Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pinstripe Empire History of New York Yankees Rules the Book Shelves

Marty Appel's time working with and within the New York Yankees organization gave him the perfect insight to write his latest book, "Pinstripe Empire: From Before The Babe to After The Boss". It's a summation of baseball's most successful franchise from their humble beginnings as the New York Highlanders, through 27 world championships, and up to their playoff failings in 2011. 

The book begins with the idea of bringing a team to New York and the construction of Hilltop Park that would house the Highlanders, the pre-cursor to the Yankees. Those teams included Jack Chesbro, who won a team record 41 games. But save for one season, those Highlanders team were usually at the bottom of the barrel. 

Things would change with the acquisition of Babe Ruth, the construction of Yankee Stadium, and shrewd ownership and management. The first World Series title came in 1923 and Ruth hit his prodigious 60 home run in 1927. That was the year the lineup was known as Murderer's Row and to this day they are still part of the great debate as to which was the greatest Yankees squad of all time - '27, '39, '61 or '98? (For that matter the greatest team of all time.) I found it fascinating to compare and contrast the ownership over the years (e.g. Ruppert and Topping) and the styles of the managers (Huggins, McCarthy, Stengel, Martin, etc.).

The book allows all Yankees fans to share in those moments experienced in person or through the media, be reminded of moments forgotten, and to learn things anew. (I could name hundreds of Yankees off the top of my head, but I never had heard of one of their early great relievers, Johnny Murphy.) One of things I really enjoyed about the book is that it does not have to be read beginning with page one. (Though there are wonderful introductions from Yankees' greats Yogi Berra and Bernie Williams to kick things off.) 

I read the book in reverse order, going over 10 to 20 year periods at a time, starting with the reclamation of the 1990's up through today. It was a joy to relive the moment Charlie Hayes' squeezed the final out in Game 6 of the '96 series. It was the title that ended a drought of 18 seasons without a championship. 

Then it was on to the early 1970's when the Yankees began to be relevant again with new young stars like (my personal favorite) Bobby Murcer, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, and Chris Chambliss. It was a tumultuous time in baseball with the advent of free agency and the beginning of large player contracts (slim by comparison to today's deals), the inception of the DH in the American League (the Yankees' Ron Blomberg was the first to officially bat), the revolving door of managers- with Billy Martin seemingly caught inside the door - Steinbrenner's constant interference with all decisions, the renovation of Yankee Stadium and a temporary home at Shea Stadium, and last, but not least, the wife swap between pitchers Fritz Peterson (permanent) and Mike Kekich (temporary). 

It was also a time when young fans like me really got into baseball. Some of those Yankees teams came close to reaching the playoffs, but couldn't win the division when a division title meant everything. That all changed of course when a ship builder named George M. Steinbrenner III bought the Yankees from CBS. Appel did a great job of balancing his story telling between the early, crazed Boss with the later sentimental, sedate one. 

You can relive the race between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle to pass Babe Ruth's single season home run record as part of the great 1961 squad. Unfortunately, it was also the beginning of the end for the great Yankees teams. They won five consecutive pennants from 1960-1964 with two World Series titles, but by 1965 the team was in disarray. The farm system lacked talent and the Yankees greats retired or were in the process of putting a wrap on their careers. If you were lucky enough, you were too young to remember the worst of the worst- 9th and 10th (last place) finishes in 1966 and 1967. 

Going back further, it's still hard to believe the glory years of the 1930 through the 1950's when managers Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel combined for 18 pennants and 14 World Series titles (Bucky Harris also won a championship in 1947). Those teams had larger than life players in Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle, and Ford. You learn just what a corporation the Yankees really were. When a player was no longer useful, he was quickly shipped out, no matter how big a star he may have been. 

All of the above is just the tip of the iceberg. Even if you are not a Yankees fan, this is a great read to learn about the greatest franchise in baseball history. And if you are a Yankees fan, you'll enjoy knowing more about the franchise than you thought imaginable. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Welcome to the House of Horrors: Part CCL

Step right up, step right up, for the greatest horror show on Earth. Enter at your own risk; for once you are inside the devishly Halo House of Horrors anything can happen, and probably will. There will be collisions, errors, hit batsmen, and maybe some blood. Mwahahahahahahahaha.

No one could blame the Yankees if they never wanted to play in Angels' Stadium ever again. It's actually been that way for a number of years. That spectres that used to haunt the Kingdome in Seattle apparently went south at some point and took up residence in Anaheim. It is a place where only Angels do not fear to tread.

Last night was another example of the weird, unexpected, and sometimes unexplainable happening with the Yaknees in town. It even affected the Angels, a normally sure handed team that committed three errors. Two of those errors had helped the Yankees to a 3-0 lead in the top of the 1st inning. A frame that saw Angels start Jered Weaver wrench his frame on a delivery and was forced to leave the game with a bad back.

But this is the House of Horrors and it was for Yankees starter Phil Hughes, who grew up a spitting distance from the mound he strode last night and whose parents watched in horror as he imploded on said mound. Hughes gave up the lead immediately, leaving one pitch up in the zone for the Angels to hammer. A 3-0 lead was suddenly and swiftly a 4-3 deficit.

Curtis Granderson's solo home run off of Bobby Casseveh tied things right back up in the 2nd, but the horror struck in the 3rd. Mark Trumbo's deep fly to right center was perfect placed between Granderson and right fielder Nick Swisher. Earlier, Granderson caught a similar ball behind Swisher. The second time around wasn't so sweet; as Granderson gloved the ball, Swisher slammed into him and jarred the ball loose. Thankfully that's all that got jarred loose as both players got to their feet.

Trumbo pulled into third with a gift triple and scored the go ahead run on Howie Kendrick's sac fly. An inning later rookie standout Mike Trout hit a big fly for a 6-4 Angels lead.

Red hot Mark Teixeira got one run back with his fourth home run in as many games, but Kendry Morales' 2-run double in the 6th extended the Angels lead to 8-5.

Hughes, who seemed to have turned a corner in his last four starts, lasted just 5.1 innings, allowed seven runs, and a career high 11 hits. He got off the hook tough when Russell Martin's 2-out, 2-run double in the 7th capped a three run inning to tie things up at eight.

But this is the House of Horrors and that means the Angels get the last horrific last. It came in the person of Trumbo, who slugged a walk off solo home run off of Corey Wade to start the last half of the 9th. Another game in Anaheim. Another horror show.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Yankees Memorial Day Memories: 1991

The late 1980's and early 1990's were a tough time to be a Yankees fan. The team had been cast out into the loser's wilderness. Guys like Dallas Green, Bucky Dent, and Stump Merrill took the team nowhere.

Things would not turn around until George Steinbrenner was suspended in 1990 for conspiring with gambler/sleazeball Howie Spira to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield. That of course led to Gene Michael making the day to day moves to get the ball club back into contention for the first time since the early to mid-1980's. 

The Yankees won only 71 games in 1991, but on Memorial Day (May 27) of that season, the Yankees gave their home crowd a big thrill. The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry hadn't been much since the 1970's since either one or both ball clubs had down times in the time since. But the holiday weekend gave Yankees fans something to talk about it.

Mel Hall in happier times

New York sent Dave Eiland to the mound not as a pitching coach, but as their starter on a very hot Monday afternoon. Boston countered with right-hander Danny Darwin. After a scoreless 1st inning, the Sox jumped on Eiland for three runs in the 2nd, with the aid of errors by infielder Pat Kelly and outfielder Roberto Kelly

The Red Sox tacked on single runs in the 4th and 5th innings, the latter courtesy of a solo home run by first baseman Carlos Quintana. Meanwhile, Darwin breezed through the first four innings before Jesse Barfield touched him up for a solo home run in the 5th.

Two innings later Mel Hall went deep to cut the lead to 5-2, and two batters after that Barfield went yard again. Suddenly it was a two run ball game. It would stay that way until the 9th inning when Jeff Reardon came on to close things out for Boston. (The Yankees bullpen trio of Eric Plunk, Steve Howe, and Lee Guetterman had limited Boston to just one hit over the final 4.2 innings.)

Reardon didn't retire a batter. Hensley Meulens and Kevin Maas reached on back to back singles to bring the tying run to the plate in the person of Hall. The Yankees outfielder would later be banished from New York because of endless teasing of a young, sensitive center fielder named Bernie Williams, but on Memorial Day Hall would put his name in the Yankees' history books.

Hall drilled a 2-2 pitch into the right field seats for a walk-off (a term not yet coined) 3-run home run and a Yankees victory before just over 32,000 fans. It was just the Yankees 18th win in 41 games, but it set the stage for many dramatic wins that would unfold in the mid- to late 1990's.

Post Game Unfortunately, Mel Hall's post-career life has not been so joyous. Hall was convicted in 2009 of raping a 12-yr old girl he coached in youth basketball. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison with no chance for parole until half his sentence has been served. Hall will be 71 at that time.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Nunez Bobbles His Way To The Minors

One might expect that Eduardo Nunez would take extra fielding practice, maybe DH, sit on the pines a bit until he got his erroneous fielding in order. But the Yankees took one step further and sent him to the minor leagues today.

It's actually a smart move. While Nunez brings speed to the Yankees lineup, he has six stolen bases, his penchant for making errors for outweighs and offense he can bring to the lineup. In last night's 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, Nunez made a pair of errors that led to two unearned runs charged to starting pitcher CC Sabathia.

With Eric Chavez ready to be activated from the 7-day concussion DL, a roster move had to be made and Nunez turned out to be the marked man. This could also mean another move is in the works though since the Yankees do not have a true back up for shortstop Derek Jeter.

Veteran utility man Jayson Nix has played just 17 games at shortstop, while Chavez played five games at the position in his early/healthier days in Oakland. Empire State (formerly Scranton) Yankees' shortstops Ramiro Pena and Doug Bernier are both currently on the minor league DL while fill in infielder Yadi Mujica has played just nine games above Double-A..

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Blood Clot Holds Up Rivera's Surgery

The complications surrounding Mariano Rivera knee exam the last couple of days have finally been revealed. Mo met with the media at Yankee Stadium a short time ago and every beat writer, YES employee, NY /NJ paper columnist all tweeted at once that Mo has a blood clot in his right calf.

Rivera was understandably concerned and a little unnerved by the doctor's finding. Surgery would naturally be delayed by a clot, but Marc Carig of The Star Ledger just tweeted that the surgeon wants Rivera to regain strength and range of motion anyway.

While Rivera had hoped to possibly return late in the season/post-season, Brian Cashman quashed those thoughts yesterday and said baseball's greatest closer won't be back until 2013.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Mariano: I'll Be Back

"I'll be back." That's basically what Mariano Rivera said this afternoon, telling reporters he would not let his career end due to the ACL tear he suffered in Kansas City last night.

It would have been perfect had baseball's greatest terminator quoted the terminator, but his actual words were:
"'I'm coming back. Write it down in big letters. I'm not going out like this,'' he said. ''This has me thinking, I can't go down like this. If it takes two, three, four, five, seven more (seasons), whatever it takes.'' 

Yankees fans are quiet ecstatic to say the least.

Mariano Verdict: Torn ACL; Goodbye 2012

The MRI of Mariano Rivera's knee revealed what everyone was afraid it would. A torn Anterior Crucuate Ligament (ACL) has ended Rivera's season, which might have be his last anyway. As someone who has torn their ACL (thankfully only a partial, not requiring full reconstruction), I feel Rivera's pain and as a Yankees fan I share the pain of not having Rivera on the mound.

So the question is whether Rivera had decided on retirement after the season, will he come back in 2013 so he goes out healthy? Or does he figure he'll quit while he's ahead, or behind depending on your outlook? Whichever the case, this is NOT the way Yankees fans wanted to see the legend go out.

As for Mo's replacement, David Robertson would seem to be the logical choice based on his strikeouts per nine innings, but Joe Girardi could also go with a proven closer in Rafael Soriano. That would leave Robertson to continue in his dynamite 7th-8th inning role. Phil Hughes could also come into the picture if he continues to struggle as a starter. David Phelps could remain in the rotation with Andy Pettitte replacing Hughes, who would then act as a set up man. Something he excelled at in 2009.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Prior to tonight's Yankees game with the Kansas City Royals, Mariano Rivera had to be carted off the field after his knee buckled while shagging fly balls in the outfield. Rivera leapt for a ball and went down as his knee gave way. Initial reports are a twisted knee, but Rivera has gone to a local hospital for an MRI. David Robertson will become the primary closer with Rafael Soriano the alternate. I thought the painting of Eduard Munch's "The Scream" was appropriate, especially since it was sold for $120MM earlier today.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

YCN: Phil Hughes' Time in Pinstripes Running Out: A Fan's Take

Phil Hughes was a model of mediocrity again tonight. Which is bad for the Yankees, but fits well for the article I had published for Yahoo today. Hughes' could be joining Freddy Garcia in the bullpen soon if he doesn't straighten things out. Andy Pettitte will be returning soon, which means David Phelps or Hughes goes to the pen. And in Hughes' case it could mean trade bait. Of course you still have to have value to get something of value in return.

Click here to read my latest Yahoo piece.