Friday, March 30, 2007

Remember When It Meant Something

Opening Day was always a special day when I was growing up. Two months of build-up for one game. It was different than the other games, the red, white, and blue bunting around the stadium, announcing all the players before the game, a special national anthem, the ceremonial first pitch, and hope for a new season. It was a big deal to be the starting pitcher on Opening Day. Never would one of the top teams trot Carl Pavano out to the mound.

2007 is different. All indications are that New York’s favorite whipping of the past two years will start Monday for the Yanks when they host Tampa. A far cry from memorable recent openers such as Pettitte in the snow for the Home Opener, or Matsui’s grand slam in his debut, or even Clemens first game as a Yankee in Oakland. I think it shows Opening Day does not matter as much anymore in NY. The fact that these every move these teams make is under the microscope 365 days a year and success is only measured in October are probably the causes. For the Yankees this is 1 of 162, no different then game 2, game 73, or game 102. To boot, it’s Tampa.

My point is that you used to earn the Opening Day start on reputation. Throw the fans a bone and give them what they want. Move Pettitte or Mussina up a day. Its not a big deal in the long room, everyone will forget it within two weeks, but if only for one day, throw us a bone.

Final Decisions

Joe Torre made the final roster moves on Friday, deciding to bring Wil Nieves, Josh Phelps, and Sean Henn north with the team, leaving Ron Villone, Todd Pratt, and Andy Phillips behind. Nothing earth shattering here. The only one I feel strongly about is Phelps. He had a monster Spring Training and legitimately won the job. Philips was the sentimental favorite, but if the Yanks chose him it would have been hypocritical. Villone showed signs of usefulness last year, but died down the stretch. We know what he’s about already, I’m always in favor of getting to see some fresh blood. Henn out of the bullpen will be worth keeping an eye on. Maybe they catch lightning in a bottle and uncover a gem.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Defuse the Rocket

By now everyone knows about the famous fan that slipped into the crowd for the Yankees spring training game this past Wednesday. As if he needed any more attention he has to go show up and pow-wow with The Boss, while watching his old buddy Andy Pettitte pitch. Personally, I am sick of the whole Clemens dog and pony show of the past few years. Will he pitch or not? If so, when will he decide to start his season? Will he make every road trip or not? If I’m Brian Cashman I would lay down the lay right now and pull the Yankees out of the running.

First of all, for a player that fancies himself on baseball history and respecting the game, Clemens sure does a good job making a mockery of the baseball establishment. Sure, the talent is still there, though maybe not as much as people are led to believe. But since when can baseball players treat the job as if they were secretary coming back from maternity leave. Why does he need to mandate which days he’ll be at the ballpark and which days he decides to hang with the family? Throw in the fact that he doesn’t intend to make a decision on starting to play until May or June. I can live with some veterans skimping their way through the first few weeks of training camp, but the first few weeks of the season? This is the epitome of the modern selfish player. He may need 6 of his own lockers and his own staff, but even Barry Bonds shows up every spring and at every game.

The other side of the debate, which seems to be often overlooked while discussing who is going to sign the Rocket, is if he is worth it. Clemens is reportedly asking for a King’s Ransom of almost $16 million for his part-time schedule. Yes, he did post sub-3 ERA’s each of the past seasons with the Astros, but this was the NL Central. And he was exactly dominating down the stretch the past two seasons as he seemed to run out of gas. Throw in the fact that he is basically a 6-inning pitcher at this point in his career and I think you have to question if he is worth the highest pitchers salary (about $20 million annual) at this stage of his career, even if he didn’t need his special accommodations.

Personally, I was done with Clemens after 2003 when he played up the farewell tour, then decided to come back again. When you take a bow on the road after being removed from a crucial World Series game that was still very much in the balance, you don’t come back. Wait 5 years and show up in Cooperstown. Rocket is definitely a better option that Igawa or Pavano at the 4 slot in the rotation, but for the sake of team chemistry, salary, and the unknown of how he well he would pitch in the offensive dominant AL East. I’d rather throw a Jeff Karstens or Darryl Rasner out there to see what we have, than bring in yet another old, expensive pitcher. That should not be the goal for the Yankees anymore.

Please Mr. Cashman, defuse the Rocket talk now.

A-Rod-Jeter, Oh the Drama

-Originally published on 3/4/2007-

Before even discussing the topic at hand, I think it merits mention that in late February, in a city with 5 professional teams in-season, that baseball, particularly the Yankees, grab the back page headlines almost day in and day out without any on field news to report. With that said, the story of A-Rod and Jeter’s fractured friendship officially going public is great drama.

This is not exactly breaking news, recall the Jeter stare down after the missed pop fly last season and the many passes Jeter has made when he has the opportunity to defend or encourage A-Rod among other things, but it’s the first time it has been publicly commented on by either party. Pretty much true to their public persona’s, Rodriguez was candid in speaking about the fact that he and Jeter are no longer buddy, buddy like they were as emerging stars a decade ago, while Jeter played it closer to the vest in stating that while the relationship has changed it is still fine and also making it clear this would be the last of his comments on this subject.

From my perspective, Jeter is exactly right when he said that lots of relationships he has have changed over the last 10 years. That’s something you and I can relate to. I’m not best friends with the same people. I don’t even talk to the same people. And A-Rod has to be kidding when he talks about no longer having sleepovers or going for dinner every night. The guy is married with a kid. Not many fathers I know are out sleeping at their friends houses. I know that was not his point, but it exhibits how ridiculous some of these comments are.

What does all the mean on the field? Absolutely nothing! This is by no means an excuse for A-Rod’s pathetic postseason performances or inability to live up to expectations in NY. Nor will this cause any issues for the Yankees going forward. First off, baseball is not the type of sport where teammates have to pass to each other or block for one another, and second both of these guys just want to win in the end and can probably care less who they play with.

My only concern is A-Rod’s psyche. He has shown the ability to easily get rattled and show his frustrations. One interesting thing to watch is the impact of Doug Mientkiewicz, an old friend and high school teammate of Rodriguez. It will only help to have a shoulder to lean on during the tough times, the shoulder many thought Jeter should lend but didn’t. If Mientkiewicz can help A-Rod keep his head on straight, that would probably be his biggest contribution to this team.