Does everyone get treated this way?Final words on the A-Rod bashing, and more
After several days of treating the A-Rod situation over on the Pinstriped Blog side of the operation, this column will be largely A-Rod free. First, though, this one note: The feedback received here was mostly supportive of Rodríguez. However, there has also been a fair share, here and elsewhere, of pseudo-macho responses saying, "Don't blame the fans if A-Rod can't take the booing. Mickey Mantle got booed every day for years and he excelled."
It would seem unnecessary to point out that everyone is different. Alex Rodríguez isn't Mickey Mantle. Literally. What may be an acceptable level of stress to one person may be a crushing burden to another, even if that person is a professional ballplayer. That doesn't make that person less of a man or less of a player, it just makes them an individual. This point is asserted as a general principle, rather than as an evaluation of Rodríguez's ability to take abuse. That part, for all of us, is just speculation.
A-Rod, it is said, has to take the abuse, that it's part of his job. No one ever stops to ask why. Nowhere is it written that in exchange for playing for the Yankees players must undergo a rite of passage at the hands of howling pack of anonymous cowards. Nor does it speak well of the supposedly educated fans. As Derek Zumsteg of ussmariner.com recently pointed out, just why was it a point of pride that Mantle got booed? It should be embarrassing. He was the best player in baseball. Booing him was shallow and crass.
There's also an assumption inherent in holding Mantle's example up to A-Rod that Mantle wasn't impaired by the booing. Perhaps, as good as he was, he might have been better had the atmosphere been more supportive. Certainly Casey Stengel felt that Mantle was capable of more years like 1956 and 1957.
Maybe Mantle was less emotionally sophisticated than Rodríguez. Maybe it was that Mantle played in front of a tiny fraction of the fans that see A-Rod nightly. In 2004 and 2005, roughly 7.8 million fans watched Rodríguez at Yankee Stadium alone. That doesn't include road games or television. Mantle was seen by eight million fans at Yankee Stadium too, though it took him from 1951 to 1955. Or maybe it was that Mantle channeled his feelings into alcohol. Could it be that Mickey Mantle died for the boobirds' sins? Sure, it sounds unreasonable to blame a group of strangers for a man's illness, but it's not any more unreasonable than saying that a human being should have no feelings after being called out in ballparks and in every form of media that exists.
Everyone is different. Every man's story is new. Alex Rodríguez is a great player. If he can't bear up under relentless criticism - and we don't know that to be the case-then fans who are actually interested in seeing the Yankees win should probably find diminish their contribution to that criticism. So many fans live vicariously, wishing they could do something to influence the outcome of the season. Here's your chance. Alternatively, you can tear a man down for some fanciful definition of manhood just because you can, just because you feel anonymity gives you the right to do so.
I OFTEN DREAM OF TRAINS
Since July 14, the Yankees have gone 8-3, including a three-game sweep of the White Sox July 14-16. During that same period, the White Sox have gone 2-9, dropping two games to the Tigers, two to the Rangers, and two to the Twins. In fact, their malaise actually began before the All-Star break, when the Red Sox dropped Ozzie Guillén's team on its head (assuredly by accident) twice in three games.
The main culprit has been pitching. Mark Buehrle has gone 0-3 with a 9.37 ERA during this stretch. José Contreras is 0-3 as well, but with an ERA in the 4.00s his problem has been a lack of offensive support. Javier Vazquez's ERA is 6.59. Freddy Garcia's is 5.68. There are reasons to think that two out of the group of Buehrle, Garcia, and Vazquez won't be bouncing back.
The offense hasn't been much better, as the team has decided that reaching base is for sissies. The OBP since July 7 has been an even .300. As a result, the team has averaged just 3.7 runs per game. The pitching staff has allowed 5.4.
The Wild Card race, which seemed over just two weeks ago, now has life. The Yankees and White Sox are tied in the loss column. The Twins are one game behind. If Carlos Silva can beat Buehrle (there's a matchup to avoid) on Wednesday afternoon, they will tie the Pale Hose for the lead.
The White Sox have a chance to get well against the Orioles and Royals in their next two series, but early August will be difficult, providing the Yankees with a chance to determine their own fate. After playing the Rays and Jays at home, the Yankees play the Orioles from August 4-6. The White Sox will be playing the Blue Jays. On August 7 the Yankees are off while the Sox host the Angels for a makeup game. The next day the Yankees and White Sox play the first of three in Chicago. The White Sox follow the Yankees with three against Detroit, while the Yankees go home for four with the Angels. By August 14, we should have a much better idea of the Yankees' place in the wild card race.
Not long after, beginning August 18, the Yankees go to Boston for five games. By August 21, we should have a much better idea of the Yankees' place in the AL East race. The next 30 days could very well decide the season for New York.
THE WORST SEASON BY A FIRST BASEMAN IN YANKEES HISTORY
Minimum of 350 plate appearances for the old timers. With his current slump, Andy Phillips is on his way to taking his place among the immortals.
Phillips' slump will end. The real player isn't as bad as his July numbers (.145/.188/.276), nor is he as good as his June numbers (.333/.347/.623). His abilities reside somewhere in the wide expanse between, probably in the vicinity of his PECOTA projection at the outset of this season - .255/.317/.444. Phillips is not an everyday player, but is more correctly viewed as a role player who can be spotted at first, second or third base for a day or two at a time with the hope that the odd home run might offset his glove at the more difficult positions. The Yankees haven't been able to use him that way or have chosen not to but if Phillips has a future in the major leagues after this season (no sure thing), that's how he will have to be used.
A couple of quick notes on the above: Sturm and Dahlgren were consequences of Lou Gehrig's unexpected decline and retirement. The Yankees spent several years trying to find even a competent replacement. Manager Joe McCarthy actually used Sturm as his leadoff man for most of 1941, convinced by an early hot streak that Sturm could play. He couldn't. He was drafted after the season and never made it back to the majors. Moriarty's future was in umpiring. Though by no means was Chris Chambliss a great hitter, this sample from his first season with the Yankees isn't representative. Mattingly was a great hitter, but 1990 was the year that his back betrayed him.
If the Yankees are unable to make a deal for an outfield bat or feel reasonably certain that one of Hideki Matsui or Gary Sheffield most likely the former will soon be back at something like full strength, they might turn their attention towards first base. Unfortunately, the same paucity of available talent afflicts this position. Players who might be available Sean Casey, Craig Wilson, Doug Mientkiewicz are not great. Still, they will probably produce more consistently than Phillips has.
One wonders if Cleveland has made Ben Broussard available. They should; at .322/.363/.523 he's in way over his head. It's the perfect time to sell high. With Ryan Garko on the way and the likelihood of more games at first for Victor Martínez in the future, they have reason to deal.
THE REALM OF HUNGRY BACKSTOPS
With former Yankees acquaintances Chris Widger and Sal Fasano having been cut by their teams, the Catherine wheel of catchers spins again for the Yankees. Kelly Stinnett, we hardly knew ye. At .228/.282/.304, Stinnett isn't hitting as well as could have been expected, but he's actually not dramatically off, given his career averages of .238/.319/.387. No doubt some of that missing power was a gift of Arizona's ballpark.
One of the more frustrating aspects of Stinnett's approach has been his strikeouts, which have occurred about once every three at bats. Candidate Fasano isn't going to offer much improvement in that department. In 300 at-bats over across this year and last, Fasano has struck out 88 times, or once every three at bats (specifically every 3.4 at-bats, as compared to 2.7 for Stinnett). Candidate Widger is a poor hitter who hasn't done much with the stick since 1999. He strikes out less than the other two, for what that's worth.
None of these players would do less than kill the Yankees in case of an injury to Jorge Posada. Assuming health for Jorge and a day off every seven days of so, the reserve catcher is going to start another nine games. That might be enough that the outs wasted could make a difference in a close race. You could throw a dart at these three and be right or wrong as to whom you picked given the small amount of playing time available. In fact, right before publication of this column, the Yankees acquired Fasano for 21-year-old Class A catcher Hector Made. This is a worthy risk for the Yankees; Fasano younger than the other two and based on recent performances, perhaps a bit more vital.
Downside: his moustache will give those of us who lived through the 1970s some very uncomfortable flashbacks. One look at that thing and all of the sudden Alicia Bridges is singing to that disco beat. I love the nightlife I've got to boogie
THE BRETT GARDNER INTERVIEW
Brett Gardner was the Yankees' third-round pick in last year's June draft. Gardner is the best baserunner the Yankees have had in their system in some time, a runner who rates at the top of the scouting scale when in flight. Already a disciplined hitter, Gardner batted .284/.377/.376 as a tyro with Staten Island last year. Gardner began the year with Tampa, but forced a promotion to Double-A Trenton by batting .323/.433/.418 in 63 games. So far he's hit .283/.360/.342 in 30 games.
In addition, Gardner has established himself as a special basestealer, nabbing 63 bases in 76 attempts as a pro. The only knock on him is his lack of power. To date he's hit just five home runs in 634 professional at-bats and is slugging just .385. Given his plate judgment and defensive potential it might not matter, but he'll have to keep progressing to avoid a Jason Tyner label. We spoke with him last week at Trenton.
Pinstriped Bible: You've come really far in just a short period of time. Could you give a brief scouting report on yourself? How do you see your skills developing?
Brett Gardner: I feel like everything in my career has happened exactly the way I'd want it to. I'm happy to be here, happy to have moved this far. In the short period I've been with the Yankees I'm lucky to be in Double-A, and hopefully finish out the season here and do well. As far as myself as a player, I'd say I'm a prototypical leadoff guy. I get on base any way possible whether it be hitting a ground ball and trying to get an infield hit, or try to drop some balls in the gap and get some doubles and some triples, bunt for a hit, get on base and make things happen, use my speed to my advantage and steal some bases, and play good defense and cover a lot of ground out there and track some balls down.
PB: Not a lot of players have as developed a sense of the strike zone as you do when they first come into the game. Is that something you've worked on?
BG: It's something I've worked on over the last few years. I was in college for four years and that helped me mature a lot, not only as a person but as a baseball player, and I'm very thankful for that. I used those four years to my advantage. I'm 22 years old so, I was a little old, I guess, considering that most people start pro ball around 20 or so, but I'm 22 at Double-A so I guess now I'm a little young for where I'm at. As far as the strike zone's concerned I feel like I have a pretty good idea of it. I try to work the count, make the pitcher throw some pitches, see some pitches, and see what he's got early in the game. If I get a good pitch I'm going to take advantage and hit it, but I like to work the count and get on base any way possible, whether it be getting a hit, getting hit by a pitch, or getting a walk.
PB: When fans talk about players who are and aren't selective, there seems to be a problem with perception. It's often treated as a choice rather than a skill that some players just don't have, something that physically they may be incapable of. What's your perspective?
BG: I think no matter what a guy does, people are always going to question it. Watching TV earlier, everyone is talking about how bad of a player A-Rod is. I mean, let's get serious. A lot of people say, "Why do you take so many so many pitches? Why don't you jump on some fastballs and hit 'em?" Well, if I jumped on more fastballs early, then people would say, "Why don't you take more pitches?" It's something where I need to find a happy medium and use it in my best interest. However I can get on base is what I need to do. I feel that by taking pitches it helps me have quality at-bats and helps me find my way on base. A walk's just as good as a hit. My goal is to get on base and make things happen and apply pressure to the defense and score runs. That's my job.
PB: Do you try to hit the ball on the ground?
BG: Definitely. I'm not a home run hitter. If I wanted to, over the course of the season I could probably hit 10 or so home runs, but that's not my job. The guys that hit behind me in the lineup, that's what they do. That's why I bat at the top of the lineup, because I'm supposed to hit the ball on the ground, I'm supposed to find ways to get on base. Even if it's right to somebody I'm going to run a hard 90 to first and if they hesitate at all I'm going to be safe. It's part of applying pressure to the defense. I don't try to hit the ball on the ground, I try to hit a line drive every time, but if I miss I want to miss a little on top of it instead of under it.
PB: You hit five home runs last year. Were those just on line drives that carried?
BG: Just balls that I got a hold of, balls that were middle-in that I turned on. I hit two in one game last year and who's to say that won't happen tonight? I haven't hit any home runs this year but I'm not trying to, and if I finish the year with no home runs I don't care. It doesn't matter if I finish with no home runs or 11 home runs, my job is to get on base and make things happen and hitting home runs isn't the way to do that.
PB: A lot of young players when they first turn pro, if they're base stealers, their success rate is below average. You seem to be successful a good deal of the time.
BG: Our manager, Billy Masse, he's working with me a lot on when to run, when not to run, on different counts and different situations, whatever the situation calls for as far as the score, the count, or who's batting behind me, stuff like that. Sometimes if the pitcher is throwing a 1-1, 1-2 to the plate and he's got a quick slide step you can't go. You can't steal on everybody. But if the guy is slow to the plate and he allows you to steal, you have to take advantage of that.
PB: You must get asked this all the time, but here goes: the Yankees happen to have lost a couple of outfielders this year, but generally they're pretty stacked at the major league level. Does that discourage you at all?
BG: No, not at all. I'm lucky to be part of an organization like the Yankees and get treated well. I'd rather be part of this organization than another organization that's low-budget and doesn't treat you as well. It's just nice to be part of the Yankees. The things that the Yankees have done over the years and their reputation, it's just unbelievable. I can't worry about that. I've got to come to the field every day and work hard and play hard every day and make things happen. If it's with the Yankees or the Royals or the Diamondbacks
PB: Don't say the Royals.
BG: It doesn't matter. My goal is to make it to the big leagues whether it's with the Yankees or any of the other 30 teams in baseball
PB: But not the Royals. You really don't want to go to the Royals.
BG: It doesn't matter. It's not discouraging. That's part of the game.
PB: Did you follow a team growing up?
BG: I've just been a big fan of baseball. I never really had a favorite team. I'm from South Carolina, so I guess when I was little maybe the Braves a little bit. But I never really had a favorite team, diehard, one way or another.
PB: Was there a player you modeled yourself after?
BG: Not really. Maybe a Brett Butler kind of guy.
PB: He was with the Braves, but that was a little before your time.
BG: Yeah, it was before my time.