Yankee fans in the crowd tonight at Arlington watched a game that began with high hopes to see New York win its 104th game of the season, only to see it all fall apart in the 6th inning. It reminded me of growing up a Tribe fan when my dad and I would watch Cleveland start well, only to lose it all in the final innings.
I know, I know! Cleveland isn’t New York. But the game tonight reminded of those times watching my dad’s team battle on, only to have hope deferred. But then I am reminded that the Yankees have already secured their playoff spot as the 2019 AL East champs, and all that hope returns!
Luis Severino started for New York to face the Texas Rangers and threw 72 pitches over 3 innings. In the 1st, Severino gave up a walk to the lead-off batter followed by a strike out swinging. After another walk, Severino gave up a double that allowed both runners to score. After a mound visit and yet another walk, the 2 runners made a double steal, but an infield ground out ended the inning.
Severino found his normal momentum in the 2nd, quickly shutting down 3 batters with 3 solid strikeouts. But in the 3rd, Severino allowed his 4th walk before 3 outs to close out the inning and keep it a close game.
David Hale took the mound in the 4th, giving up a double and a walk. Another double scored both runners, so after a strike out, Hale was replaced by Tyler Lyons who eventually ended the inning with no further allowed runs. Luis Cessa took the helm in the 5th. Despite some allowed base runners, some solid defense got him out of the inning scoreless.
And then came that aforementioned 6th inning — where everything fell apart for the Yankees. Cessa returned to the mound and gave up consecutive singles and a a walk that loaded the bases. He then gave up another walk that scored a run and kept the bases loaded. After a mound visit, Cessa finally got a nice strikeout.
With just that one out and the bases still loaded, Nestor Cortes Jr. replaced Cessa and promptly gave up a grand slam, solidly placing the home team in the lead. Another 3 singles and 1 run later, this 6-run inning mercifully ended. Heller took over for Cortes in the 7th and successfully retired the side. Something Gearrin followed up in the 8th to shut down the Rangers’ big night.
The Yankee lineup started well in the 1st inning when Aaron Judge sent a triple deep to center. A sacrifice fly by Brett Gardner allowed Judge to score and put the Yankees on the scoreboard first. There was a few other chances for the Yankees when they actually got base runners, but they really failed to put runners in scoring position until the 9th inning.
Down by 8 runs, there was a glimmer of hope as Frazier worked a walked and moved to 3rd on Wade’s single. Voit’s hit-by-pitch loaded the bases, Didi Gregorius sent a 3-run RBI double to right field to clear the bases. Yankee hopes were running high despite 2 outs, but chances to score more runs ran out when a fly ball to right field was caught for the final out of the game.
Final score: 9-4 Rangers
This day in Yankee history: On September 28, 1923, in a game facing the the rival Boston Red Sox, and with legends like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on the team, the New York Yankees tallied up 30 hits that included just 2 home runs (one by Ruth) and 8 doubles to earn a single-game franchise record that is still unbroken almost a century later. And most of their runs that day came in (you guessed it) the 6th inning. The final score on that day 96 years ago — 24-4, Yankees!
Consistent northeastern Spring rain spoiled the opening game at Fenway for the rivalry series yesterday, forcing a reschedule for when the teams face off again in The Olde Towne, the first game of a doubleheader on July 16. So, the Yankees were looking to recoup some of their magic they found in the Bronx last week in this now shortened series before heading back home again.
They definitely found it again, despite the cold air and the misty rain and the fog that settled in later in the game. This was thanks in part to some stellar pitching by starter Luis Severino. Severino threw 100 pitches in his 7 strong innings, giving up just 3 hits and 2 walks, and striking out 6 Boston batters, setting himself up for the eventual win. Dellin Betances breezed through the Red Sox lineup with just 13 pitches, including 2 nasty strikeouts, for the 8th inning.
At one point in the 3rd inning, right fielder Aaron Judge went running for a long foul ball and misjudged how high the wall was, tumbling over the edge headfirst as he caught the ball. He came up with the ball, but for some really weird reason, the umpires didn’t trust that he hadn’t just picked it up off the ground. (It’s weird because Judge is one of the more honest guys in the game, so if he dropped it, he’d say he dropped it.) This, of course, sent Girardi out of the dugout to ask for a replay, which took far too long and ultimately revealed what everyone already knew — Judge had the ball the whole time, so it was an out.
It was all smooth sailing for the Yankees. Especially because they gave their pitchers a nice lead to defend. In the 2nd, Castro reached 1st safely on a sloppy throwing error and then scored as part of Aaron Judge’s big 2-run home run over the right field wall. Then in the 6th, with 2 outs, Judge worked a walk, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, and then scored on Greg Bird’s single off the Green Monster.
So, come the bottom of the 9th, all they needed was 3 solid outs for a nice win. But it’s Fenway. And when are these games ever so simple? Aroldis Chapman just struggled his way through the 9th inning. He allowed a lead-off walk and a double to put runners in scoring position, and a ground out scored a Red Sox run and got the first out of the inning. But then a wild pitch moved the lone runner to 3rd, a mere 90 feet from scoring another run. And then he walked the next batter. So, runners at the corners pushed Chapman to dig deep and get a much-needed strikeout. And then to atone for his outing, he took command again and got another one on his 33rd pitch of the inning to end the game and give him his 5th save of the season so far.
Final score: 3-1 Yankees
And in injury news: Didi Gregorius has been amazing with the Tampa Yankees during his rehab stint. He’s batting .444 with them, going 2-for-4 with a walk and RBI just tonight. His home run last night scored their only run of the game. In other words, things are looking good for him to rejoin the team for the next series, which starts Friday back in New York against the Orioles.
Okay, so what makes today’s game even more special is that the hero of tonight’s game, Aaron Judge, celebrated his 25th birthday today. (Happy Birthday!) So, his home run statistic is kind of a fun one. Apparently, despite the regularity of the rivalry series, Yankees who have homered against the Red Sox on their birthdays is a very small group of notable players — Judge today (age 25 in 2017) joins Cecil Fielder (age 33 in 1996), Roger Maris (age 32 in 1966), Yogi Berra (age 22 in 1947), Bill Dickey (age 26 in 1933), and Lou Gehrig (age 26 in 1929). Not a bad club to be part of.
Today is the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s famous farewell speech. And in his honor, all of baseball is celebrating him and his enduring legacy, as well as supporting ALS research for a cure to the terrible disease that took Gehrig from this world so early. As part of that honor, the Yankees recited his speech in this video clip. (The intro also explains the brief history of Lou Gehrig Day on July 4, 1939.)
And then there was a game in Minnesota today. To break from my normal pattern, because this game was anything but normal, I’m going to start with the Yankee offense. In the first 2 innings, the Yankees racked up enough runs to ensure them today’s victory and push the Twins’ starter out of the game after a whopping 52 pitches over just those 2 innings. In the 1st, Brett Gardner led off with a triple (is this becoming a thing now because I’m okay with it) and scored on Brian Roberts’ double; Roberts (who really had a fantastic offensive day overall) then scored on Mark Teixeira’s double; and Teixeira would score on Carlos Beltran’s sacrifice fly. Then in the 2nd, Francisco Cervelli led off with a double and scored on Brendan Ryan’s sacrifice fly; Gardner’s walk and Roberts’ ground-rule double put them in scoring position to score on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single. Six runs in just 2 innings.
I can’t hold the Twins’ starter to much because the Yankees’ starter Chase Whitley had almost as much trouble through his 3 innings. He threw 74 pitches, allowed 8 hits, 4 runs, and a walk, striking out 4 batters. Not exactly a quality start, but thanks to an offense that seemed to pounce on the weakness of the Twins and a defense that certainly backed their pitcher to keep his head above water. Those runs were lead-off homers in both the 1st and 2nd innings and an RBI triple and an RBI single to put the Twins at 6-4 behind the Yankees by the end of the 3rd inning.
Now, fortunately, the Yankees relied on their bullpen to keep that score pretty much there, or at least their lead intact, turning first to David Huff for the 3 middle innings. Huff threw just 35 pitches over his outing, allowing absolutely no hits or runs and striking out 3 batters. He also ended up with the win. Warren came on in the 7th for 2 outs and Betances finished out the 7th, coming back for a full 8th inning. Betances allowed a lead-off single in the 8th, who would advance progressively and score on a ground out, making the score 6-5 Yankees.
David Robertson earned his 20th save of the season with a snazzy 16 pitch 9th inning, striking out 3 batters and handing the Yankees another win. In the 9th, there was also momentary greatness for recent call-up Zelous Wheeler, who entered the game in the 8th. Wheeler went after an errant fly foul ball so far he ended up diving into the Yankees’ dugout. Unfortunately, upon review, it was overturned and called a foul ball because he didn’t “catch it on the field of play” as his foot was already on the dugout steps and thus off the field. (Confession: I didn’t know this was a rule until today’s game. I guess we learn something new every day.)
A win is good, but for “America’s team” to win on America’s Independence Day, it seems all the sweeter. My family listened to the game over burgers and hot dogs fresh off the grill; distant crackles of fireworks in the distance broke into the game periodically; everyone decked out in some form of red, white, and blue; and the John Adams mini-series paused somewhere in the middle of one of the episodes, waiting for us to re-gather in the living room. I have to say that today felt very tinged with Americana, and not just because my mom placed little American flags everywhere in her house. No, because everything we did today felt like a celebration of America — family, baseball, fireworks, and history.
Stay safe today, and remember that our independence was never a guarantee. But we celebrate with fireworks and baseball and family and grilled deliciousness and everything because someone fought to make it happen, sacrificed for our freedom, paved the way for us to become the people we dream we can be, maybe even become the “luckiest man on the face of the earth”.
“So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.” — Lou Gehrig, 1939.
It’s a shame that when most people hear the name “Lou Gehrig” the first thing they think of is either Gary Cooper’s speech in Pride of the Yankees or just for ALS, the disease that ultimately took Gehrig’s life too soon. Gehrig, to me at least, is the ultimate example of true Yankee-ness. He, not some of his fellow teammates, set that famed Yankee standard for excellence, perseverance, integrity, teamwork, and winning, rightfully earning the nickname “The Iron Horse” in the process.
Like the two players in yesterday’s post, Lou Gehrig was a native New Yorker from a rough home in the Harlem/Morningside Heights part of Manhattan. Born the year the Yankees became the Yankees (1903), it seemed Gehrig was born to play in New York. He first came to some attention in 1920 when his high school team was playing in Chicago (in Wrigley Field, of all places) and the 17-year-old Gehrig smacked a grand slam completely out of that professional baseball park, something most of modern-day Cubs players can’t do at a professional level. Instead of jumping into professional baseball right after graduation the next year, Gehrig instead headed to Columbia, ironically on a football scholarship and studying engineering.
Yankee Stadium officially opened on April 18, 1923. Babe Ruth hit a home run (no surprise there). And just across the Harlem River, Gehrig (this day a pitcher) struck out 17 opposing batters, setting a team record. Though Columbia ultimately lost the game and attendance was sparse, a Yankee scout named Paul Krichell was there to witness Gehrig in action, something he was doing on a regular basis at this point. Krichell wasn’t so much impressed with Gehrig the pitcher as he was with Gehrig the powerful left-handed batter. Two months later, Gehrig was a Yankee and in their minor league system in Hartford for a couple of years, pinch-hitting on occasion in the Bronx when called upon.
By 1925, Gehrig was a regular in the Bronx, finally hitting his stride the next year leading the league in triples (20). But 1927 would be the year the Yankees cemented their status as something to be feared. As part of “Murderers’ Row” (Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Gehrig, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri), the great #4 was born into legend. That year, Gehrig alone led the league in games played (155), doubles (52), and RBIs (175) and batted with a .373 average. 1927 was also the first of his 6 World Series rings (1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938). That year, Gehrig easily earned the first of his two MVP awards (1927, 1936).
Gehrig was easily overshadowed by the larger-than-life Ruth, but if you asked most baseball historians, statisticians, and Yankee fans in general, they would point to Gehrig as the glue that held this particular generation together. Ruth might have gotten them in the seats, but Gehrig gave them consistency that consistency true fans crave. After all, no one else has the honor of being the only player to ever hit 4 home runs in a single game (in 1932 against the Philadelphia Athletics). Or the honor that really earned him his nickname: beginning with a pinch-hitting stint in 1925 (his first full year with the Yankees), Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive games, despite an odd stretch of random injuries in the mid-1930’s. In fact, x-rays later in his life revealed a string of fractures he sustained in his playing career he brushed off as an annoyance and played on. Gehrig’s record was later broken in 1995 by another legend of his own time Cal Ripken Jr. (who went on to play a total of 2,216 consecutive games).
When they began doing All-Star Games in 1933, Gehrig was a constant figure at 1st base and in the batter’s box during those exhibition games intended to bolster spirit during the Great Depression. Gehrig played in 7 ASG through his last season (1939). And he also earned that coveted Triple Crown Award in 1934 for having the most home runs (49), RBIs (165), and highest batting average (.363).
Toward the end of his 1938 season, Gehrig himself noticed a physical change, probably initially pushing off what he assumed was the “age factor”. When the Yankees reported to St. Petersburg in 1939 for Spring Training, the 35-year-old already appeared as a shadow of himself, collapsing at one point during base running drills. Just a month into the season, Gehrig played his 2,130th consecutive game, going hitless and realizing this wasn’t going to be the same. The next game, May 2 in Detroit, Gehrig took himself off the line-up card and became the Yankees Captain for the remainder of the year but never played another inning of baseball.
Gehrig’s wife Eleanor finally took matters into her own hands, getting him an appointment at the Mayo Clinic, where they were finally able to diagnose Gehrig’s symptoms: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and no more than 3 years life expectancy. With unknown origins, ALS attacks the central nervous system, ultimately incapacitating the person all the while the mind remains fully functional and aware of the physical shutdown and pain.
After announcing his retirement due to his fatal diagnosis, the Yankees proclaimed July 4, 1939 “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day”, a doubleheader against the Washington Senators on America’s birthday. In between games, they held a ceremony to honor Gehrig, complete with his fellow teammates from the 1927 team, the mayor, all sorts of political dignitaries, and over 60,000 fans. In a symbol of great honor, the Yankees retired Gehrig’s #4, the very first player in MLB history with that honor. He was also gifted with trophies, certificates, and special gifts of all sorts, much like we’ve become used to with the “Retirement Circuit” made by other great ones (like Rivera did this last year).
And then Gehrig took a moment for himself, that moment memorialized by actor Gary Cooper just a few years later in Pride of the Yankees (1942). This clip is a modified version of the original speech, though the creator of the tribute video includes in the entire speech in text with pictures of Gehrig’s playing days.
That December, Gehrig was voted in a special election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but never had a formal induction ceremony. Gehrig, though learning how to live with his condition, never let it get to him, trying to live life to the fullest, taking appointments and working however he could for the city and people he loved.
On the evening of June 2, 1941, sixteen years to the day after he replaced Wally Pipp at first base and beginning his amazing game streak, just two years after his retirement from baseball, The Iron Horse died at his home in the Bronx, just a few minutes from Yankee Stadium. MLB and the city of New York flew their flags at half-mast. With no children, Eleanor Gehrig dedicated the next 43 years of her life (until her death in 1984) to supporting ALS reasearch.
In a long line of great Yankee first basemen — Joe Pepitone (1962-1969), Don Mattingly (1984-1995), Tino Martinez (1996-2001), and Mark Teixeira (2009-present) — it’s hard to argue that they will ever be anyone like Lou Gehrig, his tenacity, his passion, his love for the game, and his excellence in all aspects of his career.
I mentioned before the Christmas break that I was working on some things for the off-season to gear up for this next one. I spent most of the day today working out a lot of the details for Spring Training, truly one of my favorite parts of the year (the Spring, not really the preparations for it). There’s something to be said for having something to look forward to in life. It gives you a sense of hope, a sense of joy really because something’s just around the bend that is different and new and could lead to unlimited possibilities.
But before we get too caught up in what could be, I want to focus a little on what was. As Yankees fans, we’re constantly reminded, by those who will remain nameless and less “celebrated”, that we can always look to the history of our favorite team to remind ourselves (and anyone who’ll listen) of our great history. And while I understand that can be a crutch to carry a weaker team through some tough seasons (is anyone else hearing “86 year curse” right now?), I think there’s something to be said for carrying on a legacy of greatness. A long line of men worked very hard, played with excellence, and got those 27 rings (well, 26 rings and a pocket watch), setting a standard not just for the Yankees, but for baseball in general.
But in that long line of history, I’m often asked “who is your favorite Yankee?” as I’m sure many of you Yankee fans are asked from time to time. And unlike some other teams, this isn’t an easy answer. There’s almost too many “great ones” to choose from. So, I break my own down my top 5 players like this: classic era (1903-1961), expansion era (1961-2013), and current roster (those only on the 2014 40-man roster). Recent retirees have altered my list a bit, but I think I’ve figured it out.
We’ll start with the most historic ones. So my personal favorite Yankees from the Classic Era of Baseball (1903-1961) are:
Mickey Mantle (#7) — played 1951-1968
Yogi Berra (#8) — played 1946-1965
Joe DiMaggio (#5) — played 1936-1951
Lou Gehrig (#4) — played 1923-1939
Phil Rizzuto (#10) — played 1941-1956 // Whitey Ford (#16) — played 1950-1967
(Notes: I know some of these played into the Expansion Era, but honestly, their best playing years were solidly within the original time frame. Also, this was very difficult because I wanted to limit myself to players who played only with the Yankees during their time as professional players, or else I would have included greats like Roger Maris. And I allowed myself a tie on my fifth selection which I’ll explain in a later post.)
So, I hope I got you thinking now. Who are your favorites from that Classic Era? I know people wonder why I omitted certain choices, but if you remember my original criteria for who I think makes a great baseball player (ability, teamwork, and character), my decisions might make a bit more sense. Or maybe not. But I will take a post to explain each selection in the coming days (barring any further breaking news), and I’m curious to hear your responses and your selections. Use the comment section below to explain your choices.
The Winter Meetings proved a little less fruitful than anticipated. GM Brian Cashman equated meeting with player agents to essentially a “staring contest”, more than accurate description of the negotiation process, if you ask me. And we think what happens on the field is the “game”. Little do most fans know that the real game takes place between men who won’t ever don those pinstripes, but have so much to say as to who actually will. It’s a game that never ends.
Much speculation has been circulating about a possible trade with Brett Gardner as the bait. Cashman made it very clear that he isn’t offering Gardner away and thinks he’s still a very essential part of the Yankee team, but he’s also not shying away from any offers. Clearly, however, there hasn’t been anything remotely close to the value they place on Gardner, short-term or long-term. Gardner is one of the most underrated players in all of baseball, let alone the Yankees. I hope he retires a Yankee in a decade, after a long career in pinstripes. Believe me, I don’t say that about everyone.
Someone else I am proud to say that about was also honored yesterday with a GIBBY award (Greatness in Baseball) is Mariano Rivera, who received a lifetime achievement award. Rivera failed to get the award in the two other categories he was nominated (Best Closer and Comeback Player) because the results are based on the competitive fan base of online voters. I think the failure to get those two would surprise even the other nominees. That good ole anti-Yankee sentiment seems to rule the day even against Hall-of-Fame bound greatness and class. Still congratulations to Rivera on another piece of hardware for his man cave mantle. That shelf must be pretty packed with all that well-deserved recognition.
And #6 is on its way to Monument Park sometime this next season. Joe Torre’s number hasn’t been worn since he left the team at the end of the 2007 season, and I think most everyone expected a retired #6 at some point. Perhaps waiting for a Cooperstown election (and unanimous at that) was the right time for such an accolade.
Three other numbers aren’t “allowed” to be worn by other players but haven’t made the jump to retirement yet are #20 (Jorge Posada), #21 (Paul O’Neill), and #51 (Bernie Williams). I don’t think anyone’s going to dare to touch Andy Pettitte’s #46 anytime soon either. Numbers of long-term Yankees are special to Yankee fans since they retired #4 for Lou Gehrig in 1939 (side note: it was the very first baseball number to be retired). Yankee fans currently have a 16 retired numbers (#8 is retired twice for Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey), but a plethora of numbers that are special to them. You can’t walk around Yankee Stadium without running into a hundred #2 shirts, worn by so many Jeter supporters. Other current representation across the supporting fans include Teixeira (25), Sabathia (52), and the occasional Rodriguez (13). Cano (24) and Granderson (14) jerseys, should they not be “eaten by the dog” like a homework assignment, will see a marked drop in representation in the Bronx next year. And of course, almost catching up to Jeter shirt sales, you can’t attend a Yankees game without the great 42 (Rivera) proudly displayed generously.
Initially worn to dictate batting order (Ruth was 3rd so he wore #3, Gehrig 4th…), fans came to embrace jersey numbers as a way to show support for the team they loved and a player they thought exuded the best of the team. Which is why my favorite numbers to find at games are the old guys, the retired numbers like #7 (Mantle) or #9 (Maris) or #23 (Mattingly) or even one of those not yet retired but saved for that “one day” induction into Yankee legend. Jersey numbers represent more than just “numbers” like stats, they represent memories — personal, cherished, countless memories.
Last night, Mariano Rivera was honored with a Lou Gehrig Sports Award at the 19th Annual ALS Benefit Dinner. Other fellow honorees were invited for their contributions to the sports world (all are former athletes in various professional sports) and to their communities. Rivera spoke candidly about the heroes in the room — those that are fighting for their lives as they battle ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), the same disease that took Lou Gehrig’s life 72 years ago. The fundraiser dinner and silent auction raised over $1,000,000 for research to find a cure. Like Rivera said in his acceptance speech, “I mean that when I say one of the greatest — one of the finest men who played this game with dignity and loyalty, and [Lou Gehrig] was taken with this disease. He lost his life to this, but his fighting spirit is in us. That’s why you guys are here — to give back and stay strong and help to defeat this disease that has taken so many lives. I know — I’m sure — that we’re going to find a cure for this disease.”
Also, on the Friday before the Winter Meetings, the Yankees are going strong into next weeks discussions with an intact coaching staff, having re-signed every coach from previous seasons — Mike Harkey (bullpen), Mick Kelleher (1st base), Kevin Long (hitting), Tony Pena (bench), Larry Rothschild (pitching), and Rob Thomson (3rd base). You can read the Yankees entire press release here, which includes each coach’s history in baseball and with the Yankees.
I have to admit a favorite “downtime moment” during a game is watching how the coaching staff works together. Unlike some other “micro-managers”, Girardi allows his staff to do what they do best with minimal oversight. Having worked for both micro-managers and then (shall we say) better managers, there is something that just functions better when the boss trusts you to do your job. I mean, you know that he’ll be there to correct if need be, but he trusts that you are going to do your best so that he can focus on doing his job. Having spent a lot of time in ball parks growing up, you get a sense on how each manager likes to function pretty quickly. Here’s how you can tell: who stands next to him during the game and what his base coaches are doing both in the dugout and on the field. Let’s just say, a Yankees’ dugout is a well-oiled machine.
And finally, CC and Amber Sabathia are hosting their annual CC Challenge Fundraiser this weekend. Beginning with a fun rules party and red carpet event tonight, the main event tomorrow is a city-wide scavenger hunt around the city. All proceeds go to the Sabathia’s PitCCh In Foundation which supports charities and organizations in the Sabathias’ hometown in California and in their new hometown of the Greater New York area. You can find out more about PitCCh in and their projects on their website.
This weekend, take some time to give back to some charity or organization in your area or perhaps something you are passionate about. In this month leading up to Thanksgiving, it’s always a good idea to continue to think about others and do something to give back. It’s amazing how full your life can be just by taking the time for someone else.
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