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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Keep hope alive: Will Brian Cashman be given his walking papers at the end of the year?

I guess $2.7 billion doesn't go as far as it used to. That is how much New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman has spent in Yankee payroll since 2001 to get exactly one World Series title in 14 years. But even though Cashman has literally outstpent every other team in the majors over that time frame, the Red Sox, Cardinals and Giants have more World Series titles than the Yanks do over those years.

I would call the Bombers the new Atlanta Braves -- they only had 1 title over 14 seasons as well -- but the Braves never spent anywhere near what the Yanks did. Plus they actually made the playoffs each of those years, while the Bombers are about to miss the playoffs for the second season in a row. Not to mention that the Yankees got to keep all of their core, but the Braves lost Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine to free agency. So for the Yankees to have only 1 ring in those years, with the player and payroll advantages, is really bad.

The exact date Brian Cashman jumped the shark

Anyhow, all of this is to say that it seems more than a little odd to me that Hal Steinbrenner may actually bring Cashman back for another contract. At what point does accountability matter with the franchise again? And just because Cash may have done a good job in his earlier years does not mean he is doing a good job now.

For me, I can pinpoint the exact date where Cashman jumped the shark. I was stuck all day in Newark Airport on December 22, 2009, trying to get a flight to Austin, Texas so I could go home for the holidays, when I heard the news that Melky Cabrera had been traded for Javier (Home Run Javy) Vazquez. Losing Melky was bad enough, but the fact he was being traded for a pitcher who was nothing short of a disaster in his first time in pinstripes (remember Vazquez giving up the grand slam to Johnny Damon in the 2004 ALCS?) was crazy. Not to mention that in that very same week, Cashman decided to bring back Nick (The Sick) Johnson, too.

It was almost like Cashman felt liberated after the 2009 World Championship, and decided he could do whatever he wanted to, with no feel of repercussions. And he would redo moves that didn't work the first time to somehow show how smart those moves were in the first place. Instead, Vasquez and Johnson Part Deux were even more awful than the first time. Javy's ERA was over 5, and Johnson made all of 98 plate appearances before getting injured again. Vasquez made $11.5 million that year, and Johnson $5.5 million. On any other team, a GM might get in trouble for spending such money with so little in return, but on the Yankees, Cashman got a pass, the way he did just last year for spending $12 million on Kevin Youkilis for 118 plate appearances.

Mark Newman leaving isn't enough

Sure, Mark Newman, head of the team's minor league operations, is "retiring" (although he is now saying that his retirement was planned back in February.) But at what point does Cashman get held responsible for this disaster of a team?

Last week, there was a story leaked that the Yankees had already decided to bring Cashman back. While nobody has confirmed anything on the record, I wondered if 1) Hal Steinbrenner had leaked that as a trial balloon, to see how fans and the media would reaction, or 2) Cashman himself had leaked this story even though it hadn't been agreed to by ownership, simply to make getting rid of him more difficult.

I have heard the argument that Cashman shouldn't be fired, because ownership backed up all of his dopey moves. Well, using that logic, no GM could ever lose their job ever.

If Cashman does get a new contract (and undoubtedly a raise, to boot) for doing a terrible job (in his last three seasons, the team only had one postseason appearance, one that ended in the worst Yankee collapse since the 2004 team), the team won't win anything. Cashman is incapable of introspection, of trying a new approach, and of the competence needed to rebuild this team. If you want to see more of the same -- next year's Carlos Beltrans and Stephen Drews of the world -- that is what you will get with Brian Cashman. What you won't get is any hope that this team will ever improve.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Citi Field becoming another Grant's Tomb

I went to my first Met game in weeks last night, and the place was so empty that even the Shake Shack line was manageable. It brought me back to the bad old days of the late '70s after the Tom Seaver trade, when Shea Stadium was referred to as "Grant's Tomb" in honor of notorious chairman of the board M. Donald Grant. Once again, the Mets have done their best to destroy fan interest in a once-thriving franchise.

In 1979, the Mets finished last in the league in attendance with 788,905, an average of 9,261 per game. Back then, they gave actual attendance, rather than tickets sold. Last night, 21,260 tickets were sold, but I guess a lot of those fans had something better to do last night, because they were not at the ballpark.

I remember when the Mets used to have a scoreboard quiz in the ninth inning asking the fans to guess the attendance. These days, they could bring a couple of fans out to second base and have them manually count everyone in the stands.

I was on the shorter line at Shake Shack when the starting lineups were announced. You can generally tell when the Mets are being announced because of all the cheers, but not last night. 

But the lack of interest in the game also meant that our tickets in section 409 behind home plate cost just $6 each. You have a much better chance of being featured on the big video screen if you are into that sort of thing. And I had no trouble getting a seat on the subway back home. They were even still running expresses back to Manhattan. Perhaps the MTA did not realize that the U.S. Open was over.

As for the game, I hope one day to be able to boast about the fact that I saw Rafael Montero's first win. (I also saw Mike Pelfrey's first win in 2006, but nobody is asking for a framed copy of that ticket.)

It was somehow appropriate that Montero had a no-hitter with two outs in the fifth, but had already thrown so many pitches that you knew he would never get to finish one.  Kind of like the Mets trying to tease us that they are still technically alive for the playoffs, which has no chance of happening, either.

After 1979, Met fans finally had renewed hope when new ownership took over. Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon arrived to save the day. Yes, it was a long time ago.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My semi-snarky thoughts on the Derek Jeter Day celebration

I was out and about on Sunday, so I missed seeing the Derek Jeter Day festivities live. But since some of my (not so) adoring fans want to know my opinion of the event, I watched the whole ceremony online (click here to see it for yourself.) Here are my thoughts:

* Unlike other people, I am actually fine with doing the Derek Jeter Day during the season. (Hey, Yankee catcher Jake Gibbs got a day when the season was still going on, too, and most Yankee fans don't even remember who he was!) I was also fine with the nice tribute video.

* I am not so fine with the special patches, and the balls, and the bases and the flags. Don't get me started on the flags -- they are ridiculous, especially having them ring the stadium. But Jeter and the Yankees and Steiner Sports will make a mint on these items, especially when the Captain signs them. And thanks to the event happening with three weeks in the season, they will make even more money. Oy.

* While that stuff is tacky, the Yankees were the opposite of tacky in the Jeter gifts. It ticked me off last year when the Yanks gave Mariano Rivera a rocking chair made of bats. After all, Ron Gardenhire of the Twins had already had such a chair made, with the broken bats of Minnesota hitters!  On the other hand, the Jeter gifts -- the massage therapy machine, the Waterford crystal, the Tuscany trip, the All-Star patches, the $222,222.22 check for his foundation seemed thoughtful and tasteful.

* Another difference from Mo's day? No Brandon Steiner on the field. Also, the guest list was very good -- every single guest meant something. Was more surprised at Dave Winfield being there than Cal Ripken Jr. and Michael Jordan, the so-called surprise guests. But Michael Kay, stop with the Michael Jordan of Baseball stuff. Jordan was the greatest NBA player of all time. Unless Jeter changes his name to Babe Ruth, he is not the greatest MLB player of all time.

*  The crowd didn't seem that excited by it, but for me, one of the most moving parts of the ceremony was seeing the Jeter's Leaders on the field (and keep in mind, those were only some of the young men and women helped by Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation.)  Anybody can set up a foundation, but to have it actually help people, year after year, is something to be admired and cherished. And Jeter set it up when he was just 22.

* Yankee public address announcer Paul Olden finally gets to utter Jeter's name. That's a first, isn't it?

* Jeter's speech was excellent, and hit all the right notes in just three minutes or so. Teachers in public speaking ought to use that as an example for their students.

* That "2" wreath was terrible, though. Looked like a funeral wreath!

* I didn't get to see the tribute videos that ran between innings, but I heard that Robinson Cano was booed. Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner ought to have been the ones booed -- for not keeping Cano!

* Anyhow, I thought the day was mostly fine. The game, not so much!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Joe Girardi makes it clear: Managing Derek Jeter's retirement tour is more important than trying to make the playoffs

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi actually used to be unafraid to make the right decision for the good of the team, even if it ruffled some feathers. Remember, he batted the struggling Jorge Posada ninth against the Boston Red Sox, causing the catcher to have his sitdown snit and refuse to play. Of course, Girardi also pulled and benched Alex Rodriguez in the 2012 playoffs multiple times, to the point where he even chose playing the struggling Eric Chavez (!) over A-Rod.

But when it comes to Derek Jeter, it is clear that despite Girardi saying back in April that "I wasn’t hired to put on a farewell tour,” that is exactly what he is doing right now. Why else would he keep Jeter in the No. 2 spot, even though the captain had, as the New York Post's Joel Sherman notes, "the AL’s worst OPS in August at .487" for hitters with more than 100 plate appearances? (Jeter hit all of .207 in August, with a measly .226 on-base percentage.) Why would Girardi be so defensive with the media yesterday for them daring to question his lineup choices?

Girardi defends himself

As ESPN New York reported, Girardi accused the media of picking on Jeter and singling him out, and then complained, "So I move him? Who am I going to put there? That's my question." He also argued that Jeter should be batting second, saying, according the Daily News, that "I consider us kind of to be in playoff mode right now, because we obviously need to win games,” because "throughout his career, [Jeter's] been clutch in the playoffs." Note: Paul O'Neill was clutch in the playoffs, too. Is he going to start in right field now?

Sure, Jeter is not the only problem with this team, but Girardi getting so defensive and insistent that the Captain should stay in his No. 2 spot, even though his numbers over the past month have been horrible, is troubling. Most players with stats like that wouldn't even be starting, let alone getting the second-most at-bats of anybody on the team.

I go back and forth on this issue. A few weeks ago, I was asked by Syracuse radio show host Mike Lindsley whether Jeter should be moved down, and I didn't think it would make a difference. But since then, Martin Prado has been the hottest hitter on the team, and Jeter has struggled even more. So it would have made sense to put Prado (who batted seventh last night) further up in the lineup, and Jeter further down. But because Girardi is indeed managing Jeter's retirement tour now, not for a playoff run, the captain stays where he is. (I know Prado may be injured after last night's game, but he still should have been higher in the lineup.)

Look, I don't think the Yankees are making the playoffs anyway. But the fact is that the team isn't hitting, and moving the players around the lineup couldn't hurt. Girardi complains that the media is singling Jeter out, but the manager is, as Newsday's David Lennon points out, singling Jeter out himself by refusing to even consider moving him.

Yankee beat writer defends Girardi

Sportswriter Brendan Kuty of the Newark Star-Ledger defended Girardi's lineup choices, writing:

"Dropping Jeter would be a bigger distraction than not dropping him has been to date. Because what if his replacement isn't much better? Or, worse, what if it at all damages the relationship between Jeter and the Yankees?"

Kuty also writes that the Yankees should worry more about protecting "Jeter's pristine legacy" than "any false playoff hopes."

Hmmm. I thought the Captain was the ultimate team-first guy. So why wouldn't he want what is best for the team? Why would doing what is best for the team damage things? Come to think of it, why wouldn't Jeter himself suggest that it was time to move him down the lineup, and take the heat off his manager for doing so?

On that crazy retirement patch

Speaking of that selfless, team-first player, how about the fact that a team that doesn't even put names on the back of the uniforms is putting Jeter's name on patches on their hats and jerseys for the last month of the season? (Who needs tradition when you can make even more money?) And how creepy is it going to be when Jeter himself wears patches honoring himself? Even more creepy than Jeter starring in a commercial with everybody kissing his tuchis, or wearing shoes calling himself the King of New York. (Cue the haters writing in to say sexist things. But guess what? That doesn't make the Jeter patch and the Jeter cleats and the Jeter Re2pect commercial  any less self-aggrandizing or obnoxious. And guess what else? Jeter agreed to all of this nonsense.)

Of course, Jeter and Steiner Sports and the Yankees will make a mint selling these special hats and jerseys, particularly the game-used ones.  ESPN's Darren Rovell reported yesterday that Jeter game-used jerseys currently go for $25,000 (!) each. Undoubtedly the ones with the special patch will go for even more. But at what cost?

It's funny how so much of what purportedly made Jeter special -- his humility, his team-first attitude, his supposed desire not to draw attention to himself -- have been completely obliterated over the last few years, culminating in this debacle of a retirement tour. "At what point is the Jeter worship enough?" I asked last month "When does it end?" I guess it never ends, not until the team becomes the New York Jeters, who play at Jeter Stadium. Good grief indeed.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Do the New York Yankees now have a home-field disadvantage?

Something struck me last night when watching the Yankees-Astros game -- how quiet the ballpark was (other than the booing of David Robertson, of course!) The crowd wasn't very loud, even when the Yankees were scoring runs. And after Robertson blew the save, and after the crowd was done booing, you could have heard a pin drop for the rest of the game, it was so quiet. It was if everybody knew in their hearts that this offense wouldn't be able to make up that three-run deficit, so there was no point in vocalizing anything, let alone cheers to rouse the team in the bottom of the ninth inning.

It wasn't that long ago that playing at home was considered a big advantage for the Bronx Bombers. Yet this year, the Yankees' won-loss record is actually below .500 at home!

Here are the Yankee Stadium III wins/losses breakdowns and winning percentages since 2009, when the Stadium opened:

Overall Record: 103-59, .636
Home Record:  57-24, .704
Away Record:     46-35, .568

Overall Record:   95-67, .568
Home Record:  52-29, .642
Away Record:     43-38, .531

Overall Record:    97-65, .599
Home Record:   52-29, .642
Away Record:      45-36, .556

Overall Record:   95-67, .586
Home Record:   51-30, .630
Away Record:     44-37, .543

Overall Record:   85-77, .525
Home Record:  46-35, .568
Away Record:     39-42, .481

Overall Record:   63-60, .512
Home Record:  29-30, .492
Away Record:     34-30, .531 

Look at those numbers. Even when the Yankees only won 85 games last year, their winning percentage at home was still significantly better than their away record. This year, not so much.

If the Yankees are going to have any smidgen of a chance to make the playoffs (and I don't think they will -- they have the toughest schedule of any MLB team going into the last quarter of the year, and they don't have good hitters), they need to win at home. They have 21 games left in their own ballpark, as opposed to 17 away games. 

Michael Kay criticized the fans for booing Robertson last night, and in turn, he got criticized by Yankee fans for doing so. But I agree with Kay on this (and was on his radio show a few months ago when I called in on this very subject of fans booing their own players; my point was just because you can do something like booing, doesn't mean you should!) Not only have I been consistent against Yankee fans doing this, but David Robertson has been terrific all year, and last night was a rare misstep. If you really expected him to be this good, raise your hand, because I sure didn't. And what does he get in return for being great? Some Yankee fans turning on him like that.

Look, I get the frustration in Yankeeland. I am just as frustrated as anyone. But I think that the boos and the lack of support and the other stupid things some Yankee fans have done this year (the worst: the way Robinson Cano was tricked and then booed) may have a little something to do with the Yankees having an even worse record at home than they do in away games this year.

I also think it's odd that a fan base who puts so much stock in jinxes and superstitions and ghosts would tempt the baseball gods that way. (Not to mention my strong suspicion that the house mikes were turned at full blast to amplify the already loud anti-Cano boos even further on the broadcast!)

There is no home field advantage anymore at Yankee Stadium this year; it is more like a home field disadvantage. It is generally commonly accepted conventional wisdom that the new Yankee Stadium is just not as loud as the old ballpark. But there just doesn't seem to be much of a good vibe anymore in the ballpark, something that was evident even in the new Stadium. And other than the good vibes in the house when players like Derek Jeter are going to be feted on their special days, I don't know what is going to change that in the near future.

This is not a good team, but I don't think the booing is helping.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Could Brian (Supergenius) Cashman be on his way out? Please, Hal (Rip Van Winkle) Steinbrenner, make it happen!

Believe it or not, I actually have a smidgen of hope this week for the Yankees. Not for this season, of course. I have never had any expectations that the Yankees would actually go anywhere in 2014, other than to the bottom of the AL East. But that Hal (Rip Van Winkle) Steinbrenner may actually have stirred from the slumber he has been in over the past five seasons and is finally realizing that the Yanks need new leadership in the GM spot. 

When Hal was in Baltimore the other day to select a new MLB Commissioner, he was asked about the state of the Yankees. Steinbrenner said that the hitters need to "step it up" and that A-Rod would be back in 2015. These tidbits were the focus of the initial stories on what he said. Buried in these articles was the most important thing of all -- that Hal did not say that Brian Cashman would definitely be re-signed to a new contract. Instead, he said:
"We’re so busy right now, trying to figure out who’s going to be playing in any given game, much less that,” Steinbrenner said. “We’ll be talking about that soon enough. But you know me. We’ve got enough things to worry about during the season. That’s where our focus needs to be.
“Let me get to October — hopefully the end of October, beginning of November — and we’ll go from there.” 
Funny thing was that the New York media initially did their best to pooh-pooh that assertion: for example, New York Post columnst Ken Davidoff insisted that Steinbrenner's "comments Wednesday felt less like a non-endorsement and more like a sense he had too many other current items on his plate."

And John Harper of the New York Daily News said on "Daily News Live" that "I don't think Cashman is in any danger" because "I don't think the Steinbrenners really have the stomach for a big GM search."

Keep in mind, though, that the NYC media is in the tank for Cashman. Any other GM, for any other team (or sport) would be on the hot seat now. But Teflon Cashman, who puts Teflon Torre to shame, gets a pass from the press. The fact that none of them have the guts to even question whether he should return is pretty telling. To my knowledge, until Hal's comments, there hasn't even been a single story written in the New York papers about whether it is time to consider a new Yankee GM, at the same time New York Mets' GM Sandy Alderson's status has been questioned multiple times.

Is Rip Van Winkle finally stirring?

But at a certain point, doesn't Steinbrenner have to be looking at getting a new GM to deal with MLB right now, and in the future? Not keeping on a has-been like Cashman who is still acting like it's 2003, when the financial realities of baseball gave the Yankees such an overwhelming advantage? Most teams have their own regional networks now, with all the extra money that entails. And they are signing their good players to long-term contracts early. So that means that free agency, which used to be like shopping at Neiman-Marcus, is now often more like rummaging through Goodwill for old things.

Unlike the NYC media, I would have to be like Dory from "Finding Nemo," with the inability to remember anything that happened longer than five minutes ago, to think Cashman is doing a good job. And so would Hal. Two weeks ago, the press was falling all over themselves to praise Cash's smooth trade moves. Now, it is nothing but crickets when reality has set in. The Yankees have lost five in a row and are such an inept opponent that the Tampa Bay Rays aren't even doing standard pre-game practice for this weekend's series.

Cashman's smooth moves are pathetic

Oh, and here are the current Yankee slash lines for those great hitters Cashman traded for:

Stephen Drew: .170/.204/.259 (even worse than his numbers as a Red Sox!)
Chase Headley: .250/.345/.368 (slightly better than at San Diego, but pathetic for a power position)
Martin Prado: .163.217/.256 (and the Yanks now owe him $10M a year for the next two seasons)

Robinson Cano: Miss him yet?

Still think Cashman is doing a good job, folks? Let's look at what Robinson Cano is doing with the Seattle Mariners. His slash line is .330/.398/.476. His Mariners just overtook the Detroit Tigers for the second AL Wild Card spot. His team is going somewhere this year. But hey, the Yankees won't have to pay him eight years from now. Of course, they seemed to have forgotten that before Year 8, they might have actually had a great player.

And where are all the New York media's articles about Seattle's great play this year, thanks in no small part to Cano? The media narrative in December was that Cano was going to a nowhere team. Yet a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity -- he is leading his team on a playoff run! Imagine that! (An aside: I expect over the next few weeks, when Seattle's drive for October finally gets noticed by the NYC media, for Cashman to plant some stories in the press about how he really wanted Cano back, but was overruled by Hal. Remember, you heard it here first!)

Maybe John Harper is right, that Hal doesn't have the stomach for a GM search. If that is true, then the kids need to just sell the team already. Would they rather just see their money wasted, year after year, than to show some intestinal fortitude?

Is Brian Cashman finally going to be given the old heave-ho?

Or maybe Hal is finally fed up. The dirty little secret about the Yankees' decent attendance this year is how many of those tickets are sold at discount sites like Groupon and Living Social, with people paying much less than full price. And that is with this being Derek Jeter's last season, and with having Masahiro Tanaka in the first half. What are things going to be like after Jeter retires and if Tanaka gets Tommy John surgery?

Hal is supposedly a numbers guy. He has to know that the ticket sales and the ratings are going to plummet even more next year. The Yankees' farm system is so bad that Cashman keeps on trading and signing for has-beens as position players, instead of promoting from within. And even signing the likes of Jon Lester will not keep this team afloat, not if the idiot GM stays in charge.

As Dr. Phil always says, if you keep on doing what you've been doing, you're gonna keep on getting what you've been getting. Is Hal Steinbrenner going to finally change things up, stop being afraid that he will be compared to his father if he actually has the nerve to fire someone, and clean house, starting with his idiot GM? I don't know for sure, but I am more hopeful today that it actually could happen than I have been in years.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Squawker Media Alert: Lisa on radio at 4:15 p.m. today

Lisa will be squawking baseball with Mike Lindsley of Syracuse's The Score 1260 at 4:15 p.m. today, Thursday, August 14. If you are in the Syracuse area, you can listen to her on 1260 AM on the radio. If not, check out the station's web site and listen to her there. Thanks!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My favorite Paul O'Neill moment is one that never made the highlight reels

Back in the day, I was a big Paul O'Neill fan. And my late father was, too; that was his favorite player of the 90s dynasty years. (My mother thought O'Neill was a big baby for his temper tantrums, though!)

Anyhow, I was very happy to see the O'Neill has finally gotten the honor he deserves, getting a plaque in Monument Park. If I hadn't already made previous plans to participate in the Asbury Park 5K this past Saturday, I definitely would have gone to the O'Neill ceremony.

I wrote in 2012 about how O'Neill and the rest of the Other Core Four have not gotten the attention and recognition they deserve, while writers like Tom Verducci call Jorge Posada a Core Four member, even though he had a relatively small part in those dynasty years. Here is what I wrote back then:
Newsflash: there was another Core Four in Yankeeland in the late 90s. You may have heard of them, although the Tom Verduccis of the world seem to have forgotten about who they were, relegating them to a footnote. Their names were Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, David Cone, and Tino Martinez. All four of them had much more to do with the Four Rings than Posada ever did.
Incidentally, why no David Cone plaque? Not only was he the Yankees' ace for much of those years, but he also had a perfect game in pinstripes! While I don't think any of these four players, with the possible exception of Williams, deserve their numbers to be retired, they do deserve more recognition for their great moments in pinstripes. And while O'Neill did get that in 2001 from the fans, when they chanted his name in Game 5 of the World Series, I am glad to see that he has been recognized in Monument Park.

My favorite O'Neill moment, though, is not one many people saw. It wasn't in a game, or an interview. In 1996, I flew up from Texas to New York to see Game 1 of the World Series in person. While the game itself was a debacle, I did see something from O'Neill before the game that impressed me to no end. I got to the Stadium many hours ahead of time, in order to get a ticket and check out the scene. So I saw most of the players enter the ballpark from the parking lot, an experience I believe no longer exists at the new ballpark. Anyhow, when I saw O'Neill in street clothes, I was struck by how much he was limping. It looked like even walking from the parking lot to the stadium entrance caused immense pain.

It wasn't a secret that his left hamstring was bothering him then, but seeing him limping in person helped hit home how badly he was hurting them, and made me respect him even more. Especially when we saw him leap in that last play of Game 5 that year to save the game for the Yankees. O'Neill only hit .167 in that series, but he made one of the most famous defensive plays of that era. All on that bad leg.

Anyhow, that is my favorite Paul O'Neill moment. What is yours?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Derek Jeter's cleats are self-aggrandizing and obnoxious

Photo courtesy of http://twitter.com/nick_pants
Imagine a professional athlete in a team sport putting his *individual* accomplishments on his cleats for all to read, topped with the shoes he is wearing calling himself "The King of NY." You would think that was pretty tacky, right? Especially when the star in question plays for a team that doesn't even put players' names on the back of the uniforms. But when the athlete in question is Derek Jeter, some Yankee fans contort themselves to defend this self-aggrandizing stunt, even though the cleats go against everything they purport to admire about the Captain -- his team-first attitude, humility, and desire to avoid individual attention.

But as I have learned over the years, if you ever want to get people really angry, especially Yankees fans, just say something, anything critical about Jeter. That is something I experienced on Facebook yesterday after my friend Jeff asked for my opinion about Jeter's new cleats. I missed seeing them this week, but when I saw the New York Post story on them, I was appalled. Aside from him calling himself "The King of NY," which is self-aggrandizing enough (Is this how he is going to outdo Joe DiMaggio when he is introduced during future Old-Timers' Days? Is there a Bob Sheppard audio in the vaults somewhere that will solemnly declare, "Number 2, Derek Jeter, the King of NY"?) there is also the way "MVP" is in big bold letters, with "All-Star" in tiny letters above it. (Jeter, who some of his acolytes like to think is the greatest player of all time, never won an American League MVP.) The five championships are in tiny type, too, with things like the Silver Slugger awards getting much more space on his shoes.

There are also not one but two mentions of those five Gold Gloves Jeter won, even though the last few were hardly deserved. There is also not just "respect" spelled with a 2, but "captain." Good grief. In short, these cleats are a hot mess. 

Put it this way -- Ray Lewis had his own individual accomplishments on the cleats he wore in his last Super Bowl, but he had the words on the bottom of the shoes, not, like Jeter's, on the cleats themselves for everybody else to read. Nor did Lewis call himself "The King of Baltimore" or any such nonsense; instead, the visible part of the shoe had Psalms 91. (Hat tip to Baseball Think Factory for the info on Lewis' cleats.) When Ray Lewis, who regularly wore a fur coat, has more subtle shoes than Derek Jeter, you know Jete's cleats are way too much.

It's funny. I have been hearing for at least the last decade or so about how Jeter was all about humility, the team, and putting the Yankees -- and winning -- first over individual accomplishments. Wasn't that exactly how A-Rod was found wanting? That he was the me-first kind of guy who only cared about individual stuff? Yet here, Jeter does something that is the opposite of his image, and not for the first time, and some Yankee fans, instead of wondering what the heck the captain is thinking, direct their vitriol at folks like me for simply pointing out that Jeter looks like a tool wearing this. 

Jeter is supposed to be a role model for children, but do the parents of America want their kids to promote themselves like that? Really? This sort of braggadocio, which is also why I find the Jeter Nike commercial so obnoxious, seems antithetical to his image. 

And really, at what point is the Jeter worship enough? When does it end? I have said it before and I will say it again. It is not enough to call him a first-ballot HOFer and a top five Yankee, as I do on my friend Sully Baseball's show (yes, I explain how I give Jeter the nod over DiMaggio.) We also have to think that Jeter is the greatest person to ever play the game, the most humble and wonderful. And when we are done with the Manchurian Candidate-esque accolades, we are not allowed to ever notice when he does me-first things that are the opposite of what he is supposed to be about. 

You know, it is one thing for Jeter to stand there and bask in other people saying how wonderful he is. It is more than a little creepy and weird when he himself is doing the praising. Change his name to anybody else's in this scenario, and people would agree. But call out Jeter, and you're just a hater. Good grief.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My thoughts on the All-Star Game and Adam Wainwright's pipe shot to Derek Jeter

I totally called it. I was on my way home from Manhattan in the rain, listening to last night's All-Star Game on my Nano radio. And right after some very loud fan called Derek Jeter overrated at the game, Jeter seemed to shut him up with a leadoff double against Adam Wainwright. Squawker Jon texted me that Jeter got a double, and I texted back, "I heard Wainwright got tips from Denny McLain." (Back in the day, McLain grooved one to Mickey Mantle for the Mick's 535th career homer.)

I know people will call me a hater for saying that, but given the Mantle history, as well as the history of Chan Ho Park also grooving one to Cal Ripken, Jr. in Cal's last All-Star Game so he could have a home run, I wasn't the least bit surprised to hear that yes, Adam Wainwright did indeed give Jeter a big ol' cookie. After all, this was going to be Jeter's night, no matter what, from the Bob Sheppard introduction on. And a first-inning groundout just wouldn't do.

And well whaddaya know? My suspicions were right. During the game, Wainwright confirmed the cookie suspicions, telling a group of reporters the following thing:
"I was gonna give him a couple pipe shots. He deserved it," Wainwright said. "I didn't know he was gonna hit a double or I might have changed my mind."
So, the pitcher who shouldn't have been starting the game in the first place (Clayton Kershaw should have been the NL starter), but got the nod because his St. Louis Cardinals' manager, Mike Matheny, was the NL All-Star manager, grooves some "pipe shots" to Jeter, who, with his 2014 .647 OPS, was only in the game as a career honor, not for anything he actually did this season. And people call me cynical?

Of course, once word got out on what Wainwright did, he backtracked so fast there may have been skidmarks on the Target Field turf. So after Ken Rosenthal told All-Star viewers about the pipe shots, the FOX broadcast went into full damage control mode. Wainwright, with an assist from Erin Andrews, appeared on the broadcast, blamed social media for the brouhaha and claimed he was just joking. Oh, please. Nobody misquoted you, buddy, and social media had nothing to do with it. You said it, it got reported. Deal with it.

One of the more alarming things about this story was that fact that so many members of the media wanted Wainwright to have kept his mouth shut to keep up the illusion. The Newark Star-Ledger points out what some of them said on Twitter last night. Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News wrote: "Pretty classless move by Wainwright to say he was grooving pitches to Jeter. Either do it and keep quiet or don't do it at all." Eric Boland of Newsday wrote: "Don't know Wainwright's motivation in talking about grooving one to Jeter but doing ends up detracting from very moment he hoped to produce." And Kim Jones wrote "Dear Adam Wainwright: Pipe down."

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, folks, is what these media people, who should know better, seem to be saying. Gee, and here I thought reporters were supposed to, you know, actually report, and not be cheerleaders for a particular storyline. How embarrassing.

Look, either the All-Star Game counts or it doesn't. If the game doesn't count, then the likes of Wainwright can do all the WWE-type moves he wants to show "Re2pect." (And don't get me started on that self-aggrandizing and downright weird ad campaign -- why would Jeter, the guy who supposedly doesn't like all the attention, agree to have everybody kiss his tuchis in that ad?) But if it does count, and home field advantage in the World Series is riding on it, then Wainwright has to, you know, actually do his job and try to help his team win. If the Cardinals make it to the World Series again this year, I guess they can "thank" Wainwright for his gift basket to Jeter when they don't have home-field advantage.

I did like the tribute to Jeter during the game, not just the cheers before his first at-bat, but when he got taken out at shortstop and saluted the crowd and his fellow players. But most of the rest of the stuff in the coverage last night was over the top. Every single player was not interviewed on any achievement they might have, but how they related to Jeter. Even All-Star MVP Mike Trout only seems to matter because he can replace Jeter as the new "face of baseball." (And how much do you wanna bet that Jeter was all set to get that trophy until Wainwright opened his trap?)

It is more than a little sad to me that Jeter got such a gift -- back in the day, he wouldn't have needed such help. But the problem isn't that Wainwright admitted it. The problem is that he would do so in a game that is actually supposed to be real. And that too many people in the media are okay with such fakeness being used to prop up an illusion.