Williams played for the Yankees for 16 seasons, most of them as their star center fielder. The Yankees have a tradition of great center fielders; and while Williams is obviously not in the same class as Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio, he is clearly the third best center fielder in franchise history. Williams also played more games in centerfield for the Yankees than DiMaggio, Mantle or anybody else. Williams batted cleanup and played a marquee position for a team that won three consecutive World Series, spent his entire career with the Yankees, was very popular with the fans, but the hoopla around the notion of the core four has caused Williams to be almost entirely forgotten less than eight years after he played his last game
Jeter is one of the most intriguing of baseball players because for most of his career he has simultaneously been overrated, he is clearly not the greatest player or even the greatest Yankee in history, and underrated. He is not strong on defense, but has not been as bad as many think. Moreover, Jeter's extremely cautious style with the media has led most of the media to cover him as some sort of baseball saint, always ready with a good team oriented quote, respectful of the game and its history and almost never willing to criticize a teammate, or opponent. A minority of fans, however, see this is as a highly choreographed image by Jeter, which of course it is, and decry him for not being genuine.
Supporters of Beltran will argue that his post-season performance should inform his candidacy. That notion is also relevant for players like Andy Pettitte who started more than a full season's worth of games in the post-season. Beltran's post-season record probably should be taken into account, but so should everybody else's from this era. However, this record should not only be taken into account, but should be viewed in its proper context. One striking line from Beltran's post-season resume is that he has played in 38 post-season games, but none in the World Series. The great post-season performers from previous generations either played all their post-season games in the World Series like Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle, or, like Reggie Jackson and Steve Garvey, played a good proportion of their post-season games in the World Series.
Despite the good first weak enjoyed by the Mets, and the recent hot streak by the Yankees, this season may be a rough one for big league baseball in New York. It is possible that, for the first time since 1992, both the Yankees and Mets will finish below .500. Additionally, the Yankees are an old team without any top-level prospects ready to step into major roles in either 2013 or 2014. The Mets are younger, but like many recent Mets teams, seem to be without a plan or vision for improving for the next several years. This tough situation is compounded by the resurgence of California baseball and of Southern California as a big market. To put this in perspective, if they played in California the Yankees would probably be the third best AL team in the state, while the Mets might make it that high among NL teams, but could also fall behind the Padres and be the fourth best team in that state.
The most intriguing question facing the Yankees is not which of their veterans can come back or who they can acquire to help their chances this year, but what the next decade will look like for the Yankees. Only Cano, Gardner and perhaps Sabathia, are both young and good enough to be around and contributing in five years. The prospects who are expected to arrive in the next few years are solid but unspectacular. Accordingly, the Yankees need to build a team based on some good prospects, a contingent of aging and, due to contracts, largely unmovable veterans, and, of course, the ability to outspend everybody. This last point alone will not be enough to build a winner.
Describing a team as boring is subjective, but it is clear that at the halfway point in the season, the Yankees, despite their very good record, have not generated any buzz in New York. Last year fans watched Derek Jeter reach 3,000 hits and saw Mariano Rivera become the all time saves leader. This year they have seen Jeter pass Paul Waner on the hit list while Rafael Soriano has taken over as a good closer, but one about whom few Yankee fans care deeply. It is hard to think of any Yankee games which are even close to as memorable as Santana’s no-hitter, any one of several starts by Dickey, or even some of the early season Yankee-Red Sox games of recent years.
The Yankees inability to develop highly touted pitching prospects into quality major league starters is an organizational problem that probably involves scouts, minor league managers and coaches, big league managers and coaches and front office management. Solving this problem will not be easy and probably cannot be done simply by bringing in one pitching guru like the San Francisco Giants’ Dick Tidrow.
The news that Andy Pettitte was coming out of retirement to try to pitch one more year for the Yankees initially sounded like another annoying Steinbrenner trick. It also was a reminder of the last years of Roger Clemens’ career when the question of whether or not he was going to stay retired and return to pitching was a constant during spring training and sometimes the early part of the season. Pettitte’s status as an all-time Yankee great who remains beloved by most Yankee fans also made the decision by the team’s management easier, but even for Yankee fans the news was surprising and a bit strange.
Jorge Posada, a mainstay of the New York Yankees for well over a decade and one of the best catchers in that, or any, team’s history recently announced his retirement. Posada will now be counted among those Yankee greats like Whitey Ford, Bill Dickey, Thurman Munson, Lou Gehrig, Phil Rizzuto, Mickey Mantle, Bernie Williams and Joe DiMaggio who spent their entire careers with the Yankees never playing even one game for another team. It is likely that in the next few years, Posada’s longtime teammates Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera will join him in this group.
The question of whether or not Posada is one of the twenty greatest Yankees will have to be left to future, and longer, subway rides, but his place in the top 25 is reasonably secure. The same ambiguity around Posada’s place in Yankee history will probably surround his Hall of Fame candidacy, but there is no ambiguity around his role in the last four Yankee championships. If game five of the LDS was indeed Posada’s last game, he will be missed by all Yankee fans, whether hunched over their computers looking at numbers or cursing A-Rod while semi-conscious on the subway.
While all pitching prospects, presumably, would like to develop into big league pitchers who can have long and productive careers, this is not the goal of the teams who control their future. Bringing pitchers along slowly and carefully is probably the best thing for pitchers, but it may not be the best way to win championships. Baseball history is full of pitchers who burned out early or injured their arm due to overuse at a young age, but for fans and management this is not a tragedy but simply part of the game. Teams should not be oblivious to the risks of overworking a young pitcher. These risks are quite real, but teams should also recognize that sometimes they need to take that risk.
When Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel sent Chad Durbin to the mound to start the bottom of the fifth inning of game six of the 2009 World Series, replacing future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, it was the end of a baseball era. Martinez’s last game in the big leagues had not gone well as the New York Yankees, led by Hideki Matsui, rocked him for four runs in four innings. Martinez was the last of a quartet of pitching superstars also including Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux, who, at a time when offensive production was higher than ever, dominated the game as no other group of pitching peers ever have.
Jorge Posada is coming to the end of a great career. He is a viable Hall of Fame candidate who will probably just miss getting elected, but he has been an integral part of four World Championship teams, and is perhaps the third greatest catcher in Yankee history. He is also still a potentially valuable player. If Posada caught 30-40 games a year, even with is diminished defensive skills, played first base for 20 games, and was the DH for 80 games or so, he would still be very useful, but as a full time DH he is reducing the roster’s flexibility rather than increasing it without contributing enough with the bat. It looks like the Yankees are going to start the season with essentially a DH emeritus and a shortstop emeritus. That is at least one and probably two emeriti too many.
The Yankees limped into the post-season playing poorly during September and losing a division which they had led for much of the second half, but looked like a very different team during their first round sweep of the Minnesota Twins. A major part of their post-season success has been that Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte, at least in the first round, exceeded most expectations and put many doubts to rest.The two pitchers turned in very strong outings during the Yankees sweep of the Twins. If they continue to pitch like this during the next two rounds, the Yankees will be very tough to beat.
One of the major exploitable market inefficiencies in baseball is that teams pay so heavily for past accomplishments. No team does this more than the Yankees who have evolved into something of a straw man in this debate. The long contract which they gave to Alex Rodriguez means that the team will be playing Rodriguez more than $20 million a year in 2015-2017. Nobody can seriously think Rodriguez will still be an elite player by that time. Even if his current season is viewed as an off-year, it is not realistic to expect him to still be a top star during the last three years of his contract when he will make a total of $61 million.
In 37 years, Steinbrenner delivered seven world championships, countless tantrums, headlines and managerial firings, several horrendous trades, as well as several brilliant ones, one never-ending desire to win and hundreds of millions of dollars in support of that goal, but never a dull moment. That is the record on which the man should be judged. Baseball will miss him.
It is very unusual for four players to play together for this long, but it is not unprecedented. There are two other groups of four players who played together for ten years who are comparable to the core four. In addition, two other groups of Yankees played together for nine years, but not ten. From 1930-1938, Bill Dickey, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing were teammates winning five pennants and five World Series. From 1954-1962 Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle and Moose Skowron another group of four teammates won seven pennants and four World Series The core four played together from 1997-2003 and 2007-2009 winning six pennants and four World Series.
In recent days the Red Sox and Phillies have improved their chances of stopping the Yankees from defending their championship. The Phillies came within two wins of winning the World Series in 2009 and by adding Roy Halladay, while losing Cliff Lee, have made the top of their rotation stronger. John Lackey gives the Red Sox one of the best and deepest rotations in baseball, while the signing of Mark Cameron helps offset the almost certain loss of Jason Bay; and Marco Scutaro will be a big upgrade at shortstop. Dumping Mike Lowell will also help the team. It seems likely that the Red Sox are not quite done yet this off-season and may add another corner infield bat. Other teams, notably the Seattle Mariners have made some big moves, in the Mariners case the acquisition of Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins, that may allow them to emerge as a strong contender in 2010.
The ninth inning: I am signing off for the night, unless something dramatic happens. Was fun chatting.
Bottom of the eighth: It has been that kind of series for Swisher. Jeter, as we were just reminded, is the all-time post-season hit leader. For what it is worth the all time non-Yankee World Series hit leader is the Fordham Flash-Frankie Frisch.
Top of the eighth: I don’t think too many Yankee fans thought Damaso Marte would be a big part of their post-season success. At this phase of his career, Rivera gives up runs, but rarely melts down. It is beginning to rain in the Bronx, but not yet in Northern Manhattan. I assume Selig will allow this game to be finished tonight.
Bottom of the seventh: With the bottom of the Yankee lineup completely silent, this is probably their last scoring opportunity. If this ends tonight, A-Rod will have had a strange series. Much fewer big hits than in the ALCS, but in the middle of a lot of rallies. Cano looks about as bad as a big league hitter can look. He makes Texeira look like Reggie Jackson.
Top of the seventh: The Phillies need baserunners here, but if the good Joba has shown up, it could be a short inning for them. This is likely Joba’s last batter, so he could salvage a disappointing season here. A walk to Victorino is not the way Joba wanted to end his season. Perhaps Marte can bail him out. The need to go to Marte in the 7th all but ensures that Rivera will be asked to get six outs. Girardi has said that Rivera is ready to do this, but even for Rivera six outs is a lot, particularly if this lead gets smaller. The way Marte has been throwing, he might be able to get through the eighth which would make Rivera even stronger in the ninth.
Bottom of the sixth: Swisher had seemed to have lost his ability to draw walks this World Series before this at bat. That had been one of his biggest strengths during the regular season. With Hairston in the number two hole, a bunt from Gardner makes less sense.
Top of the sixth: This is a very important inning for Philadelphia. If Pettitte gets through the middle of the lineup without giving up a run, the countdown of outs can begin in earnest. With all the attention on the starting pitching, little attention has been paid to how the Yankees will use their bullpen, but I would assume, and hope, that Girardi will use Chamberlain and Robertson to get to Rivera, spotting Marte against Utley and Howard. The Phil brothers may be done for the year. Reggie Jackson just breathed a sigh of relief. Howard’s home run was kind of inevitable, but it may not be enough. Neither Pettitte or Martinez pitched particularly well, but Pettitte pitched better. He did about as well as the Yankees could have hoped. If the Yankees hold on, it will be a victory won by their bats. With the lefties out of the way for at least an inning, if Joba is throwing well, he can them to Rivera.
Bottom of the fifth: For what its worth, Girardi’s best move as manager this year may have come in spring training when he put Jeter back in the leadoff spot. Girardi should get credit for looking at OBP rather than simply batting Jeter second because he is a middle infielder. On a related note, Jeter may break the all-time Yankee stolen base record next year. It is currently held by none other than Rickey Henderson. The Phillies need a loogy to get Matsui out here. Another RBI by Matsui and this game will get very short very quickly for the Phillies. That plan did not work out so well for Philadelphia. Turns out the Yankees are pretty good even though Cliff Lee beat them twice. Posada this series seems to have a principled position that he only gets hits in clutch situations.
Top of the fifth: Pettitte’s control problems tonight have made this a tough game for him. The Phillies have real power and they Yankees still need at least nine more outs before Rivera. Rollins hit into a rare double play, so Pettitte survived another inning. With all the ink about how Pedro has become a wily, clever pitcher, Pettitte is for the third time in as many starts getting by without his best stuff.
Bottom of the fourth: With Hairston in the number two spot, the Yankee lineup has a different feel. It puts a little pressure on Posada-Gardner to contribute a little bit today as the top half of the lineup is not as solid. Robinson Cano is now literally not hitting his weight. Nice to see Mayor Bloombers who, as it turns out actually did need to spend all that money to get reelected yesterday, enjoying the game. It is a shande that the mayor of New York is a Red Sox fan.
Top of the fourth: Another injury for the Yankees. The Yankees have a useful bench, but not actual depth. They have pinch runners, good defensive ballplayers, but nobody who can really hit other than Gardner, who was already in the lineup. Hairston is a big downgrade from Damon. If Pettitte can follow one half inning in which the Yankees score by shutting down the Phillies, it would change the tenure of the game a lot. Tim McCarver just said that too much is made of pitchers starting on three days rest. If he really felt that way, maybe he should have talked about something else during the last 48 hours.
Bottom of the third: Gardner looked terrible against Martinez. He is a better player than that. Martinez has probably gone through 50 pitches and is not yet through the third. It will be interesting if Manuel has to patch it together tonight because if it goes well, he will have to do the same thing tomorrow night. This is Texeira’s moment, let’s see how he does. A seal on every rock for A-Rod. Nice bit of hitting by Matsui.
Top of the third: What would the announcers talk about if Pettitte were going on four days of rest. It seems like they have discussed this ad nauseum. It is a convenient topic because and an easy way to explain a potential bad outing for Pettitte, but there is no way to prove this. If Pettitte pitches well, will anybody say it was because he was on short rest? If Ruiz scores, will Yankee fans stop eating Dunkin’ Donuts?
It is interesting watching a series where so many key players, Texeira, Howard, Cano etc. are slumping but where the managers are doing so little. Manuel and Girardi get some credit for not panicking, but this is also a result of the post-season rosters and stability of both lineups. The Yankees and Phillies do not have a lot of plan Bs. However, if Pena pinch runs with none out in the seventh, Girardi will be making a big mistake.
Bottom of the second: Amazing to see A-Rod not take strike one as he seems to have done ever plate appearance this series. Walking A-Rod in front of three Yankee lefties could be trouble, but Cano seems to have checked out for the series. Has anybody noticed how both Matsui and Damon have swings any decent Little League coach would change right away? Getting to Pedro early is big for the Yankees, but they now need to get the big inning, which they have had trouble doing through much of the post-season.
Pedro made one mistake to Matsui, but gets credit for keeping the Phillies in the game. A two run lead is unlikely to be enough in this game.
Top of the second: Pettitte is throwing a lot of pitches and not getting ahead of too many hitters, but if he is going to walk anybody, Werth is the guy. Tim McCarver just mentioned that the Yankees have quieted Philadelphia’s left-handed bats. That may come as news to Chase Utley. Pettitte looks like he is struggling, but that is kind of the look he has on his face all the time when he is pitching.
Bottom of the first: Texeira is having the kind of series where a fly ball to the warning track counts as a successful at at bat. The Yankees benefit more from coming back to their park because Matsui’s bat is a real asset. Without Molina as Burnett’s personal catcher, the Yankee lineup is as deep as it should be. Gardner in the number nine spot may even be an improvement on Melky.
Top of the first: The left side of the Yankee infield is interesting for many reasons. One is that both Jeter and A-Rod have strong arms and limited range. Utley’s first at bat will set a tone. The Yankees would be foolish to throw at him and probably won’t. Nice first half inning for the Yankees.
Pre-game: The national media, being both Yankee-centric and Yankee-phobic, seems to have already written the Yankees’ obituary. You would not know from listening to the analysis or reading most newspapers that even if the Yankees lose tonight, tomorrow’s game will pit CC Sabbathia against either Cliff Lee on two days rest or a whatever combination of pitchers Charlie Manuel can put together.
My sense is that Pettitte needs to start off strongly, but so does the Yankee offense. Pettitte is, at this point in his career, against a lineup like the Phillies’, good for six innings and four runs. If he does that, the game will be decided by the Yankee offense and Pedro’s pitching. Pedro is a bit of a wild card here as he could either be very strong or out of the game by the fourth inning. If is is a low scoring game, the Phillies may win, but if it is high scoring, the Yankees should come out on top.
The desire to downplay the import of luck is natural. It is disturbing to think that two teams work so hard for so many months, only to have the championship decided by a matter of luck, but that is often what happens. It is more disturbing, however, to imply that teams lose because their players don’t try hard enough, which is exactly what is implied when winning is explained by greater determination.