All hail Helen!!

All hail Helen!!
Helen Carmona and your humble blogger

Monday, March 31, 2008

Here's an idea...

An interesting quandary has been served up by the guys at River Avenue Blues. And it has to do with honoring past Yankee heroes.

With the new stadium on tap for 2009, and fans clamoring for appropriate ways to honor retired Yankees of the late 1990s, why not come up with something novel that not only allows the retired guys -- and specifically we're talking about Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill -- to have a special place in Yankee lore, but also allows the sacred uniform numbers to remain in play?

Retiring jersey numbers is as time-honored as the games themselves, but for practical purposes, the practice becomes a problem the longer the game goes on. Conceivably, with enough great players in the history books -- and which franchise has had more great players than the Yankees? -- a franchise will begin to run out of numbers, at least numbers that are considered traditional for everyday players to wear. Already, the Yankees have shelved the numbers 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8 (twice), 9, 10, 15, 16, 23, 32, 37, 42, 44, and 49. With the numbers 2 (for Derek Jeter, no question about it), and 5 (for Joe Torre, almsot no question about it), headed for posterity, the Yankees certainly aren't in danger of putting letters on their backs (how would 'Z' look running down a fly ball in center?), but you get the point.

With the appearance of the number 21 on Morgan Ensburg's spring training uniform, fans were first stunned, then inquisitive. How dare he?, some asked. Then others countered with, Well, it's the Yankees' fault for leaving the number available. But does O'Neill really merit a fully-retired number? After all, eight of his 17 major league seasons were spent in Cincinnati -- not true of Bernie, who was a once and future Yankee, for always and for all time. Yes, O'Neill was an indispensible cog in the wheel for all of his years in the Bronx; no one disputes that. But the argument will rage on about his 'retirement' status, with no easy answer to the question.

But one easy solution is to retire a jersey with 'O'Neill' printed atop a '21.' Yes, I know, the Yankees do it the right way by not printing palyer names on their field uniforms, but this is a retired jersey, and it would not only serve O'Neill appropriately for his legendary contributions to the team, but it also would allow the number to remain in circulation.

(Personally, I think a current player wearing a hallowed veteran number is a better tribute to the wearers past. It keeps the 'spirit' of the retired players alive, whereas a retired number seems almost to be a memorial to the honored dead. But that's just me.....)

Anyway, there is no doubt the Yankees have to do something for O'Neill and especially for Bernie. What they will do, who knows? But retiring jersies might just be a better gesture than taking all these numbers out of circulation.

I mean, our great-great grandkids might one day be watching a hot young shortstop with a number 102 on his back. And that's not really baseball, is it?

No substitute for Opening Day

We can argue all day about whether or not professional football has overtaken baseball as America's national pastime. If television ratings and advertising dollars are your calculus for determining the winner of that argument, then the NFL probably wins going away.

And for years, many sports fans have wondered aloud if the Super Bowl should be moved to Monday and be declared a national holiday.

As special as the Super Bowl feels, and as wonderful as the NFL seems on kick-off weekend, something special remains in baseball's Opening Day, something football can't match, regardless what the modern TV numbers suggest.

Much of it can be attributed to timing. Baseball opens after what, for many people in America, has been a bleak winter. Whipping winds and blinding snowdrifts give way to a greening of the twigs and a sky-high blueness blessed with a tinge of cloud puffs. Temperatures are climbing, not falling as in autumn, when football is often followed by the unpacking of the winter wear. Baseball signals -- it may be trite, but it's no less true -- the latest annual promise of what may be the best season of all: the gentle, mild caress of spring.

And baseball offers the prospect of redemption, for this week's five-game losing streak can quickly be turned into next week's -- or next month's -- six-game run of winners. Because baseball stretches across so much of the calendar, there is no desperation in a loss. Baseball teams may indeed be only as good as their next starters, but the comfort that comes with another tomorrow makes today's setback seem somehow more endurable, and Opening Day is where it all begins.

There is, in the very words, something sacred-sounding. You almost expect to see the letters, in block white, placed along the tops of church bulletin boards as you walk along the avenue on your way to the park. Children succumb to the temptation to skip school, and forgiving fathers -- mothers, too -- properly give the nod. For they know that this day comes but once a year, and no other day in any other sport can match what Openng Day offers.

Things change, pastimes pass in and out of prominence, and baseball long ago may very well have been supplanted as America's favorite sport. But there is nothing in sports quite like Opening Day, and it is here, again, and it is good.

Final Openng Day in old stadium no holiday, and no easy birthday gift for Wang

Happy Birthday, Chien-Ming Wang, and make a good wish before blowing out those candles, because this will not be an easy Opening Day start, and it won't be an easy debut for new Yankee manager Joe Girardi.

Yankee fans may come to the Stadium today full of emotion, what with the historic yard being given its final send-off and all that, and new skipper Girardi feuling the Yankees with a new, grittier attitude. But the Toronto Blue Jays may have something to say about how much joy the faithful take home with them later this afternoon. And in particular, Jays starter Roy Halladay may have an idea or two about how the Yankees will remember this final Opening Day at 161st and River.

Harry Leroy Halladay III, the 2003 AL Cy Young Award winner, will be making his sixth consecutive Opening Day start for the Jays. For his career, Halladay is 111-55 with a 3.63 ERA, including a 16-7, 3.71 ERA record in 2007, and he has enjoyed great success against the Yankees, posting a 10-4 record in 24 career starts, with a 2.99 ERA and a miserly 1.18 WHIP.

Yankee right-hander Wang is making his first-ever Opening Day start. Wang, who turns 28 today, was due for the honor last season but was injured and did not pitch for the Yankees until May 3. Despite a sparkling 19-7 record and 3.70 ERA in 2007, Wang's three starts against the Blue Jays were not memorable. He posted an 0-2 record with a 6.35 ERA.

Offensively, two Yankees will look to make a dent in Halladay's stat sheet.

Second baseman Robinson Cano will look to keep his hot spring going. Cano led the Yankees with a .452 spring average, and has hit .385 (5-for-13) in his career against Halladay, with two home runs.

And during his four seasons with New York, returning American League MVP Alex Rodriguez has feasted on opposing pitchers on Opening Day. A-Rod is a hot 8-for-20 (.400) with two home runs as an Opening Day starter for the Bombers.

Here is today's probable starting lineup and their career stats vs. Halladay:

J. Damon -- .328/.333/.306, 22-for-67, 1 HR, 8 BB, 10 SO
D. Jeter -- .258/.400/.418, 16-for-62, 3 2B, 7 BB, 18 SO
B. Abreu -- .167/.167/.250, 2-for-12, 5 SO
A. Rodriguez -- .277/.306/.362, 13-for-47, 4 2B, 2 BB, 10 SO
J. Giambi -- .315/.373/.481, 17-for-54, 3 HR, 5 BB, 12 SO
H. Matsui -- .206/.270/.324, 7-for-34, 1 HR, 3 BB, 3 SO
J. Posada -- .324/.457/.459, 12-for-37, 2 HR, 8 BB, 8 SO
R. Cano -- .385/.385/1.000, 5-for-13, 2 2B, 2 HR, 1 SO
M. Cabrera -- .267/.267/.267, 4-for-15, 2 SO

Saturday, March 29, 2008

No defense for this argument

Longtime sports fans ranting about the evils of ESPN is nothing new. For all the good ESPN has done for sports over the last thirty years, one bad thing it has done is demonstrate the dangers of monopoly in any business. When you have no serious competition, you can get away with just about anything.

But this post/rant has nothing really to do with ESPN as the unchecked behemoth, but rather with ESPN as the latest on the list of "experts" who continue to pile on the "Jeter's defense sucks" argument.

In their 2008 season preview of the Yankees (look for the JUST THE FACTS box), ESPN's baseball analysts cite the "defensive metrics used by opposing clubs" to support the argument, popular for several years now, that the Yankee Captain has become not only a liability in the Bronx, but also one of the "worst shortstops in the majors." (Never mind that no real numbers are offered to support the claim, although I'm sure somewhere these numbers have been cooked up by someone.)

No Yankee fan would ever argue that Jeter revolutionized the position, or was even one of the top five fielding shortstops of his era, an era of some unusually excellent play in the six hole. The names are well-known: Omar Vizquel, Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez (way back when), Nomar Garciaparra (for a while), and there are many other guys that could make this list a post unto itself. But while Jeter may not have the best range, hands, relay, first step, etc., etc., etc., to call him one of the worst shortstops in the majors is ludicrous.

Devotees of the various en vogue sabermetric systems will tout all of these factors, and Jeter's supposed deficiency in any or all of them, as proof that the Captain isn't all that he's been cracked up to be over the years. Baloney.

Would these same "mathematical dicks" (best line from Good WIll Hunting, by the way) claim that Jeter's defense is the reason the Yankees have not won six (or more) World Series titles, instead of the four Jeter does have? If Jeter were more like Ozzie Smith, would the Yankees have won the 2004 ALCS? That's the reason Boston won four straight games? Derek Jeter's lack of range? Please!

There is not one -- NOT.... ONE -- fan of one team in the majors who would not have wanted Jeter on his (or her) team over the past 12 seasons. And if anyone suggests that Jeter would have been welcome on their clubs, just at a different position, they're exposing their jealousy. And f@#& them.

There are, and have been, more talented players, sure. But there is not one player any Yankee fan would rather have had in place of Jeter over the past decade plus. In fact, I can't imagine another player, ever -- at least not a non-Yankee -- who I would rather have had on my team at any time. And of the Yankee greats, only Ruth and Mantle would make me even consider thinking about it.

Jeter has been the consumate player, if not the ultimate shortstop. And for ESPN to suggest that Jeter may be asked to switch positions, when Joe Girardi hasn't even hinted that that is on his mind, is just irresponsible, and beneath the worldwide leader..... or at least it used to be.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2008 New York Yankees

Here are your 2008, Opening Day New York Yankees (unless half the team acts like Andy Pettitte and decides Opening Day is just too soon to play ball):

Starters: Johnny Damon, lf; Melky Cabrera, cf; Bobby Abreu, rf; Hideki Matsui, lf/dh
Reserves: Shelley Duncan, rf-lf

Starters: Jason Giambi, 1b; Robinson Cano, 2b; Derek Jeter, ss; Alex Rodriguez, 3b
Reserves: Morgan Ensburg, 1b-3b; Wilson Betemit, 1b-2b-3b-ss

Starter: Jorge Posada
Reserve: Jose Molina

Starters: Chien-Ming Wang, rhp; Mike Mussina, rhp; Phil Hughes, rhp; Ian Kennedy, rhp; Andy Pettitte, lhp, (DL)
Relievers: Jon Albaladejo, rhp; Brian Bruney, rhp; Joba Chamberlain, rhp; Kyle Farnsworth, rhp; LaTroy Hawkins, rhp; Ross Ohlendorf, rhp; Mariano Rivera, rhp; Billy Traber, lhp

Opening Day

The starting lineup on Monday, when the Yankees host the Toronto Blue Jays, should look like this: Damon, lf; Jeter, ss; Abreu, rf; A-Rod, 3b; Giambi, 1b; Matsui, dh; Posada, c; Cano, 2b; Cabrera, cf

Chien-Ming Wang gets the start against the Jays. He may have been 19-7 last season, but in three starts vs. the Blue Jays, Wang was 0-2 with a 6.35 ERA.

Yankee relievers, be ready.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sheppard recovering, but slowly

George Vecsey has his usual wonderful piece in the Times today, and it concerns the gradually improving health of longtime Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard. Due to a slow recovery from an illness he contracted last fall, Sheppard will not be in the booth for Monday's Opening Day game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Thursday, April 17 will mark the 57th anniversary of Sheppard's service with the Yankees. Sadly, the legendary PA announcer will not be on hand when the Yankees host the Red Sox that evening. According to Vecsey's piece, Sheppard will not be back at the mic until at least June, perhaps as late as July.

It goes without saying how terrible it would be if Sheppard were to miss the final All-Star Game ever in America's most important athletic arena. Let's all wish him a speedier recovery.

Rob's wrong about Wright

As I've grown (matured? not so sure), I've used a percentage scale to gauge how important sports were/are/will be in my life. When I was 12 years old, it was an easy measurement: sports occupied about ninety percent of my waking hours, either playing them, reading about them, talking about them, or lying in bed at night planning to do all of the above the next day.

By my early twenties I was a married father, and a soldier, so the percentages shifted a bit. Sports took up about 40-60 percent of my time, give or take, depending on the time of year and the day of the week. Obviously, you can't sit in a foxhole at three a.m. reading Sports Illustrated with a flashlight.

By the time I was in my thirties, things shifted back. I was divorced. My daughter was in high school, or just about. And, I was a daily sports journalist for a small Pennsylvania newspaper. Although high school and small college sports monopolized our coverage, sports of all kinds were now back up to about seventy-percent of my life.

I mention all this for a reason: Now that I'm nearing my fortieth birthday and I'm a full-time teacher, and sports are inching back down the scale at about twenty, maybe twenty-five percent, even I know that's Rob Neyer is nuts! when he calls David Wright the best young -- and best future -- player in the major leagues. He's nuts..... NUTS!

I know Neyer makes his living watching baseball, and I don't. His opinions have infinitely more credibility than mine do. I understand all that. But while Wright might be the best 25-year-old player in the game, or at least in the National League, Neyer claims Wright will be the best player in baseball over the next five seasons. Excuse me, but has Neyer heard of a player, right across town from Wright's Queens day-job address, named Alex Rodriguez?

Obviously, Neyer has. But the travesty doesn't end with the Wright-over-A-Rod claim. Neyer has A-Rod tenth. Tenth! The tenth-best player in baseball? Rob, please.

As a matter of full disclosure, I have never been a fan of A-Rod, and even wished him away from the Bronx a time or two over the past few seasons, particularly during his anemic playoff disasters. But a slight is a slight, and Neyer's slight can't go unanswered.

A-Rod is not just the best player in baseball now, he might be the best player ever. Might, I said. And at 32, a very young, chiseled, determined 32, A-Rod may be ready to blow up in ways we haven't even seen yet, his 2007 MVP numbers notwithstanding. For Neyer to think that Albert Pujols -- I mean, Jesus.... Albert Pujols? -- is going to be a better player over the next five years is just ludicrous. And Jose Reyes? JOSE REYES!!??!! Who is Neyer kidding?

I try not to make a habit of defending people who instigate most of their own headaches, and A-Rod is a master screw-up at managing his public image, but this is a special case. Moving into a new Yankee Stadium, with its smaller dimensions, next season, and looking like he's in the prime shape of his life, A-Rod may be about to register numbers that make Barry Bonds' late-career (steroid-aided) numbers look pedestrian.

David Wright? He may be great, but he's a backseat passenger when it comes to taking his place on the list of best players in baseball, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Swing away, boys... Swing away!

Baseball purists -- sigh -- can now list the Yankees as members of the modern baseball era, that post-1994-strike-disaster-reaction that brought us steroids, HGH, second basemen hitting moon shots, shortstops who could bench press Barry Bonds' head, and baseball stadiums right out of Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

The Yankees have moved in the fences. Get ready for A-Rod's 1,000th home run, much, much sooner than later.

The gang at River Avenue Blues have posted a graphic and some additional information, and it has to be discouraging for pitchers and purists alike.

Apparently unsatisfied with rightfield pop flies that already reach the fifth row, Yankee management has brought the fabled 314-foot right field fence in an extra two feet to 312. During the first season of Coors Field in Denver, Atlanta Braves first baseman Sid Bream hit what was then called by Sports Illustrated the first check-swing home run in baseball history. That laugher of a round-tripper will now no doubt have company.

And the Yankees didn't stop with shortening the right field barrier. While the left field and centerfield fences will remain the same, at 318' and 408' respectively, the left-center power alley has been shortened from 399 to 392 feet, and the right-center power alley from 385 feet to 371. Likewise, the foul ball area behind home plate has been shortened by 12 feet to bring the fans closer to the action.

With a smaller foul ground and three outfield areas shortened by an average of nearly eight feet, look for the Yankees to join the ranks of the teams which regularly post double-digit run totals three or four times per week.

Who are we now, the Rockies East?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Break for the BoSox

Consider the Boston Red Sox lucky to be heading home from Tokyo with a 1-1 record, and consider Manny Ramirez the only reason the Red Sox leave Japan with a .500 record.

The Oakland A's outplayed the Red Sox in both games, battering Boston pitching, especially starters Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester, as well as closer Jon Papelbon. The three Boston hurlers combined for a stat line of 10 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 9 BB, 11 SO, 6.30 ERA, 1.90 WHIP. Unfortunately, Oakland batters left 17 runners on base, and Oakland's Emil Brown singlehandedly blew a chance for the A's to win the first game with a boneheaded blunder, getting tagged out trying to stretch a 10th-inning double into a triple with the Sox ahead 6-5.

And.... the Sox had Manny. The contract-year slugger had a pair of two-run doubles in the first game, and his solo home run in the second game provided Boston's only run. More on Manny in this week's upcoming season projections post.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A few thoughts...

Jose, can you go away?

Disgraced former slugger Jose Canseco's A-Rod "revelations" are circulating the Internet today, as Canseco's new book Vindicated is set for release. I haven't read the excerpts, and haven't delved too deeply into the half dozen or so blog pieces I've come across, and here's why: Although I loathe performance enhancers and support stiff, even career-ending penalties for players who use them, I don't want to hear any more accusations from this creep, Canseco. Were the allegations from his first book, Juiced, proven? Not yet. And until baseball starts serious and credible testing programs leading to serious punishment -- such as twice weekly mandatory tests for every player -- I'm not going to get fired up over anything Jose Canseco says. Any washed up star can mouth off and make headlines. I think we've all had enough of that.

Houston, you have a problem

Yankee fans can thank Oakland A's closer Houston Street (and idiot baserunner Emil Brown) for Tuesday's Boston Red Sox victory in Tokyo. While the BoSox victory was a downer, there were some positive signs for Bomber faithful.

First -- and yes, I know pitchers generally stink in March/April -- Dice-K was less than formidable in his season debut. It wasn't so much the number of pitches he had to throw in the first inning -- 30 -- as the pitches themselves. Close to half of Matsuzaka's pitches couldn't find the plate. For the game, his five innings of work resulted in 95 pitches, but only 51 of those were thrown for strikes. Yankee fans will hope for more of the same from Dice-K this season.

Second, the Boston DH (who shall forever remain nameless on this site) looked awful, and nothing could make this blogger happier. As scary as Manny Ramirez looks -- slim, strong, very locked-in -- his partner in the three hole couldn't have looked much worse. With Ramirez in a contract year, he's likely to put up A-Rod numbers from a season ago, which means the Boston DH will see plenty of hittable pitches batting haead of Manny, and the clean-up hitting DH is likely to produce, big-time. But screw the future. Any time the Boston DH looks vulnerable is a reason for celebration.

Third, Sox closer Jonathon Papelbon looked as wobbly as starter Dice-K. Only Emil Brown's inexplicable baserunning for Oakland saved the Sox, and Papelbon, from a probable loss.

And that's the name of that tune

And we're outta here, with a quote from Yankee reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who in a Tuesday interview summed up all this March mindlessness, perfectly: "Spring don't mean shit, dude."

La Hawk has spoken. The season starts Monday.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The logic of limits

No spring training issue in recent memory has ignited debate the way Joba Chamberlain's role in the Yankee rotation has over the past month. Yankee fans have come down squarely on either side of the issue, and the campaigners on both sides are dug in so deep you'd think this was an Obama-Clinton moment.

But one thing that I've not seen discussed, at least not at the length of the starter vs. reliever issue, is the insistence the Yankees have on limiting the total number of innings thrown this season, not just for Chamberlain, but also for his fellow young hurlers, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.

My question is this: When did this fear of flame-out get so out-of-hand?

Baseball is littered with stories of young guns who were shoved out to the mound too early and too often, and just a few years after these kids were supposedly on their way to Cooperstown they ended up going nowhere. And certainly, with young arms worth mega-millions of dollars, teams are more gentle and more deliberate with their seasoning of young pitchers. But at what point do we start to realize that babying these kids isn't necessarily the logical or the only approach?

Let's look at a few young pitchers of yesteryear, all rookies before their 22nd birthdays, to see how quickly or how slowly they were brought along as young phenoms.

Tom Seaver, one of the best pitchers of his or any other era, threw 251 innings when he was a 22-year-old rookie in 1967, and he averaged 273 innings per season over his first four years in the majors.

At 19 years of age, Dwight Gooden threw 218 innings during his rookie campaign with the Mets in 1984. The next season? He threw 276 2/3. Over his first four seasons, Doc averaged 230 innings per year.

At age 21, Greg Maddux threw only 155 innings in 30 starts during his rookie year in 1987, but his ERA was 5.61, which could have had more to do with his early exits than did a close watch on his innings total. Maddux threw 249 innings the next season and averaged 246 IP per year over the next four.

Mike Mussina was only 23 when he threw 241 innings for the Orioles in 1992. Mussina missed several starts over the next two seasons and threw for only 167 and 176 innings in '93 and '94, respectively, but a healthy Moose came back in 1995 and threw 221, 243, and 224 over the next three seasons. Despite the two abbreviated seasons after his first full year, Mussina still averaged 212 innings over his first six seasons.

At age 21 in 1984, Roger Clemens threw only 133.3 innings in 20 starts for the Red Sox, averaging over six innings per start. He was injured for much of 1985, but in 1986, at the ripe old age of 23, Clemens threw 254 innings, and averaged 263 innings over the next four seasons.

Admittedly, these are just a few samples, and just as many can be found of pitchers who had great careers after being started off slowly (Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Tom Glavine just being a few). But this post is not to argue that the Yankees are dead wrong with their softball approach. Nor is it to argue that the evidence suggests they go the other way and let these kids throw for all they can. The evidence doesn't support any single approach. Some pitchers can handle a tall workload when they're 22, and others might need a more gradual introduction into full-time starting. It's most likely a matter of what each individual arm can handle.

What I question is why, so quickly and vehemently, this blanket innings cap has been thrown over all three of these guys. Let's hypothesize based on recent evidence and suppose that April is over, Mussina is 1-3 with a 6.85 ERA, Andy Pettitte is 1-1 and missing starts with various ailments, and Wang is the only reliable veteran at 3-1/4.15. And..... Hughes is 3-0/3.75 and Kennedy is 3-1/3.50.

With those numbers at hand, would Girardi and Cashman continue to insist that looking down the road at the next 5-7 years is better than turning these young guns loose now and capitalizing on what seems like more-than-ready ability? Would they be willing to examine each arm on its own merits and say, 'Hmmmm... Kennedy just might have 200+ innings in him....'?

I understand the economic wisdom of taking the long view, but if guys are ready, they're ready. All three of these promising pitchers have had minor league and/or college experience. With the state of the Yankee rotation -- and to say it is a mystery is being both kind and conservative -- it might not be possible to maintain this kid-glove approach to these young pitchers.

Hindsight is useless despite its 20/20 ability. Looking too far ahead and anticipating hindsight can be equally useless if you paralyze yourself with fear of being second-guessed someday. This decision on the innings limits for these pitchers seems made at least in part to avoid any criticism down the road should one of them go off the rails, physically speaking. I hope Girardi, et al have the guts to let these kids go all the way if that's what it takes to have a successful season

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ensberg now; Duncan, Betemit next as Girardi makes right(y) choices?

The Yankees on Friday added reserve infielder Mo Ensberg to the team's 40-man roster. The move prevents Ensberg from filing for immediate free agency, and appears to be a prelude to naming Ensberg to the Major League roster before the Yankees conclude Spring Training 2008 next week.

Yankee skipper Joe Girardi told's Bryan Hoch that adding Ensberg to the roster on Friday did not indicate a final decision had been made on Ensberg's regular season status, but he did add that Ensbrg, who is out of minor league options and will earn $1.75 million in 2008 if he makes the team, had impressed the Yankee staff over the first three weeks of Grapefruit League action.

The move appears to allow Ensberg to claim one of three bench spots open on the Yankee roster. With Ensberg now a virtual lock to make the team, reserves Shelley Duncan, Wilson Betemit, Cody Ransom, Chris Woodward, and Jason Lane will vye for the final two spots as the spring season winds down over the next seven days.

Of that group, Duncan has had by far the best spring and the highest profile. He is near the top of the team stat sheet in several offensive categories and has showed flashes of improved defensive skills in the outfield and at first base. If Duncan does make the big club, he will await the results of an appeal filed with Major League Baseball in regards to a three-game suspension handed down to Duncan after an on-field incident against the Tampa Bay Rays on March 13. Starting Yankee centerfielder Melky Cabrera also received a three-game ban after that game.

Betemit came to the Yankees in a trade that sent relief pitcher Scott Proctor to the Dodgers last July. The 26-year-old Betemit is a switch hitter and can play all four infield positions. He enjoyed only limited success in 37 appearances for the Yankees last season, batting .226 with a .278 on-base percentage. He struck out 33 times in only 84 at bats. He also had four home runs and contributed 24 RBI.

Despite his modest offensive output, Betemit's defensive flexibility and switch-hitting ability make him, along with Duncan, an odds-on-favorite to make the Yankee roster out of spring training. Duncan, like Ensberg, is a right-handed hitter, and that fact persuaded Girardi when it came time to make the call on Ensberg Friday afternoon.

"We're going to face a lot of left-handed starters," Girardi told Hoch. "You look at the Red Sox, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Cleveland and the White Sox. Especially early on, we're going to see a lot of these teams that have a lot of those left-handers."

Was it the right call?

With a lefty-heavy lineup, Girardi needed to look for righty bats to achieve at least a little bit of balance at the plate. But aside from his attractiveness as a right-handed bat, Ensberg provides some veteran bench stability with a successful pedigree.

As a Houston Astros third baseman, Ensberg enjoyed some success at the plate, particularly in 2005, when he slugged 36 home runs with 101 RBI and finished fourth in NL MVP balloting.

Betemit has had an up and down career. In 409 major league games, he has a .260 average with a .332 on-base percentage, with 258 strikeouts in only 909 at bats.

Duncan is a raw commodity who, despite a power surge that lead to six home runs after being called up last September, has no real representative sample of major league experience to back up any confidence the Yankees may have in him right now.

Betemit shores up some defensive replacement concerns. Duncan is fiery; he will play hard on every ball and will take an extra mile with every inch granted him. But the Yankees needed a bench player who at least in the short term gives them proven offensive ability, some defensive help if Duncan can't spell Giambi at first base effectively, and time to let the other young players, who look promising, get more seasoning in the minors.

The right(y) call was a good call by Girardi.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thursday game notes

This may be a case of (very) wishful blogging, but Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano did nothing to derail his 2008 MVP hopes, which I'm proud to say started right here, yesterday.

During New York's 7-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday, Cano swung a sharp bat, going 2-for-4 with an RBI against Jays pitching that was, shall we say, somewhat less than stellar. In the field, there was no denying (obligatory hyperbole alert!) Cano's brilliance.

After Blue Jays leadoff hitter David Eckstein had slapped a double down the rightfield line to open the game, Yankee rightfielder Shelley Duncan dug the ball out of the corner and fired a terrific relay throw to Cano. With Eckstein intent on stretching the hit to a triple, Cano wheeled and gunned a strike to Wilson Betemit, who applied the tag at third base for the game's first out.

Cano stole second base in the third inning for his third swipe of the spring. Later in the game he was tagged out at second when he attempted to stretch a single to a double.

The MVP watch starts now!

Young arms continue to look good

It's difficult to get too excited about Joba Chamberlain's 11-pitch, three strikeout performance when considering that the hitters he faced -- Ryan Patterson, Sean Shoffit and Anthony Hatch -- have never done much if anything above Class A ball. That being said, Joba's postgame remarks about feeling sharper after returning full-time to the bullpen should leave Yankee fans feeling good about Chamberlain's attitude in the pen.

"You just attack the zone," Chamberlain told Bryan Hoch of "You stop worrying about your mechanics and your abilities take over."

And for any Yankee fan still smarting over Girardi's decision to send Joba to the pen -- and there are Yankee fans who are dead-set against this move, long-term or short -- Joba's 6.14 ERA as a starter this spring might shake those fans out of their delusions of starting pitcher grandeur. All indications are that this kid is a born reliever.

Thursday's Yankee starter Ian Kennedy wasn't Cy Young sharp against the Jays -- three of the first four hits off Kennedy were doubles -- but he got the outs he needed when he needed them. Kennedy surrendered a run off six hits in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out four and didn't walk a batter.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Yankees in the running

The 2008 season projections will be posted next week. For now, let's take a look at which Yankees figure to be in the running for the major end-of-season awards.

AL Most Valuable Player

The obvious: Alex Rodriguez. The dark horses: Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano

A-Rod said two weeks ago that Jeter is in such good shape physically that he thinks the Yankee captain will be the MVP of 2008. Too bad for Jeter that the reigning MVP looks to be in equally good shape.

Jeter does look great, and he's probably in the pre-season running for MVP every season just because of the lineup around him. If Johnny Damon's healthy and getting on base, giving Jeter better pitches to hit, Jeter just might get the award he was robbed of in 2006.

Cano looks on the verge of a breakout season, and anyone listening to Girardi on last season's YES Network telecasts knows he loves Cano's potential. The only chink in Cano's MVP armor is his spot in the lineup. Batting eighth, he'll need Melky Cabrera to have a good season in order to keep pitchers honest when throwing to Cano. If Cabrera cooperates, Cano might sneak up on the league.

A-Rod. Well, what's left to be said?

AL Cy Young Award

Realistically, no Yankee hurler looks like a contender, unless Mo Rivera saves 48 games and keeps his ERA below 1.00. Andy Pettitte is past his 20-win days, and Chien-ming Wang just doesn't seem to get serious consideration from voters because he's not a big strikeout guy. And with the young arms apparently on an innings leash, it's doubtful either Hughes or Kennedy will get the innings -- and with them the win totals -- to make a run for the CYA. Similarly, Joba Chamberlain's bullpen/starter hybrid status doesn't seem to offer much chance for him to make an award run.

AL Manager of the Year

What will Joe Girardi have to do to earn a shot at his second top manager award? He won the National League award in 2006 with a sub-.500 Florida Marlins team. Obviously, the only thing he'd get with that kind of season in the Bronx is a one-way ticket back to the YES booth. But will he have to win the division in order to make a MOY run?

Almost certainly, and then some. Yankee managers carry expectation baggage that other managers don't. Without a 100-win season, even winning a difficult AL East division probably wouldn't get Girardi the top vote from most writers.


AL MVP: Cano! It's an emotional call, but something says that the second baseman is ready. And give A-Rod a third-place finish as Cano gets the "Cano's a new guy/anti A-Rod" vote.
CY YOUNG: Wang still a top six finisher (because he won't be bad), but that's it for the Yankees.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Yankees won't win 100 games with three young hurlers figuring so prominently in the equation. Girardi gets votes for a 94+ win season, but not enough to win the trophy.

News and notes

Joba to the pen; ball in Mussina's hands

No surprise that Yankee skipper Joe Girardi made the early call to start the season with Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen. It's the right (only) move for Girardi to make, and it came at the right time. With just over a week left until Opening Day, Chamberlain needed to know where he was going to be. The mental make-up of a reliever is so different from that of a starter, and the timing of this move gives Chamberlain the appropriate amount of time to wrap his mind around his role.

Apparently, this means the rotation will look like this: Wang-Pettitte-Hughes in the top three slots, with Mussina and Kennedy battling for the fourth position. With the innings restrictions on the young guys, look for Kennedy to take the fifth starter role as Girardi hopes Mussina can eat up some innings and give the younger arms a break. But if Mussina ends April at 1-3 with a 5.75 ERA, how long can Girardi keep Chamberlain in the pen?

Yankee fans have never really warmed to the moody Moose. If he fails to get off to a decent start next month, how long will Yankee fans wait before the "Mooooooose!" chants turn to "Booooos!"?

A crazy 45 minutes

Who says spring training can't be compelling?

After turning on the Red Sox-Blue Jays telecast yesterday to get a look at the Yankees two main rivals for the AL East crown, it was stunning to see the Red Sox in the dugout and catcher/captain Jason Varitek giving his impromptu press conference regarding the pay snafu involving assistant coaches and members of the training staff. Although it wasn't drama of the highest level, it certainly was entertaining.

How close did the Sox come to calling off the whole Japan (fiasco) trip? It's unlikely we'll ever know, and MLB will publicly insist that it was never that close to being cancelled. But for nearly an hour it sure seemed as if all bets were off.

Whatever compensation the coaches and trainers get from this trip, it can't be worth more than the respect the Red Sox earned for that ballsy stance.

Is Reggie serious?

"Hall, yes!" says former Yankee slugger Reggie Jackson, who recently expressed his desire to see principal owner George M. Steinbrenner inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame. If there was a vote here, consider it "no."

For any non-player or non-manager to get into the Hall, shouldn't that person have done something to change or effect the game in some very significant way? The answer here is "yes." And that begs the next question: Aside from presiding over six Yankee World Series titles and nine Americn League pennants, what has Steinbrenner done for baseball?

Maybe someone else out there has an answer, but I don't know what it could be. He was suspended for having Dave Winfield followed. He made a mockery of the hiring/firing process with managers in the 1980s. He has constantly sought (until recent years) to raise his own profile above that of his team and sometimes above the game itself. All Yankee fans have a love/hate relationship with Steinbrenner and his moves with the team, but any honest fan has to admit that there have been as many headshaking moments as there have been handclappers.

Put Big Stein's likeness out in Monument Park, but not in the HOF. A big personality shouldn't be an easy ticket to the Hall.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Thank you, Andy

Finally, and for once.

After years -- YEARS! -- of watching Boston pitchers plunk Yankee batters, and then turning around and watching Yankee pitchers do nothing -- NOTHING! -- about it, finally, Andrew Eugene Pettitte did the honorable thing during Monday's 8-4 shellacking of the Red Sox. He gave David Ortiz's nipples a brush burn. Halle-effing-lujah!

If there is one thing Yankee fans implored, in fact begged shamelessly, from Joe Torre, it was to turn the Yankee pitchers loose, to take the leash off and let them retaliate as Boston took aim at our best batsmen. Torre, praised for his maturity in some corners, seemed to forget the baseball era which forged him, and the pitchers -- Bob Gibson ring any bells? -- whom he caught as a young catcher. (And if there was anything more infuriating than Torre's refusal to dance with the Red Sox, it was Boston manager Terry Francona's smug What? My pitchers don't throw at anyone! expression.)

Time after time, after time, after nauseating time, Jeter, then A-Rod, then Jeter again, then Giambi, then Jeter -- AGAIN! -- then Melky, then.... the list never stopped. And when Julian Tavares nailed Jeter in the elbow pad in yesterday's second inning, Yankee fans wondered: with Joey G. now in the big chair, would this be the day?

And it was.

Pettitte didn't hit Ortiz. Didn't even put him down on his ass. But that fastball in the third inning sent a message. It's a new day, Boston. That $hit you've been pulling for years is gonna stop, and if it doesn't, fine. The gloves are off. The bravado runs in both directions now. And Yankee fans loved it. (And we didn't need Pettitte's postgame comment, "There's no doubt I backed him off," to know that Pettitte put that pitch exactly where he wanted it. The look on Pettitte's face as he got the ball back from catcher Jorge Posada was confirmation enough. There was nothing sheepish or apologetic in Pettitte's eyes. It was a total purpose pitch.)

Murray Chass has a column in today's Times bemoaning the passing of the tit-for-tat era when baseball players were men taking care of business on the basepaths. Chass' piece has the tone of an elegy, with Cincinnati Rewds manager Dusty Baker all but eulogizing throughout the column. But if yesterday was any indication of things to come, then there is at least one place where baseball's bygone era ain't quite so bygone: that strip of highway between the Bronx and Beantown.

And Hallelujah! for that, as well, because that's baseball as it ought to be played.

More to the story

And forget the brushback pitch that Pettitte used to buzz Ortiz. That entire at bat was sensational. Pettitte may not have been lightning crisp yesterday, but that at bat in the third inning was beautiful to watch.

After the up-and-in got Ortiz's attention, Pettitte laid a beautiful slider out off the right edge and got a swinging strike. After a foul ball, Pettitte ended the at bat and the inning with another textbook breaking ball that Ortiz -- who hits .333 lifetime off Pettitte; Yikes! -- had no chance of reaching.

Pettitte's quick step off the mound was noted, and it showed a spark that may indicate that he is ready for the season and for the challenge of shaking off all the Congressional hearing/HGH/Roger Clemens stuff that many writers speculate will dog Pettitte this season. It sure didn't seem to have any effect on him yesterday.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Just a spring thing? Not!

I really want to agree with the guys over at River Avenue Blues, I do. When they write in today’s postings that this afternoons Yankees-Red Sox matchup at Legends Field is meaningless, they are, essentially, right.

And wrong.

There is a time for everything under the sun, and today’s meaningless spring game is no time for beanballs, chest-thumping, spikes-up slides, or X-rated taunts from the dugouts. And the writers at River Avenue are correct when they see the media need not treat this like game seven of the ALCS. But for the fans, at least this fan, there is never a time to let this rivalry go.

In the end, does any of this baseball stuff that we infect our lives with mean anything? No, of course it doesn’t. And call me infantile, juvenile, childish, or just plain sad, but I carry my Red Sox hatred in the open, and meaningless or not, I know the sight, just the sight, of that cap, that logo, that big, fat, Jello-parfait of a DH (is he even playing today?), that manager who can’t keep his mouth closed when he chews (and I don’t care that Joe Torre liked him)… any and all of that, plus a laundry list more, will have me doing push-ups between innings and howling at Taiwan's midnight moon. And let, just let, the Red Sox get a lead, any lead -- a lucky, meaningless, one-run lead -- at any point in the game, and watch my head disintegrate like that poor sap in Scanners.

Meaningless? It very well may be. But it’s still Boston, and we’re still New York.

Go, Yankees!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

It's Gotta Be The Cap!

I didn't see much baseball over the weekend, but I did wake up Sunday morning with a replay of the Yankees-Blue Jays game. ESPN Taiwan loves to beat the Wang-kees into the hearts and minds of the local citizenry, and for a Yankee lifer living on the island, it's heavenly.

The first thing I saw when I looked at the television was Joe Girardi sitting in his chair among the other coaches near the on-deck circle. And I was struck by something: the way Girardi wears his cap. And at that moment, I realized we're better off now than we were with St. Joe.

When I was a soldier, one way we used to gauge a new leader was to spot his cap. We knew right off if an officer or a higher-ranking NCO was going to be a prick, a marshmallow, or a hard core, ass-busting (as in, respectable) soldier. We despised the first two, and longed for the third.

The marshmallow was the easiest to spot. He never broke his bill. These types would pull a cap off the rack at the clothing sales store and slip it onto his (West) pointy little head. The bill would extend out flat and unbent, like half a camouflage frisbee had gotten embedded into his forehead. He looked ridiculous, and we knew that if this guy didn't have the stones to break a bill on his BDU cap, he wouldn't have the brick balls to lead a unit on a real mission.

The prick was somewhat more difficult to discern, because his cap resembled the ass-buster's, but only just. Both guys liked to crack their bills on the sides and fold them down across the temples. But what gave away the prick was that he always went too far. He went Hollywood, covering his eyes by pulling the tip of the bill down just above the tip of his nose, and he would hold that permanent Clint Eastwood glare, one eye squinted and the other looking off into the distance for what, nobody knew. We figured he didn;t want us to see his eyes because if we did, we'd know he was ten percent talk and ninety percent bullshit. And that's where the ass-buster had him beat.

Soldiers love a hard-ass leader because for all the shit he drags you through, he lets you know where you stand, and he's usually right there in the shit with you. His bill is broken because it's supposed to be. It looks soldierly. The soldier's uniform isn;t a goddamned tuxedo, and it isn't supposed to be worn like one, a la the marshmallow. But a uniform cap isn't a weapon of intimidation, either, which is what the prick likes to think every time he slips it on and pulls it down cover his face.

Seeing Joe Girardi, his cap cracked and his eyes surveying the field, made me realize something about Joe Torre -- and God bless him, because I loved him -- and that was that he never cracked his bill. He wore the Yankee cap as if it were a toupee, just sitting up there to cover the recedes. I never saw Joe in his manager's uniform and thought that he was just one step away from leaping that top step of the dugout and going toe-to-Torre with anyone who might slip in a sucker punch to one of his guys. Some writers have called that the mature approach, and there's no denying that. But there's also no denying that these Yankees -- and I mean the aging vets who have been there and done that more than a few times -- maybe needed the fire of Joe, the Younger. They needed to know that there was someone behind them with a fire, not just for their game, but a fire for their asses. No one doubts that Joe Torre was the absolute right man for the Yankees when he came aboard 12 years ago -- and maybe he wasn't a marshmallow, but he certainly wasn't General Patton, either -- but likewise, no one can doubt that the fire this team is playing with now is a direct result of the harder-assed approach that Joe Girardi has brought to the club. Has too much been made of Girardi's toughness since the Rays incidents? Probably, but I'm not talking about the media hype that rose up around those two regrettable plays. I'm talking about the inescapable impression that this Yankee team has a new feel about it, a new hustle and urgency that weren't there -- at least not all the time, anyway -- during the last years of Joe Torre. When he said recently that he thought the change was good for both parties, him and the Yankees, he was dead-on (not that that was news to anyone). Torre had become mellow if not marshmallowed, and while there is a place for the ol' softie in baseball circles, that place is not occupying the first seat in the dugout. Let Don Zimmer play that role, wherever he happens to be (Tampa this season). Torre seemed to be headed n that direction. We all wish him well in Los Angeles, but we're also all kind of glad he's there now, and not here.

With Michael Jordan, it was said that "It's gotta be the shoes." Maybe now, with Joe Girardi, it's gotta be the cap. He wears it like a hard-assed, butt-busting, no-nonsense go-getter. A leader. Jerry Seinfeld was right when he said we're all just rooting for laundry, but sometimes it's how you wear the laundry that matters, and I like what I see when I see Joe Girardi back in a Yankee uniform.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Great start to 2008!!

Here is the text of Major League Baseball's disciplinary announcement, released Friday afternoon:

Discipline has been issued to six members of the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays as a result of the bench-clearing incident that occurred during the top of the second inning of their Wednesday, March 12th Spring Training game at Progress Energy Park, Home of Al Lang Field, in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Shelley Duncan of the Yankees has been suspended for three games and fined an undisclosed amount for his violent and reckless actions, which incited the bench-clearing incident. Unless appealed, Duncan’s suspension is scheduled to begin on Monday, March 31st, when the Yankees host the Toronto Blue Jays in their first game of the 2008 Championship Season.

Jonny Gomes of the Rays has been suspended for two games and fined an undisclosed amount for his violent actions, which escalated the bench-clearing incident. Unless appealed, the suspension of Gomes is scheduled to begin on Monday, March 31st, when the Rays play at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore in their first game of the 2008 Championship Season.

Melky Cabrera of the Yankees has been suspended for three games and fined an undisclosed amount for his violent and aggressive actions during the incident. Unless appealed, Cabrera’s suspension is scheduled to begin on Monday, March 31st.

If any of the three players appeals his suspension, the discipline issued to him will be held in abeyance until the process is complete.

In addition, New York manager Joe Girardi, third base coach Bobby Meacham and hitting coach Kevin Long have been fined for their roles in the incident.

Regular season suspensions for a spring training incident? Opinions are certainly going to vary on this issue, and everyone understands the need to come down hard on players who participate in extra-competitive activities such as brawls, bench clearings, and charging the mound, but wouldn't fines have been sufficient here, big fines? Maybe the collective bargaining agreement limits the size of fines to the point that MLB didn't think fines would be substantial punishment, I don't know. But taking away regular season games seems a bit much for an incident that really was nowhere near as bad as the initial "Brawl!!" headlines suggested.

And the guys at make a great point about Gomes getting a shorter suspension, when it was Gomes who had to run in from the outfield, at a dead sprint, to attack Duncan and escalate the fight..... What a joke. And then (devilish) Rays manager Joe Maddon weighed in with this gem: "(The Yankees) perpetrated the entire situation, and then to have the punishment doled out (to Gomes) almost on a similar basis, to me is unjust and it's not right." Is he kidding? It is debatable whether or not the Yankees "perpetrated the entire situation," but what isn't debatable is that Gomes was the one player, from either side, whose post-slide actions were the most violent and most likely to lead to further altercation. If anything, Gomes got off light.

It isn't clear just yet whether the Yankees plan to appeal any or all of the fines/suspensions doled out by MLB, but if the Yankees choose to accept the penalties without appeal, then things look like this for the season-opening series against the Blue Jays: Melky Cabrera and Shelley Duncan out, meaning Giambi's at first for the whole series, and Damon's in center, putting Matsui in left. That's all we need, Matsui putting his gimpy knee on the line right out of the gate. And who does this leave for DH, Wilson Betemit? So our DH will be batting eighth? That will be interesting.

What a way to start the season....

Woof! Woof!

My second helping of crow in 24 hours....

I had to laugh when I heard David Cone say on the air that these were "the dog days" of spring training, just before the Yankees played a game the other day. (For the record, Cone's voice usually makes me wince, so I should rejoice at any moment where he makes me giggle.) But dog days? During spring training? Give me a break....

But now I think Cone may have been on to something. I've mentioned in previous posts how life may have been better before every spring game was made available via cable television, which invited every amateur analyst with a keyboard to start hacking out instant copy detailing the euphoria, or the panic, that followed these premature demonstrations of what may or may not lay ahead for the season. Now that I've entered the blogging fray, and every day brings with it a new sense of anxiety over getting up-to-date posts on the site as quickly as possible..... I know what Cone meant.

These are, after all, just spring games. And some outings, like today's Phil Hughes start against a split Cincinnati squad, just don't ignite the fire. Certainly, we'd all like for something momentous to happen. (And anyone who says the recent dust-ups with Tampa weren't fun is lying.) But when nothing of consequence occurs, what's a blogger to do?

Derek Jeter told YES Network's Michael Kay (according to a Kay remark on the air last week) that he felt spring training was about ten days too long. Again, I laughed a bit, remembering that I heard the same claims from NFL players who bitched about training camp schedules. (I laughed then, as well, until I learned that the NFL used to play six -- frigging six! -- preseason games. That seems unduly harsh.) And now I think Jeter may have a point. Pitchers, certainly, need the time to build up shoulder endurance, but do we need thirty spring games?

Maybe the players really do need that many games, and maybe Jeter and Cone are just whiny, bitchy, over-paid jocks who'd rather be in Costa Rica promising one-day dream contracts to Hollywood stars than working (not quite) like dogs in the heat and humidity of coastal Florida. (I don't really think they are whiny or bitchy....) But trying to find something compelling in every spring training game, I feel a little bit of their pain.

Of course, Jeter could just quit if the games are that big of a drag, and I could just walk away from the computer. I'm not sure why he stays ($$$$ cha-ching! $$$$), but I just couldn't do without seeing the daily, obligatory YES close-up of Goose Gossage's moustache.

Can we give that thing a one-day contract? If Billy Crystal can foul off a pitch, then Goose's 'stache might actually have a chance to get on base.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I was wrong, kinda sorta

As always, the understated strength of a George Vecsey column nails an issue dead-on. (The link to Vecsey's latest Yankee column appears at the bottom of this post.)

But having said that, I'd like to mildly disagree with St. George.

In yesterday's post I bashed -- immaturely, I might add, and probably with a touch of envy, although I honestly didn't feel any at the time -- the decision to allow Billy Crystal a one-day deal so he could fulfill a lifelong dream of being announced as a Yankee player. (I'm convinced it was hearing his name called just before his at bat, and not the at bat itself, that was the real thrill for Crystal, as it would be for any of us in his position. Lord knows he had no shot at doing anything meaningful at the plate, surprisingly decent foul ball aside...) And I still stand by my initial feeling that the Yankees are, or at least should be, above that kind of sophomoric publicity stunt.

But having watched it, and having seen the genuine thrill it brought Crystal, I have to admit that from a purely human perspective, no one can begrudge someone the chance to realize the thrill of a lifetime. Anytime you witness another person experiencing total joy, you have to tip your cap and say 'Good for you, fella.' (And let's be honest, no one was hurt by this stunt, and baseball has far bigger black-eye issues than a comedian taking swings in a sanctioned game.)

Yes, there is a bit of lustre removed when you learn that Crystal's dream chance came about only because he and Derek Jeter just happened to be at the same (luxury) hotel in Costa Rica in December, and the Yankee captain decided to do Crystal a favor after the comedian whined about turning 60. (Who goes to Costa Rica at Christmastime and moans about a March birthday....???)

And yes, had the one-time-only Yankee offer been given to someone a little less privileged in their every day life -- like, say, someone from Make-A-Wish, or some otherwise underprivileged person -- the moment would have rung a bit more genuine.

But now that it's over, it's time to forget about whatever bad feelings the idea aroused initially. Good for Billy Crystal, and Happy 60th to him. He has a memory today that many of us wish we could have. Now, can we just play real baseball again?

(Read the Vecsey column here:

Perfect Moose

Mike Mussina looked terrific throwing five perfect innings Thursday afternoon, but a few facts need to remain in the conversation.

One, it was spring training, and two, it was the Pittsburgh Pirates (which may render the first issue moot, since there may be no real difference between the Pirates in March and the Pirates in June.)

And a third item requires mentioning: Mussina, although he was locating pitches well, benefitted -- as did Pirate starter Paul Maholm -- from home plate umpire Mark Carlson's rather generous stike zone.

But all in all, Mussina did what starting pitchers are supposed to do in their third spring start. He gave Joe Girardi and Yankee fans something to feel good about and to build on. Nobody expects perfection in spring, but with Mussina's recent history, fans will take it, even if it's only March 13.

Other game notes

After his unfortunate performance running the bases on Wednesday, Shelley Duncan on Thursday showed what he can do to base runners. After Mo Rivera allowed two batters to get on in the sixth inning, Duncan fielded a sharp ground ball at first with men on second and third and one out. After checking the runners, spinning and stepping on first for the force out, Duncan whipped a perfect throw home to nail Pittsburgh's Jose Bautista, who then tried to return to third base but was caught in the rundown for the 3-2-5 inning-ending double play. It was a smart, perfectly executed play by Duncan, who continues to flash genuine baseball skills to go with his gritty, balls-to-the-wall gametime disposition.

It's going to be fun watching this guy grow into the uniform.

No $@#%ing way!

Thanks to Maureen Ryan, the Yankees Chick --the link to her fabulous blog can be found by scrolling down the left side of this page -- my blood pressure hit the red numbers about ten minutes ago. For, it was while scrolling down her site this morning that I saw the Vegas odds on the World Series.... and the Mets -- gee-zus god, of all teams! - -are a safer bet than the Yankees! Who is setting the Vegas book, Joe Benigno?

The Mets can go out and get all the Johanna Montana Santanas they want, but that won't prevent them from stinking up their last year at -- excuse me while I try to massage the laugh cramps out of my face -- Shea Stadium. (Just where is that again?) Has anyone seen the chubby cheeks of Carlos Beltran? Or the crippled hip of Senor Delgado? And although I was dragged kicking and screaming to the TV to watch the Mets-Orioles exhibition game last night -- for whatever reason, the Yankees-Rays wasn't on here in Asia -- I was thankful for a look at my once-favorite Yankee, El Duque, whose former, signature high leg kick now makes Fred Sanford look like a Rockette. And this team is going places in a not-too-shabby NL East? Please.

It's nearly 10 p.m. here in Taiwan as I write this, and I needed a boost to keep me going until the Yankees-Pirates play ball at one o'clock. Thanks, Yankees Chick, you just did the trick.

The Mets, 5-to-1 to win it all..... LOL.. I mean, please.. they're the Mets!

Crystal's blue (as in sad) persuasion

And while we're expressing consternation here..... how the hell did Billy Crystal persuade the baseball powers-that-be to let him bat in today's game? There's only one way to make this Billy Crystal stunt any worse or more ludicrous than it already is: Here's hoping Crystal goes to the plate in his Sammy Davis Jr. blackface and wearing about forty pounds of jewelry.

Or maybe he can suffer a brush back pitch and step out of the box, point his bat to the pitcher, and laspe into his lame Muhammad Ali imitation. Actually, I do hope this happens, then the pitcher can do what he ought to do: blast this joker right in the ass with a heater.

That's what's lost in all this.... A Pirates pitcher working to get ready to do his job has to become part of a lame publicity stunt. It would serve Crystal right -- and the Yankees, and MLB for allowing this -- to get the real feel of batting in the major leagues. You show up the opponent, there's penance to be paid.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

No defense for it

Shelley Duncan is young and upcoming, and his grit and intensity are already earning him a reputation as a hard-nosed, I-got-your-back kind of player and teammate. What someone better tell him -- some veteran like, oh, say, the team captain -- is that a very fine line exists between being a standup guy and being a goon. The first gets and deserves all the respect in the world; the second, rightfully, is scorned and ridiculed.

Duncan crossed that fine line Wedneday afternoon. There's just no excuse for sliding in with your spikes waist-high to the defender. Just no excuse. And Duncan's silly explanation that he was "sliding toward the glove" would only be true if Iwamura were wearing a condom under his cup. Duncan needs to grow up, and fast, and he's in the perfect place for it. This Yankee roster is full of guys who have played the right way for years. It's time for one of them -- Mr. Jeter, you're on deck -- to pull this kid aside and teach him something before he ruins a potentially good, and respect-worthy, career before it ever gets started.

Every Yankee fan is all for sticking up for the pinstripes -- who hasn't wished that our pitchers were a little more aggressive in defense of our batters, particularly against Francona's Red Sox the last four years? But integrity is about more than just settling scores -- if it's even about that at all. Integrity is about staying on the right side of the line, and Duncan didn't do that against the Rays.

Shame on Shelley.

But also, shame on Joe Girardi.

I know the mass of Yankee fans are walking around with swelled chests and inflated senses of pride now that we have a field general who is apparently intent on exorcising the gentle ghost of Joe Torre as quickly as he can, but hold on a minute, pardner. This "new sherriff in town" posture poses a risk, and that risk is that the glory of the Yankees may be re-kindled, but at the expense of Yankee class.

Whatever fans of other teams may think of the Yankees and their supporters, the Yankees are -- whether those other fans like it or not -- the class club of Major League baseball. If MLB had a flagship franchise, it would be the Yankees and there wouldn't even be a runner-up in the race. With that honor comes not only the slings and arrows of outrageous envy, but also the responsibility to play baseball in such a way that defies criticism. People who hate the Yankees can rip the front office for how it builds its teams, but -- at least in the Joe Torre era -- those people couldn't rip the Yankee players for how they competed and how they carried themselves on the field. That aura of class and respectability seems to be seeping away. (I admit that is a rather alarmist and reactionary position, but the Cerevelli-Johnson discussion has gone on for too long, and now the Duncan incident is going to keep last Saturday's game in the spotlight just that much longer. A disturbing trend is beginning to develop here.)

As much as any Yankee fan, I watched Red Sox pitchers plunk Yankee batters over the recent years and I cringed when Pettitte or Mussina refused to follow suit. I secretly believed that Joba Chambelain's two fastballs over the head of Kevin Youkalis last September were intentional (although I'm sure they weren't..... pretty sure). I've longed for a tougher, grittier Yankee team. But watching Duncan yesterday didn't make me feel gritty; it made me feel dirty.

I hope Girardi can calm himself down and let the players play. Playing with quiet humility, class, and dignity isn't Joe Torre Baseball; it's Yankee Baseball. Let's all hope Girardi figures that out soon.

The Cherry Blast

Whenever a paratrooper makes his first jump after Ft. Benning, it's called his cherry blast (for reasons I hope I don't have to spell out here. This is a family website, after all...)

Since this is the last year of the Shangri-la known as Yankee Stadium, I thought I'd share the story of my first visit and solicit visitors to leave a comment about theirs.

All Yankee fans will remember 1998 as the year the pinstripers laid another claim to the Greatest Team of All Time tag. What didn't go right that season? The list of accomplishments is too long to recall here in detail, but the final tally of 125 wins and a World Series sweep over the San Diego Padres were perfect capstones on a phenomenal, historical season. And for this Yankee fan, it also marks the season of The Pilgrimmage.

On July 22, the Bombers were hosting Detroit. It was a stifling Wednesday afternoon. I think the thermometer hit 96 just before game time. Our seats were in the outfield along the third base line, in the eighth row. We were about level with where Tim Raines played in left. El Duque was on the hill, and the Tigers never stood a chance.

Chuck Knoblauch, Darryl Strawberry, and Jorge Posada hit home runs. Knoblauch's hit the foul pole screen and bounced back, landing about ten seats to our left. In the mad rush of fans -- which I stayed out of -- a woman's halter top was, shall we say, reconfigured. (And yes, the bra had been left had home.) My daughter, in full stare: "Oooooo, Daddy! Did you see her?" Me, looking up into the third deck: "Hey, doesn't that cloud look like Yogi Berra?"

(I'll leave you to decide on the truth of that scene...)

At another point in the game, a foul pop -- from whose bat, I don't recall -- landed even closer, but I was in full protection mode as a mob formed under it while it was still in the air. When it hit the deck, I was hunched over my daughter, shielding her from sure destruction.

And my daughter is what made it all so special, if I may use such a shopworn and banal adjective to describe something that provided memories which still seem almost magical to me. (Ugh! There's another silly descriptor!) I was eight years old when I attended my first major league game at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, accompanied by a man not my own father. He was the father of a friend of a friend. My father never did take me to a game, and without getting maudlin I'll just say that to those who had fathers who did take you to games, I'll be forever envious. But having my daughter there with me on 161st and River, when she was nearly ten years old and excited to be seeing Derek Jeter (and bitterly disappointed that it was Tino Martinez Cup day... sorry Tino. I was excited by it!) was something that only fathers know.

Because she was young she was a little mystified when her father stopped to stare up at every team photo hanging above the concourse doorways, and she may have been a little embarrassed when I cried quietly on the 4 Train as we approached the Stadium at noon and saw that gorgeous grass green/Yankee blue contrast that riders witness as they pass by the outfield. But by the end of the day, with her Yankee bandanna wrapped around her head, and the Yankees walking off the field with a 13-2 victory, she understood it all. (She even understood why I was pissed off at the usher who didn't allow us to linger too long in our seats after the game. Prick...)

There's no way to top a day like that. A man waits nearly 21 years to fulfill a dream, and then it's over, and the dream wasn't even close to the reality, which was indescribably better than anything that could have been imagined. (And it didn't hurt that sitting across from me on the train downtown, after the game, was maybe the most gorgeous, dark-haird woman I have ever seen. I don't even care whether or not she was real, or just a Yankee angel sent down from Blue Heaven to make my day complete. She was smokin'....... Thank you, Lord.)

So that's the cherry blast in the Bronx. I hope all of you had equally thrilling days your first time around. I'd love to read about it. Drop your story in the comment slot.

Perfect Picture

One of the great things about watching the BJays game was seeing the trio of players laughing it up in the dugout after A-Rod's HR -- A-Rod, Jeter, and Pettitte -- and then noticing that right next to them, and completely uninvolved in the banter, was the useless Carl Pavano.

When the book on Brian Cashman gets written, will there be a bigger stain on his legacy than bringing in this creep? Only if Kei Igawa continues to tank will there be a competitor in the Which Move Sucked The Most? chapter in the Cashman bio. Just the sight of Pavano sitting there -- still in uniform; still taking a roster spot that could have gone to Andrew Dice Clay or any other washed up comedian the Yankees feel like signing (oh, excuse me, Billy Crystal) -- was enough to make me sick..... until I saw him ostracized by the other three (contributing) players who were obviously enjoying a genuine moment of camaraderie. It may be a sign of mental weakness to get a thrill at the expense of another person's downfall, but call me challenged if you will. There's no point to being nice about the Pavano disgrace.

And how soon until the Yankees can send him off to the 60-day DL and get him out of sight for good? Sadly, not soon enough.

Almost Perfect: Community Projection--Robinson Cano

Almost Perfect: Community Projection--Robinson Cano

If you're interested in trying to forecast what the individual Yankee players might do this season, try the Community Projections post over at the Almost Perfect blog. Just click on the link above and post your own projected stats for Robbie Cano. There's a Joba Chamberlain post you can access after that.

Now, where's that LaTroy Hawkins window........???

Monday, March 10, 2008


It's hard to imagine Joe Torre going on about the Francisco Cerevelli-Elliot Johnson collision to the extent that Joe Girardi has. I'm not lobbying for a return to the good ol' days of yester-era, but you do have to wonder, in the same situation, what would Joe Torre do? (Or say...)

Girardi's three-day (and possibly more, if he approaches Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon on Wednesday) campaign for the condemnation of Johnson's home plate imitation of Pete Rose has become tedious to the point of being shrill. We get it, Joe G., you're upset about the broken wrist and the (according to you) misplaced hustle of the young Johnson. But let it go, already. Not a single player has taken up the media call to support your claim that Johnson's shoulder dip into Cerevelli's abdomen was as bush league as you claim it was. And the question must be asked: if you're so adament that spring games are devoid of any meaning, then why didn't you instruct your catchers not to block the plate? If Cerevelli had gotten your memo on just how meaningless these games are, then he might have 'ole'd' the play and just allowed Johnson to run freely across an unguarded plate. But Cerevelli is a competitor, a catcher caught up in trying not to waste a terrific throw from the outfield. And the equally competitive Johnson was caught up in trying not to get tagged out. It was a good, solid baseball play all around.

And WFAN's Evan Thomas was wrong on Monday when he informed his on-air partner, Joe Benigno, that Johnson had "stood over Cerevelli after the play, almost to intimidate him, it seemed." Thomas then went on to say that the camera cut away from Johnson to the fallen Cerevelli, so it was impossible to tell how long Johnson stood there. "Then that's wrong," Benigno responded. You're right, Joe, something is wrong, but it wasn't Johnson, it was Evan Thomas.

The replay cameras stayed on Johnson long enough for viewers to see that Johnson did not "stand over" Cerevelli. He stood near the plate looking down, and if anything can be read by his facial expression, it was that Johnson had some passive concern about Cerevelli's condition. After leaving the plate, Johnson did not sprint to the dugout to exchange any excited high-fives with Maddon or with any teammates. No one from Tampa displayed any kind of false bravado over the incident.

And on one final note, it is near-shameful for the media to be speculating that hard-nosed Yankee reserve infielder Shelley Duncan might somehow exact some measure of "revenge" for Cerevelli by crashing into a Tampa infielder or catcher should Duncan get the chance Wednesday (or sometime during the regular season). This kind of silly hypothesizing not only paints a false picture of the original play last Saturday, but it unfairly paints Duncan as some kind of NHL-like goon who's job it is to even scores. Duncan's a natural hardcharger who has earned a reputation for going all-out, all the time. If he does end up in any similar play against the Rays, it's a shame that he will now have to answer questions about his intent. Score another one for the media trying to 'develop' a story that was never there in the first place.

In the best interest of all involved -- including fans who are getting bored reading and hearing about it -- can we just let this go, once and for all?

More good things from Joba

Not the total-command Joba Chamberlain we've seen in the past, but Monday's performance against the Cincinnati Reds was another positive outing for the rookie hardballer. His first-pitch fastballs were crisp and biting the corners. His breaking balls ate a lot of dirt, but he got the job done. Yankee fans can now look forward to Chamberlain's first extended start, say of the five-to-six-inning variety. We've never seen him go that far against major league hitters. It should be interesting to watch.

The Case for Keeping Joba in the Pen

I caught some of Mike and the Mad Dog on the WFAN website last week, and they were ripping Sweeny Murti a new one in regards to the Joba Chamberlain situation. It seems everyone has a point, and it seems everyone’s point has at least some measure of validity when answering the what if’s.

What if Mike Mussina stinks (and I think he will) and either Phil Hughes or Ian Kennedy prove unready to handle starting every fifth day? Then Joba belongs in the rotation. Easy call.

What if the starters are fine but the bullpen tanks and Mo Rivera has to enter too many eighth innings? Then Joba sits in the pen and handles the late-inning set-up role. Again, an easy call.

But what if both above situations occur, and both the rotation and the bullpen look weak out of the gate? Where is Chamberlain’s highest value, getting seven to eight innings every fifth day as a starter, or getting an inning, or slightly more than that, three or four times per week? What happens then?

Let's start by looking at Joba in the set-up role, and journey back to 1996, when Mo Rivera did exactly what Joba did late last season. That year, the Yankee starters were nothing to get excited about. After Andy Pettitte's 21-8 mark, there was a steep drop-off to the next three primary starters. Combined, Jimmy Key, Kenny Rogers, and Dwight Gooden were 35-26 with a 4.79 ERA. Do those numbers sound like a reasonable expectation for this season, from the combination of Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, and Mike Mussina? They should. Last year, those three pitchers combined to go 45-26 with a 4.23 ERA. Those are certainly better stats than the big three of Key, Rogers, and Gooden had back in 1996, but with Mussina and Pettitte both closing in on 40 years old, and with Pettitte's potential mental distractions from the steroid issues, it's very reasonable to expect neither of them to perform at the level they did just one year ago. And who knows how Wang will handle his playoff meltdown versus the Indians last October. Expecting him to put a third straight 19-win season together might be asking a lot.

And even if Wang does manage to match his previous two years, or even go one better and climb to the 20-win mark, then take him out of the mix, make him the Pettitte of 1996, and then add to the Mussina-Pettitte 2008 version.... whom?

The other potential starters -- Hughes and Kennedy -- don't have enough of a representative sample of stats from last season to make a reasonable prediction as to what numbers they might put up this year. It is reasonable, however, to expect that neither will challenge for a Cy Young, and that a 12-win, 9-loss, 4.25 ERA season from both or either of them would be considered a successful first season in the majors. Those are numbers that approximate what the Yankee starters did in 1996. That brings us back to Joba Chamberlain and Mo Rivera.

With questionable starting pitching that year, Rivera's value in the bullpen could not be overstated. While Yankee starters were not stellar as a group, they weren't horrendous, either, and the Rivera-John Wetteland combination was what ultimately allowed the Yankees to get into the postseason and eventually win the World Series. So now, imagine the Chamberlain-Rivera combination, helping a shaky but not dreadful Yankee staff pull out close games -- which most games will be because the Yankees are still going to score tons of runs -- getting the team to 93-98 wins, and Joba remaining in the bullpen seems like the obvious choice.

And while we're reminiscing about 1996, let's step even further down memory lane and revisit the Yankees' World Series opponent that season, the Atlanta Braves, who were so dominant for years, with a monster, Hall of Fame-worthy starting staff..... yet won only a single World Series because time after time their bullpen went south faster than John Rocker's reputation. For all their talk about not bemoaning their single World Series title, you know Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz will always wonder what they might have accomplished with a Mo Rivera in the bullpen.

My vote is for Joba in the bullpen. Make him a starter, and even if he's phenomenal and goes 20-8 with a 3.10 ERA, and strikes out 240 batters in 220 innings, what good will it do if the rest of the staff gets just 65 wins? The Red Sox are still the Red Sox. Toronto's better, but we'll see if they're ready to contend. The Rays might, just might, have the talent to put together a few runs where they win 10-out-of-13. This division is too loaded to mess around with a formula that obviously worked. If it breaks, then fix it. But until then, why are the Yankees even considering this move?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Hughes step forward

How huge a start was it for Phil Hughes? Sometimes, it seems life was better before every spring training game was on television, because without access to the games fans and writers weren't tempted to place so much emphasis on these early outings. Nevertheless, this is the 21st century -- all access, all the time -- and it has to be said that Phil Hughes looked great for three innings Sunday when he took the mound against the Minnesota Twins. Just as encouraging was his fourth inning, where he started to show a little fatigue and less command of the strike zone, but still managed to get through the inning without having surrendered a hit during the game.

Who knows how the next start will turn out, but Yankee fans can walk away from Sunday's start with a positive outlook.


Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Kei Igawa. Yeah, he threw two hitless innings, but the three walks didn't do anything to assuage fears that he still hasn't developed the nerve to face big league hitters and throw strikes consistently. How much do facial expressions mean in terms of pitching effectiveness? Probably not much, but who can watch this guy pitch and not feel that he just looks overwhelmed? Every time I see him, I get the feeling he's dreading his next mistake rather than being aggressive and trying to go after batters.

It probably doesn't help his confidence when he reflects on what his two countrymen helped the Red Sox do last season (and it can't help that he's playing beside Japan legend Hideki Matsui). I live in Taiwan, not Japan, but if there is any overlap in the way the public can ridicule someone who is perceived to be a failure -- and failure is the kindest label to put on Igawa's brief tenure in the Bronx in 2007 -- then Igawa must have had his psychological foundation shaken and stirred by the reaction of Japanese fans and media. The guy's up against it, but that excuse won't get him a free pass from Yankee fans. I may be wrong, but he looks to me like he's on his way to becoming the Japanese Ed Whitson.

Was it or wasn't it?

One can understand Joe Girardi's frustration over the Francisco Cervelli-Elliott Johnson collision at home plat on Saturday. And one can also understand Rays manager Joe Maddon's insistence that it was a good, aggressive play by a young ballplayer trying to win a game. But when YES Network broadcaster Michael Kay wondered aloud if the play was appropriate in something as "meaningless" as a spring training game, was he right in how he labeled the game? It depends on whose perspective one chooses to adopt.

Certainly by that point in the game -- the top of the ninth inning -- the game was meaningless to Girardi. He has a (relatively) secure job and he has the majority of his Yankee roster already penciled in. Most of the Yankees on the field at the time of the play have no shot at making the big club out of spring training. But what about Johnson?

Although he is rumored to be headed down to the minors for Opening Day, he has every right to expect that his every move is being scrutinized by Rays management. And in an organization loaded with young talent -- young, unpredictable talent -- a player like Johnson could get the call up anytime. Showing determination and hustle on a play like the collision with Cervelli could be the difference between being called up in June or called up in August, or being called up never.

Did it appear as if Elliott deliberately lowered his shoulder just to nail Cervelli in the gut? Yes. Did it look as if there was ample room for Elliott to execute a hook slide around the third-base edge of the plate? Yes. Is there any way for Yankee fans to know if either of the above answers are dead-certain yesses? No, not really.

Unfortunately, that's baseball. Guys get hurt. Some Yankee fans are getting emotional about the play, and Girardi's mild stoking of the fire won't calm any of that. But emotion aside, there is no clear-cut right or wrong side to take here.

Living in Taiwan, I don't have many chances to listen to NYC-area talk radio, so I don't know what the pulse of the Yankee fans is on this issue. Had it been Jorge Posada who had gone down -- no disrespect to Francisco Cervelli intended -- then Joe Maddon might have wanted to move his club out of Tampoa and to Miami on the overnight train. Yankee fans in Florida for spring training might have started a Battle by the Bay. Posada's hypothetical involvement still would not have made the play any worse, however. Elliott, I think, should get a pass on this one.

If Hank Steinbrenner...

... is serious about becoming the Bigger Stein -- and every headline grab he's made this spring sends the signal that he is setting out to make his father the Ursa Minor of the Yankee universe -- then I hope he's already planning how to pluck David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays as soon as Mr. Price is available. Tomorrow would be nice.

There will be all kinds of qualifications about Price's 'major league (sort of) debut," and every qualification will be dead-on accurate. One late inning in a meaningless spring training game is, well, meaningless. But Price displayed every aspect of a future star - a future intimidating star -- with the way he plowed through the four Yankee batters he faced on Saturday.

Yankee reserve catcher Francisco Cervelli will certainly never forget Saturday's game, but when he looks back on it on some distant future afternoon he will likely remember it more as "the day David Price plunked me on the elbow" than he will as the day Elliot (Who's he, Grandpa?) Johnson bowled him over in a debatably bush-league play at the plate in the ninth inning. Earlier, in the seventh inning, Cervelli became the first professional victim of a Price(less?) inside fastball. The sound of the impact must have been wince-inducing for fans at Legends Field. For those of us watching through the television, it was sickening enough to hear.

What most impressed about Price was the tenacity he showed by going right back inside -- with another 98-mph heater, if memory serves -- on the first pitch, the very next pitch, to Shelley Duncan. Not every rookie would have had the guts to go back in there. Price, as everyone will recall, proceeded to cut down Duncan, Jason Lane, and Wilson Betemit in quick fashion. Every pitch seemed more impressive, and more authoritative, than the last.

Because he has a major league contract, the Rays are obliged to move Price to the big club before the end of his third professional season. If not, Price would be eligible for waivers. On Saturday's YES Network broadcast, Michael Kay said he is hearing that Price has a ticket already punched and will be in Tampa by sometime later this season. Yankee fans can only hope that if they see Price again this season there will be no repeat of Saturday's (qualified) performance. If there is, then all the qualifiers in the world won't change the fact that Price seems more than worth the money.

Personally, I like to leave the good old Yankees days of "spend, spend, spend for free agents" where they belong, in the past. Growing our own crop of young stars over the last decade has given Yankee fans infinitely more pride in the team that takes the field today. But if Price shows the ability to match the potential on display yesterday, then what Yankee fan wouldn't want to see him join the Joba-Hughes-Kennedy rotation?