Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

Yanks pitch in

Suffice it to say that the relatively quiet spring training this year has been shaken by the incidents in Japan. With so many Japanese players in the major leagues these days, concern over families in the wake of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant drama that have traumatized that nation has been paramount.

The Yankees led the way in the reaction by donating $100,000 to support rescue and relief efforts. Of the total, $50,000 will be given to the Salvation Army and $50,000 to the Red Cross, both of which are already working in relief efforts on the ground in Japan.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the terrible earthquake in Japan,” Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said. “We hope that the international community does everything in its power to support and assist the Japanese people in their time of need.”

Greenberg ‘chucked’

Good riddance to Chuck Greenberg is the way Yankees fans should look at his departure from a brief run (seven months) as chief executive officer of the Rangers. As if getting to the World Series last year for the first time in the franchise’s 50-season history wasn’t enough, Greenberg felt compelled to insult Yankees fans with his remarks about the behavior of some boisterous individuals who took verbal aim at some wives of Texas personnel during the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium.

You may recall Greenberg’s comments: “I thought Yankee fans, frankly, were awful. They were either violent or apathetic, neither of which is good. So I thought Yankee fans were by far the worst of any I’ve seen in the postseason. I thought they were an embarrassment.”

I love that “I’ve ever seen in the post-season,” as if the Rangers have made a habit of getting to the dance. All the whining did was to get Greenberg a rebuke from commissioner Bud Selig, who ordered him to apologize.

Even worse, though, was the boast that by extending the contract talks with free agent pitcher Cliff Lee, Greenberg opened the door for the Phillies to come along and snatch the lefthander away from the outstretched arms of the Yankees. Greenberg’s chest was swelling over the Rangers having outmaneuvered the Yankees in obtaining Lee in a trade from the Mariners last summer. That deal cost Texas its top prospect, first baseman Justin Smoak, as Yankees general manager hung on to infield prospect Eduardo Nunez.

Lee’s return to Philadelphia left the Rangers with nothing to show for giving up Smoak, but Greenberg chose to pat himself on the back with the consolation that at least the pitcher did not go to the Yankees. Some in the media felt Yankees president Randy Levine lowered himself by responding to Greenberg’s characterization, but I for one was amused and bolstered by the retort.

“He has been in the game for a few minutes and yet he thinks he knows what everyone is thinking,” Levine said. “He could really impress us when he keeps the Rangers off of welfare and keeps them from receiving revenue sharing the next three years.”

Greenberg deserved to hear that, but Randy could have held his breath because the loud-mouthed newcomer had no chance to survive in the Texas organization if he got on the wrong side of Nolan Ryan, which Greenberg apparently did. The Hall of Fame pitcher can do no wrong in the Lone Star State and could probably get elected governor there without having to spend one minute on a campaign trail.

In point of fact, it was Greenberg’s third visit to Lee in Arkansas – without Ryan, this time – that hurt the Rangers’ chances of re-signing him. As for swaying him from the Yankees, Lee made it clear that the Phillies were always his priority based on the good feeling he had pitching for them in their pennant-winning 2009 season. That he rejected a seven-year contract offer from the Yankees for a five-year deal from the Phillies was a pretty good indication where Lee’s heart lay, and it had nothing to do with Greenberg, whose 15 minutes are now up.

Andy Pettitte: He always took the ball

The day I arrived at what was the last spring training the Yankees had at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1995, then manager Buck Showalter drove up to me in a golf cart on the sidelines of the main field and said, “Hop in; I want you to see someone.”

He drove to me to one of the back fields where two pitchers were warming up. I have long forgotten who one of them was, but the one I remember was Andy Pettitte. He wasn’t as cut as he would later become; he still had some love handles, but one pitch after the other sunk with stinging action.

Showalter, who grew up in the Florida panhandle and attended Mississippi State University, had an affinity for Southern players. Still does, probably, so I said to him, “Okay, which is it? Louisiana or Arkansas?”

“Texas,” Buck said. “You can’t quote me on this, but this guy might win 15 games for us this year.”

“Pretty tall order for a rookie,” I said.

Showalter missed on his prediction. Pettitte won 12 games, not 15, but he helped stabilize a rotation snagged by an injury to Jimmy Key, who finished second to David Cone, then with the Royals, in the previous year’s American League Cy Young Award race, and was a key ingredient in the Yankees’ reaching post-season play for the first time in 15 years, as the newfangled wild card.

Pettitte’s victory total was second on the staff only to another former Cy Young Award winner, Jack McDowell, who was 15-10. Pettitte’s 12-9 record and 4.17 ERA was not overwhelming, but it was good enough for him to finish third in the AL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award voting behind winner Marty Cordova of the Twins and runner-up Garret Anderson of the Angels, a couple of outfielders.

The lefthander started Game 2 of the Division Series against the Mariners at Yankee Stadium and was not involved in the decision, a 7-5 Yankees victory on a two-run home run in the 15th inning by Jim Leyritz that gave them a 2-0 lead in the series before they went 0-for-Seattle.

With Showalter gone after turning down a two-year contract offer from George Steinbrenner, Pettitte had to prove himself all over again to a new manager, Joe Torre, in 1996. It wasn’t easy, either. Torre at first thought Pettitte, a deeply religious person, was a bit soft. Yet start after start, Pettitte kept the Yankees in games, and he ended up winning 21 of them and becoming a Cy Young Award candidate, although he finished second in the voting to the Blue Jays’ Pat Hentgen.

Pettitte never came closer to winning that award, but even better he won over Torre with 8 1/3 gutty innings of shutout ball in Game 5 of the World Series at Atlanta, a 1-0 Yankees victory that put them up 3-2 and in position to take the Series two nights later, which they did. From that point on, Torre never questioned Pettitte’s toughness again.

Here is what Joe said about Andy the other day:

“Andy took the ball every five days, and if he had it his way, he’d get it more often than that. What’s really unusual about him is that a lot of times pitchers are more consumed with themselves. Andy was probably the consummate team player, especially for a pitcher. He was so concerned not only about the day he pitched but he always had his arm around a young guy in between starts.
 
“He has been a huge favorite of mine because he’s such a stand up guy, and he hasn’t changed from day one. He was a great teammate, and I think that’s why he won so many games. The guys that play behind him understand how intense he is, and it becomes contagious.
 
“I think the impact he had on the teams we had in the mid-to-late 1990′s was enormous even though he was never the guy in the spotlight. He liked the fact that he wasn’t the No. 1 guy even though I trusted him like a No. 1 guy. But he didn’t have an ego that dictated he needed all that attention.
 
“He did a great job of channeling his energy into competing, and he was about as consistent a performer as anybody in terms of getting your money’s worth. He glued our staff together. When you’re performing with the same people year-in and year-out, it’s always nice to have that security blanket. He was certainly that guy on the pitching staff.”

For other managers, the Astros’ Jimy Williams and Phil Garner and the Yankees’ Joe Girardi, Pettitte proved just as reliable in a career he brought to a halt this week. There were no tears at Friday’s announcement. Pettitte thought long and hard about this decision, and when he said “My heart isn’t in it anymore,” that’s all he needed to say. Once a player no longer has the stomach for the game, it is time to go.

That Game 5 of the 1996 World Series four nights after the Braves handed his head to him in Game 1 remains the centerpiece of Pettitte’s Yankees career, but there were plenty of other times when he gave the Yankees everything they needed from a pitcher.

He was the Most Valuable Player of the 2001 AL Championship Series when he won both his starts and held a Seattle team that had won 116 games during the regular season to four runs in 14 1/3 innings. Even in defeat, Pettitte could be magnificent, such as the Game 6 showdown with the Marlins’ Josh Beckett in the 2003 World Series, Andy’s last start for the Yankees before signing as a free agent with his hometown Houston club.

Three years later, Pettitte was back with the Yankees reunited with Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada and helped ring in the new Yankee Stadium by winning the clinching games of all three post-season series in 2009 as the team achieved its 27th championship. Last year, he was a Cy Young Award candidate for half the season before a groin injury cost him at least a dozen starts. Now he is the first of the “Core Four” to call it quits.

“Andy was a great teammate and a wonderful guy,” Rivera said. “He was a fighter and all about winning, and he was respected by every person in the clubhouse.”

“I’m really sad that Andy is going to retire,” Posada said.”He was so much more than a teammate to me; he was one of my closest friends.  I admire everything that he has accomplished as a Yankee, but Andy was someone who always put the team first.  I’m going to miss him deeply.”

Added Jeter: “It has been a pleasure to play with Andy for all these years, and the Yankees have been fortunate to have him representing the organization both on and off the field. More importantly, it has been an honor to get to know him as a person, and I consider him family. I wish for nothing but happiness for him and his family, as I know how important they are to him.”

Of course, it didn’t take long for Hall of Fame talk about Pettitte to sprout. Let’s give it the five-year wait before getting serious about that. Pettitte has a lot going for him – a won-loss record more than 100 games over .500 at 240-138, a post-season record 19 victories, and winning five rings in eight World Series overall. He also has some things going against him – allowing more hits than innings pitched, a rather high ERA (3.88) and three more dangerous capital letters, HGH, which he admitted to using after his name surfaced in the Mitchell Report.

His path to Cooperstown won’t be smooth. Over the next few years, the ballot will contain the names of starting pitchers superior to him in terms of statistics – Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, even Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina.

“I’ve never considered myself a Hall of Famer,” Pettitte said. “I guess I’ve gotten close to having those kinds of credentials or guys wouldn’t be talking about it.”

The writers who do the voting will be talking about him for a while. But to Yankees fans, Pettitte will always be in their personal Halls of Fame for his competitiveness and remarkable consistency.

 

Tough Hall ballot for former Yankees

Last week’s Hall of Fame election was a tough one for those players with ties to the Yankees. Of the eight players on the ballot who spent time with the Yankees, five failed to get the five percent required to remain in consideration and were dropped. The three players who will remain on the ballot next year did nothing to improve their chances of election anytime soon, if ever.

With a record total of 581 ballots submitted by Baseball Writers’ Association of America members with 10 or more consecutive years of service, 436 votes were needed for election to satisfy the 75-percent requirement. Second baseman Roberto Alomar with 523 (90.0 percent) and pitcher Bert Blyleven with 463 (79.7) were the only ones to make the grade; Alomar in his second time on the ballot and Blyleven in his 14th and next to last time.

Kevin Brown, who pitched for the Yankees in his later years after having been a Yankees Killer with the Rangers early in his career, did the best of those who wore the pinstripes that failed to make the cut, with 12 votes, which reflected only 2.1 percent of the ballots cast. First baseman Tino Martinez, one of the franchise’s most popular players, got 6 votes (1.0 percent), and pitcher Al Leiter and first baseman John Olerud received 4 apiece (0.7). Shut out entirely was outfielder Raul Mondesi.

Brown has become sort of a darling of the SABR (Society of Baseball Research) set, who love his statistics. I admit Brown had a better career than a lot of people may think (211-144 record, 3.28 ERA, 2 ERA and WHIP titles, 6 All-Star appearances), but the Hall of Fame is for the great, not just the very good. Brown’s time with the Yankees was one of the areas that worked against him. His impact was less than minimal; it was non-existent. Martinez also falls into the very good category, as did his old buddy Paul O’Neill, who was a one-and-done candidate four years ago.

The others had their moments in the sun, which is why they were on the ballot in the first place, but Cooperstown just was not to be their destination.

As for those who remain, the outlook is not good, since each lost ground in the voting. Reliever Lee Smith, who pitched in eight games for the Yankees in 1993, is stuck below 50 percent. He might have been expected to get to the half-way point in this year’s election but instead fell to 45.3 percent – two percent below his 2010 showing. He has up to six more years for consideration (players may stay on the ballot up to 15 years provided they get 5 percent of the vote each year), but he appears to be going backward.

The same holds true for outfielder Tim Raines, whose candidacy is based more on his high-profile years with the Expos and White Sox rather than his role-playing time with the Yankees. I would have thought that appreciation for Raines’ record as a leadoff hitter would have heightened after Rickey Henderson’s election in 2009, but Rock is also moving in reverse. He went from receiving 37.5 percent of the vote last year to 30.4 percent this year. Time at least is on Raines’ side; this was only his fourth year on the ballot.

Very much like Smith, time is running out on Don Mattingly, the Dodgers’ new manager whose entire playing career was spent with the Yankees. The 2011 election was Donnie Baseball’s 11th year on the ballot. He fell from 16.1 percent last year to 13.6 percent this year. Mattingly has never done better than the 28.2 percent he got in his first ballot year of 2001. He is down to less than half of that now and has only four years possibly remaining for consideration.

The 2012 ballot will feature another Yankees favorite, Bernie Williams, the switch-hitting center fielder and cleanup hitter on four World Series championship teams. This is just a hunch, but he is bound to do better than the first-year candidates with Yankees pedigrees this time around.

Yanks mourn ‘family’ loss

The Yankees lost two members of their extended family in recent days, one of whom was truly a tragic case. It was a shock to discover that the 9-year-old girl who was among those gunned down in the attack in Tucson, Ariz., was Christina Taylor Green, the granddaughter of former Yankees manager Dallas Green and daughter of John Green, who had pitched in the Yankees’ minor-league system in 1989 and ’90 and is now the Dodgers’ supervisor of East Coast amateur scouts.

Young Christina had recently been elected to the student council at her school and because of her newfound interest in politics was brought to the town meeting to get an up-close look at U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was mortally wounded by an assailant who killed six people in a shooting barrage. Her grandfather managed the Yankees for most of the 1989 season and later managed the Mets in the early 1990s. In 1980, he guided the Phillies to their first World Series championship.

Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner issued a statement saying, “The Steinbrenner family and the New York Yankees organization join the entire nation in mourning Christina and send our deepest condolences to Dallas Green and his family as they deal with this tremendous loss. This is a tragedy that is beyond words and our thoughts and prayers are with the Green family, as well as all of the affected families.”

Last Thursday, one of the Yankees’ most faithful alumni, Ryne Duren, passed away. The former relief pitcher fought a long battle with alcoholism that shortened his career, but he eventually sobered up to live a productive life that took him to age 81.

Unlike baseball’s current era in which closing relievers are revered (where would the Yankees have been the past 15 seasons without Mariano Rivera?) not to mention well paid, Duren pitched at a time when those who inhabited the bullpen did so primarily because they weren’t consistent enough to be trusted as starters. Duren’s problem was lack of control.

The righthander found a spot in the Yankees’ bullpen and became a favorite weapon of Casey Stengel. Yankees fans of a certain age surely remember the terror Duren inflicted on opposing batters with a fastball that came close to 100 miles per hour.

An imposing figure at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Duren also wore thick glasses and went looking toward the plate seemed to have trouble locating it. Not too many batters dug in hard against Duren, who on occasion would throw a warmup pitch to the backstop.

His old catcher, Yogi Berra, said the other day, “Ryne could throw the heck out of the ball. He threw fear in some hitters. I remember he had several pair of glasses, but it didn’t seem like he saw good in any of them.”

“Everyone agreed that it was a dangerous combination: a guy wearing glasses that thick and throwing a pitch that fast,” Duren wrote in his 1978 memoir, The Comeback. “But what everyone didn’t know was that there was another dimension that made me even more dangerous than they thought I was. I had a drinking problem.”

Duren had great impact on Yankees’ World Series teams of that late 1950s. The save did not become an official statistic until 1969. Had it been kept earlier, Duren’s 20 saves would have led the league in 1958 when he had 87 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings. The next year, Duren fanned 96 batters in 76 2/3 innings, and in 1960 had 67 strikeouts in 49 innings.

He was traded in 1961 to the expansion Los Angeles Angels in a deal that brought outfielder Bob Cerv back to the Bronx. Duren’s career went on a downward path as he moved on to Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Washington and finished with a career record of 27-44. His drinking became so severe that Senators manager Gil Hodges had to talk him down from a bridge in the middle of the night after a game in which Duren was pounded by the Yankees.

Several years after his 1965 retirement as a player, Duren responded positively to treatment and got off the bottle. He devoted the rest of his life to drug and alcohol counseling to athletes and was a regular visitor to Yankee Stadium on Old Timers Day.

He never made it to the Hall of Fame, of course, but his name did. Duren was one of only two players in major league history with the surname Ryne. The other is Ryne Sandberg, who was born in 1959. Sandberg’s father was a Yankees fan and named his son after Duren. Sandberg was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2005 with Wade Boggs.

The Phillies executive who originally signed Sandberg to a pro contract later became the general manager of the Cubs and traded for him. That executive was Dallas Green.

Another holiday list

As each year comes to a close, baseball writers center on their annual responsibility of voting for the Hall of Fame. Ballots are mailed out to writers Dec. 1 and due back in the hands to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America by a Dec. 31 postmark.

So it is not just Santa Claus who makes a list and checks it twice come the Christmas season.

As secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA, I have conducted the election since 1995, the year Mike Schmidt was elected. I will be busy with Hall of Fame business the next few days but will find time to share some thoughts with Yankees fans about the election. Results will be announced at 2 p.m. Wednesday on bbwaa.com, baseballhall.org, MLB.com and the MLB Network.

The ballot contains 33 names this year, eight of whom spent a portion of their careers with the Yankees, including two of the most popular figures in the franchise’s history, first basemen Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez. Others on the ballot who spent time with the Yankees are pitchers Kevin Brown, Al Leiter and Lee Smith, outfielders Tim Raines and Raul Mondesi and first baseman John Olerud.

Mattingly has been on the ballot for 10 years and has never done better than 28 percent of the vote going back to his first year. To gain entry into Cooperstown, 75 percent is required. Mattingly was at 16.1 percent last year. Martinez, his successor at first base for the Yankees, is a first-time candidate this year. It is doubtful writers will find Tino’s candidacy all that compelling, any more than they did another Yankees fan favorite Paul O’Neill two years ago. Martinez’s goal should be to get five percent of the vote necessary to stay on the ballot, which players must do to stay in contention for the full 15 years of eligibility. O’Neill failed to do that and was dropped after one year.

Brown, whose time with the Yankees was filled with controversy, had a fine career, but New York fans rarely saw him at his best except when he pitched against the Yankees for the Rangers. Yankees fans know Brown for breaking his pitching hand in anger and his implosion on the mound in Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship, the franchise’s worst moment.

Leiter started and ended his career with the Yankees but had his best seasons with the Blue Jays, Marlins and Mets. His 162-132 record and 3.80 ERA does not spell immortality.

Raines, on the other hand, is an interesting case. He came to the Yankees after years with the Expos and White Sox and was a key role player on the World Series title teams of 1996, ’98 and ’99. With 2,605 hits and 808 stolen bases, Raines has some Hall of Fame numbers, but after three years on the ballot he has done no better than 30 percent.

Smith, Olerud and Mondesi had limited time in pinstripes. Olerud and Mondesi are on the ballot for the first time and are not likely to get the five percent of the vote necessary to stay on the ballot. Smith, who pitched in only eight games for the Yankees in 1993, once held the major-record for saves with 478 but has yet to attract even half the vote in eight previous elections.

The favorites this time around are second baseman Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven, each of whom came close last year. Blyleven was on 74.2 percent of the ballots cast and missed by five votes. Alomar missed by eight votes at 397, or 73.7 percent.

The only player not to get elected when eligible the year after getting more than 70 percent in the vote was pitcher Jim Bunning. He was on 74 percent of the ballots in 1988 and missed by four votes. The next year, however, with a thicker ballot consisting of first-year inductees Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski and fellow pitching greats Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins, Bunning lost 34 votes and dropped 11 percent in his final year on the ballot. He was eventually elected by the Veterans Committee in 1996.
 
The most accomplished of the new names are first basemen Jeff Bagwell and Rafael Palmeiro and outfielders Juan Gonzalez and Larry Walker. Palmeiro and Gonzalez will have a rough time.

Despite being only the fourth player in history to get more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, Palmeiro is a long shot because of his positive test for anabolic steroids in 2005, the same year he testified before Congress that he had never taken them. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray, the only other members of both the 3,000 Hit and 500 Home Run Clubs were elected in their first years of eligibility.

Gonzales, a two-time AL Most Valuable Player, showed up in the Mitchell Report as a steroids user, which could hurt his chances for a big vote. After all, Mark McGwire with his 587 home runs has been on the ballot for four years and is hovering at 23 percent.

Bagwell, who had an amazing career (.297, 449 home runs, 1,529 RBI, 1,517 runs, .408 on-base percentage, .540 slugging percentage), never failed a drug test but faced suspicions of possible performance-enhancing aid after he felt in love with the weight room in the mid-1990s. Walker, like Bagwell a National League MVP, had some very good years in Montreal and then some monster years in Colorado. Will the Coors Field effect hurt his chances?

See, this voting stuff isn’t easy. After thorough study, I finally filled out my ballot.

Checks went to Alomar, Bagwell, Blyleven, Walker, Mattingly, Raines, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff and Jack Morris.

My take on Bagwell was that he is innocent until proved guilty. Larkin is following a path not dissimilar to another NL MVP middle infielder who took a few years to get to Cooperstown, Ryne Sandberg. Ask any Yankees fan who watched the 1995 Division Series about Edgar Martinez, who was simply one of the greatest right-handed hitters I ever saw. McGriff, who came through the Yankees system but was traded away, slugged 493 homers the clean way and made a major difference on the only Atlanta Braves team to win a World Series. Morris was the ace of every staff for which he pitched, including three teams that won the World Series – the 1984 Tigers, ’91 Twins and ’92 Blue Jays.

Let the arguments begin. I’ll be back after the election.

‘Boss’ Trophy to be unveiled Tuesday

The blizzard that struck the Eastern seaboard forced the postponement of Monday’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl Kickoff Event at the Times Square Visitor Center at 1560 Broadway. The event has been rescheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Visitor Center, which has its entrance on Seventh Avenue between 46th and 47th Streets in Manhattan.

The New Era Pinstripe Bowl will pit Syracuse against Kansas State at 3:20 p.m. Thursday at Yankee Stadium, the first college football bowl game in New York since 1962. Among the festivities Tuesday will be the unveiling of the George M. Steinbrenner championship trophy that will be presented to the winning team after the game.

Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira will be on hand Tuesday along with team president Randy Levine and chief operating officer Lonn Trost to launch Bowl Week in New York. Kansas State director of athletics John Curie and representatives of Syracuse will also be in attendance as well as cast members from the Tony Award nominated Broadway musical Rock of Ages, plus the Kansas State band and the school’s mascot, Willie the Wildcat.

Fans will be able to purchase tickets to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl all week at the Times Square Visitors Center all week as well at all Ticketmaster outlets and online at http://www.pinstripebowl.com.

Wednesday, the Empire State Building will get into the act. The north and south sides of the building will be lit orange and white for Syracuse, and the west and east sides will be lit purple and white for Kansas State.

Cliff Lee’s seven-year itch

I realize I am in the minority here, but so what. I believe the Yankees caught a big break with Cliff Lee going to the Phillies.

Huh?

OK, hear me out. It would have been terrific to have Cliff Lee paired with CC Sabathia to give the Yankees a 1-2 punch that would be something out of Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens or David Cone and Jimmy Key or Whitey Ford and Bob Turley or Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez. Yes, for 2011 and 2012 and 2013 and maybe 2014, it may have been a beautiful thing to watch Sabathia and Lee try to outdo each other with every start.

Then again, something could have gone wrong. Sabathia, after all, is coming off knee surgery. Lee is 32 years old, and that is no small thing when you consider the Yankees’ offer was for seven years for money believed guaranteed at $138 million.

Forget about the money for a minute and look at the term – a seven-year contract. That was what the Yankees gave Sabathia after the 2008 season (for 161 large) when the big guy was 28, four years younger than Lee is now. CC’s deal will take him to age 35, but Lee’s would have gone until he was 39. I am uncomfortable signing any pitcher any age to a seven-year contract, but a 32-year-old who had some back issues last year?

Everyone expected Lee to stay in Texas if he decided against coming to New York, but again, the Yankees caught a break. He went to the National League where he can be a major headache for the Mets. Speaking of the Mets; how is that seven-year contract they gave Johann Santana a few years back looking now?

It is now up to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to be creative in improving the rotation after being rejected by Lee. Cash is skillful enough an executive to do this. It could have been worse. Think of the Rangers having given up a major prospect in first baseman Justin Smoak to get Lee from the Mariners and having nothing now to show for it. The Yankees at least still have Jesus Montero and Eduardo Nunez.

Bob Feller, American legend

There is a great void in baseball now that Bob Feller has left us. He was a Hall of Famer more than half of his life, a distinction for which he took great pride. Somehow, Induction Weekend in Cooperstown will never be the same.

Feller, fallen by leukemia at the age of 92, represented the epitome of the American Dream, the Iowa farm boy who made it to the big leagues before he graduated from high school and became one of the icons of an era depicted so memorably in Tom Brokaw’s book, “The Greatest Generation.”

Of all his accomplishments – and there were many – Feller was most proud of the four years he served in the United States Navy as a gunner on the U.S. Alabama during World War II. It cost him four precious seasons at the height of his pitching career, but he never regretted a single day he devoted to his country.

I remember his appearance at the 1986 New York Baseball Writers Dinner when he did me a huge favor. That year, Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly and Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden were co-winners of our Sid Mercer Award for the player of the year. The original plan was to have Stan Musial present the award to Mattingly and Feller to Gooden.

The day of the dinner, Musial’s plane was re-routed to Albany due to fog in New York that forced the three metro airports to close for several hours. I offered Stan a private car to come down to Manhattan, but he declined. “I don’t know how old you are, Jack, but I’m 65, and three hours in a car is not something I’m comfortable with anymore,” The Man said.

I thanked him and told him he should just go back home. Less than an hour later, I found out that Gooden couldn’t come, either. Just a couple of hours before the dinner, I had lost two marquee attractions. Mattingly and Feller had come to New York the night before, so I knew we still had them. The idea now was to ask “Rapid Robert” to present the award to “Donnie Baseball.”

Prompt as usual, Feller was the first to arrive in the dais room an hour before the dinner. I explained my dilemma and asked him if he would give the award to Mattingly.

“I’d be honored to,” he said. “Just do me two favors. One, write down some of Donnie’s statistics; I know he had a helluva year, but I don’t know the exact numbers. Two, make sure in your introduction of me that you mention my four years’ service in the Navy in World War II. Nothing I have done in my life is more important than that.”

My father and uncle were at a table up front with Anne, Feller’s wife, and got pretty friendly during the dinner. The last award presentation was Mattingly’s, and I introduced Bob with emphasis on his war record. At that point, Anne leaned over to my father and uncle and said, “He made that poor boy say that.”

Several years later, I did a piece in the Hartford Courant on Feller in connection with the Hall of Fame honoring World War II veterans. He had just come home from a tour of Okinawa where he had served in the war. I figured he was suffering from jet lag and suggested we do the interview when he was more rested.

“Come on, O’Connell, let’s do it now; I’ll have plenty of time to rest when my eyes close for good,” he said and spent the next 90 minutes detailing every step of his tour of duty in the Pacific.

Feller was proudest of the fact that he was the first major league player to enter the armed services after Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese fleet. Another Hall of Famer, Hank Greenberg, also lay claim to being the first, but Feller said, “I checked it out; I beat Hank by about half an hour.”

Here’s the rub. At the time of Bob’s enlistment, his father had terminal cancer. As the sole support of his family, Bob Feller could have been excused from serving in the war, but he felt it was his duty. Think for a minute what his career statistics would have looked like had Feller not joined the Navy and played in those four seasons from 1942 through ’45.

Considering the shape of many of the war-depleted lineups in the early 1940s, Feller might have had seasons of 30-plus victories. Heck, he might have even challenged Jack Chesbro’s 1904 record of 41 victories. Since Feller had pitched in 44 games in 1941, it is conceivable that a 41-win season might not be out of the question. I have a feeling, however, that Feller would have never been able to live with the asterisk that might have been attached to all those victories against hollow lineups.

He had a tremendous career anyway with three no-hitters, including the only Opening Day no-no in 1940, and 12 one-hitters and a ring from the 1948 World Series, still the most recent championship by the Indians. He remains the greatest player in the history of that franchise, which was a charter member of the American League in 1901.

When he and Jackie Robinson were elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962, they were the first to do so in their first year on the ballot since the original class of 1936: Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.

No one wore his Hall of Fame stature more gallantly. Here are some thoughts on Feller from his Hall teammates:

Bobby Doerr: “Bob was just a regular, solid person. He was the same guy, all the time. He gave his opinions and he said what he thought. He didn’t hedge around anything. He was one of the top pitchers I saw in my time. He was timed at 100 miles per hour, and he had a real good curve ball. You had to always be alert with him. He was a real competitor.”

Gaylord Perry: “I really enjoyed Bob’s company, and hearing his stories about history – from baseball to war and everything else, from out of the cornfields to the major leagues. He did so much for baseball and had so many great stories, particularly about barnstorming and his memories of players like Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige. I was very fond of Bob. I traveled to his Museum in Van Meter to support his Museum. I consider Bob a great American.”

Cal Ripken Jr.: “The passing of Bob Feller is a great loss for the game of baseball. Clearly Bob was one of the greatest pitchers in history, and anyone who knew him understood that he was one of the game’s great personalities as well. That said, baseball didn’t define Bob. His service to our country is something that he was very proud of and something we are all grateful for. Bob lived an incredible life, and he will be missed.”

Nolan Ryan: “I am deeply sorry to hear of the passing of Bob Feller. He was baseball’s top power pitcher of the 1940s and 1950s and was a source of inspiration for all Americans for his service during World War II. He was a true Hall of Famer.”

Dennis Eckersley: “Bob was truly a great American and a great ambassador for the game of baseball.”

Hall of Fame board chairman Jane Forbes Clark: “We are all saddened to hear of the passing of Bob Feller. He represented the National Baseball Hall of Fame longer than any individual in history, as 2011 would have been his 50th year as a Hall of Fame member. No one loved coming back to Cooperstown more than Bob, which he and Anne did often. Bob was a wonderful ambassador for the Hall of Fame, always willing to help the Museum. Watching him pitch just shy of his 91st birthday at the Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown will be a memory that we will always treasure. He will always be missed.”

Hall president Jeff Idelson: “The Baseball Hall of Fame has lost an American original – there will never be anyone quite like Bob Feller ever again. He was truly larger than life – baseball’s John Wayne – coming out of the Iowa cornfields to the major leagues at age 17 and then dominating for two decades. Bob loved being a member of Baseball’s Hall of Fame, but he was most proud of his service as a highly decorated soldier in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. He reached the pinnacle of individual achievement in 1962, earning enshrinement in Cooperstown, spending more than half his life as a Hall of Fame member.&nbs
p; He probably flew more miles, signed more autographs, met more people and visited more places than anyone, a testament to his ceaseless zest for life, baseball and country. Cooperstown will never be the same without Rapid Robert.”

That’s for sure.

Mo, Bernie volunteer for Holiday Food Drive

Fresh off his agreeing to a two-year contract, Mariano Rivera will join former teammate Bernie Williams at Yankee Stadium Thursday as part of the Yankees’ 17th annual Holiday Food Drive, presented by White Rose Foods.

Fans bringing at least 30 pounds of non-perishable food to the Stadium between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at Gate 2 on the corner of Jerome Avenue and 164th Street will receive a voucher good for two complimentary grandstand or bleachers tickets or two half-price tickets in select seating areas to one of 22 designated games during the 2011 regular season.

Fans donating the required food amount will also receive a voucher valid for discounted ticket pricing for the 2010 New Era Pinstripe Bowl between Syracuse and Kansas State Dec. 30 at the Stadium, compliments of New Era. Vouchers may be redeemed online at http://www.ticketmaster.com or at the Yankee Stadium Ticket Office.
 
Rivera (10:30-11:30 a.m.) and Williams (11 a.m.-12 noon) will be on hand to assist in collecting food items. The Yankees, in conjunction with Bronx clergy, will distribute the food throughout the borough to those in need. Rice and bottled water will not be accepted.

To help kick off the Yankees Holiday Food Drive, White Rose Foods – along with their Kraft, Unilever, Snapple, New World Pasta, Masterfoods, Domino, Conagra, Carolina Rice, Clorox, Campbell’s, Nestle, Smuckers and General Mills – will donate more than 40 pallets of food (approximately 60,000 pounds).
 
Fans driving to the Stadium may pull up to Gate 2 to drop off their donation.
 

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