey Owen and the hustling Yankee bolted down the first base line and reached first safely. Joe DiMaggio followed with a single and Charlie Keller doubled home both Henrich and DiMaggio. After Bill Dickey drew a walk, Joe Gordon doubled home two more runs. Final score 7-4 New York, and barely 24 hours later the New York Yankees would be crowned World Series champions.
The player whose hustle was the key to the comeback win?
Born Thomas David Henrich in Massillion Ohio on February 20th 1913, Henrich learned early in life that there's three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. Henrich was one who made things happen. Signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1934, Henrich quickly put together three stellar minor league seasons ...
... and got nowhere.
Henrich decided that the Indians were trying to bury him in the minor league system. The Indians had depth in the outfield with players like Hall of Famer Earl Averill, Canadian slugger Jeff Heath who'd become of the few players in baseball history to have 20+ doubles, triples, and home runs in a single season (1941), .300 hitter and run producer Joe Vosmik and Bruce Campbell who played himself off the St. Louis Browns roster (he played too well and wished to be paid accordingly). So there was no need to promote him but plenty of reasons not to let a rival team get him either.
So Henrich decided to "make something happen."
He wrote then commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis and asked him to investigate. Landis, despised the farm system developed by Branch Rickey. He often liberated large numbers of minor leaguers he felt weren't being given a fair shake.
Landis did likewise with Henrich.
Henrich then signed with the New York Yankees and assigned to the Newark Bears, the Yankees top minor league team. He lasted only a week when Yankee skipper Joe McCarthy, tiring of outfielder Roy Johnson's lackadaisical play and indifferent attitude demanded the front office promote Henrich specifically. Despite not receiving a lot of playing time (logging just 206 at bats) Henrich quickly made a reputation of being a very productive ballplayer. He made excellent contact, batting .320 with an 142 OPS+, walking twice as often as he struck out. He was also a heady intelligent outfielder, Joe DiMaggio said that he was the smartest outfielder he'd ever seen. He was forever looking for an advantage and nothing escaped his notice. On occasion he parlayed an apparent base hit into a double play if the opposition was caught napping. He would take a sharp liner that looked like an out, catch it on a short hop -- while the baserunner was staying between first and second so as not to get doubled up on first -- and fire it in to second. If the hitter was jogging down to first anticipating Henrich would catch the ball he would discover to his chagrin that the keystone fielder would throw to first creating a double play.
Given more playing time in 1938 Henrich continued to prove why the Indians wanted to keep him out off of their rivals rosters. Although he match his earlier production, he still walked almost three times as often as he struck out and flashed a sweet Yankee Stadium swing by depositing 22 balls into the outfield bleachers posting an OPS+ of 119. Although he didn't see any action in the previous season's World Series -- as the Yankees opted to play more experienced Myril Hoag in the outfield -- he did play in the Yankees sweep of the Chicago Cubs homering in the deciding game.
Knee problems began to surface eating into Henrich's playing time. He played less than 100 games in 1939 and 1940, but provided quality play when he was in the lineup. In 640 at bats in those two seasons he hit .291, (111 OPS+) scoring 121 runs, while driving in 110 and walking far more often than he struck out.
In 1941 Henrich broke out with 31 home runs (136 OPS+) however, among the so called "cognoscenti" he was still pretty much unknown, merely being a single star in a galaxy of them. That year, of the top 14 vote getters for the American League Most Valuable Player award, the Yankees had five entries. Although he gained a share of the spotlight in Game Four of the World Series when he reached first base after Hugh Casey's strikeout pitch skipped past Brooklyn Dodger catcher Mickey Owen, he really didn't hit well, garnering just three hits. However among those were a double as well as his second Fall Classic circuit clout off of Dodger right handed ace, All Star and 22 game winner Whitt Wyatt in the decider. It was his second longball in the final game of a World Series.
The distractions of the World War II coupled with his achy -- though otherwise healthy knees -- ate into Henrich's production, having a down season by his standards. However he opened the season well, that taken together with his stellar 1941 campaign, saw his first All Star Game appearance where he hit a first inning double as part of a three run rally that was the difference in the American League's 3-1 victory at the Polo Grounds. He would not appear in the big leagues again until 1946 as he went off to serve his country. He lost what would have likely been his three most productive seasons enlisting at the age of 29 and not returning until he was 33. Henrich would've been the first to say that he did not regret his decision to serve his country.
Like most players returning from the service, Henrich came back a bit rusty. That being said, he was still one of the American League's premiere outfielders and a dangerous hitter in clutch situations. So great was his knack for coming up with the key blow in a game that Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen nicknamed him "Ol' Reliable." Despite the war induced rust, Henrich still blasted 19 home runs, plated 83 runs and crossed home plate 92 times. Although he hit a meager .251 but augmented that with 87 walks giving him a very respectable OBP of .351. Even with the layoff, he remained an above average offensive player (113 OPS+).
Henrich continued his comeback with a fine 1947. Although now 34, he was on the verge of his three finest seasons, campaigns which would make the Charlie Keller, Joe DiMaggio and Tommy Henrich outfield as the consensus pick as the best in the major leagues. For the third time in his career he topped 100 runs, almost drove in a hundred, falling short by just two RBI, and hit for extra bases 64 times including leading the American League in triples (138 OPS+), cranky knees and all. He made his second All Star Game appearance along with outfield mates Keller and DiMaggio. He would cap his season by hitting .323 in the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers including his third four bagger in the Fall Classic in Game Two at Ebbets Field. The Yankees would go on to win in seven.
1948 would he his finest season (151 OPS+). He'd finish seventh in Most Valuable Player voting but would've finished much higher had the Yankees won the pennant that year. Henrich would hit over .300 for the third and final time in his career (.308), set a career high in doubles (42), triples (with a league leading 14), RBI, with 100 exactly and topped the American League in runs scored with a personal best 138 and had his second highest number of big flies with 25. However his knees continued to worsen with arthritis and he saw considerable time playing first base, appearing there in 46 games. Henrich would finish a career high sixth in Most Valuable Player voting in 1949, however, there's no doubt that he was the most valuable player on the Bronx Bombers. Manager Bucky Harris had been fired and Casey Stengel was tapped to replace him. However much of the Yankees roster was unsettled. First baseman George McQuinn had retired, shortstop Phil Rizzuto was nursing a sore throwing arm coming off a mediocre season where he'd hit .252, third base was a hole that Stengel would try to fill with future American League president Bobby Brown and Billy Johnson while catcher Yogi Berra, despite unusual speed for the position, not to mention an unusually strong bat for a backstop, was unpolished defensively.
Adding to the grief was a rash of early injuries which decimated the offense. The Yankees lost two-thirds of their outfield as Charlie Keller tore muscles in his side and DiMaggio -- who had surgery done on his heel -- was not responding. His heel pained him terribly and would shelve him for much of the season as he required further surgery. However, "Ol' Reliable" would step up and carry the offense (148 OPS+). He'd finish the season with twenty doubles, 24 home runs, 90 runs and 85 RBI in just 115 games played splitting time between first base and the outfield. Although he hit .287, he drew the third highest number of walks in his career (86) boosting his OBP to a lofty .416. He was again named to the All Star game but he didn't play since he was playing through a lot of pain at this point as his back was hurting him terribly--joining his gimpy knees--hence was seeing as much time at first as he was in the outfield. As the 1949 campaign wore on, the Yankees and Red Sox were battling neck and neck for the pennant. With two games to go the Red Sox were up by a game with two to play head to head with the Yankees in New York. The Yankees emerged victorious in the first game behind the stellar relief work of Joe Page. Henrich got things going in the second game as Phil Rizzuto tripled and the Red Sox infield played back. Noticing this, Henrich shortened his swing, hit the ball on the ground, driving in the Yankee shortstop from third. It would ultimately turn out to be the game winning hit. He would also get the game winner in Game One of the World Series as he homered off the Brooklyn Dodgers' Don Newcombe in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium. The score was knotted 0-0 through eight and a half innings until Henrich landed one in the right field bleachers. The Yankees would go on to win in five games.
When the 1950 opened, Henrich was 37 years old. His arthritic knees were insufferable, his back not much better. He didn't play much that year, although he did appear in the first ever extra inning All Star Game history as the American League fell in fourteen innings to the senior circuit at Comiskey Park. Henrich would play exclusively at first base in the field and had to also been relegated to pinch hitting duties. His swing was as still as sweet as ever (136 OPS+) and his batting eye was still sharp as evidenced by his 27 walks against a paltry six whiffs. Of his 41 base hits, almost half went for extra bases (20) including a remarkable number of triples for an aging ballplayer with gimpy knees (8). However the arthritis was making him miserable. Nonetheless he was an important contributor as the Yankees would win their second consecutive American League pennant followed by a four game dismantling of the National League "Whiz Kids" Philadelphia Phillies. Shortly after the series he announced his retirement.
From a Reliable Source....
Despite playing on eight pennant winners, Tommy Henrich only played in four World Series.
The Yankees never lost a World Series in which Henrich played.
In the 1947 World Series, Henrich got the game winning hit in three of the four games, including Game Seven.
Henrich figured in prominently in Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak. With one out, a man on base and Henrich (with DiMaggio on deck) batting against the St. Louis Browns' Eldon Auker, Henrich got permission from Joe McCarthy to bunt thereby avoiding a double play and assuring the Yankee Clipper of an at bat.
DiMaggio had his game bat stolen during a rainout when he was trying to break Wee Willie Keeler's consecutive games hitting streak. DiMaggio beat Keeler with a borrowed bat from Henrich.
Bob Feller said on American League hitters: "The big swingers, with two exceptions [Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio], never gave me much trouble as the singles hitters, because they aren't as consistent as those who hit for higher averages. Guys like Doerr, *Tommy Henrich*, Taft Wright, Roy Cullenbine and Stan Spence gave me more trouble than most of the long-ball hitters."
On August 17 1948, Tommy Henrich hits his fourth grand slam of the season tying Babe Ruth's record, "the Babe” had died the day before.
It’s Game 7, Yankee backs are against the wall, who is the one pitcher you want on the hill?It’s a fun question to throw around.I was talking with my friend the other day, he narrowed the question some, by limiting the options to Yankee starters of recent vintage. He said without hesitation, Andy Pettitte.I have a feeling that many Yankee fans feel the same way.I wasn’t sure what the answer was, but I knew what it wasn’t, Andy Pettitte
I decided to take a look at the numbers.As everyone knows, wins and losses only measures how many runs the offense scored behind a pitcher, and does not effectively indicate the quality of a pitchers performance (Think El Duque, Game 6, 2000 ALDS).ERA doesn’t factor the length of a pitchers performance (witness David Wells perfect 0.00, Game 5, 2003 WS).I used Bill James’ Game Score and look at the each Yankee start since the 1995 postseason.Game Score is somewhat flawed, as it is hard to put up a really big number if you don’t strike anyone out, but I think it is the best way to take a quick look at the numbers.I limited it to pitchers with 5 or more starts, so Gooden, Neagle, Kamieniecki, McDowell, Key and Rogers were not eliminated from consideration.None of them were the answer anyway.
I know where Andy’s postseason reputation was cemented, in 1996 dueled with John Smoltz with the series tied at two.Mariano Rivera unavailable as the bridge to John Wetteland, because he pitched multiple innings two days in a row, the Yankees needed a big start from their Cy Young candidate.They got it, Pettitte went 8 1/3 for a game score of 70.This game is an example of the limitations of Game Score, Good Andy only struck out 4.
Just 4 days earlier, in the first World Series game at Yankee stadium in 15 years, he laid an egg.Actually he was worse than that, saying he laid an egg is unfair to egg layers everywhere.The 1996 World Series was the perfect capsule of what Andy Pettitte was to the Yankees in the postseason, alternately brilliant and terrible, often in the same series.
Andy Pettitte won many, many big games for the Yankees, many of his starts were of ugly, one sided affairs .Of his thirty postseason starts, six times his game score was 22 or less, that is positively Sturtzian.20% of the time Andy Pettitte took the hill in the postseason, he was shelled, and shelled hard.
Now, I don’t think Pettitte isn’t “clutch.”He obviously can pitch in big games.Pettitte is simply a pitcher that can not be effective without his A game.There is no way I give the ball to that kind of pitcher in game 7 if I have any options not named Contreras, Weaver or Sturtze.
I thought Cone’s numbers would be higher.Looking back, I think Cone suffered a little from being left in the game too long in a few games.For example, he pitched very well in Game 5 of the 1995 series with the Mariners, but Buck Showalter left him in for approximately 2,400 pitches.
I would consider giving 1997-99 Cone the ball, but he is my favorite pitcher. I have a feeling he was Joe Torre feels the same way, judging by his year 2000 season.
Rocket’s average is boosted greatly by two incredible performances in 2000.In the 2000 ALCS against the Mariners, Rocket’s presence was announced by two high and tight pitches to ARod in the first, knocking him his backside.He struck ARod out, and 14 others that day, allowing only one hit.It was far and away the best start by a Yankee in the Torre Era.A couple weeks later, he put up an 83 against the Mets, going 8.The score would have been higher if James had included thrown bat shards into the formula.
The lowlights included two head to head starts against the Pedro Martinez.One was a complete debacle for the Yankees, the other was one of the best games in Yankee history.
There are worse options in a big game than Clemens, but the Yankees had better.
My little study isn’t really fair to Moose because it does not factor in his postseason starts with the Orioles including a brilliant postseason in 1997 (29 Innings, 11 H, 4 ER 41 K/7 BB).He was not as great in 1996, but a few of those game scores would have been at the top of any chart (84, 77 in the 97 ALCS)
As a Yankee, Mussina’s first start was his best.With the Yanks down 2-0 in the series, he shut down the A’s over 7 innings.His game score was only 69 because he only went seven innings.Joe went to a fully rested Mariano Rivera for a 2 innings save.Mussina’s other great Yankee postseason performance wasn’t a start, but a relief appearance.In 2003, ha came out of the pen for the first time in the big leagues and held Boston scoreless over 3 innings, redeeming himself for his terrible start in the season opener.
I was never a member of the David Wells Fan Club, but I always knew if the Yankees needed a start a good start, Wells would provide it.His game scores are a touch misleading, Wells is hurt by his low strikeout totals.He was more than excellent in many of these starts.
If you discount his one inning start in 2003, he has only had 3 sub par starts, but what a sub par start in 2001. As crappy starts go, this Game 4 in 2002 was at the top of the list. I thought the Yankee outfielders were going to collapse from chasing all the balls in the gap.Oh, and those stupid thundersticks, ugh, the less said about the 2002 postseason the better.
Wells is a very good choice to take the ball in the big game, however, the last time the Yankees did that, Wells asked out after the first inning, and not even an appearance by Good Andy two nights later could save them.
My choice to start the mythical big game is El Duque.He has proven it over and over, he can and will get it done.
In my opinion, his first start with the Yankees was his fines, down 2-1 at Cleveland.The Yankees faced a juggernaut lineup with the possibility of falling down 3-1.El Duque calmly went 7 innings, allowing only 3 hits, and shutting the Indians down.
The Yankees have the opportunity to throw El Duque in a big game again this postseason.If I was Joe Torre I would not hesitate to give him the ball, I would give it to him in game 1.If the Yankees need a big start, Hernandez will provide it.
In 2001, El Duque was asked why he didn’t feel pressure in the postseason.He replied, “I always feel pressure. Anyone who says he doesn't is lying. What I never feel is fear."