Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How Long It’s Been: The Yankees Were This Weak (Or Worse)

First published on WordPress on September 18:

The Yankees lost again last night. They began a 3-game series in Toronto against those pesky Blue Jays, and sent Andy Pettitte out to the mound.  He gave up a home run to Colby Rasmus in the bottom of the 4th, but that was the only run of the game until the bottom of the 7th.
What happened in the bottom of the 7th? Josh Thole led off, and he hit a line drive to center field, where Curtis Granderson caught it.  Jose Reyes, the former Met who was “a better shortstop than Derek Jeter,” was up next, and he hit a line drive to right field, where Ichiro Suzuki caught it.
Two hard-hit balls, but both outs.  At this point, Pettitte had thrown 110 pitches, 76 of them for strikes, had allowed 1 run on 6 hits and 2 walks.  Had the Yankees gotten 2 runs by this point, it would have been considered a very good performance, in spite of his age, 41.
But manager Joe Girardi took Pettitte out of the game, and brought Shawn Kelley in to face Rajai Davis.  Davis hit a line drive to left field, but Alfonso Soriano, playing the position in the absence of the injured Brett Gardner, was not going to catch it.  Home run, and that made the score 2-0, which held up.
Why would Girardi do something so stupid? Yes, Pettitte had thrown 110 pitches.  Did I mention that he’d thrown 76 of them for strikes? He was not tiring.  He was pitching very well.  You see your pitching cruising, and not tiring, you throw away the damn binder and let him pitch.  You be a man, and let him be one, too.
In the end, though, it’s not all Girardi’s fault.  Kevin Long, the hitting instructor, isn’t getting through to the Yankees:
* They loaded the bases in the 1st, and didn’t score.
* They had men on 1st and 2nd in the 2nd, and didn’t score.
* R.A. Dickey, the former Met Cy Young Award winner who started for the Jays last night, struck out the side in the 3rd.
* They got a leadoff single in the 4th, and didn’t score.
* They didn’t get another baserunner until 1 out in the 8th, and that was on an error.
* They didn’t get another hit until 1 out in the 9th, and he didn’t score.
* Alex Rodriguez and Ichiro Suzuki both went 0-for-4.  Brendan Ryan, a 31-year-old utility infielder who’s never had 500 plate appearances in a major league season, playing shortstop for the injured Derek Jeter, went 0-for-3.
* The Yankees didn’t show much plate discipline, either.  Not that long ago, we were known for working counts, wearing pitchers out, forcing them into mistakes that led to hits, walks and runs.  Last night, we drew only 2 walks, while striking out 12 times, 3 times by Strikeout Soriano alone.
* We left 10 men on base, 4 by Mark Reynolds and 3 by A-Rod.
The Yankees are 79-72, in 4th place in the American League East.  We’ve lost 4 straight.  We’re 44-31 at home, but just 35-41 on the road.  With just 11 games to go, we are 3 1/2 games out of the 2nd Wild Card berth.
At our current pace, we will win 85 games — only 2 less than we won in 2000, when we won the World Series, but not good enough to make the Playoffs this time.
With all the injuries and incompetencies, on the field and in the front office, our team batting average is .245 — only the Houston Astros, headed for their 3rd straight season of at least 106 losses, are worse.  Our team OPS is .689, and only the Astros and the Chicago White Sox, on a pace to lose 98, are worse.  We’re scoring 4.1 runs per game, and that’s not enough.
A fully-healthy Yankee team should have had an infield of Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez; an outfield of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Ichiro Suzuki; Francisco Cervelli behind the plate, and a DH tandem of Travis Hafner and (yes, him) Kevin Youkilis.
Instead, looking at the players who have played the most games at those positions, we have an infield of Lyle Oerbay (batting .247), Cano (nonetheless having another great year), Eduardo Nunez (.252 and can’t field a lick) and Jayson Nix (.236); an outfield of Vernon Wells (.241), Gardner and Ichiro (down to .262); Chris Stewart catching (.211), and Hafner (.205) and Alfonso Soriano as DHs.  So even with Soriano having 15 homers and 47 RBIs in only 204 plate appearances, Overbay having 14 homers and 58 RBIs, and Hafner having 12 homers and 37 RBIs in essentially half a season, we’re not getting Yankeelike production.  The Bronx Bombers aren’t bombing anyone.
Which wouldn’t be a problem if the pitching was holding up.  Andy Pettitte has pitched decently (3.93 ERA), but the Yankees aren’t hitting for him (as a result, he’s only 10-10).  CC Sabathia (13-13, 4.90) has struggled all year.  Hiroki Kuroda pitched superbly most of the year (3.13), but has tailed off (11-11).  Ivan Nova has come back strong (8-5, 3.36), but Phil Hughes has imploded (4-13, 5.07).  David Phelps and Vidal Nuno, who both looked like they might be good starters, got hurt; Nuno hasn’t pitched since May 30, Phelps only once since July 4.
In the bullpen, Preston Claiborne, Adam Warren and Shawn Kelley started out very well, but has tailed off.  Joba Chamberlain has been awful, Boone Logan has been criminally bad, David Robertson has been very good but has had enough shaky outing to suggest that he is not yet a worthy successor to Mariano Rivera… and Mariano, as great as he’s been this season, has had enough difficulty to suggest that maybe he’s retiring at the right time after all.
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In 2009, 2000, 1999, 1998 and 1996, the Yankees were baseball’s last team standing.  In 2003 and 2001, they were one of the last 2.  In 2012, 2010 and 2004, they were one of the last 4.  In 2011, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2002, 1997 and 1995, they were one of the last 8.  In 1994, they had the best record in the AL when the strike hit.  In 1993, the last year before the 3-divisions-and-wild-card setup took hold, they had the 8th-best record in the major leagues.  In 2008, the only year so far that they haven’t made the Playoffs under the current format, they had the 7th-best record in the majors, better than 2 teams that actually won their divisions.
This year, the Yankees are tied for 14th among the 30 MLB teams.
How long has it been since the Yankees were that weak? Or even weaker?
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It was 1992.  That was 21 years ago.  An entire generation has been born, and grown to drink-buying adulthood, with the Yankees at least being in contention for the Playoffs for their entire lives.
In 1992, the Yankees finished 76-86.  Their manager was William Nathaniel Showalter III.  At 36, Buck was the youngest manager in the major leagues.  (He’s now 57, looks a bit older, and manages the Baltimore Orioles.) The team was on the way up, after bottoming out in 1990, but they still had a lineup that looked like this:
Infield: Don Mattingly (good year, but a down one by his standards), Pat Kelly (typical good-field-no-hit middle infielder), Andy Stankiewicz (ditto, although he did bat .268 that year) and Charlie Hayes (had some power).
Outfield: Mel Hall (good power but had to go, for chemistry reasons), Roberto Kelly (very good player, but an offer of Paul O’Neill for Kelly in the following off-season was too good to pass up) and Danny Tartabull (good power).
DH: Kevin Maas (great power-hitting start to his career but now exposed, batting .248).
Catcher: Matt Nokes (batting left, only .224 but good power) and Mike Stanley (batting right, .249 but also good power).
Bench: Mike Gallego (good-field-occasionally hit, had starred for the 1988-90 Oakland Athletics quasi-dynasty), Randy Velarde (decent hitter but nearly as bad a fielder as Nunez), Jesse Barfield (once great player, now injured and useless, retired after the season at age 33), Dion James (decent player), Bernie Williams (only 23 and not yet reaching his potential), Gerald Williams (at that point, regarded as a better prospect than Bernie — ha ha.)
Starting rotation: Melido Perez (Pascual’s brother was 13-16 but with a nice 2.87 ERA), Scott Sanderson (12-11 but 4.93), Scott Kamieniecki (6-14, 4.36), and Tim Leary (5-6, 5.57 , but that was better than his 4-10 in ’91 and 9-19 in ’90).
This was in the era when baseball was transitioning from the 4-man rotation era to the 5-man rotation era, but the Yankees got starts out of Greg Cadaret (who always seemed to have a bad first inning out of the bullpen but settled down thereafter, making him a relief liability but worth a chance as a starter), Sam Militello (who looked like a good one for the future, but turned out not to be), Bob Wickman (who went on to a good career as a reliever), Curt Young (who’d been a good starting for Oakland but was battling injury and only pitched 1 more season), a 21-year-old rookie lefty named Sterling Hitchcock (who would get good, but was worth more to the Yankees as trade bait), Shawn Hillegas and Jeff Johnson (the less said about those last 2, the better).
Bullpen: Cadaret (as I said, better suited to starting), Steve Farr (30 saves and a sizzling 1.56 ERA), Rich Monteleone (nice job that season, went on to become a Yankee pitching coach), John Habyan (did not have a good year) and Tim Burke (once an All-Star closer for the Montreal Expos, now washed up and about to retire at 33).
In 1992, the Blue Jays, after a few years of chokes that got them nicknamed the Blow Jays, beat the A’s in the ALCS (no ALDS in those days), and beat the Atlanta Braves to win their first World Series — the first time a team from outside the U.S. had ever appeared in one.  The hit that drove in the Series-winning run? A Game 6, 10th-inning double by Dave Winfield, who finally got his ring in his 20th major league season.  
The Jays made it back-to-back titles the next season — and haven’t returned to the postseason in the 20 years since.  The Braves, of course, would, many times.  In 1992, as in 1991, they beat the Pittsburgh Pirates to win the National League Championship Series,  The Pirates haven’t been back to the postseason since, although they have a very good shot at winning the NL Central Division this time.
At the close of the 1992 baseball season, there was a team in Montreal, the Astros were in the NL, and the Milwaukee Brewers were in the AL.  There was, at least for another year, no team in the Mountain Time Zone or in Florida.  Nor was there one in the Nation’s Capital.
There are no longer any players who were playing that season who are still active; Omar Vizquel and Jamie Moyer were the last 2.
Barry Larkin, Roberto Alomar, Kirby Puckett, Wade Boggs, Ryne Sandberg, Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor, Dennis Eckersley, Andre Dawson, Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith, Gary Carter, Robin Yount, Dave Winfield, George Brett, Goose Gossage, Carlton Fisk and Nolan Ryan were all still active.  All are now in the Hall of Fame.  To put that in perspective: Yount, Winfield, Brett, Gossage and Fisk made their major league debuts when Richard Nixon was President; Ryan did so when Lyndon Johnson was still considered a popular incumbent President.
The Jays and the team then known as the California Angels, had not yet won their first World Series.  The Boston Red Sox had not won the World Series in 74 years, the Chicago White Sox in 76 years.  The Braves hadn’t won one since moving to Atlanta, their drought reaching 35 years, since they were in Milwaukee.  The Giants hadn’t won one since moving to San Francisco, their drought reaching 38 yaers, since they were in New York.  The Jays, the Astros, the Angels and the Texas Rangers had not yet won their first Pennant.   The White Sox had not won the Pennant in 33 years.  The Jays and the Seattle Mariners had not yet reached their first postseason.  The Colorado Rockies, Florida (now Miami) Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now just Rays) had not yet begun major league play.  All of these things have since been achieved.
(The Marlins and Diamondbacks have since won the World Series, the Rockies and Rays have each won a Pennant, and the Montreal Expos moved to become the Washington Nationals, and have reached the postseason.  The Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs had not won the World Series in 44 and 84 years, respectively; nor a Pennant in 28 and 47 years.  The Indians have since won 2 Pennants, but those other droughts remain.  The Astros, Brewers, Rangers and San Diego Padres have still not won a Series, the Mariners and the Expos/Nationals franchise still haven’t won even a Pennant.)
Oriole Park at Camden Yards had just been opened.  Every team except the Orioles, White Sox, Jays and Minnesota Twins was playing in a stadium built in 1976 or earlier.  The Red Sox, Cubs and Detroit Tigers were still playing in ballparks built before World War I; the Yankees and Indians in stadiums built before World War II; the Brewers in one built in the 1950s.  Today, the only teams still playing in the same stadiums in which they began the 1989 season (when the Jays were about to move into the SkyDome/Rogers Centre) are the Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, Angels, A’s and Kansas City Royals.
As the Yankees were wrapping up their last losing season to date, the defending World Champions in the various sports were the Washington Redskins in the NFL (who haven’t reached a Super Bowl since), the Chicago Bulls in the NBA, and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL.  Evander Holyfield was Heavyweight Champion of the World.  FC Barcelona had just won the first of their now 4 UEFA Champions League titles.  England’s Football League Division One had just morphed into the Premier League; Leeds United, defending champions, haven’t won the League since (and have been in the 2nd division or lower since 2004 anyway).  Liverpool had beaten Sunderland for the 1992 FA Cup; while Liverpool have been back to the FA Cup Final 4 times since, Sunderland have not.
The Olympics had just been held in Barcelona, Spain.  They have since been held in Norway, Atlanta, Japan, Australia, Salt Lake City, Greece, Italy, China, Canada and Britain.
The President of the United States was George Bush — the father.  He was about to lose his bid for re-election to Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas.  George Bush the son was 46 years old (the same age as Clinton), had failed in business, had failed in politics (he’d lost his only run for public office thus far, for Congress in 1978), was failing in sports (he was the owner of the Texas Rangers), and was wondering what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, their wives, Ronald Reagan, and the widows of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were still alive.  (All have since died.  Nancy Reagan, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, George and Barbara Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and George and Laura Bush are all still alive.)
Barack Obama was teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago, and directing a voter registration drive in that city that registered 150,000 previously unregistered people.  (In other words, he was a great success as a “community organizer.”) He was about to marry Michelle Robinson, who was working at a law firm in the city.
The Governor of New York was Mario Cuomo, father of current Governor Andrew, then serving as Chairman of the New York City Homeless Commission, where he served under then-Mayor David Dinkins.  Michael Bloomberg was already a big businessman, while Bill de Blasio was also an aide to Dinkins.  Rudy Giuliani was in private legal practice, waiting for next year’s electoral rematch with Dinkins.  Former Mayors John Lindsay, Abe Beame and Ed Koch, and former Governors Malcolm Wilson and Hugh Carey were still alive; all are now dead.
The Governor of New Jersey was Jim Florio.  Chris Christie was a young lawyer, and Barbara Buono, his opponent for re-election in 2013, was running for public office for the first time, for Borough Council in Metuchen.
Queen Elizabeth II was on the throne of Britain — that hasn’t changed — but the Prime Minister was John Major.  The Prime Minister of Canada was Brian Mulroney, in what turned out to be his last full year in office.  He was a lousy Prime Minister, and remains very unpopular — so unpopular that he no longer lives in Canada, having his full-time residence in Florida — but for the rest of his life, he can truthfully claim that he was the Prime Minister when a Canadian team won the World Series for the first time.  As long as he lives and Gary Bettman remains NHL Commissioner, it is likely that Mulroney will also be able to say he was the Prime Minister when a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup for the last time.  (The Montreal Canadiens would win in it 1993, but Canadian teams are 0-for-5 in Finals since.)
Major books of 1992 included The Pelican Brief by John Grisham, The Children of Men by P.D. James, Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King, Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, The Bridges of Madison Countyby Robert James Waller, and Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby.  All of these — all novels except the last, a memoir of the author’s fandom for London soccer team Arsenal — were made into major films over the course of the 1990s.  Another major novel of that year, not yet made into a movie, was Jazz by Toni Morrison.  The biggest-selling nonfiction book of the year was John Gray’s Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.
The CBS drama Picket Fences, the ABC sitcom Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, and the NBC sitcom Mad About You all premiered in September 1992.  On October 1, the Cartoon Network began broadcasting.
“End of the Road” by Boyz II Men was in the process of becoming the longest-running Number 1 single in U.S. chart history.  Frank Zappa, ill with cancer, made his last concert appearance.  Sinead O’Connor ripped up a picture of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live.  A tribute concert for Bob Dylan was held at Madison Square Garden, and it might have been, up to that point, the greatest amount of musical talent ever gathered for one day of music.  Blind Melon released their self-titled debut album, Garth Brooks released The Chase, and R.E.M. released Automatic for the People.
There were mobile telephones, but they were still bigger than most human hands.  The Internet existed, but most people hadn’t heard of it yet — there were, however, rumblings in the public consciousness about something called “the information superhighway.” High-defintion television was also a big rumor, but it would be years before it would begin serious implementation.  Apple and Microsoft were known names, but they weren’t the titans they would become.  There was no Yahoo, no Facebook, no Twitter — indeed, they weren’t even possible at this point.
In September and October of 1992, the Pope — not fazed by Sinead’s action — traveled to the Caribbean to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World (and, more important from his perspective, the anniversary of bringing Catholicism to it).  He also pardoned Galileo Galilei and officially apologized for his persecution.  Scientist Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman in space, aboard the space shuttle Endeavour; she would later become the first real-life astronaut to appear on a Star Trek series.  Brazil saw the impeachment of its first democratically-elected President, Fernando Collor de Mello (he resigned rather than face trial and removal) and the Carandiru Prison riot and massacre.  A 16-year civil war ended in Mozambique.  An earthquake killed over 500 people in Cairo, Egypt.  Emperor Akihito became the first Japanese monarch to travel to China, and apologized for the harm done by his country to theirs in the 1930s and ’40s.
Psycho actor Anthony Perkins, and Temptations singer Eddie Kendricks, and Baseball Hall-of-Famer Billy Herman died.  Demi Lovato, and Nick Jonas, and Bryce Harper were born.
The close of the 1992 season, the last time the New York Yankees were worse than they are now.
There was hope, though.  In the off-season, Roberto Kelly would be traded for Paul O’Neill.  Wade Boggs and Jimmy Key would be signed as free agents.  Mariano Rivera went 5-3 with a 2.28 ERA at Class A Fort Lauderdale — although he was entirely a starter at that point.  Andy Pettitte went 10-4 with a 2.20 ERA for Class A Greensboro (one step below Fort Lauderdale).  And Derek Jeter was wrapping up his first professional season.
The rest is history.

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