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
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.

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