Sunday, January 31, 2010

17 Days Until Spring Training: Oscar Gamble

In the history of the franchise, number seventeen has been worn by 52 different Yankees, making it the 7th most commonly adorned combination of numerals to be sewn on Pinstripes. Gene Michael's forty years of service to the Yankees sort of necessitated that we give him the nod today, but it easily could have gone to others.
  • Vic Raschi was a top starter on six championship teams in the late forties and early fifties.
  • Enos Slaughter, a Hall of Famer for his exploits with the Cardinals, served as a valuable reserve outfielder and pinch hitting specialist who won three pennants and two championships in two stints with the club in the fifties.
  • Mickey Rivers played center fielder and hit lead off on three pennant winners and two championship teams in the seventies.
  • Well known Yankees Tommy Henrich, Bobby Richardson, and Bobby Murcer all wore 17 at some point in their Yankee careers as well, but all had their best years with other numbers on their backs.
But, there's one other Yankee who spent several years wearing number seventeen who I just can't pass up, because it gives me an excuse to post this:
Oscar Gamble, like Slaughter, served two stints as a Yankee. As this poorly doctored 1976 Topps Traded baseball card indicates, he was initially acquired on November 22, 1975. The Yankees shipped pitcher Pat Dobson to Cleveland in exchange for Gamble. The Yankees had just completed a two year exile in Shea Stadium while Yankee Stadium was remodeled. The remodeled Stadium didn't have quite the inviting right field porch that the original had, but it was still just 310 feet down the right field line. It was tailor made for a power hitting lefty like Gamble.

Unfortunately, the Yankees grooming policy forced Gamble to trim his afro. While he still kept the style, it never appeared in pinstripes in its full glory as above. During that first stint with the Yankees, Gamble wore #23. He split time between DH and right field and despite a poor .232 batting average, he posted an OBP just shy of league average, and used 31 extra base hits to post a slugging percentage 65 points better than league average. As expected, he thrived in Yankee Stadium, posting a .992 OPS in the Bronx and hitting 15 of his 17 home runs in the home whites as the Yankees won their first pennant in twelve years.

The following spring, in need of shortstop, the Yankees sent Gamble to the White Sox just prior to Opening Day, getting Bucky Dent in return. Despite a career year for the Pale Hose, Gamble bounced around again, to San Diego in 1978, then to Texas in '79.

On August 1, 1979, the Yankees sent the disgruntled, aforementioned Rivers to Texas, receiving Gamble in return. This time he donned number seventeen. He would remain with the Yankees through the 1984 season as a pinch hitter, reserve outfielder, and DH, batting out of his trademarked deep crouch as taking advantage of the park to hit another seventy home runs. For his career in the House That Ruth Built he posted a .969 OPS and hit 60 of his 200 career home runs.

Gamble was a fan and media favorite throughout his time in the Bronx, despite often being unhappy with his lack of a starting role. His 1984 Topps card to the right is one of the first Yankee cards I pulled from a pack as a kid. Gamble's a regular at Old Timers Day, and despite being bald these days, his introduction is always accompanied with that 1976 Topps Traded card being displayed on the DiamondVision. It's still a crowd pleaser.

17 Days Until Spring Training: Gene Michael

Gene "Stick" Michael has spent virtually all of the past forty years in the Yankees organization, serving the club as a player, coach, manager, general manager, scout, director of scouting, and in his current role as a vice president and special advisor.

Born in Ohio, Michael attended Kent State University, where the baseball field was later named in his honor. He signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959, but didn't make his Major League debut until age 28 in 1966. Traded to the Dodgers for Maury Wills after the season, Stick spent a year in LA before being purchased by the Yankees after the 1967 season. He spent the next seven years with the Yankees, serving as their starting shortstop from 1969 through 1973. He had a pretty good offensive season in 1969, but was otherwise regarded as a good glove no stick shortstop with a knack for pulling off the hidden ball trick.

Released prior to the 1975 season, Michael latched on with the Tigers for one more year. When he failed to make the Red Sox in 1976 he retired, and immediately rejoined the Yankees. He served on the Major League coaching staff in 1976 and 1978, managed the AAA Columbus Clippers to the International League Championship in 1979, and took over as Yankees General Manager for the 1980 season.

When manager Dick Howser departed the team after the 1980 season, Michael returned to the dugout, this time as the Yankee skipper. He had the Yankees on top of the AL East at 34-22 when the strike hit on June 12th. When play resumed on August 10th, the Yankees stuggled, going 14-12. Despite being guaranteed a post-season berth as the first half division champions, George Steinbrenner saw fit for a change, and replaced Michael with Bob Lemon on September 6th. It was Lemon who shepherded the Yankees through the first ever Division Series, and the ALCS, before falling to the Dodgers in the World Series.

Michael then replaced Lemon at the helm just 14 games into the 1982 season. After going 44-42, Michael was canned again, this time replaced by Clyde King. He returned to the coaching staff in 1984, and served there into the 1986 season. On June 14th he took over as manager of the Chicago Cubs, his first time out of the Yankees organization since early 1976. He lasted in that job until late 1987, going 114 and 124.

He returned to the Yankees the following year, serving on the 1988 and 1989 coaching staffs. He began 1990 in a scouting capacity, and then, in George Steinbrenner's final move before serving his suspension, was named General Manager on August 20th. It was in this position, which he held through the conclusion of the 1995 season, that Michael did his greatest work. As General Manager, Michael hired Buck Showalter as manager, oversaw the drafting of Derek Jeter, signed Mike Stanley, Wade Boggs, and Jimmy Key, traded for Paul O'Neill and David Cone, and managed to oversee the development and prevent the trading of homegrown talent like Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada.

Michael's stewardship during Steinbrenner's absence was the single biggest factor in turning the Yankees from the worst team in baseball - both on the field and in the front office - to a model franchise that enjoyed a dynastic run in the late nineties and early aughts. Though he stepped down as GM following the 1995 season, Stick has continued to serve the Yankees in an advisory role and remains one of the most trusted voices in the organization. He has spent nearly the entirety of his adult life in the employ of the Yankees, and the organization has benefited greatly from his service.

Self-Promotion Alert

None of this is new or earth-shattering, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I'm in the batter's box over at LoHud this morning with a distilled version of the post I wrote about Javier Vazquez's clutch ability a while back.

Also, we were listed in Big League Stew's Yankees blogbook. Check that out, not so much for our part, but for the other excellent Yanks' blogs that are listed.

And finally, Matt and I will be attending an event for the launch of Bloomberg's baseball software at their headquarters in Manhattan. There will be some some tweets emanating from the event under the hashtag #BBGSports, and I can promise a post on what we learned at some point in the near future.

Glen Perkins And Undeserved Demotions

Way back in May, when Jay decided to take a little getaway, he blindly handed me to the keys to the blog for the week. The Yankees were about to wrap a four game series against the Twins, having won the first three via walkoff. The series finale was a Monday night affair, one I was to attend. But before I could escape the office and get on the road, I had to author my first game preview.

In keeping with Fack Youk tradition, I had to choose a song to work into the preview. After looking at the pitching match up for the night, I decided to riff on the name of the Twins starting pitcher for the night and went with "Carl Perkins Cadillac" from the very awesome Drive-By Truckers.

Glen Perkins started for the Twins that night, and the Yankees touched him up pretty good. It marked the fifth straight start in which Perkins surrendered at least four earned runs. The next day, Perkins was placed on the DL with an elbow issue. He returned a month later, and continued to struggle through another nine starts and a relief appearance. He was disabled again, and instead of being activated at the end of the month when rosters expanded, the Twins optioned him to AAA, despite the fact the minor league season was essentially over.

Though Perkins struggled in 2009, it was still an unorthodox move, particularly for a club that was in a pennant race. Perkins thought so too, and filed a grievance against the Twins. Being optioned out, rather than kept on the DL, prevented Perkins from accruing Major League service time. Not only did he fail to earn a Big League salary in that time, but the lack of service time prevented him from attaining Super Two arbitration status. That in turn has a major impact upon Perkins' salary for this year and beyond.

Back when I wrote that preview, I noted how cool it must have been for Perkins, born and bred in St. Paul and a former member of the University of Minnesota baseball team, to be drafted by and playing for his hometown team. But as we saw in the 1990 Sports Illustrated article about Dave Righetti that we linked to Friday, sometimes living out a boyhood dream isn't all it's cracked up to be. There's now a rift between Perkins and his club, and there's a chance he won't be a Twin much longer. It appears Perkins won't have quite as happy a story as fellow hometown hero Joe Mauer.

In the bigger picture, Perkins' story is part of an interesting and possibly troubling trend around the game: teams questionably optioning out young, but established players in effort to keep them under club control longer. The Twins took a similar tact with Francisco Liriano in 2008, and the Royals treated Alex Gordon the same way last year. We've seen teams delay calling up prospects like Evan Longoria, David Price, and Matt Wieters in order to keep them from Super Two arbitration status. But in my eyes at least, there's a difference between a club doing that to a minor leaguer on the way up as opposed to doing it to established Major Leaguers like Perkins, Liriano, and Gordon.

The past decade has seen Major League clubs look to exploit market inefficiencies. Valuing young, cost controlled talent has been amongst the leading ways teams have looked to gain an edge. Holding back Longoria, Price, and Wieters and sending down Liriano, Perkins, and Gordon are all part of that process. If Dave Cameron is right and veteran players are the latest market inefficieny, it'll be interesting to see if this trend of demoting established young players continues.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

18 Days Until Spring Training: Johnny Damon

Far too many words have been spilled over the saga of Johnny Damon this offseason, so I'm going to keep this very short.

Johnny Damon is a baseball player. He used to play baseball for the New York Yankees. He once stole two bases in one fell swoop during a World Series game.

Thanks partially to his steep initial contract demands and partially to a conflict of interest on his agent's part, he won't be playing for the Yankees anymore and remains a free agent. He recently made a very stupid comment in regards to Derek Jeter's contract situation that is going to make Yankees fans miss him even less when he's gone:
“I hope he isn't offered a 45 percent pay cut.”
He won't be, Johnny. Because there will be a significantly greater demand for his services. Because he's not a corner outfielder with declining range and a legendarily weak arm in a market flooded with low cost options. Thanks for the memories.

The end.

Leave Old Timers Day As Is

As we suffer through the doldrums leading up to Spring Training, the LoHud Yankees Blog is currently going through their annual pinch hitting series. Yesterday's post came courtesy of Mark Braff, a veteran of every Yankees Old Timers Day since 1968.

Braff's premise is that the Yankees are doing a disservice to the event by making it a Yankee-only affair. Prior to the 1980s, Old Timers Day featured a team of Yankee greats against a team of baseball greats. Firstly, I'm insanely jealous the Mark has been lucky enough to attend the last 42 Old Timers Days. Secondly, I'm nearly as jealous that in doing so he had the opportunity not only to see Yankee greats but also the greats of other teams. And I'm on board with Mark's suggestion that the Yankees reinstate the tradition of flying the banners of past World Champions and pennant winners on Old Timers Day.

That said, I don't agree with the assertion that Old Timers Day should no longer be an all-Yankee affair. Yes, the days are gone when the Yankees could trot out all-time greats like DiMaggio and Mantle, or even franchise greats like Dickey, Keller, Henrich, Rizzuto, Howard, Maris, or Murcer. But that doesn't mean the Yankees don't have the clout to keep Old Timers Day an in house affair.

Perhaps the low end of the guest list is a bit thin, but for me at least, that's part of the appeal of Old Timers Day. When else would one remember the likes of Horace Clarke or Wayne Tolleson? Sure Aaron Small was a journeyman pitcher who logged all of 104 IP with the Yankees, but he also had a magical 10-0 run in the summer of 2005 as the Yankees surged back to capture the division. Yes, Brian Doyle hit .161/.201/.191 in 110 games over four seasons, but he went on a tear in the 1978 World Series, subbing for an injured Willie Randolph.

No one would ever take these guys over the HoFers from other teams, but they were Yankees. And when it comes down to Old Timers Day, that's all that matters to me. As more of the late nineties-early aughts dynasty hang up their spikes there will be more than enough memorable former Yankees to fortify the ranks and keep the event an all-Yankee affair.

Similar criticism was levied against the event last summer, and as I said then, I think the criticism is misplaced. The Yankees organization, the media that covers the team, and we as fans often get a little too self indulgent and congratulatory when it comes to Yankee history. But Old Timers Day is perhaps the one day where those traits are most justified. To my knowledge the Yankees are the only club that still celebrates a formal Old Timers Day annually. I wish other clubs would follow suit. And if some teams don't have enough players to bring back to form two teams, perhaps the Yankees could assemble a squad of former greats to go and help out.

(Photos from the Star-Ledger and the Daily News)

The View From The Bridge

The view from the George Washington Bridge gets me every time. Not as much as the first few times I crossed the GWB and gazed down towards Manhattan, but it's still gripping nonetheless. On a perfectly clear night like we had yesterday, the lights are impossibly dense and bright. They peak at the Empire State Building and below that slowly slope towards either end of the island. I imagine back before September 11th the Twin Towers would have played a prominent role in the skyline, but now the height of the Financial District is disguised by shorter buildings in the foreground.

The GWB has always been my conduit into Manhattan - well at least since I was old enough to drive and figured out that using the Major Deegan was for suckers. Coming from Upstate, I take I-87 to Rt. 17 to Rt. 4. Others take the Palisades, but the gas is cheaper the way that I go. And every time I go that way and funnel down through the approach to the lower level of the bridge, drive through the tolls and make my way through the short tunnel before it begins, I anticipate the view. Sometimes it's too hazy or foggy or rainy to really see, but I turn my head and look just the same.

Everyone has their own way of entering New York. Long ago Ellis Island was that way for millions, with the buildings appearing over miles and miles of ocean after a seemingly interminable journey from Europe. Today, many come in through Penn Station and get a feeling in the pit of their stomach when they first step outside and crane their neck in an effort to find the tops of the skyscrapers. Some look left when descending down the spiraling entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel and see the heart of Midtown rise from the Hudson River. Plenty see the skyline start to rise as they drive down I-495 towards the Mitdown Tunnel. Others press their face to the window of a plane to observe the perfect grid of the streets from high above.

Whatever it is, it's hard to miss the moment that you realize you're here when you arrive.

Friday, January 29, 2010

19 Days Until Spring Training: Dave Righetti

Dave Righetti was one of the lucky few who grew up rooting for the Yankees and lived out the dream of playing for his favorite team. His paternal grandmother grew up next door to Tony Lazzeri in San Francisco, and although she lived 3,000 miles from the Bronx, became a fan of the Bombers. His dad Leo signed with the Yanks shortstop in 1940 at the age of 17, but never made it to the Big Leagues, his journey derailed by a freak accident that severed the tip of one of his fingers.

However, Dave did achieve that goal and a whole lot more. He was originally drafted by the Rangers but was dealt to the Yankees in November of 1978 as part of a trade that sent Juan Beníquez, Mike Griffin, Greg Jemison, Paul Mirabella and Righetti to New York in exchange for Sparky Lyle, Domingo Ramos, Mike Heath, Larry McCall, and Dave Rajsich.

Just three months later, he was nearly redirected to Minnesota as part of a package for Rod Carew. The Yankees agreed to part with Chris Chambliss, Brian Doyle, Beníquez and up to $400,000 but balked at the inclusion of Mirabella or Righetti. Carew grew frustrated with the talks, saying:
"I don't like the idea of being pushed around, cooling my heels while they [Steinbrenner and Twins owner Calvin Griffith] go fishing and play golf. If they think they can wait until the last minute and then tell me to start packing, they are out of their minds."
Luckily for Rags and his family, Carew was sent to the Angels and he got to stick around with the Yankees. After one season of 2.31 ERA ball split between AA and AAA, Righetti made his Major League debut in September of 1979 wearing number 56 when he was only 20 years old. It was a very short stint and he spent all of 1980 in AAA, struggling to a 4.53 ERA.

After an excellent 5-0 tear to begin his season in Columbus in 1981, he was called up in May. Rags got off to a great start, pitching to a 1.50 ERA in his first six starts and went on to win the American Leauge Rookie of the Year in a landslide.

In his next two seasons as a starting pitcher, Righetti threw exactly 400 innings of 3.60 ERA ball (109 ERA+). He famously tossed a no hitter against the Red Sox on the 4th of July in 1983, which Matt detailed around that time last year. It was the first such event in Yankees history since Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Of course, the 4th is also George Steinbrenner's birthday which greatly endeared him to the Boss.

Paradoxically, being a favorite of the Boss sent his career down a path that never quite suited Righetti. At the behest of Steinbrenner, before the 1984 season began, the Yanks transitioned the Big Ragu into a reliever to replace the departed Goose Gossage. Privately, he didn't agree with the move to the bullpen, aware that he could be more successful and make more money as a starting pitcher over the long run. Outwardly though, he embraced the role and set the Major League Record for saves in 1986 with 46, though that record would be shattered by Bobby Thigpen 4 years later.

Like Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, there was frequent and heated debate in regards to Righetti's proper role. Publicly, he was known as the "polite Yankee", keeping quiet about his amidst the chaos, refusing to charge for autographs and personally answering his fan mail.

But in the privacy of the clubhouse, he was rumored to react to his failures by flushing his cleats down the toilet and destroying locker room garbage cans. Eventually, he explained to Jill Lieber of Sports Illustrated how much the pressure of closing was weighing on him:
I've been booed so bad. I walk from the mound with my head down, then fight to get through the parking lot. I watch the fans cheer guys who don't hustle. They cheer guys who rip the organization. I guess you have to be rotten to have the fans like you. Keith Hernandez is involved in the Pittsburgh drug trial, and he gets a standing ovation at Shea Stadium. I give up a run, and I get booed like crazy. You figure it out.

I wish Yankee fans appreciated me as a reliever. They've never accepted me because the team has never stuck behind me as a reliever. And because I've never complained, they think I don't stand up for myself. They think I'm a patsy.
Although it was clear that Righetti wasn't embracing his role as closer, Steinbrenner remained adamant:
He is going to be the closer. He will be brought in in the ninth inning. Period. I'm the only one who knows how to use him. I've told my manager and coaches, 'If you reach for him too early, you'll be reaching for the next train home.'
Those quotes were recorded in early 1990, in Righetti's last year as a Yankee. He rode out that season with a 3.57 ERA and converted 36 saves. The Yanks allowed his contract to expire and he signed as a free agent with the Giants. While he was fairly effective in 1991, he was released halfway through his second consecutive terrible year in San Francisco in 1993.

Rags bounced around from the A's to the Blue Jays to the White Sox at the end of his career before retiring in 1995. In that final season, the White Sox let Rags start 9 games and he was actually pretty respectable, racking up a 4.20 ERA (107 ERA+).

Today he serves as the pitching coach for the Giants a position he's held since 2000.

Sadly, Righetti's career with the Yankees began with a ton of promise - a fan since childhood, a Rookie of the Year and a consummate nice guy. But like many of the Yankee teams he played on throughout the 1980's, his success was hampered by the tyrannical rule of the Boss.

Still, he left an indelible mark on the franchise. Every 4th of July, Yankees fans fondly remember Righetti for his finest moment in Pinstripes and are left to wonder what might have been had things turned out a different way.

History Of MLB Franchise Movement & Expansion

As I said this morning, I don't think the Rays are going anywhere. That the Rays need a new park isn't news; they first floated a proposal for a new St. Petersburg park nearly two years ago. They'll either get a new park in the Tampa/St. Pete area, or move a couple hours up the road to Orlando.

But using Tampa Bay, one of the two most recent MLB expansion franchises, as a jumping off point, it's interesting to look at the history of franchise movement and expansion in Major League Baseball, and see really how interconnected it is.
  • Tampa Bay was awarded an expansion franchise in 1995 as part of the fall out from MLB blocking the San Francisco Giants from moving to St. Petersburg after the 1992 season.
  • The Giants, of course, moved to San Francisco from New York after the 1957 season. That same year the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles. As a result, New York was awarded a National League expansion franchise for 1962 to replace the departed teams. If the Rays were to move to New Jersey or Southern Connecticut it would give metro-NYC three MLB clubs for the first time since the Giants and Dodgers called New York home.
  • The Giants considered a move to Toronto in the 1970s, but eventually backed out, and Toronto was awarded the Blue Jays as an expansion franchise for 1977. In the early 80s the Giants investigated a move to the south Bay. As a result, San Jose became considered part of their territory. That decision is currently blocking the A's, the only other club currently actively seeking relocation, from building a new a ball park there.
  • The A's of course, started out in Philadelphia. They moved to Kansas City after the 1954 season, then left KC for Oakland after the 1967 season. As a result, KC was awarded the Royals as an expansion franchise for 1969.
  • The AL's other expansion franchise in 1969 were the Seattle Pilots. After just one season, they moved to Milwaukee where they became the Brewers. The original Milwaukee Brewers played in the AL in 1901, then moved to St. Louis, where they became the Browns. The Browns left St. Louis for Baltimore after 1953, and became the Orioles. The original Baltimore Orioles played in the AL in 1901 and 1902, then left for New York where they became the Highlanders, and later the Yankees. Meanwhile, Seattle received a new club in 1977 when the AL added the expansion Mariners.
  • In between the two Brewer ball clubs, Milwaukee was home to the Braves from 1952 to 1965. Prior to that the Braves played in Boston and have now called Atlanta home for fourty four seasons. Atlanta's current Spring Training home is in Orlando, which of course is a potential new home for the Rays, and according to a completely baseless rumor, the Brewers.
  • If the Rays or the A's were to move, it would be the first time an MLB club relocated since the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals for the 2005 season. Not only did that move return Major League Baseball to our nation's capital for the first time since 1971, it was also the first franchise relocation since the Washington Senators left to become the Texas Rangers in 1972. Those Senators were a 1961 expansion franchise to replace the original Washington Senators, one of the AL's founding franchises, who left after the 1960 season to become the Minnesota Twins. The Twins will open brand new Target Field for the start of the 2010 season, and it will be MLB's newest ballpark until either the Rays or the A's get a new home.
If history is any indication, if the Tampa Bay area or Oakland were to lose their club, they stand a good chance to get another at some point in the future.

Lupica Is At It Again...

And by "it", I mean being a sniveling malcontent and finding things to criticize about the Yankees, lest they forget that they play in New York, where the media is notoriously tough on it's teams - mainly because of smarmy, self-righteous whiners like Lupica. To wit:
But for now the story, and the Yankees are sticking to it, is that they've got a by-God budget. That they couldn't afford what they say Damon wanted. Or what they thought he wanted. Or what they were afraid Damon's agent, Scott Boras, might try to weasel out of them, because nobody can out-weasel Boras.

Really? Johnny Damon turns out to be the one guy the Yankees can't afford? It would be like finding the one bar girl Tiger Woods didn't want to take home with him.
Topical! But something tells me that if Tiger were in rehab for drugs or alcohol, Lupica wouldn't be a cracking joke about the line he didn't want to snort of the gin and tonic he didn't want to chug.
For now, though, [the Yankees] desperately want Damon's departure to be somebody else's fault. Damon's. Boras'. Anybody but theirs. At the same time, Boras is out there selling his own version of things, door to door if he has to, the same way he peddled his own self-serving version on Carlos Beltran's knee surgery.
I really don't think the Yankees care whose fault it is that Damon isn't coming back. They didn't fire him. They didn't trade or release him. His contract expired and he became a free agent. This would be like trying assign blame for my departure from college because I didn't go back to Bentley for grad school.
But does anybody believe that Johnny Damon, who helped beat the Yankees in 2004 when he was with the Red Sox and played such a spectacular World Series for the Yankees five years later against the Phillies, has to go because of money? Or because Boras made Brian Cashman mad?
Yes, how could the Yankees let Damon go when he made one play against them five years ago, and then another one for them last year? How stupid can the Yankees be, not giving Damon all the money he wants because he played well in two World Series five years apart?!?1

Cashman might be a little perturbed by this situation, but it's not like he did something irrational because he was angry at Scott Boras. He was keenly aware that the Yankees had the upper hand in the situation and Boras (and to a lesser extend, Damon) refused to give in. Now those two are free to roam the open market and find a one year deal like the one Bobby Abreu had to settle for last year. Sometimes when you play hard to get, you don't get got.

Cashman 1, Boras 0, Lupica -10.

[Update: TYU has a much more thorough takedown of the piece and Craig from CTB has a much more efficient one. But guess who couldn't agree more with Lupica!]

Rays To Connecticut? Not A Chance

Good morning Fackers. As I've mentioned here a few times before, I'm a Connecticut guy, born and bred. The sporting landscape here in Connecticut is an odd one. The entirety of the state is within two hours of either New York or Boston; much of the state is virtually equidistant from the two cities. As such, there's this weird sort of sporting identity here in the Nutmeg State. Baseball fans are every bit as passionate as they are in New York or Boston, but things are far less homogeneous. The state is pretty well divided between Yankee and Red Sox fans, with a small and unfortunate minority pledging their allegiance to the Mets.

But it's slim pickings when comes to teams to call our own. We temporarily hosted the Giants while Yankee Stadium was being renovated and Giants Stadium was being built. The NHL's Hartford Whalers skipped town in April of 1997. The following year the state struck a deal to build a new stadium for the New England Patriots, only to see Robert Kraft use it as leverage to secure a new stadium in Foxboro. We've hosted AA teams for both the Yankees and Red Sox. Currently the state is home to two AHL minor league hockey franchises in Bridgeport and Hartford, and independent Atlantic League ballclub in Bridgeport, the Twins' AA affiliate in New Britain, and as of yesterday, the Tigers' short-season A club in Norwich. None of those squads register much in the consciousness of the locals, who by and large spend their summers following the Yanks, Sox, or Mets, and their winters obsessing over both the men's and women's UConn basketball teams.

All of which is my long-winded way of saying that the unique sporting culture of the state is its lack of an identity to call its own. As much as it galls many of the locals, when it comes to professional sports Connecticut is nothing more than a suburb to the two neighboring metropolises. And there's nothing wrong with that; it's just the way it is. The population of the entire state is just 3.5 million, one million less than the Boston metropolitan area, and less than one fifth the size of the New York City metropolitan area. There is neither the city, nor the people to support a major sports franchise, particularly one located so closely to three of the biggest teams in the game.

So it was with great surprise yesterday that I saw an article from NESN, riffing on a piece from Peter Gammons, speculating that if the Tampa Bay Rays should fail to secure a new stadium, southern Connecticut could be a potential landing spot. We're a few weeks into the dead period of the baseball off season, so it's getting to be slim pickings for news. As such, stories like this will inevitably crop up. And really, this is just an extension of the hypothetical pondering last month of whether New York could support a third team.

But, since this is a slow time of year and since it involves my home state, I'm going to put on my debunking cap and pick this one apart. Here's a look at the cities in southern Connecticut, starting in the east and heading west, and here's why they can't support a Major League team:
  • Norwich / New London: The least likely of any southern Connecticut city to host a team. This is one of the most sparsely populated areas of the state; there simply aren't enough people here to support a team, and one certainly wouldn't be enough to draw Red Sox fans from nearby Rhode Island. The Yankees had their AA club in Norwich from 1995 through 2002, before switching affiliations to Trenton in order to have the squad closer to the parent club. Norwich picked up the Giants' AA squad, which left town after last season. Just yesterday the city announced that the Tigers' NY-Penn League club would move from Oneonta for the 2009 season (interestingly enough the Yankees had their NY-Penn club in Oneonta from 1967 until the creation of the Staten Island Yankees in 1999). On the plus side, these cities are located close to the two gigantic casinos in the state, so if Pete Rose is ever reinstated this would be a good spot for him to revive his managerial career.
  • New Haven: Another failed minor league city, the last 35 years have seen the New York Giants, two different AHL clubs, a AA Eastern League club, and an independent Can-Am League club leave town. Location wise, the Elm City may be the best location for a club. Centrally located at the junction of Interstates 91 and 95, New Haven is relatively accessible from the state's most populous areas of metro Hartford and Fairfield County.
  • Bridgeport: The state's biggest city, Bridgeport has the state's most up to date sports venues in the Arena at Harbor Yard and the Ballpark at Harbor Yard, home to the AHL's Sound Tigers and the Atlantic League's Bluefish respectively. The Ballpark was the site of Jose Offerman's first on field assault. It's also just down the road from Shelton, home of Whiffle Ball. On the negative side, Bridgeport is located in metro NYC, placing it firmly in the Mets' and Yankees' territory. It's not easily accessible from metro Hartford, and it would be an extremely tough sell to get one of the state's poorest cities to build a Major League ballpark a mere decade after the construction of the Habor Yard complex.
  • Stamford: The most financially healthy city on the Connecticut shoreline, Stamford is located in the heart of affluent Fairfield County and is home to several financial firms and the YES Network's studios. Unlike the other cities on the list, its best days are not behind it, and there is enough business and industry present to have something resembling a bustling downtown. On the negative side, Stamford is a stone's throw from NYC, making it an unrealistic possibility. Besides, it couldn't even support a Dunder Mifflin branch; how could it support a Major League franchise?
Even if something could be worked out to convince the Yankees, Mets, and/or Red Sox to relinquish territorial rights - an unlikely scenario - there just isn't a city or the people to support in team in southern Connecticut or anywhere else in the state. Even if there were, a Connecticut club would be facing an uphill battle. Part of the reason the Whalers failed was that too many Connecticut hockey fans were loyal to the Rangers or Bruins. That problem would be infinitely greater for a baseball team, as the loyalties to the Yankees, Red Sox, and even the Mets are stronger and have been forged over generations. The Rays, or any other team, would have very little chance of succeeding here. And in the end, I'm sure the Rays will get their new stadium in either Tampa, St. Petersburg, or Orlando.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

20 Days Until Spring Training: Kevin Youkilis

The fackin' Youkstah. The Youkin' fackstah. Our mortal enemy and constant inspiration. The man with the face that could shatter a thousand mirrors, a beard with a website of its own, and the batting stance so homo-erotic that would have been censored on TV if he played in the 1950's. He's not afraid to flip you the bird or take a walk (unless it's raining).

In the immortal words of Fack Youk Hall of Famer Matt Taibbi:
Youkilis fighting a middle reliever to a nine-pitch walk looks like a rhinoceros trying to fuck a washing machine.
Of course, middle relievers aren't the only pitchers he likes to fight. Fittingly, his fisticuffsmanship was directly responsible for the most visited and commented post in the history of this site and for that we owe him our deepest gratitude. If he wasn't such a dick, tens of thousands of people never would have visited this blog.

In all fairness though, we have respect for the Youkasaurus. He's among the toughest outs in the Majors and if he wasn't such a thorn in the Yankees side, we wouldn't have bothered to name this blog after our hatred of him.

Don't ever change, Youk. This site would be even less popular than it already is if you did.

Links For Lunch

Here are some items to keep you busy while we decide whether or not to devote another entire post to our hatred of the Randy Winn signing:
Speaking of the Winner, Rob Neyer doesn't think he's a particularly good fit with the Yankees. Cliff Corcoran ain't thrilled either, saying "If he has a bit of a dead-cat bounce in the Bronx, he’ll go from being a typical bench player to something of an asset".

The Yanks have some interest in Rocco Baldelli, Johnny Gomes and Marcus Thames but Joel Sherman says they won't offer any of them more than a minor league deal.

Joe Girardi says the configuration of the outfield isn't set in stone, meaning Curtis Granderson might end up in left field after all. /crosses fingers

On Twitter, Bob Nightengale announces that the Yankees are going to hire Kevin Towers like it's news, even though we were pretty sure we knew that three weeks ago.

Mike from River Ave. Blues tried to determine what (if any) correlation strikeouts had to overall offensive production. Sorry to all you Adam Dunn haters, but the answer is "not that much of one".

With his Yankee career all but over, Johnny Damon knows one thing for sure. He's "going to grow an incredibly douchey beard".

Craig from Circling the Bases exposes Scott Boras' failure to spin the Johnny Damon debacle into something positive. Take that for what it's worth though, as Craig is notoriously "irresponsible".

Andrew Katz thinks that Damon is the victim of a conflict of Boras' interest. I have to agree.

Walkoff Walk brings us the baseball tweets of the week. Props to Rob Iracane for using the word "brotard" to describe Nick Swisher.

Hank Waddles from Bronx Banter did an interview with Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post.

Also at BB, Cliff Corcoran grades each Yankees hitter on their 2009 season great detail. Spolier alert: there are a lot of A's.

Our pal Jason Rosenberg put together a volume of some of the dumber comments made in regards to steroids in baseball and lets you figure out who said them via the matching game. If you don't have that kind of patience, the quotes are paired with their speakers here.

Also, the IIATM,S Hall of Fame has a new member.

Can someone please tell John Harper of the Daily News that Randy Winn isn't replacing Johnny Damon? And that Brain Cashman's ego wasn't the reason Damon isn't on the team. And that his picture on the NYDN's website makes him look like Nick Nolte before he went off the deep end.

Sky Andrecheck takes a look at evolution of stolen base strategy over the years over at the Baseball Analysts blog.

Via Baseball Musings, a study shows that pitchers from the South are more likely to plunk batters especially in the name of "justice" or "protecting social identities", but only if the batter was white.

Some Advice For Scott Boras

This has been brought up elsewhere on the interwebs, but I wanted to touch upon it a bit more here. Has uber agent Scott Boras lost a little bit off his fastball?

Two years ago he badly, badly botched the A-Rod opt out situation, both from a public relations standpoint and in grossly overestimating the market for his client. Had A-Rod not come crawling back to the Yankees on his own and had Hank Steinbrenner not been in a historically giving mood, A-Rod might have found himself without a suitor capable of matching the deal from which he opted out. Given the hard budgetary line Hal has drawn in the sand this off-season, consider how differently the A-Rod situation might have played out had Hal been calling all the shots two years ago.

That spring, Boras client Pedro Alvarez was the second pick in the draft. Under Boras' guidance, Alvarez did not sign a contract prior to the August 15th signing deadline. Not only did this lead to the MLBPA filing a grievance against the Pirates and Alvarez being temporarily placed on the restricted list, but it delayed the start of Alvarez' career and created bad blood between him and his ballclub before he even put on a uniform.

Last off season, he foolishly steered Jason Varitek away from accepting arbitration from the Red Sox, only to find that there wasn't much of a free agent market for the declining backstop. Varitek reupped with the Sox for $5M, while accepting arbitration would have guaranteed him a raise on the $9M he made in 2008. That deal did lead to Varitek having a $3M option for the upcoming season, but the $8M total over 2009-10 is less than what he would have earned in 2009 had he accepted arbitration.

This year, Boras gambled with Matt Holliday and was lucky enough to get the Cardinals to outbid themselves by several million dollars. As we all know by now though, Boras wasn't quite so lucky with Johnny Damon. Boras admittedly paid Damon no mind until the Holliday situation was resolved; completely overplayed his hand with the Yankees, Braves, and Giants; and is losing the public relations battle badly.

So here's a little unsolicited advice for Scott Boras. Take a good look at this picture:

Firstly Mr. Boras, if you don't remove your head from your ass in the immediate future, your client will be photographed golfing far more often since he'll no longer be playing baseball.

Secondly, take a good look at Johnny's swing. Perhaps you can market your client as a switch hitter, a dead low ball hitter from the right side, in a last ditch effort to squeeze a few extra million out of some poor, unsuspecting, mystery team.

(Photo from i-yankees)

The Latest On David Cone

Good morning, Fackers. One of the off the field storylines we've followed pretty closely this offseason has been David Cone's departure from YES. First it was rumored he was leaving the network after a dispute with management, then he actually did leave but said it was in order to spend more time with his family.

Yesterday, Joel Sherman offered up his understanding of the situation on his 3UP blog, and it runs contrary to what Richard Sandomir wrote in the Times when Cone's departure was official:
I continue to hear that Cone’s departure after one season in the booth for YES was hardly pleasant. He had a personality conflict with one executive in particular, feeling this executive was intrusive and disrespectful all year. However, there were two incidents, in particular, that made Cone flip out.

Early in the season, with the Yankees struggling, Cone remarked on the air that if the Yankees did not start performing better than they could fall out of the race. The YES executive told the broadcasters that this remark aggravated Hank Steinbrenner and needed to be avoided in the future (so much for a firewall between the team and what is said on the air). Cone felt this was a true statement – and rather innocuous – and should not have been discussed.
It it wasn't already blindingly apparent why Hal is running the team and not Hank, it should be now. Really, Hank? Trying to censor the broadcasters over something that trivial? Unacceptable. Go outside, smoke a couple Marlboro Reds in a row and try to regain your composure before we send you back to the fucking horse farm.
Late in the season, Cone remarked that one of the important, behind-the-scenes workers involved in daily coverage of the Yankees was a free agent at the end of the year. This made the top YES executive flip out because the plan was not to retain this particular employee. Cone was confronted by the YES executive and there was a heated exchange during which Cone explained that he had made a lot of money playing (nearly $67 million) and took the YES job as a way to get back into baseball, but that he would not take such verbal abuse from anyone because he did not need the job. At that point it became apparent that Cone would not be back in 2010.
Obviously, Cone has a point here. He's not in it for the money and this mystery executive should take that into account when interacting with him. You might be able to lean on John Flaherty or Bob Lorenz because they are thrilled to have their jobs and probably could use the money, but you can't strong arm a guy who is there purely by choice. Admittedly, Cone didn't have to react so obstinately, but I can't help but side with him in both scenarios.

Guess who loses in all of this? The fans, of course. Sherman believes that the end result of this will likely be Tino Martinez being in the booth for 40 games in 2010. If he's anything like he was in his on short stint on Baseball Tonight - awkward and rigid - then color me less than excited.

As for Cone, the Post also indicates that he could play a role in the upcoming CBA negotiations. He has a history of being very influential in his time in the Players Association and a deep knowledge of the issues that will be on the table.

So maybe this is a blessing in disguise. We won't get many FanGraphs references this coming year (unless someone teaches Michael Kay how to use a computer) but it might free up Cone to help out with the labor situation and affect some real positive change in the game.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Yankees Sign Randy Winn, Lose

According to Joel Sherman on Twitter, the Yankees have come to terms with Randy Winn for one year for just about the elusive $2M Brian Cashman was dangling in front perspective free agents.

Last year for the Giants, Winn was nothing short of dreadful at the plate, racking up a smooth .262/.318/.353. He's going to turn 36 this season so he's less likely than a younger player to rebound from such a poor effort.

Here is the first positive thing: he's a good defender. Winn put up some gaudy UZR totals in the corner outfield positions over the last few years so even if those are overstated, he's still likely to be quite a bit better than average.

Last year he was atrocious against left handed pitching. Like real atrocious. Which is fine because he's going to be platooning with Brett Gardner and facing primarily... wait. Fuck.

He could probably still play centerfield in a pinch, but so can Gardner and Jamie Hoffmann. What the Yankees needed was a bat and what they got a glove that's not any sort of an improvement over the two they already have.

Whatever, it's only $2M dollars - 1% of the payroll. But as Matt mentioned to me on GChat, with the power of hindsight, the Yankees could have had Jim Thome DH for $2.2M and then had enough to bring Johnny Damon back instead. Without having to go back in time, the Yanks could have just inked Reed Johnson who mashes lefties and is no defensive slouch himself. I don't really get it.

The best part about this? It will be at least a year until we have to read another article talking about Johnny Damon coming to the Yankees. That and the endless amount of puns we will be able to make using Winn's last name when he inevitably sucks.

Anyway, that just about rounds out the 2010 Yankees aside from the few bench spots that will be up for grabs in Spring Training. We'll probably have more on this tomorrow, but what do you Fackers think?

21 Days Until Spring Training: Paul O'Neill

According to George Steinbrenner, #21 is a Warrior. Given his respect for the immortal General Douglas MacArthur, I’m entirely sure that there can be no higher praise from the Boss.

O’Neill is my 2nd favorite Yankee ever after the chronically under appreciated Bernie Williams. His intensity for the game was unmatched matched. He truly cared about the team and his success. He was the antithesis of the increasingly common type of athlete who just wants to make sure his salary is being paid. His desire is best summed up by the number of water coolers that have slammed the concrete of the old Yankee Stadium dugout and the number of his bats that have been furiously tossed on the famed Kentucky Bluegrass of the diamond.

When Paul finished his Yankee career, which began in 1993, he hadn't complied the most impressive numbers. Prior to his tenure with the Yankees, O'Neill's numbers were even worse. He was sported a line of .259/.336/.431 in Cincinatti and only hit more than 20 homers once (in 1991) before was traded to the Reds for Roberto Kelly. Yankees fans were LIVID. Stick Michael, being the genius that he is, thought he could become something much better with the help of the short porch in Yankee Stadium. During the dynastic run of the late 90's, Paulie was the heart and soul of the team.

O'Neill had his share of postseason drama at Yankee Stadium, but none more poignant than the clinching Game 4 of the 1999 World Series against Atlanta. That morning, Charles "Chick" O'Neill, Paul's father, had died of lung and kidney failure at age 79. Paul had visited his father daily at Manhattan's Lenox Hill Hospital where the senior O'Neill had undergone heart surgery. Paul openly wept in the clubhouse before the game, but told Torre he felt he could play. Said first-base coach Jose Cardenal, "Paulie wanted to see if he could get through batting practice first. He thought being in the game would take his mind off things."

O'Neill also had what was perhaps the best plate appearance in Yankees history. In Game 1 of the 2000 World Series, down 2-1 in the top of the 9th against the Mets, O'Neill worked a 10 pitch one-out walk against Mets closer Armando Benitez. Subsequent singles by Luis Polonia and Jose Vizcaino loaded the bases before the Yankees tied the score on a sacrifice fly by Chuck Knoblauch. The Yanks won it in the 12th on a bases-loaded single by Vizcaino and went on to win the Fall Classic in 5 Games.

In 2001, his last year with the Yankees, at age 38, he became the oldest player ever to have a 20/20 season.

Since his retirement, his number 21 had not been worn by any Yankee player, leading to speculation that it will be officially retired. Yankees relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins briefly wore the number in the 2008 season but, on April 16, 2008, Hawkins switched to number 22 in response to the criticism and boos he received from many Yankee fans.

O'Neill was a Cincinnati native, but like fellow Ohio native Thurman Munson, embraced New York fully. "Playing in New York really worked out for me," O'Neill said. "It was the best time of my life."

Paulie has also provided great Seinfeld memories. In the episode entitled "The Wink," O'Neill is accosted by Cosmo Kramer in the Yankees' locker room and is told by Kramer that he must hit two home runs in the same game so that Kramer can retrieve a birthday card signed by all the Yankees from a little boy who wasn't supposed to get it in the first place. O'Neill angrily replies that this is very difficult and that he is not usually a home run hitter; he then asks Kramer, "How'd you get in here anyway?" In the ensuing game, O'Neill does hit two home runs, but one of them is an in-the-park home run and scored a triple due to the other team's error, so the little boy Kramer is trying to appease is not totally satisfied. Kramer manages to get the Yankee-signed birthday card back from the boy, but he has now promised the boy that O'Neill will catch a fly ball in his hat during the next game.

His playing career ended on a sour note when Luis Gonzalez's blooper fell onto the turf in Arizona but he received a poignant send off during his last game in the Bronx. In Game 5 of the 2001 World Series when the Yankees were losing to the Diamondbacks 2-0 in the top of the 9th Inning, Yankees fans, anticipating the fact that it would be O’Neill’s last game ever at The House That Ruth Built, cheered for him by chanting his name endlessly. Paulie responded with tears in his eyes and by tipping his hat.

O'Neill was one of the few Yankees that fans have embraced completely despite coming up with a different organization. Part of it was that he expressed the frustrations that fans sometimes feel by he slammed his bat or destroyed a water cooler. It has even more to do with the fact that Paulie came on-board in 1993 when the Yanks were still finding their way out of the dark period of the late 80's and stayed with them until they were on top of the baseball world.

21 Days Until Spring Training: Spud Chandler

(Relax, Joe is going to do one on good ol' Paulie O'Neill later)

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that if you're reading this blog, you probably weren't alive to see Spud Chandler pitch. His last appearance was on October 2nd, 1947, so you would have to be at least 69 to stake a reasonable claim to remembering him as a Yankee, even during his last season. Neither of my parents were alive at that point, but praise be to the bounty of these here interwebs, I can hop on Baseball-Reference and Wikipedia and write him a mini-biography like I'm his agent or something.

Chandler grew up in Jaw-juh, and was a three sport athlete at UGA, playing halfback for the football team, pitching for the baseball team and running track.

If I told you Mr. Chandler had a ten year career, you'd probably guess he started when he around 23-26 and retired at about 33-36. Oddly, he was born in 1907, but didn't make his debut until 1937, in his age 29 season after spending five years in the Yankee farm system. Lots of guys make their major league debuts at 29, not many of them have 10 year careers. He started only 12 games in '37, but threw six CGs, including two shutouts.

The following season, he threw 172 innings to a better than a league average ERA, but had a microscopic 36 strikeouts. At age 31, he was relegated to only 11 relief appearances and looked as if he was headed out of the league. In 1940, he was re-installed into the rotation and for the next three seasons complied successively more innings, more strikeouts and a lower ERA, setting the table for his 1943 season.

Granted WWII inflated the stats of the bona fide Major Leaguers that were still around, but Spud Chandler's 1943 season was still pretty damn incredible. The marginal pitcher I just described to you, at age 35, busted out with 253 innings of a 1.64ERA and a .992 WHIP, gave up only two home runs all season and went 20-4. He received 246 out of a possible 336 points in the MVP vote and pulled off the rare feat of winning the award as a pitcher. He pitched two complete games in that World Series, including a CG shutout in the clinching Game 5.

In 1944, after starting only one game, Spurgeon F. Chandler was enlisted in the Army. He returned towards the end of the 1945 season but appeared in only 4 games.

At age 38, Spud had another truly great year. He set a career high in IP (257.3), strikeouts (138), and shutouts (6) and had a 2.10 ERA with a 1.12WHIP. Spud made the All-Star team and even got a few points in the MVP voting again. Starting only 16 games in his final season (1947), he still pitched to an ERA a full run lower than league average (2.46).

Chandler was a part of three World Series winning Yankee teams (1941, 1943, 1947) and was named to four All-Star teams. He had one of the odder career trajectories and had one of the finer seasons ever as a Yankees pitcher. Yankee history is somewhat lacking in the pitching department but Spud is one of the more interesting characters of the bunch, even if he wasn't one of the greatest.

Yesterday In Yankeedom

Good morning Fackers. Well yesterday was a relatively busy day in Yankee-related news, and at this time of year that qualifies as a big news day. So let's get to it:
  • Ben Sheets signed with the Oakland A's yesterday. The Yankees were linked to Sheets early in the off season, but that went out the window with the Javier Vazquez trade. Of greater pertinence is that Johnny Damon was rumored to be the A's back up plan in the event they were unable to land Sheets. Setting aside the obvious question as to how signing an outfielder could be a viable back up plan for failing to land a starting pitcher, it would appear that Damon has one fewer potential suitor. Except maybe the A's are still interested. Or maybe they're not. I have no idea anymore. I wish Damon would just sign somewhere and/or Spring Training would start.
  • Xavier Nady signed with Cubs. Like Sheets, the Yankees were in on Nady earlier in the off season, before deeming his price to be too high. Interestingly enough, apparently the Yankees' price for Nady was higher than the Cubs price. Nady signed for $3.3M with $2M in incentives. According to Joel Sherman though, Boras' last proposal to the Yankees was for $5M. No word as to whether that was $5M guaranteed or total, but if it was the former it doesn't bode well for the increasingly icy relationship between Boras and Cashman.

    It'll be interesting to see how Nady fares returning from a second Tommy John surgery. By inking a deal with an NL club he has no DH safety net in the event his arm can't handle the rigors of playing the field. With Nady now off the market, there is one fewer suitor for the other right handed outfielders on the market, all of whom have some level of appeal to the Yankees.
  • The Yankees made a deal of their own yesterday, trading minor league infielder Mitch Hilligoss to the Rangers for recently DFA'd outfielder Greg Golson. Hilligoss posted good numbers in his first two pro seasons, but is coming off back-to-back abysmal seasons at high A Tampa.

    Golson was a first round pick of the Phillies in 2004 and was traded to the Rangers for John Mayberry Jr following the 2008 season. He's 0 for 7 with 5 Ks in 7 Major League games over the last two years and has a .263/.308/.395 batting line in 2780 minor league PA, with 140 SB in 178 attempts (78.7%). But, the Yankees are lacking outfield depth at the upper levels of the minor leagues. If nothing else, he gives Scranton a center fielder for next year, which is important because they'd give up a lot of triples without one.

    For what it's worth, Frankie Piliere, who we noted yesterday is a former Rangers scout, tweets that Golson is "an interesting tools guy" and calls it a good deal for the Yankees. There's already speculation that Golson might be 2010's Freddy Guzman. And that may be true, but does it warrant the 40 man roster that Golson now occupies?

The acquisition of Golson leaves the Yankees with 39 players on their 40 man. Still room for you Johnny...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Five Years After The Day That Never Happened

Today is the fifth anniversary of one of the most memorable days of my life. It happened in the middle of the night, in the cold, remote expanses of the North Pacific, over 650 miles from the nearest piece of dry land - and even that was nothing more than a rocky outcropping on the Aleutian Archipelago.

I was a part of the Semester at Sea Spring 2005 voyage. We had departed from Vancouver, bound for Pusan, Korea about a week before and were met by rough seas almost immediately after passing around Vancouver Island and into the Pacific Ocean. Our ship was a converted cruise liner - a 590 footer ranking among the fastest passenger vessels in the world. But you can only go so fast when attempting to navigate 20 foot swells.

Despite the size of the ship, she pitched and rolled enough to make about two-thirds of the 700 passengers on-board sea sick in one capacity or another. I was one of the lucky ones who wasn't really bothered by all the side-to-side motion, but no one was immune to the effects of the ocean entirely. Eating meant having to hold onto your plate and glass almost constantly, lest it slide off the table. Showering necessitated two hands on the wall for the majority of the time. Even walking down the hall was precarious dance, as you were spilled from one side to the other despite your best efforts to lean against the swell.

There were some rough nights. Up in the bow of the ship, in a large room where most of the students congregated for a Global Studies class each morning, there was a grand piano bolted to the floor. One morning we awoke to find that it had smashed under its own weight when the ship met a particularly large wave head-on.

But through it all, the morale on the ship remained high. There were about 600 college students from all over the country (and from various parts of the world) on-board, all with an incredible trip ahead of us. We were scheduled to sail to Japan after Korea and from there to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Vietnam, India, Kenya, South Africa, Brazil and Venezuela before returning back to the U.S. via Fort Lauderdale. Suffices to say that it didn't all go as planned.

Winter in the North Pacific is not a friendly season. Storm systems have the freedom to build and roam without the inconvenience of bumping into a land mass and sacrificing most of their energy. On that fateful night, we were caught between three of these systems in one of the most remote places on the planet.

We had just crossed the International Date Line, placing us roughly equidistantly from Hawaii, Japan and the Aleutian Islands. It would be difficult to find a location among the major shipping lanes of the world that was further from a major landmass.

I woke at about 12:30 AM in whatever time zone we were in when my bed came unhooked from the wall and began sliding back and forth across our cabin. Pretty much everything in our room was in motion, including the heavy, squat nightstand between the two beds. This piece of furniture, designed not to tip over had done just that, smashing alternatively into the door to our room and the wall that contained our porthole. After a week of vicious seas we were conditioned to take this type of inconvenience in stride, but both my roommate Jeff and I knew that this was beyond the pale. We had experienced 25 foot swells in short stints but these had to be at least 30 feet or more and didn't appear to be subsiding.

After an hour or so of sloshing back and forth, we heard the voice of our Captain come over the loud speaker and inform us that the ship was going to be making a turn in order to face the storm system we were encountering head on. What we didn't know at the time was that it didn't much matter which way he turned the ship.

A more couple hours - and countless shifts port and starboard - later there was another, very similar message. We were on the third deck, but every time the ship banked towards our side, our porthole would plunge beneath the waterline, creating an eerie swallowing sound. If anything, conditions were getting worse.

Finally, at about 4 in the morning, we heard the Dean of Students, Kenn Gaither come over the loudspeaker. In what can only be described as a desperately panicked voice, he said "EVERYONE. PLEASE REMAIN. CALM."


At this point, it still seemed like a trivial aggravation. What we couldn't have known was that he had been up in the bridge of the ship - where the Captain navigates from - when a rogue wave at least 50 feet high smashed two of the windows, shorting out all of their controls and disabling two of the vessel's three engines.

Blissfully unaware of what was going on and bleary-eyed from a lack of sleep, we piled into the corridors of the ship, orange life vests securely fastened. I hadn't processed the idea that we were in grave danger just yet. I think we all possess a natural human instinct that tells us everything is going to turn out fine when we are thrust into an emergency. But I looked down the hallway and saw girls crying and guys with bleak expressions on their faces.

We stayed in the hallway waiting for the Dean to tell us we could go back into our cabins, restlessly shifting and slipping from wall to wall, listening to the sounds of various items crashing about our berths. Only, that's not what happened next.

Around six in the morning, we were told to proceed to the fifth deck - the one that contained the life boat stations. As Gaither gave the instructions, he assigned separate locations for the males and females. Kind of like they did on the Titanic.

The gravity of the situation didn't really hit me until I reached the fifth deck and saw a Filipino crew member crying hysterically. This guy, even if he hadn't been on this particular ship for long, had experience on the open seas and was surrounded by others who had even more. If he thought this was bad, then apparently, it was.

The entirety of a seven-level ship's passengers aren't meant to fit into one of those levels. As such, we were packed in throughout, all sitting on the floor since anything that could pass for a seat would quickly tip over should you be foolish enough to try to sit on it. I ended up on a swath of tile adjacent to one of the boat's cafeterias. There were probably 50-75 other people in the same general area, all helplessly sliding from one wall to another each time the ship pitched. There was a steel door to a kitchen right behind me and with every roll from side-to-side, what sounded like the majority of the cookware inside came skidding across the tile floor and slammed into that door in a deafening cacophony of crashes and clangs.

What I can't sufficiently convey in this post was the relentless, terrifying and inescapable pitch of the ship. The picture on top of this post was taken on that day and isn't doctored. We all have experienced the G-force sensation of getting pushed to one side far enough where you feel like you are going to fall over, but this happened every 15 or 20 seconds for 10 or 12 hours straight. After a while I lost the nagging fear that this next wave was the one that was going to turn the M.V. Explorer upside down in 45 degree waters well beyond the reach of even the most perfectly executed rescue plan. But I never fully dismissed it as a possibility.

Out there, 12 hours away from the nearest cargo vessel, 10,000 feet from the bottom of the ocean and 650 miles from land, most of the people on that boat found a way to ignore that fact that we were staring down an inevitable demise should we capsize. For whatever reason, I thought that if the worst case scenario of the ship sinking unfolded, I'd survive somehow. I'd just swim out, break a window if I had to, kick to the surface, cling to some debris and wait to be rescued. Of course, there was no way anyone could have made it out of the ship and even if they did, they would have been stranded in frigid water in massive swells hours away from anyone who could have possibly been of assistance.

I know this sounds pretty far-fetched. But it actually happened. Look:

You don't have to watch that whole episode of Storm Stories to know how this tale ends. Instead of one of the most catastrophic losses of life in modern maritime history, we made it out relatively unscathed. An elderly woman broke her hip and a crew member fractured his arm, but no one was seriously hurt. The ship was forced to limp back to Hawaii, but for a while it looked like we might have to stop at Midway Island to refuel first.

It was "the day that never happened" partially because it still seems surreal but mostly due to the fact that we reversed course and again crossed the International Date Line, isolating that chaotic 12 hour stretch into a sort of bubble of time unto its own.

We missed out on visiting Korea and Japan but in exchange, we stayed in Hawaii for 10 days and Semester at Sea arranged for us to fly chartered jets from Honolulu to Shanghai to Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City before rendezvousing with the M.V. Explorer on the Me Kong River and resuming the rest of the trip as planned.

Before they leave this earth, most people will encounter a true life or death situation in which they come to terms with the fact that this might actually be it. But most of those predicaments end as quickly as then begin instead of being protracted out over half of a day. It was as if we were all involved in an extended hostage situation with Poseidon as our captor and no one with a means of advocating for our release.

It wasn't until we were docked in Hawaii (or maybe it was on a subway in Hong Kong) that I allowed myself to process how close we all came to dying that day. Although I understand it now, I still think back to my friend Dave sarcastically reading out of a Tony Robbins book to make people laugh when we were sliding across the floor. I still vividly remember the crew emerging from the kitchen amidst the sliding plates and utensils with metal bins of french toast to feed the passengers when the swells were at their largest (how they prepared a meal under those conditions I will never know). And the fact that we reconvened our shipboard poker game as soon as the worst had passed, but had to keep our chips in paper cups since they wouldn't have stayed on the table.

I don't think about the events of that day nearly as much as I used to, but every time the anniversary rolls around and I talk to other people that were on the ship, the memories are as real and as vivid as anything else I have experienced in my time on Earth. Unfortunately, the most traumatic events of our lives leave the most indelible marks.

Truthfully, it was during those 100 days of Semester at Sea that I realized that I was halfway decent at writing. I sent periodic letters to my close friends and family but soon started getting email replies from people other than the original recipients telling me how much they've been enjoying my dispatches from halfway around the world. I quickly realized that, if the topic was right, I might be able to write something people enjoyed reading.

That one specific harrowing experience and the balance of the 100 days of that trip altered my life in ways that are still taking shape. I know that I've cheated death and enjoy a disbelieving sort of laugh every time I think about it. I feel like I have a deeper understanding of the world than most people who haven't visited 9 countries in 100 days.

Our Global Studies professor, Robert Fessler gave a speech at the end of the trip that won't go down as one of the great ones of all time. However it's one of the best I've ever heard because it struck the perfect notes while explaining why traveling is enriching on a personal level. He talked about how shared experiences bond people and how being removed from your element forces you to think differently. And thinking differently is what makes life interesting. He made the same "fishbowl" analogy that David Foster Wallace did when he made the his only graduation address at Kenyon College later that year.

From a transcript of Fessler's speech:
"Shangai isn't just a word anymore, it's a place. Cape Town. It all comes back. How could you have possibly imagined back in December that you would spend the rest of your life getting chills whenever you thought of the words "put on your life jackets and get into the hall right now!", with the steady haunting moan of a fog horn in the background. Who else will ever understand that? To you, the world is never going to be the same again."