Alex Rodriguez: The most disappointing great Yankee ever

12 08 2016

Alex Rodriguez plays his last game as a Yankee today.

I can think of few Yankees who have played so long so well that I cared so little about. Yes, he was a great player for the Yankees, but he was a colossal post-season disappointment (despite finally contributing to a championship in 2009). I wasn’t pleased when they acquired him. I wasn’t very often pleased with his play, and I don’t care that his run is finished. It’s probably appropriate that he didn’t walk away after last year’s pretty good season, but stuck around to disappoint once again this year.

Yes, he was a cheat, but baseball has had so many cheats that I don’t have great outrage over them. I don’t respect them, and I think they deserve whatever scorn is heaped upon them. I just don’t care enough any more to join often in the heaping.

I suspect at some point he and other cheats with worthy accomplishments will be admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame. But I don’t care much about that. Don’t care much if they keep the cheats out and don’t care much if they let them in. From my standpoint, the shame of the cheaters is that they diminished how much we cared about baseball records and baseball greatness.

If I cared more about A-Rod’s two MVP’s as a Yankee or the times he led the league in homers, RBI, slugging and OPS, I’d have to care more about how much he cheated.

Beyond his cheating, his post-season chokes and all those stats he compiled, A-Rod is probably best remembered as a Yankee for two moments against the Red Sox: when Jason Varitek attacked him and when he slapped the ball away from Bronson Arroyo.

The Varitek incident illustrated both the media’s (and baseball’s) hatred of Rodriguez, even before we knew he cheated. Watch the video above. A-Rod was hit, clearly deliberately, by Arroyo, and wasn’t charging the mound. Some glaring and shouting there is a pretty mild response. And Varitek, without even taking off his mask, started the fight. That might be the single most cowardly act in the history of baseball fighting, for a catcher to start a fight with a batter who’s not charging the mound, without first tossing his mask aside (catchers know how to take off the mask quickly, you might have noticed). Yet because it was the Red Sox vs. the Yankees and because A-Rod was the guy Varitek punched, it was depicted as some sort of gritty act of leadership by Varitek.

The Arroyo incident was a silly illustration of baseball rules and culture. In more than a half-century of watching baseball on TV, that’s the only time I’ve seen that call. Kick a ball out of a fielder’s glove and you’re safe. Plow into the fielder and knock the ball loose and you’re safe. (That’s what A-Rod should have done.) But slap the ball out of the glove and you get called out. It made no sense, but it was A-Rod and I guess the rules say that you can’t do that.

Of course, if A-Rod had driven home a run or two in the last half of the 2004 American League Championship Series, no one remembers any of that. So I don’t care that people remember A-Rod for either of those plays.

I don’t have anything further to say about the end of his career (if this really is the end; I won’t be surprised if he resurfaces somewhere, trying to reach 700 homers). I’ll end by reviewing what I’ve said along the way:

Alex Rodriguez’s disappointing decade as a Yankee

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

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

Scoundrels Committee: A way to recognize shamed players in the Baseball Hall of Fame

Do we have a Yankees team with no future Hall of Famers?

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

Because I didn’t take performance-enhancing drugs into account in ranking the best Yankees at various positions, I reluctantly ranked A-Rod above Graig Nettles as the best Yankee at third base. I also ranked him fourth at designated hitter.

Advertisements




Yogi Berra was the best of the greatest catcher tradition of any team

26 09 2015

Wednesday I paid tribute to the amazing career, life and wit of Yogi Berra, who died at age 90. Today I want to honor Berra again by explaining how he anchored a team with, by far, the greatest tradition of catching excellence.

Hall of Fame catchers

Let’s start by comparing teams’ Hall of Fame catchers: Berra and Bill Dickey make the Yankees one of only four teams with two catchers in the Hall of Fame:

My baseball autographed by Yogi Berra

My baseball autographed by Yogi Berra

Setting aside other Yankee catchers who belong in the Hall of Fame (more on that later), Berra was elected to Cooperstown in his second year of eligibility. Dickey was elected in his ninth year on the ballot. They make the Yankees the only team with two catchers elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

They give the Yankees 26 seasons with Hall of Famers doing most of the catching (15 from Dickey and 11 from Berra, who was an outfielder and backup catcher his final four years). Dickey and Berra gave the Yankees Hall of Fame catchers (at least in a part-time role) for a nearly unbroken string from 1929 to 1963.

Dickey spent the 1944-5 seasons in the Navy during World War II, returning in 1946. He caught only 54 games during that season, becoming a player-manager after manager Joe McCarthy resigned, and turning the catching responsibilities over mostly to Aaron Robinson. But Berra debuted that season, catching seven games. In 1947, Robinson caught 74 games and was an All-Star, but the torch was being passed. Berra caught 51 games that season and 71 the next, splitting time that year with Gus Niarhos, then nailed down the full-time job in 1949.

Bill Dickey's autograph on a baseball my wife's uncle used to take to Yankee Stadium for autographs in the 1950s.

Bill Dickey’s autograph on a baseball my wife’s uncle used to take to Yankee Stadium for autographs in the 1950s.

Between them, Dickey and Berra caught more than 3,400 games for the Yankees (1,708 for Dickey, 1,697 for Berra) from 1928 to 1963, a 36-season span broken only by Dickey’s Navy service. Both men also managed and coached the Yankees (Dickey, in fact, coached Berra in catching skills).

Berra, with 305 homers as a catcher, is fourth in career homers at the position, and Dickey, with 200, is 13th. Berra leads all catchers in career RBI (1,430) and Dickey is eighth at 1,209. Dickey is second to Mickey Cochrane in batting average at .313. They rank fourth and sixth in slugging at .486 (Dickey) and .482 (Berra).

Dickey had 11 All-Star seasons (the game wasn’t played his first four full seasons), Yogi 15 straight All-Star seasons. And, of course, both won strings of championships: 10 World Series titles (five in a row) for Berra and seven (four in a row) for Dickey.

Dickey played his full career for the Yankees. Berra played his last four games (two at catcher) as a player-manager for the Mets in 1965.

Let’s compare the Yankees to the other teams with two Hall of Fame catchers:

Reds

Bench was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but Lombardi never got more than 16 percent of the writers’ vote and was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1986, 39 years after his career ended.

They combined for 23 years as the Reds’ primary catchers (13 for Bench, who moved to third base his final three years 10 for Lombardi, who also played for three other teams), and 18 All-Star seasons (13 for Bench) as Reds catchers. All those numbers fall short of the Berra-Dickey numbers. Bench, with 1,742 games caught, was a little ahead of the Yankees, but Lombardi played only 1,203 games for the Reds.

Bench was third all-time in homers as a catcher, with 327, and third in RBI, and Lombardi was third (behind Dickey) in batting average. But the Reds didn’t have near the combined high rankings of the Yankee pair.

The Reds won two championships in Bench’s time and one in Lombardi’s, but that’s not even half Dickey’s championship total.

Bench measured up to either of the Yankee catchers, but Lombardi didn’t, and the pair certainly lags behind Berra-Dickey duo. And that’s as close as any team’s pair of Hall of Famers comes.

Personal note: My only trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame was in 1989 for Bench’s induction, keeping a promise to my son, Mike, a huge Bench fan. Someday I’ll write a post about that trip.

Red Sox

Fisk was elected by the writers in his second year on the ballot, same as Berra. Ferrell never got even 1 percent of the writers’ vote and was elected to Cooperstown in 1984, 37 years after his career ended.

Fisk was the Red Sox’ primary catcher for eight seasons, seven All-Star seasons. Ferrell was the Red Sox’ primary catcher only four seasons, three of them as an All-Star. In other words, their Red Sox seasons combined nearly matched Dickey or Berra alone.

White Sox

Fisk played more years with the White Sox, nine years as their primary catcher, but only four All-Star seasons. Schalk, who played before the All-Star Game, played 13 seasons as the White Sox’ primary catcher. He peaked at 45 percent of the writers’ vote and was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1955, 26 years after his career ended.

Fisk is second in career homers by a catcher and ranks high in other batting categories, but with his career split almost evenly between the two Sox teams, he didn’t do nearly as much for either team as Dickey and Berra did for the Yankees. And Schalk doesn’t rank anywhere among the best-hitting catchers.

Dodgers

Campy’s career was shortened on the front end by racial segregation and on the back end by an auto accident that paralyzed him. In between, he gave the Dodgers 10 years as their primary catcher, eight of them in a row as an All-Star. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his fifth year on the writers’ ballot.

Piazza played five years as the Dodgers’ primary catcher, all of them as an All-Star. He played more for the Mets. He set the record for career homers by a catcher and ranks high in other categories, but most of that hitting wasn’t for the Dodgers. He got 70 percent of the writers’ vote this year, and I expect him to be elected to the Hall of Fame in another year or two.

Campy’s and Piazza’s combined contributions perhaps exceeded Berra’s or Dickey’s but don’t approach the Yankees’ combined achievements.

Giants

Bresnahan played seven seasons for the Giants early in the 20th Century. He caught 974 career games, only once topping 100 games behind the plate in a season.

Ewing was a 19th-century player who never caught 100 games in a season. He also pitched, played the outfield and played every infield position. He caught 636 games in 14 seasons, 11 of them for the Giants.

The Giants’ Hall of Fame catchers don’t nearly compare to Berra and Dickey.

Mets

If we’re going to count Piazza as a likely Hall of Famer, we should note he’ll give the Mets two catchers in Cooperstown. Gary Carter played mostly for the Expos, but caught five years for the Mets, four of them as an All-Star. Add them to Piazza’s eight years for the Mets (six as an All-Star) and their combined Met careers don’t match Dickey or Yogi alone.

By Hall of Famers, the Yankees have a clear advantage in catching tradition over any other team.

Hilldale Daisies/Giants

Hall of Famer Biz Mackey succeeded Hall of Famer Louis Santop for the Negro League team known as the Hilldale Daisies in Santop’s time and Hilldale Giants in Mackey’s. While their Hall of Fame profiles list Hilldale as each catcher’s primary team, Mackey also played for the Philadelphia Stars, Newark Eagles, Indianapolis ABCs and the Baltimore/Washington Elite Giants and Santop also played for the Fort Worth Wonders, Philadelphia Giants, New York Lincoln Giants and Chicago American Giants.

MVP catchers

Three teams got three MVP awards from their Hall of Famers:

  • Berra was MVP in 1951, ’54 and ’55, giving the Yankees three. Dickey never won an MVP.
  • Campy won MVP awards in 1951, ’53 and ’55. Piazza was never an MVP.
  • Bench won two MVP awards and Lombardi one, to give the Reds three MVPs for their catchers.

However, the Yankees had two more MVP catchers: Elston Howard in 1963 and Thurman Munson in 1976. No Red or Dodger pitcher who isn’t in the Hall of Fame won an MVP, so the Yankees have the most MVP awards won by catchers, with five.

Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane won MVP awards for the A’s and Tigers, but neither team had another Hall of Fame or MVP catcher. Hall of Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett also won an MVP, but he’s the only Cub catcher to win either honor. (More on Cochrane and Hartnett later.)

The other catchers to win MVP awards are not yet eligible for Hall of Fame voting, Ivan Rodriguez of the Rangers in 1999, Joe Mauer of the Twins in 2009 and Buster Posey of the Giants in 2012.

Adding Posey to the Giants’ combo of Ewing and Bresnahan, they still fall further behind the Yankees’ MVP and Hall of Fame catchers: Berra, Dickey, Howard and Munson. More on the Twins’ and Rangers’ other catchers later.

I’ve already noted that Munson belongs in the Hall of Fame and will make the case in a future post for Howard. But just adding Hall of Famers and MVPs, the Yankees had either a Hall of Famer or a past or future MVP or both behind the plate, at least part-time every year from 1928 to 1979, except for 1968 (the gap between Howard and Munson) and those two years Dickey was in the Navy. Add another 16 All-Star seasons (nine for Howard, seven for Munson) to the 26 for Berra and Dickey, a total of 42 All-Star seasons by four catchers over a 52-year stretch. No team comes close to that.

Borderline Hall of Famers

Beyond the four I’ve already mentioned, Wally Schang (five prime years a Yankee) has stronger case for the Hall of Fame than Schalk from the same era (higher batting, on-base and slugging averages, more homers, hits, runs and RBI.

Jorge Posada had a better career than several Hall of Fame catchers (he hasn’t been retired five years yet, so we don’t know how he’ll do with the writers, but I’m not optimistic). Still, he added another five All-Star season to the Yankees’ total.

No other team had five catchers with five or more All-Star selections. And I can’t think of another franchise with five catchers who had 10-year (or more) runs with the team.

All-Star catchers

Russell Martin spent only two years as a Yankee, but was an All-Star in 2011. Mike Stanley was an All-Star in 1995. Aaron Robinson was an All-Star Berra’s rookie season, 1947. We’re up to 50 All-Star seasons for Yankee catchers.

Other notable Yankee catchers

  • Ralph Houk, one of many Yankee autographs from the 1950s my wife's uncle collected on two baseballs that now belong to my sons.

    Ralph Houk, one of many Yankee autographs from the 1950s my wife’s uncle collected on two baseballs that now belong to my sons.

    Ralph Houk spent eight years as Berra’s backup, but is more notable for his 20-year managing career, including 11 years with the Yankees, winning the 1961-2 World Series. He had a 1,619-1,531 record, never finishing first again after losing the 1963 World Series. Still, he ranks 18th all-time in wins.

  • As I mentioned in Wednesday’s post, Johnny Blanchard joined Howard and Berra in 1961 in hitting 20+ homers, all sharing time behind the plate for the Yankees.
  • Joe Girardi spent four years catching for the Yankees, starting for the 1996 champions before Posada won the starting role. Of course, Girardi has been managing the Yankees since 2008.
  • Rick Cerone caught seven seasons for the Yankees, just two years catching more than 100 games.
  • Rick Dempsey was a Yankee backup catcher before becoming the Orioles’ starter for nearly a decade.
  • Jake Gibbs was more notable as an All-America quarterback for Mississippi than his 10 years as a Yankee catcher (backing up, except for that brief gap between Howard and Munson).
  • Rodriguez caught 31 games for the 2008 Yankees.

Other teams’ catching traditions

None of the teams with two Hall of Famers has enough other catching excellence to push them close to the Yankees. The Dodgers had John Roseboro starting for 10 years (three as an All-Star), Mike Scioscia for a decade and two All-Star selections and Steve Yeager for 14 years without an All-Star appearance (he caught 100 games only five times), plus Martin for five years, including his first two All-Star games. They might have the second-best tradition.

The Giants got a few All-Star seasons from Wes Westrum (two), Benito Santiago (one, plus for with the Padres), Bob Brenly (one), Dick Dietz (one) and Tom Haller (two, plus an All-Star year for the Dodgers). When you add Posey to the two Hall of Famers, the Giants could pass the Dodgers soon, if they haven’t already. But those Hall of Famers are pretty marginal, and the Giants are nowhere near the Yankees.

Other teams with two Hall of Famers had other notable catchers, but nothing approaching the Yankees’ consistency:

  • Howard spent his final two seasons with the Red Sox and Jason Varitek had three All-Star seasons in his 15-year career in Boston.
  • Johnny Edwards was a three-time All-Star catcher for the Reds before Bench arrived.

Other teams without two Hall of Fame catchers had decent catching traditions:

Tigers

Mickey Cochrane is the only Tiger catcher in the Hall of Fame, but he’s in the argument for best catcher ever, so he deserves mention here. Add some excellent catching years from:

  • Bill Freehan (13 seasons as the primary catcher, including 11 All-Star seasons).
  • Lance Parrish (eight seasons starting for the Tigers, six as an All-Star).
  • Four All-Star seasons by Rodriguez.
  • The best four-year stretch of Mickey Tettleton‘s career, including one as an All-Star.
  • Rudy York was a five-time All-Star for the Yankees, but only one year as a catcher.

The Tigers might pass some of the teams with two Hall of Famers, but not approach the Yankees’ overall greatness at catcher.

Braves

The Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves have had some excellent catchers, even if none made the Hall of Fame as a player.

Del Crandall was an eight-time All-Star behind the plate for the Milwaukee Braves.

He was followed by Joe Torre, in Cooperstown for his managing career (primarily his Yankee championships). Torre was an All-Star catcher five straight years for the Braves. (In a game at Wrigley Field in the 1960s, I saw Torre make a Charlie Brown-style error on a popup, parking under it for a seemingly easy out, only to have it bounce out of his catcher’s mitt.) Nonetheless, he won a Gold Glove.

McCann also was a six-time All-Star for the Braves before joining the Yankees.

Other notable Braves catchers include 1971 Rookie of the Year Earl Williams, three-time All-Star Javy Lopez, two-time All-Star Bruce Benedict, one-time All-Stars Ozzie Virgil (he was on my fantasy team in the 1980s), Greg Olson and Johnny Estrada.

The Braves might have a stronger tradition at catcher than some of the teams with Hall of Fame catchers, but they don’t approach the Yankees’ continued excellence at the position.

Cardinals

The Cardinals also have a strong catching tradition without a Hall of Famer. Walker Cooper, who peaked at 14 percent of the writers’ vote for the Hall of Fame, had his first three All-Star seasons (of 10) as a Cardinal. (Cooper also was an All-Star for the Giants, Reds and Braves.)

Tim McCarver gets overrated as a catcher because of his long broadcasting career (I couldn’t stand him) and because he was part of a Cardinals team that won two World Series and played in a third over a five-year stretch. He played 21 years and was an All-Star twice, but he was a mediocre hitter, with a .271 average and only 95 homers. Still, he’s the only catcher I can think of who led his league in triples, with 13 in 1966. He spent seven years as the Cardinals’ primary catcher, including both All-Star seasons.

Ted Simmons, who overlapped with McCarver, was a better catcher, spending a decade behind the plate for the Cardinals, including six All-Star seasons. Neither Simmons nor McCarver lasted more than a year on the writers’ Hall of Fame ballot.

Darrell Porter wasn’t an All-Star for the Cardinals (he was for the Brewers and Royals), but he was the 1982 World Series MVP. Tony Peña caught four years for the Cardinals, one as an All-Star. Yadier Molina has seven straight All-Star seasons for the Cardinals.

Like the Braves, the Cardinals could surpass some of the teams with Hall of Fame catchers, but they’re nowhere close to the Yankees.

A’s

Cochrane played longer for the A’s than for the Tigers, and Terry Steinbach was a three-time All-Star, but I can’t think of another A’s catcher worth discussing here.

Cubs

The Cubs’ fall-off after Hartnett is pretty dramatic. Probably Jody Davis (six years, two as an All-Star) or Randy Hundley (one All-Star season) would be their second-best catcher.

Rangers

Rodriguez was the best defensive catcher of his time and a good hitter, too. Add him to Jim Sundberg, a two-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove, and the Rangers have one of the strongest traditions of any expansion team.

Senators/Twins

Ferrell played eight seasons for the first Senators, which later moved to Minnesota and became the Twins. Mauer has given the Twins six All-Star seasons, but hasn’t caught 100 games since 2010. Butch Wynegar, an All-Star only his first two years, is the only other notable Twins or Senators catcher I can think of. Wynegar started for the Yankees in 1984-85.

Pirates

The Pirates have had several good catchers: the best five-year run of Peña’s career (four seasons as an All-Star); an eight-year run (with three All-Star seasons) by Manny Sanguillen; four All-Star seasons (in six years) for Smoky Burgess; three All-Star seasons in Jason Kendall‘s nine-year run. But not a great catcher in the bunch.

Phillies

Bob Boone was probably the best of a batch of good-fielding, weak-hitting Phillies catchers. He spent nine years in Philadelphia, including their first World Series title. Three time he was a an All-Star for the Phillies, and he ranks third in most games at catcher, behind Rodriguez and Fisk. But the greatest pitcher Boone caught, Steve Carlton, actually preferred pitching to McCarver, who extended his career by being Carlton’s personal catcher.

Carlos Ruiz has given the Phillies a solid decade behind the plate (a record four no-hitters caught), but only one All-Star appearance and a weak bat. Mike Lieberthal played longer (but not as long as a starter), with two All-Star appearances.

Homestead Grays

Of course, the Negro Leagues disbanded a decade or so after the “major” leagues integrated, so any Negro League catching tradition ended more than half a century ago. They are at a similar disadvantage comparing to the Yankees as any of the expansion teams. But, since I’m discussing the greatest catchers ever, I want to mention that Josh Gibson, perhaps the greatest catcher ever, played for the Homestead Grays.

No one’s close

The Orioles/Browns and Indians barely have any catchers worth mentioning here. And I’ve already mentioned the most notable expansion catching traditions. The Yankees have been the best and it’s not even close.

Yogi didn’t start the Yankees’ catching tradition. That started with Dickey, unless you want to go back to Schang. Simply put, no other team approaches that half-century of almost unbroken greatness from Dickey to Berra to Howard to Munson. The 1980s and early ’90s were a significant gap, but Posada’s decade-plus of excellence ran up the score on every other franchise when it came to catching excellence.

And of them all, Yogi was the best.

Ranking the best Yankee catchers

Update: I initially wrote this without ranking the Yankee catchers. But I’m starting the 2016 season with a series ranking the the top five Yankees at each position. Since this post covered the Yankee catchers, except for the rankings, I’m adding rankings:

  1. Berra
  2. Dickey
  3. Munson
  4. Howard
  5. Posada

Berra and Dickey are easy calls. The other three spots were tougher and could have been shuffled differently. Howard and Munson were MVPs. I gave Munson the advantage based on three straight seasons hitting .300 with 100 or more RBI (Howard never drove in 100 runs), more games caught and his stellar .357 post-season hitting (Howard hit .246). Posada played longer than Munson and Howard, and had better career hitting numbers. But they edged him, in my view, on peak performance, All-Star selections, defense and World Series hitting.

Notes

Style note: The Hall of Fame has had various committees and rules through the years to elect players who were passed over by the Baseball Writers Association of America as well as umpires, managers, executives and other baseball pioneers. I refer to them all as the Veterans Committee unless the specific context demands reference to specific committee such as the current era committees. Baseball-Reference.com has a detailed history of the various committees.

Source note: Unless otherwise noted, all statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

Correction invitation: I welcome you to point out any errors I missed in my fact-checking: stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Or, if you just want to argue about my opinions, that’s fine, too.

Starting pitchers: My series on Yankee starting pitchers will resume Monday with a post on Yankee pitchers who belong in the Hall of Fame. Other posts in the series:

 





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.