2012 Postseason Recap, part 2

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone who celebrates it! And a Happy Thursday to everyone else!

Yesterday, I began the recap of last year’s postseason escapades. Now, I’ve never been a big fan of the “sweep” in longer series due to the occurrence of a longer break between the series, and actually, last year’s postseason proved that teams that swept usually got swept on their next series (like Detroit from the ALCS to the World Series), while teams that had to play most of their games in one series were able to continue their momentum to win (like San Francisco from the NLCS to the World Series).

Raul Ibanez
Raul Ibanez, “King of New York”
3 home runs during the ALDS
via WashingtonPost.com

After clinching their 18th AL East division title, the Yankees went 3-for-5 in the division serious over the Orioles, who had been threatening to unseat their #1 position since nearly the All-Star Break. (Though I am proud to say the Bombers never gave up their top spot!)

  • In Game 1, Russell Martin started a run-rally in the 9th inning which ended with a 7-2 Yankees win.
  • Game 2 went to the Orioles 3-2, in a bit of back-and-forth game.
  • Back in the Bronx for Game 3, going into the bottom of the 9th inning and down 2-1, Raul Ibanez, pinch-hitting for struggling Alex Rodriguez, smacked a gorgeous right field homer to send the game into extra innings and then proceeded to walk-off another one in the bottom of the 12th inning. (And the “King of New York” was born!)
  • Game 4 had them tied 1-1 until an Oriole double at the top of the 13th inning brought a Baltimore victory.
  • Going into Game 5 with a tied series, Yankees triumphantly hold their early lead, with a little help from the “King”. The Yankees were headed into the Championship series on a high, but with some minor exceptions, their usual stars weren’t performing up to par.

At this point, I should also point out the 2012 season wasn’t looking good for the Yankees at all in the Post-Season, mainly due to the ridiculous amount of injuries the team had endured. Retired Andy Pettitte returned to the mound in May and by June was out due to a broken ankle only to be back strong in September and the Post-Season. Mark Teixeira spent a good portion of August and September out with a strained calf muscle. The ever-reliable Derek Jeter had his share of scrapes and close calls; after getting a wild pitch that broke his helmet in Cleveland in August and several fouled-off balls on his left foot, he remained slightly wounded with a severe bone bruise for most of September and October, ever determined to still play every game Girardi would let him. Alex Rodriguez seemed to have some recurring hip pain, which contributed to his limited range of motion and poor performance in the Fall. And while every team that season seemed plagued with numerous injuries, it seemed the Yankees were always putting someone on the Disabled List at least once a week during the regular season. It became a game of “Who’s Next?”.

I guess today’s post is reminding me of all the negative press the Yankees get at the beginning of every year, including this year. Every year, the sports analyst discount them, and every year, they just prove them wrong. It’s too bad it usually takes 7 months for the desk-bound guys to act surprised at the fact that we Yankee fans already know — they’re the Yankees, so they’ll be amazing no matter who’s injured or traded or struggling. It’s always a team, no matter who’s on the roster that day.

Go Yankees!

2012 Postseason Recap, part 1

Derek Jeter (2) & Robinson Cano after a 2012 game
via CBSsports.com

Okay, so the biggest news so far is that to accommodate all their invitees the “lesser” Yankees are being forced to share numbers 87-99 — 2 players per number. So while we await any major news from the Spring Training warm-ups, I’m going to switch it up here with a bit of a recap over the next few days, to remember where last season left us and what the off-season produced.

The Yankees’ 2013 season really began the last day of the 2012 season – Wednesday, October 3, 2012. The Baltimore Orioles fell to the Tampa Bay Rays at the Trop, going 1-for-3 in their final season series, securing their spot as a potential Wild Card (which they won over the Rangers two days later) and giving the Yankees a 2 game lead to clinch the American League East.

If one equates a standard baseball season with a school year, then making it to the Post-Season is like going off to a great summer camp right after your last class. Some people don’t join you – rosters reduce from the swollen September Forty to the Shining Twenty-Five, usually heavy on pitchers and your power hitters.

The odd thing about Post-Season is that for all the glory and bonuses surrounding it, nothing actually counts toward your career, even if you carry a title. You can have the best average of your life or hit 12 monster home runs or pitch 4 perfect games, and it will never appear in your official career statistics. This is why the Post-Season is like summer camp. You can become a skilled equestrian or learn how to make a canoe out of toilet paper or be awarded the funniest kid in the camp, but when you go back to school in a few months, none of that really matters in the long run. You can talk about it and carry those awards and skills, but you will still have to take math and science next year. No amount of summer camp “life skills” will excuse you from your academic pursuit and applies toward your eventual high school degree.

Does it make someone a better baseball player because they went to the Series six times but batted below .200 every Post-Season over someone whose career batting average is well above .300 and never made it to the World Series? True, most Hall of Famers do have at least one World Series ring to their name, but it’s the 162 games during the regular season that far outweigh anything else.

I know the age-old philosophy that the ultimate goal of a team is to win the Series. So does that mean the Yankees failed? Perhaps, but only in respect to the goal. The Yankees as a team congealed to form the camaraderie you want to see in your team, as we saw in the celebration an individual’s victory or the mourning of an individual’s loss. There’s a reason why the Yankees don’t have their names on the backs of their jerseys like most of the other clubs do — the team is more important than the individual.

Like I said in a previous post, I would rather be the biggest loser on a winning team than the star player on a losing team. I’ll be discussing this more at length over the next few days because we certainly saw this in action and several times worked to the Yankees advantage over the course of the 9 games they played last October.

So we prepare to put the past behind us, embrace another season, and hope for the 28th Championship in 2013.

Go Yankees!

Happy Pitchers & Catchers’ Day!

Happy Pitchers & Catchers’ Reporting Day! (Also known as the day when the “Sidewalk Crew” is actually allowed in the Tampa complex to do viable interviews.)

Reporting today:

  • Pitchers from the 40-man roster (22): David Aardsma, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Joba Chamberlain, Cody Eppley, Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, Boone Logan, Brett Marshall, Ivan Nova, Andy Pettitte, David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Jose Ramirez, Clay Rapada, Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Francisco Rondon, CC Sabathia, Nik Turley, and Adam Warren.
  • Pitchers invited to Spring Training (20): Corey Black, Juan Cedeno, Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley, Nick Goody, Shane Greene, David Herndon, Tom Kahnle, Jim Miller, Bryan Mitchell, Mark Montgomery, Zach Nuding, Vidal Nuno, Mike O’Brien, Kelvin Perez, Branden Pinder, Ryan Pope, Josh Spence, Matt Tracy, and Chase Whitley
  • Battling out for Starting Catcher (3): Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine, and Chris Stewart
  • Catchers invited this Spring (5): Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, JR Murphy, Gary Sanchez, and Bobby Wilson

Yes, that’s right, of the 83 people reporting to Spring Training this week (Joe Girardi made it clear in his press conference today that rehabbing Alex Rodriguez will not make an appearance in Florida due to his rehab schedule being top priority), 50 of them are checking in today (42 are pitchers).

There is always that debate whether it’s pitching or hitting that really makes a winning team. The Yankees have made it clear that pitching is a priority, perhaps because their hitting has been the stuff of legends. With the loss of some big power hitters in the off-season, I can imagine the Yankees big wigs must be trying to find that delicate balance between stellar pitching (which we have in spades), run-producers (which again we have), and teamwork (which once again we have).

This Spring we are looking at an already proven stellar roster, with 44 young-ish men in the waiting. So as all these men (plus all the coaches, front office, and hundreds of groundscrew and stadiums’ employees) are preparing for their Spring Training, we get to see a team find that delicate balance once again that makes a winning team, a team that has already won 27 World Championships. So many reporters and sports analysts behind a desk or computer screen have already discounted the “aging” roster as “over-the-hill” and celebrating the apparent virtues of the flash-in-the-pan hot shots on other teams, who might have some good numbers but lack the genuineness found so easily in Pinstripes. We Yankee fans, however, are watching with great interest as we are treated these next 8 weeks (up to Opening Day) to the intricacies that began at the end of last season to build yet another championship-caliber team.

I personally can’t wait for Spring.

Go Yankees!

Gearing up for Spring

I guess it’s time for me to switch to gearing up for Spring Training. Pitchers and Catchers report tomorrow, though like many of the “Sidewalk Crew” are reporting, various position players have already begun their workouts at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.

The Yankees have invited 84 guys (including their 40-man roster) to Spring Training this year. This fact makes me think of a few times in my life when I’ve been on both sides of that coin (of course, never as a Spring Training invitee, but nonetheless) — the newbie and the veteran. I think it’s more fun for the veterans because they know what to expect, they’ve been through the process, and they can encourage/mentor some of the young guys without the pressure of trying to make the team (with the minor exception of the starting catcher’s match we seem to have developing).

But I would think being the newbie has its perks as well, especially if they’ve yet to make their major league debut. You can take advantage of the veteran’s knowledge of the game and team and their fluidity on the field, make connections with some of the guys you perhaps idolized growing up, and get the chance to really cement your identity both as a player and as a potential teammate. The guys who are coming into Spring Training as established contract players, but new to the team, get a chance to prove themselves worthy of the pinstripes and to reinvent themselves, in a sense.

As fans, we get the chance to watch the hopefuls and perhaps see the next great generation of Yankees take the field for a game or two with our current great Yankees. Growing up in Florida, we saw a ton of minor league games. But now, I wish I’d saved the programs from those days to see if we saw any of today’s stars or even Cooperstown inductees. Players get traded all the time; so being drafted by and playing with the Dunedin Blue Jays in the minor leagues, a player could then end up with the Houston Astros, San Diego Padres, or just maybe the New York Yankees before his career is over. I guess I’ll never know for sure…

And I suppose that’s what I like most about Spring Training — keeping an eye out for the ones that (like I said yesterday) marry the statistical talent with the natural instinct. I have my eye on a crop of younger players currently on Major League rosters that I think can possibly be Cooperstown material (staying clean and healthy is always critical), and for the next 15 years or so, I look forward to watching them develop into the baseball player I know they can be and just maybe a future Yankee great or two.

Go Yankees!

The intangibles

I was watching a special on a cable sports channel about great baseball players, awaiting the results of where our current roster of great ones land on the list. The ultimate judge was based solely on statistics. Now, there has been much on the rise with the statistics and Sabremetrics to judge the better players — the old “Moneyball” approach, made popular by the 2011 Brad Pitt movie of the same name.

The results of the sports show were disappointing to say the least as to where they ranked some Yankee greats because the approach completely factored out so many of the important and intangible parts of the sport — mainly heart, instinct, and overall team spirit. So it got me thinking about that movie and another recent baseball movie Trouble with the Curve. Both movies displayed the old-school instinct and the new-school metrics and how often they’re at odds with each other.

There was a scene in Moneyball where Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane (yes, Oakland’s current GM) has relied solely on statistics to build a team that is starting to win some of their games, but the attitudes of some of the players are disturb the team unity, which translates to loss on the field. So Beane has had it and fires the troublemaker, installing a player who fit the team better as a whole. He is at odds with his statistician, but the result is more wins. What Sabremetrics fails to take into account is the player’s character and impact he has on team morale.

In Trouble with the Curve, old-school scout (played by gruff and grumpy Clint Eastwood) relies on what he knows is going to work — his own instinct. In one part of the movie, he arranges for a struggling minor league prospect (cameo here: Clint’s own son Scott) to have his family come visit him, which in turn boosts his on-field play and puts him back on the rising path of the next generation of great players for the Braves (the team this movie centers around). In another scene, Clint and his daughter (played by Amy Adams) recognize that although the hot-shot kid everyone’s buzzing about can hit everything from a high school player’s pitch with a metal bat, his swing isn’t clean enough for the wooden bats and high speeds of the Majors. The movie’s antagonist fights Clint’s instincts at every turn, relying instead on what the computer is telling him about performance and predictions; it is insinuated that the guy hasn’t seen a real game in years.

The conclusion of both movies isn’t that we need to discount either system entirely but rather find a happy medium. At the end of the Curve, it is Amy Adams’ character that brings the marriage of the two to discover an amazing young pitcher. And nearly a decade after the Moneyball system was implemented, the A’s went on to win their division last year, a team now a decent threat in what is becoming a tough division in the league; they face the Angels, the Rangers, the reorganizing Mariners, and newly AL Astros this year. A product of the marriage of Moneyball and instinct is Nick Swisher. The Indians are lucky to have him this year.

And that’s the problem I guess I mainly have with just using one system — you miss the guys who will play through bone bruises, driving rain or snow, bleeding socks, broken helmets, lack of sleep, and booing opposing crowds all with a great attitude and passion for the game they’ve loved and played for 25 years of their life.

Go Yankees!

Positivity is hard to find

As I predicted yesterday, the Yankees referred to Babe Ruth today (via his retired plaque and number at Tampa’s Monument Park). With the winter storm hitting the Northeast this weekend, I’m sure many of the teams are glad to be in warmer, sunnier climates for this February.

I was reading up on baseball news yesterday and this morning, and so much of it isn’t worth talking about as much as it gets talked about. I started this blog with the full intent remaining positive and sharing with whomever may stumble across it why it’s the greatest sport in the world and why the Yankees are the great team of all time. But so much of the news, especially concerning the 2013 Yankees is so negative — their aging lineup and bullpen, possible PED usage once again, nasty contract and trade rumors, bad managing (or is it the front office?)… the list just goes on.

I skimmed through four baseball magazines in the store last night. These weren’t your ordinary general sports pages, but the ones specifically created just to cover baseball. According to their predictions, the 2013 Yankees will wind up either 1st in the AL East (but lose to Detroit in the playoffs), 2nd in the AL East and miss the Wild Card slot, or last in the AL East. And every one of the magazines had some snarky article about the “aging” of the Yankees and even some not nice things to say about the guys on the prospect list. I had to walk away from the newsstand and quickly; it was making me angry.

Look, I get fairness in journalism (it was my first major in college). But this was coming off as just more anti-Yankee hatred once again. Perhaps, Bostonians and other lesser rivals would be proud of these “journalists”. I guess I’m just tired of the bias against one team becoming a hatred of the team, its players, its coaches, its fans, and its city. Even the players don’t really get into this rivalry because they realize at the end of the day, it’s still a business, and they as commodities can be traded to a “rival” team if the price is right.

Baseball’s most famous rivals

Babe Ruth’s trade may have started the Boston-New York rivalry, but long-term fans of both teams remember Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Johnny Damon, Rickey Henderson, Bob Melvin, Bill Wight, and (current Yankee pitcher) David Aardsma are just a handful of players who have played for both teams at some point in their careers.

I think of the movie Fever Pitch often when I think of this rivalry. There is a scene towards the end of the movie when Jimmy Fallon’s character has chosen the Red Sox over his girlfriend (played by Drew Barrymore), the Red Sox have lost horribly once again, and Jimmy and his friends are commiserating at a nearby bar over the Sox loss. They look over and see three Sox players having dinner and just hanging out like friends. At first, Jimmy’s friends are offended that the ball players aren’t as miserable as the fans are about their loss, but that’s when it hits Jimmy. The players know it’s just one game out of 162. They still have to get up the next morning and play another game against another team, and life moves on because it has to. Rivalry for the fans or not, they have a job to do, whether they play the Yankees or the Royals or the Astros.

I suppose I will offend some Yankee fans for my Fever Pitch reference, but what I like about the movie is what I like about baseball. It’s about baseball, it’s about love, and it’s about loyalty. And the fact they actually won the Series that year, breaking the “Curse” (something the filmmakers had no clue would happen while they were filming) was a fun piece of trivia to which any baseball fan can relate. We all want good things to happen for our team, even if it happens out of the blue.

So let’s remember today the things we like about baseball. It isn’t (or rather shouldn’t be) the hate of another team — they could end up on your team next year! It isn’t the money or the fame. It’s the spirit of the game that supersedes all that superficial nonsense. It’s looking out at the field and instead of seeing 9 men, seeing the 9 little boys that once played tee-ball and couldn’t find a baseball on the field for anything. It’s looking at 9 boys who slept with their gloves under their pillows and prayed every night that God would let them play the big leagues just once. And it’s the fans who love introducing the sport they played to their sons who might just one day grow up to don pinstripes and pitch that perfect game or hit that walk-off home run.

Go Yankees!

Touring Traditions

“The Iron Horse” Lou Gehrig
Photo: New York Yankees

The Yankees have been tweeting pictures of popular players’ numbers to help gear up their fans for the start of Spring Training, beginning with Pitchers and Catchers’ Reporting Day this coming Tuesday. For a while, it was recent and even current players — Don Mattingly (#23), Curtis Granderson (#14), and Brett Gardner (#11). Now, getting into the single digits leaves us with mostly retired numbers (in descending order) — Phil Rizzuto, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra (over Bill Dickey), Mickey Mantle, Joe Torre (though not yet a retired number), Joe DiMaggio, and (today’s number) Lou Gehrig. This weekend we should see (and I’m following their pattern): Babe Ruth (#3), Derek Jeter (#2), and Billy Martin (#1).

When it comes to reverence of its organization’s history, there is no comparison to Yankee reverence or history. Most clubs recognize a handful of retired numbers on a wall in the outfield and maybe a plaque at some random spot in their stadium. But Yankees have an almost sacred respect for their history, and rightly so.

Last fall for my birthday, I was in the City and trying to figure out where to go that would really make my birthday something special. Honestly, I could only think of one place — Yankee Stadium. The team was in Baltimore on a road trip, but there are stadium tours you can take every day. They’re modified to suit whatever’s been going on in the stadium. Like on game days, they only run part of the day and are limited to a few locations to give the players and crew privacy to prepare for the game. The day I went there had been a concert the night before and the tour crew was still tearing down the stage and its complex lighting arrangements, and as the stage was right in front of Monument Park, the tour skipped it. (Side note: trying to see the Museum or Monument Park on a game day is nearly impossible unless you are at the gates the moment they open. We tried to do that too, to no avail.) But we did get to see the Museum, the Press Box, and the Clubhouse.

The funny thing was the only real Yankees fans were my mom and I that day. I have to wonder why someone would tour a sports park if you’re not a fan of baseball or the team that regularly plays there. Our tour guide was so excited to actually talk about current baseball with actual fans that we even discussed a blown call from the previous night and got a couple of updates on the game being played in Baltimore, which began as we were ending the tour, and they were already up 1-0 by the end of the 1st inning.

I realize at this point I must sound like I’m promoting the Stadium Tour, and maybe to some extent I am. But we all have days we want to remember and last forever. I’m sure every one of those names in Monument Park had one of those days playing at Polo Grounds or Yankee Stadium. I remember the look on Nick Swisher’s face the second game of the ALCS (the last game played last season at Yankee Stadium), as he looked around, smiling and taking it all in. Somehow he knew that would be his last game in Yankee Stadium as a Yankee, and it just seemed like he wanted that moment to last forever.

They won on my birthday last year, as they have for all but one year since 2000. They play in Baltimore again this year on my birthday, so let’s hope the tradition continues. And as we all know well, the Yankees love their traditions.

Go Yankees!