8 Myths Mets Fans Believe About Yoenis Cespedes

1. “Cespedes carried us to the playoffs” While Cespedes certainly had a historic month of August, we must remember that the Mets were only 2 games back before his debut on August 1st. His arrival also coincided with the arrivals of Michael Conforto, Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, Tyler Clippard, and the return of Travis d’Arnaud. Shortly after, the Mets added Addison Reed, David Wright, and Steven Matz back into the mix. Cespedes certainly had a huge role in the Mets passing Washington in the standings. But so did the starting pitching, Granderson, Murphy, and the new arrivals. Not to be overlooked was the ineptitude of Washington, who would finish with only 83 wins. To say that the Mets would’ve have missed the playoffs without Cespedes is just not accurate.

2. “Cespedes is a center fielder.” Other than for a handful of games in Oakland, never had any of his former teams believed this. Cespedes is a gifted left fielder who loves to showcase his arm. The Mets tried to hide him in centerfield because they saw it as an opportunity to utilize Michael Conforto’s bat instead of forgotten man Juan Lagares. This experiment backfired as Cespedes directly impacted two losses. Famously, on the first pitch of the World Series, Cespedes seemingly never saw Alcides Escobar’s fly ball until he made an ill-advised backhand attempt followed by kicking the ball into left field. This was inexplicably ruled an inside the park home run, igniting the Royals bench, Joe Buck, and the Kaufman Stadium crowd. Less documented was the play Cespedes didn’t make in the 5th inning of Game 4. Down 2 games to 1 at home, the Mets led the game 2-0 in the top of the 5th. Steven Matz induced a fly ball to left center from Salvator Perez which Cespedes got a bad read on, and rather than diving, attempted to make a shoestring catch on. Cespedes kicked the ball into LF for the second time in the series, and for the second time, it was inexplicably ruled an extra base hit. Commentator Harold Reynolds during the replay: “You’re not gonna see Cespeses lay out like a lot of other people.” Alex Gordon promptly singled in the first Royals run, in a game which Kansas City would win 5-3, with the game ending with Yoenis (the potential winning run) getting doubled off of first base on a line out.

3. His production is irreplaceable. While there is certainly no one else on the Mets roster that will likely match the numbers Cespedes can provide, it must be noted that the 2016 Mets (as currently composed) are not the same lineup that struggled in early 2015. Travis d’Arnaud drove in 41 runs in 67 games. The Mets were a different team with TdA in the lineup. Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera are both productive hitters who should contribute to a more balanced attack. It’s unrealistic to expect much out of David Wright in 2016, but both Lucas Duda and Juan Lagares are due to rebound, and a full season for Michael Conforto is a very promising concept.

4. Cespedes is the righty we need to balance out the lineup. While the big power threats (Duda, Granderson, Conforto) are lefty, Cespedes doesn’t hit left handed pitching. It’s very peculiar that a right handed hitter with his power isn’t a .340 hitter versus LHP. For his career, Cespedes is a .252 hitter versus LHP.

5. His yellow compression sleeve is cool and unique. To 95% of fans, this is a non-issue. To this purist, it’s both an issue and an eyesore. Firstly, it’s a rules violation: MLB 3.03(b) states that all undershirts must be of a team color. If Bobby Cox were still managing, you know he’d be complaining to the ump about the canary colored compression sleeve that Cespedes wears. Secondly, it was rather unlucky in the postseason. With the sleeve on, the Mets played .250 ball (1-3), and .700 ball (7-3) without the sleeve. This is not to suggest that the sleeve had any bearing on the outcomes of games, but knowing the level of ballplayers’ superstitions, it’s a surprise he kept going to it. The actual significance of the yellow-green compression sleeve is symbolic. The Mets colors are orange and blue. Everyone on the team wears those colors. There is no reason Cespedes can’t have a sleeve made in orange (if there is any function to it in the first place). He wears the yellow sleeve for one reason: to stand out from his teammates. The best comment I’ve read thus far regarding Cespedes was “He plays for the name on the back of the jersey, not the team name on the front of the jersey.”

6. His struggles in the postseason were no big deal because he was hurt by a HBP. Cespedes did get hit in the left hand on 9/30 versus Philadelphia. But he looked pretty healthy when he homered in game 2 and game 3 of the NLDS. Cespedes did leave NLCS game 4 with a left shoulder injury. Funny thing is, there was no clear play where Cespedes injured his shoulder. Terry Collins commented that Yoenis was unable to lift the shoulder, and was scheduled for a cortisone shot. Many believe that Cespedes may have injured his shoulder while golfing during the postseason, which if he were to sign a multi-year mega deal, should be prohibited. There’s no way to tell the impact of the phantom shoulder injury, but his offensive shortcomings in the playoffs also had something to do with him being fed a steady diet of fastballs at his eyes and sliders low and away.

7. Cespedes is a complete hitter. When Cespedes came to the Mets, the initial comparison was to the Dodgers 2008 acquisition of Manny Ramirez. As the summer went on, with Cespedes now playing centerfield, even some Willie Mays comparisons were made. I never saw Mays play, but as I watched Cespedes display his 5 tool potential only to struggle in the postseason, a player came to mind: Alfonso Soriano. So I did what any baseball nerd would do: I compared the stats of both players through their first 4 seasons. There were obvious differences: Soriano began his career as an infielder, and was much more of a base stealer, but the stats are eerily similar. Through 4 full seasons, Soriano had a .311 OBP with 357 RBI, 533 K’s, and a HR every 20.8 ABs. Through his first 4 seasons, Cespedes has a .319 OBP, 367 RBI, 508 K’s, and a HR every 21.2 ABs. Cespedes had a postseason similar to Soriano’s 2003 struggle. The similarities are relevant: against second-tier competition, the swing-for-the-fences-on-every-pitch approach can be successful. Cespedes absolutely dominated in August when the Mets were playing the Marlins, Rockies, and Phillies. But in the postseason against teams that had been scouting him weeks in advance, Cespedes was unable to lay off bad pitches. Even more so than his futility against LHP, the fact that Cespedes owns a .319 lifetime on base percentage is a red flag. In today’s game, there’s no question that walks are over valued. No runner on second base has ever been driven in by a two out walk. That said, to have the kind of power that Yoenis Cespedes possesses and not accidentally get 50 walks a season speaks to the fact that he is not a disciplined hitter by any means. There were many ABs in the 2015 postseason where a base hit was all Cespedes needed; but instead struck out swinging as hard as he could at bad pitches.

8. Signing Cespedes sets us up to be contenders for the future. Herein lies perhaps the biggest concern with a possible long-term contract to Yoenis Cespedes. Suppose he were to sign a 5-year deal. Already 30 years old, the last 2 or 3 years of that deal would be a player on the wrong side of his prime. At the same time, healthy raises will be due to Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Michael Conforto, and all the other young players currently playing for pennies. With David Wright already owed $97M over the next 5 seasons, is it really wise to sign another $20M+ player on the wrong side of his prime? Unless the Wilpons are selling the team, the answer is a resounding ‘NO!’


Bartolo’s Hitting Cause For Laughs And Cheers.

With the hundreds of millions of dollars at stake with professional sports salaries, advertising sponsorship deals, and TV contracts, sometimes we need a reminder that we are watching people play a game. This is not war, medical science, or space exploration. There is nothing that provides us that reminder more than some unforeseen comic relief. This is often caused by an athlete doing something we are not accustomed to seeing them do. Perhaps the goon in hockey scores a natural hat trick. Maybe a punt return touchdown is cut short by a tremendous tackle by the punter himself. Maybe 7’7 center Manute Bol decides to start draining three-pointers. Or maybe a 42-year old pitcher who did not wield a bat for most of his career helps his own cause with a surprise RBI double.
Such was the case in today’s Mets game for Bartolo Colón, who backed up 7 strong innings with an RBI double en route to his NL-leading 8th victory. Mets fans are used to seeing Colón sink and cut fastballs in the upper 80s while rarely walking anyone. It’s been a good formula for the hefty veteran, now 23-16 in a season plus pitching in Flushing.
In 2014, Big Bart’s at-bats became a source of attention because he would lose his batting helmet at least once a game, and if he did make contact, he often forgot to drop his bat as he ran up the first base line. He would finish the season 2-for-62 (.032 BA) with 32 strikeouts. The offensive highlight of Colón’s 2014 was his first career extra-base hit, a double versus the Cardinals that also delivered his first RBI since the 2005 season.
But in 2015, Colón already has surpassed his offensive output of last season. While no one will confuse him with rotation mates Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, both very talented hitting pitchers, Colón’s at bats continue to be must-see TV. There is still the chance that the batting helmet will fall off, or that he will corkscrew himself into the ground swinging at an outside curveball. But there is also that 1 in 13 chance that he will hit the ball somewhere and end up on base.
That’s where the real fun begins, and if you’ve never watched a 283* pound man (his listed weight) aged 42 run the bases, you’re missing out. In Colón’s previous start at home, he had to tag up from second to third on a ball hit deep to the outfield. The home crowd erupted with applause when the big fella chugged in to third, as they did again today with his RBI double. SNY color commentator Ron Darling contemplated if Bartolo didn’t go for the triple (he could’ve easily made it standing up) because he didn’t want to have to beat a throw home from third base in the event of a sacrifice fly. Announcer Gary Cohen added that if Colón had gone for the inside the park home run, he could be relaxing in the dugout instead of standing on second base. “We haven’t seen his top speed yet”, Cohen joked. Injured Mets reliever Jerry Blevins tweeted that Bartolo Colón is his favorite player in baseball.
Bartolo Colón is not Babe Ruth. He’s not Don Drysdale, Rick Rhoden, or Carlos Zambrano with the bat, nor will he ever be. But that’s just the point: for every decent hitting pitcher, there are 3 that can’t hit a lick. Those are the pitchers who opponents will walk the 8-hitter to go after with two outs. Those are the pitchers who mound opponents count on as automatic outs in the lineup. When those pitchers throw a wrench in the plan by getting a surprise hit, it’s not only a shot in the arm for his team, but it often adds an amusing element to the game that is absent with the designated hitter. It’s like in little league when the indifferent kid who’s only playing because his Dad forces him to smacks a line drive over the outfielder’s head. His teammates are surprised, the opponents are surprised, he may even be surprised himself and wait a second in stunned disbelief before running out of the batter’s box. Proponents of the DH often ask me, “Why would anyone want to watch an .080 hitter?” They are of course clearly missing the point on the beauty of the 9-on-9 model of baseball. But hold on…what is more satisfying than watching a guy with seemingly no chance of success actually succeed? I was hysterically laughing at my TV watching Colòn’s double. The fans in the ballpark were entertained. The players in the Mets dugout were going crazy. The announcers were having a field day charting the ball’s exit velocity. There isn’t enough comic relief in professional sports. As much as rookie Noah Syndergaard hitting a 430-foot bomb illustrates the beauty of the National League game, in an entirely different way so does big Bartolo surprising everyone with a double.


The Case For Ruben Tejada

With another lifeless defeat last night, the New York Mets extended their losing streak to 5. Prior to the game, Dilson Herrera fractured his finger, further depleting the Mets infield. Terry Collins chose to start Ruben Tejada at second base and keep the struggling Wilmer Flores at shortstop. Tejada has been playing more frequently getting spot starts at 3B and 2B and impressing with the glove at both positions. Tejada also has 5 starts at shortstop in 2014, with opponents averaging 2.6 runs per game in that small sample.

But having lost 4 straight coming into Friday, one must question why the inferior defender of the two continues to play the more demanding position. Apparently building Wilmer Flores’ confidence is more important than putting the best defensive configuration on the infield. With his throwing error Friday, Wilmer Flores has 9 errors in 30 games played, which puts him on pace for 45 errors for the season. It’s tough to imagine making the postseason by relying on your pitching staff with such a glaring defensive weakness at an important position.

It is clear why Wilmer Flores is in the lineup: he has 5 home runs for a team that is struggling to score runs in the absence of Wright and d’Arnaud. Until David Wright returns, it would make the most sense to play Flores at third base, and return Tejada to short and Murphy to second. Flores played respectably in 25 games at the hot corner last season. Keeping Murphy at third and moving Flores to second is also a viable option. In the short term, with the Nationals nipping at their heels, the Mets must restore order by moving Flores (.960 career fielding percentage at SS) out of the shortstop position in favor of Ruben Tejada (.974 career fielding percentage at SS). Naming Tejada the starting shortstop will stop the bleeding and allow the Mets pitchers to continue to attack the strike zone and trust their defense. Look no further than Jon Niese, who has been victimized by 4 Flores throwing errors in his 3 losses. The Mets as a team are 2-6 when Wilmer Flores makes at least one error. It has been puzzling that Tejada doesn’t start whenever the left handed Niese is on the mound and any time sinker-throwing closer Jeurys Familia is protecting a lead with the game on the line. Again, there’s a difference between confidence building and smart managing. There’s also the possibility that taking the pressure off Flores to be a shortstop would allow him to relax and focus on his offense. Despite the 5 home runs, Wilmer is batting .240 with a .288 OBP. He would be best suited to be a backup infielder to spell Murphy and Wright at second and third. All signs point to Daniel Murphy leaving for free agency in 2016, so Flores could still be part of the plan for the long term future. He’s just not a major league shortstop, defensively speaking.

When David Wright returns to the lineup, Ruben Tejada should remain the shortstop. While Ruben certainly doesn’t match Flores in the power department, his .327 career OBP is superior to Wilmer’s .278. Tejada profiles well as a National League 8-hitter due to his selectivity at the plate. Tejada’s .342 OBP in 2014 was higher than Jose Reyes, Starlin Castro, Jimmy Rollins, Derek Jeter, and Ian Desmond. His lack of speed doesn’t make him an ideal leadoff hitter, but he even has experience there if Terry was inclined to move Curtis Granderson towards the middle of the order. While Tejada will likely never be a star player offensively, he is hardly an automatic out. Mets fans for get that the veteran Tejada is only 25 years old. Ruben had the unfortunate job of replacing a fan favorite in Jose Reyes. Ruben will never be the exciting offensive player that Reyes was for many years in Flushing. That said, his career OPS is .643 compared to Wilmer Flores’ .649. Can that tiny difference justify subjecting the pitching staff to a shortstop who will make close to 50 errors? Trading for a shortstop such as Jean Segura or Xander Bogaerts would certainly be a wise move. But with the 25 men currently on the New York Mets roster, there is no question that the starting shortstop should be the veteran Tejada over the defensively challenged Flores.

It’s Time To Revise The HOF Voting Process

This afternoon, Major League Baseball announced their Hall Of Fame inductees for the 2015 class. Three legendary pitchers were voted in on their first year of eligibility: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz. All three were no-brainers. The only position player voted in was Craig Biggio, also a worthy candidate in his third year of eligibility. I was recall being rather surprised when the former Kings Park High School and Seton Hall product didn’t get voted in on his first ballot. He owns the 3,000 hits which have long been regarded a punched ticket to Cooperstown. Having watched the National League for the entirety of Biggio’s career, I can attest that he was more than just a compiler. Biggio was a spark plug, a team-first guy, and a pest to the opposing team. I thought it was rather unfair when Biggio wasn’t inducted with the 2013 or 2014 classes.
Alongside Biggio for those back-to-back snubbings was the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, Mike Piazza. Unlike Biggio, Piazza was denied a place in Cooperstown for a third straight time today, receiving 69.9% of the 75% vote required to be inducted. Many believe that with his vote total having risen slightly, Piazza projects to make it in 2016, where the only newly eligible no-brainer will be Ken Griffey, Jr.
Mike Piazza’s numbers stand for themselves. There is no reason to state Mike Piazza’s case for the Hall Of Fame by referring to his batting average, All-Star selections, dramatic home runs, or records. Mike is being denied (or at the very least delayed) induction into Cooperstown because he played in what is now being known as “The Steroid Era”. Guilt by association, suspicion, innuendos and hearsay. Other than the presence of back acne (which this writer used to have plenty of as a 135-pound 14 year old…anything but steroid related), there is zero empirical evidence suggesting Mike Piazza took steroids. But enough about Mike…let’s take a look at the big picture.
A former battery mate of Piazza in their days with the early 1990s Dodgers, Pedro Martinez would go on to become one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball history. Pedro’s 1999 season pitching in Fenway Park in the American League East at the height of the steroid era is arguably the best season ever achieved by a starting pitcher. Pedro’s ERA was nearly 3 runs lower than the American League average. Allow that to sink in for a moment: 3 full runs better than the league, while pitching in a stadium with a 310 foot wall in an era where every other hitter looked like a body builder with a bat. The prime of Pedro’s career rivaled Sandy Koufax and fellow inductee Randy Johnson as one of the most dominant 5-season spans in the history of the game. Pedro is without question one of the top 5 pitchers in the last 50 years. Now chew on this for a moment: Pedro Martinez received 91.1% of the votes. That means roughly 1 in 11 voters DIDN’T vote for Pedro Martinez. If Pedro Martinez isn’t worthy of the Hall Of Fame, I’m wondering who is? Of course, I’m sure a fraction of those 50 or so of the writers who didn’t vote for Pedro are the guys that actually admit that they don’t vote for ANYONE in their first year on the ballot. This maddening fact is one of many reasons why the BBWAA needs to be removed (if not entirely, then greatly limited) from their privilege of deciding whether or not these men achieve baseball immortality.
Some of the justifications that writers have given over the years are reason enough to revoke their role in the election process. Things like (paraphrasing) “If Babe Ruth didn’t get 100%, no one should, so I didn’t vote for (insert newly eligible baseball legend)”. Or “Yeah he’s a Hall Of Famer, just not a first ballot Hall Of Famer”. There is not a single player who has added to his career résumé seven, eight, twelve years after he retired. Craig Biggio didn’t steal a single base between 2014 and 2015, but a handful of writers who didn’t vote for him last year voted for him this year. The amount of other inductees should not play into the voting. You hear things like “Maybe Jack Morris or Blyleven will get in this year because there’s no big names on the ballot.” As if the induction would be less special if it was shared with half a dozen others. Understandably, it’s a big event for the museum and the town. But the vote should involve comparing the player’s body of work to his peers, not basing the potential induction on whom else may go in that year. I wonder if the writers say, “Well Tim Raines probably should be in. But Pedro, Biggio, Smoltz, Big Unit…eh, there’s not really room at the dais. Maybe another year when we have no one else to vote in.” At this rate, players may start to consider retiring one game into a season if it places them on a weaker ballot 5 years down the road. Strategy to combat the stupidity of the BBWAA…it just might work.
So how can we fix this broken system of voting for the Hall Of Fame? I don’t think that the BBWAA should be outright stripped of their votes, though some of the writers really disgrace the privilege. The BBWAA should have 1/3 of the vote. The other two thirds should go to the living members of the Hall Of Fame (which would all but assure that even if reinstated, Pete Rose would never get elected), and a unique third voting party: former managers. In order to be eligible to vote for a player, a manager (active or retired) must have managed in the same league for at least 5 years of that player’s career. So for example, the managers that would be voting on Craig Biggio would not be the same ones voting on Pedro Martinez. What better party to have a say than the guys who were given ulcers by having to scheme to beat these players? And unlike many sportswriters, they’ve actually PLAYED PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL. I understand that the HOF should be exclusive and difficult to get into…but when you hear things suggesting that Bill Madden of the New York Daily News waited until Jim Rice’s final year of eligibility to vote for him based on their poor relationship, it doesn’t exactly instill confidence in the competence of those 548 voters. So keep the 75% number for the writers. Use 75% for the vote by living members of the Hall Of Fame (allowing them to abstain without counting it as a “nay”, as perhaps some of the much older guys might not watch the game. Though my guess is that they would all take the honor very seriously based on the comments I’ve heard from Tom Seaver, Hank Aaron, and Ralph Kiner.) Use the 75% number for living managers who managed in the same league for at least 5 years as the player. Again, that group of voters would have plenty of overlap (Tony LaRussa for example has probably managed 5 seasons against every eligible HOF candidate), but be slightly different for each player. If the player achieved 75% or greater for 2 of the 3 voting groups, he is a Hall Of Famer. This wouldn’t necessarily make it any more or less difficult to get into the Hall Of Fame, but it would certainly place the voting into some more qualified hands. It would also be an interesting way to combat the cases of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and (eventually) Alex Rodriquez. It certainly would provide for some interesting quotes. “Hey, Frank Robinson, are you voting for Mark McGwire this year?” “So Hank Aaron, you voting for Bonds or what?” “Hey, Bobby Cox, are you voting for Trevor Hoffman?” It certainly couldn’t be worse than the current system.




When the Mets won the 1986 World Series, I was 6 years old. I hadn’t yet started my first season of tee ball. I knew names like Mookie, Strawberry, Kid, and Doctor K, but I didn’t love baseball yet. I didn’t understand that the World Series was multiple games, and that the Mets wouldn’t be winning (or even appearing in) them regularly throughout the rest of my childhood and beyond. Perhaps if my father realized this, he would’ve kept me up past my bedtime and I would have some memory of that epic Fall Classic. Instead, my memory is that the Mets balloon we put on our mailbox blew away. I remember my dad telling me not to worry, the balloon was drifting northeast towards Boston. The majority of what I know about the 1986 postseason was absorbed when my brother and I watched “A Year To Remember” on VHS hundreds, nay thousands, of times. Though I was born a Mets fan, it was in the 1987 season that became a huge baseball fan. I’ve been disappointed each year since. Sure I enjoyed about 5 years of competitive pennant chase years while the Mets star players either aged or ruined their futures with cocaine addiction. Then came the mid 1990s and with it, “The Worst Team Money Could Buy”, and plenty of mediocrity leading up to the Bobby V years. It is these years that I would like to revisit for a moment the only time this franchise made back to back postseason appearances. Because let’s face it: to Mets fans of my approximate age (the bittersweet 2006 campaign not withstanding), the 1999 and 2000 teams are the closest thing to the proverbial “glory days” that we get.
My intention is not to take anything away from the 2000 Mets. Their season ended in disappointment just as the 1999 team’s did. I remember thinking, “what could be worse than walking in the pennant to lose the NLCS to your hated rival?” Then we found out the next year what could be worse than that. Let’s compare and contrast these two teams. Now 15 years later, I think many fans forget how this was not the same exact team two years in a row. Sure, there were plenty of returning stars: Piazza, Alfonzo, Leiter, Ventura, Benitez. Did I really just refer to Armando Benitez as a star? Statistically speaking, he was. But ask any Mets fan who lived through those years and they’ll tell you that the bigger the save opportunity, the more likely that Benitez would come up short. Perhaps in another universe, John Franco would’ve remained the closer. And while he didn’t have Benitez’s stuff, Johnny had one thing that the big guy was very short on: guts. Benitez would be the downfall of both the 1999 and 2000 teams and the 2001 team as well. But for a team that played in back to back NLCS, only 13 Mets appeared in both series. Essentially half the team turned over. But if we take a look back, we can see that despite not advancing as far into October, the ’99 squad provided more thrills than the 2000 team. And I will make my case that the 1999 team was a far better team overall, with the 2000 team being the beneficiary of the St. Louis Cardinals taking the Atlanta Braves out of the equation. Both teams won 102 games including postseason. The 1999 team was 102-70, while the 2000 squad went 102-74. Let’s take a look at that squad. We saw Agbayani as a starter for the first time, Derek Bell blowing out his leg in the playoff opener and being replaced by young Timoniel Perez. Jay Payton, injured in 1999, was looking like a budding star.

20 Years Ago This Weekend

The 1993 baseball season was unique for many different reasons. It was the final season before the 1994 players strike. It was also the last season of two divisional play, which saw the San Francisco Giants win 103 games and miss the postseason. But as a Mets fan, it was a season of monumental failure. The highlights of that year were Vince Coleman throwing firecrackers at a little girl, Bret Saberhagen spraying bleach at reporters, and Anthony Young’s record breaking 27 consecutive losses. I don’t remember how many Mets games my father brought us to that season (we would usually go to around 6 per year). But I do recall that by Labor Day weekend, we were beyond disgusted with the way our beloved Amazins were playing.
It was still to our surprise when my father told us that he would be taking us to the Yankee game for a Saturday matinee. “Why?” one of us asked. Though we were both huge baseball fans and loved going to games, we grew up in the 1980s, when New York was a Mets town. The Yankees may have played in the same town, but that was the American League. My extent of knowledge of the AL were the baseball cards I collected and verbal accounts of who the good players were based on my neighbor Billy, a Yankee fan. This was before the internet, MLB Network, fantasy baseball (the way we know it today anyway), interleague play, and before my love for baseball reached the insane levels it climbed to when I hit my 20s.
Today, you wouldn’t have to twist my arm at all to go to any game, especially in a stadium I haven’t been to yet. But as a 13 year old with 8th grade a few days away, I wasn’t entirely sure that this was how I wanted to spend my last Saturday of the summer. Something about going to the Bronx just felt so foreign, so wrong, so gross.
But, when you are a kid, you do what Dad says (for the most part anyway). So we made the unfamiliar drive to the Bronx, parked in an unfamiliar parking garage, and walked up to that unfamiliar monolith in what I was already sure was the most dangerous neighborhood on Earth. (Sidebar: While NYC in 1993 may have had a slightly higher crime rate than it currently does, my assumptions were based on what I had heard. At current, there are probably few safer places in the 5 boros than the area surrounding The House That George Built.). I didn’t know much about what to expect about our trip to Yankee Stadium that overcast Saturday afternoon. But one thing was for certain: WE WERE ROOTING FOR CLEVELAND.
Somewhere around this time, my father decided to tell us that the last time he was in the post-renovation Yankee Stadium was 16 years prior. That meant very little to Mark and I, but my dad explained that it was for a rather historic October ballgame in 1977. My dad grew up a NY Giants fan and had the misfortune of seeing the Yankees win the pennant or World Series 14 of his first 16 years on the planet. So it was odd to me that he would’ve attended a game between the Yankees and Dodgers, the two franchises he grew up despising. But he fessed up that he and a friend had big money bet on that Bronx Zoo squad, and therefore heard cash register “ca-ching” noises in his head with each blast off of Reggie’s bat. We had heard of that game, but as a 13 year old my understanding for the history of baseball was not nearly what it would be later in life. I knew enough to know that being at a World Series game must’ve been pretty fun, especially if he was winning hundreds of dollars in the process.
But back to the present (well, past). Neither the 1993 Yankees or the 1993 Cleveland Indians would be of any historical significance. Though the Indians had some up and coming star players: a third baseman by the name of Jim Thome, catcher Sandy Alomar, Jr., second baseman Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton, and a wiry Washington Heights product named Manny Ramirez. The 1993 Yankees were typical of their early 90s template: stars imported from other teams such as Boggs, Nokes, and Tartabull. There was Paul O’Niell and young Bernie Williams, who would contribute a few years later to their championship years. There was Don Mattingly, a shell of his former self due to back injuries. By all accounts this was about as meaningless game as you could attend.
The one unique thing about the game was that the starting pitcher had one hand. Now this was a story in the late 80s, when Jim Abbott was a newcomer with the then California Angels. But by now everyone knew that Jim Abbott was born without a right hand, and how he transferred his glove for fielding, and so on. Now he was nothing more than a middle of the rotation starter. Abbott had faced these same Indians in his previous start and got battered around. So we sat in our seats and waited for the Yankees to hopefully lose.
In the 3rd inning, the Yankees grabbed a 3-0 lead. My brother and I were at this point probably more concerned with getting Dad to buy more food than we were about anything happening on the field. And then around the 5th, a distinct buzz began amongst the fans. My dad, aware of the superstition, gestured to the scoreboard to make us aware that there were no hits allowed by Abbott through 5 innings. All of a sudden, this game that meant nothing took on monumental interest. People were standing up for each out. You couldn’t wait for the Yankees (who added a run in the bottom of the 5th) to make outs so we could see Abbott go back out to the mound. All of a sudden, you were nervous for the pitcher. Any foul ball or hard hit ball to the outfield made you lose your breath for a second. I don’t remember what inning it was, but the one play that stands out in my mind was Wade Boggs making a diving grab to keep the no-hitter in tact. Everyone was standing for the final two innings. Imagine how unlikely this could be to witness. A man born with one hand standing on the mound in The House That Ruth Built, 27,225 people cheering in unison, hoping to will him to the final out. And as Carlos Baerga grounded out to shortstop, sealing the deal for Abbott, we exploded in jubilation, the pinnacle of individual accomplishment in a team sport. We high-fived everyone around us, fans of the enemy team, because we were all elated that we had chosen this day to attend what should’ve been a meaningless ballgame in the Bronx.
As we drove home, we were all too happy to be able to rub it in to the Yankee fans we knew, that “we were there”. And even though we still despised the New York Yankees and everything they stood for, we were so happy to have gone to the old ballpark in the Bronx that cloudy Saturday afternoon in September. I’ll spare us all about some cliché about following your dreams, never giving up, or anything like that. I will say that despite all my hatred for the Yankees, there certainly was something to be said about the “mystique and aura” about that old building. I think the more important thing I take from that day isn’t about the ghosts of Ruth and Gehrig. Its not about overcoming adversity. It’s another cliché, the kind that I can actually stomach. It’s the old baseball cliché, “Come out to the ballpark. You never know what you’re gonna see”.


One of the many lost nuances….

As I have been having this argument with advocates of the DH for over a decade, one constant is that having the pitchers bat impacts the game in many more ways than one might think. Allow me to briefly illustrate one of those nuances.
As we watch the continued pussification of pitchers via pitch counts, innings limits, specialized relief, and the designated hitter at nearly every level of the game, one disappearing treat is the complete game.
Once commonplace in the game, a complete game is nearly as rare as an inside the park home run or a steal of home plate. I can think of many a time in recent years that I screamed at (insert manager here) to “leave ’em in!” only to have a relief pitcher appear after 8 innings and 110 or so pitches thrown.
It is well documented that one of the primary differences between the AL (that stands for “Arena League”, right?) and the NL is having to make pitching decisions while you are batting. I can remember a caller on ESPN radio when discussing manager of the year in each league saying, “In the NL: Bobby Cox. In the AL: no one. Because there is no managing in the American League.”
In the NL, once in awhile a home team’s starter is both dominant (or staked to a big lead) and low in pitch count, and comes to bat in the bottom of the 8th. This is one of the best opportunities in all of baseball for fans to salute an individual effort. When a pitcher is allowed to bat for himself in the bottom of the 8th inning, his name is announced, and the home crowd (hopefully) unleashes one of the best rounds of applause that can be dished out at a ballgame. When a pitcher is pinch hit for, or removed in between innings, there is never an opportunity to salute him individually. But this unique opportunity to applaud complete games by your home pitcher is completely lost in the American League. I once attended an interleague game at Shea Stadium between the Mets and Yankees. The Yankees won convincingly, and their young starter (Brandon Claussen perhaps?) was allowed to bat in the top of the 9th. There was no shortage of Yankee fans that day at old Shea. The only problem was, as AL fans, they squandered this opportunity to salute a commendable effort by a kid recently called up from the minors. Don’t worry purists, reluctantly this Mets fan stood up and cheered him.