Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Why weren't Steinbrenner sons at Derek Jeter's final farewell? Were they watching #TGIT? And where is Hal's statement about this disaster of a team?

Look -- I have criticized the Derek Jeter farewell tour repeatedly in this column. I found the hype and the kitsch over the top, and I thought it had become a flat-out money grab. But even I found Thursday's farewell game extremely touching, and, yes, I am not ashamed to admit cried at the end. Who wouldn't, after seeing Jeter's walkoff single in that game?

What moved me the most was seeing Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Joe Torre, and the rest on the field, waiting for Jeter. When Michael Kay said that Jeter hadn't yet noticed that they were there, I just lost it, crying and crying. It was a really wonderful night that everyone enjoyed. Except, apparently, for two people. Unlike their sister Jenny, who was seen on camera, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner reportedly couldn't be bothered to attend the game. Nor were they at Jeter's final game at Fenway Park.

Give me a break. What in the world could possibly be more important to them than being at Thursday's game -- catching Shonda Rimes' #TGIT on ABC? Why didn't they show up? Are Hal and Hank ticked off that recently Jeter pointed out the obvious to New York magazine -- that they are not their fathers' sons when it comes to being around the team?

Hal has mostly maintained a monk's silence for most of the season, briefly emerging in August to say that the Yankees needed to "step it up." Spoiler alert: they didn't. So here we are, with the Bombers having their second season in a row without a playoff appearance. Over $210 million was spent for nothing. Yet Hal hasn't said a word. And why isn't the media wondering where Hal is, and why he literally has nothing to say after this disaster of a year?

Then there is the Brian Cashman issue. How can this clown get a contract extension, when two of the three teams since his previous contract didn't make the playoffs, and the one that did had an epic collapse in the postseason? And the thing is, Cashman still doesn't understand what he did wrong. He recently told John Harper that "I honestly believe if you repeated this season 100 times, you would not get this result," a statement Harper does not challenge. Hmmm, I think if this season were repeated 100 times, you could even get worse results. For example, Jeter, to my surprise, stayed healthy all year. Jacoby Ellsbury stayed mostly healthy -- he very well could have been injured and missed significant time. And the injuries that did happen most likely still would have happened.

Image courtesy of Nomaas.org
Cashman also said that "you’ll see the real Carlos Beltran next year" and that "Tex should be much better. His doctor says the first year after wrist surgery is difficult, and the next year is better." He also thought McCann would be better next year. I think that is possible with McCann, but the idea that Beltran and Teixeira, two injury-ridden, aging players, will be better one year older is delusional. To paraphrase Nomaas, what is Cashman smoking?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

My thoughts on the never-ending Derek Jeter farewell tour

Courtesy of DrewLitton.com
I have been griping about the monstrosity of this eternal Derek Jeter farewell tour for months. I lost patience with it at the All-Star Game, with Adam Wainwright's "pipe shot" to Jeter, the obsequious Nike commercial, and the incessant talk about the Yankee captain keeping the broadcasters from discussing anybody or anything else. But this tour has only become even more obnoxious and self-serving and crass since.

For somebody who is beloved in no small part precisely because he was supposed to be about team, and not himself, this whole spectacle has been a massive, and yes, hypocritical ego trip on an unprecedented level. From the patch honoring himself on all of the Yankees' hats and jerseys for the past three weeks, to the Jeter flags circling Yankee Stadium, to the special Jeter bases, to the self-aggrandizing and obnoxious King of NY cleats, to the shameless Steiner Sports event where fans paid three and four figures to watch Jeter answer fawning "interview" questions from Brandon Steiner, to the tribute commercials, to the "My Way" theme song, to the incessant media coverage, it is all too much. 

At the same time, almost nobody in the media -- with the noted exceptions of Ken Davidoff, Chris Carlin, and Keith Olbermann -- has had anything critical to say about how this tour is the exact opposite of what Jeter is supposed to be about. I don't agree with all of their arguments -- Carlin shouldn't have used the word "fraud" and some of Olbermann's arguments, like the idea Jeter must miss the Boston series to be a real Yankee, were weak. But I think we need to have dissenting views from the herd, and talk about them, without others complaining about them being "haters" -- the most overused and misused term out there these days. Literally 99.9% of the articles out there this year on Jeter are positive, despite the crassness of this tour. And yet some Jeter fans lose their minds over any opinion that does not conform to their ideal, wanting to silence those opinions. Sheesh.

The Yankees were eliminated from the postseason yesterday, which should be a much bigger deal than it is. After all, this is the second year in a row the Bombers didn't make the postseason, despite the biggest payroll in the league. The Yankees have become the new Atlanta Braves, with one title in 14 seasons, except the Braves actually won their division each year (and did it in a third of the payroll of these Yankees.) Oh, and Atlanta actually fired their GM when they didn't make the playoffs this year. Meanwhile, in Yankeeland, the incompetent Brian Cashman may get yet another contract. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned accountability in the Bronx? 

I think it is clear that the Steinbrenners are more interested in this shameless money grab that the "season2watch" has become than in winning. After all, this tour has been putting fannies in the seats, and cash in the coffers. Who cares about the games when you can buy a Derek Jeter sock for the low, low price of $409.99? And that is one sock -- not a pair! Or you can buy the dirt Jeter walked on, or the rake that touched the dirt that Jeter walked on, as if these items are religious relics from a saint. I imagine Brandon Steiner -- who was celebrating in Jeter's private suite at Yankee Stadium with Derek's dad -- will try to sell the air from over today's game, or the rain. And fans will be all too happy to open their wallets.

* * *

The biggest irony to me is that Jeter's actual tangibles -- Jayson Stark highlighted some of the eyepopping numbers in Derek's career -- get lost in all this blather and hype over the intangibles. Sorry, folks, but Jeter isn't the best person to ever play the game, But he was a very good player who was consistently very good for a very long time. He never had an MVP season, but he had a consistent level of success which is reflected in the 3400+ hits and 200 postseason hits and over 1000 multi-hit games and 2743 games played,  He is a first-ballot HOFer and a top five Yankee. If you want to talk off-the-field stuff, his Turn 2 Foundation has given $19 million in grants to help young people. Isn't that enough? Why do we have to have all the rest of this nonsense?

Friday, September 19, 2014

'Ultimate team player' Derek Jeter chooses 'My Way' as theme song

Even I have to admit that the new Derek Jeter ad for Gatorade is very well done, and it is understandable why it has struck such a chord. After July’s fawning Nike ad, I wondered why Jeter didn't do a commercial thanking the fans, instead of having everyone kiss his tuchis and show him respect. (I refuse to spell that word with a 2!) The latest Jeter commercial actually does just that, and in a vacuum, it would make a great sendoff.

But we've been through a season of stories about how Jeter is not merely a first-ballot Hall of Famer with five rings, but is the face of baseball, the ultimate team player, and the truest Yankee of them all. So I have to ask, how did Jeter, who came up with the ad’s concept, decide that the song that sums up his career is “My Way”?

How do lyrics like "To think I did all that/And may I say, not in a shy way/Oh no, oh no, not me/I did it my way" and "For what is a man, what has he got/If not himself, then he has not/To say the things he truly feels/And not the words of one who kneels" work for somebody who is supposed to be all about team?

Here's what Paul Anka, who wrote "My Way" for Frank Sinatra in 1968, told the Daily Telegraph about what inspired the song's lyrics. Sinatra was making noises at that time about retiring:
"At one o'clock in the morning, I sat down at an old IBM electric typewriter and said, 'If Frank were writing this, what would he say?' And I started, metaphorically, 'And now the end is near.' I read a lot of periodicals, and I noticed everything was 'my this' and 'my that'. We were in the 'me generation' and Frank became the guy for me to use to say that. I used words I would never use: 'I ate it up and spit it out.' But that's the way he talked."
Anka also said in My Way, his autobiography, that he wrote the song with Sinatra's notorious ego in mind:
"I'd never before written something so chauvinistic, narcissistic, in-your-face and grandiose, everything in that song was Sinatra."
Jeter's love for the song tells us more about him than people are realizing. "I did it my way," Sinatra brags, not "We did it our way," or "I did it the team way."  After all, Jeter didn't get to stay at shortstop (and bat second in the lineup!) at age 40 without doing it his way.

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 Jeter defenders 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.

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