I was never a fan of good-byes…
Sadly, the 2013 Major League Baseball Season has come to an end. Well, at least for the New York Yankees. It was an eventful final week that saw a farewell to the great Mariano Rivera that was unmatched by any I have seen in recent years or even during my lifetime. Mo’s final game at Yankee Stadium turned out to be the final game of his professional career as he chose not to pitch during the season-ending series in Houston to preserve his Bronx goodbye as the final exit for a storied and soon to be Hall of Fame career.
I have been a Mariano Rivera fan since the days when he set up John Wetteland in the bullpen. His 7th and 8th inning appearances before the cardiac appearances by Wetteland were electric. The ball seemed to come screaming with blazing speed yet Mo seemed so effortless in letting the ball leave his hand. He made it look easy, and for the length of his career, he proved he was just a little better than everyone else. Sure, there were a few hiccups along the way. A couple of key blown saves in critical games, but these were few and far between. His success rate was far superior to any failures, and in those failures, you knew that Mo had left his all.
Looking back, I certainly have no regrets. It was an honor and privilege to be a Yankees fan and to witness the career of the latest Yankees legend. He’ll be someone that my grandchildren will be talking about, and I can say that I saw him pitch from the beginning to the end. Mo showed how special it was to play for one team, and he is forever embedded into Yankees lore. Ichiro Suzuki will be immortalized in Cooperstown one day as a Seattle Mariner, but Seattle will never be able to call Ichiro exclusively their own. They may have had his best years, but he still is playing his final years as a Yankee, not a Mariner. Fortunately, we never had to see Mo in another uniform or his former catcher, Jorge Posada.
I have been a Yankees fan since 1974 when free agent Jim “Catfish” Hunter, then my favorite pitcher, signed with the Yankees. I had grown up very intrigued by the Yankees with their great history and tradition. Those early 70’s were still a tough time for the Yankees organization, but they were about to turn the corner following the acquisition of the team by George Steinbrenner and his partners. To digress, I always loved the quote “There is nothing in life quite so limited as being a limited partner of George Steinbrenner”. This quote is attributed to former Yankees minority owner and later Houston Astros owner John McMullen. The first baseball biography I recall reading when I was little was a book about Lou Gehrig, and I’ve been a fan of his ever since. So, when Catfish made the decision to join the Yankees, it was very easy for me to follow.
During the course of my Yankees fandom, I’ve considered the following players to be my favorite Yankees. Hunter, Thurman Munson, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Don Mattingly, and Mariano Rivera. All those years and I can still count my favorite active Yankees on one hand, well until today with Rivera’s retirement. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect other Yankees over the years, these guys just happened to be my personal favorites at the time they played.
Being someone who appreciates history and tradition, I’ve always felt that Rivera was the perfect man to take Jackie Robinson’s number to retirement for the final time. Mo proved that he had the character to stand with greatness, and he served the legacy of Jackie Robinson very proudly and understood its significance. I am glad that the last guy out of baseball with #42 wasn’t some thug just trying to hang on to a lost career, with rumors of a steroid past. He wears #13. Okay, sorry, I didn’t mean that, or maybe I did, but you get the point. Jackie Robinson was a great man who dealt with more adversity than any of us will ever knew. He did it while turning the other cheek and proving he was the better man. He did this while carving out a Hall of Fame career on the field. If there was a man who deserved to have his number retired across baseball, it was Robinson, and if there was a man who deserved to be the final one to walk off the field with it, it was Mo. The Baseball Gods made sure this one played out like it was supposed to.
Mo, we thank you for simply being you. You did it your way, and you never strived to be anything other than what you were. You proved better than most in shaking off the game’s failures and you never gloated in its successes. You were proud of your teammates and respectful of your opponents. Baseball needs you, and I hope that this is just the beginning as you move into the next phase of your career. I am proud, very proud, when I say that I am a Mariano Rivera fan. He exceeded my wildest expectations and he leaves as the best ever at his position. He deserves to be a first ballot entry to the Hall of Fame. Anything less is unacceptable. He was ours and he proved he belongs to the Hall like no other that I’ve personally witnessed during my lifetime. Farewell, Mo. This is not the end, but simply the closing of one chapter and the opening of the next.
AP Photo (courtesy of LoHud Yankees Blog)
The gaze from under the brim of his cat…
While the focus of this post is Rivera, I would be remiss for not saying thanks to Andy Pettitte. Time and again, he stopped losing streaks and he was clutch when it mattered most (October). He never had the brilliant stuff of Felix Hernandez or Roy Halladay, but he was a winner. His passion showed and he was a champion. It was tough watching him leave via free agency for those three years in Houston, but I am glad he came back. Even during his time in Houston, you’d hear stories about how Andy still followed the Yankees. He is part of the Yankees family and history and always will be. It was so very fitting that his final game was a complete game win in his hometown of Houston. A bit ironic that the opponent was named Clemens (Paul Clemens, no relation to Roger). For the final game of the season, Roger Clemens did make an appearance to wish farewell to Mariano, and he gave Andy a hug. There has been a lot of mudslinging between the former close friends and regardless of what Roger may have or have not done, I was glad to see the small reconciliation. Baseball is greater than any one of us, and at the end of the day, Clemens, Pettitte, and Rivera were teammates and they represented the our team. I fully expect to see all three at future Old Timer’s Day games and I am hopeful that old scars can be healed and that the game itself can move forward.
Back to Andy, he will be a hard act to follow. When you look at the Yankees pitching staff, there is not one that can match Andy’s heart. CC Sabathia appears to be on the downside of his career, Hiroki Kuroda could very well head to Japan for his final season or two, Phil Hughes has worn the pinstripes for the last time, Ivan Nova is a roller-coaster and the jury is still out on David Huff. Next season will be one of transition and it is unfortunate that we’ll no longer have Andy as an anchor to the rotation. Andy’s ceiling was never as a #1 pitcher. He came to the major leagues with question marks, but he left as one of its greatest post-season performers. We were lucky to call Andy one of our own, and I am glad that he was never dealt away in one of those knee-jerk type of trades that we saw during the George Steinbrenner regime. Sorry, George, I miss you but you gotta admit that some of those trades left a little bit to be desired…
Getting back on track, Andy leaves the game being able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the greatest lefty in Yankees’ history, the Chairman of the Board, Whitey Ford. The Core Four (Rivera, Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter) did an excellent job in reaching the pinnacle of their positions in franchise history. Posada may not have matched Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey or Thurman Munson, but he can stand in the same room. DJ is obviously one of the greatest shortstops in the team’s history (along with Phil Rizzuto). For a team so stacked in history and tradition, four contemporary players reaching the upper echelon is amazing. It is the end of a terrific Yankees era, and as much as I hate to see Derek Jeter go out with an injury filled career, I would prefer for him to leave now rather than to come back next year for what most likely will be a year of reduced relevance on the roster.
What does the future hold?…
I really do not know what to expect next year. At the moment, it is uncertain if Robinson Cano or Curtis Granderson will be back. Joe Girardi is talking about needing time to decide if he wants to come back which is not a good sign in my opinion. Mark Texeira will be back next year, but he is deteriorating as he ages. I am not sure that CC can get back to being the dominant pitcher he once was, and the line-up is filled with age and injury-susceptible players. The farm system at the upper levels is weak, at best. While many of said that this has been a great year of managing by Joe Girardi, I’d argue that it has not been one of Brian Cashman’s best years. I do not know how much he has been constrained by ownership, but the 10 wins that the team could have used this season could have been acquired through smart and strategic moves. The farm system is very lacking at the upper levels and I know that injuries have played a part, but at some point, Cashman has to be held accountable. Like fine wine, it is harvest season except the Yankees do not have anything to harvest. They’ll have to overpay and to give up too much young talent to field a championship squad next season. Unfortunately, neither makes sense even for the Yankees, so it feels as though we are in the midst of an era of transition. Hopefully, greatness will be waiting on the other side…
Sadly, the fear is confirmed…
Today brought the news that this is the final season for Andy Pettitte. I knew we were getting close to the end and of course, a disappointing season does not help. If the Yankees were a cinch to make the play-offs, this might be a different story. Winning seems to make those aches and pains hurt a little bit less. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the time that Andy gave us. I missed him those three years he was in Houston and of course the prior year of retirement. But I am glad he came back both times and there’s no doubt that he’s a Yankee for life.
As much as I dislike and disrespect a certain third baseman on the active roster, I forgave Andy for the mistakes in his past. He came clean (unlike the “Fraud” or Roger Clemens) and he proved to us that his words were truthful and from the heart. Andy may never get into the Hall of Fame due to the steroid use, but he deserves a place in Memorial Park. Like Mariano Rivera, I truly enjoyed Andy in pinstripes and knew that he gave us his “all” with every performance, win or lose.
I hope the team is smart enough to give him an invitation to come to spring training as an instructor and of course his presence at Old Timer’s Day is a must. With Sunday being Mariano Rivera Day, it is so appropriate that the scheduled starting pitcher is Andy. There would be nothing better than to watch Andy hand the ball to Mo with the appearance of no other Yankee relievers. Hopefully, the game plays out to that form. I love that Andy’s final two games are the aforementioned Mo Rivera Day and the final game against his former team, the Houston Astros. There’s probably not a better away city for Andy to pitch his final game in than his home city. As George Strait would say, “The Cowboy Rides Away”…
Thanks, Andy. You gave us very memorable years and we always, without exception, were pleased when you took the ball. You brought your heart and soul to every game and as a fan, there is nothing more that I could ask for. Time and again, you stopped losing streaks and you were money in October. The pickoff move was simply the best. The guy from Deer Park, Texas proved that he bled pinstripes and you’ll always be remembered as one of the greatest lefties in Yankees history. There will never be anything that we could give to you that would approach what you gave to us. We will be forever your fans.
On the other hand…
While I was glad the Yankees emerged victorious against the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants (as a Bay Area resident, I might add), it was disturbing to see Alex Rodriguez eclipse the legendary Lou Gehrig for the all-time record for career grand slams. Man for man, there is no way that A-Fraud could even stand in the shadow of the Iron Horse. This is a travesty and in my opinion deserves an asterisk.
I will be glad when the day arrives that A-Fraud is a “former” Yankee. I never want to see this loser on Yankee Stadium turf ever again when that happens. Too bad the Yankees can’t trade the Fraud back to Seattle so that they can disassociate themselves from the worst mistake of the post-George Steinbrenner regime.
The right to be pessimistic…
Anybody who has read my blog knows that I have been very pessimistic about the 2013 Yankees. I didn’t feel right about the team coming out of training camp as the Yankees did nothing to upgrade the talent on the team and then when the season started, it became a comedy watching all of the regulars, well, for the most part, end with significant time on the disabled list.
A slight bit of optimism started to slip into my thinking last week when the Yankees started inching closer to the second wild card slot. But that was quickly dashed by the weekend sweep at the hands of the AL East leading Boston Red Sox. The Yankees weren’t just defeated in the series, they felt like a minor league team against giants. It “felt” as though it was impossible for the Yankees to take charge of a game and even when they did hold a lead, it seemed very fragile and in retrospect, it was.
I was reading Joel Sherman’s recent column about the bleak prospect for 2014 and I have to agree. CC Sabathia has shown nothing to lead one to believe that he’ll restore his status as the team’s ace. It is very possible that we are watching the final pinstripe days for Hiroki Kuroda who has been the team’s best pitcher. Ivan Nova, after a brief successful run, has shown he is nothing more than a roller-coaster. Phil Hughes is auditioning for his job elsewhere next season and not doing a very good job. I do not see any scenario that brings Andy Pettitte back for another season. I am sure that this one has been a grind and at his age, that’s enough to pack his bags and head back home to the Lone Star State for the final time. He’ll be a spring training regular as an instructor, I am sure, but as for Yankee Stadium starts, the end is near. I honestly have no clue what season’s rotation will look like other than CC anchoring the bottom end.
As much as I want to see the return of Robinson Cano, I don’t want the Yankees to break the bank. It’s that type of mentality that led them to their current predicament. But I recognize when Hal and Hank Steinbrenner make comments that there’s a limit to what they’ll spend (even if it is the right thing to do), it will psychologically send a message to Cano that maybe they don’t want him as bad as the crosstown Mets or the ‘spend-foolishly’ Los Angeles Angels. The outfield is a disaster with the cast of characters that can call themselves the “Forty-Something” Club. Granted, Brett Gardner isn’t 40, but he’s also proven that he is DL-prone. That’s not an affliction that gets better with age. We’ll most likely see the return of Vernon Wells for no other reason than he won’t cost the Yankees anything toward the salary cap. Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer, but as a 40-year-old shortstop playing on a bad ankle, he’s not a guy that you want to see on the field for 140 or 150 games. Mark Teixeira is on the express train to insignificance. Chris Stewart has done a decent job as the replacement for Russell Martin, but he’s a backup on almost any other club.
A look at the Yankees’ farm system does not show anyone that is ready to be handed a first class ticket to the Bronx. This is definitely an organization in a state of flux, and I am not convinced that it is one that GM Brian Cashman can survive. I think the Yankees will bring back Joe Girardi (there’s not really anyone else that stands out as a surefire upgrade) and someone has to pay the price for Hal Steinbrenner’s frugalness. Cashman’s mantra was building the farm system, but as it stands today, it is a system filled with overhyped prospects with the best talent years from maturing.
How do the Yankees overhaul their aging, overpaid and underperforming roster? Boston’s GM Ben Cherington gets great credit for his salary purge last year that led to his team being on the fast track to the World Series. Unfortunately, I do not see any other team willing to accept the Yankees’ excess baggage. Are we facing a 1980’s drought? I hope not, but then again, I am not seeing anything that would instill confidence. I hope the team’s off-season meetings are about how to improve the team and not to avoid exceeding the 2014 salary cap. Another 2013-like year, and this is going to be a very difficult hole to dig out of. I would not expect the Yankees to compete again until after the contracts of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, and the other older vets are distant memories.
Meanwhile, my favorite NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings, is 0-2. 2013 is not playing out to be a very good sports year for me. I need help. Hey, San Jose Sharks, can you do something to lift my spirits?…
The end is near for the Yankees but sadly that also means….
The end of the legendary career of my personal favorite Yankee, Mariano Rivera. He’s been my favorite since he was zooming fastballs in the 8th inning prior to the entrance of closer John Wetteland. Mo has been the epitome of the ideal baseball player. When I think of all the Yankee greats, there is some sadness that I never got to see them play, like the Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig. But in Mariano Rivera, I saw a pitcher that my grandchildren will be talking about. I’ve been very proud of his career and accomplishments and even in those moments of failure, there was never sadness because you knew that Mo gave it his all. It’s been a pleasure to be a fan during his reign and his career will always be one that I’ll be so thankful and happy for. I thought his words in the Fenway Park dugout were sincere, simple and so-Mo. He is and has been the best…
The Boston Massacre or the Bronx Massacre?…
Since the games are being held in the Bronx, I suppose the Boston Red Sox kill of any Yankee play-off aspirations should be called the Bronx Massacre. Unfortunately, the high hopes coming off the sweep of the Chicago White Sox were dashed as the Sox are definitely now on the other foot.
Thursday’s game was disappointing as the Yankees launched a valiant rally only to lose a game they were within one strike of winning. The defeat came with none other than the legendary Mariano Rivera on the mound. Friday night, it was the Yankees who built the large early lead, but the Red Sox stormed back and thrashed the Yankees. Although Boone Logan gave up the key grand slam, I blame Phil Hughes for changing the momentum of the game. Today’s game (Saturday) is still underway but the team is getting royally throttled at the moment (12-3 in the 5th inning). The Yankee pitching staff has not shown the ability to get Red Sox hitters out during this series so I have no reason to expect the team to rally from the latest hole (either today’s game or the season). If they lose today’s game as expected, they’ll be 11 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East standings. The races for the Wild Card spots are still within reach but the Yankees aren’t playing like a team that wants to win. They still have one more series against the Red Sox (in Boston) and if they can’t beat the Sox in the Bronx, they certainly are not going to win in Beantown.
This has been a very weird season as a Yankees fan. The team did nothing to improve upon last year’s squad and simply filled key roles with bargain basement replacements. Alfonso Soriano is the only quality acquisition, but he is an aging player with a large salary. It’s not exactly like it was a brilliant acquisition for GM Brian Cashman. The Chicago Cubs were glad to part with Soriano even if they are still picking up a large part of his compensation. I’ve been reading many articles that talk about the great managing job Joe Girardi has done this season, but no one is saying the same about Cashman. The unknown variable is that we do not know the restraints he is under from Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner. If you are under standing orders that you cannot increase salary, it’s not exactly like you are going to go out and land a Giancarlo Stanton or Cliff Lee. But it’s odd watching the Pittsburgh Pirates being more aggressive in the addition of reinforcements (i.e., Justin Morneau, Marlon Byrd and John Buck) than the Yankees. A few key “stronger” players here or there could have meant the difference in the current Wild Card standings and the Yankees wouldn’t be on the outside looking in.
The only guarantee is that there will be changes in the off-season. At this point, I have to believe that the departure of Cashman is a possibility. I do not expect Joe Girardi to be going anywhere but this team will look radically different, particularly if the Yankees do not re-sign impending free agent Robinson Cano. I am not sure what to expect with the 2014 Yankees. I don’t know if optimism will be part of the equation and if we will be looking at another “patched-together” squad of expensive, deteriorating older players and cheap free agent acquisitions of players released from their current clubs. The Yankees need to get younger but is this going to take a season or two, or years. The decisions being made by Hal Steinbrenner will impact the Yankees for years to come. Time will tell if he is making very astute and winning decisions to set up future success, or if he is ensuring that this time period will be the 1980’s re-visited.
If somehow the Yankees manage to salvage the 2013 season and grabbed a Wild Card spot, I seriously doubt they’d be able to do anything with it. Hopefully, the Steinbrenner family is able to do something to return optimism to the Bronx in the not-so-distant future.
Pondering the Quarterback situation…
As a long-suffering Minnesota Vikings fan, the hope is that this is the year QB Christian Ponder “figures it out”. He is a talented and intelligent guy, and there’s no reason for him not to become the answer for the Vikings if he chooses to be. How many guys would like to have Adrian Peterson in the backfield, Greg Jennings out wide, and Kyle Rudolph at tight end? Ponder has the weapons and he has the physical tools to succeed. It is all up to him. If the Vikings have to make the move to replace Ponder with backup Matt Cassel, then the team is sunk.
Last year was a pleasant surprise but it will be more challenging this year with the more difficult schedule. I do wish that Adrian Peterson would let go of the dream to reach 2,500 rushing yards in a season. I would not want to see him at such risk for injury nor would I want an individual goal to become superior to the team’s goals.
The Vikings start the season against the Detroit Lions, a team that knows a thing or two about having huge offensive weapons. The young Vikings secondary will have to show that they are ready for the big time as it doesn’t get any easier in the coming weeks. It’s too bad that, so far, the team hasn’t been able to get former starter Antoine Winfield to come out of retirement. Josh Robinson is fast, but we’ll see if he can keep up with Megatron…
Hockey’s around the corner…
Soon, the San Jose Sharks will join the Minnesota Vikings as “distractions” for me during this disappointing MLB campaign. I am looking forward to a full season of NHL Hockey rather than last year’s strike-shortened version. I am still having a tough time thinking of the HP Pavilion or “Shark Tank” as the SAP Center. While it is called S-A-P and not the word “sap”, how long before the latter becomes the norm if the team fails to succeed?
Where are you, Optimism? I miss you… ;)