Game 15: CHW vs. NYY — Grand slammed out of series win

Once again, the Yankees were edged out of a win in a single moment, today’s being a really spectacular one for the visiting White Sox. And unfortunately for the Yankees, this also means they lost 3 consecutive home series, something they haven’t done since 1982 by the way. (They finished 79-83 that year, a losing season and still nowhere near last place.)

The Yankees certainly started off pretty well. Judge worked a 1-out walk in the 1st and then scored on Luke Voit’s 2-out double. And in the 3rd, Tauchman walked, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, and scored on Aaron Judge’s single. Once again, the Yankees led the game first with the backing of a strong pitching staff.

Masahiro Tanaka actually started out really sharp, leading most of us to home for a good return to “Tanaka Time”, breezing his way through 3 solid innings. But then it was the 4th inning, and things kind of fell apart. With 1 out, he loaded the bases with a double and 2 walks before a monster grand slam got the White Sox on the board in a big way. After loading the bases in the 5th, the Yankees opted to end Tanaka’s outing after 81 pitches (nearly half in the last 2 innings).

Luis Cessa came on to stem the White Sox’s momentum, getting a quick sacrifice fly to score just one more run for them before closing things out for the inning and pitching into the 6th. Kahnle came in for the final 2 outs of that inning, shutting the Sox down in just 9 pitches. Ottavino, Harvey, and Green finished out the final third of the game with a clean inning a piece.

Collectively, the Yankee pitchers amassed 14 strikeouts, and they still couldn’t seem to overcome that grand slam. The Yankee batters have been really struggling this series against the White Sox relievers, and today was no exception.

Final score: 5-2 White Sox, White Sox win series 2-1

Next up: After an off-day tomorrow (maybe to do taxes), the Yankees will host the Red Sox for 2 games, with the first day being an observance of Jackie Robinson Day. The Royals come to town on Thursday for a 4-game weekend series before the Yankees hit the road again to start their first West Coast trip of the season.

And in fun trivia news: On this day in 1955, the Yankees first African-America player, Elston Howard, made his MLB debut. The Yankees lost to the Red Sox in Boston that day, but Howard, normally a catcher, came into the game in the 6th as a replacement in left field. He also got an RBI single in his first at-bat in the 8th, scoring Mickey Mantle. Not a bad way to make your mark on Yankees history.

Go Yankees!

Midsummer memories

Opening Day, April 5, 2016 (Photo credit: author)

Congratulations to all those who participated in the 2016 MLB All Star Game. And congratulations to the American League for their victory in this midsummer classic that highlights some of the best in baseball. It is wonderful to see these talented players, but also to see how many family-friendly events surround this yearly game that builds a strong fan base and encourages young players, boys and girls, to dream one day of “making the bigs”!

On that note, I have been thinking of all the ways baseball games are about so much more than just sitting in a stadium watching players hit, pitch, field, or run the bases. It is about family and fun and relationships built around a common interest in this great game of baseball. With the first half of the season already in the record books, it seems to be a good time to be reminded why we love to go to the ballpark. To give a nod and a bit of thanks to those who make a day at the stadium a memorable event.

For Yankee fans, the moment we get off the train and Yankee Stadium comes into view, we know it is going to be a memory-making day. From the moment our tickets are scanned at Gate 6, the excitement is palpable as we get that first view of the field from the concourse and are welcomed by the ushers as we settle into our seats. With creative verse or song, the vendors hawk their hot dogs or cotton candy while roaming the aisles. The scoreboard is lit up with baseball trivia, player interviews, and current stats.

The Bleacher Creatures are gathering and preparing for roll call. Seatmates all over the stadium greet each other with smiles in hopes for a Yankee victory. Fans continue to filter into the stands wearing a variety of Yankee shirts and jackets with numbers honoring Mantle, Maris, Berra, Munson, and others. Players on the field begin their pre-game warm-ups. The news crews and photographers roam the field looking for stories and photos. New York’s Finest takes their places to keep an eye on over-exuberant fans.

The National Anthem is sung by a Broadway artist. The ceremonial first pitch is thrown by a former player or celebrity. Inning by inning, faithful fans cheer or laugh or sigh at the plays on the field. It’s as if the fans are playing the game with the team, anticipating every pitch and every play. Yankee fans are involved in the game and seatmates who didn’t know each other at the beginning of the game are conversing and cheering together.

Even the mid-game “Cap Game” and “Subway Races” are cheered by the crowd. The birthday announcements and marriage proposals on the marquee are applauded.  The grounds crew dances their way around the bases. The crowd stands with thundering applause for the military men and women who are honored in the 7th inning as “God Bless America” is sung by another Broadway talent. And then, no matter the score, the true fans stay to end because, as Yogi used to say, “It ain’t over till it’s over!”

Exiting the stadium while Frank Sinatra serenades the fans with his iconic tune “New York, New York”, the stands empty onto the waiting trains. Another great day at the ballpark.

Across the league, this experience is repeated almost daily in different ways in different cities that best reflect their own teams. From mascot races, to running the bases, to trivia contests, to guest vocalists for the National Anthem or “God Bless America”, each team chooses what best reflects the values of their team and sets the tone to build a loyal fan base for baseball. Everyone who organizes or participates in any of these events is to be thanked by us all. You are part of why we love to come to the ballpark and call this game “America’s pastime”.

So, to include how other teams have chosen ways to celebrate the game and include fans, I have included the following videos from the first half of the 2016 season:

Our National Anthem as sung by a variety of gifted musicians including Candace Payne, aka “Chewbacca Mom” (Houston Astros); Hermina Hirsch, Holocaust survivor with the Stoney Creek High School Sign Language Choir (Detroit Tigers); the cast of Jersey Boys, Broadway musical (Washington Nationals); country singer and player’s wife Juliana Zobrist (Chicago Cubs); and the San Diego Children’s Choir Children’s Choir (Padres).

“God Bless America” as sung by Yarrick Conner, USN Petty Officer (several games including the 2016 All-Star Game); the 82nd Airborne Division All-American Chorus (Fort Bragg); and Mackenzie Walker (Houston Astros).

And here is living proof that baseball fans are ageless: we applaud the delightful Kitty Cohen, 103 years old, as she fulfills her baseball dream of running the bases at a Toronto Blue Jays game.

So here’s to a great second half of the 2016 MLB season. Looking forward to continuing the race for October! Play ball!

Go Yankees!

Game 72: MIN vs. NYY — Remembering The Mick with pitching & a bobblehead

TGIF… especially with the Twins being in town right now and the Yankees just aching to prove they’re as good as they seem on paper. Not that I’m complaining.

Masahiro Tanaka got the chance to earn his 5th win of the season today, throwing 95 pitches in his 6 innings, giving up 8 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs, striking out 7 batters. In the 3rd, with no outs and runners in scoring position, a certain former (often helmet-less) Yankee hit both runners in with a single to get the ball rolling tonight. And in the 4th with 1 out and runners in scoring position once again, a ground out scored just the lead runner to cap off the Twins’ offense tonight. Mostly, Tanaka kept the Twins swinging at his pitches and setting up the Yankees offense to do something.

So they did something. In fact, every time the Twins scored a run, the Yankees would answer back in the bottom of that inning to keep things interesting. In the bottom of the 3rd, down 2-0, with 2 outs and Gardner at 1st, Carlos Beltran’s double scored Gardner, only to be followed up by Alex Rodriguez’s single scoring Beltran to tie up the game.

And when the Twins got back in the lead with their 3rd run in the 4th, the Yankees came back in the bottom to tie things up again… and then some. They loaded the bases (with no outs) with a walk, a single, and a fielding error. Austin Romine’s sacrifice fly scored the run to tie the game. A force out put runners on the corners so that Rob Refsnyder’s single scored Gregorius. A walk loaded the bases again with 2 outs, but the Twins’ pitching change (the starter out of the game already) allowed for a momentum shift and the Yankees went down swinging leaving those bases loaded with a very slim lead.

And there they maintained. So the Yankees trotted out the Warriors Three from the bullpen, and man, were they on point tonight. The three flame-throwing pitchers plowed through 9 straight batters in 3 near-perfect innings to close out the game. It was exactly what everyone who dreamed up these three pitchers could do and be for the Yankees.

In fact, Chapman nearly threw a perfect inning (save 2 foul balls). His 10 fast balls were 101, 102, 102, 102, 103, 103, 103, 103, 103, and 104 mph. (He is the only guy in the entire league since 2008 to throw more than 1 pitch at 103 or faster — he’s thrown 77 actually.) Only to get the guy swinging at a 91 mph change-up for a final strike and get his 14th save.

Of course, the Yankees did give him an extra cushion — Aaron Hicks’ 1-out solo home run in the 8th inning. That was Hicks’ first home run from the right side (he’s a switch-hitter) this season.

Also worth noting is that the Yankees really out-pitched the Twins tonight, especially with their strikeouts. The Yankee batters struck out just 6 times, which their pitchers earned 12 strike outs tonight.

Final score: 5-3 Yankees

So, the biggest news in Yankee Universe is that Mark Teixeira is coming back to the Bronx for tomorrow afternoon’s game. Yes, his knee (which may still need surgery at some point this off-season) is better and rehabbed and ready to play again. Now the big question is going to be the corresponding roster move. Will the Yankees send Refsnyder back to Scranton (though he’s been excellent both at 1st and at the plate recently)? Or will they move recently signed Davis (though he’s certainly had his own contributions and has more time solidly at 1st)? I have my opinions, but they don’t consult me on major roster moves. So what happens will happen likely before tomorrow afternoon’s game.

Tonight, the big giveaway at Yankee Stadium was a Mickey Mantle bobblehead figure. And before tonight’s game, Mantle’s sons David and Danny threw out the first pitch. The figurine and tonight were in honor of the 60th anniversary of Mantle’s Triple Crown achievement. In 1956, Mantle led the American League in batting average (.353), home runs (52), and RBIs (130). Even with today’s power-hitting skyscraping standards, those are pretty impressive numbers, and it’s still one of the best records in history. It’s only fitting that one of the best players in the history of baseball also played for one of the greatest baseball teams. Once a Yankee…

Go Yankees!

Happy Birthday, #7

Reblogging this today… was thinking about this story when I remembered it was Mantle’s 83rd birthday!

Yankees Life

Mantle The Legend, Mickey Mantle, #7
via Google Images

Today would have been the great Mickey Mantle’s 82nd birthday. I’m going to say this right off the bat (pun intended) with full disclosure — my absolute favorite Yankee of all time is the great #7 himself Mickey Mantle. I have lists of my favorite Yankees (which I will disclose and explore more in detail following the World Series, so stay tuned) in many seasons of the Yankees history — like the Classic Era (pre-expansion/pre-1961), Recent Alumni (1961-recently retired), and Current Roster (that changes every year). And while Mantle most definitely tops the Classic Era list, he also tops my All-Time Yankee list. And today is his birthday.

So in honor of his birthday, here’s a nice story about the Mick during his later playing years from a friend of our family:

Patti and Mikey were twins. In the early 60’s, they…

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Mantle — Ending on the right swing

When I get asked “Who’s your favorite Yankee of all time?”, I always have one response: “Mickey Mantle, but not for reasons you think.” And while I’ve chronicled my all-time favorite Yankees in the Classic Era (Rizzuto & Ford, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Berra), the hardest one to write is Mantle’s because my reasons for dubbing him my favorite (and not just of this era) are complex and layered. Sure, he’s considered by most people to be one of the greatest players who ever picked up a bat and certainly has the Hall of Fame caliber statistics to back that up. But “the Mick”, like any player really, is so much more than numbers on a scorecard and a retired jersey on a plaque in center field.

“The Mick”
the best year of his career (1956)
via Google Images

Born into a working class mining family in rural Oklahoma in 1931, Mantle was named after his father’s favorite ball player Mickey Cochrane (a catcher playing for the Philadelphia Athletics when Mantle was born and would go on to inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1947). Well before the advent of Google, Mutt Mantle’s easy assumption saved his son from a lifetime of being called “Gordon”, which seemed to please Mickey in the long-run.

As a personal challenge, Mantle picked up switch hitting playing against his father (who pitched right) and his grandfather (who pitched left). Though he would always think of those men with great fondness, neither saw Mantle rise to his full potential because the Mantle men tended to die young (his grandfather died at age 60 in 1944, his father at age 40 in 1952 from Hodgkin’s disease). Athletic by nature it seemed, Mantle rooted for the Cardinals (as did most kids in the area) and played on his high school’s basketball, football, and baseball teams. Mantle was eventually offered a football scholarship, but turned it down in favor of pursuing his real love — baseball.

An incident on the football field came close to ending his life at one point. Following an injury at a practice game, Mantle’s left ankle became infected with a bone infection called osteomyelitis, but thanks to emergency medical intervention with the newest medical miracle known as penicillin, he was spared amputation, which had previously been the normal treatment. That same condition actually spared Mantle from the draft for the Korean War in both 1949 and 1951. Though he was deemed well enough to play ball (which caused many fans to cry foul at his deferment), a recurring knee injury gave Mantle the final service rejection in 1952. Mantle wasn’t ever meant to be a solider.

After spending a couple of years in the minor leagues, Mantle was asked to attend the Yankees Spring Training Camp in 1951. Excited by the prospect, manager Casey Stengel decided to put Mantle in right field, wearing #6, taking a chance on the 20-year-old, small-town kid. But all that pressure took its toll on the kid, and after a drastic slump, Mantle found himself on a bus to the Yankee’s minor league team in Kansas City and that slump kept growing. After frustratingly admitting failure and contemplating quitting baseball altogether, Mutt drove up to see him and began packing up his son’s things. Mickey remembers his father saying,  “I thought I raised a man. I see I raised a coward instead. You can come back to Oklahoma and work the mines with me.” The slump was over. And just 40 games in Kansas City, Mantle was back in New York, with a new number on his back — one he would keep — #7.

Of course, that rookie season of someone like Mickey Mantle wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the World Series. (I should note they faced the same Giants that won that famous play-off game against the Dodgers, where Bobby Thompson hit the “shot heard ’round the world”.) But for Mantle, it would be the Series that really affected the rest of his career. In Game 2, he and DiMaggio went diving for a Willie Mays fly ball, and on his way to the ball (which DiMaggio would catch for the out), Mantle tripped over an exposed drain pipe and tore his ACL in his right knee. He was out for the rest of the series and would play the rest of his 18 year career never fully healed from that injury. In fact, it was the first of many injuries that seemed to plague him.

After the Yankees won the 1951 Series, DiMaggio retired and Stengel again bet on Mickey, putting him in center field. Over the next 17 years, Mantle would go on to bat a career average of .298, hit 536 home runs, 2,415 hits, and 1,509 RBIs for the Yankees. He was a 20-time All-Star (1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, and twice in each 1959, 1960, 1961, and 1962), went to the World Series with the Yankees 12 times and won 7 rings as part of that dynasty (1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962), was voted the AL MVP 3 times (1956, 1957, 1962), and the AL home run champion 4 times (1955, 1956, 1958, 1960).

1956 was probably Mantle’s best year as a player, leading the league in runs (132), home runs (52), RBIs (130), and batting average (.353). He was easily elected AL MVP that year and earned that coveted Triple Crown. So by that famous 1961 season with the race to 61 with newly acquired Roger Maris (seen by many Mantle fans as a “lesser Mantle”), Mantle was not just a celebrated Yankee, he was an icon. (I should note here that Maris is one of my favorite players to ever don the pinstripes and all that vitriol poured on him during this season was ridiculously undeserved, as through it all, Maris maintained his class and composure like any true Yankee great.) The press hyped up the rivalry between the two teammates and friends, but Mantle had his own personal issues and that nagging recurring injury to be focused on some cooked-up PR stunt of a rivalry. Mantle would end up with 54 home runs, his own personal best, but Maris would go on to win that race in the last game of the season, with Mantle cheering him on every step of the way.

That Yankee dynasty progressively tapered off along with Mantle’s career during the mid-60’s, which led to Mantle’s ultimate retirement just before the start of the 1969 season, leaving a record of 2,401 games played as a Yankee. This record was broken by Derek Jeter in 2011, who currently sits at 2,602 games played as a Yankees going into the current 2014 season.

Mantle spent retirement like many ex-players do — in the broadcasting booth at times, at special events, writing a book (about his favorite playing season: 1956), and of course, receiving all due honors. On Mickey Mantle Day (June 8, 1969), the Yankees retired his #7 and permanently cemented his legacy in Monument Park, that commemorative plaque given to him by former teammate and friend DiMaggio. Mantle insisted that DiMaggio’s honor be hung higher than his, and it was until renovations (and eventually a new stadium) changed the whole layout of Monument Park. Though at teammate Yogi Berra’s museum, DiMaggio’s plaque is still hung higher than Mantle’s, solely on this request.

He was later elected to Cooperstown the same year as his former teammate Whitey Ford (1974). Voters elected Mantle on the first ballot with 88.2% of the votes, though I’d like to meet the 11.8% of the people who didn’t think he deserved the Hall of Fame (but then again, I wonder that every time I don’t see an obvious 100% on someone like Mantle).

While Mantle’s public life soared and excelled, his personal life was certainly a different story. Strongly advised by his father, he married young to his hometown girlfriend Merlyn in 1951 and they had 4 sons Mickey Jr., David, Billy (named for teammate Billy Martin), and Danny (born 1953, 1955, 1957, and 1960). Mantle’s love wasn’t as obvious for his wife and his sons as it was for alcohol, and he set an example as they all quickly joined him in alcoholism. Mantle wasn’t quiet about his drinking, nor about his marital infidelities, but the press certainly kept him in a good light.

Mantle in 1994
recalling his road to redemption

Just after completing treatment, Billy Mantle died at the age of 36 due to heart damage from years of substance abuse. Despite all fears this might send him into relapse, still Mickey stayed sober. Mickey Jr. later died of liver cancer in 2000 (age 47), and Danny would battled but survive prostate cancer. But it was more than just treatment, for Mantle at this point in his life. He realized the impact of his poor life choices weren’t just youthful indiscretions and found a strong foundation with his new Christian faith (because of former teammate Bobby Richardson, an ordained Baptist minister). Mantle’s past regrets may have been numerous, but he wasn’t going to let his past dictate his future any longer.

He helped raise funds to rebuild the federal building in Oklahoma after the 1995 bombing, spent time with family as much as possible, and gave numerous speeches across the country. He spent much of his time asking young people not to look at him as a role model because he can’t imagine wanting to make those same mistakes again or wishing that life on anyone else.

Due to severe cirrhosis, Mantle received a liver transplant in June 1995. Just prior to the operation, the doctors found inoperable liver cancer. While in recovery, he started the Mickey Mantle foundation that raises awareness for organ donations and made peace with his then-estranged family. But he was quickly back in the hospital, as the cancer was spreading quickly through his body.

Mickey Mantle died at the age of just 63, August 13, 1995, Merlyn at his side. The Yankees beat Cleveland 4-1, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was played on the stadium organ, and the world began mourning the loss of #7.

Mantle is a great example of an excellent player who could have been so much greater. As he so readily admitted, it was his own selfishness that interfered with every aspect of his life. And when you look at his professional numbers and honors and accomplishments, it’s not so hard to imagine to what levels a sober life would have taken him. His character may have been questionable when he was in pinstripes (he wouldn’t have made my list had I been doing so in 1961), but he most certainly went out with class and dignity. And as they say, “once a Yankee…”

Go Yankees!

Yankee greatness from way back

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:

  1. Mickey Mantle (#7) — played 1951-1968
  2. Yogi Berra (#8) — played 1946-1965
  3. Joe DiMaggio (#5) — played 1936-1951
  4. Lou Gehrig (#4) — played 1923-1939
  5. 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.

Go Yankees!

Derek Jeter: Publisher

Yes, Derek Jeter is adding yet another title to his continuously expanding empire. Today, he announced a partnership with established New York publishers Simon & Schuster to start his own niche publishing press aptly dubbed “Jeter Publishing”. Jeter Publishing is to predominantly publish nonfiction books for adults, children’s picture books middle-grade fiction and books for young children who are just learning to read, with plans for expansion to other media forms someday in the future. One of the first titles planned is a kids’ guide to baseball that can be updated annually and allow for a more personalized look into the sport. Jeter himself wants to be hands-on in the approach to this new venture, lending his name and stamp of approval only to those he deems worth of his own personal standard of excellence. (The New York Times article on the announcement can be read here.)

The MVP awards were also announced today. The Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera won his second consecutive AL MVP Award, and the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen took his first NL MVP Award home tonight. While I don’t think anyone was surprised by the results, it should be noted that the Yankees’ only candidate, Robinson Cano, came in 5th place to Cabrera. Congratulations to both players on their well-deserved awards.

Past Yankee MVP award winners: Lou Gehrig (1936), Joe DiMaggio (1939, 1941, 1947), Joe Gordon (1942), Spud Chandler (1943), Phil Rizzuto (1950), Yogi Berra (1951, 1954, 1955), Mickey Mantle (1956, 1957, 1962), Roger Maris (1960, 1961), Elston Howard (1963), Thurman Munson (1976), Don Mattingly (1985), and Alex Rodriguez (2005, 2007). Rodriguez also won the award in 2003 with the Rangers, and Ichiro Suzuki won the award in 2001 with the Mariners. It should be noted that the Yankees in total have 22 MVP awards, the highest in the entire league. (Coming in 2nd is the Cardinals with 17, thanks in large part to 3-time winners Musial and Pujols.) Can’t wait to see a Yankee up there again. Maybe next year, fellas?

Also, like many of you, we’ve been praying for the people in the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan recently. Major League Baseball is joining in the relief effort with UNICEF and the Red Cross and donating $200,000. MLB is encouraging all fans of the sport to do their part to partner with one of these or any of the legitimate relief organizations on the ground in the Philippines. The situation is overwhelming and the people are desperate for basic necessities like clean water and food. Relief efforts have been hampered by further storms in the area and even an earthquake, so every little bit counts. (USAToday posted a great collection of reliable charities and how you can help and donate.)

Three very different stories on a very different Thursday. But then again, when is the off-season ever normal?

Go Yankees!