Tino Martinez And The Clash Of Baseball Civilizations

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During the late-1990s Yankees dynasty, certain players had certain off-field roles. Derek Jeter was the quiet, behind-the-scenes leader. Jorge Posada was Jeter’s enforcer. Mariano Rivera was the team’s quiet conscience. Bernie Williams was the player who receded into the back of the clubhouse but came through at crunch time. Paul O’Neill was the snarling, raging, water-cooler abusing intense competitor. And Tino Martinez

Well, does anyone remember what part Martinez played off the field? Yes, people remember his near-MVP season in 1997 when he hit 44 home runs. During his time in pinstripes, he was a good fielder and a consistent offensive performer during the regular season. He hit the tone-setting grand slam off of Mark Langston in game 1 of the 1998 World Series. But he was never the one other clubs said they had to stop to win a game or series against the Yankees and his personality in the clubhouse was not discussed.

That lack of definition kept Martinez as a background player. During his career, he had a seething, underlying intensity that was similar to O’Neill’s, but it never manifested itself in the same overt manner. That anger could have stemmed from many issues. Given his status as a former member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team and the Mariners’ reluctance to give him regular playing time, there was always a sense that he spent a year or two more than he needed in the minors. Other stars from that Olympic team, notably Jim Abbott and Robin Ventura, went almost immediately to the majors. Martinez, however, languished in the minors and didn’t get the opportunity to play regularly for the Mariners until 1992.

When given the chance to play, he evolved into a key component for the Mariners until he was traded to the Yankees after the 1995 season. Replacing Don Mattingly, he heard the boos at Yankee Stadium as punishment for a slow start. He rebounded to hit 25 homers and drive in 117 runs during the Yankees’ first championship of that era.

An underappreciated cog from the World Series winners from 1998-2000, Martinez was one of the first to depart after the 2001 World Series loss to the Diamondbacks. It was then that the Yankees went from having a cohesive unit that knew each other, trusted each other and would fight and grind their way to win and evolved into a club that relied on star power and mercenaries. Martinez’s replacement, Jason Giambi, was an expensive PED user. He was well-liked and performed up to an MVP-level, but there was something missing with Giambi’s reluctance to step forward in Jeter’s clubhouse and the absence of Martinez’s understated fire.

Those who claim that Martinez is “mild-mannered” have seen the smiling face on Yankee-centric TV too much and don’t remember the anger he sometimes exhibited. The stories surrounding Martinez’s resignation from the Marlins as their hitting coach center around his alleged abuse of players with cursing and some physicality. He responded to those allegations here.

It’s a case of “he said/he said” and the incidents were probably due to several factors that could not be avoided unless Martinez never went into coaching at all. Having come up the way he did in baseball and, in his formative big league years, playing for a manager who yelled a lot and confronted players in Lou Piniella; then going to the Joe Torre Yankees where players were expected to behave a certain way and if they didn’t, they were gone; then going to play for Tony LaRussa, it’s no surprise that there’s been a clash of cultures with Martinez and the young players of today. When he was a young player for Piniella, had Martinez done what Derek Dietrich and other players are said to have done by refusing to behave as rookies and do what they’re told, he would’ve been screamed at, possibly grabbed and shipped to the minors. In today’s game, you can’t get away with that type of methodology when overseeing players.

The problem with the former MVP-caliber player is that he generally has to alter his expectations and demands when dealing with players who aren’t going to be as good as he was. When performing as the hitting coach for a young team like the Marlins, the attitude that Martinez shows is probably not going to go over well with the players because they don’t want to hear it and will react rather than fall into line to keep their jobs. It wasn’t that long ago that players had to conform. Now, with the money they’re making and the power they have over the people who are ostensibly their bosses, they don’t have to listen. And they don’t. The attitude is, “I’ll be here longer than he will.” Most of the time, they’re right. The results of the clash of civilizations are evident with what happened to Tino Martinez, who might not be cut out to be a coach in today’s major leagues.


The Reality of Legacies and Latter Round MLB Draft Picks

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As nice and uplifting a story as the Diamondbacks drafting of paralyzed former Arizona State player Cory Hahn in the 34th round of the MLB draft is, it also provides insight as to how little teams think of the draft’s latter rounds and the likelihood of finding useful on-field talent that can make it to the big leagues.

In another pick that got significant attention, the Yankees drafted Andy Pettitte’s son Josh in the 37th round out of high school. Because Pettitte’s son has committed to Baylor University, Josh Pettitte is not expected to sign with the Yankees. That’s probably a relief for them because a 37th round draft pick is not expected to be anything more than organizational filler. If Josh Pettitte was considered an actual prospect, he would’ve been taken by a team other than the Yankees well before the 37th round, commitment to Baylor or not. When the Yankees selected Paul O’Neill’s nephew Michael in the third round, they did so not as a legacy or a favor to the O’Neill family but because he can actually play. The Mets made a similar selection with Lee Mazzilli’s son L.J. in the fourth round. These are players who would have been selected by another club at around the same spot had the Yankees and Mets not made the selections. There’s no doubt that the legacy was a tiny factor in picking the players, but not to the degree that the Yankees selecting Pettitte and this is the difference between players selected in the first 10-15 rounds—for any reason—and those picked after.

For every late-round draft pick who makes it to the majors, there are thousands of others who don’t get past the low minors. Players who are drafted past the tenth round are not expected to make it. Once in a long while you’ll have the occasional freak occurrence like Albert Pujols (13th round), James Shields (16th round), Domonic Brown (drafted as a pitcher in the 20th round), Mark Buehrle (38th round), and Mike Piazza (62nd round as a favor to Tom Lasorda). By and large, the players who make it to the majors are those who are picked in the first 20 rounds with the numbers decreasing significantly as the rounds pass. Players taken in the first few rounds will receive repeated opportunities not just because of latent talent, but because of the money teams invest in them. That’s become even more pronounced with the slotted bonuses and limited amount of money teams are allowed to spend in the draft. They don’t want to toss money away on a player even if, after three or four years, he shows he’s not what they thought he was. In some cases, these players make it to the big leagues so teams can say, “Look he made it to the majors at least,” as if that’s some form of justification for an overall miss on a high draft pick.

Indicative of how little teams think of the latter rounds were the decisions to make these selections of players like Hahn and Pettitte. They create a story for a brief time but devolve into the realm of the forgotten because they weren’t meant to be remembered in the first place.

Should teams spend more time and money on the draft past the initial stages? Are there enough talented draft-eligible players to make it worth their while? It depends. Some clubs don’t want to spend the money and resources it will take to mine through the amateurs for 50 rounds to find perhaps five players that have a chance to contribute. Others, like the Cardinals, have made it a regular occurrence to draft players on the third and fourth days of the draft such as Matt Carpenter, Trevor Rosenthal, Allen Craig, Luke Gregerson, and Jaime Garcia. The Cardinals and then-scouting director Jeff Luhnow have been credited with the Cardinals’ fertile farm system, but perhaps the truth is more of a matter of the conscious decision not to waste late-round picks on legacies and heartwarming stories, instead choosing to draft players who they think might be able to help them at some point.

The Yankees and their apologists can point to the inexplicable luck the team had in 1990 with Pettitte the father (22nd round) and Jorge Posada (24th round drafted as an infielder) as reason to think Josh Pettitte has a chance, but that’s wishful thinking. They got lucky in 1990 just as the Cardinals got lucky with Pujols and the Devil Rays got lucky with Shields. On the same token, teams have repeatedly failed with top-tier picks for one reason or another be it injuries, miscalculation, off-field problems or bottom line bad luck. If the Yankees were going to draft a player in the 37th round who had a miniscule chance of becoming useful to them or the Diamondbacks were going to do the same thing in the 34th round, then why not draft the players they did and accrue some publicity? Overall, there’s no difference because a paralyzed player like Hahn only has a slightly less chance of making it than someone else who was drafted in the 34th round, so the Diamondbacks did something nice and it won’t harm their draft because on the field, it won’t make much difference either way.


Bryce Harper’s Tantrum

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In a Mötley Crüe retrospective, lead singer Vince Neil recounted how he threw a hissy fit because his preferred mustard hadn’t been provided for his sandwich. He broke the jar against the wall, it exploded and he wound up cutting his hand so badly that he severed an artery, tendons and nerves and almost cut a finger off completely. He called it his “Spinal Tap” moment in honor of the deadly accurate satirical heavy metal band of the same name.

Bryce Harper had his Spinal Tap moment last night when, during an 0 for 5 performance in the Nationals’ 7-3 win over the Reds in Cincinnati, he slammed his bat against the runway wall, it rebounded and hit him near the left eye. He needed 10 stitches to close a cut—ESPN Story.

He was beyond lucky.

The bat could’ve hit him in the eye and ended his career. Easily.

Is this cause for more ridicule on the 19-year-old or is it a moment of anger gone wrong?

Harper’s been called arrogant. His life-story is laced with exaggerations like passing his GED without studying, and made-for-public-consumption assertions such as his favorite players being Pete Rose and Mickey Mantle. There have been heavily viewed YouTube incidents of self-involved behavior from the minor leagues. When let out of his cage to do interviews without filter and cliché, he’s come across as obnoxious.

But he’s 19.

In spite of all his talents, that should never be forgotten.

In general, 19-year-olds are arrogant and obnoxious.

Amid all the expectations and eager anticipation of his first meltdown, he’s also shown an amazing talent for the game and baseball-savvy beyond his years. Cole Hamels intentionally drilled him with a fastball and Harper, rather than do the teenage tough guy thing by glaring at Hamels and possibly starting a brawl, went to first base without complaint. Once he got to third base, he stole home on a Hamels pickoff attempt of the runner on first base.

He won that battle and respect throughout the league for handling it right.

It would be a bigger deal if there weren’t players and managers who’ve done similarly absurd things when they were twice Harper’s age (and more) and been lauded for their intensity.

Lou Piniella demolished the old Yankee Stadium water cooler with his foot.

Paul O’Neill tells endless stories about the things he’s done in fits of anger.

Larry Bowa demolished a urinal in Philadelphia and blamed Jay Johnstone for it.

If Harper was behaving in an overt, on-field manner as one of his comparable talents—Gregg Jefferies—did when he was a Mets’ rookie by flinging helmets every time he grounded out, he’d need to be pulled aside and told in no uncertain terms to knock it off. He didn’t. He did this in the the runway where players go to vent their frustrations. In this case, his frustrations vented back and he hurt himself.

He won’t do it again.


Baseball Euthanasia

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Jorge Posada‘s apology notwithstanding, as long as he fails to hit he’ll be an issue in the Yankees clubhouse. Much like the circumstances with Derek Jeter, if it was 2003, it would be a slump that’s causing Posada to be batting .165 and he’d see his name repeatedly written in the lineup without the hovering threats of a benching, forced retirement or outright release floating around.

But it’s not 2003; it’s 2011. Posada is 39; he’s in the final year of his contract; he’s not hitting; and now he’s created a controversy and perhaps greased the skids for his unceremonious departure—one decidedly absent in cinematic joy—from the only team for whom he’s played in his Hall of Fame career.

That standing ovation he received as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning of the Yankees loss to the Red Sox might not have been a simple matter of support for a struggling former hero, but a farewell in case he’s not on the roster when the Yankees return from their road trip.

It’s a legitimate possibility.

Apologies; accepted apologies; regret and all the drama are prologue to the inevitable end if Posada doesn’t start producing.

Is there a right and wrong in this circumstance? And who’s responsible?

The tension between Posada and manager Joe Girardi has never been hidden particularly well, but Girardi’s decision to bat Posada 9th in the lineup on Saturday was in no way congruent to Joe Torre batting Alex Rodriguez 8th in game 4 of the ALDS in 2006. Girardi is doing his job in the best way he sees fit; Torre had had enough of A-Rod’s whining, sour faces and diva-like behaviors to send the message that there was one boss in the Yankees clubhouse and it was Torre.

Torre was wrong for doing that.

Is Girardi batting Posada 9th an insult? Is it in any way connected to the tempestuous relationship between the two? Of course not.

As for Posada, maybe he’d prefer to bat 12th. Or to go home entirely.

To first beg out of the lineup to “clear his head”, then come up with a lame excuse of a sore back—which he never relayed to Girardi or Brian Cashman—created this whole train wreck that runs the risk of accelerating his unhappy departure from the team.

Posada still walks enough to be of use; he won’t hit .160 for the whole season; but he’s not going to get much time to figure it out. With their pitching in the dreadful state it’s in and Jeter and A-Rod in decline, the Yankees can’t carry Posada if he doesn’t do anything to warrant a place in the lineup.

The escalation of hostility rapidly degenerated into the ludicrous with Posada’s wife taking to Twitter to defend her husband; Cashman holding court with the media mid-game; and a long-winded debate and spate of abuse heaped down on Posada for removing himself from the lineup at the show of “disrespect”. It all combined to enable this culture of back-and-forth in which the whole episode will come to a head sooner rather than later and presumably be an unhappy ending for a loyal player.

Can Posada accept a bench role when and if the Yankees start looking for a replacement DH? If he wants to stay a Yankee throughout 2011, he won’t have a choice.

As for the Yankees, if and when they bench or dispatch Posada, they shouldn’t recall Jesus Montero to be the primary DH because it’s unfair to a young player to find himself parachuting into this swirling cesspool of contretemps; but as I suggested on Friday, Carlos Beltran would be a great DH rental once the Mets are ready to do business; the Twins are probably 2-4 weeks away from clearing the decks and that means Jim Thome will be on the market.

Thome still has power and still walks; he’d see the friendly right field porch at Yankee Stadium as an inviting target; he wouldn’t cost much more than a moderate prospect and is a free agent at the end of the season who’d love to get his ring and retire. He’s on the disabled list with a strained oblique now, but a pennant race, historical durability and skills make him a worthwhile pursuit.

There are options available and the Yankees have proven that they’ll be ruthless when necessary even with warriors who were integral parts of their championship teams.

Very, very rarely does a star player whose accomplishments are as diverse in the team and individual senses leave willingly; the same things that made Posada into the player he was have conspired to cause the butting of heads with the pitchers two years ago and have expanded to the poisonous atmosphere of the club trying to deftly navigate the situation without causing more reverberating aftershocks when they do what they’ll have to do if Posada continues to slump.

He was always hard-headed, short-tempered and moody; as the enforcer for the edicts of Jeter, Posada was the muscle behind the hierarchy in the complicated fabric of the clubhouse; now we’re seeing age and reality tear down the protective facade and Posada, unable to handle his diminished role and winding down of his career, is lashing out.

It’s understandable that he didn’t want to be embarrassed by batting ninth, but to pull himself out of the lineup and come up with a flimsy excuse that appeared to have been a lie was entirely unacceptable even for a player of Posada’s stature and pride.

Paul O’Neill and Scott Brosius retired while they were still productive and they did so as a matter of choice when the team would’ve welcomed them back; Bernie Williams and David Cone were told their services were no longer required.

It happens. And sometimes it has to happen.

Which will it be with Posada?

I think we know the answer. But the timing is the question. Will it be this week? Next month? Or after the season?

It’s up to him. Don’t be surprised either way because this is still a powder keg with the potential to explode at any moment.

And it just might.


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Soriano’s Red Flags Grow Redder

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Rafael Soriano brought a reputation with him to Yankees pinstripes and it wasn’t a good one.

From his reluctance to pitch more than one inning or in non-save situations for the Rays last season to the tantrum he threw when brought into a playoff game(!)—the final game of a series—to keep the score close when his team was trailing, it was clear that he wasn’t a Yankees-type from the start.

Add in his frequent injuries and penchant for giving up the home run ball in big games and you start to see why—in addition to the money and lost draft picks—Brian Cashman didn’t want Soriano.

But Randy Levine and the Steinbrenners overruled their GM and signed Soriano to a 3-year, $35 million contract to set-up for Mariano Rivera and possibly replace the iconic closer one day.

Will Soriano pitch well for the Yankees?

For the most part, he will.

In a big game in Boston with the game on the line, will he grip the ball too tightly and let the Fenway Park crowd affect his delicate sensibilities to the point where he can’t throw strikes or grooves a fastball to Adrian Gonzalez?


These accommodations the club is providing to a pitcher who has accomplished nothing are stark and disturbing.

Since when do the Yankees let players not named Derek Jeter or Rivera dictate the terms upon which they participate in a spring training game?

That’s exactly what they’ve done with Soriano this spring.

First he decided—unilaterally—that he didn’t want to pitch against division rivals so they wouldn’t gain an advantage against him for the regular season.

I could almost understand if it was against his former club, the Rays; but he refused to pitch against the Orioles—the same Orioles he pitched against in 9 games last season. Soriano appeared in 6 games each vs the Red Sox and Blue Jays as well.

Did he develop a new pitch that he didn’t want them to see? Fix a mechanical twitch? What were these clubs going to face that they hadn’t faced before?

But the Yankees gave him sway over his use and let him throw 21 pitches in a minor league game in lieu of pitching against the Orioles.

Then on Saturday it was reported that after pitching 2/3 of an inning he decided—again unilaterally—that it was his last spring appearance and he was “ready to go”.

Where in the Yankees universe has it ever been such that a player like Soriano gets the final say in his training regimen?

Whether or not Soriano is effective with his idiosyncratic behavior is beside the point; he is a part of the team and is making demands on his new employer that they would never tolerate from anyone—not even Jeter and Rivera; that’s mostly because Jeter and Rivera wouldn’t behave in such a way.

That’s the point.

Who does Soriano think he is?

It’s a month into his Yankees career and he’s looking more like a Kenny Lofton/Kevin Brown/Denny Neagle-type—players who weren’t Yankees. They didn’t behave accordingly according to team dynamic.

For a variety of reasons, they weren’t right for the team, the clubhouse or the city.

They didn’t fit.

Soriano joins the Yankees, a club that judges seasonlong success or failure on whether or not there’s a parade in the Canyon of Heroes in November. He arrives with a grand total of three post-season appearances in his career. In two of them, he allowed home runs—the second one being in the ninth inning of game 5, breaking the Rays’ collective backs as they were facing a dominating Cliff Lee.

It’s appropriate that I mention Lee because it was his shunning of the Yankees offer that spurred them to make the desperation move for the next biggest name in a weak free agent crop—Soriano.

Desperation breeds mistakes.

Much like the familiar caveat I provide when the complaints about A.J. Burnett reach a fever pitch: this is what they bought!!

They bought a pitcher who has never been able to handle pressure.

They bought a pitcher who is making his own rules and putting forth the implication that he holds the hammer over the Yankees heads with the contract opt-outs after 2011 or 2012.

They bought a problem.

The championship Yankees had troublemakers (David Wells); partiers (David Cone); hotheads (Paul O’Neill, Jorge Posada); quirky people (Bernie Williams); even megastar divas (Alex Rodriguez; Roger Clemens), but this is different.

Those players earned the right to be who they were.

Soriano hasn’t.

If he’s already a problem in March, just wait until September.

They were warned.

I’ll be a guest on two podcasts Wednesday. In the afternoon, I’ll be on with Sal at SportsFanBuzz; in the evening with Mike on NYBaseballDigest.


Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.