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Twenty thoughts on 20 Yankees for Thanksgiving

A break from baseball news for an association game
11/21/2007 1:11 PM ET
By Steven Goldman / Special to YESNetwork.com

Ron Guidry emerged from Billy Martin's doghouse.(AP)
The holiday is upon us and news is slow — I could talk about what a screwy winter the Mets are having, and how the Braves and the Phillies have a good chance to have the NL East to themselves next year, or the typically weird voting for NL MVP, but that's been covered quite well elsewhere. In any case, this is YESville and a holiday, so let's lay off that stuff from the other league until Monday. For now, something of a game of free association:

LOU GEHRIG: I wish I had a better sense of his defense. In recent years, I've frequently had the thought that Joe Torre would have benched him for Doug Mientkiewicz. To paraphrase Paul Simon, "A man he sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest."

GIL MCDOUGALD: One of my favorite Yankees I never saw play, he was a defensive standout at three positions and a better hitter than Yankee Stadium's configuration showed him to be. Robinson Cano's 2007 (.306 /.353/.488) was about the same in context as McDougald's 1956 (.311/.405/.443). Gil will turn 80 this year - the Yankees should get him out to Old Timer's Day.

RON GUIDRY: One of the best putdowns in Yankees history came during one of Guidry's first spring trainings. When Billy Martin went out to the mound during a rocky outing, he said, "Do you see anyone here you can get out, because if you do I'll let you pitch to them." No doubt Guidry, who was 26 before he got a chance to pitch regularly, didn't find it all that funny.

CASEY STENGEL: You can fill up a page with some of the similarly harsh things Casey said to pitchers as they were leaving a game. I don't really admire this habit in Stengel or Martin. Some players were motivated by this kind of talk, but many were alienated. That's why some of the best things he said to pitchers were on the benign side. He told one pitcher he was coming out of the game because up in the stands, "People are beginning to talk." When he was managing the Toledo Mudhens, he invited John McGraw out to look at prospect Roy Parmelee for a possible deal. Parmelee was rocked. "Make out like you're hurt," Casey said. "I'm trying to get you out of here gracefully."

DANNY TARTABULL: He was a decent hitter for the Yankees, but probably one of the least fun to watch because he was a moose in the outfield and his at-bats were over once he had two strikes on him; there was almost no chance he'd come back and get a hit. Literally. In 1994, he batted .000/.000/.000 when swinging 0-2, striking out in 11 of 18 plate appearances. He was little better on 1-2 or 2-2. If he didn't hit one out in the first two pitches, it was safe to go to the concession stand and get a hot dog.

PAUL ZUVELLA: In 1986 or '87 he refused to give a friend of mine (then a teenager) an autograph. I remember being stunned that he didn't appreciate the request. How many fans could a guy hitting .083 have?

BIRDIE CREE: I just like the idea that he existed, the secret star of the 1911 team, hitting .348/.515/.513 with 22 triples and 48 stolen bases. The 1911 Yankees were managed by Hal Chase, so they needed all the help they could get. Imagine that player on next year's Yankees - he'd be terrifically exciting to watch. This goes towards explaining why Jimmy Rollins won the MVP. He may not be the best player in his league, but he's always doing something.

EARLE COMBS: The Yankees' version of Pete Reiser, even though he went to the Hall of Fame. His career was frequently affected by running into concrete walls, missing time with things like broken clavicles and fractured skulls. It's probably not that nobody thought of warning tracks and padded walls at that point, but that no one cared enough to spend the money to implement them.

JOE DIMAGGIO: While watching Alex Rodriguez circle the bases this year, the thought would come, unbidden: "Joe DiMaggio would be really annoyed by this." He was so prideful there's little doubt he would have felt like Rodriguez was showing him up by being a more successful right-handed home run hitter with the Yankees than he was. Joe's best came in 1937, when he hit 46 of them while batting .346/.412/.673 (he finished second to Charlie Gehringer in the MVP voting, another one the Baseball Writers will have to account for when the revolution comes). Of course, Joe's Yankee Stadium isn't A-Rod's. The fences were about six miles further out for the Clipper.

BOBBY MURCER: It's so easy to think of him as only a folksy broadcaster that you forget what a good hitter he was at times. His 1971, when he hit .331/.427/.543 in a league that averaged .247/.317/.364 was not only the best offensive season in the league that year, it was bigger, in context, than anything Don Mattingly or A-Rod ever did.

DON MATTINGLY: For a long time, a great deal was made of his being drafted in the 19th round (1979). Then Mike Piazza came along.

JOE PEPITONE: The Yankees led the AL in walks drawn in 1953, then gradually became less selective. They ranked second in the league in 1958, the last championship year of the Stengel years. After that, it was as if someone had unplugged the players from the strike zone. The 1961 Yankees didn't lead the league in runs scored because the team had come to be dominated by players who were so impatient. Pepitone was one of these. He had good power but wouldn't walk. The 1963 infield (Pep, Bobby Richardson, Clete Boyer, and Tony Kubek) drew 83 unintentional walks combined. When the team collapsed in 1965, they finished ninth in a 10-team league in walks, but no one ever talks about that when they get into causes. It was all CBS and lack of investment in the farm system, but there was also an organization-wide failure of coaching.

MICKEY MANTLE: Was always the great exception to the team's lack of selectivity. Even in the last couple of years of his career, when he wasn't hitting much overall, he still reached base often enough to be quite valuable — he was top five in on-base percentage in both 1967 and 1968. It's odd how everyone on that team professed to admire his dedication but none thought to emulate his approach at the plate.

DON BAYLOR: If you watched Baylor as a Yankee in the 1980s, or anytime thereafter, it seemed impossible to reconcile the human tank before you with the stolen base numbers on the back of his baseball card. Baylor stole over 30 bases three times, peaking at 52 in 1976 for the steal-happy 1976 A's. As of his Yankees stint he had a chance to hit 300 home runs and steal 300 bases, which at the time would have put him into an exclusive category with Willie Mays. His speed vanished at that point, and he finished 15 steals short.

MIKE EASLER: The Baylor-for-Easler deal the Yankees made with the Red Sox in 1986 represents the fabled DiMaggio-for-Ted Williams, switch-ballparks-and-win deal writ small. As things worked out, Easler was better in Boston and Baylor was better in New York. That said, Easler's 1986 for the Yankees was pretty good (.302/.362/.449). That winter the Yankees dealt him to the Phillies for Charlie Hudson. It's still not clear what the Phillies wanted with a DH...

BABE RUTH: Next year will be the 60th anniversary of his passing and the last season of the House that he built. You'd like to see the Yankees mark the occasion, and maybe some of the other great moments that have occurred in the old park before they say goodbye. Here's my idea: invite as many actors as you can to recreate some of those great moments. James Earl Jones could read Lou Gehrig's farewell before a game, or Tom Hanks could give Ruth's farewell ("The only game in the world, I think, is baseball..."). There are endless things of that nature that could be tried, memorable moments from other "days" for players, or other events that could be recreated, such as the announcement that Billy Martin was coming back on Old Timer's Day in 1978, and even if you repeat some of the key events with different speakers it wouldn't matter.

DAVE WINFIELD: He did a lot of positive things in a Yankees uniform, but also set the single-season record for grounding into double plays with 30 in 1983. He actually wasn't all that prolific in terms of hitting into them given the number of opportunities he had, 157. That's just 21 percent, high, but nothing compared to Joe Girardi whacking into 16 in 50 chances (32 percent) in 1999. Remember to start the runners, Joe!

CHARLIE HAYES: I wasn't yet lucky enough to be writing this feature in 1992, but if I had been, the acquisition of Hayes (for reliever Darren Chapin) would have filled many pages - he would have been my first Tony Womack. Hayes was a decent glove but a miserable hitter with no patience; when the Yankees acquired him his career rates were .247/.276/.361. A good deal of the team's problem in those days was a complete inability to reach base, and Hayes exacerbated that problem. The expansion draft saved them after '92. That the Yankees went and got him back in 1996 was annoying. That they gave him 100 games at third base in 1997 was frustrating.

JOHNNY STURM: Sturm batted .239/.293/.300 as the starting first baseman for the 1941 Yankees. The team went 101-53, so with anything like a real first baseman you figure they could have won close to 110 games. Another favorite miserable Yankees season: shortstop Pee-Wee Wanninger, who hit .236/.256/.305 for the team in 1925. The team went 69-85, and Wanninger was part of the problem. They promoted Mark Koenig from the minors that September. He wasn't a great hitter either, but he was about twice as good as Wanninger. More recent seasons of this type that you might actually have seen: Gary Ward 1987 (.248/.291/.384); Alvaro Espinoza 1990 (.224/.258/.274); Rondell White 2002 (.240/.288/.378); and (this last one can't be helped) Tony Womack 2005 (.249/.276/.280).

JOE GIRARDI: I haven't counted or anything, but you figure that between Joe Torre and Joe McCarthy, guys named Joe have managed about 30 years' worth of Yankees games. Mr. Girardi will only be extending their lead. The Buckies (Harris, Dent, Showalters) trail roughly 4,500 to 1,000, so they're going to have to get up another candidate if they want to make a game of it. The only possibility currently sniffing around the majors is outfielder Buck Coats, but very few outfielders become successful managers - Casey was the big exception. If we're generous about definitions, the Bucks can pin their hopes on Royals catcher John Buck. Catchers, as both Torre and Girardi demonstrate, tend to gravitate towards managing. Buck is only 27 and could play for another 10 years, so start looking for him around 2022 or so.

THANKSGIVING
My best wishes to everyone. Have a wonderful holiday, and above all be safe. I'll be looking for you here when the Pinstriped Bible and Blog return on Monday.

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MONDAY, November 19: Posted at 4:41 p.m. ET

CONGRATULATIONS TO A-ROD
When had he locked up the MVP? June? His winning gives us a new definition of "fait accompli." Thanks to his new contract, we'll get to talk about how wonderful this year was until 2032.

"Remember the last year New York wasn't under water?" we'll say wistfully. "A-Rod was mighty good that year."

"Yes," someone will sign. "Floodwaters sure cut down on his range after that. All that money, but he still couldn't play in a rowboat... especially in the playoffs."

TO THE MATS WITH READER MAIL
1: "I HAVE BEEN OVER INTO THE FUTURE, AND IT WORKS"
I was very distressed to hear that the Yankees may be willing to trade Chamberlain, and Hughes, and possibly others, to get Johan Santana. Do you see that happening?, Do you think it's worth it, because I sure don't!!
— Seth

The quote is from Lincoln Steffens, and he was wrong — he was talking about Red Russia in 1919. The future is hard to predict, especially when it comes to dictatorships and left-handed pitchers. Santana at, or close to, peak form might give the Yankees three to five more wins than the hypothetical average guy they would have started in his place. His is also the kind of stuff you'd like to have working for you in the postseason — Matt Holliday and David Ortiz have to make contact to hit the ball out of the park. Alternatively, Santana could go Eddie Lee Whitson, or his arm could tear lose from his shoulder on his first pitch of spring training, helicoptering gently to the ground in front of the pitcher's mound. Those risks seem remote in Santana's case, but you never know.

Given the upside, Santana would, in most circumstances, be a risk worth taking. This would be doubly true when it comes to a team that is just one pitcher away from picking up some rings. This is where the Yankees must be cautious about the price in terms of pitching, because they're likely more than one pitcher away. To paraphrase scripture, what is a team profited if it shall gain a Cy Young winner and not be able to fill out its rotation? Roger Clemens is gone. Andy Pettitte may be gone. Mike Mussina probably should be gone. Further, you can safely bet that at least one of the three great-looking kids — Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy — won't look great by next May, be it due to ineffectiveness or injury. If the package for Santana required one of these kids, you would have to consider it. Two and they might find themselves short. It's a tough, tough decision.

2: "I SHALL SET FORTH FOR SOMEWHERE/I SHALL MAKE THE RECKLESS CHOICE"
Just read Tim Marchman's column from the Sun about Andruw Jones being undervalued and a potential steal in the free agent market. Do you agree? Is this an option for the Yankees to look at (although it maybe too late having picked up Abreu's option)
— Chris

I agree with Tim completely. There should be a rebound left in Andruw. As I've written before, if the Yankees were to sign Jones and use Melky Cabrera in a deal for some needed part, I wouldn't kick.

3: CRYING, WISHING, HOPING
In one of those insane trade ideas that fans often dream up, a poster on a blog I read brought up a name I'd never heard before: Steve Pearce of the Pirates. He's apparently a 24-year-old righty 1B/RF that has some nice minor league numbers (.302/.375/.551). He raced up the ladder last season, getting some time with the big club in September. They've got Nady in RF and they traded for LaRoche last season to fill 1B. I'm wondering if there's a reason for the Yanks not to look at getting this kid in place of Phillips/Duncan for the righty half of some 1B platoon situation again. He looks to have a bunch of pop, and be a more complete hitter than either of them. Do you have access to any scouting info about this kid? Thanks!
— Chris

I talked about Pearce a few weeks ago, back when I was running down first base prospects. I like Pearce. He's a little guy (he's listed at 5'11" but might have squeezed in an inch) who has some pop. I don't see him as a top of the line first baseman due to his age and less than overwhelming plate judgment, but he could be average or a little better, hitting something in the neighborhood of .275/.340/.490. Pearce almost certainly would outperform what the Yankees have, but unless the new Pirates regime is as bad as the old one I don't see them moving him. He's cheap and under 30, exactly the kind of players that team needs to build around. Now, if the Pirates choose to make LaRoche available because of Pearce, Brian Cashman should definitely call.

4: POLITICALLY IMPOSSIBLE SOLUTIONS TO OIL CONSUMPTION AND DEREK JETER
If Lowell is on the roster, he should play 3rd, with A-Rod moving over to shortstop and Jeter to 1st.
— Daniel

I keep having this argument with Tom Friedman by way of my father, who often agrees with what Friedman writes. Friedman says that we need to reduce our dependency on foreign oil. Great thought. Then he says there ought to be a heavy gas tax to incentivize the ignorant masses into leaving the car at home and switching to um ... well, horses, I guess. Anyway, even if you agree with the idea of the tax, it isn't going to happen because we've become so conditioned to thinking of "tax" as a dirty word that no politician would ever put forward the idea of one for fear of destroying themselves. As such, nice as it is to propose policies that are motivated by taxes, as urgent as the whole foreign oil thing is, it's just not going to happen. You see where I'm going with this, right?

Two other problems: Lowell ain't coming, and it's not certain that at this late date Rodriguez is any more of a shortstop than Jeter is.

4: UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
I note that in your somewhat negative opinions of Lowell's potential to the Yanks as a converted first baseman, you never mention the potential value of taking someone like him away from the Red Sox. Do you lend no credence whatsoever to addition by subtraction?
— Rick

I give it lots o' credence, but not in this case. I think the Yankees would actually be doing the Red Sox a favor, because Lowell isn't likely to duplicate his 2007 season, and what's more he's getting to a dangerous age — these are all the reasons I suggested the Yankees not sign him. They apply to the Red Sox too. Further, the Sox have options. Without troubling themselves at all, they could shift Kevin Youkilis back across the diamond and deal for someone like Dan Johnson of the A's, and probably do no worse than break even for 2008 and be ahead for subsequent seasons because they wouldn't be anchored to a declining Lowell. In any case, Lowell seems to have re-signed with Boston, so I think we should call the Yankees the victor here. Thanks, Rick — always good to hear from you.

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Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Blog appears daily on YESNetwork.com. "Forging Genius," Steve's biography of Casey Stengel, and "Mind Game," the story of the Red Sox' 2004 championship, and "Baseball Between the Numbers," from the authors of Baseball Prospectus, are now available at Amazon.com. More Steve is available on YESNetwork.com in the Pinstriped Bible, and the Baseball Prospectus Web site. Your questions, comments, suggestions welcomed at oldprofessor@wholesomereading.com. The opinions stated above are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to anyone connected in an official capacity with the YES Network.
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