Thursday, September 3, 2009

A-Rod Cops A Feel

I can't take credit for the headline, because that goes to Marc Carig from the Newark Star-Ledger on Twitter. I did get this screen grab, however...

Easy there Alex... that's not why they call them "Mounties".

Game 134: Small Axe

Tonight, the Yanks begin another series against a bird-named division rival. The four game set with the Blue Jays will cap off their 7 game road trip and the Yanks need only to take one game for it to be a winning one after sweeping the O's. When the Yanks return home they will see both of these teams again, closing out their season series against them during a 10 game homestand in the Bronx.

After leading the division as late as May 23rd and being 8 games over .500, the Blue Jays have faded 14 games under and 25 1/2 back. They are currently twice as close in the standings to the Orioles than the Rays... and that's never a good thing. Even our optimistically-named pal eyebleaf is having a hard time stomaching the downward spiral and it's tough to blame him.

Roy Halladay wasn't traded, which should have made most Jays fans happy, but due to his poor performance since the deadline and the erosion of the time left on his contract, his value is steadily decreasing for what is looking more and more like an inevitable trade this offseason. Alex Rios is gone and in return, the club got salary relief which theoretically could be used in the future, but the fans got a heaping helping of nothing for now. We don't even need to talk about Vernon Wells.

However, tonight's starter for the Jays, Ricky Romero has been one of the remaining bright spots on the team. The 24 year old rookie lefty has pitched 136.2 innings, struck out 104, is averaging 6 innings per start, has a 3.95 ERA and a 11-6 record, behind only Halladay in those categories. The Yanks have seen him twice this year and he's earned a win and a no-decision by pitching 6 & 6 1/3 innings and giving up 3 runs each time.

Chad Gaudin will be making his second start as a Yankee today. He had a rather odd start his other time out, facing another one of his former teams, the A's. Gaudin gave up no runs, and onyl one hit in 4 1/3 innings, but walked 5 and saw his pitch count quickly escalate, finishing with 90. Gaudin didn't get the win, but the Yankees did. It's hard to expect a whole lot out of Gaudin today and logic dictates that his pitch count will be limited once again. But the bullpen is deep with call ups and waiting to back him up.

Gaudin was one of the minor moves Brian Cashman executed this season and I discussed earlier today; just a small solution to a seemingly big problem.

So if you are the big tree,
We are the small axe,
Ready to cut you down (well sharp),
Sharpened to cut you down.

The Yankees Have A Mascot?

While watching the video of A-Rod and Jerry Hairston Jr. playing stickball with kids in the Bronx that has been circulating the Interwebz recently, I noticed an interesting spectator lurking in the crowd.

Wha, wha, whaaaat? As A.J. Burnett might say "That motherfucker?".

The Yankees with all their "class" and "tradition" and "pride" would never have a mascot, would they?

Well, yes, actually, it turns out that once upon a time, they did.

From an article in the New York Times from 1998 (h/t WasWatching), we found out that Yankees did in fact have a oversized fuzzy costume representing the franchise from 1982-85. Unfortunately Dandy did exist, despite the fact that both George Steinbrenner and Lonn Trost both denied remembering so back in '98. Steinbrenner might have had an excuse, but I'm guessing Trost was just lying.

So, back to the current fuzzy disgrace. What is that thing supposed to be? Does it have a name? Was this just an ad hoc creation? It doesn't look like a mascot designed specifically with the Yankees in mind with the red belly and all. Did someone throw that jersey on a generic mascot? It's looks kinda short though, like it was custom fit, doesn't it? Perhaps the Yanks have a mascot that goes around to events where kids will be? Are we okay with this as long as it doesn't show up at the Stadium?

It shows up aroung the 1:00 mark. Discuss.

Who Doesn't Like Cash?

It has since been overshadowed by CC Sabathia's stellar performance, A-Rod's big night and the 9th inning explosion, Eric Hinske's solo home run last night was pretty big at the time. It tied the game at 1-1, where the score remained until the top of the seventh inning.

It's nothing new for Hinske, as it was his 7th home run in only 65 at bats as a Yankee. Half of his hits in Pinstripes have left the yard, which is pretty much what you would hope for out of a lefty whose primary duty after being acquired from the Pirates was to provide some pop off the bench.

The trade for Hinske along with the one for Jerry Hairston, Jr. (who replaced him defensively last night) from the Reds have both worked out about as well as Bran Cashman and others vested in the Yankees' success could have hoped. We liked both of the moves at the times they were made, but Matt and I would both admit that they have exceed our expectations as well. Although Hairston has made two errors recently, he's played 5 defensive positions serviceably (2B, 3B & all 3 OFs) while hitting .273/.377/.477 at the plate, including a couple of homers of his own.

While many fans were disappointed that Cashman didn't swing a deadline deal for a starter such as Jarrod Washburn or less realistically, Roy Halladay, the Yanks have gone 23-7 since July 31st. During that span, Halladay has a 4.71 ERA while giving up 8 homers in 6 starts and Washburn has been even worse, racking up a 6.81 ERA and allowing 11 HRs.

Clearly, things could have shaken out differently had players ended up in different places, but nothing has happened so far to make Cash & Co. regret any decisions they made or didn't make at the deadline. Even Chad Gaudin, who came after July 31st, has been solid, posting a 3.21 ERA over 14 innings and filling the much needed role of another long man out of the pen. Don't forget Nick Swisher either, who Cash picked up for Wilson Betemit and some marginal prospects from the White Sox, who undervalued his contributions due to his frosty relationship with Ozzie Guillen.

As Matt predicted on August 1, after Sergio Mitre got shelled in Chicago and many were lambasting Cashman for not doing more to improve the team, all we needed was a little patience. Take a look at where the Yanks find themselves now. Would anyone go back in time and do anything different at this point? I highly doubt it.

Let's take a second and give Brian Cashman the credit he richly deserves but rarely receives. As a GM (or a manager, or the President for that matter) it's always easier to do something than to do nothing. And further, in a way it's safer to do the bigger, riskier, more obvious thing that falls in line with public opinion, because if it fails, people can say "Well, at least he did all he could!".

Cashman doesn't fall to into this trap. He had faith in the roster as it was currently constructed, due in part to the signings he made during the offseason and decided that it was unnecessary to give up significant pieces of the farm system.

With all due respect to George Steinbrenner, he made this all but impossible when he was at the wheel of the franchise. I don't think that it's a coincidence that since he's faded from power, the Yanks have become a more soundly run franchise and thanks in part to Hal, but mostly to Brian Cashman.

Here's to you, Cash.

Mike Pagliarulo Interview: Part One

Mike Pagliarulo was selected by the Yankees out of the University of Miami in the sixth round of the 1981 Amateur Draft. Recalled in July of 1984, Pags served as the Yankee third baseman for the next five years before being traded to the San Diego Padres. He won a World Series with the Minnesota Twins in 1991, and played for the Baltimore Orioles, Seibu Lions in Japan, and the Texas Rangers before retiring at the conclusion of the 1995 season. A fan favorite during his time with the Yanks, Pags has been a frequent guest at Old Timers' Day since his retirement.

Since retiring, Pags has worked in scouting and consulting. He founded the Baseline Group, which seeks to provide business solutions for baseball, and recently started the non-profit start-up Baseball Institute of Development.

As we mentioned Tuesday, Pagliarulo graciously agreed to an email interview with me in July. Much of the interview was posted at River Ave. Blues Tuesday, but as promised, we'll run the full interview in its entirety here. Part One is below; we'll finish it up tomorrow.

Matt Bouffard: Rickey Henderson was inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer. He's one of baseball's most colorful characters. Do you have any good Rickey stories from your years as his teammate?

Mike Pagliarulo: I spent five years as his teammate. Plenty of stories, but most are kept under wraps. I will say that he was the most incredible athlete I’ve played on the same team with. Bo Jackson was the best I’ve ever played against but Rickey was the best on my teams. His body fat was something like 3.9% and his God-given ability was second to none. When Rickey wanted to do something, he did it. He could control a baseball game. I just can’t imagine having to pitch to him five times a day! Never forget one year, my good friend Donny Mattingly wasn’t swinging the bat very well during the first few months of the season yet he was one of the league leaders in RBI. Every time Donny got to the plate it seemed there was one out and Rickey was on third base. All Donny had to do was make contact and he had an RBI. Funny thing was, Donny usually did more than just make contact.

MB: After coming up in mid-1984, you're first full season with the Yanks was 1985. That was a tumultuous year: Yogi Berra was fired just 16 games into the season and Billy Martin returned for his fourth stint as Yankee manager. You guys spent all summer chasing Toronto, clawed back into the race, and went north of the border for the season's final weekend needing a three game sweep to force a playoff. What was that pennant race like for you and what was the let down like getting eliminated that Saturday?

MP: Tumultuous is a word associated with New York. And it’s not a bad word. I’d like to refer to playing under certain scrutiny and pressure as the way it is supposed to be! We aren’t babies and people pay lots of money to see you play. I hate it when tabloids side with the poor player who’s under so much pressure while making 10 million dollars. That doesn’t appear to match.

1985 was the year in which I learned more about Mr. Steinbrenner than any other. I never realized how much he wanted to win until the last month of the season. One example was during September when we returned from a night game in Milwaukee. The game was late and the flight was delayed. We’d got into Newark airport about 6 AM and the Boss had limos waiting for everyone to take them home. We had a game that night. I couldn’t believe that such a cool and generous thing could be done without being in the press.

MB: Follow up question to that: after being eliminated, Phil Niekro won his 300th career game on the season's final day. What was it like to be a part of that?

MP: That was one of the best games I’ve played in. Knucksie was a true professional and I was so happy for him. Funny thing about that game, he didn’t throw a single knuckleball until the last pitch of the game.

MB: Those years probably weren't quite as wild as the Bronx Zoo years of the late 70s, but they were by no means calm. What was it like playing for George Steinbrenner in his heyday? Any thoughts on him stepping to the background now and allowing his sons to take over?

MP: The Boss was the best, no question. He was the best at taking care of his investment. He was the best at checks and balances, and he always knew what he had in the system - and that’s a much different scenario than today. Back then, we had the most players in the Major Leagues (coming from the Yankees’ system) and we had the best player development system in the world. Facts that are indisputable even with the abundance of players, fields, training methods in the industry today.

I believe the family will do just as good a job because they are all incredibly intelligent and driven; that’s kind of in the blood. I truly wish them the best of luck. Funny thing is, I feel so grateful that the Boss gave me the opportunity to put my kids through college. If he were to ask me to do anything in the world, I’d do it, and wouldn’t ask for compensation. The Steinbrenner family has no idea what it means to me that I can provide for my children and I’m so fortunate and forever grateful. That’s what the Boss means to me.

MB: In your Yankee career you played for three of the most interesting and well-liked men in Yankee history: Yogi, Billy, and Lou Piniella. What was it like playing for them? Were Billy and Lou as temperamental as they seemed? Lou was just getting his start as a manager then, how much of his style did he borrow from his mentor Billy?

MP: Billy and Lou were very much alike. I loved playing for both of them. Tremendous offensive managers and they could see the field so well. Both Lou and Billy had game plans and it was pretty difficult to outsmart them. Yogi was different in that he didn’t scream and holler as much. But to me, they were all in the same category of baseball knowledge and gamesmanship. I was lucky to have played for such great men.

MB: Follow-up: Is it true that Billy tried to get you to bat right handed at some point? I can't seem to find any record of that happening in a game.

MP: Yes, I batted right handed once against Detroit. In 1985, we played a simulated game at Yankee Stadium for one of our pitchers, Marty Bystrom, who was on the DL. Simulated games normally take place at 3 PM, prior to batting practices. On this day Scott Bradley (now the Princeton baseball coach) was the left handed hitter and we needed a right handed hitter. So I volunteered.

Simulated games, if done properly, are helpful and the coaching staff at the time, which included Billy, didn’t want me to do it. They wanted the game to be very serious. After I reassured them I was serious and that I’d switch hit in high school, college, and my first year as a pro, they let me hit right handed off of Bystrom. Well, I got something like four hits with a ball off the right field wall.

The coaches couldn’t believe it and Billy was pissed at me. He said I should stay right handed and continue switch hitting. The real reason for that was Billy liked me in there every day as he felt our team defense was much better with me at third base.

The next road trip was to Detroit and in a tie game in the sixth inning, he handed me a helmet for a right handed hitter. I honestly didn’t want to do it because I didn’t feel I was prepared but I didn’t want to get taken out of the game either. I ended up doing it and struck out. Billy caught a ton of crap for that, but I know what he was thinking. It wasn’t a bad move if I’d have been prepared and actually, it was quite ingenious.

MB: After belting 28 HRs in 1986, in '87, you led the team in HRs with 32, besting teammates Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield. What was that like for you? And when did you suffer the elbow injury that sapped your power in later years?

MP: I never bested a teammate at anything. As a team we finished second and third those years I think. I had two elbow surgeries in a row; 1987 and 1988. The second one was a killer, ulnar nerve surgery; that has a 9-12 month rehab. After having the surgery in November of‘ '88, I tried to play that spring training. Couldn’t throw and had to change my swing. I really believe that if Lou Piniella stayed in the organization I would have gotten back to my old form. He was one of the best hitting coaches and a big reason why I hit those HRs in Yankee Stadium.

MB: Speaking of injuries, didn't you once break your nose on an HBP and return to the line-up the next day? Tell us a little about that.

MP: On a Friday night in Oakland I was hit in the face by a Curt Young fastball. Actually the ball glanced off my wrist first as I tried to block it. It wasn’t Young’s fault, it was mine. A good lesson for young kids is knowing how to turn on the ball coming from the pitcher. I turned the wrong way when I opened up attempting to hit an inside fastball, but the ball just chased me and knocked my nose from one side to the next. It was pretty ugly actually.

I remember Lou Piniella was the manager and he was the first person I saw when they took the towel from my face. After about 10-15 minutes on the ground, they stood me up and took the towel away from my face. I first saw Lou and he said “Oh my God” then turned away. Young had a three run lead and got sick to his stomach; he had to be taken out of the game. Then they took me on a stretcher to the training room and then to the hospital until 2 AM.

Saturday was a day game and I was still bleeding from my mouth and nose. I couldn’t stay on the bench; I guess I was too much of adistraction. On Sunday I was very anxious and requested to play. I didn’t care how I did, my goal was to simply get back in the flow. Lou put me in the lineup and they pasted these bandages on my face for the game. Well, the bandages helped because it actually fixed my alignment at the plate and improved my swing. After that, I went on a pretty good tear.

MB: Any favorite story or memory from your Yankee years that you'd like to share?

MP: Sure, I’ll give you the one that’s the best. A few years ago they asked all the former Yankees, “What was your best day as a Yankee?” Players were reminiscing about their 5 for 5 days and near no-hitters. But, mine was easier than that. It was my first Old-Timers game when I was a player on the team. Joe DiMaggio was in my locker and Whitey Ford was right near him. Yogi, Hank Bauer, Moose Skowron, etc, etc. DiMaggio was talking to me but I couldn’t say a word. It was Joe DiMaggio for God’s sake.

Then there was a quiet in the locker room as Billy Martin and Mickey Mantle came walking through the middle of the place. All of a sudden, all everyone could hear was Mickey’s voice as he lifted his arm and pointed his finger at me, “Hey Billy, is that the guy?” Well, I wasn’t sure what I did wrong but I was ready to apologize for anything. When the god of New York says something to you, you shut up and listen. Then they walked towards me and I felt a feeling of panic set in and didn’t know what to do. Mickey Mantle reaches his arm around my neck and gets me in a headlock. He was wrestling me to the ground! Then he pulled me into the trainers’ room which was across the locker room and began to hit me with light punches in my sides. Just then, he and Billy began laughing as Mickey said, “Hey kid what’s up? How are you? Love the way you play and glad to have you on board.”

Mickey Mantle had just wrestled me to the ground and pulled me out of Joe DiMaggio’s locker (which was mine) to tell me he liked the way I played baseball. Can there ever be a better day than that?

[We'll be back with the conclusion of the interview tomorrow]

Are You Ready For Some Football?

Good morning Fackers. I've got a little extra hop in my step this morning, and it's not just because the Yankees continue to roll along about as well as we could imagine.

Tonight marks the return of college football. No sport will ever replace baseball when it comes to capturing my attention, but with the autumn-like weather that's settled in over the past few days, I've been anxiously awaiting the return of pigskin. It's been 238 days since God's own quarterback dispensed with Oklahoma and gave Florida their second National Championship in three years. The Gators were a record-setting, overwhelming, pre-season number one in the AP poll, and are the favorites to capture a third National Championship in four seasons.

ESPN has a doubleheader tonight. In the opener, The Old Ballcoach and his Cocks travel to Raleigh to face the Wolfpack, led by former BC coach Tom O'Brien. These same two teams kicked off last season. While the match-up itself isn't all that compelling, the game will be interesting in that it will mark Erin Andrews' return to work. Perhaps you've heard that America's Sideline Princess was the victim of a serious violation of privacy over the summer. Understandably, she's kept a low profile since then, and this will be her first public appearance outside of her tell-all at an Oprah taping last week.

The night cap features a much better match-up as the #16 Oregon Ducks visit the #14 Boise St. Broncos. It'll be the ugly uniforms against the ugly field. I'll likely have the CFB games on the tube with the Yanks game streaming on the laptop. Cut me some slack; it's opening night.

In an effort to somehow tie this back to the Yankees, I'll mention that much to my surprise and even more to my chagrin, I caught a commerical on YES earlier this week indicating that all Notre Dame home games will be replayed on YES Mondays this fall. I researched this a bit. Turns out it's a multiyear deal and includes the showing of other ND content on YES.


As you may recall, I'm not particularly fond of Notre Dame, nor is Big Willie Style. The best thing that come of this deal as far as I'm concerned is that it allow me a second chance to watch BC's seventh consecutive victory against The Irish.

Certain teams, usually the ones that have been highly successful, are generally despised outside of their own bases. The Yankees. The Cowboys. The Lakers. Duke basketball. Notre Dame football. The Yankees have now had content sharing agreements with Manchester United and Notre Dame. They established Legends Hospitality Management in conjunction with the Cowboys in order to service their two new stadiums. They're certainly making it easier for the average fan to consolidate his vitriol to a few choice locations.

Okay, I promise: that's my only football post today. If you need a little help getting excited for the season, check out this post from a couple weeks back. Now back to baseball.

Another Sweep Of The Birds

Despite what the final score indicates, the series finale against the Orioles was a tightly contested game - at least it was for eight innings.

Coming off his superb August, CC Sabathia struggled a bit at the outset of his first September start. He allowed singles to two of the first three batters he faced, then fell behind 1-0 on a sacrifice fly. In the second he gave up three singles to load the bases, but fanned the next two batters to end the frame. It was his last real scare for the night, and the Big Fella continued his recent hot streak with seven innings, seven hits, a lone run, a walk, and nine Ks.

Like the Orioles, the Yankees had no problems putting runners on base, but had difficulty bringing them home. Orioles starter Jason Berken allowed eight hits and two walks in 5.1 innings of work, yet was charged with just a single run as the Yankees left nine runners on base through the first six innings. The Yankees did manage to tie it up on an Eric Hinske solo shot in the third.

In the seventh, the Yankees finally managed a lead. Johnny Damon led off with a single, then Nick Swisher - batting third as Mark Teixeira got a night off - doubled to put two runners in scoring position for Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod, who tallied his 2,500th career hit in the fifth, added number 2,501 and gave the Yankees a lead they wouldn't relinquesh.

Brian Bruney, Phil Coke, and Phil Hughes recorded an out each in the eighth, but the O's cut the lead to one as Bruney gave a up a Nolan Reimold homer. With Mariano Rivera unavailable for the ninth due to a sore groin, the Yankees lead seemed even more tenuous.

The Yankee offense took all the suspense out of the game in the ninth, plating seven runs as they nickel and dimed the O's to death with two walks, seven singles, and zero extra base hits. The first five Yankees to come to the plate in the inning reached base safely, as did four of five Yankees batters between the first and third outs. While the Yankee offense got to pad their stats a bit more, the inning served as an apt representation of both the depth of the current Yankee line up and the general state of affairs in Baltimore for the past 12 seasons.

Despite the eight run lead, Phil Hughes, in need of innings, pitched the ninth to earn his second Major League save. He'll serve as the acting closer until Mo's ready to return. The bullpen will warrant watching this weekend with Mo out and Chad Gaudin, Joba Chamberlain, and Sergio Mitre starting three of the four games in Toronto, followed by a double header on Monday. The bullpen, currently at nine mortals and one dinged-up Mo, will likely have a lot of work ahead of them.

The game closed the season series against Baltimore. After dropping the first two games of the season in Baltimore, the Yankees have gone 12-1 against the O's, takiing the last ten in a row, and the sweeping the last three series between them. They'll meet three times more, in the Bronx next weekend.