Hall of Fame near miss & other random off-season moments

After several months of speculation and journalists openly sharing their votes, the Baseball Writers Association of America released the much-anticipated results of the annual Hall of Fame election. In December, the Veterans Committee selected 4-time World Series pitcher Jack Norris (1984 Tigers, 1991 Twins, 1992-93 Blue Jays) and his 1984 Tigers’ teammate, 6-time All-Star shortstop and 1984 World Series MVP, Alan Trammel. Joining them, the BBWAA announced newest inductees Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, and Vladimir Guerrero, all well-deserved honorees.

Elected with 97.2% of the vote, Jones spent his entire 19 year career with the Braves at 3rd base and became a fixture in the Atlanta area. He was part of the 1995, 1996, and 1999 World Series teams, winning a ring with the Hall of Fame worthy 1995 team against the Indians. (Jones joins other 1995 Braves teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddox (HOF class of 2014) and John Smoltz (class of 2015) at Cooperstown.) Jones also earned the NL MVP Award in 1999 and was an 8-time All-Star.

{Worth reminding my primary audience here: the Braves team in 1996 and 1999 faced and lost to the last dynasty of the Yankees. It was 6 games in the 1996 series, before they were swept in the 1999 series by the unstoppable Yankees that year.}

On the other side of that World Series was a noted 1st baseman and fellow 2018 inductee Jim Thome (89.8% of the votes). Thome spent his 22 year career primarily with the Indians (1991-2002, 2011), helping them reach the 1995 and 1997 World Series but failed to get a ring (losing to the Braves and Marlins, respectively). Over the course of his career, he was a 5-time All-Star and led the National League with 47 home runs in his 2003 season with the Phillies. Thome also won the 2002 Roberto Clemente Award for his outstanding contributions both on the field and off.

Reliever Hoffman (79.9%) spent the bulk of his 18 year with the Padres (1993-2008), including the year they met the Yankees in the World Series in 1998. The Yankees swept them in 4 games (again, part of that unstoppable dynasty era). But Hoffman still made quite the impact in his career as a 7-time All-Star and leading the NL in saves both in 1998 (with 53) and in 2006 (with 46).

Guerrero (92.9%) spent his 16 year career in the outfield, the bulk of which first with the Expos (1996-2003) and then with the Angels (2004-2009). He also got a shot at the World Series with the 2010 Rangers, but they fell to the Giants that year. Guerrero was a 9-time All-Star and 2004 AL MVP. He also polishes his well-earned 8 Silver Slugger Awards in his trophy case as part of his career accomplishments.

Falling just short of the 75% of the votes needed included Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina, getting 63.5% . Any player receiving less than 5% of the votes are automatically dropped from the ballot the following year (including former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui). However, those above 5% and less than 75% move on to hope for another year including Mussina, Roger Clemens (57.3%), Gary Sheffield (11.1%), and Andruw Jones (7.3%). Mussina keeps missing the mark, while Clemens battles the rumors of his past PED use, similar to Giants legend Barry Bonds (who fell short at 56.4%).

It is also worth noting that there were 422 submitted ballots, including 1 left intentionally blank (because where would the fun be in someone getting elected with 100% of the votes). Of those, only 12 ballots didn’t elect Jones, which is why he only got 97% of the vote. Notably, there was also one voter that only voted for Indians alumni (Thome and Omar Vizquel). And if you’re feeling a weird flashback to high school elections for prom court or student council, you’re 100% on track. Some people use their vote to make a point (the blank ballot or all Indians ballot), some to play favorites (a few intentionally anti-Yankee alumni), and some thought through the process of such an honor and chose players that rightfully deserve legacy status. I have mixed feelings every year — I agree every time with who will be feted in July, but I am always irked by who “falls short” due to those who vote in the first two categories.

No, I don’t have a vote. But I do have an opinion.

In lighter news, and back to focusing on Yankees, the off-season has been pretty good for the boys. They’ve been working out, having fun on the practice fields, and enjoying fan art. Meanwhile, the biggest end of season trend last year was Gary the “Thumbs Down” Guy, a Mets fan who flashed the “thumbs down” during a Todd Frazier home run at the special game at CitiField in September. It became a huge meme and thing for the Yankees to do during something amazing and gave New Yorker Gary Dunaier his 15 minutes of fame (or rather 4 months and counting). Frazier and Dunaier finally met earlier this week at an event on Staten Island.

Legend-in-the-making and video game cover guy Aaron Judge got to practice his swing (and bat flip) in a motion-capture suit. He will premier on the cover of MLB The Show 2018 and show off his home run swing for Play Station come March 27 (or March 23 for pre-orders). I’m sure video game players are eagerly awaiting the chance to be the 2017 Rookie of the Year, but I’m just looking forward to the real live player in Spring Training next month.

In Yankees’ Minor League news: The Yankees AA team, the Trenton Thunder, will honor its 25th anniversary this year by playing every Friday game as the “Trenton Pork Rolls“, starting May 18. I swear this is not a “fake” story. Apparently, it’s a local thing, the pork roll, and I’m sure it’s delicious (albeit not very Kosher). And sadly, that is not the weirdest name (and this doesn’t include the Jumbo Shrimp and the Baby Cakes) of a minor league team in the system. And fortunately, it’s only on Fridays. (But what a thing to have on your resume!)

Meanwhile, the Advanced-A Yankees affiliate (and current Steinbrenner Field residents), the Tampa Yankees, made the announcement last month that they would begin the 2018 season with their own name change — the Tampa Tarpons. The Tarpons were a team for about 3 decades in the middle of last century, though baseball has been played in Tampa for over 100 years, including extensively hosting Spring Training. Locally, the tarpon is a large fish, popular with sports fisherman and found off the Gulf Coast, and a neighboring local city is Tarpon Springs. So the Tampa Tarpons found something steeped in local tradition and lore.

The 2018 season is rapidly approaching. 20 days until pitchers and catchers report (Feb. 13). 30 days until the first Spring Training game (Feb. 23 against the Tigers). 65 days until the first game of the season (March 29 in Toronto). And 69 days until the home opener (April 2 against the Rays).

But who’s counting?

Go Yankees!

NLCS 2: CHC vs. LAD — Another walk-off wonder

Look, the fact that this game was tied for most of the game says a lot for the tenacity of the Cubs because the Dodgers clearly outplayed them in every turn. Dodgers’ pitchers were almost perfect and quite efficient, while the Cubs’ staff racked up their pitch counts and gave up a total of 9 walks.

Okay, the Cubs’ starter threw 103 pitches into the 5th inning, giving up 3 hits, 5 walks, and a run, and striking out just 2 batters. His bullpen had a bit of a better time trying to keep the game under wraps, thanks mostly to the defense. On the other side, the Dodgers’ starter threw just 79 pitches in his full 5 innings, giving up 3 hits, a walk, and a run, and striking out 8 Cubs’ batters. Then his bullpen was flawless and efficient, adding 4 more strikeouts.

The Cubs actually got on the board first in the 5th inning with a lead-off solo home run, but the Dodgers immediately answered back in the bottom of the 5th. A lead-off double moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on a 2-out single to tie up the game. So, leading up to the 5th, the game was tied at 0-0, and after the 5th, it was 1-1.

And then came the bottom of the 9th where the Dodgers were looking for just a single run to win the game in walk-off fashion. They didn’t get that. They worked a lead-off walk, and 2 outs and a new reliever on the mound, they worked another one to put 2 runners on base. Again, with 2 outs, the Dodgers needed just one run. They would get three when the next batter hit a big homer up the middle to score a 3-run home run for the walk-off victory.

As you can imagine, the crowd (and Dodgers fans everywhere) went crazy.

Final score: 4-1 Dodgers, Dodgers lead series 2-0

Now, those teams are headed to Chicago for next 3 potential games. Again, being the best-of-7, it’s the first one to win 4 games, and the Dodgers are halfway there. As are the Astros, if we’re being frank tonight. So both the Cubs and the Yankees have quite a bit of work ahead of them, but they’re both headed to their hometowns which means about 40,000 screaming fans (a little less in Wrigley, a little more in the Bronx) are behind them in person, and millions more from their couches or bar stools.

The Yankees have certainly done it before — the come from behind to go on and win it all. Take the 1996 Championships. The Yankees actually lost the first 2 games of the World Series in the Bronx (if you can believe it) against the Braves. Then they went down to Atlanta and won all 3 games there, much to the disappointment of that hometown crowd, then they came back on their momentum and won Game 6 in the Bronx and began their championship dynasty of the late 90’s.

Fun random fact: the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was the home of the Braves for that season as Turner Field (located pretty much next door) was currently being converted to a baseball stadium after serving as the city’s Olympic stadium just a few months early. The last game the Braves played there was Thursday, October 24, 1996, losing to the Yankees 1-0, and after the lights went out that night, the stadium was permanently closed and later became a parking lot. In 2016, with the Braves moving uptown to their new field, Georgia State University purchased the former stadium site (the parking lot) and Turner Field and will build a new baseball park for its baseball team on the now-former parking lot and Turner Field is being transformed into a football stadium for the college team.

Anyway, all that to say, the Yankees can totally pull this off. (As can the Cubs, by the way, sorry, Dodger fans!) But literally, it’s game-by-game. Take it a day at a time. Remember what happened when the Yankees were up 3-0 over the Red Sox in the ALCS in 2004? Yeah, literally, anything is possible. Sorry, for that mournful trip down memory lane, Yankee Universe, but it totally fits and you know it.

Go Yankees!

Game 116: TB vs. NYY — Nice to see you, Class of ’96, but here come the Baby Bombers!

In a big promoted move, the Yankees featured a big pre-game ceremony featuring the 20th anniversary of the 1996 World Championship team that started the big dynasty. The former players jogged (insert any “old man” joke you may have here) from the center field to their respective positions on the field. Of course, Joe Girardi had the furthest to go to his former position at catcher and seemed to be the least winded. (Chalk it up to having to keep up with all the new, young guys, I guess.) And then former manager Joe Torre rode out on a cart to many cheers and excitement of the crowd. They took a big commemorative photo, waved to the fans, and then watched the young players take on the visiting Rays.

It was fun to reminisce with the team: Brian Boehringer, Wade Boggs, Jose Cardenal, Chris Chambliss, David Cone, Mariano Duncan, Cecil Fielder, Andy Fox, Joe Girardi, Doc Gooden, Charlie Hayes, Matt Howard, Derek Jeter, Pat Kelly, Jimmy Key, Jim Leyritz, Graeme Lloyd, Tino Martinez, Jim Mecir, Ramiro Mendoza, Gene Monahan, Jeff Nelson, Paul O’Neill, Dave Pavlas, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Tim Raines, Willie Randolph, Mariano Rivera, Luis Sojo, Mel Stottlemyre, Darryl Strawberry, John Wetteland, Bernie Williams, and Joe Torre.

But the truth is that it was kind of like a chapter closing. Between this anniversary gathering and Alex Rodriguez’s final night last night, the Yankees are turning a new page. And it’s awesome. Clearly.

Masahiro Tanaka got the start for the Yankees today in the middle game of this weekend series against the Rays. Tanaka threw just 79 pitches through his 7 innings, giving up 5 hits and 4 runs, and striking out 8 Rays batters. In the 4th, two singles put runners on the corners to be ready to score on a big 3-run home run to get the Rays on the board. And that same batter added a 2-out solo shot in the 6th inning to cap off the Rays’ scoring today.

Clippard breezed his way through the Rays’ roster in the 8th. And Swarzak’s single pitch put a runner on base in the 9th, but Layne shut them down in 9 pitches to close out the game for the Yankees.

The Yankees’ offense on the other hand had a bit of a help from their newest addition and the new youth movement that is the New York Yankees now. With 2 outs in the 2nd inning, recent call-up Tyler Austin stepped into the batter’s box for his first time as a major leaguer and promptly hit a solo home run to get the Yankees on the board. Right after him, Aaron Judge in his MLB debut hit a monster solo home run right up the middle. For the first time in MLB history, two rookies hit home runs in the same game for their first MLB at-bat.

In the 4th, down 3-2, the Yankees tied up the game with Starlin Castro’s solo home run up to center field. Then in the 5th, Judge singled to start the inning and ended up at 3rd on Ellsbury’s 1-out single. Then it was Aaron Hicks to hit a 3-run home run in the 2nd deck of the right field seats to push the Yankees ahead of the Rays again.The Yankees added just a bit more in the 7th. With 2 outs, Headley worked a walk and then scored on Didi Gregorius’ 2-run home run into the right field seats to ensure the Yankees’ victory.

All of the Yankee runs today were scored on home runs hit by players aged 26 and under. Broadcasters officially dubbed them the “Baby Bombers”, a term I think is indicative of the youth and strength of this new version of the Yankees.

Final score: 8-4 Yankees.

Roster moves & the Scranton Shuttle: today, before the game, the Yankees transferred pitcher Conor Mullee from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL due to his continued carpal tunnel syndrome-like symptoms; they activated infielder Chris Parmelee from the 15-day DL and outrighted him AAA Scranton; reliever Ben Heller was optioned back to AAA Scranton; and the Yankees selected the contracts of Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin, who clearly contributed to today’s game.

Had the Yankees been not in a Wild Card race (depending on the outcome of some of tonight’s game, they are looking at only being 3 games out of the Wild Card spot), the commemorative event might have had more significance. And while it was pretty cool to see everyone on the field again, it wasn’t exactly the focus of the day. No, that belongs to the rightly dubbed “Baby Bombers”. It was like a weird preview of Old Timers’ Day or something without getting to watch the old guys jog around the bases again.

I guess because I talk about the current Yankees every day, and have deep conversations about what could be, my focus is what is and what will be. It’s nice to remember what was, but if all you have is what you accomplished in the past, then you’ve lost the joy of the present and the hope for the future. And honestly, that’s what makes remembering worth it — knowing that things can get even better as you find the positive and potential in the what’s right in front of you.

Go Yankees!

{Watch the full pre-game ceremony here. And one of the best interviews today was with Joe Torre with the YES Network booth, featuring former players and YES Network broadcasters David Cone and Paul O’Neill; it was also during this interview that the Austin-Judge power duo debuted.}

World Series Game 5: KC vs. SF — A Giant shutout

Okay, I know I’ve raved about the starter for the Giants from tonight’s game, but tonight he continued to just boost my esteem for him to whole new levels. Well, I guess throwing a complete shutout in the World Series would certainly do that for most pitchers in my mind, but his stats tonight are just spectacular — 117 pitches, 9 innings, just 4 hits allowed, and 8 strikeouts. The only negative thing I can find about this young pitcher is that he doesn’t play for the Yankees.

I’m guessing the Royals weren’t all that happy about playing against a young pitcher on a roll either.  Here’s what happened in the Royals’ offense: 4 hits, no runs, no walks, no other baserunners. (So the correct answer would be “nothing”.)

But the Giants were a very different story, with 12 hits, 2 walks, and 5 runs. In the 2nd, with 2 runners on, a ground out scored their first run, and an RBI single scored the second in the 4th. But the real kicker for the Giants was their offensive attack on the Royals relievers in the 8th inning. After a solid 7th inning for the Royals reliever, he promptly gave up 2 singles to put runners on base to threaten enough to have the Royals’ manager replace him. A strikeout later, a Giants’ batter hit a deep, almost home run ball for a double that scored both of those runners; that batter ended up on 3rd due to a throwing error during the play. He would then score on the next batter’s single.

And the Royals’ response? Go quietly into the cool San Francisco evening, and regroup on their way back home to Kansas City. Now, the Giants are looking to win Game 6 to win their 3rd series in 5 years, while the Royals are praying for a Game 7 to win their first series in 29 years. It’s still anybody’s game, anybody’s title to win. Well, not anybody. The winner will definitely either be Kansas City or San Francisco, but you know what I mean.

World Series Game 5: Giants over Royals 5-0, Giants lead series 3-2

In very sad news, word circulated today during the game that a young rookie from the Cardinals’ organization was killed today in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Oscar Tavares played on the postseason roster with the Cardinals and even hit the game-tying home run against the Giants just 2 weeks ago in St. Louis. The accident that killed the 22-year-old outfielder also took the like of his 18-year-old girlfriend. Please keep the families of Tavares and Edilia Arvelo in your prayers as they deal with their inexplicable loss.

“This Day in Yankees History” takes us once again to 1996. 18 years had passed since the “Bronx is Burning” years, the Reggie Jackson-fueled team of controversy and dynamism that took them to the Series and won twice. And under new manager Joe Torre, with some fresh-faced rookies (or semi-rookies) named Rivera, Posada, Pettitte, and Jeter, not many people really believed that 1996 would be their year. But oh, how these tough rag-tag group of guys proved them all wrong. On this date in 1996, the Yankees beat the Braves 3-2 in Game 6 and thus their 23rd title, starting what would be known as the “Torre Dynasty” (1996-2003, winning the title 4 times over those years). The Yankees were back, and they weren’t going anywhere any time soon.

Go Yankees!