Yankees Modern Art

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If it were 2002 instead of 2012 and the Yankees had been humiliated by getting swept in the ALCS, there wouldn’t be organizational meetings; statements pronouncing the job security of the manager and general manager; assertions that players who had failed miserably would be back in pinstripes. Since their four game meltdown at the hands of the Tigers, there hasn’t been the outraged lunacy in the organization that would’ve accompanied a George Steinbrenner team not simply losing, but getting swept.

They didn’t run into a hot pitcher. They didn’t walk into a buzzsaw lineup. They weren’t devastated by injuries to irreplaceable players to the degree that they should’ve gotten whitewashed. They didn’t lose a tough 6-7 game series and put up a good show while doing it.

They got swept.

Swept like leaves tumbling to the ground during the Fall season that is supposed to belong to the Yankees. Swept like ash from from one of Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland’s ever-present Marlboro cigarettes.

Swept.

Steinbrenner would’ve openly congratulated the Tigers, noting what a great job Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski did, complete with the glare and unsaid, “And my staff didn’t.”

As capricious and borderline deranged as Steinbrenner was, he served a purpose in creating a sense of urgency and accountability for even the most seasoned and highly compensated stars. They’ve become an organization that tolerates failure and allows indiscretions and underperformance to pass unpunished. Would he have sat by quietly as the team spiraled in September? Would he have exhibited such passivity while the decisions made by the entrenched GM elicited one expensive disaster after another?

Passivity vs accountability is an ongoing problem for the Yankees and there is an in-between, but the Yankees haven’t found it. How is it possible that the GM is not under fire for his atrocious drafts, dreadful trades, and inflexible and unsuccessful development of pitchers? Is it lost on observers that the two teams that are in the World Series made it with an array of starting pitchers who were not babied in the way that Cashman decreed would be the method of acquisition and development for his pitchers—all of whom are either stagnant and inconsistent (Dellin Betances, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain), on the disabled list (Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos, Jose Campos), traded (Ian Kennedy, Phil Coke), or failed completely (Andrew Brackman)?

Could the Yankees have used George Kontos this year? He’s a forgotten name, but appeared in 44 games for the NL champion Giants and was a useful reliever for a pennant-winning team. In exchange for Kontos they received Chris Stewart, a journeyman backup catcher for whom defense is supposedly a forte and whose numbers, on the surface, imply that he was “better” for the pitchers than starter Russell Martin. In reality, Stewart was CC Sabathia’s semi-personal backstop and 18 of Sabathia’s 28 starts were caught by Stewart. It’s easy to look “better” when catching Sabathia as opposed to Freddy Garcia.

If a team is limiting its payroll and can’t spend $14 million for a set-up man who could be the closer just in case Mariano Rivera gets hurt as they did with Rafael Soriano, they need to keep pitchers like Kontos who could help them cheaply. They can’t toss $8 million into the trash on pitchers like Pedro Feliciano, then look across town to blame the Mets expecting the usual cowering silence for the accusation. (At least the Mets replied for once and shut the blameshifting Yankees’ GM up.)

Firing someone for no reason is not the answer, but firing someone for the sake of change is a justifiable reason to make a move—any move. No one’s losing their jobs over this? The majority of the club—including Alex Rodriguez—is coming back? Cashman hasn’t been put on notice for his on and off field faults?

Manager Joe Girardi has lost a serious amount of credibility in that clubhouse coming off the way he buried the veteran players who’d played hard and hurt for him during his entire tenure. There wasn’t a love-fest going on with Girardi, but there was a factional respect for the job he did that was demolished with his huddling with Cashman in the decision to bench A-Rod.

What they’re doing in bringing back the entire front office, manager, coaching staff, and nucleus of players is saying that there was nothing wrong with the team in 2012; that a season in which, apart from June and September, they were barely over .500 and putting forth the thought that they’ll be the same, but better in 2013. How does that work? The already aging players are a year older, but they’ll improve?

No. That’s not how it goes.

If the Boss were around, there would be demands to do something. It might be a bloodbath, it might be a tweak here or there, it might be a conscious choice to get A-Rod out of pinstripes no matter the cost. But there would be something. Coming from his football/military background, it wasn’t a bullying compulsion alone that Steinbrenner had to fire people and make drastic changes when something didn’t go according to plan. It was a necessity. Occasionally that resulted in stupidity the likes of almost trading Ron Guidry for Al Cowens; of trading Willie McGee for Bob Sykes; of trading Al Leiter for Jesse Barfield; for firing highly qualified baseball men in the front office and as manager and replacing them with sycophants whose main function in life was to make sure the Boss got his coffee at just the right temperature.

Where’s the middle?

Questions would be asked rather than adhering to a plan that’s not working. There was an end to the threats. Now there don’t appear to be consequences. They’ve gone from one extreme to the other when, in his last decade in charge, there was a middle-ground (still leaning heavily to the right) when Steinbrenner was alive.

There have been calls for the Yankees to return to the “feel good” tenets of 1996 and the dynastic confidence of the cohesive and well-oiled machine of 1998-2000. It’s true that during that time there wasn’t an A-Rod magnitude of star sopping up a vast chunk of the payroll and making headlines in the front of the newspaper more often than the back, but those teams were also the highest-paid in baseball. There was no Little Engine That Could in 1996.

With the mandate to reduce the bottom line to $189 million by 2014, it’s not judging how the team failed as they did in 2008 by not making the playoffs, and buying their way out of it with Mark Teixeira, Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. Players aren’t running to join the Yankees in quest for a championship anymore and the money isn’t as limitless as it once was, so the playing field is level and the venue no longer as attractive.

You can’t have it both ways and claim to be superior to everyone else while having loftier goals than everyone else and being more valuable than everyone else, then run the team the same way as everyone else. It can’t work.

But they’re keeping this main cast together. It’s Yankees modern art where losing is tolerated and the aura of the Boss is mentioned as a historical artifact like the dinosaurs. He really existed once. It seems longer ago than it actually was and it’s fading off into the distance with each passing day and each organizational staff member’s comfort to the point of complacency.

They’re complacent all right; they’re consistent too. Every year it’s the same thing with the same people, and they expect it to change in the next year.

Trust me, it won’t.

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Mike Francesa As The Psycho Ex-Boyfriend

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The Mets have planned a small video tribute for Jose Reyes on his first trip to New York as a visiting player when the Marlins come to town on April 24th—NY Daily News Story.

It’s no big deal either way. Like the supposed small gesture they may or may not have planned (we don’t know yet) for Chipper Jones when the Braves visit Citi Field for the final time in September, there’s nothing wrong with doing something nice and altering the perception of the club that had turned the Mets into a the type of place where players didn’t want to go unless they have no other choice.

Isn’t a solid reputation for treating players—theirs and others—kindly and professionally better than rampant dysfunction and disarray?

Like Jones, they’re not giving Reyes a car; they’re not retiring his number. If they’re doing it to draw a few more fans, so what?

Some have a problem with it though. One such person is Mike Francesa.

The WFAN host went into a blustery rant as to why the Mets have it backwards; how they never get it right; how they’re playing well and this adds another distraction from the team that they don’t need.

He can make his case and we can agree or disagree—it’s arguable—but his suggestion in lieu of a tribute was that of a psychopathic, spurned ex-boyfriend when he said that rather than give Reyes a tribute, they should throw a ball near Reyes’s head.

It would’ve been taken as his mouth getting away from him as he was opening his show and stirring the pot but for two things: he’s said stuff like this before; and he said it again a moment later with the idiotic assertion that Reyes should “get one in the chin when he comes up.”

This is not a new line of thought from Francesa. In the Little League World Series a few years ago, a player pointed toward the fence as if he was going to hit the ball out of the park and Francesa said that he, as a child, would’ve thrown the ball at the kid’s head.

He also suggested (off-air and according to another WFAN employee who was with him) that the Yankees throw at Reyes’s head after Reyes had homered twice at Yankee Stadium in June of 2010.

This headhunting obsession is disturbing and I wonder if Francesa feels the same way about all players or it’s Reyes who’s earned this bullseye on his helmet. Would it be okay if it was Derek Jeter? Alex Rodriguez? One of his favorites Bernie Williams?

Throwing at Reyes’s head is not only okay, but encouraged?

And what if the ball gets away from the pitcher and it sails into Reyes’s face? Or if the ball is close and Reyes leans forward instead of back and hits him in the helmet or the neck? What if it hits him in the eye?

What if it ends his career?

Is that retribution?

For what?

Because he chose to sign with the Marlins after the Mets didn’t make him an offer?

The Mets didn’t want him back, so what’s the logic behind this edict to try and hurt him?

The list of players whose careers have been damaged or destroyed by errant pitches that hit them in the head or face is vast. Off the top of my head, Al Cowens, Tony Conigliaro, Dickie Thon, Don Slaught and Adam Greenberg pop immediately to mind.

There are many others.

What would be accomplished by hitting Reyes? Would it prove something? I’m not seeing the logic.

It’s these bully-types like Francesa who consider themselves old-school and want to return to the 1950s and 1960s when pitchers owned the inside of the plate and there was no body-armor nor bench clearing brawls every time a pitch came close to them.

But the truth is that in spite of the reputations and being at or near the top of the league in hit-by-pitches for Don Drysdale, Sal Maglie, Bob Gibson and other more intimidating pitchers of the era, it was the threat of the inside pitch that was the weapon rather than the legitimate fear that they were trying to hit someone in the head.

It’s also those bully-types who would never follow through on these demands to “hit ‘im” if they themselves were asked to carry them out.

I’m old-school when it comes to retaliation. Sometimes it’s necessary in the big leagues and pitchers must pitch inside. But if you’re going to do it, don’t throw at the head. Most hitters, while disliking being drilled, will understand when it happens and they’re hit in the back or lower body. If it’s because their own pitcher was doing it to the opposition, that will be policed in-house.

But Francesa is old-school in name and ignorance only; he’s longing for a time when imbecilic would-be tough guys stalked the playground and exerted their will until they ran into someone tougher (as they invariably do); someone who didn’t talk, but acted.

For saying something like this, Francesa’s despicable and there’s no excuse.

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