Pete Rose and A-Rod check in to the Fox Sports Image Rehab Clinic

31 10 2015

Pete RoseCould the Fox Sports outfield studio be the path back to respectability for Pete Rose and Alex Rodriguez?

I’m still adjusting to the notion that someone thought two of baseball’s most disgraced players belonged on a baseball studio team. There’s Frank Thomas, regarded as one of the sport’s genuine good guys, analyzing the action along with baseball’s most notorious gambler and drug cheat.

Thomas is a valid Hall of Famer, rightly elected in 2014, his first year of eligibility. But he’s a couple notches below A-Rod and Rose in any consideration of best players ever. And they may never join him in Cooperstown because of the shame they brought to themselves and baseball. I address how the Hall of Fame should consider scoundrels in a separate post (probably tomorrow), so here I’ll just concentrate on how odd it is to see and hear them in the studio.

And I’ll speculate that Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds have called their agents, ordering them to explore broadcast deals.

Update: Rose checked out of the clinic Saturday to sign autographs at — wait for it — a Las Vegas casino. 

After the World Series, will we see Joe Buck and Troy Aikman call on O.J. Simpson from prison to provide a little commentary during the Fox football broadcasts? (Remember, Rose also did time, for cheating on his taxes. A-Rod only spent his one-year banishment in baseball jail.) More on O.J. coming shortly. Read the rest of this entry »

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Few teams integrated as slowly or reluctantly as the Yankees

9 10 2015

I should acknowledge the elephant in the clubhouse: Few teams integrated as slowly as the Yankees.

This post concludes a series on continuing racial discrimination in baseball, in a blog that normally focuses on the Yankees, so I have to acknowledge my favorite team’s part of that shameful history.

A 2013 Pinstripe Alley post by Steven Goldman details the Yankees’ initial resistance to integration of baseball, then its leisurely minor-league “development” of future All-Stars Vic Power and Elston Howard, who clearly were beyond ready for the big leagues. The Yankees traded Power and didn’t bring Howard up to the majors until he was 26, in 1955, eight years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier.

In this context, it is no excuse that the Yankees won the World Series in 1947, the year Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and then won five World Series in a row from 1949-53. Maybe for a year or two you could say that the Yankees’ success excused their reluctance to integrate (if you’re looking past the moral aspect).

But I cut the Yankee leadership of that time no slack. They got a good look in four of those World Series at the dynamic impact on the Dodgers of such African Americans as Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe. And in the 1952 Series, the Yankees saw the greatness that Willie Mays and Monte Irvin brought to the Giants. And they played in the same city with those guys. They should have seen that aggressive recruitment of African American and Latino players would help continue, strengthen and extend their dynasty. But they worried that attracting African American fans to the ballpark would turn away white fans.

From Manager Casey Stengel to executives Larry MacPhail and George Weiss, the Yankee leadership was slow to recognize the injustice of racial exclusion and the improvement that integration brought to baseball. All those great Yankee teams of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s achieved their records and dynasties without facing some of the best players in baseball: Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Buck O’Neil and the other stars of the Negro Leagues.

Only the Phillies, Tigers and Red Sox were all-white longer than the Yankees. Read the rest of this entry »





Yankees among the best almost everywhere but starting pitcher

21 09 2015

Look around the baseball diamond, and at nearly every position, a Yankee was one of the best ever. But not at starting pitcher.

We say that pitching wins championships, and the Yankees through the decades have had excellent depth in good starting pitchers, and sometimes great starting pitchers. But none of the all-time greatest starting pitchers spent most of their careers with the Yankees.

The only Yankee pitcher you might see on a list of the 10 best starters ever is Roger Clemens, and his best years were with the Red Sox. Clemens won 20 games only once in his six Yankee years. His Yankee years wouldn’t rank him among the best Yankee starters ever, let alone among baseball’s best. (For purposes of this discussion, I’m dealing with actual performance, not trying to decide whose achievements to discount because of suspicions about use of performance-enhancing drugs.)

If you expand your best-ever list to 20 or 25, Whitey Ford usually gets a spot, but Yankees remain notably absent, or low, from any best-ever discussion of starting pitchers. And they’re prominent in such discussions at nearly every other position.

At six positions, at least one Yankee is either the best ever or one of two to five stars contending for the top spot:

Catcher

Yogi Berra often loses the best-catcher-ever debates to Johnny Bench, but he’s always in the discussion. With three MVP awards and more championships than anyone, plus still-impressive offensive numbers, Yogi figures prominently in discussing best catchers ever. And Yankee Bill Dickey would be on anyone’s top-10 list, maybe even top five. Read the rest of this entry »





Alex Rodriguez’s disappointing decade as a Yankee

6 04 2015

Alex Rodriguez would be a disappointment to Yankee fans if he had never used performance-enhancing drugs. Nothing enhanced his post-season play for the Yankees. That he was caught using drugs twice, lied about using them and still was a huge October disappointment makes him really unique among disappointing Yankees.

Don Mattingly made the post-season only in his final year with the Yankees and never delivered a championship. Yankee fans revere him. Dave Winfield was a horrific 1-for-22 in his only Yankee World Series, but fans have forgiven him. Bobby Murcer and Mel Stottlemyre also became fan favorites without winning rings (though Stottlemyre made it to the World Series his rookie year and pitched well in head-to-head match-ups against Bob Gibson).

A-Rod actually won a ring, putting him ahead of those Yankees  (but behind dozens of Yankee stars of various eras).

None of the Yankee busts disappointed on the scale that A-Rod did — not in-their-prime free agents who tanked under New York pressure (think Steve Kemp, Ed Whitson and Carl Pavano) and not aging stars who didn’t have one more great season left for the Yankees (think Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson). The free agent busts and lopsided trades just kind of blur together. But A-Rod stands out as the biggest disappointment in Yankee history.

I didn’t blog about his suspension last year or about the various discussions of his return this year or about his appearance at spring training or his stupid hand-written apology to fans. I guess that I was hoping he would just retire, rather than make us watch how far he had declined after a year off. I mean, how much money does one person need?

But it’s Opening Day and he’s back, so I’m posting this piece that’s been in the works for more than year, about A-Rod and why he’s been such a disappointment to the Yankees and Yankee fans. Read the rest of this entry »





Wrapping up the 2013 season: Congrats to Red Sox, Mo, Pettitte

2 11 2013

Reflections on the 2013 season:

Hat tip to the Red Sox!

Something that Red Sox fans and Yankee haters don’t understand is that Yankee fans (most of us anyway, in my experience) don’t hate the Red Sox the way that Red Sox fans and Yankee haters hate the Yankees.

Yes, when the Yankees are playing the Red Sox, I hate them and revel in every win against them (and felt pain at this year’s losses). But when they’re not playing each other, the Red Sox are among my favorite non-Yankee teams. And certainly this year, when they played classy after last year’s debacle and all of the nation was feeling “Boston strong,” I enjoyed watching the Red Sox play and win. (I think sports get exaggerated as healing for a city, but I got caught up in the Yankees’ near-win after 9/11, and I was glad to see Boston have this to feel good about.)

I’m a cancer survivor who enjoys the success of Jon Lester. I’ve always enjoyed watching David Ortiz play (well, maybe not always; 2004 wasn’t so enjoyable) and enjoyed both his post-Marathon exhortation and his post-season hitting (and walking) binge this year.

If the Hall of Fame ever starts admitting players who’ve been tainted in the performance-enhancing-drugs scandals, I’ll probably be cheering for Big Papi to get his place in Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame needs some DH’s and Papi might deserve to be the first pure DH to win enshrinement.

Of course, the Red Sox hired a good manager and acquired some good players, but mostly I think this year established once and for all that Bobby Valentine is a horrible manager.

Farewell to Mo!

I’ve blogged before about why Mariano Rivera is one of the most unique baseball players ever and why he’s one of the most incomparable pro athletes ever in any sport.

I might not take note again of Mo’s retirement except for the post by ESPN’s Jim Caple (I considered not linking to it here because it was pure click-bait, but I believe in linking, so I did) that twisted and selectively used stats to pretend that Rivera and closers in general are overrated.

I presume Caple was not watching the post-season, where Koji Uehara was the biggest reason that the Red Sox beat the Tigers to make it to the World Series.

Here’s how important closers are (and specifically how important Rivera was): The Atlanta Braves of the 1990s had a strong offense, including certain Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. They had three certain Hall of Fame starting pitchers in their prime (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz) and some other pretty good pitchers and players.

The Yankees of that period had Derek Jeter, a certain Hall of Famer in his prime, and some pretty good players and some pretty good pitchers (Roger Clemens would be a sure Hall of Famer if not tainted with suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs). But they didn’t have anything as fearsome as that Braves rotation. Except for Mo. The Braves had weak closers (until Smoltz moved to the bullpen, when the team was on the wane). And the Braves won one World Series to four for Rivera in the same stretch (and another later, when Mo was still going strong and the Braves’ starters had scattered).

ESPN should have higher standards than publishing ignorant click-bait nonsense.

Farewell to Andy Pettitte

I noted the first time he retired that Pettitte had a strong case for being a Hall of Famer but wouldn’t make it. In his return to the game, he added a few wins, but he still won’t make it. He has more post-season wins than anyone and a better career than quite a few Hall of Fame pitchers. But he’s borderline as a Hall of Fame candidate, even if he wasn’t tainted by use of human growth hormone. I reserve my Hall of Fame outrage for those who absolutely belong in Cooperstown.

But as a Yankee fan, I remember Pettitte’s 15 years in pinstripes fondly. He always pitched with grit and class.

Good riddance to A-Rod

When the Yankees traded Alfonso Soriano for Alex Rodriguez after the 2003 season, I said I’d rather have Soriano over the next seven seasons (the time remaining on A-Rod’s 10-year contract). Well, A-Rod won two Most Valuable Player awards for the Yankees and finally contributed to a World Series championship in 2009 after (and before) several post-season disappointments.

The Yankees won four World Series and played in six in the 10 years before A-Rod arrived. They made it to one World Series on his his watch. He also had two drug scandals. That’s not a successful tenure, not for one of baseball’s best-ever players on the most successful sports franchise ever.

One of A-Rod’s most memorable moments as a Yankee was a fight he didn’t even start, when Jason Varitek of the Red Sox followed A-Rod down the first-base line after Bronson Arroyo hit A-Rod, probably on purpose. A-Rod didn’t charge the mound, but he was jawing at Arroyo on his way to first base, as many hitters do after being hit. Varitek was certainly OK to stay between the hitter and the pitcher in that situation, but if there’s going to be a fight here, the guy who got hit by the pitch should start it.

Amazingly, Varitek hit A-Rod with both hands while still wearing his catcher’s mask and helmet. It was perhaps the most cowardly punch in the history of baseball fights. Can you imagine the outrage if Jorge Posada, protected by his catching gear, had taken a swing at Big Papi (or even Manny Ramirez)? But because a guy who was widely liked was swinging at the most-hated player on the most-hated team, Varitek was lauded for his grittiness and his leadership. It showed as clearly as anything how universal the A-Rod hatred was.

And the dust-up with Arroyo had an equally bizarre second chapter: In Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, A-Rod hit a weak grounder with Jeter on first base and one out, with the Red Sox leading 4-2. Arroyo fielded and was reaching to tag A-Rod near first base. A-Rod swatted the ball away and was called safe and Jeter raced home to make it a one-run game.

But after Terry Francona argued, the umpires conferred and reversed the call, invoking a weird rule I’ve never seen cited before or since: You can’t knock the ball out of a guy’s glove with your hand. Base runners always try to kick the ball loose and you can knock the everloving crap out of a catcher (think Pete Rose) to knock the ball loose, but you can’t swat it. So A-Rod would have been fine to run right through Arroyo, but not swat his glove.

But it was A-Rod. And the Red Sox were about to sweep the Yankees on their way to breaking their supposed Curse. So there was no outrage about the stupid rule.

I tried to be sympathetic to A-Rod. If he hadn’t cheated — again — I might have at least had mixed feelings about him. But I  wish the Yankees had never made that trade. I wish they had not extended his contract. I presume and hope we’ve seen the last of A-Rod in pinstripes. I was glad to see Soriano return as A-Rod’s Yankee career was wrapping up.

Jeter’s coming back

I was giving some thought to a blog post wondering whether four such great players as A-Rod, Rivera, Pettitte and Jeter had wrapped up their careers the same year with the same team before. If A-Rod’s really done, it’s still a valid question. Might be a valid question anyway to ask just about Rivera and Pettitte. But Jeter‘s not done yet.

I’m not sure how I feel about him signing for another year. I’d like to see him return to his 2012 form. I’d like to see him get another crack at the post-season. I’d like to see him make a run at 4,000 career hits. But I’m doubtful that any of that is possible.

When the 2012 season ended, Jeter had an outside shot at Pete Rose’s all-time hit record. But his long return from injury this year, followed by new injuries, makes me think his career’s about over. If he has another good year or two in him, I’ll be glad to see him back. If he comes back to struggle, I won’t like watching that.

Shake off the tough calls

I hated the way Game 3 of the World Series ended: with umpire Jim Joyce giving a run to the Cardinals that they didn’t earn. I think Joyce made the wrong call. I think even as the obstruction rule is written, it was Allen Craig’s step toward second base that put Will Middlebrooks in his path. Middlebrooks was nowhere between third base and home, so Joyce should not have called obstruction. While Craig didn’t seek out Middlebrooks to get the call, the fact that Joyce called it could result in runners deliberately colliding with fielders who aren’t in their way, trying to get bogus obstruction calls.

Baseball should rewrite that rule to specify that incidental contact with a fielder who’s not between the bases is not obstruction.

Even if that was the right call, it was bizarre and tough, an unfair outcome to the Red Sox (though the catcher never should have thrown the ball).

But champions shake off the bad calls and the tough calls, as I’ve noted before here (and as the Yankees didn’t do after that Arroyo-A-Rod call in 2004). Game 3 was the last game the Red Sox lost. Of course, they wouldn’t necessarily have won the game if Joyce hadn’t given the Cardinals the winning run. The game would have gone into extra innings, and it was anyone’s game. But if the Red Sox had won that game and the next two, their fans wouldn’t have had that wonderful celebration in Fenway.

Losers whine forever about bad calls. Champions overcome them.

2013 in review

Given their injuries, the Yankees made a decent showing. They hung in there in April and May, took over first place with a strong run in June and July, then faded in August. Even though they remained in the wild card chase well into September, they never looked like a champion.

I enjoyed three Yankee games, watching them play in Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards and Target Field. I got to see two Rivera saves and Sabathia’s 200th win.

 

Looking ahead to 2014

If Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson return healthy and in top form, and if the Yankees re-sign Robinson Cano, they should be good next year. But how likely is that? They have some decent (but not great) starting pitching, and Dave Robertson might be ready to step into the closer role. But mostly 2015 feels like a rebuilding year to me.

I’d like to see the rebuilding come from a strong farm system. The dynasty of the ’90s was built heavily on homegrown talent: Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams.

But I’m not aware of that kind of talent in the minors now. I expect some trades and free-agency signings. Optimism doesn’t abound.





Ibañez hitting for A-Rod: Strategy you never see in the National League

11 10 2012

That great strategic move that tied — and eventually won — Game 3 of the American League Division Series Wednesday would never happen in the National League.

National League managers almost never pinch-hit for a great hitter, even one who’s struggling. I debunked the myth of National League strategy a couple years ago and won’t repeat the detailed case here. Suffice it to say the the move Joe Girardi made was strictly an American League call. NL managers use their pinch-hitters primarily to bat for pitchers, usually an easy call. Or they hit for the weakest hitters in their linup.

But sending Raúl Ibañez in to hit for Alex Rodriguez, who has 647 career homers? No National League manager would ever do that.

The Orioles pitched three right-handers last night. Without the designated hitter, Ibañez and/or Eric Chavez certainly would have been used to pinch-hit for the pitcher earlier in the game (the ninth spot in the batting order came up in the eighth inning). Chavez did play Wednesday, but A-Rod would have played third base, rather than DH, if the pitchers were hitting, so Girardi would have had two outstanding left-handed pinch-hitters to use.

Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the 5th, the second time the 9th spot came up, Girardi might have pinch-hit with either Chavez or Ibañez. That’s one of the few tough calls NL managers have, a little early to hit for the pitcher, but with a man on base and a good bullpen, a pinch-hitter would have been likely. By the eighth inning, Girardi absolutely would have pinch-hit trailing 2-1. Given the dramatic homer that Ibañez hit the last week of the season, he likely would have gotten the call if Girardi still had both him and Chavez available. Would he have hit the homer to tie the game less dramatically in the 8th? Who knows? He would have been facing a different pitcher. Might he have stayed in the game to hit again in extra innings? You can’t say.

But the gutsy call of pinch-hitting for a multi-time Most Valuable Player? That’s strictly an American League call.





Alex Rodriguez closing in on Gehrig’s grand-slam record

24 04 2011

Alex Rodriguez hit his 22nd career grand-slam homer last night, pulling within one of Lou Gehrig‘s all-time record.

We’ll acknowledge but then move past the first comparison that probably came to your mind: Gehrig hit all his homers without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs. And perhaps the second thing you thought of (if not the first) was that maybe A-Rod has hit better in the clutch than you realized.

What really stands out to me about A-Rod’s spot among the grand-slam leaders is that he is the only player in the top eight in career homers as well as career grand slams. Go to the top 10, and you can add Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, who both hit 16 grand slams. But for the most part, the leaders in grand slams are not who you would think they’d be: great sluggers mostly, but not the greatest. Read the rest of this entry »