Thursday, July 31, 2008

Manny Being Miffed: He Has the Right

Note: Little did I know that, exactly one year from this post, both Manny and Papi would be outed as steroid users.

*

If I can come down from Cloud 14 and a half, where I still am from getting rid of Kyle Farnsworth... and I would've settled for getting the proverbial bag of balls for him, never mind a future Hall-of-Famer who looks like he still has a bit left...

As of this moment, less than 5 hours before the 2008 Major League Baseball Trading Deadline, neither Manny Ramirez nor Ken Griffey Jr. has yet been traded, though the current rumors are Manny to Miami (the Minimum-Wage Marlins, which is why I doubt this one) and Junior to Chicago (not sure who the White Sox would give up, nor if he can co-exist with Ozzie Guillen, but if he can that's a great pickup for the Pale Hose). Imagine: In one day, 1,118 career home runs traded -- and that's from only 2 guys.

If Manny actually said those things, and no one "ghost-wrote" them for him, putting some articulation to his true feelings, then maybe he's smarter, or at least more perceptive, than I thought. The Red Sox have, down through the years, frequently had their issues between management and players.

Not while Tom Yawkey owned the team: He bent over backwards to accomodate Ted Williams' temper and Carl Yastrzemski's moodiness, tolerated Luis Tiant's wackiness and Bill Lee's spaciniess, and, as we now know, covered up for the shenanigans of Tony Conigliaro the way Yankee management covered up for Mickey Mantle and Joe Pepitone. In fact, Tony C eventually became the first crack in that steady rock that was Mr. Yawkey's patience: His departure in 1970, brought on by the fact that his injured eye was finally making his seemingly-restored hitting just a "re-flash" in the pan, was the first really ugly dismissal of a Red Sox star since... do I have to say it?

Babe Ruth in 1919. Another guy who, like Manny, was either not very bright or had a severe attention-deficit disorder. Manny Being Manny had nothing on Babe Being Babe. And when Harry Frazee sold him to the Yankees, he basically told the press that Colonel Ruppert was getting a great big headache. Yeah, but he was also getting 659 home runs, 7 Pennants, 4 World Championships and millions of dollars in Roaring Twenties money (worth about 16 times as much today). Face it, if there had been "reality TV" in the Twenties, Babe would have had his own show. Because he was his own show.

But the trouble for player-management relations in Boston really began with Mr. Yawkey's death in 1976. His wife Jean received control of the team, and while it was common in baseball circles to say that Mrs. Yawkey was a saint, and that it was (as George Steinbrenner would put it) her "baseball people," guys like Haywood Sullivan and Buddy LeRoux and John Harrington, who were messing things up, the fact is that Mr. Yawkey had more money in the Thirties than George had in the free-spending Seventies and Eighties, and he liked to spend it; Mrs. Yawkey inherited what was left, which was still substantial, and wanted to keep it. Or, as was said of Dodger president Branch Rickey, she had money and players, and didn't like to see them mix.

I have to ask: Was it really an accident, or a mistake, that Carlton Fisk and Fred Lynn got their 1981 contracts mailed to them 2 days after the official deadline, making them free agents? Or did Mrs. Yawkey simply not want to pay Hall of Fame prices for 2 guys who looked like they were both headed to Cooperstown? (Fisk made it, but injuries stopped Lynn.) What did the Sox get for Rick Burleson? For Dwight Evans? For Dennis Eckersley?

Talk about letting a good one get away: I know the Eck had his problems at the time, but can you imagine the Red Sox, who won a Pennant in 1986 and Division Titles in '88 and '90, with Eck as their closer -- especially since he was on the A's, the team that beat them in the '88 and '90 ALCS? Can you imagine the Eck on the mound in the bottom of the 10th of Game 6 of the '86 Series against the Mets?

Yes, I know, he gave up that homer to Kirk Gibson in Game 1 in '88, but if Eck is on the mound that strange night at Shea, Bill Buckner has a ring -- and maybe Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens, even if they still leave the Sox, don't end up going to the Yankees for the specific purposes of getting their rings. And Yankee Fans wouldn't be able to chant "Eighty-six!" until 1996. (We've tried, for obvious reasons.)

After Mrs. Yawkey died, Harrington was in charge, and he continued the pattern. The Sox let Boggs get away for nothing. What did they get for Mo Vaughn, not yet especially injury-prone? Getting rid of Clemens, saying he was "in the twilight of his career"? We may never know for sure just why he got kick-started after that, if it was simply the change of scenery, management respecting him for once, getting himself in better shape, or... more sinister means. But even if letting Clemens go made sense at the time, the Sox should've handled it better and gotten something for him.

The way Pedro Martinez was let go wasn't so bad, by comparison. But Nomar Garciaparra? Yes, getting rid of him was the right thing to do. He was an infected tooth, and he had to be pulled. But there's a reason teeth get infected: The Sox didn't properly "brush" Nomar. And they didn't lift a finger to keep Johnny Damon or Kevin Millar, two self-proclaimed "Idiots" without whom they'd now be 90 years without a title. "Thanks a lot, boys, now get the hell out, we don't want you anymore. And duck, we don't want you to get hit by that World Championship flag as it flutters in the breeze."

Now they've pushed Manny Ramirez, arguably their best offensive player since Williams (even better than Yaz? Manny's career OPS+ is 154, Yaz "only" 129) to the brink. If they're smart, they'll put up with him for 2 more months -- maybe 3 if they reach the postseason, which is hardly decided. If they get rid of him now, they won't make the postseason. Even with all his nonsense, he's still got a 140 OPS+ this season. That's a combined slugging and on-base percentage 40 percent better than the league average.

The Red Sox did not win the World Series for 86 years after letting a hard-hitting, high-maintenance, high-salaried head case go. With Manny, they've played 7 full seasons, reached 4 postseasons and just missed 2 others, and won 2 World Series.

I've criticized him plenty, but if my team hadn't won the World Series in my lifetime (a status they thankfully did away with when I was 7), and a player, however much of a head case, had helped us win 2 in his 8 years here (with the chance for a 3rd in Year 8), well, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson, Manny has neither the time nor the inclination to explain himself to team executives who rise and sleep under the 2 World Championship banners he provided and then question the manner in which he provided it. I would rather they just said, "Thank you," and went on their way.

You know, like the Yankees did with Roger Clemens.

*

UPDATE: The Sox ended up trading Manny to the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was a 3-way deal: The Bums got Manny, the Sox got Jason Bay and Josh Wilson; and the Pittsburgh Pirates got Andy LaRoche, Bryan Morris, Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen.

Manny helped the Dodgers win Division titles in 2008 and '09, but that was as far as they got. The Sox got to within 1 game of the 2008 Pennant with Bay, and then they let him get away to the Mets. That didn't work out too well for the Mets.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Farnsworth for Pudge? Celebration Time!

 OMG OMG OMG OMG O...M...G!!!!

Yankee general manager Brian Cashman has just traded Kyle (Not a Darn's Worth) Farnsworth to the Detroit Tigers for future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez... just when our bullpen has made relying on Kerosene Kyle unnecessary and Jorge Posada went on the Disabled List for the rest of the year, meaning our best catcher was Jose Molina, good guy and good defensive catcher but can't hit.

Of all the players who have ever suited up in Pinstripes, Farnsworth is the one who has made me the most angry -- and that's quantity as well as quality.

And he's gone! And not just in the head, like usual!

Cousin Larry, now are we so happy, we do the dance of joy!!!!

Free at last, free at last, thank Brian Cashman I'm free at last!!!!

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

Celebration time, come on!

And... We actually got a warm body for the bum? A catcher who can hit? And we won 13-3 today?

Traded a Smudge for Pudge?

I'm walkin' on sunshine! Whoa-oh! And don't it feel good! Hey!

Or, to put this in Yankee terms... How about that! Holy cow, I tell ya, it's unbelievable!

Top that reaction, Suzyn Waldman!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Good Trade, Better Win vs. BoSox

Ross Ohlendorf is gone? You know the old saying: "Great trade! Who'd we get?"

Ohlendorf gone: Good.

Jose Tabata gone: Not impressed with him, though he could probably start for the Pittsburgh Pirates right now, a far cry from the team whose outfield has had, at various times in its history, Jake Beckley, Fred Clarke, Paul Waner, Lloyd Waner, Ralph Kiner, Roberto Clemente, Bill Virdon, Richie Zisk, Dave Parker, Barry Bonds (when he was skinny, honest and good) and Brian Giles. The other two guys: Why should Yankee Fans care?

Xavier Nady: An OK player, but now he's got a chance that he didn't have as a Met: The chance to win a Pennant in New York.

Damaso Marte: If he does for the Yanks what he did for the Pirates, it's a good trade. Joel Sherman of the Post was right when he spoke on Channel 9 after the game: If this trade does what the Yankees expect, and all they gave up was four guys they won't miss, then it's the Yanks who were the "pirates."

Of course, in the 8th tonight, once again, Kyle Farm-him-out made me wish he was the one who'd been traded. But Mo got a 5-out save. That might mean he can't go tomorrow... So we'll just have to be leading by more than 3 runs in the 9th.

Joba provided the high cheese, and Kevin Youkilis provided the whine. Shut up, Red Sox: You bums have plunked our guys plenty of times. If Joba really wanted to hurt you, he would have hurt you. Mike Lowell, it was a perfect pitch. In case you didn't notice, it was from Mariano Rivera, the best pitcher you'll ever see.

Of the 3 games in this series, this is the one I wanted the most. I wanted to beat that punk Beckett. Actually, he was really solid tonight. The reason he lost is that Jason Giambi finally figured out that the shift can be beaten. No one to blame for this loss, Sox fans: The better team won. Not by much, but by enough.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Goodbye, My Love: My Last Game at the Real Yankee Stadium

On May 27, 1978, I attended my 1st Major League Baseball game, at the closest big-league ballpark to my home, Yankee Stadium.

It didn't turn out so well: The New York Yankees lost 4-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays, a 2nd-year expansion team. They ended up winning the World Series anyway, and Yankee Stadium became a home away from home for me.

On July 20, 2008, 30 years later, I attended my last game at the original Yankee Stadium.

At least, I'm presuming it will be the last. There are 29 home games left in the regular season, but tickets are few and far between.

As with a few other parks -- including Boston's Fenway Park and Chicago's Wrigley Field, built prior to World War I and now about to be the last remaining parks built before the Space Age -- you come out of the public transportation system, and you see guys talking about tickets: "You buying? You buying?" When you say no, they switch to, "You selling? You selling?" Not this time: It was all, "Anybody got any extra tickets?"

I went up on Saturday, because the Yankees were playing the Oakland Athletics, formerly the Philadelphia Athletics, one of the oldest franchises in the American League, going back to the League's founding in 1901, although they've been in their current city only since 1968.

Still, my initial plan this season was to see 7 games, one against each of the other 7 franchises that were around at the AL's founding. But the schedule wouldn't permit it: I got one in against the Detroit Tigers, but I missed the Cleveland Indians' only visit of the year, so I focused on seeing an old club for my last game.

The Saturday game was sold out except for $400 seats. Four hundred smackers? For that much, I'd better be sitting in the Yankee dugout! Or in the Steinbrenner family's air-conditioned luxury box. (It was 92 degrees, and a dehydration alert was announced, with the locations of "hydration stations" announced.)

I asked what they had for the Sunday game. A $29 seat in the upper deck, right over 1st base. Section 17. Which, I think, was the same section where I saw the 1st game, 30 years ago. Fitting. One might even say I had come full circle. I went for it.

On the way back to the Subway, carrying the envelope with the ticket in it, I must've been asked by about 50 guys, "You got an extra ticket?" They sounded desperate. Were they scalpers, trying to buy my ticket for list price and then selling them back to desperate fans at an outrageous markup? Or were they, themselves, the desperate fans? I'll never know.

It's been said that every man has his price, but I'll never know what mine would have been, because I told them all, "No," or, "Not at any price," or, "Under no circumstances! This is it, my last game at Yankee Stadium!"

So I went back to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and back to New Jersey. And the next day, did it all over again.

Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor who spent $50 million on a campaign for President and got exactly 1 delegate, was at the game, and he brought John McCain, U.S. Senator from Arizona, the man who actually (or, at least, presumptively) has won the Republican nomination for President.

They were shown a couple of times on the DiamondVision board. I yelled down, "Hey, McCain! The A's aren't in Philadelphia anymore!"

They moved to Kansas City while he was at the Naval Academy, and to Oakland while he was in Hanoi. So it's not just a "McCain is so old" joke. Keep in mind, in 1996, Bob Dole was running for President and referred to the Brooklyn Dodgers, who'd moved to Los Angeles almost 40 years earlier.

The game was a tight pitching duel between Andy Pettitte, the longtime Yankee star (with a brief sojourn in his hometown of Houston) who's easily the pitcher I've seen the most live games of, and Justin Dutscherer of the A's.

A week ago, I'd never heard of Dutscherer. Then he pitched here in the All-Star Game, and today he was very strong. But he gave up a home run to ex-A's star Jason Giambi (Fear the 'Stache) in the 6th, a screaming liner into the right field stands (a.k.a. the short porch), giving the Yanks a 2-1 lead.

Andy, who recently turned 36 and has had injuries, was on fire, and not just because of the intense heat: 8 innings, 1 walk, 10 strikeouts. Aside from his great pitching and fielding in Game 5 of the '96 World Series, I don't think I've ever seen him pitch better -- certainly, not live.

There were a couple of bizarre plays in the 9th, but Mariano Rivera closed it out, again.

If there must be a "last game at the original Yankee Stadium" for me, especially considering how hard it would be to get in there again, a game like that is what I would have designed. (Except for the heat.)

I didn't want to leave. I haven't cried after a Yankee loss since the 1981 World Series, but this was the first time I've cried after a Yankee win. Because I knew this was it. I took my camera and snapped a few shots, because, as strange as it may seem, while there are existing photographs of me at other ballparks, there were none of me at Yankee Stadium. Now there are. (Even if they're just computer images at the moment, not yet put on paper.)

I looked out at the new stadium, whose exterior seems to be nearing completion, and spoke to it: "It's nothing personal. You didn't do anything wrong."

I said, "I guess my childhood really is over now."

Then I closed my eyes and said, "Goodbye, my love," and turned around and walked down the ramp.

If this is what I was like for my last live game, what am I going to be like when the real last game is played -- either the regular-season finale, on September 21 against the Baltimore Orioles, or in the postseason?

Or when the day comes when it finally is demolished? Oh, I've got the words for that awful day.

They were provided by Charlton Heston, at the conclusion of the original film version of Planet of the Apes:

Oh my God. I'm back. I'm home. All the time, it was... We finally, really did it.

You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

*

UPDATE: I was surprisingly calm for the last game, on September 21, 2008. Maybe I would've felt differently if I were there, instead of watching it on TV at home. Even my 1st time at the new Stadium, April 20, 2009, with the old Stadium still standing across the street, I was fine.

But in 2010, seeing the empty space where the old Stadium was, was hard.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bobby Ray Murcer: 1946-2008


BOBBY RAY MURCER
MAY 20, 1946 - JULY 12, 2008

NEW YORK YANKEES
OUTFIELDER 1965 - 1983
BROADCASTER 1983 - 2007
A FOUR-TIME ALL-STAR
DELIGHTED THREE GENERATIONS OF YANKEE FANS
A YANKEE FOR ETERNAL LIFE

DEDICATED BY
THE NEW YORK YANKEES
AUGUST 2, 2008

Or so his Monument Park Plaque might read, if the right thing had been done. Of course, if the right thing had been done, he would have received it while he was still alive.

This year's Yankee Old-Timers' Day is scheduled for August 2, the anniversary of the death of Thurman Munson in 1979. We all know that, 4 days later, Munson was laid to rest in his hometown of Canton, Ohio, and 2 Yankees spoke at the funeral: Bobby Murcer and Lou Piniella, the 2 then-current Yankees who had known him the longest.

That night, against the Baltimore Orioles, Bobby drove in all the Yankee runs with a 3-run homer in the 7th and a 2-run single in the 9th, to win 5-4.

 sad and yet glorious day, and it goes down as the day we remember Bobby the player by.

He had only 1 chance to play in a World Series, in 1981, but he got to broadcast for 6 Pennant winners and 4 World Champions. I hope George Steinbrenner got him at least 1 World Series ring.

Steinbrenner should have given Bobby his Monument Park Plaque ages ago. After all, of all the players who were already retired when the YES Network began broadcasting in March 2002, the only ones who have gotten a Yankeeography but not a Plaque are Murcer, Piniella and Willie Randolph. And of those, Bobby was with the Yankees by far the longest.

It's getting to be a common sight, as more years than not, a Yankee star dies, and the black armbands go on the left sleeves. It might be especially weird for Derek Jeter, if the decision is made to make it a black Number 2, which Jeter now wears. I wonder if there will, one day, be a dual retirement ceremony, as there was for Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra. Or if they'll go with the first number Bobby wore, Number 1, which is already retired for Billy Martin (who wasn't willing to give it up in his second managerial stint, hence Bobby took 2 when he returned; he wore 20 with the Giants, and Mickey Mantle's 7 with the Cubs).
First Phil Rizzuto, now Bobby Murcer. I'm beginning to wonder if the real cause of death might not be a broken heart, from knowing that Yankee Stadium is being torn down.

I don't know how long it takes to make those Plaques, but it is past time. Bobby deserved it well before he got sick, and he deserves it now. I said as much in this blog in March, not yet knowing that his condition had taken a turn for the worse.

But it didn't happen. And there wasn't time. I don't have all the details yet, but either the cancer returned, or all the treatment compromised his health so that something else took his life.

(UPDATE: As it turned out, it was both: He developed shingles, which compromised his immune system, and allowed the cancer to come back aggressively.)

On May 16, I was in a Borders store and saw his autobiography, which he titled Yankee For Life: My 40-Year Journey in Pinstripes. It was supposed to be released on May 20, his 62nd birthday -- and, as we now know, his last.

I didn't even think about it: I pulled it off the shelf and walked to the checkout line. He's been a part of my life for almost as long as I can remember.

The kid from the south side of Oklahoma City is no longer a part of life on Earth, but he'll always be a part of the lives he touched, as a player, as a broadcaster, as an advocate for his home State (in times like tornado strikes and the federal building bombing in 1995), as a spokesman for health issues (deeply regretting his past as a "smokeless tobacco" endorser, helping Mantle raise money for organ donation, his final battle), and as the kind of person who, when he spoke about his faith and the eternal life he's a part of now, never sounded like the kind of man who would hit you over the head with his Bible if you didn't contribute cash to his church. His faith was in his heart, not in his bank account.

There was nothing phony about Bobby Murcer: He could have made grass grow where there was only Astroturf.

Bobby Ray Murcer -- his real name, not "Robert Raymond" -- was an All-Star as a baseball player. As a human being, he was a Hall-of-Famer.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Yankees On Their Way Now, Plus Thoughts On Wimbledon

A lot changes in 48 hours. The Yankees have made the Red Sox look pretty pathetic the last two games, and now they can remind the Tampa team that they are still the Devil Rays and that they don't belong in a Pennant race.

Every year, there's 3 or 4 teams that surprise out of the gate. By Memorial Day, there's usually only 1 of them left, and that team usually doesn't last to Labor Day. The Rays are that team this year, and the beginning of the end is at hand. The Red Sox have too many injuries and the fine bullpen of last year is the ineffective bullpen of this year -- and, as I predicted, this being an even-numbered year, Josh Beckett isn't nearly as good as he is in odd-numbered years.

The Yankees will win the AL East with the talent they have. It's just a matter of whether they can beat the Los Angeles Angels of Katella Boulevard, Anaheim, Orange County, California, U.S.A., Planet Earth, Sol System, Sector 001, Alpha Quadrant, United Federation of Planets, Milky Way Galaxy. I don't see any other team in the Real League that can beat them in October -- especially since the Indians have crashed and burned, making even that dysfunctional bunch in Queens look respectable by comparison. (That is, if they were ever worthy of respect.) And if the Angels somehow don't win the West, or get beat in the Division Series by a team other than the Yankees, then we may see a first: A combination World Series-Halloween ticker-tape parade.

No, I didn't do any boozing on the 4th of July weekend, why do you ask? I meant every word of that. All the naysayers need to wake up and realize that the Yankees are not only alive, but they are well, and well-positioned to do exactly as I predicted -- or did you not notice that my prediction that trading for Johan Santana wouldn't help The Other Team is also, so far, coming true?

UPDATE: Yeah, I believed it all. Boy, was I wrong!

*

One good way to settle whether Jason Varitek of the Red Sox or A.J. Pierzynski of the Chicago White Sox deserves to be the backup catcher on the American League All-Star team is to have them fight it out.

And this time, unlike in that 2004 fight with Alex "Madonna is my soulmate" Rodriguez, Varitek doesn't get to keep his mask on. As Herb Brooks once said of Ranger "defenseman" Barry Beck, the C on his jersey stands for Coward. Pierzynski fights dirty, but he's a man about it. He's got a little Munson, a little Piniella, a little O'Neill in him. If the Yankees could pick him up as Posada's eventual replacement, at least until someone comes up through the minors, I'd live with it. (And, yes, that ball in the '05 ALCS did hit the ground.)

*

I won't talk much about tennis in this blog, but I have to mention what's already being called the greatest match since Bjorn Borg won his 5th straight Wimbledon "Gentlemen's Singles" title in 1980, defeating John McEnroe in an absolute thriller. (As if McEnroe has ever been a gentleman.)

Yesterday, Roger Federer was going for his 6th straight title to break Borg's record, against Rafael Nadal, who has similarly dominated the French Open, but had never before won any of the other majors.

When I discovered that Nadal had taken the first 2 sets, I was shocked. But Federer took the next 2, and I was sure that he would win.

Nadal built his legend in that 5th set. No one will ever again say, "He can't win except on clay." Even McEnroe, covering it for NBC, said it was the best match he'd ever seen. (Well, sure: He lost that '80 final.)

If every rivalry in sports was played the way Federer and Nadal played that final yesterday, we'd have an endless treasure trove of wonderful stories. They fought hard but clean, and both have proven their greatness.

I was at Stuff Yer Face, a stromboli-and-beer-based restaurant in New Brunswick, New Jersey while the 3rd and 4th sets of that match were being played, the 2 sets won by Federer, and it was on. The Yankees had the Sunday night ESPN game, but the Mets and Phillies were underway. This shows how far the Mets have fallen: A restaurant that is only 49 miles from Shea Stadium, with the Yankees scheduled for later and thus not an immediate option, preferred to show a tennis match in England between men from Switzerland and Spain. (A good week for Spain, which also won the Euro 2008 "futbol" tournament, upsetting Germany in the final.)

If only there was an American who could challenge Federer and Nadal tournament in and tournament out. Just because Federer is a bowl-cut away from really resembling Jimmy Connors...

Let's be honest: Connors is beloved in this country, but he was never this good. He was like the Joe Namath of tennis, except Namath was severely limited by injuries, while Connors lasted a long time, making some improbable runs in majors close to 40 -- which is like doing it at 50 in almost any other sport.

I like Venus Williams. I love Serena Williams. (Yes, the difference is the tush factor. I admit it, I'm a pig. But she's still a great player.) But please, no more all-Williams Sisters finals. There's no suspense: Everything Venus does well indirectly boosts Serena, and vice versa. It's a good thing for American tennis if either wins, especially since the men's side has been pathetic lately. (Did Andy Roddick ever actually HAVE an "mojo"?)

But if they both reach the final, there's no more drama. Maybe for them, but not for us. The ideal situation would be if they both made the semis, and then one loses, and the other wins and beats the one who beat her sister for the final. That would be dramatic and satisfying.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Top 10 Yankees-Red Sox Moments -- From My Perspective

Legend has it that, in the early days of the Mets, long before the Internet made checking scores considerably easier, a Met fan figured out how to work a telephone, and called up the Daily News, and asked how the Mets did that day.

"Great!" said the voice at the News. "They scored 19 runs!"

And the Met fan asks, "Did they win?"

Which goes to show that he knew his team.

I don't know if the conversation actually occurred, but we can nail down the facts: It was May 26, 1964, and the Mets beat the Chicago Cubs 19-1 at Wrigley Field. Surprisingly, only one Met hit a home run that day: Charley Smith, who would soon be traded to the St. Louis Cardinals and then, after the 1966 season, become a Yankee, getting traded even-up for Roger Maris. Not a glorious moment in Yankee history.

Last night, the Yankees blew a 5-1 lead against the Texas Rangers, the Dallas-area team once owned by George W. Bush (they won no Pennants, natch, in fact they still haven't) and often known as the Strangers. But they exploded for 9 runs in the bottom of the 7th, including a grand slam by Mr. Mustache, Jason Giambi, and career home run Number 535 by Alex (Material Boy) Rodriguez, passing Jimmie Foxx on the all-time list and bringing him to within one of Mickey Mantle (who at least shagged better blonde actresses than Madonna). Yankees 18, Rangers 7.

Would that the Yankees had saved, oh, 6 or 7 of those runs to add to whatever they get starting tonight in this 4-game 4th of July weekend series against the Boston Red Sox.

*

As you may have noticed, I loathe the Red Sox. Not quite as much as I despise the Mets, but it's pretty damn close.

Here is my list of the Top 10 Yankees-Red Sox Moments. They are chosen by certain criteria, which may not be the same as yours:

* Was it indicative of the state of the rivalry for much of its history, described by the man who knows the Sox better than anyone, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, as like "the rivalry between the hammer and the nail"?

* Did it make the Sox look like a bunch of thugs and/or buffoons?

* Do I actually remember it? Bonus if I was actually there. (I've seen 4 Yanks-Sox games in person: 2 wins at Yankee Stadium, and a win and a loss at Fenway Park.)

(Update: I have since seen a 5th Yanks-Sox game, a rainy, miserable, blown-lead loss at the new Yankee Stadium.)

So here they are:

Honorable Mention. July 1, 2004, Yankee Stadium. Yanks 6, Sox 5. A 13-inning dance of death that featured Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter "flying" into the stands to catch a looper, and Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra -- or, as Sox fans called him, Nomah Gahciahpahwah -- the only player on both rosters combined, except for Sox backup catcher Doug Mirabelli, not to get into the game, due to a season-long mope from his contract situation.

After this game, Nomar was doomed to be sent elsewhere, and the Sox looked dead. If they weren't going to do it the year before, and they weren't going to do it that year, when Pedro was also likely to be gone, then they were never going to do it.

Alas, 3 weeks later came Bronson Arroyo plunking A-Rod, Jason Varitek shoving his purse in A-Rod's face while leaving his own mask on like the coward he is, and eventually The Great Disgrace that October. Which is why, as thrilling as this one was, I can't rank it in the Top 10.

10. July 2, 1941, Yankee Stadium. Yanks 8, Sox 4. It doesn't sound like all that big of a win, especially since it was midseason and the Sox ended up in 6th place. But in 95-degree heat, Joe DiMaggio hit a home run, extending his hitting streak to 45 games, breaking the record set by Willie Keeler in 1897. Someone pointed out that, by hitting one into the seats, where there are no fielders, the Yankee Clipper had beaten Keeler with his own advice: "Hit 'em where they ain't." Lefty Gomez was the winning pitcher, Dick Newsome the loser. Attendance: A mere 8,682. (It was a Wednesday afternoon, and, as I said, it was really hot.)

And how did Ted Williams, he who went on to bat .406 that year, do for the Sox that day? He went 1-for-3 with a single and a walk. He got a hit in each game of that 3-game series, a Yankee sweep (the 4th, 5th & 6th games of a 14-game winning streak), but had no RBIs.

Sidebar. October 1, 1961, Yankee Stadium. Yanks 1, Sox 0. Doesn't appear to be anything special, as the Yanks had clinched the Pennant a week earlier, and the Sox were way out of it, and Mickey Mantle didn't even play due to, not injury, but illness.

But the only run of the game came on a home run by Roger Maris, his 61st of the season, setting a new record that still stands today. (Shut up, Mark, Sammy and Barry, you had your chance to do it honestly.) The Sox pitcher was Tracy Stallard, who otherwise pitched fine, but will never be remembered for anything else.

9. July 4, 1983, Yankee Stadium. Yanks 4, Sox 0. Dave Righetti pitches a no-hitter on a brutally hot day, with the final out coming via a swinging strikeout of one of the best contact hitters of all time, Wade Boggs.

Sidebar. October 26, 1996, Yankee Stadium. Yanks 3, Atlanta Braves 2. True, the Yanks and the Braves don't have a rivalry, and the Braves had been gone from Boston for 44 years. But this Game 6 of the '96 World Series featured the aforementioned Wade Boggs, in Pinstripes, riding around the field on the back of a police horse.

Actor and Sox fan Denis Leary, a native of Worcester, Massachusetts, has said that if you'd told his father that would happen one day, "his head would've blown up." Denis, with all due respect to your dad, who I'm sure was a fine man except for having lousy taste in baseball teams... it happened.

8. September 14, 1991, Yankee Stadium. Yanks 3, Sox 1. This was my 1st Yanks-Sox game in person. Scott Sanderson pitched 8 shutout innings, and the Yank runs came on doubles by Steve Sax and Randy Velarde. Seriously. And, yes, the Sox fans were obnoxious and couldn't hold their liquor then, too.

7. August 18, 19, 20 and 21, 2006, Fenway Park. Yanks 12, Sox 4; (2nd game of rain-forced doubleheader) Yanks 14, Sox 11; Yanks 13, Sox 5; Yanks 8, Sox 5; Yanks 2, Sox 1. Son of Boston Massacre. The Yanks beat the Sox in several different ways.

I was in Boston on the 20th, but my chances of getting into Fenway for that ESPN Sunday night game -- without having won the lottery earlier in the summer -- were about the same as my chances of getting Catherine Zeta-Jones to leave Michael Douglas for me.

But I certainly soaked up the atmosphere, and enjoyed it. Even after just 3 games, the people in Boston were in a daze, wondering what else could go wrong, wondering what the Sox had to do to turn the momentum of the rivalry back their way. It was unbelievable: It was as if October 2004 had never happened, and the Yanks still had the hammer over the Sox for all time.

Which, unfortunately, was too good to last.

6. October 17, 1999, Fenway Park. Yanks 9, Sox 2. Game 4 of the '99 ALCS. True, the umpiring wasn't great. But it wasn't the umps who lost this series for the Sox, it was the Sox themselves, with their lousy fielding and their ineffective bullpen. When Ricky Ledee's 9th-inning grand slam off Rod Beck produced what turned out to be the final score, after the inning began with the Yanks only up 3-2, the Sox fans started throwing garbage onto the field.

Keep in mind that this was just one day after the Roger Clemens-Pedro Martinez duel turned out to be not just a 13-1 Boston blowout, but a moment when Sox fans treated Clemens, the greatest Red Sox pitcher either ever (or at least their greatest pitcher since Cy Young), as if he was Anakin Skywalker come back as Darth Vader, and emotions were still running high.

As Shaughnessy pointed out, they took too much pleasure in beating Clemens. "The point was not to beat Clemens," he said. "The point was to win the series." After this game, any pretense Boston had to being "the Athens of America" went out the window.

The next night, the Yanks won the Pennant, clinching at Fenway Park. The Yanks had clinched Pennants at Fenway before, and had clinched the Division there the season before, but this was different.

5. July 30, 1999, Fenway Park. Yanks 13, Sox 3. This was my first Yanks-Sox game in Boston, and Chuck Knoblauch hit the 2nd pitch of the game over the Green Monster for a homer. On the 5th pitch, Derek Jeter hit one out to dead center field, hitting a TV camera stand. On the 11th pitch, Sox starter Mark Portugal literally fell off the mound. Amazingly, the Sox tied it 2-2 in the bottom of the 1st, and, sitting in Section 14 in an obstructed-view seat with a $24 list price but had paid a scalper $42 for, I thought, Uh-oh, this is gonna be one of those games where Fenway turns into a big green pinball machine.

I was only half-right, because the Sox didn't keep their half of the bargain. I'm glad it was that half! The Yankees were 9-2 up after 3 innings. By the 7th-inning stretch, it was 13-3, and there were about 10,000 Yankee Fans and about 1,000 Sox fans left in the old yard, and the chant of "Let's Go Yankees!" reverberated off the Wall.

The most shocking thing about this game was that Joe Torre left his starter in for the whole game. The second-most shocking? The starter was Hideki Irabu. I swear.

4. September 7, 8, 9 and 10, 1978, Fenway Park. Yanks 15, Sox 3; Yanks 13, Sox 2; Yanks 7, Sox 0; Yanks 7, Sox 4. This was the Boston Massacre, and at age 8 going on 9, I knew that good had triumphed over evil. The Yanks came in 4 games behind and left tied.

Supposedly, a Boston sportswriter walked into a bar after the 3rd game and heard, "They came for our grandfathers, they came for our fathers, and now the sons of bitches are coming after us." (Yeah, and now they've come for your sons.) Supposedly, a sportswriter wrote, "This was the first time in history that a first-place team was mathematically eliminated."

As it turned out, no. The Yanks only took 2 of 3 in The Bronx a week later, and the Sox won 12 of their last 14, including their last 8, to set up the moment at Number 2.

3. October 11, 2003, Fenway Park. Yanks 4, Sox 3. Game 3 of the '03 ALCS, and Pedro Martinez not only hits Karim Garcia on the head, he threatens Jorge Posada with the same. After Manny Ramirez overreacts to a Roger Clemens pitch that was head-high but actually over the plate, Pedro grabs Yankee coach Don Zimmer, age 72, by the head, and throws him to the ground.

The next day, in one of the few times I've ever agreed with them, the New York Post prints the headline "FENWAY PUNK." The irony is that when order was restored, Clemens, who had lost his temper many times, kept his composure, and struck Manny Being Manny out, and was the winning pitcher.

Pedro will probably make the Hall of Fame, but he is a truly vile son of a bitch. It doesn't matter whether he knew Zim had been beaned twice as a player and was simply standing up for his players. Even Zim's age wasn't really the issue. The issue is, You do NOT grab a man by the head and throw him to the ground! That's felonious assault, even attempted murder! Pedro should have just grabbed Zim by the shoulders and stopped him.

And yet, many (I won't say "most," since I don't know for sure that it's most) Sox fans think Zim had it coming, because he was the Sox manager in 1978, when the words "Red Sox" and "choke" became synonymous. Which brings me to...

2. October 2, 1978, Fenway Park. Yanks 5, Sox 4. The Boston Tie Party, also known as the Bucky Dent Game. It's ironic: If today's pitching mindset had been in place then, Mike Torrez would've pitched 6 shutout innings and left with a 2-0 lead.

To their credit, though, Sox fans usually don't blame Torrez. They blame manager Zimmer, then their manager, for screwing up that race they led by 14 games on July 18 and as much as 6 1/2 games on September 1.

1. October 17, 2003, Yankee Stadium. Yanks 6, Sox 5. The game actually started on October 16, but since the homer was hit at 12:16 AM, it was now the 17th. This, of course, was the Aaron Boone Game, Game 7 of the '03 ALCS. It was over. All the Sox needed was 5 more outs, and Pedro was on the mound to hold a 3-run lead. It didn't matter what Yogi Berra said: This game was freakin' over.

Then 4 straight doubles: Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada. In the middle of it, Grady Little forfeits his job as Sox manager by leaving Pedro in, forgetting that, with Pitch Number 100, Pedro stops pitching like Christy Mathewson and starts pitching like Christie Brinkley. (And doesn't look as good.) And Boone, who'd done next to nothing for the Yanks before that moment, and next to nothing afterward (a homer in the World Series but then an injury that pretty much ended his career), makes it all worthwhile. Too bad the Curse of the Bambino only lasted one more year.

Of course, should this 2008 season result in a Yankee triumph over the Red Sox, I reserve the right to alter this list.

Bring it on, Chowdaheads!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Birthdays: Fun; Yankees' Hitting Slump: Unacceptable

First, Happy Birthday to Ashley and Rachel. One year ago today, you arrived, and turned me from just another goofy Yankee Fan into Uncle Mike. You have made our lives brighter, and we cannot thank you enough.

The weird thing is, the day they were born, the Yankees won, 5-1, beating... the Twins. The Minnesota Twins. Am I going to have to explain that to the girls someday? Will the fact that they are twins -- albeit, like the "Twin Cities" of Minneapolis and St. Paul, not identical -- cause them to abandon their home team for the Minnesota team? I hope not, but it's better than rooting for the Mets. Or the Red Sox. Or the Dodgers.

In the 1st Yankee game of the girls' lifetime, the winning pitcher was Roger Clemens (oy), the losing pitcher was Boof Bonser (what a name), Bobby Abreu went 3-for-4 with a homer for the Yankees. The lineup was as follows:

DH 18 Johnny Damon
CF 28 Melky Cabrera
SS 2 Derek Jeter
3B 13 Alex Rodriguez
C 20 Jorge Posada
LF 55 Hideki Matsui
RF 53 Bobby Abreu
1B 12 Andy Phillips
2B 24 Robinson Cano

P 22 Roger Clemens

The attendance at Yankee Stadium was 53,036. And the time of the game, a manageable 2 hours and 52 minutes.

*

On a slightly related story, I decided to look up the first game the Yankees played in my lifetime. It was April 7, 1970, the home opener at Yankee Stadium, and it was against the Boston Red Sox. The lineup:

2B 20 Horace Clarke
C 15 Thurman Munson (eventual Rookie of the Year)
LF 6 Roy White
1B 23 John Ellis
3B 10 Danny Cater
CF 1 Bobby Murcer
RF 13 Curt Blefary
SS 17 Gene Michael
P 30 Mel Stottlemyre (no DH in those days)

Of those 9 players, 6 would have their uniform numbers retired -- but only Munson's 15 for the player involved.

This team went on to win 93 games, but they finished 15 games out, since the Baltimore Orioles ran away with the AL East, so they were 15 games out.

Still, how did a team with John Ellis batting 4th and Danny Cater 5th win 93? And why was Murcer, a genuine All-Star who ended up with 252 career home runs, batting 6th? What was manager Ralph Houk thinking?

Assuming Clarke, Ellis, Cater, Blefary and Michael were the best you could get at those positions, the lineup should have been as follows: Clarke, White, Munson, Murcer, Blefary, Ellis, Cater, Michael, and the pitcher -- although Mel wasn't a bad hitter as pitchers go, finishing the year with 2 homers and 7 RBIs in 85 at-bats, working out to 13 homers and 45 RBI in 550 at-bats.

The Sox had current or former All-Stars like Carl Yastrzemski, Tony Conigliaro, Reggie Smith, George Scott and Rico Petrocelli. And... the Sox won, 4-3. The winning pitcher was Gary Peters, who'd once been Rookie of the Year with the Chicago White Sox, and Bill (Spaceman) Lee got the save. Mel was the losing pitcher.

Attendance for this Yankee Stadium Opening Day against the Boston Red Sox was... 21,379. I guess it wasn't considered a rivalry yet. Either that, or about 40,000 people (Yankee Stadium then seated about 65,000) didn't think the Yankees, in this 1st game played after the Mets had won their 1st World Series, were worth skipping work for.

*

Back to the present. This is unacceptable. There's a reason the old-time Yankees were given names like Murderer's Row and the Bronx Bombers: They hit hard, and they didn't let up. These guys aren't hitting. If Mariano Rivera had been handed a 6-2 lead, and the final had been 6-3, we would now be saying, "Big deal."

Scoring just 3 runs in 2 games against the Texas Strangers is unacceptable.

Melky Cabrera is batting .241, and Joe Girardi should have had him bunt with the leadoff man on 1st and down by a run in the 9th. Instead, he had Melky swing away, and he did, right into a double play. (Which I don't think I'll be calling a "twin killing" for the foreseeable future.)

Melky needs 1 of 2 things: A tutorial in hitting... or a trade to the Mets, where he would definitely be 1 of the top 3 outfielders.

*

Someone pointed out to me that all the guys who were mentioned as being in the Johan Santana trade that the Yanks ended up not making have been disappointing: Melky, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. This is true.

But let's not forget the most disappointing person who was mentioned in that trade.

Johan Santana. The Mets didn't shell out all that dough for 7-7, did they? And the Mets have lost his last 5 starts. If I were a Met fan, that would be truly unacceptable.

But I'm not a Met fan. That would be absolutely unacceptable.