Archives for posts with tag: Reggie Jackson

I wrote this piece in 2014 during Derek Jeter’s last season and thought it was worth sharing again this weekend with the Yankees not surprisingly retiring his #2.

 

It’s been twenty long years that seem to have gone by in a wink. Derek Jeter’s career is coming to an end and as proved by Thursday night’s heroics he still has a little magic left. He is not going out at the top of his game or in the midst of another pennant run but 2014 does feel like the right time to walk away. This final season has been a mix of nostalgia, gratitude, harsh reality, speculation, evaluation, criticism, and old-fashioned baseball drama. And now is a good time to remember what we should we remember and what we have been honored to experience with #2 in pinstripes.

Derek Jeter is class. He has spent the last twenty seasons playing for the most storied baseball franchise in the biggest media market and has handled every moment with dignity and resolve. Just imagine how you would handle the pressure of such a task while dealing with the 24-7 news cycle and droves of reporters second guessing your every move. Now marvel at how Derek Jeter has not only played but carried himself. He realized very early that everyone is watching and has been a true ambassador for the Yankees and the game of baseball.

Derek Jeter is humble. In this exploding era of social media where most athletes crave attention like Gollum craves the precious ring, Derek Jeter has shined in the spotlight and done everything in his power to not bathe in it. Derek is the anti-Reggie, always ready to laud his team’s accomplishments and avoid any urge to pat himself on the back. He has taken his share of curtain calls, and even turned a few down, but even when he does step of the dugout to the delight of thousands he acts as if to say, “Not a big deal, just doing my job.”

Derek Jeter is respectful. The past few months has been a never ending barrage of athletes behaving badly. With the retirement of Derek Jeter comes the absence of a special individual who treated the game and his profession as a privilege, not a right. You have never heard Derek Jeter’s name uttered in the same sentence as the following words: drugs, DUI, armed, battery, assault, arrest. There is that slight possibility that Mr. Jeter has Olivia Pope on his payroll but I and many others will always be willing to believe the best having never seen Jeter’s worst, if such a concept exists.

Derek Jeter is hustle. We know the plays and they have been replayed in a continuous loop the last few weeks. Derek Jeter has played his entire career not only with a first-rate skill set but with keen instincts and a burning desire to win. When I think of Derek Jeter I think of the player who is busting his ass to 1B on a routine grounder while down five runs in the eighth inning. That’s Derek Jeter.

Derek Jeter is a Yankee. From day one, Derek Jeter understood the pride, passion, and history that comes with wearing the pinstripes. He has been aware of the expectations and never backed down from a challenge. The Yankees may be seen as the Evil Empire but Derek Jeter has always been the bright beacon of hope and all that can be good about the Yankees and baseball. Tom Verducci said it best when he said, “If you don’t like Derek Jeter, you don’t like baseball.”

In the end, Derek Jeter is not the greatest Yankee of all-time. But he is the greatest Yankee of my lifetime, and that’s all that matters and he will be missed. Thanks, Captain.

Last season saw the end of Derek Jeter’s baseball career and the end of an era in the Bronx. Hard to argue with a legacy that helped lead to 7 pennants and 5 World Series championships. Yankee fans like myself were blessed to be along for the ride and that ride has now come to an end. So with the 2015 baseball season just around the corner it’s time to look forward and see what’s in store for the Bronx Bombers. It’s also time to see who will lead the team and who we can root for as fans.

I have been very happy with the recent acquisitions of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Chase Headley. I am also optimistic that a healthy Carlos Beltran still has some productive numbers left. But as far as a new favorite Yankee, to cheer on and identify with, my choice is easy: Brett Gardner.

First, he’s a homegrown prospect. The Yankees take a lot of heat for the money they spend on free agents, and more often than not are throwing good money after bad. But they also rarely get credit for the talent they have developed. The heart of the late 90’s championship run pulsed not only with the talent of Derek Jeter but Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada. As a fan, I take a lot of pride in being able to root for a player who came up through the ranks and wasn’t a mere off-season acquisition.

Second, he’s got speed. Sure he also has power but the modern game has become inundated with an obsession with the long ball and tape measure shots. I like watching a player like Gardner, and the recently departed Ichiro, who can win games with his legs. Every infield grounder is a potential base hit. Every ball in the gap is a potential triple. Every wild pitch is a potential run scoring from third base. And every opponent’s line drive is a potential out to be caught. Speed is exciting and Gardner’s a refreshing throwback-type player. He even wears the high socks like players of old.

Third, he’s a pesky hitter. Every year Gardner is near the top of the list of pitches seen per at-bat. He has a way of working counts and fouling pitches off, which makes him an ideal leadoff hitter. He does strikeout a little too often but at least he makes opposing pitchers earn it. In today’s game, where the pitch count is monitored like vital signs in an emergency room, Brett Gardner is a high value asset needed to get to the opposing team’s bullpen.

Fourth, he doesn’t make waves. He’s been a staple in the Yankee lineup since 2010 and never have I heard a bad word or complaint from Brett Gardner. No bitching about being underutilized or not making enough money, and not a single incident of chest-thumping. Brett Gardner seems content to be a part of the team and a contributor. Now, I think he’s ready to take a step forward and lead this next generation Yankee team.

Brett Gardner has a lot riding this season as the Yankees attempt to end a two season playoff drought, which is the equivalent to the Royals 29 year drought to Yankee fans. He has shown skill, instinct, tenacity, and all around All-Star type talent. Now in 2015, the lights may seem a little brighter and the fans a little more ornery. Things may seem bleak at times but he can count on my fandom as well as a lot more like-minded Yankees fans. Go Gardy!

“And here’s to you, Mr. Robinson/Looks like you got your payday today, hey, hey, hey.
Now, go away, Mr. Robinson/Take Jay-Z and your World Series ring, you’ll never win….again.”

After an entire year of speculation on whether or not Robinson Cano would get shown the money, the Seattle Mariners stepped up and did what the Yankees usually do: overpaid drastically for a player who has no conceivable chance to live up to his contract. And to that I say, good riddance, Robinson Cano. You got what you wanted. I am reminded of the old proverb that says, “When the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.”

Yes, it is slightly ironic that a Yankee fan is complaining about another team stepping in and buying one of our home grown talents. But, mostly, I am thankful. We now know that Robinson Cano, like many before him, is all about the money. And that’s fine. The good news is that for once, the Yankees showed restraint. After the debacle that is A-Roid’s deal, they drew a line in the sand and refused to give in to the Jay-Z fueled dreams of a ten year deal. Seattle, he is all yours.

Is anyone really worth the kind of money that Robinson Cano can now wipe his butt with? No, it’s unrealistic. But it is the nature of the beast that is free agency. Besides, while it was nice to see Robinson Cano put up monster numbers in pinstripes, it’s not like he had a signature moment or was a post season performer. Robinson Cano is a career .222 hitter in fifty-one post season games, which not only includes his apocryphal 3 for 40 in the 2012 playoffs but hitting a meager .192 in the Yankees 2009 championship run. That really makes you re-think his value in the Bronx. I think my wife said it best when she said, “the only playoff worries Robinson Cano will have in Seattle is where to watch them.”

This situation also makes me look back and value a player like Reggie Jackson. While free agency was still in its infancy, it was Mr. October who turned down more money from the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos to come to the Yankees. Reggie knew he wanted to play on the biggest stage and that whatever he lacked in salary he would make up for in endorsements in the Big Apple. Even before he was playing in the Bronx he quipped, “If I played there, they’d name a candy bar after me.” And they did. I guess in Seattle they can name a tuna roll after Robinson Cano.

Obviously, the Yankees cannot replace Robinson Cano. As a second baseman, his skill set (at least in the regular season) is off the chart. Bringing in Kelly Johnson is a good step, though I would like to see him moved to 3B and see the Yankees go after Mark Ellis with a two-year deal. With the departure of a perrenial All-Star like Cano, I think the addition of a player’s player like Mark Ellis is just what the team and its fans could use.

And maybe the three-year deal for Carlos Beltran reeks of desperation, but at this point the Yankees are doing what they can. There is still plenty of off season left for the Yankees to deal. Who knows what offers will be made? How about Dustin Pedroia in exchange for Brett Gardner, Vidal Nuno, and Derek Jeter’s black book? Just a thought….

It’s been a week since the Boston Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013 World Series and the world didn’t end, even for a Yankee fan like me. The Red Sox deserved it. They out-hit the Cards, out-pitched the Cards, and out-played the Cards, except when it came to throwing over to third base. The Red Sox are the champs and the city of Boston couldn’t be happier.

It’s also hard to hate the 2013 Red Sox. The team has a roster full of likable guys. Whether its grinders like Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury or free agent finds like Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino or big game pitchers like Jon Lester and John Lackey, the Red Sox squad for 2013 is full of good stories led by David Ortiz’s bat and John Farrell’s calming presence.

On top of which, the 2013 Boston Red Sox are a referendum on the managerial ability of Bobby V. True, Bobby V. didn’t get the chance to manage THIS Red Sox team but he wouldn’t have been able to. Bobby V. managing the Red Sox makes about as much sense as Andrew “Dice” Clay running a women’s studies seminar or Bernie Madoff teaching a busniess ethics class. Then again, maybe Bobby V. has discovered his niche. Maybe MLB teams should pay heed and see what happened in Boston and realize Bobby V. is the key to a championship team. Hire Bobby V., let him tear your team to shreds, bring in the right manager, and win the following season. That could be a winning strategy, just keep him away from the Yankees, we’re just fine.

A lot has been made about series MVP David Ortiz and just how good he is, as well as his past possible indiscretions. In this day and age, it is very hard to not be cynical and question his accomplishments, as well as any successful baseball player. But I am willing to give Big Papi the benefit of the doubt, as much as it pains my Yankee fan core. And to all of the sabermetric eggheads who claim there is no such thing as “clutch hitting,” I have two words for you: David “Friggin’ Ortiz. I’m not ready to proclaim him the new “Mr. October,” since there’s only one “Mr. October.” But, David Ortiz is in the conversation. I think recently deceased Bum Phillips said it best when he was describing NFL Hall of Famer Earl Campbell by saying, “I’m not sure if he’s at the head of the class, but it wouldn’t take long to call role.”

And hopefully, the 2013 Boston Red Sox have set the blueprint for other teams to follow. Sure, it’s nice to have a $150 million-plus payroll. But it also helps if you spend the money on the right people. Did the Sox get lucky with Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, and Mike Napoli? Sure. But baseball and life are all about putting yourself into a position where luck will help. In that regard, the Red Sox were lucky to have Bobby V. when they did, and smart enough to cut bait when they did.

So, congratulations to the 2013 World Champion Boston Red Sox and Sox Nation. I am not looking forward to the impending era of Yankee futility. I just pray you stay classy. It suits you.

Now that we’ve passed Sparky Anderson’s suggested 40 game mark, it’s time to take a look at what we have seen so far, and what we can believe:

New York Yankees
Grade: A-

Surprises: Let me see, everything. Not even Kreskin could have predicted that a Jeter-less, Granderson-less, and Teixeira-less Yankee squad would be playing .600 ball. The JV squad led by Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, and Lyle Overbay have both held down the fort while exceeding the very low expectations.

Disappointments: The continuing chain of Yankee players headed to the DL. Seriously, how many Yankee haters have voodoo dolls? Additionally, Eduardo Nunez has faltered in this opportunity to show why he should be the Yankee shortstop of the future, injuries aside.

Key to Success: Major league teams continuing to pitch to Robinson Cano. Much like Reggie in the 70’s, it all flows from him.

Prediction: Continued injuries, not to mention a lack of cohesion from returning players means the Yankees are likely to play .500 from here on out.

Boston Red Sox
Grade: B+

Surprises: Another one Kreskin slept on. The subtraction of Bobby V. has led to an addition of good baseball in Boston. Healthy Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are back to form, and Jon Lester and Clay Bucholz are making a case for being the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball.

Disappointments: Jacoby Ellsbury continues to struggle, not only when his team needs him during such a tight division race, but during his own contract year. The Sawx are also struggling to survive closer-wise in the post-Papelbon era, with both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey out indefinitely.

Key to Success: The trio of Daniel Nava, Will Middlebrooks, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia must continue to progress, aiding the veteran leadership. Will Middlebrooks, in particular, needs to show he is more the second coming of Mike Lowell, and less another Shea Hillenbrand.

Prediction: The Sawx are in a better position than the Yanks, not by much, but they have the grit and determination led by John Farrell to complete for the AL East title this year.

Baltimore Orioles
Grade: B

Surprises: Chris Davis is doing a spot-on impersonation of Brady Anderson circa 1996 and Manny Machado has rightfully jumped into the Trout-Harper conversation of the best young talent/future superstars of the game. Buck Showalter hasn’t allowed his team to be satisfied with last year’s Cinderella-esque run.

Disappointments: Jim Johnson is human after all, but I think three blown saves is too soon to hit the panic button. And while J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters have gotten off to slow starts, they should both be slugging at least .450 each.

Key to Success: Starting pitching, or at least a starting pitcher besides Freddy Garcia. The Orioles’ failure to secure a proven free agent arm in the off season may cost them all year. This need must be addressed by the All-Star break.

Prediction: Last year the O’s were the big surprise team. This year’s squad has already shown cracks but I think Buck Showalter has enough experience and tricks up his sleeve to be in it till the end.

Tampa Bay Rays
Grade: B-

Surprises: Matt Moore emerging as the new “David Price.” Oh, and a guy I keep tauting by the name of Loney, James Loney. I don’t know if he can keep up his stat line pace of .350/.405/.497, but at least Joe Maddon has the ability and willingness to platoon him Sean Rodriguez against tough lefties.

Disappointments: Even before his injury, David Price was looking like a shell of himself. For the Rays sake, a healthy David Price will return to Cy Young winning form. The same could be said for Fernando Rodney, who may be a flash in the pan, but for this season at least needs to return to All-Star form.

Key to Success: Major league teams continuing to pitch to Evan Longoria. As he goes, so do the Rays. Plain and simple.

Prediction: After a slow start, the Rays are starting to find their rhythm and will be part of a three way race for first along side the Red Sox and Orioles.

Toronto Blue Jays
Grade: D+

Surprises: That every analyst had a hard-on for this team is stupefying. Were an injury prone Jose Reyes and un-roided Melky Cabrera really going to lead this team to the title? On the bright side, a healthy Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are providing quite a wallop, which will be needed considering the pathetic starting pitching, currently second to last in the majors in ERA.

Disappointments: None of the aforementioned analysts have taken to harakiri.

Key to Success: Lowered expectations would be a good start. Also, any one of the starting pitchers stepping up and finding a way to give this team a legitimate chance to win every fifth day. My money would be on Mark Buehrle. And yes, that would be Canadian money.

Prediction: The Jays play a little better, but this team might as well camp out since the cellar will be their home all season long.

That’s what I see for now. Will have more at the All-Star break.


I originally posted this piece on August 31, 2012. Thought it bared repeating….

Now that the blockbuster deal between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox is slowing moving into our collective rearview mirror some things are certain:

1. Adrian Gonzalez is a sure thing. Whatever problems he may have had in Boston, i.e. Bobby Valentine, are officially behind him. He will return to his All Star playing, Gold Glove winning, MVP caliber status.

2. Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford are big question marks with big price tags and big potential.

3. The Dodgers are taking on a lot of payroll in a deal that many in baseball feel is a considerably risky move. But as The Great One once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

4. Discarded 1st baseman James Loney may never start for another MLB team.

For those of you not familiar with the new Boston Red Sox first baseman, and that would be an overwhelming majority of you, here’s your introduction.

James Loney is a homegrown Dodger prospect who had productive call-ups in 2006 and 2007 which led to his promotion to starting first baseman in 2008. He has a career batting average of .284 while averaging 12 home runs and 83 RBIs in the past four full seasons. He’s also considered one of the better defensive first basemen in the NL, at times flashing gold glove winning ability. The problem is he’s playing the wrong position. That is, James Loney is not a power hitter, something regarded as necessary to play first base in the modern era of baseball, or any era.

GM mentality requires that the positions of 1st base, 3rd base and corner OF require power hitters. How did this develop? Just one of those accepted beliefs reinforced by the many Hall of Famers and All Star players who belted many a home run at these positions. And James Loney being left-handed meant he had only three choices of position in baseball: first base, pitcher or outfield. A lack of speed probably made the outfield an undesirable outcome.

James Loney’s offensive numbers make him an attractive middle infielder – not to mention a .389 batting average in 17 career post-season games. But as it stands, he just lost his first base job to the prototypical big bat of Adrian Gonzalez, and not too many fans in LA are openly weeping. It’s also ironic that James Loney currently headlines the free agent class of first basemen along with Carlos Lee, who already showed a reticence to play in certain markets when he blocked a trade to the Dodgers earlier this year.

Why do I care? Why have I spent so much time making the case for James Loney, a case that will ultimately go unheard by the higher ups in baseball? It’s very simple. Having watched James Loney at many a Dodger game during my stay in Los Angeles it dawned on me: If I were a baseball player, I’d be James Loney. Not by choice. If I had a choice I’d want the bat of Reggie, the speed of Rickey, the glove of Ozzie, the presence of Albert Pujols, the heart of Derek Jeter, and the good looks of…..Derek Jeter. In reality, I could never hit for power and I wasn’t fast. What I could do was hit .280 while fielding my position and enjoying every minute on the diamond. That’s James Loney, and for that reason I root for him. I implore any MLB team to give him a chance next year – even the Sawx. He may surprise you.

….In the offseason, James Loney signed a one year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays for $2 million. He has played in all of the Rays twenty games this season and is currently hitting .313. In the field, he has made only one error and leads all American League first basemen in Range Factor. Wishing him continued success and a chance to play everyday.

The regular season is just a few weeks away and if you’re a Yankee fan like me you’ve officially had it with the injuries, melodrama, and doubtful predictions. In that case, this offseason isn’t much different than any other Yankee offseason. The one big difference is the financial restraint shown by the organization, which I, for one, welcome and continue to dub “Romneyball” until it catches on. Yes, it was tough to see free agents like Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and Rafael Soriano leave. But the only option was to overpay to keep them and continue to pay those pesky taxes. Sorry, guys it’s been real.

And yes, the Yankees are getting old. How old are they? They have Reggie Jackson on speed dial for a DH slot. They’ve offered a tryout to Brett Favre who is thinking of giving baseball a go. And finally, the team’s preferred flavor of Gatorade is Prune. Enough.

Injuries to Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeria, and Phil Hughes are not very promising but they are also just a part of the game. Wishing for a healthy team is like wishing for world peace, winning the lottery, or a tasteful Seth MacFarlane joke. And the next analyst who uses the phrase “if they can just stay healthy” will make me so angry I will run from the TV so fast that I will pull a hamstring and join everyone else on the DL.

As for the loss of homeruns, well they are simply overrated. The San Francisco Giants found a way to win two of the last three World Series without leading the league in homeruns. In fact, last year’s championship squad was dead last in the NL with only 103 homeruns. And with the exception of the 2009 Yankees, the most recent spur of championships had little to do with an explosion of long ball; they were rooted in timely hitting and big game starting pitching.

As a fan I look forward to another season of solid starting pitching anchored by C.C. Sabathia, who has earned every dime of his contract. With Sabathia going every five days it’s hard to not have a little faith. Add to the mix Hiroki Kuroda, who would have gotten Cy Young consideration last year if not a for a lack of run support in the first half of the season. That’s a 1-2 punch I’d put up against any in the league. No telling what to expect from Andy Pettitte, who hasn’t pitched a full season since 2009, but he will always get the benefit of the doubt from me and any die hard Yankee fan. Even a healthy Phil Hughes is always a crap shoot but I think Ivan Nova and David Phelps can fill in the Number 4 and 5 slots admirably.

I’m looking forward to more fireworks from future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki. He may not be the Ichiro of old (now he’s just old) but he proved last year in the second half of the season and playoffs that he’s got plenty left in the tank and a loyal fanbase to cheer him on. A healthy Brett Gardner will reinvigorate the running game, not to mention compliment Ichiro’s still present speed. And a clean shaven, and hopefully rejuvenated, Kevin Youkilis has a chance to play for another big time franchise and erase the doubts created by Bobby V. I’m not expecting the All-Star of the past, but just a gamer primed to play. And let’s be honest, despite his recent playoff ineptitude, Robinson Cano is more than capable of carrying the Yanks for a month or two.

The two biggest reasons I’m looking forward to 2013 are the two biggest reasons to look forward to any Yankee season: Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. After an ugly and freakish knee injury, Mo returns for another season of closing out Yankee wins. At 43, not only he is the best closer of all-time, he is still one of the best in the game. It will be nice to see him get to go out on his own terms. And Derek Jeter will continue his march on the record books, even if all he really cares about is his next ring. With another 115 hits, Derek Jeter will be number six on the all-time hits list, passing Carl Yastrzemski. If that doesn’t get you excited, you have no business calling yourself a Yankee fan.

In the end, I don’t see the Yankees legitimately competing this year, or in the next few years. Sure, I can see them in the mix, maybe squeaking out 85-90 wins, but that’s about it. Even if they somehow make it to October, it will just be a repeat of the last three years. Hopefully not as nauseating as last year’s ALCS sweep by the Detroit Tigers.

Which is why I dub this the year “The Year of the Fan.” If you’re a real Yankee fan you should be able to appreciate the talent and heart that will be displayed this season, not to mention wealth of future Hall of Famers. This isn’t about championships, but a love of the game and the players who play it. Bandwaggon fans need not apply. You can root for the Blue Jays, even though I think they will not live up to the hype. But that’s another post.