Speaking of the dark side, at times Manny exists on his own planet, acting at best like an airhead and at worst like a selfish little brat. As an ESPN report recounts:
He was benched by Little late this season after he missed a crucial series against the Yankees with a sore throat and fever, yet managed to pull himself out of bed to reminisce with New York infielder Enrique Wilson about their days in Cleveland.
Then Ramirez didn't show up for an appointment with the team doctor, and when he joined the club the next day he sat on the bench but said he was "too weak" to pinch-hit.
And in a game at Yankee Stadium in September, the absent-minded Ramirez tossed the ball into the stands after making a nice catch, thinking there were three outs when there were only two.
According to a report in the Providence Journal, those actions by Ramirez set off internal discussions by the club to deal him this off-season, even though the Red Sox would likely have to pay much of the remaining money owed Ramirez.
That doesn't even touch on Ramirez's cowardice in Game Three of the ALCS, when a high fastball over the plate from Roger Clemens induced the hotairhead to charge the mound, emptying both benches. Put a ten-cent head atop a twenty million dollar hitter and you have Manny Ramirez.
Now, there simply aren't too many teams out there willing to take on a $20 million salary; the Yankees might be the only team with the financial wherewithal to do so. ESPN's Rob Neyer speculates that the timing of this maneuver is crucial because George Steinbrenner "is never going to be more frustrated and more aggressive than he is right now." But according to ESPN's Buster Olney, the Boss ain't bitin':
The New York Yankees have no interest in placing a waiver claim on Boston Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez, according to a baseball executive who has had contact with a high-ranking member of the team's front office Thursday...
The Yankees are aware, according to the executive, that if they claimed Ramirez, the Yankees could essentially create circumstances that would lead to the departure of pitcher Andy Pettitte, who is eligible for free agency this offseason. If the Yankees relieved Boston of Ramirez and the accompanying financial burden, the Red Sox could then turn around and make a deal with the Houston Astros -- perhaps for expensive reliever Billy Wagner -- and free up payroll for the Astros to sign Pettitte, whose preference may be to return to his home in Texas...
Adding Ramirez also would throw another designated hitter candidate onto the roster loaded with aging sluggers. There is some question about how much longer [Bernie] Williams and [Jason] Giambi could play in the field, because of their deteriorating physical conditions.
The Yanks have obligations -- big contracts to Williams, Giambi, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Mike Mussina, some of which are already biting them in the ass. They don't need another. But back to Boston for a moment. As my pal Nick notes, one reason the Sox may be attempting to rid themselves of Manny is their managerial vacancy. Theo and company seem set on a manager who will see things their sabermetrically inclined way, and may tap a relatively inexperienced skipper willing to do their bidding. Pre-emptively ridding themselves of one of the new manager's potential headaches may make the job a little easier, though most skips, if asked, would probably put up with those kind of numbers.
Before anyone weeps for Manny (Bueller? Anyone?), Peter Gammons reports that the feeling between Ramirez and the Sox is mutual:
Ramirez talked to the club at the end of the season and expressed that while he likes the Red Sox and Boston, he wouldn't mind seeing what there was in a trade, with his home (New York) an enticing option...
When Ramirez talked to Red Sox officials, they offered to let him out of his contract so he could become a free agent. Obviously he declined, as agent Jeff Moorad knows that the current market might bring four years, $50-60 million, in contrast to the five years, $100 million on his existing deal.
O, fragile equilibrium of unhappiness, sweet harbinger of a winter of discontent in New England, how I cherish thee at a time like this. Would that such feelings of schadenfreude could warm me until Pitchers and Catchers.
Manny Ramirez isn't simply one of the best hitters in the game. He's one of the best hitters in the history of baseball. With his career OPS 1.010, Ramirez is in the all-time top 10 with guys like Ruth, Gehrig, Williams, Foxx, Bonds, Greenberg, Hornsby, and Todd Helton. Now, the latter's presence on the list should clue you into the fact that adjustments need to be made to account for ballpark and era, so if we turn to the career leaders in OPS+, Manny ranks in the Top 20, third among active players behind Bonds and Frank Thomas. That list (which hasn't been updated to include 2003 yet) is still biased because sooner or later Manny's going to decline the way even superstars do. Even so, he's still one of the best hitters the game has seen. But his combination of price tag and attitude is too much for the Boston Red Sox and it's too much for the New York Yankees. The rest of the league isn't banging down the door either.
• • •
As Baseball Prospectus' Dayn Perry points out, prescriptions to improve the New York Yankees after a season in which they don't win are "one of the hoariest media traditions known to humankind." That said, Perry's prescription is worth a gander, as are those of Alex Belth, Larry Mahnken and Bryan Smith over at Bryan's Wait 'Til Next Year blog (which is long overdue for my attention). I won't go into the details or merits of any of them -- I gots my own plan, which will come in due time, probably between those two popular turkey dinners. I'm going to have lots of time on my hands, or hand... but that's a story for another day. Suffice it to say it looks as though we're all going to get real acquainted with Mr. Arthroscope. Will Carroll, I'm headed your way...
Mr. Belth has been a busy man lately. He's got a fantastic interview with writer and former pitcher Pat Jordan at Bronx Banter. Jordan was a Milwaukee Braves farmhand in the late '50s and early '60s who, for want of a better term "went Ankiel," derailing a promising career but providing him with a springboard to a new one. I've covered all of this before.
In the interview, which was done late this summer, Jordan offers his opinions on several pitchers, gets off a good Joe Torre tale, and generally sounds like a guy with whom you'd love to knock back a few beers while talkin' ball. I've got his A Nice Tuesday in my on-deck circle after I finish that Koufax bio (which is excellent), and I'm looking forward to it.
I waited until virtually the last minute to fill out my ballots at the Internet Baseball Awards this year, bleary-eyed from staying up to watch and then write about so many exciting ballgames. As a citizen of the online baseball community as well as the sheriff of this humble little outpost, I feel duty-bound to participate in the IBA, even if the rules are slightly different from those the Base Ball Writers Association of America follows for the "official" awards. BBWAA participants have to send their ballots off by the end of the regular season, while we schlubs had an extra two weeks to point and click -- two frenzied weeks of letting October baseball saturate our brains with two or three games a day. Now I understand exactly why the BBWAA does things the way they do.
Despite the late date, I tried to prevent any October bias from seeping into my judgement. That wasn't easy, especially with the Red Sox-Yankees series having boiled over only 48 hours before I cast my vote. But while I wouldn't piss on Manny Ramirez or Pedro Martinez if they were on fire, I did include them on the relevant ballots.
As I've said before in discussing my AL MVP choice, when it comes to voting on the MVP, playing for a team that makes the postseason isn't a requirement, but playing for a contender is. And while that isn't necessarily a requirement for the other awards, it did play a part in a couple of cases.
AL MVP: 1. Jorge Posada 2. Carlos Delgado 3. Manny Ramirez 4. Carlos Beltran 5. Bret Boone 6. Alex Rodriguez 7. Alfonso Soriano 8. Jason Giambi 9. Miguel Tejada 10. David Ortiz. This one I discussed already. Posada was a rock for the Yanks, and his emergence as a leader elevated him above his teammates, who had flawed years that still merited recognition. Delgado and Rodriguez were docked for playing on noncontenders, Boone held partially accountable for the Mariners' fade. Manny's disappearing act and the team's response to it spoke volumes. Ortiz gets a token nod because he was a Yankee wrecking machine, looking all-world every time I saw him swing a bat.
AL Cy Young: 1. Roy Halladay 2. Esteban Loaiza 3. Tim Hudson 4. Pedro Martinez 5. Mike Mussina. Halladay won this down the stretch, with a 5-1, 1.46 ERA September, while Loaiza went 3-3 with a 5.30 ERA. Loaiza still posted a lower ERA, 2.90 to 3.25, but Doc had 40 more innings pitched, and that counts for something, as does his 6.4 K/W ratio and the fact that I had Loaiza on my freakin' HACKING MASS team, destroying my chances there (or at least indicating how shocked I was at his improvement). Hudson, at 240 innings with a 2.70 ERA, was right in the mix as well, with the lower strikeout total costing him a bit. Martinez was impressive -- when he pitched. Moose was solid, but clearly behind all of these guys.
AL Manager of the Year: 1. Tony Pena 2. Grady Little 3. Ken Macha. Raise your hand if you thought K.C. was going anywhere but deeper into the AL Central cellar this year. Little did an impressive job with the Boston clubhouse, but we all know it ended in tears. Had I let my October bias creep in, I would have never voted for Macha.
AL Rookie of the Year: 1. Angel Berroa 2. Hideki Matsui 3. Mike Macdougal. Matsui's RBI totals and situational hitting ability were the most impressive things about his overblown season. Berroa was a real reason for K.C.s sudden improvement. Macdougal was another one, even with the high ERA. I could have flipped a coin between him and Cleveland outfielder Jody Gerut, who was a nice surprise.
NL MVP: 1. Barry Bonds 2. Albert Pujols 3. Javy Lopez 4. Gary Sheffield 5. Jim Thome 6. Todd Helton 7. Edgar Renteria 8. Richie Sexson 9. Marcus Giles 10. Lance Berkman. Even in a heartbreaking season for him personally, when Barry played, he was godlike. Pujols had an incredible year that would have been MVP in just about any season lacking a Ruth or a Bonds. Lopez, Sheffield and Giles made the Braves into an offensive juggernaut. Renteria would get a lot more ink if he played in the AL. Helton, Sexson, Thome -- these guys just crush a lot.
NL Cy Young: 1. Mark Prior 2. Jason Schmidt 3. Eric Gagne 4. Kevin Brown 5. Kerry Wood. Gagne's pristine season was worthy of a spot, but not the top spot here. Prior was the real deal, and Schmidt's season looks all the more impressive knowing that he was less than 100%. Brown had a nice comeback, Wood lotsa K's.
NL Rookie of the Year: 1. Dontrelle Willis 2. Brandon Webb 3. Scott Podsednik. Willis gets the nod here not only for helping to turn around the Marlins at a time when they really needed it, but for injecting some Fernandomania-style buzz as well. As rookies go, style points count in my book.
NL Manager of the Year: 1. Jack McKeon 2. Felipe Alou 3. Frank Robinson. McKeon was a no-brainer the moment the Fish made the playoffs, though Alou showed that it wasn't just Dusty Baker's magic which took the Giants to the 2002 World Series. Baker did a decent job in Chicago, but I think overusage of his young starters will have long-term consequences, and so I give the nod to Robby for keeping the Expos above water in a season they had to cross lots of it.
So there's one man's ballot. Taking a look back at my ill-conceived award predictions from April, none of them match my top choices on their respective ballots, and only the Matsui one (which I don't even agree with anymore) has a hope of actually being right, unless this really is A-Rod's year. I had Berkman as NL MVP, Randy Johnson and one of the A's Big Three as the Cys, and Marlon Byrd as NL rookie. No manager picks, fortunately. Scanning my team performance predictions, I got all of the AL playoff participants correct, underestimated the Royals (duh), overestimated the Angels and the Indians, and that was about it. The NL was a disaster, however; I didn't get a single postseason team correct (Phils, Astros, D-Backs plus the Dodgers), and had the Marlins in last place. That A's-Phils World Series never showed up either, due in part because the Phils never did act out their obvious desire to lynch Larry Bowa (which I predicted). Ah, wait 'til next year...
• • •
HACKING MASS, for those of you unacquainted with it, is a contest sponsored by Baseball Prospectus which stands for "Huckabay's Annual Call to Keep Immobility Next to Godliness: Maximus Aggregatus Stiffisimus Sensire." Um-kay... the idea is to choose a team of the worst performers by accumulating ESPN (Exuded Stiff Points, Net), which are produced by the formulas (.8-OPS)*PA for hitters and (ERA-4)*IP/3 for pitchers.
My choice of Loaiza was based on his 5.71 ERA in 150+ innings last season -- an inefficient inning-eating machine, I thought. But Loaiza's emergence this year derailed any chance I had, because via the ESPN formula he was tied for the 25th best player in the majors with Aubrey Huff and Bill Mueller at -82 points. I wasn't the only one sucked in by Esteban's potential suckitude, however -- he was the 18th most popular player chosen. Overall I finished 505th out of 927, a bit below the middle of the pack, though my score of 339 was within a point of the average team. Stalwarts such as Cesar Itzuris (120 ESPN), Rey Sanchez (84) and Einar Diaz (59) were offset by moderate comebacks from Jeromy Burnitz (8), Vinny Castilla (16) and Travis Lee (-4). What can I say, I suck at picking those who suck?
One of the comments in my previous piece discussing Grady Little's firing led me to do some thinking about the right man for the now-vacant Boston job. Of all the names mentioned, there's one -- as yet unmentioned by the mainstream media -- who scares the hell out of me as Red Sox manager.
He's a guy who fielded competitive team after competitive team while building a reputation as a player's manager. He was way ahead of the curve, stathead-wise, in part because he learned the game while playing for another proto-stathead. He was reading Baseball Abstract back before the Internet was even a twinkle in Al Gore's beady eyes.
He might have a hard time taking orders from a 29-year-old GM, but his philosophy wouldn't be too far out of line, and he'd probably do a better job of selling it to the players than anybody else. He's one tough bastard who wouldn't get pushed around by a diva superstar.
He's a guy that, if I were a Red Sox fan, I'd be sneaking into Fenway Park to spray-paint his name in 30-foot high letters on the Green Monster to send a message to Epstein/Henry/Douchino. Any guesses yet?
Boston fans might have a hard time accepting him because he managed a team that caused them possibly the greatest pain they've ever felt (no, not Don Zimmer). And he might not want to get back into managing in the first place. But if you got Bill James to go after him, as an admirer of his work, he'd probably be flattered enough to accept the position.
You should have the name by now, especially if you're a Boston fan. But if you're not, I'll give you one more hint: he's the last guy to beat a Joe Torre team for the AL East title, and his reward for winning AL Manager of the Year was a pink slip.
I'm tallking about Davey Johnson. The thought of him in a Red Sox uniform might keep me awake at night.
Unless Steinbrenner is going to do his Capone-with-a-bat act, it's probably a good sign for GM Brian Cashman that he's being summoned so early. He has one more year on his deal, and as New York Daily News's Anthony McCarren puts it, "What better way to make Cashman suffer than to bring him back for the final season of his contract? He's not getting a $1.15-million vacation, that's for sure." Less clear is the fate of Senior VP Gordon Blakely, who has been in Steinbrenner's doghouse after some disagreements over the team's AAA affiliate in Columbus.
Big Stein has given manager Joe Torre numerous votes of confidence over the past several weeks, but in the tradition of the Boss's manipulative meddling, Torre's coaching staff will be gutted. Without waiting for the other shoe to drop, bench coach Don Zimmer has already quit in spectacular fashion. Hitting coach Rick Down will take the fall for the Yanks' offensive shortcomings in the World Series, and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and first base coach Lee Mazzilli may depart as well, either by being fired or by taking other jobs. Mazzilli will interview for the job as manager of the Baltimore Orioles later this week. Perennial managerial candidate Willie Randolph, the Yanks' third base coach, has been mentioned in connection with vacancies for the White Sox and the Red Sox; no word on any offer from the Utica Blue Sox, however.
On the field, the two most crucial decisions the Yanks face are whether to resign Andy Pettitte (a strong likelihood after his 3-1, 2.10 ERA postseason run), and what to do about Alfonso Soriano -- keep him at second base, shift him to the outfield, or use him as their best chip in a trade. "That decision will serve as the lead domino to many other actions," writes Davidoff. Whether they keep Soriano or not, the team's defense up the middle is in dire need of an overhaul, but the question of how to avoid ruffling the feathers of pillars like Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams is a tricky one. Williams may be bound for leftfield, with Hideki Matsui shifting either to center (where he was adequate for a long stint while Bernie rehabbed from in-season knee surgery) or right (where his throwing arm would be a liabiltiy). The rightfield opening is a prime one for upgrade, with superstar names such as Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa and Vladimir Guerrero being tossed around by every armchair GM with a keyboard. Other names bandied about are K.C. centerfielder Carlos Beltran, Montreal second baseman Jose Vidro and pitcher Javier Vasquez, Texas shortstop Alex Rodriguez, Oakland shortstop Miguel Tejada, and Florida third baseman Mike Lowell. Many of these amount to crackpipe dreams conceived by crackpot columnists convinced that the likes of Jeff Weaver and Juan Rivera could net big game in a trade. Uh-huh.
I'll be taking a more realistic in-depth look at the Yankees' needs in the coming weeks.
• • •
The Yankees made it to the World Series in no small part due to Boston Red Sox manager Grady Little's decision to keep flagging starter Pedro Martinez out on the mound during Game Seven of the ALCS. After gracelessly lettling Little dangle in the breeze for about ten days, the Sox put him out of his misery on Monday by failing to pick up his 2004 option. Never mind the fact that Little guided the Sox to 188 wins in his two years, or their first postseason appearance since 1999. Forget the job he did coaxing career years out of the likes of David Ortiz, Todd Walker and Bill Mueller while keeping harmony in a clubhouse populated by one-named diva superstars. Little's reputation as a poor in-game tactician and his status as a holdover from the pre Henry/Luccino/Epstien era did him in. It's not surprising to see the Red Sox eat their own, especially after such a gut-wrenching loss -- Red Sox Nation demands answers, dammit!
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski feels that the Sox made a bad move. He writes:
Beyond the benefits of a relentlessly popular short-term public relations move in New England, there is no way Grady Little gets sacrificed unless you have an absolute tested, championship manager waiting in the wings.
...Grady's touch in the clubhouse, his ability to get the most of the Sox's over-achieving personalities, isn't so easily available and identifiable on the managerial market. The bottom line: The Sox are taking a far greater risk firing Little, than they ever could've by keeping him.
There was something right about the chemistry of these Red Sox, something someone else will have an impossible time duplicating. Ownership could've worked to re-program Little's late-game decision-making process, stocked his bench with stronger coaching presences and counted upon the fact that one more year of living and learning on the job would've made him a better bench manager.
Wojnarowski goes on to dismiss various candidates to replace Little -- Charlie Manuel, Jerry Remy, Terry Francona, and Glenn Hoffman, while another ESPN piece by Sean McAdam handicaps a larger field of candidates, including Bud Black, Joel Skinner, Jim Tracy and Bobby Valentine. "Handicaps" is an apt word, because as Wojnarowski writes, "This job has never been harder. Never."
I'm certainly biased by my hatred of the Sox and support of their chief rivals, but I think the move to fire Little borders on the absurd, done with all the consideration and tact of a lynch mob. This year's Sox team put the Fear into the Yanks, with Little melding an unlikely, diverse group into one that battled their New York rivals harder than any opponent during the Torre era. Yes, it's easy to point a finger at Little's failure to pull Martinez in Game Seven. But a great deal of responsibility should rest with the players as well. Had Martinez not pitched poorly and melted down in Game Three, or had the big bat of Nomar Garciaparra been a bit louder in the ALCS, would anybody be coiling rope for Little? This move simply smacks of a team driven by public pressure to pull the trigger instead of counting its blessings for a great season that came up a bit short. Once again, th Sox find a way to preserve their fragile equilibrium of unhappiness.
• • •
Rich Lederer of Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT has an interesting piece on World Series MVP Josh Beckett comparing the Marlins' budding ace with the man he sent into retirement, Roger Clemens:
Beckett and Clemens have a lot of similarities. Both are Texans. Both are approximately the same height (Beckett, 6'5", and Clemens, 6'4"). Both are power pitchers, throwing fastballs in the mid- to high-90s. Both were highly touted as amateurs (Beckett, 1999 All-USA High School Baseball Player of the Year; Clemens, two-time All-America honors at the University of Texas and the winning pitcher of the 1983 College World Series). Both were drafted in the first round (Beckett, #2 in 1999, and Clemens, #19 in 1983). Both had outstanding minor league records. And both showed glimpses of stardom in their first couple of injury-plagued years in the big leagues.
Lederer goes on to examine the two pitchers' minor-league records as well as their early major-league experience. Like many, he believes Beckett is poised for a Clemens-in-'86-style breakout in 2004. Check it out.
• • •
Keeping a close eye on the hometown Salt Lake City beat, my mom sent me this piece from the Salt Lake Tribune about the Zinger Professional Bat Company. Based in Lindon, Utah, Zinger makes the bats which provided two of the biggest hits in Game Four of the World Series: Alex Gonzalez's game-winning homer off of Jeff Weaver and Miguel Cabrera's first-inning bomb off of Roger Clemens. According to the piece, "At last count, more than 200 professionals -- about 60 major leaguers -- are using the bats to put the hurt on hurlers," including Vlad Guerrero and San Diego's Kahlil Greene, as well as the two World Series heroes. The article goes on to offer an enlightening glimpse into the process of bat-making, a side of the game which most people never consider. Neat.
Pitching on three days' rest, Beckett was magnificent, scattering only five hits and two walks while striking out nine. Only once, in the third inning, did the Yanks have more than one runner on base, and they were a combined 0-for-12 with runners on, grounding into two double plays in the process. Andy Pettitte again pitched admirably for the Yanks, but he faltered in the fifth, as the Marlins strung together three two-out singles by Alex Gonzalez, Juan Pierre, and Luis Castillo. Mired in an 0-for-14 slump, Castillo poked a single to rightfield and while Karim Garcia made an excellent peg to Jorge Posada, Gonzalez executed a perfect slide around the outside of the plate, touching home with his hand.
The Marlins added another run in the sixth thanks to a couple of defensive breakdowns by the Yanks. Derek Jeter bobbled and then misfired Jeff Conine's grounder, and after Mike Lowell walked, Pettitte hesitated while fielding Derek Lee's bunt, throwing to second for a forceout when he might have had a play on the lead runner at third. I must admit that as much as Tim McCarver and Joe Buck harped on this, not once did I see a replay showing Aaron Boone's position relative to the bag or the runner. Juan Encarnacion followed with a sacrifice fly to score Conine. Gonzalez reached on a bunt single which put Lee in scoring position, but Pettitte recovered to strike out Pierre and keep the margin at two.
Those two runs were too much for the Yanks. A leadoff double in the seventh by Jorge Posada got the Stadium crowd revved up, but Posada's hit fell by the wayside, as did a leadoff single by Alfonso Soriano in the eighth. Moved down to the #9 spot, Soriano was the only Yankee with two hits on the night, a case of too little, too late. Jeter, who'd gotten the Yanks' only three hits against Beckett in Game Three, went 0-for-4; Bernie Williams, the Yanks hottest hitter, went 1-for-4 with a critical GIDP, and Hideki Matsui, who'd powered the Yanks to an early lead in the Series, disappeared into the Federal Witness Protection program amid an 0-for-10 funk.
So this Marlins team, who stood 16-22 on May 11 before being taken over by a 72-year-old lifer who'd never won anything, are the World Champions. Revile their short and sordid history, which includes only two winning seasons, and their fickle fans, who stayed away in droves as their team nabbed the NL Wild Card. Stifle the urge to vomit when you see Bad Rug Bud handing over the World Series trophy to Bag Job Jeff. Cringe when you imagine the way this team might be dismembered over the next year. But tip your cap to this scrappy young ballclub, their crusty, hunch-playing manager, and the anachronistic little-ball strategies which enabled them to squeeze out runs when they desperately needed them. And prepare to keep an eye on Beckett, whose clinching performance was one for the annals.
Really, this Series turned on two critical moments. The first was Joe Torre's choice of pitchers in the late innings of Game Four, culminating with Jeff Weaver, who yielded the twelfth-inning home run to Gonzalez. The decision to use the Yanks' 14th best pitcher instead of Mariano Rivera or even lefty Chris Hammond (whose reverse platoon split makes him more effective against righties) is a black mark against Torre, and it cost the Yanks their shot at a 3-1 series lead. The second was the implosion of David Wells' back and Jose Contreras' subsequent meltdown. With all pregame signs pointing to Wells's infirmity, Torre and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre should have done a better job preparing Contreras for the admittedly unenviable task of emergency long relief. With the pitcher's split-fingered fastballs kicking up clouds of dust instead of slithering through the strike zone, Contreras looked panicked, and nothing Posada or Stottlemyre seemed to say could prevent the ballgame from slipping away from the Yanks.
Still, the men in pinstripes finished with a 2.13 Series ERA -- the lowest for a losing team in 59 years -- compared to the Marlins' 3.21, outscored the Fish 23-17, and outhit them by a considerable margin:
But the Yanks were only 7-for-50 (.140) with runners in scoring position, and only 17-for-86 (.198) with runners on base [I'd supply more detailed stats, but the usually reliable stat services' postseason splits are sadly lacking]. The disappearance of their plate discipline late in the Series was another huge factor. B-Pro's Joe Sheehan points to David Dellucci's bunt in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game Four -- "They had their single greatest probability of winning the World Series at the moment Hideki Matsui walked. It's decreased in almost a straight line since that point to right now. That bunt is the dividing line in this series..." -- and notes that prior to the bunt, the Yanks were averaging 4.06 pitches per at-bat (compared to 3.8 on the regular season), while from there on they averaged only 3.44. For all of the Yanks' oft-mentioned experience, that subsequent performance (17-for-71 with five walks, one intentional) smacks of a team slipping into desperation.
None of this will come as news to George Steinbrenner, whose high-pressure personality and joyless proclamations continue to choke much of the spirit out of the Yankees, though not their class. The pending eruption of Mount George, as inevitable as the day is long, will reap untold carnage, perhaps extending as far as general manager Brian Cashman and second baseman Soriano. Kiss Don Zimmer goodbye, and posssibly Stottlemyre, hitting coach Rick Down, and first base coach Lee Mazzilli as well. But those are issues for another day. At least Steinbrenner didn't repeat his tactless apology to the Yankee Stadium fans like he did the last time an opponent -- the 1981 L.A. Dodgers -- celebrated on their field, and no reports of the Boss' elevator scuffles with unruly Marlins fans have surfaced, either.
This was a frustrating moment to watch for Yankees fans. As my friend Ben put it, "The Yankees have now lost the World Series twice in three years to expansion teams with teal uniforms and swimming pools in their outfield. God, give me any curse but that... We just got smoked by a guy named Pudge and a kid who learned how to throw a breaking ball from Sony Playstation." Arrgh.
But rather than shedding tears or throwing chairs, we Yank fans should feel grateful that this ultimately flawed team gave us such an exciting run, including that exhilirating come-from-behind win over the Red Sox in the ALCS that we'll be able to lord over any Boston fans in our midst until the Curse of the Bambino is finally lifted. We've been exceptionally lucky to have a team that consistently provides a championship run, and should expect no sympathy from those whose ballclubs produce only the occasional contender. As William Rhoden of the New York Times writes: "let today be a day of introspection and humility."
That's not to say the players should feel the same way we fans do. They're upset, and rightfully so, driven to expect more of themselves. For all of the good-to-great players it takes to win a championship, it takes the brazenly great ones who are satisfied with nothing less than total victory to keep that spirit going, from Michael Jordan to Derek Jeter to Josh Beckett. As Bernie Williams put it, "The front office and the people in charge designed this team not to play in the postseason, but to win. When that didn't happen, obviously a lot of people are going to be very upset, including the players. I don't think anybody is more upset than we are." Jeter joined the chorus: "It never sets in. You start in the middle of February with one goal, to win a championship. We didn't do it."
On the Yankees' singular position, Rhoden writes:
Being the Yankees is like being king of the United States: a grand but incongruent distinction. The Yankees have sealed themselves in a lucrative but suffocating archive. The manager, the general manager and even the owner, for that matter, operate in the long shadow of history. They work in a museum filled with black-and-white photos of men wearing pinstripes from eras long past.
The reality is that nobody else in baseball is trying to build a dynasty. Most try to assemble a winning team for the short run. They unload high salaries and reload with hungry, young and cheap talent. The formula has worked: just look at the Yankees' most recent postseason tormentors: Arizona in 2001, Anaheim in 2002 and Florida this year.
For the Yankees, the lesson is that money is a powerful tool that buys strong arms and legs.
Money can't buy the one thing the Yankees need the most, however; it can't buy time.
Speaking of time, with the final out of the Series, the cold, cruel offseason is now upon us. I've had an exhilarating time covering this season from spring training to the bitter end, and I've enjoyed watching this incredible postseason, one of the best in memory even if, in my eyes, the wrong team ended up on top. I want to thank each and every reader who has stopped by here during the past season -- my readership has doubled over last year -- as well as the other bloggers without whom this would be a lot less fun. Particular shoutouts are in order for my pals on the Yankee beat, Alex Belth, Larry Mahnken, and Steven Goldman -- wait 'til next year, eh guys? And a great big hug to my gal Andra for sharing the highs and lows of the entire season, from encouraging me to head to spring training to heal my wintry soul to flopping down on the couch beside me for damn near every playoff and World Series game to heading to the Yanks' most important game of the season to cheer them on in my place. Y'all should be so lucky to have a girlfriend who, along with her myriad other gifts, appreciates baseball as mine does.
I'll conclude by reminding you that just because the ballgames are over doesn't mean this space will be lacking for baseball content over the winter months. After all, there are 112 days until Pitchers and Catchers, and we have much to discuss.