Saturday, August 13, 2016

Here Come Da Judge. And the Other Prospects.

In 1968, comedian Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham, who may have played Harlem's Apollo Theater more than any other performer, became famous in white America when Sammy Davis Jr. performed his "Here Come Da Judge" routine on NBC's Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Markham himself became a part of the cast and did the routine. Markham also came up with another of the show's catchphrases: "Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls."

At the time, the Yankees were not very good. And nobody thought to connect the expression "Here come da judge" to baseball. Although another Laugh-In catchphrase, "Sock it to me," got attached to the Detroit team that ended up winning the World Series: "Sock it to 'em, Tigers!"

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Today, before the game with the Tampa Bay Rays at the new Yankee Stadium, the Yankees celebrated the 20th Anniversary of their 1996 World Champions. Joe Torre, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada, David Cone, Wade Boggs, Tim Raines, Cecil Fielder, Jimmy Key, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre were on hand.

And, of course, Joe Girardi, the current Yankee manager -- who was booed yesterday because he didn't start Alex Rodriguez at 3rd base in his final game, but was cheered today. Girardi the manager? The fans may have turned on him. Girardi the player? Still loved in The Bronx. (See also: The Philadelphia Flyers, whose fans still love Bobby Clarke, their greatest player, but remain angry with Bob Clarke, their former general manager, who, of course, is the same guy.)

So that's at least one guy at every position except for 2nd base (Mariano Duncan), 3 of the starting pitchers, and the 7th & 8th-inning reliever (but closer John Wetteland wasn't there).

But the game was about the future: Aaron Hicks (wearing Dave Winfield's Number 31, batting 2nd, playing left field), Gary Sanchez (24, 6th, designated hitter), Tyler Austin (26, 7th, 1st base) and Aaron Judge (99, 8th, right field) were all rookies playing in this game.

Sanchez went 0-for-4, but has otherwise contributed pretty well since getting called up. The others, including big-league debutants Austin and Judge, came up large today.

Masahiro Tanaka started, and, lo and behold, despite allowing 4 runs, Girardi let him pitch 7 innings. And the Yankees backed him up with runs. In the bottom of the 2nd inning, Austin hit a home run. Batting right after him, Judge did the same. 2-0 Yankees.

On April 19, 1938, Earnie Koy of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Heinie Mueller of the Philadelphia Phillies both hit home runs in their 1st major league at-bat in the same game. That had been the only time in the history of Major League Baseball that 2 players had homered in their 1st big-league at-bat in the same game, until now. Austin and Judge are the first teammates to do it.

The Rays took a 3-2 lead in the 4th, but Starlin Castro hit a home run, his 14th of the season, to tie it back up. Aaron Hicks hit one out in the 5th, like Castro homering for the 2nd straight day. The Rays scored in the 6th, but Didi Gregorius hit one out in the 7th, his 15th of the season.

That forged the final score: Yankees 8, Rays 4. WP: Tanaka (9-4). No save. LP: Andariese (6-4).

I was concerned that, by going after guys in A-ball that they were calling "prospects," the Yankees were overlooking the actual prospects they had tearing up Double-A and Triple-A, and thus throwing away the immediate and near future to build for a future that might never come.

I was wrong -- but I was right about the guys in Triple-A. The Yankee farm system did not need to be "rebuilt." The major league roster did need to be tweaked. It has been.

The late, great Yogi Berra supposedly once said, "The future ain't what it used to be." Maybe he was wrong. Maybe these Yankees -- if not in 2016, then maybe in 2017 -- will do right by the 1996-2003 team, and the 1976-81 team, and the 1960-64 team, and so on.

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