I was given the opportunity to watch a game from the Legends seats at Yankee Stadium, that Goldfinger mini-plane of a section where the elite meet to eat and sometimes watch a ballgame. I came pre-jaundiced, ready to jump on anything that struck me as phony or artificial. Instead, I must report that I had a very good time. It is nice to feel pampered while watching a very exciting ballgame. In fact, if I have any complaint, the pampering was a bit distracting. Had the game been a blowout in either direction, the constant scurrying of waiters and fans fetching food back to the seats would have been a welcome event instead of something that frequently obscured the action.
The high-backed seats were far more comfortable than your typical ballpark torture device. However, they are not positioned perfectly; my seat was a little bit past the infield, and as the seats are not angled, sitting in a natural position would have provided a view only into the short outfield. Combine that with the view being frequently obscured by waiters, fans rising to help themselves to candy and buckets of popcorn (and duck, and sushi, and petit fours), and fans just rising to rise — even these seats play host to the ubiquitous jerk who thinks he can stand in front of you and film the first three innings on his cell phone while you can see nothing but his upholstered backside — and trying to watch the game itself could be a bit of a strain.
Security is also a constant presence, although now that I’ve been in the seats I better understand why. When the Stadium first opened, I was bothered by the concrete moats and Plexiglass barriers between the Legends seats (or “suites” as the Yankees call them) because they offended my sense of egalitarianism. Given that the way the Yankees have elected to set up their Legends benefits, it seems necessary.
Once you’re finally in (after showing my ticket four times and obtaining a wristband), you have free run of the place. Unless you buy alcohol, which is not included in the ticket price, no one asks you for money. This is true not only of the buffet in the main dining room (which is beautifully appointed), but in the subsidiary lounges in which you can, if you choose, fill your arms with food and take it back to your seat. It takes getting used to–I continually expected someone to tap me on the shoulder and say, “Hey! Aren’t you going to pay for that?” They never did. You already paid for it when you bought the ticket.
Some fans I saw were clearly unhinged by the concept. In several places the Yankees have tables piled high with candy for the taking. As I walked past, a couple unfolded plastic bags and were shoveling in piles of M&M’s and Skittles. “Halloween’s come early this year!” the man shouted hysterically. Late in the game, the waiters were making a point of giving the day’s excess away, so I don’t think the team wants to discourage this kind of behavior on the part of the paying customers, but I understand why they wouldn’t want to have those that did not pay able to walk in and start shoving filet of sole and boxes of Rasinets down their pants.
The downside to this policy is that security is a constant and obtrusive presence. They frequently popped into our section to check tickets, attracted, I think, by fans who came late to the section. This contributed to an atmosphere that was in direct contrast to the great friendliness of the waiters and the other staff I encountered.
Several times I heard fans ask for items that were not on the menu, and the waiters promised to make them appear. “Can you guys do a milkshake?” someone asked. “Sure we can,” the waiter said cheerfully (the waiter in our section not only looked like Heath Ledger, but also had an Australian accent — he lives, conspiracy theorists, working anonymously at Yankee Stadium). All of the food and drink orders are sent wirelessly back to the kitchen and brought out by a separate server, so deliveries are nigh-instantaneous.
Those fans that were found to have inappropriate credentials were escorted out of the section. One fellow, apparently slightly inebriated, became belligerent, telling the guard that if he insisted on removing him, he would talk to someone with the Yankees and “have his job.” “You do that,” was the reply, and the guard went about his business. Then the inebriate upped the invective, saying that the guard would be fired and “could go work at McDonald’s for seven dollars an hour.”
“What did you say?” the guard asked. The drunk repeated it. At that, the security guard touched his shoulder radio, called a police officer, and moments later the fan was removed from his seat. Many in the nearby seats applauded — there is no call for saying things like that, especially over a seat at a ballgame and a chance at all the chicken fingers you can eat. Later, I saw the same police officer as we left the ballpark. He was singing along to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” as if it were an official anthem, and maybe it is.
I wish I could give you a more thorough review of the food beyond it being plentiful. Somehow Heath Ledger gave everyone in my section but me a menu, so I never got a chance to have the duck sent out to my seat, and the buffet options were mostly too meat-centric for my vegetarian self. I stuck with pappardelle pasta in tomato sauce that was a bit on the bland side. The petit fours were delicious though, especially one with coffee-flavored icing. I confess I had two, but then, I could have had ten, or twenty, or taken out a bag and dumped the entire tray.
I was amused to see many adults enjoying ice cream sundaes in upturned plastic Yankees helmets, just as many of us used to get from Carvel when we were kids. I did enjoy sitting in the buffet area, with its dark blue and wood décor and its long bar and countless television sets set to the ballgame. Due to a train mishap (I will spare you my traditional rant on the sorry state of public transit in this country) I got to the ballpark only 15 minutes before game time, but I could see coming early and having a pleasant meal here. I noted as I exited through the same venue that the bar was still serving, and perhaps this is another privilege of being a member, not being chased out of the building the moment the game is over, but instead getting to linger over a beer or cup of coffee and savor the latest win, mourn a loss, or execute a hostile takeover.
I could get used to seeing games this way, though I’m not sure if I would want to, given that morbid obesity would rapidly tip over into simple morbidity were I to avail myself of the all-you-can eat environment too often. Greater self-control than mine is clearly warranted. I also felt oddly guilty, as if the whole exercise was overly decadent and indulgent. The heavy mix of people in suits and ties (including the “go work at McDonald’s” guy) reinforced the feeling that these seats were intended for a class of people who would take this kind of largesse for granted or paradoxically, feel that the premium they paid for the seats would entitle them to act like Hansel and Gretel and gorge themselves on the candy house in the forest, or unfurl sacks and try to cart it home.
That said, there is nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence, and the thought that kept returning is that the Legends seats are a wonderful change of pace, and would make a terrific present for an anniversary, birthday, or graduation. Hey, something special is going on, let’s go see the Yankees in style. And if the other team happens to put Kyle Farnsworth on the mound in a crucial situation while you’re celebrating, so much the better. I don’t think the Yankees can guarantee that, but you may be so busy enjoying the amenities that you won’t notice.
THEME SONG FOR TODAY
I’m diggin’ one of the great lost rockabilly classics, “Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache”. Somehow Sam Phillips of Sun Records never got this late ’50s track on a single, even as a B side; he was apparently too busy promoting guys like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. You try to figure out a guy’s priorities, I tell ya.
JUST A CRUMB ON POSADA
A few days ago, I said that it was good to see Jorge have some big games on the road, because his production largely favored All-Embracing Yankee Stadium the Deuce. This is still the case (.335/.403/.658 in the Bronx — funny how that doesn’t change with the team on the road), but the road production is now respectable, particularly for an elderly catcher, at .244/.327/.435. His overall rates of .288/.363/.543 are verging on the special. Catchers his age who have carried those kinds of numbers through a full season or anything like it number exactly one: In one of the great fluke seasons, the platoon catcher Greg Myers, a career .255/.313/.395 hitter, had a huge year at 37 for the 2003 Blue Jays, batting .307/.374/.502 with 15 home runs in 121 games. That’s the list. At 37, Johnny Bench was on the golf course. Bill Dickey was with the Great Lakes Navy team after a few years as a part timer. Yogi Berra was a reserve who hit .224. Gary Carter was just hanging on. Ted Simmons stopped hitting that way at 31. Ivan Rodriguez stopped hitting five years ago.
Carlton Fisk, Mike Piazza, Gabby Hartnett, they all had some good years on the aged side of things, but not quite at that level (though Fisk’s 1988, .277/.377/.542 is close when you adjust for context; unfortunately, he only played in 76 games). Ernie Lombardi hit .307/.387/.486 at 37, but against diluted wartime competition. Regardless of whether the new ballpark has given him a push, the fact is that he’s having a season that is a rarity in the annals of extreme veteran backstops.
It seems like only yesterday we were watching Jose Molina and Kevin Cash split the catching chores. What a reversal.
JOBA CHAMBERLAIN, TANDEM STARTER
In the recent past, some teams have experimented with keeping the innings of their pitching prospects under control in the low Minors by designating tandem starters — every fifth day, John pitches four innings and Bob pitches four innings. This was scoffed at by many, and it was unthinkable that such a program would be undertaken in the Majors, and yet, here we are.
At this point, it is safe to say that no pitcher in history has been treated in quite the same way Joba has. Credit where credit is due to the Yankees for trying something different, something preventative, but wow — there are famous works of art that have been treated more harshly (I’m thinking Leonardo’s “The Last Supper” vs. Napoleon’s troops — final score Troops 1, Painting 0). I know I’ve been asking this question in different ways since the All-Star break, but the mystery goes on: What if saving Joba means destroying his effectiveness? What if you get what you wanted but lost what you have?
MORE FROM ME
A bit on the dangers of a speed-based offense at Baseball Prospectus, and no subscription required to view.
The Yankees are currently on a pace for 103 wins, and given their remaining schedule, they could win more than that. Should they hold up, the 2009 Yankees would become the 18th team in club history to win 100 or more games. Note that this is no proof of destiny–the 2002, 2003, and 2004 Yankees won over 100 games and only one of them got to a World Series. Still, winning 100 games is the traditional mark of a club that is dominant in a historically significant way, so at some point we will have to figure out where this Yankees edition ranks among the great teams, both in comparison to Yankees predecessors and the 75 other 100-game teams from 1901 onwards.
Should this year’s team exceed 103 wins, they would join a most elite list of Yankees teams that have exceeded that mark — 1998 (114 wins), 1927 (110), 1961 (109), 1932 (107), 1939 (106), and 1963 (104). While dispensing with the normal allowances made for modern conditioning, relievers, the slider, night baseball, integration, and other factors that make comparing teams and players across eras an exercise in futility, it’s hard to see this team competing too strongly with the six listed above, except perhaps for 1932, a very similar outfit that was all about the offense (the only consistent pitchers were Red Ruffing and the fiery Johnny Allen), and the overrated 1961 team. The 1961 team had better starting pitching and a couple of Hall of Fame-level offensive seasons from Mantle and Maris, but the rest was unremarkable.
If you want to go by winning percentage, then the bar gets a little higher, with the 2009 team’s current .636 tied with five other clubs for 18th-best in club history, some non-100-game teams like the 1938 and 1953 Yankees sneaking in ahead of them. No one ever talks about the champion 1953 team as one of the best in club history, but it was a very good offensive unit (Mantle, Gene Woodling, and Hank Bauer all had big years in the outfield, and the only starter not to have at least a league-average season was second baseman Billy Martin) with a deep, versatile pitching staff.
We have another month to figure out where the 2009 team fits, or if they fit at all, so this is premature, but it’s more fun talking about this than the stuff we were talking about at this time last year.
POSADA AND THE PARK EFFECTS…
…That would be a swell name for a band, particularly if your name was Posada. It was good to see him swat a couple of home runs on the road, as he has largely confined his hitting to Yankee Stadium II this year, and we wouldn’t want folks to conclude he was merely banging ’em over the Blue Enabler (see, the Red Sox have the Green Monster and the Yankees have, heh, the Blue… oh, forget it). He still has some distance to go to overcome the possibility of being labeled the anti-Swisher, with .227/.314/.399 rates on the road versus a Piazza-like .335/.403/.658 at home. Despite the imbalance, his current 883 OPS ranks 15th among Yankees catchers (single-season, 300 PAs and up), mostly exceeded by Bill Dickey, Mike Stanley, and Yogi Berra, plus about three seasons from Posada himself. It has been a fine year, though slightly subpar by Posada’s own high standards as his walk rate has hit the lowest level of his career. Given that Posada is a 37-year-old catcher having one of the top 20 seasons at his position in team history, it probably would be ungrateful to kick about a detail like that.
Tonight we get to see Jason Giambi’s return to the Bronx. I’ve seen some hostile comment in the press about Giambi, but beyond general disapproval of Giambi’s juicing, this anger is misplaced.
No, the Yankees didn’t win any championships during Giambi’s stay, but the team had many faults that had nothing to do with its first baseman-DH. As for the man himself, Giambi’s limitations were known to the Yankees when they picked him up, and it was apparent back in December, 2001 that the seven-year length of the contract was likely to bite the Yankees. As I wrote at the time, a player who isn’t terribly mobile at 30 — and the Empire State Building has moved more in the last 50 years than Giambi has in his whole career — is going to be a statue at 35.
Put the juice aside, because if anything is clear from the past few years it’s that no one inside baseball was ignorant of what players were doing to maintain their amazing physiques. I’m not saying that the Yankees necessarily had specific information that Giambi was juicing, but that they had to know it was a realistic possibility that anyone they acquired was doing some chemical dabbling. It wouldn’t have been practical for the Yankees to rule out acquiring all players suspected of having fun with pharmaceuticals, because the culture had been so thoroughly corrupted.
Thus: for their seven years of dough the Yankees expended, they got five very good years and two injury years. Injuries happen, and as I said, the cause is immaterial, or simply a predicable consequence of what was happening in baseball at the time. Giambi hit .260/.404/.521 with 209 home runs (tenth on the club list). He hit over 40 home runs twice, and over 30 three times, hit .300 once, and had more than 100 walks four times. Yankees who outhit Giambi in a career of more than 2,500 plate appearances, relative to league (as measured by OPS): Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, A-Rod, Charlie Keller and Reggie Jackson. That’s it, for the whole history of the franchise. That’s a successful signing. Did he field well? No, but he shouldn’t have been expected to. Did he run the bases? Nope, but he never could. Did he age? Yes, as do we all. Was he Reggie Jackson in the postseason? No, but he hit fairly well.
Though he was friendly the few times I talked with him, Giambi isn’t one of my favorite players. The steroid culture hurt baseball, and basically all for vanity’s sake, and his relative lack of production when DHing forced the Yankees into some disadvantageous defenses. Yet, to say that Giambi robbed the Yankees is a stretch. He was no longer an MVP-level player after 2002, and maybe he was never a guy to teach a class on professional ethics, but he was one of the most productive hitters the club ever had. That’s what the Yankees paid for and that’s what they got.
YANKEES RAINOUT THEATRE
No game yesterday means no home runs to increase our wonder and paranoia about the new ballpark. In the last day we’ve seen several articles attempting to account for what may be a small-sample fluke. AccuWeather.com talked about changed wind flow. Occasional YES-guest Tyler Kepner of the New York Times reported on Greg Rybarczyk’s finding that the contour of the right field wall means that the right-center field wall in Stadium II is effectively nine feet shorter than the one in Yankee Stadium Classic. Either explanation works to explain the new park’s dynamics, although the wind best explains what I felt I was seeing last Friday, balls finding a second gear as they reached their apogee. An intriguing thought: what if it’s both?
Meanwhile, the combination of rainout and off-day on Thursday means the Yankees get a no-brainer opportunity to bag on Chien-Ming Wang’s next start. Fangraphs.com lists the average velocity of Wang’s fastball is at 90.5 mph, down from an average speed of 91.8 mph a year ago and 92.7 mph in 2007. I don’t know if that one mph decrease is significant in terms of the batter experience, but just on a superficial basis, the mild drop would seem to give credence to the Yankees’ argument that the problem is mechanical, not physical. You would expect that if a pitcher isn’t throwing the ball with ease, his velocity is going to be negatively affected, and you would expect that if he figures out the problems he’s having with his release, he might find that missing mile again.
Another data point is the charting of Wang’s release point made possible the PitchFX tool at Brooks Baseball (thanks to Marc Normandin for pulling the information together). It seems that Wang’s release point is about six inches higher than it was a year ago. Six inches doesn’t seem like much in real-world terms, but when you’re dealing with a sinkerball, the extra elevation could be the difference between the batter getting on top of the ball and pounding it into the ground and hitting solidly on a line to the outfield.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
? Justin Masterson didn’t miss a beat as he shifted to the starting rotation for the Red Sox. Meanwhile, shortstop Jed Lowrie is going to go for surgery and could be out for six weeks. One wonders if they’ll live with Nick Green or try to make a move. They have a few interesting minor league shortstops, but none would seem to be ready to jump up to the Majors. Argenis Diaz, the Double-A shortstop, is supposed to have terrific range but probably won’t hit.
? Masterson’s fine pitching knocked the Orioles a game under .500, where they’ll probably stay. That is, they’ll stay under .500, not they’ll finish at 80-82 or something. When the Yankees were in Baltimore, the O’s were talking about a new, winning attitude. I wonder if they’re still saying things like that. Tonight’s rookie starter is Brad Bergeson, a control guy whose upper-level strikeout rates don’t portend much, unless he manifests a Wang-like groundball rate…
? Nice Major League debut for the Nats’ Jordan Zimmerman, who beat a Braves team that has struggled to find its hitting shoes in the early going. The newfangled bullpen held the lead, too. You wonder if any clubs have put in a call on a resurgent Nick Johnson (.381/.458/.429). The Angels, maybe? Kendry Morales is batting only .227/.277/.318, and while he’s going to come around and do better than that, he won’t out-hit a healthy Johnson. A momentarily healthy Johnson. Johnson if he’s healthy, when he’s healthy. Which is sometimes. Occasionally. Alternating Tuesdays. Check your local TV listings for details.
? Ross Ohlendorf had a fine start against the Marlins, holding them to two hits in seven innings. It’s nice to see Olhendorf come around and exploit his sinking stuff, but I think there is going to be more of this kind of thing for the Marlins in the future. In the game they walked once and struck out six times, and their lineup suggests there’s going to be a lot more than that. Meanwhile, the Pirates go a game over .500, once again endangering their 16-year losing streak. Their record in those years: 1104-1419 (.438).
? The Mets signed Wily Mo Pena. If he makes it up to the big club, it will be interesting to see him wandering about in Citi’s big outfield. Imagine the Hebrews in the desert, with more grass and less sand.
QUICK FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Today I’m making my first trip to the new Yankee Stadium. I opted to give Opening Day a pass: I’m not much for crowds to begin with, so heaping an extra helping of humans on top of the throngs that are normally here just seemed like a bad idea. Part of this reluctance springs from my partial blindness — it’s very difficult to navigate through crowds when you can’t see half of them coming. Intriguingly, when you can’t see people coming, they act like they can’t see you coming. Not for the first time, Douglas Adams was right. I also figured that nothing worked the first day at Disneyland, so I’d give the Pinstriped Magic Kingdom a day to shake the bugs out.
I’m skipping around the page as I write these words, so it will be hard for me to construct a strict chronology, but just so you get a sense of the action, at this moment in time the Indians are batting in the top of the fourth and Joba Chamberlain, in imitation of CC Sabathia on Thursday, is trying to burn through his entire allotment of pitches in less than five innings. He’s already over 70, thanks to four walks and four strikeouts. That means that among my first-time experiences in the new ballpark will be an early appearance by the Yankees’ middle relievers. My cup runneth under.
The superficial impression given by Yankee Stadium II: The Sequel is that you’re in the old ballpark, albeit a version that has been cleaned up, reshaped a bit so that it’s more capacious, more comfortable. As wide as the new concourses are, it’s still not easy to thread the crowds (as per the above, if it were easy, I would know), but the flow of traffic is still far superior to the cramped cattle chutes of the old ballpark, and thanks to the openness of the design, the air is actually breathable. In the old ballpark, if you were exiting the stands after a long, hot afternoon at the ballpark and happened to get behind some socially untrained fellow who had been stewing out there with you, albeit without the aid of deodorant (roughly 10 percent of the crowd at any game, it seems), your hair might fall out before you were able to escape. That should be less of a problem now.
I pause here to note that Melky Cabrera just crushed a ball to right field, the Yankees’ third shot of the game in that direction. The ball seems to really take off when hit in the air that way, but I can’t tell if that’s an artifact of the new park or because the Yankees are legitimately crushing them.
The similarity of YS II to the old ballpark — meet the new stadium, same as the old stadium — still seems like a missed opportunity. The original Yankee Stadium helped bring ballparks and sporting events into the modern era. YS II could have reinvented the stadium for the 21st century in the same way. The new building is nice enough, but it’s not groundbreaking and new in the way it could have been, and given what it cost, probably should have been.
I pause again to register a complaint. There have been eight walks and more than 200 pitches in this game, and it’s only the fifth inning. This is like watching Tommy Byrne face Steve Dalkowski. At this writing, the Yankees are trailing by two, and you can blame either Joba, Sabathia, or Joe Girardi. Chamberlain had no control today, and after he labored through the fourth inning, it seemed pretty clear that little would be gained by letting him come out for the fifth. I know that would be a quick hook, but Joba had already thrown a day’s worth of pitches, and in a compact amount of time. While the worries about Joba’s health, and pitch counts in general, are often overblown, there’s something to the idea that a pitcher throwing 100 pitches in five innings may be more of a strain than his throwing 100 pitches in seven innings. Unfortunately, Girardi was not inclined to make a move until he was forced to, and maybe, given the work of the bullpen lately, his reluctance is understandable.
The field does its best impression of the old park, but the stands seem to press in a bit more. Perhaps it’s the giant television in center field, Arthur C. Clarke’s monolith beaming stats, fan videos, and commercials into our apelike brains. Derek Jeter’s face flashes on the screen, two stories tall, and the urge is to scrape before the neon god. Though the upper deck is visibly withdrawn compared to its old, aggressive tilt, almost perpendicular to the field, the bowl seems cozy. That’s only when you look straight out to center or into the power alleys. The lower seats are further away from the action (and not nearly filled).
Robinson Cano just launched the Yankees’ fourth blast to right field. The ball soared out like Werner Von Braun had stuffed some solid rocket fuel into it. Again: Power, or park effect? In the time it took me to ask that question, we have seen a Melky groundout (helpless as always against a left-handed pitcher) and a rare Cody Ransom single. Every day, a new bit of history.
One thing I do enjoy like about the new location is that it actually sits next to human habitation, not just the elevated train tracks and various bars and souvenir shops. Unlike the old building, you can walk completely around the new park without running into a security checkpoint, and as you get around to the building’s rear you see trees and apartment buildings (which have clearly traded down from their old park setting). The stadium seems less an island now, and more a part of the neighborhood. There is also light when you arrive at the ballpark, something you didn’t get crossing under the tracks in front of the battleship gray of the old park.
Vinnie Chulk just chulked the ball down the right field line, allowing the Yankees to tie the game. The crowd roared, but as you have heard, YS II does seem to be a quieter park than its late uncle. Perhaps that’s because the lower dish is only partially filled, perhaps it’s the distant upper deck. The sound system is geared up to overcome a much higher level of crowd noise than seems to exist here.
In a development that I imagine will be of scant interest to most of you, thanks to the reduced territory behind home plate, the press box is even closer to the action than it used to be, and we have better dining facilities as well. Note to self: Do not sample press box pretzels until they’ve had at least five innings to warm up. I will share one special thrill with you, though, one of the reasons that I am blessed to have this job. When I entered the press box for the first time, I asked one of the Yankees media relations staffers to point me to the chair reserved for YES. He pointed to an older gentleman in a baseball cap. “He’s in your seat,” he said, “just ask him to move.” I approached the seat, and saw the man clearly for the first time: it was the great Roger Angell. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to ask Roger Angell to move anywhere. I took the seat next to him. We chatted throughout the game, comparing lists of top Cary Grant films (more about that last in my next entry).
One other note: It’s good that they got the retired numbers out where they can be viewed, but (1) they’re tiny and (2) they’re on a somewhat grubby tile wall, as if they grew in someone’s shower with the mildew. Guys, you’ve got to treat the history of this franchise with at least as much respect as you treat your advertisers, if not more.
As we go to the top of the eighth, the game is tied, 5-5, Cabrera having just popped out with two runners on. We can forgive this given that he had already homered in the game, but did he have to leave Ransom to lead off the next inning? Consumed with feelings of dread, I will sign off for now.
OPENING DAY U-TURN
The pomp of the first Opening Day at Yankee Stadium: The Sequel was all well and good, but in the end the club has to execute. The Yankees confronted a 2-7 Indians club led by Cliff Lee, a potential flash in the pan who had been thoroughly mistreated by his every opponent in Spring Training and his first two starts. The Yankees bowed, in part because the offense stranded 27 runners, in part because Jose Veras and Damaso Marte (who hasn’t been the same pitcher with the Yankees he was prior) played arsonist, and if you’re looking for a third culprit, point to CC Sabathia, who negated his ability to throw 120 pitches by burning through them in less than six innings.
Thanks the amazing nine-run seventh inning pitched by Veras and Marte, pitching will receive the bill for this afternoon’s debacle, but the offense could have changed the complexion of the game at any time. Despite getting the first hit at YS: TS, Johnny Damon stranded five runners. Despite hitting the first home run at YS: TS, Jorge Posada stranded six. Special credit must go to Cody Ransom. Ransom’s first at-bat came in the second inning with one out and Robby Cano at second base. The third baseman struck out. In his next at-bat, in the bottom of the fourth, he batted with Hideki Matsui on first base and flew out to right field. He came to the plate again in the fifth with runners on first and third. He grounded to short. Runners were on first and second with two outs in the bottom of the seventh when Ransom struck out again. Finally, with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees just looking for some dignity, or maybe a miracle comeback, Ransom grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. He left nine runners on base, and presumably because the Yankees are carrying 13 pitchers and no bench players, Joe Girardi let him.
The Yankees’ 5-5 start is discouraging, but it’s not as depressing as is Ransom’s first 10 games as A-Rod substitute. Ransom is not a kid. He’s a 33-year-old vet. He has had six shots at a big league career since 2001 without ever catching on. We are likely looking at his last chance to have at least a single season in the major leagues, first as Alex Rodriguez’s substitute, then as his caddy. The odds were against Ransom succeeding, because his long experience in the minors showed that he would not hit with enough consistency. Despite this, his small-sample hot streak of last fall gave hope that he could make it. This is the kind of player who is great fun to root for. Unfortunately, Ransom is now 3-for-30 with 10 strikeouts, and it is difficult to see how the Yankees can afford to keep playing him, however quickly A-Rod is expected to come back, or even how they can retain him on the Major League roster once Rodriguez is active. Thursday’s defeat had many fathers, but any kind of contribution from Ransom early on might have meant a different complexion to the game.
Meanwhile, despite the best efforts of Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano, the rest of the offense has yet to click into gear. The Swisher-free components of the outfield have been a total loss, and there’s a danger that that could be a season-long affliction. Hideki Matsui has looked very sluggish, and Mark Teixeira’s wrist and penchant for slow starts has crippled his numbers. Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter have hung in, but four bats is well short of an offensive load. Take out the 11 runs the Yankees scored against Baltimore in the third game of the season and the club is averaging just 4.2 runs of offense per game. You don’t want to hit the panic button after 10 games, and some of the elements will heat up a bit, even Ransom — but heat is relative. They may not heat up enough to make a truly potent offense. That’s something that Brian Cashman is going to have to watch.
Sailor Bob Shawkey was the first starting pitcher at Yankee Stadium, and CC Sabathia will go down as the first at YS: TS. What was not noted today was that Sailor Bob’s history with the Yankees was contentious. After a very good, just-south-of-Cooperstown career, Shawkey became the manager of the Yankees in 1930, replacing Miller Huggins, who had died during the previous season. The club went 86-68, finishing third, and Shawkey was viewed as a failure because former teammates like Babe Ruth wouldn’t take him all that seriously (one wonders who Ruth did take seriously). In an especially coldhearted move, the Yankees replaced Shawkey with Joe McCarthy but didn’t bother telling him. Shawkey happened to walk into GM Ed Barrow’s office as McCarthy was heading out and put two and two together. “It was a dirty deal,” Shawkey said. In anticipation of Yogi Berra years later, Shawkey cut off all contact with the team. He didn’t return until the threw out the first pitch at the renovated Yankee Stadium — 45 years later. He was 85 years old.
I wonder if the opening day crowd of 2054 will get to see a first pitch from a 73-year-old Sabathia. Try to hang on if you can. I’ll try too, and we’ll talk about it then.
Always interesting to see who gets a hand and who doesn’t when players are announced individually. There wasn’t even polite applause for Indians coach Joel Skinner, who caught for the Yankees for three seasons. I guess fans have forgotten his amazing inability to make contact — in 556 at-bats with the Yankees he struck out 158 times, hitting .214/.299/.253. In comparison to Skinner, Jose Molina is Mickey Cochrane. Maybe they do remember, but are still mad that the Yankees gave up Ron Hassey for him…
…They definitely remembered Carl Pavano. That was clear.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
- Another depressing bit: many fans and pundits held out hope that this would be the year that Royals’ third baseman Alex Gordon really took off. Instead, he’s headed for surgery with a cartilage tear in his right hip. No word on when he’ll be back as of yet.
- I keep forgetting to mention Dewayne Wise separating his shoulder and thus exiting the Chicago White Sox’ lineup. He was another player, like Nady (though a far lesser talent than Nady), whose use I railed against. As with Nady, I’d rather he take a seat than take a surgeon…
- Unless Tony LaRussa gets caught taking betting tips from Pete Rose, he’s going to the Hall of Fame. If he manages to keep his Cardinals winning at anything like their present (8-3) rate with the roster he has, he’ll have gone an extra length towards earning his plaque. Of course, today’s game against the Cubs was their first against a team of any real talent.
THE FIRST “GAME” AT YANKEE STADIUM
In watching Cubs-Yankees on Friday evening, I tried to be alert to any events that would suggest that the park will be dramatically different in its influences than was the old ballpark. Given that we’re talking about one game, the penchant for distortion would have had to be fairly obvious — like a moat in center field. In the event, no moat appeared, but with two home runs bouncing off of them in one game, we might have to classify the foul poles as magnetic attractors.
There was some talk by our YES broadcast crew about the infield playing fast. Again, there is no way to know for sure if this is the case after just one game, but if it’s true, it will represent a double-edged sword for the Yankees. The hitters will benefit, but the pitchers will suffer, perhaps disproportionately to the opposition, because their deficiencies in range will be exacerbated. Fortunately, this can be corrected to some degree should the Yankees choose to do so — they can just let it grow.
The bigger question mark, and one that the Yankees won’t be able to do anything about, is if the open concourses or orientation of the new park have made the building more of a home-run park. The Yankees hit three in the game, and foul poles or not, they seemed to have a little more life in them than what we’ve seen from long flies in the old park. For the third time in just three paragraphs, I will emphasize that you can’t know anything about anything from just one game, and we probably shouldn’t come to any conclusions until the team has spent something like half a season in the new dish, and maybe not then.
I’ll be back with some additional observations after Saturday’s exhibition.
OTHER GOOD STUFF
Derek Jeter pulling two hits. Brett Gardner’s speed both on defense and stretching a single into a double. Four scoreless innings from the bullpen (albeit against Cubs subs). Robinson Cano with two hits, including one into the shortstop’s hole — nice to see him do something with the opposite field that doesn’t involve popping up to shallow left.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
Injuries mean the Angels’ initial rotation will be Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver, Nick Adenhart, Dustin Moseley, and Shane Loux. No wonder the A’s feel empowered. And R.A. Dickey and his career 5.57 ERA have a spot in the Twins rotation until Scott Baker comes back: spring is a cruel mistress… Mike Lamb went unclaimed and was released. The Twins are paying him this year, so he would be cheap depth if the Yankees want to add a third baseman. That assumes Lamb can find his stroke again. I’m rooting for Cody Ransom, Journeyman, but it never hurts to have insurance. Assuming a modest rebound, Lamb should post a higher OBP than Ransom… One wonders how long Gary Sheffield will be happy with part-time status as a Met. Assuming he has anything left at all, both at bat and in the field, he should help on a platoon basis, with career .308/.407/.540 rates against southpaws. Even last year, which was a disaster overall, he hit six home runs against them in 109 at-bats.