No team in sports talks more about their history than the New York Yankees; and that is why the decision to honor Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill with plaques in Yankee Stadium is so puzzling. Honoring Martinez and O'Neill is an affront to Yankee history for two reasons. First, the absence of Bernie Williams' name in that group is a noticeable slight. Wiliams will get a plaque next year, but making him wait a year while two inferior players who spent less time on the Yankees get their plaques this year is, at best, puzzling.
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.
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.
This is a decision about personnel, but it is also a decision about philosophy. If the Yankees believe that they must win the World Series every year, then the logical thing to do is to bring on Napoli or Pierzynski. However, these players are 31 and 35 years old now; and Napoli has never been a full time catcher. Signing an older player, particularly if that player will quickly migrate to first base or DH, as Napoli would, would raise many problems for the Yankees, especially as both these players will likely end up with contracts of three years or more, but turning the job over to some combination of Whiteside, Cervelli and Romine will damage the Yankees' chances in 2013.
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.
If I had a vote for the Hall of Fame, I would drop Walker from my ballot, but would not add Murphy, so the returning players who would get my vote are Bagwell, Larkin, Martinez, McGriff, Raines and Trammell, as well as first time candidate Bernie Williams.
The arguments against Williams are clear. He was not great defensively, was never one of the best hitters in the game, was surrounded by better players and did not play much past his prime. The arguments in favor of Williams candidacy are less obvious, but also very powerful. Williams was a very good hitter who had a very long prime. Between 1995-2002, a period of eight years, he hit .321/.406/.531, good for an OPS+ of 142. He did this while playing a key defensive position decently. Although he retired at age 37, thus truncating the decline phase of his career, he remained a useful player until the end hitting .281/.332/.436 during his last year with the Yankees.
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.
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.
When Robinson Cano tossed the ball to Mark Texeira for the final out of the sixth game of the World Series, the Yankees won their 27th World Series and fifth since Major League Baseball first used the current expanded playoff system in 1995. The Yankees have now won one third of all World Series since 1995, an impressive accomplishment given how difficult it is to survive a three round playoff system. Clearly the Yankees have benefited from a front office that is willing and able to spend the money needed to put a strong team on the field every year, but just as clearly, there are additional explanations for the Yankees’ success.
The Yankees are a great franchise, the most successful in baseball history. They not only have the ability, but also the willingness, to spend money to put a strong team on the field. However, Yankee management has developed some very bad habits over the last few years. It doesn’t look like the next generation of Steinbrenners is any more patient than the first generation was. Moreover, they are already repeating some of their father’s mistakes. It is worth noting that the Yankees’ longest period without a pennant, since Babe Ruth joined the team in 1920, was 1982-1995 and occurred entirely during the elder Steinbrenner’s tenure, when the team was managed much how it is today. I don’t think any Yankee fan wants to go back to that, but this is the direction the franchise is going unless management’s thinking changes.