Matsui and Damon are as old as The Beatles
Hideki Matsui is now hitting an excellent .280/.370/.516. There is life in the old boy yet. The average AL DH (it used to be redundant to say “AL DH,” but with the advent of interleague play, there is now such a thing as the NL DH) has hit .253/.336/.446 this season, which is depressing in that a position purely devoted to hitting has produced only slightly above-average offense, the league as a whole averaging .266/335/.429.
Teams with middling to miserable DH production include the Rays, who made a very expensive mistake in signing Pat Burrell; the Tigers (.245/.319/.390), primarily due to the decline of Carlos Guillen, Marcus Thames’ weak season and Aubrey Huff’s inability to hit in their uniform; the Royals, because Dayton Moore and Trey Hillman somehow think Mike Jacobs can hit (.231/.300/.395 as the DH); Seattle (Junior Griffey’s Seattle comeback is like one of those reunion tours in which none of the original band members participates); and Oakland (Jack Cust isn’t the hitter he was last year).
Some of the best DH production belongs to the Twins (primarily Jason Kubel, but also lots of Joe Mauer), Angels (Vlad Guerrero plus great work from almost every regular Mike Scioscia has rotated through) and the White Sox (until recently, Jim Thome). Thanks to Matsui, along with small contributions from Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter, the Yankees lead them all in hitting at the hitting position.
Matsui has done this despite bad knees and a stroke which has not made great use of Yankee Stadium — he’s hitting .268/.356/.481 there versus .294/.389/.561 on the road. Joe Girardi has kept him on the bench against some lefties, but Godzilla has never had a platoon problem and has creamed them, hitting .276/.348/.610 against southpaws. The semi-platooning has been primarily directed towards keeping Matsui’s knees functional as well as giving rest to the other Yankees veterans, and it seems to have worked out very well.
Matsui’s contract is up at the end of the season, as is Johnny Damon’s. Next year will be Matsui’s age-36 campaign. Damon will turn 36 this winter. It’s going to be a crowded winter for players whose main job is to hit. Likely free agents include Russell Branyan (if ambulatory), Carlos Delgado (ditto), Nick Johnson (likewise), Adam LaRoche (Mr. Second Half), Hank Blalock (having a miserable year at .237/.278/.466), Troy Glaus (back in the “if ambulatory” category), Bobby Abreu, Jason Bay (who plays the field but maybe shouldn’t), Jermaine Dye (if the White Sox don’t pick up his option), Vlad Guerrero and Andruw Jones.
These players are going to have to tamp down their financial expectations given how few slots are available, how limited their contributions, their generally advanced age, and of course, The Economy. This is true of Damon as well, who has had a strong year at the plate but whose defensive abilities are at ebb tide.
The Yankees have the option of filling both spots internally: Damon’s place with Austin Jackson, Matsui’s with some kind of rotation, but that would be a huge offensive blow. Unless Jackson takes an unexpected leap forward, there just won’t be enough hitting to make up for the loss. The Yankees could also re-sign one player, or both, while attempting to work Jackson into the mix. The International League playoffs could end as soon as tonight (Scranton is down two games to none in a best of five series) and perhaps we’ll see a bit of Jackson in the Majors soon after. They could also re-sign Damon, refuse to pay a high price to keep Matsui in the fold and sign whichever of the many free agent bats fits their budget.
There is no correct answer, except perhaps to observe that retaining two 36-year-olds is courting twice the danger of keeping one — one of them is likely to decline. Actually, there is a correct answer, and that’s two 23-year-olds in those spots, young players who can be Yankees over the next five to ten years, but unless Jesus Montero is going to get an express ticket to the Bronx, the Yankees don’t have even one of those guys in position.
WILL BIG PAPI BE A FORCE IN THE PLAYOFFS?
He’s been up and down since his miserable first two months, but on the whole he’s had a productive half-season’s worth of work since then, hitting .262/.353/.544 in 88 games, 82 of them starts. He’s hit 23 home runs in that span. Left-handed pitchers can neutralize him (.216/.298/.435 overall), but you can’t take him for granted in most situations.
A SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
Tim McCarver Sings Selections from the Great American Songbook
I really, really hate to alert McCarver to the fact that “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” is not part of the American Songbook, though Americans have sung it. It was written by two British fellows and made famous by Vera Lynn, the same chanteuse who is presently keeping the reissued Beatles CDs off the top of the charts in Great Britain.
NUMBER NINE… NUMBER NINE… NUMBER NINE…
Speaking of those Beatles CDs, I’ve been assiduously working my way through the remastered stereo set and enjoying the heck out of it. The music is much clearer, as if you had been listening through some kind of murky haze all of these years. You can make out small touches in the playing and singing that you couldn’t before, perhaps not even on the original vinyl, though I confess it has been years since I listened to those.
Coincidentally, yesterday I came across this quote from the late Kurt Vonnegut in my notes:
The function of the artist is to make people like life better than they did before. When I’ve been asked if I’ve seen that done, I say, ‘Yes, the Beatles did it.’
… I wonder if John Lennon knew he had won the battle of the White Album. The Beatles were writing and basically recording separately by this point, with each composer using the other three as backing musicians (and in Paul McCartney’s case, sometimes leaving them out altogether), so you can attribute each track individually and sort the sprawling mess that is the “The Beatles” (IE “The White Album”). George Harrison and Ringo Starr got a combined total of five tracks; as good as George’s are (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Piggies” and “Savoy Truffle”) you can’t call that more than an EP’s worth of material, whereas John and Paul each contributed a standard album of material. John’s White Album looks like this:
1. Dear Prudence
2. Glass Onion
3. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
4. Happiness is a Warm Gun
5. I’m So Tired
7. Yer Blues
8. Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
9. Sexy Sadie
10. Revolution I
11. Cry Baby Cry
12. Revolution 9
13. Good Night (sung by Ringo, but written by John)
I haven’t yet listened to the remastered “Revolution 9,” but in a perverse way I’m looking forward to it. If you look at this track listing, it anticipates John’s early solo albums. He wasn’t trying to write pop singles anymore (though “Dear Prudence” could have been one) and instead concentrated on emotional work that tried to express a deeper mood or feeling than good time rock and roll. Given that this is the same man who was primarily responsible for “I Feel Fine” and “Ticket to Ride,” both No. 1 singles, Lennon’s turn towards introspec
tion is, retrospectively, shocking and a harbinger of the group’s dissolution.
Here’s Paul’s White Album:
1. Back in the U.S.S.R.
2. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
3. Wild Honey Pie
4. Martha My Dear
6. Rocky Raccoon
7. Why Don’t We Do It in the Road
8. I Will
10. Mother Nature’s Son
11. Helter Skelter
12. Honey Pie
Here you have three tracks that could have been singles but weren’t — the Beatles’ 1968 singles releases were non-album tracks like “Lady Madonna” and “Hey Jude” — “Back in the U.S.S.R,” the Beach Boys parody, “Ob-La-Di,” which did get a belated single release in the US eight years later, and perhaps the irritating and ubiquitous “Birthday.” A souped-up version of “Revolution” was the B-Side to “Hey Jude,” but that’s the closest the group came to taking a single off the album. McCartney was still working the pop song-craft part of the street, with one song even inspired by his sheepdog. “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Blackbird” were initially attempts at political relevance, though one’s enjoyment of those songs is greatly enhanced by being unaware of the discarded subtext. Or the sheepdog.
John’s would have been the better album. Take this, brother. May it serve you well.