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.