The Yankees’ Problems Go Far Beyond One Fractured Ankle and a Blown Call

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So Nick Swisher’s gregariousness—long an irritant to opponents—is no longer charming to the home fans when he’s 4 for 26, lost a ball in the lights in right field, and they’re looking for someone, anyone to blame for Derek Jeter’s ankle injury no matter how ludicrous the shifting of responsibility is? Swisher is surprised and “hurt” by the fans heckling and booing him?

Indicative of the need for vast chunks of the fanbase to awaken to an unexpected and unforeseen reality, Swisher is the case study of how things truly are for the Yankees when the “magic” disappears or decides to shift its allegiance to another venue.

The search for reasons that there were blocks empty seats at Yankee Stadium for playoff games is a bunch of noise. No one can pinpoint exactly why it’s happening in spite of Randy Levine’s complaints or baseless theories. It could mean anything. In a poor economic climate, fans may not have the money to purchase the seats, pay for the parking, indulge in the concessions. It could be that some have become so accustomed to the Yankees being in the playoffs every year that it’s lost its specialness and they’re paying scant attention to the how and are making the unsaid statement of, “Let me know when the World Series starts.”

The World Series will start on October 24th and the Yankees still have time to be a participant. But barring a miraculous turnaround, they will instead be cleaning out their lockers while it’s going on. Some, like Swisher, will be doing it for the final time as a Yankee.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t call for instant replay when it negatively influences you, but laugh heartily and say smugly, “Them’s the breaks!” when Joe Mauer hits a ball that was clearly fair and was called foul; or when Jeffrey Maier has become a folk hero and part of the “Yankees lore” when he interferes with a Jeter home run ball that wasn’t and may have turned the entire 1996 ALCS in the Yankees’ favor and been the catalyst for their dynasty. Jeter, after that game, was asked what he would say to the young Maier and with the remnants of his antiquated fade haircut still in place and in the formative years of being a Yankees’ hero, he said, “Attaboy!!!” with undisguised glee at the Yankees winning in a similarly unfair fashion as they’re complaining about losing now. Except the Mauer and Maier calls changed the games entirely and the blown call on Omar Infante was only made because Infante made a mistake rounding the base and that the subsequent Yankees’ pitchers couldn’t record one out to make the point moot.

It’s the condescension and self-indulgent arrogance that is currently reverberating on the entire Yankees apparatus from the front office, to the YES Network, to the sanctioned bloggers, to the media, to the players, to the fanbase.

We want justice when it benefits us.

We love the players as long as they perform for us.

We function with dignity and class as long as we win.

Players join the Yankees because they offer the most money and they win. But when a player says no as Cliff Lee did, it’s because he doesn’t appreciate the “privilege” of being a Yankee, not because he and his wife preferred Philadelphia or Texas or because his wife didn’t brush off the same abuse that is being heaped on Swisher now was being hurled at her (along with spit and beer) in the 2010 ALCS.

It’s a wonderful world to live in where there’s no responsibility and money can be tossed at every problem to solve it.

The reality hurts when it hits like a sledgehammer. This faux history and concept of invisible baseball Gods smiling on the Yankees is eliminated by the truth. It was the need for capital in a musical produced by Red Sox owner Harry Frazee that led to the selling of Babe Ruth to the Yankees. They started winning shortly after getting the best player in the game and it turned into a circular entity. The more they won, the more money they made; the more money they made, the more free agent amateurs wanted to play for them because they paid the most in bonuses and they won. It continued on through Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. The amateur draft was implemented in the mid-1960s and the Yankees collapsed. They began winning again through free agency in the mid-late-1970s and it started all up again. There was a long lull and lucky—not smart, lucky—drafts garnered Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte. Amateur free agents upon whom they stumbled and nearly dumped such as Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams turned into stars. They drafted a skinny shortstop, Jeter, in the first round of 1992 and got a historic player. This talk I’ve seen of a method to the madness with “doing the most damage in the later rounds of the draft” is pure better-breeding, blueblood idiocy. Any team that drafts an infielder in the 24th round who develops into Posada, or a lanky lefty like Pettitte in the 22nd round—both in the 1990 draft—is lucky.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t make it more than it is.

Jeter gets injured and rather than being treated as an athlete who happened to get hurt in the middle of a contest, on Twitter it morphs into “a funeral procession,” and those who laughed (sort of the way the Yankees laugh at the Mets and Red Sox when misfortune hits them), are “justified” to have been thrown over the railing at Yankee Stadium. Jeter is analogous to a “wounded warrior being carted off the battlefield.” No. He’s not. He’s a very rich athlete who got hurt. That this type of thing was said while there are actual soldiers being carted off real battlefields and coming back missing limbs, burned beyond recognition, or dead makes this type of comparison all the more despicable.

Yes. Murdering someone makes logical sense when things don’t work out for you. That’s the way 12-year-old, bullying mentalities think. “If I don’t get to play with your toy, I’m gonna break the toy so you can’t play with it either.” “If I don’t get to win, I’m taking my ball and going home.”

When Rivera got hurt, there was this identical dynamic.

There’s an impenetrable fortress of delusion among these fans who have known nothing but winning in their time as Yankees’ fans. They don’t realize that sports is a diversion and these are human beings doing a job. A true tragedy occurred in 2006 when Cory Lidle crashed his plane days after the Yankees had been eliminated by the Tigers. Days earlier, he’d been a guest on WFAN with Chris Russo and, when Lidle said he was enjoying a beautiful day in New York City with his daughter, Russo indignantly said something to the tune of, “Well, if I’d just lost a playoff series I wouldn’t be out enjoying the day.” Lidle replied, “What am I supposed to do? Sit home and cry?”

In the Jimmy Fallon movie Fever Pitch, as the Red Sox fell behind the Yankees 3 games to 0 in the ALCS of 2004, Fallon’s character is out drowning his sorrows when he spots then-Red Sox players Johnny Damon and Jason Varitek out having dinner. An epiphany hits him that they’re human beings who are doing a job and will then go out and live their lives after the fact and that includes going out and having a nice dinner. There’s no reason to cry; a tantrum won’t help; and there’s no hiding in their homes musing on what went wrong.

Because it’s a job.

This incarnation of the Yankees from 1996 to now has never had to do a rebuild. They never had to worry about money because George Steinbrenner, for all his faults, was willing to spend under the theory that success on the field would beget profit off it. And he was right. But now the Boss is gone and GM Brian Cashman is hell-bent on getting the payroll down to a reasonable level so the new luxury tax regulations won’t drastically increase the bottom line. Is it due to a mandate from Hank and Hal Steinbrenner? Or is it Cashman trying again to prove that he belongs in the fleeting upper echelon of GMs currently inhabited by the likes of Andrew Friedman and Billy Beane who are specifically there because of limited resources and their own cagey maneuvers that sometimes work and sometimes don’t?

Cashman tried to rebuild his farm system so the Yankees didn’t have to rely on the checkbook to save them. In 2008 that resulted in a missed playoff spot and was, as usual, covered by spending, spending, spending on Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. They’re still seeking young pitchers with cost certainty and upside and have Manny Banuelos (Tommy John surgery), Dellin Betances (can’t throw strikes), Michael Pineda (acquired, abused, and on the shelf with a torn labrum), and Jose Campos (the invisible key who hasn’t pitched or been heard from since May).

Annual contention and a World Series or failure sentiment is a great roadmap to disappointment. As the Phillies, Angels, and Red Sox have proven, money doesn’t buy a playoff spot, let alone a championship. The Red Sox and Mets have proven how quickly it can all come apart.

That can happen to the Yankees.

As they age, they decline (Alex Rodriguez); get hurt (Jeter and Rivera); outlive their usefulness (Swisher, Curtis Granderson), and bear the brunt of the outrage that the championships are not being delivered as they were in the past.

Are they prepared to pay Robinson Cano the $200+ million he’s going to want as a free agent after 2013? While they’re trying to cut costs and know that Cano isn’t the hardest worker in the world and whose laziness will extract an increasing toll on his production when the game is no longer easy for him? Does Cano look effortless because he’s so good or is it that he doesn’t put in much effort? And how does that portend what a player like him is going to accomplish as he’s guaranteed an amount of money that he’ll never be able to spend is coming to him no matter how he performs? He doesn’t run ground balls out now in the playoffs, is he going to run them out when he’s 35 and has 5 years to run on a contract that the Yankees can look at A-Rod’s fall and know is disastrous? The days of a player putting up Barry Bonds numbers at ages 36-42 ended with increased drug testing and harsher punishments. A-Rod is a 37-year-old player and this is what happens to 37-year-old players regardless of how great they once were. They can’t catch up to the fastball, they have to start their swings earlier in case it’s on the way leaving them susceptible to hard breaking stuff and changeups.

There’s no fixing it.

The Yankees might come back and win this ALCS. To do it, they’ll have to beat the best pitcher in baseball, Justin Verlander, pitching at home as the Tigers have a 2-0 series lead. It can be done. The Yankees can still win the World Series. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that they do. Will it be enjoyed or will there be a la-de-da, “we win again,” attitude that has set the stage for this rickety foundation and imminent collapse?

How much cake can a fan eat? How many pieces of chicken parm can Michael Kay stuff into his mouth? Like Wall Street, how many yachts can they waterski behind? When is enough enough?

Whether your personal investment and fantasyworld of egomania lets you see it, win or lose this dynasty is coming down and it’s happening right before your eyes.

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Jorge Posada and the Hall of Fame

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Jorge Posada is reportedly set to announce his retirement. Let’s take a look at his Hall of Fame credentials.

Comparable players.

Catchers are held to a different standard because they have to handle the pitching staff; throw out basestealers; be the prototypical “field general”; and if they’re going to be in the Hall of Fame conversation, they have to hit.

Statistically, there are the no-doubt Hall of Famers like Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane.

Then you have Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk who are in the Hall of Fame, but didn’t waltz in in their first year of eligibility.

There are the upcoming catchers who will get in because of a superior part of their game counteracting the weak spots and questions. Mike Piazza has power numbers that no catcher has ever posted; Ivan Rodriguez is close to 3000 hits, over 300 homers and was a defensive weapon who stopped the running game by his mere presence.

After that, you have the players trapped in the “are they or aren’t they” limbo. They have credentials for enshrinement, but reasons to keep them out. Thurman Munson, Bill Freehan and Javy Lopez (seriously) can state cases for the Hall of Fame that wouldn’t elicit an immediate “no”, but won’t get in.

Posada is borderline and hovering between the Carter/Fisk wing and Munson/Freehan/Lopez.

Offensively.

A switch-hitting catcher with a career batting record of 275 homers; .273 average, .374 on base percentage, .474 slugging percentage; and an .848 OPS/121 OPS+ has better overall numbers than Fisk and Carter. Fisk’s numbers were bolstered by playing seven more seasons than Posada.

Bench hit nearly 400 homers; Piazza was an offensive force; Cochrane batted .320 for his career with a .419 on base, had power and rarely struck out.

Rodriguez benefited from a friendly home park and, like Piazza, is suspected of PED use. Piazza was never implicated on the record; anecdotal evidence and the era have combined to put him under the microscope and he’s considered guilty due to his rise from a 62nd round draft pick as a favor to Tommy Lasorda to perennial MVP contender. Rodriguez was implicated and there’s statistical evidence in the decline of his power numbers from before testing began and after.

No one ever mentioned Posada as a PED case.

Defense.

There’s more to catching than baseline numbers like passed balls and caught stealing percentage.

Posada’s career caught stealing percentage was 28%. During his career, the Major League average has been between 26% and 32%. Posada was average at throwing out runners. The pitchers quickness to the plate, ability at holding runners and reputation are factors that have to be accounted for. Rodriguez didn’t have people stealing on him; Posada was dealing with some slow-to-the-plate pitchers like Roger Clemens and David Cone and he wasn’t catching much of the time that Andy Pettitte was pitching—runners didn’t steal on Pettitte because of his ability to keep runners close.

If you’d like to compare the pitchers’ results based on the catcher, you can’t say that Posada was “worse” than his nemesis/partners/backups. In 1998, the numbers were better with Posada than they were with Joe Girardi.  In 1999 they were nearly identical with Posada and Girardi.

By 2000, Posada was catching nearly every day.

The managers play a large part in that perception of good or poor defense. Joe Torre was a former catcher who wasn’t going to compromise defense behind the plate for offense. With the Cardinals, it was Torre who replicated the move he made as a player himself by shifting Todd Zeile to third base and installing defensive stalwart Tom Pagnozzi as his catcher. When managing the Braves, Biff Pocoroba was a better hitter than Bruce Benedict, but Benedict was far superior defensively and that’s who Torre played.

When he took over the Yankees, in a concession to the way Torre liked to run his team, GM Bob Watson took the unpopular step of replacing the beloved Mike Stanley with Girardi and it worked exactly as planned.

Torre was not going to play Posada if he was inept behind the plate and it wouldn’t have mattered how much he hit.

Posada’s defense and game-calling became an issue after Torre left and Girardi took over as manager. The relationship between Posada and Girardi was never good. It was an understandable byproduct between two very competitive people who wanted the same job when they were playing; but when Girardi took over as manager, it was his job to get the pitchers and Posada on the same page and he didn’t do it; he allowed younger pitchers like Joba Chamberlain to join in the chorus of complaints about Posada’s game-calling led by CC Sabathia; it should’ve been squashed; that’s on the manager.

Ancillaries.

Posada has five championship rings. The first one, in 1996, had nothing to do with him; but he was a key component in the other four. Feisty and fiery, Posada’s leadership was more understated than that of his counterpart Derek Jeter; it was Posada who was Jeter’s thug and the muscle who enacted Jeter’s edicts; if a player was acting up and Jeter wanted him spoken to, it was Posada who carried out the order.

He was an All Star and Silver Slugger winner five times.

Posada was drafted as a second baseman and converted to catching in the minors. There’s long been a myth that there was a grand plan on the part of the Yankees to build from within and a prescient ability to spot talent led them to Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera (three-fourths of the “core four” along with Jeter) as late rounders and free agent signees. Reality sabotages that story.

Much like the Cardinals didn’t know they were getting this era’s Joe DiMaggio when they drafted Albert Pujols on the 13th round of the 1999 draft, the Yankees didn’t know what they were getting when they selected Posada in the 24th round and Pettitte in the 22nd round in 1990. Had George Steinbrenner not been suspended in the early 1990s, it’s unlikely that Posada or Pettitte would have become the stars they did, at least in Yankees uniforms. The team was lucky that Gene Michael and Buck Showalter had the opportunity to rebuild the team correctly and give these players a chance to develop, the players took it from there.

The Yankees have no desire to bring him back in 2012 and the relationship between he and the club is strained, but because he’s retiring while he can still contribute as a hitter and won’t wear another uniform to pad his stats only makes his candidacy more palatable to certain voters.

Will Posada be elected and when?

I believe Posada will eventually be elected by the writers but it won’t be on the first ballot; that lofty accomplishment is limited to catchers like Bench. Fisk waited until his 2nd year; Carter waited until his 6th year on the ballot; Posada will probably have to wait at least that long and probably longer.

I’ll venture a guess that it’s going to be nine or ten years and as long as no PED accusations or proof of their use is uncovered, he’ll be inducted.

Jorge Posada had a great career and is worthy of election to the Hall of Fame.

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