Results tagged ‘ Jackie Robinson ’

Painful ending to Mariano’s special day

And so the farewell tour finally came to Yankee Stadium.

Mariano Rivera’s year-long sojourn throughout North America in his last major-league season has given him the opportunity to connect with fans and employees of all teams. Sunday at the Stadium was about recognition and appreciation from the people who have felt that way about him all of the past 19 seasons.

No franchise handles ceremonies such as these better than the Yankees. And more often than not, the team tops it off with a victory. Not this time, however. The script that should have called for Rivera saving the victory in Andy Pettitte’s last start at the Stadium did not materialize. The two pitchers who have combined for the most victories and saves as a tandem did not push the record total to 73 as the Giants pulled out a 2-1 victory that put the Yankees’ wild-card chances on life support.

“We’re still alive,” manager Joe Girardi said, “but this one hurt.”

It hurt in many ways, not just in the back-to-the-wall posture it placed the team in reference to a postseason berth but also in the aesthetic quality of a feel-good conclusion to a special day before a crowd of 49,197 on a postcard afternoon.

The Yankees pulled out all stops in the pregame ceremony for Rivera, the all-time saves leader who is closing out the career of the game’s greatest closer. After a proclamation from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was read declaring Sunday “Mariano Rivera Day,” members of the families of the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and the late Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson stood beside Mo for the unveiling of special plaques to honor the most distinguished player to wear uniform No. 42.

The plaque for Jackie Robinson marked the first in Monument Park for a player from another team. Jackie competed against the Yankees with the Brooklyn Dodgers in six World Series. When ‘42’ was retired in perpetuity in 1997 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier in the big leagues, players wearing the number at the time could keep it. Rivera was the last of those players, and his ‘42’ was retired and placed where Robinson’s blue-toned ‘42’ has been located.

“I didn’t know what to feel,” Rivera said. “At the monument they retired my number, so I guess I am officially retired.”

On the infield in front of the mound were collected many of the people Mo considered important to his career – senior vice president and special adviser Gene Michael, former manager Joe Torre, former trainer Gene Monahan and former teammates Jeff Nelson, David Cone, John Wetteland, Hideki Matsui, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada.

Current teammate Robinson Cano escorted Rachel and Sharon Robinson, Jackie’s widow and daughter, respectively, onto the field; longtime teammate Derek Jeter did likewise for Clara, Mariano Jr., Jafet and Jaziel, Mo’s wife and children. Performing on a bandstand on the center field warning track, Metallica belted out a live version of “Enter Sandman,” which has been his entrance theme since 1999, eight years after the song’s initial release.

Rivera walked to the mound rather than making his usual trot as the band played. The group also presented him with a custom speaker from a recent tour with a sign reading “No. 42 Sandman” on the front. Yankees team president Randy Levine, chief operating officer Lonn Trost and the Steinbrenner family presented Rivera with a $100,000 donation to his foundation.

Even the Giants got into the act. Pitching coach Dave Righetti, first base coach Roberto Kelly, batting coach Hensley “Bam-Bam” Meulens and assistant hitting coach Joe Lefebvre – all former Yankees – gave Rivera a water-color painting of him pitching at San Francisco’s AT&T Park and an electric guitar featuring the signature of Willie Mays imbedded on the front.

Girardi and Jeter on behalf of the players presented Mo with a rocking chair and a Waterford crystal replica of his glove.

Morock

Mariano Rivera rocks
(USA Today photo)

In addressing the crowd, Rivera got off a good line about his parents, “Thank you for having me that day or that night – I don’t know which – but gracias!” and then to the fans, “Thank for 19 years of support. You were always there for me and the organization, and I will never forget it.”

After paying tribute to his homeland of Panama and his adopted country of the United States (he lives year-round in Westchester County), Rivera said, “So let’s play ball, man. We got to go!”

Pettitte did his best to top the ceremony by flirting with a perfect game and no-hitter for five innings. He retired the first 14 batters before walking Pablo Santoval with two out in the fifth inning. Pettitte was still working on a no-no with one out in the sixth when rookie shortstop Ehire Adrianza hit his first career home run to tie the score. Mark Reynolds had homered off Giants starter Yusmeiro Petit (pronounced puh-TEET) leading off the third inning.

Pettitte admitted he thought about a no-hitter but admitted, “I don’t know if my body would allow me to pitch nine innings anymore.”

He lasted until the first batter in the seventh when Sandoval doubled. Rivera was up in the pen, but Girardi brought in David Robertson, who got the first out on a ground ball but hung a curve to Tony Abreu, who doubled to right to score what proved the deciding run. Rivera entered the game at that point and got out of the inning aided by a sliding catch in center field by Curtis Granderson. Mo worked a scoreless ninth as well and was intent on staying in the game until the Yankees won it.

They wasted a prime scoring opportunity in the eighth after getting runners on second and third with none out but both were subsequently thrown out at the plate. The Yankees went down in order in the ninth, so no victory for them or Rivera. A tough loss was hung on Pettitte, who unless he wins his final start later this week at Houston will have a losing record (10-11) for the first time in his career.

The Rays, Indians and Royals all won their games Sunday. The Yankees are four games behind Cleveland for the second wild-card spot with six to play, three of which will be against Tampa Bay at the Stadium beginning Tuesday night. They hope that series won’t be a farewell for the team in 2013.

The Colonel and Lou to get their due

Two of the most important figures in the legendary history of the Yankees – Col. Jacob Ruppert and Lou Gehrig – will be the center of attention during the National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend.

Ruppert, the team’s owner from 1915 until his death in January 1939, will be inducted into the Hall in ceremonies Sunday with two other deceased electees by the Pre-Integration Era Veterans Committee, 19th century catcher Deacon White and early 20th century umpire Hank O’Day.

Gehrig, who was elected to the Hall of Fame by acclamation in 1939, will be among 12 former Hall of Famers who were never officially inducted in ceremonies at Cooperstown and will have their plaques read by current Hall of Famers as part of Sunday’s event at the Clark Sports Center.

On Saturday at Doubleday Field, the Hall will pay tribute to the late Blue Jays radio voice Tom Cheeks with the Ford C. Frick Award for major contributions to baseball broadcasting and longtime Philadelphia reporter and columnist Paul Hagen with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.

On the same program, the Hall will also honor Legendary Entertainment chief executive officer Thomas Tull, whose studio produced the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 as well as the honoring of Dr. Frank Jobe, who pioneered the surgical procedure now known as “Tommy John Surgery.” John, who pitched in 26 major-league seasons and was a two-time 20-game winner during his eight years with the Yankees, will also be featured.

Former Yankees Whitey Ford, Wade Boggs, Goose Gossage, Rickey Henderson, Phil Niekro and Gaylord Perry are among the 40 living Hall of Famers who will participate in both days’ ceremonies.

Ruppert, heir to one of New York’s most successful breweries and a four-term United States congressman, purchased the Yankees in January 1915 with partner Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston. Under Ruppert’s stewardship, the Yankees went from being an annual American League also-ran into an annual powerhouse. In his 24 seasons as owner, the Yankees won the first 10 of their 40 pennants and the first seven of their 27 World Series championships. It was Ruppert who put the pinstripes in the Yankees’ uniform, purchased the contract of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox and built the original Yankee Stadium.

Representing Ruppert, who never married, at the ceremony will be his great grandniece, Anne Vernon.

Click this link to view the Yankees on Demand special about Col. Jacob Ruppert.

Gehrig’s 15-season career with the Yankees occurred entirely during Ruppert’s ownership. Lou was forced into retirement because of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that since has borne his name, in 1939.

Although Gehrig is usually listed in the Hall of Fame class of 1939, he was never formally inducted. George Sisler, Eddie Collins and Willie Keeler were inducted that summer when the museum first opened. Gehrig was still an active player and did not retire until season’s end.

At the Winter Meetings in December in Cincinnati, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted to suggest that Gehrig be inducted immediately and not wait until the next election, which was not until 1942. The Hall accepted the BBWAA’s suggestion, but since the induction ceremonies had already taken place Gehrig was never officially inducted through any ceremony. He died in 1941.

Induction Weekend ceremonies were not held annually during the early 1940s because of travel restrictions during World War II. The Hall will rectify that this year by reading the plaques of Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby (who was elected by the BBWAA in 1942) and 10 Veterans Committee electees in 1945 none of whom was ever officially inducted.

Cal Ripken Jr., who broke Gehrig’s record of 2,130 consecutive games in 1995 and pushed it to 2,632 before ending it in 1998 in a game at Camden Yards against the Yankees, will read the Gehrig plaque.

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Col. Jacob Ruppert (2nd from left, standing) with Joe McCarthy, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri and (seated) Joe DiMaggio (AP Photo)

Hall of Fame board vice chairman Joe Morgan will read the plaque of his fellow second baseman, Hornsby.

Handling the plaque-reading duties for the other Hall of Famers will be Carlton Fisk for Roger Bresnahan, Orlando Cepeda for Dan Brouthers, Bert Blyleven for Fred Clarke, Wade Boggs for Jimmy Collins, Billy Williams for Ed Delahanty, Jim Rice for Hugh Duffy, Ozzie Smith for Hughie Jennings, Andre Dawson for Mike “King” Kelly, Tony Gwynn for Jim O’Rourke and Tommy Lasorda for Wilbert Robinson.

Prior to Saturday’s Awards Presentation on the stage at Doubleday Field, the Hall will honor the 75th anniversary of Abbott & Costello’s Who’s On First? routine and the 125th anniversary of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s poem Casey at the Bat at a special 3:30 p.m. pre-show program. A live performance of Who’s On First? by Gil “Bud” Palmer and Lou Sciara, noted for their portrayal of the classic comedy duo, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, will be followed by Hall of Fame director of research Tim Wiles’ recitation of Casey At The Bat. Gates open at 3 p.m. and admission is free.

After the Awards Presentation, the fourth annual Hall of Fame Parade of Legends will feature the Hall of Famers riding down Main Street in trucks provided by the Ford Motor Company en route to a private reception at the Museum.

MLB Network will televise the Awards Presentation at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, July 28 prior to the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, which will be cablecast live on MLB Network beginning at 1:30 p.m. Greg Amsinger and 2004 J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Peter Gammons will be the co-hosts.

Dodger Blue vs. Yankee Pinstripes

I ran into an old pal on the way into Yankee Stadium Wednesday for what was the beginning of a long day with a split-admission doubleheader courtesy of Tuesday night’s rainout. None other than Tommy Lasorda had come to the Stadium to make the Yankees-Dodgers match-up official.

In his 21 seasons as manager of the Dodgers, Lasorda was a baseball writer’s best friend. He enjoyed the byplay with the press and filled out notebooks with material while he preached bleeding “Dodger Blue.” Still hearty at 85, Lasorda was looking forward to a day at the Stadium. In the lobby of Gate 2, he watched a video of Hall of Fame pitcher Red Ruffing pitching against the New York Giants in the 1937 World Series.

Lasorda, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997, and I have worked together on a couple of Veterans Committees for the Hall. We were on the committees that elected managers Billy Southworth and Dick Williams and third baseman Ron Santo. Tommy and I campaigned hard for former Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges, but he fell three votes short.

Tommy is also a major proponent for the election of former Yankees manager Ralph Houk, the only major-league skipper to win pennants in his first three seasons on the job (1961-63). “He was a great manager,” Lasorda said. “Unfortunately, he was here when the franchise was going through a transition, but Ralph was an important link in the years between Casey Stengel and George Steinbrenner.”

Lasorda was involved in my favorite singular memory of spring training. The year was 1990. The Yankees still trained in Fort Lauderdale and the Dodgers in Vero Beach in those days. The Yankees were in Vero, and Tommy invited me and three other New York writers – Moss Klein, Bill Madden and Joe Donnelly – to have dinner with him after the game.

I got stuck in a lengthy interview with former Mets outfielder Darryl Strawberry, who was in his first spring with the Dodgers, and told the other writers that I would catch up with them later. We would need a designated driver anyway for the 2 1/2/-hour trek home, so I volunteered.

By the time I joined them, Tommy had explained that then Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley was throwing a luau for a contingent from Mexico and that he wanted the manager to stay on the premises.

“You can invite the writers to the luau,” O’Malley told Lasorda.

We were delighted. Vin Scully joined us, and we sat on a veranda with plenty to eat and drink (coffee for me) and listened to two of the great story tellers in the major leagues for several hours. Spring training doesn’t get better than that.

Don Mattingly’s return to the Stadium was celebrated by the bleacher creatures who added the Dodgers manager to the roll call in the first inning. Donnie acknowledged them with a tip of his cap. He did so again in the second inning when a video of his Yankees career was shown on the center field screen.

There was a sizeable number of Dodgers fans in the afternoon crowd, many cheering Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu, who started for Los Angeles in an all-Asian pairing with Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees’ Japanese righthander. Yankees fans got their first chance to drown out Dodgers fans in the bottom of the second when Lyle Overbay doubled over center fielder Andre Ethier’s head for a two-run double.

Yankees fans also got their first view of Cuban right fielder Yasiel Puig, who is off to a strong start in the majors. In the first two innings, Puig evoked the memory of two former Brooklyn Dodgers favorites from the 1940s and ‘50s, Jackie Robinson and Carl Furillo.

Puig singled with one out in the first and bolted for second as center fielder Brett Gardner fielded the ball. Puig was out trying to stretch the hit into a double, but it took a perfect throw from Gardner and a perfect tag by shortstop Jayson Nix to get him.

Thomas Neal led off the New York second with a single to right. Again not taking anything for granted, Puig noticed Neal jogging to first and rifled a throw there that skipped by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez but no advance for Neal. That was a favored ploy of Furillo, particularly when pitchers got a rare hit and occasionally would get a 9-3 putout.

This is the sort of stuff long promised by inter-league play but rarely on display.

Rain falls on Mattingly’s parade

If only the weather had cooperated. Tuesday night was supposed to be special for Don Mattingly, who would have made his first appearance on the field at Yankee Stadium since he retired as a player after the 1995 season. He came back along with former manager Joe Torre in September 2010 for the unveiling of the plaque for the late owner George Steinbrenner but not in uniform.

“Donnie Baseball” was expected to receive a very warm welcome from Yankees fans even if he was wearing Dodgers blue as their manager in the club’s first regular-season game in the Bronx. A persistent rain forced the postponement of the game, however, which will be made up as part of a split-admission doubleheader Wednesday. It is hoped that a good sized crowd is on hand for that first game, so Mattingly can receive the ovation he richly deserves.

He is that rarity (think Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera) as a Yankees player than even Yankees haters liked. Mattingly wore the pinstripes proudly for 14 seasons as a player and was a loyal coach as well. He was a candidate for the managerial position after Torre left but lost the job to current skipper Joe Girardi, a situation Mattingly now considers a “blessing.”

“They treated me fairly, I thought,” Mattingly said of the Yankees’ front office. “Things work out for a reason. That would have been really bad timing for me. Terrible. I was going through some personal stuff that would have been miserable trying to manage for the first time and have that going on. So, that was a blessing in disguise. Coming to L.A. has been great, and obviously there’s been a lot of turmoil this year, but I love what I’m doing and I like being in L.A.”

Mattingly was going through a divorce at the time and ended up joining Torre with the Dodgers as bench coach. When Joe stepped down from the manager’s job two years ago, Mattingly succeeded him. Unfortunately, injuries have played a huge part in the Dodgers’ disappointing season, a situation for which his Yankees counterpart can relate. Girardi has had 13 players do 16 stints on the disabled list. Mattingly has had 15 players on the DL.

About coming back to New York, Mattingly said, “It’s not just the building, it’s the people. Seeing the guys in the clubhouse and around the Stadium, it’s a good feeling.”

Mattingly feels fortunate that he has been involved with two clubs with storied histories. He grew up in Evansville, Ind., where the Cardinals and the Reds were the clubs people listed to mostly on the radio. The Yankees were a dynasty from long ago to Mattingly until he finally arrived at the Stadium as a player.

“I’m always excited when we come back to New York,” he said. “I don’t quite understand the relationship [with the fans], to be honest. I came from a small town and just played. They seemed to appreciate that. That was nice for me because all I had to do was play.”

Mattingly had hoped to be a part of a Yankees-Dodgers World Series (they have opposed each other in October a record 11 times) in 2009, but Los Angeles lost to Philadelphia in the NL Championship Series.

“I didn’t really know much about the Yankees until I got here,” he said. “It starts in spring training. Mickey [Mantle] was still alive and came to camp. You’d see Whitey [Ford] and Yogi. You don’t understand the history until you get here. Now I’m in another place that it steeped in history, going back to Jackie [Robinson] breaking the color line, bringing baseball to the West Coast and having strong ties to the community. All the Rookie of the Year winners over the years that shows the commitment to players coming through the system, fighting for a championship year after year, it is very similar to the Yankees.”

“Donnie is one of the greatest Yankees that’s ever played,” Girardi said. “He’s one of the greatest teammates that has ever put on that uniform. I know I’ve always loved him and appreciated what he has done, and I know the fans have seen a lot more than I have. I think it’ll be a great day for him.”

It will just have to wait for one more day.

The only tickets valid for the 1:05 p.m. game Wednesday are tickets dated June 18. The game originally scheduled for June 19 remains scheduled for a 7:05 p.m. start. YES will cablecast the 1:05 p.m. game. Channel 9 will telecast the 7:05 p.m. game.

Fans holding paid tickets for Tuesday night’s game (June 18) may use them for the rescheduled game or exchange their paid tickets for any regular season game at Yankee Stadium during the 2013 season or 2014 season (subject to availability).

Fans holding Complimentary tickets (COMP) for the June 18 game must use them for the rescheduled game. Complimentary tickets (COMP) or equivalent tickets bear no cash value and do not have any additional benefits that may be offered to ticket(s) with a dollar value.

For complete information about the Yankees’ rainout policy, please visit http://www.yankees.com/rainout.

With respect to tickets purchased through Yankees Ticket Exchange, please visit http://www.yankees.com/ticketexchange or call 1-800-355-2396 for complete information about its rainout policy.

Yanks glad pitchers don’t say no to Cano

Considering the weakened state of the Yankees’ batting order, it makes absolutely no sense to pitch to Robinson Cano. Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and Eduardo Nunez have done nice work offensively early on while Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter are healing, but the opposition would be wise not to put Cano in any position to create havoc.

The Yankees are grateful that Diamondbacks starter Brandon McCarthy ignored this advice that resulted in Cano cranking a three-run home run in the fourth inning to wipe out a 2-0 deficit.

Cano, back in the 2-hole where he has flourished this season (.395, four doubles, four home runs, 11 RBI), had a single and was stranded in the first inning. McCarthy wisely walked Cano intentionally after falling behind 2-0 in the count in the second inning with runners on first and third and two out. Kevin Youkilis ended the inning with a grounder to third base.

In the fourth, McCarthy came back from yielding leadoff singles to Overbay and Chris Stewart by striking out Brett Gardner. It appeared McCarthy would take the same approach to Cano and fell behind 3-0 in the count. McCarthy got a strike with a changeup on the black, and then threw a curve out of the strike zone that Cano fouled off. Getting to 3-2 must have given McCarthy some confidence that he should go after Cano.

Bad move for the pitcher; good move for the Yankees. Cano cranked a full-count change into the bleachers in right-center field for his fourth home run and a 3-2 Yankees lead. The Yanks had nine nits over the first four innings off McCarthy, who was gone after 102 pitches, but had left five runners on base over the first three innings and were hitless in four at-bats with runners in scoring position before Cano connected for his fourth home run of the season.

Yankees starter Ivan Nova also made a relatively early exit after a 94-pitch, five-inning stint. The D-backs left seven runners on base against Nova, who gave up two runs in the third but avoided further damage with a big strikeout of former teammate Eric Chavez and getting another former Yankee, Eric Hinske, on an infield out.

Nova’s best work was in the fourth inning after yielding a leadoff double to A.J. Pollock. Cliff Pennington sacrificed Pollock to third base, which prompted the Yankees to bring the infield in against Geraldo Parra, who rolled a grounder to Overbay at first base that kept Pollock at third. Nova ended the threat with a strikeout of Martin Prado.

It was a serviceable outing for Nova, who has been under intense scrutiny but how about cutting him some slack. With all the weather problems, Nova has made only two starts 17 days into the season. It is hard to get into a rhythm. He had a very good curve Tuesday night and made pitches when he needed them for the most part.

The Yankees added a run in the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Nunez, and the bullpen did a great job after Nova with Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera combining for four shutout innings of one-hit, no-walk, three-strikeout relief.

How appropriate that on a night when players on both clubs wore No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson’s legacy that Rivera, the last active player to wear that number, got the save, his third of the season and 611th of his career, with a 1-2-3 ninth and that the deciding runs were driven in by a player named after the trail blazing Hall of Famer.

Equally appropriate was the final score:

4-2.

Kuroda keeps Yanks’ infielders busy

Robinson Cano was back in the 3-hole Sunday night. With the Orioles starting lefthander Wei-Yin Chen, Yankees manager Joe Girardi did not want to have two left-handed batters at the top of the order.

The solution Girardi chose was to insert righty-swinging Vernon Wells between Brett Gardner and Cano. Based on Wells’ performance in 2012, Girardi might not have even considered Wells for the 2-hole. One element preferable for a right-handed hitter in the second spot is the ability to hit the ball to the right side. Wells had the lowest total of opposite-field hits in the league a year ago, but this year he has not been as pull happy and is hitting the ball to all fields. In a 3-for-4 game against the Indians last week, all three of Wells’ hits were to the right side of second base. Vernon will find that hitting the ball to right field can be rewarding at Yankee Stadium.

When Cano got off to a slow start, Girardi moved him into the 2-hole with the idea of his getting more at-bats. Cano thrived in the spot. Over the eight games in which he batted second in the order, Cano hit .432 with four doubles, three home runs and eight RBI in 34 at-bats to raise his season average from .125 to .333.

Cano had 0-for-3 with a walk in the Yankees’ 3-0 victory but was more productive defensively with seven assists and two putouts and taking part in both their double plays. Hiroki Kuroda’s five-hit shutout was the first complete game for a Yankees pitcher this year. Cano stayed busy with the glove because Kuroda kept so many balls in the infield. The righthander got 20 outs in the infield, including 18 ground balls. He struck out five batters, did not walk anybody and did not allow a runner to get past first base until two outs in the ninth inning. The best pitched game by a Yankees starter this year lowered Kuroda’s ERA from 6.75 to 2.87.

All three Yankees runs came in the fifth inning off Chen on a sacrifice fly by Jayson Nix and a long, two-run home run by Gardner, who made like Mickey Mantle with a drive that struck the right field foul pole along the upper deck, a monster shot.

Cano is better suited for the 3-hole as the team’s best hitter for average and to get more RBI opportunities. He most likely will return there permanently once Curtis Granderson returns. The center fielder recovering from a broken right forearm was at the Stadium Sunday and is on a throwing regimen. He said he hopes to build up sufficient strength so that he can start swinging a bat soon.

Monday is Jackie Robinson Appreciation Day, but the Yankees have an open date. They will celebrate Robinson’s legacy Tuesday night against the Diamondbacks with all players wearing Robinson’s retired No. 42. That number was retired in 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s breaking baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mariano Rivera, then in his third major-league season, is the last player still wearing No. 42. When Mo retires at season’s end, the number will no longer be worn in baseball.

The three-game series against Arizona will mark the Diamondbacks’ first visit to the current Stadium. The clubs last met for three games June 21-23, 2010 at Phoenix with the Yankees winning two. They are 9-3 in regular-season play against the D-backs but 3-4 in postseason play, all in the 2001 World Series. The Yankees are 5-1 at home in the regular season against Arizona, including a three-game sweep June 12-14, 2007, in their previous meeting. The Yanks also swept the three games against the D-backs at the Stadium in the 2001 World Series with Games 4 and 5 spiked by the game-tying, ninth-inning, two-run homers by Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius.

Granderson to help out Brooklyn school

Curtis Granderson, who is recuperating from a fractured right forearm sustained in the first game of spring training, will appear at a Jackie Robinson Tribute Program at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn Monday as part of his Grand Kids Foundation (GKF) series of programs.

Lincoln High sustained significant damage from Hurricane Sandy. GKF has donated a new scoreboard and wind screens for the outdoor athletic fields. Following a ceremony at the school, Granderson will accompany student athletes to a screening of the new movie, 42, about Jackie Robinson’s breaking baseball’s color barrier.

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.

Jeter top New York hit maker

Derek Jeter’s leadoff single to right field Wednesday night off Cliff Lee was career hit No. 2,877 for the Yankees shortstop and captain, and it was a big deal.

Coming in the same week in which Jeter passed Babe Ruth on the career list, this time he pushed ahead of Mel Ott and in so doing now has the most hits of any player while playing for a New York team, not just the Yankees but also the Mets and the former New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. That covers a lot of territory.

Not all of the Babe’s 2,873 hits were for the Yankees. He also played for both Boston teams, the Red Sox and the Braves. In Ott’s case, all of his 2,876 hits were with the Giants in a 22-season career spanning 1926 to 1947. No player wearing a New York uniform had more hits than Ott, a record he held for 63 years until Wednesday night.

Just last year, Jeter surpassed Lou Gehrig as the Yankees’ franchise hit leader, which was rarified air enough. Now this. Think about the long history of major league baseball in New York City, much richer than even the supposed hot beds of St. Louis and Boston, and now Derek Jeter stands heads and shoulders over all the hit makers.

There are 203 players in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Of that total, 92 played a portion of their careers for at least one of the New York teams. The city has seen some of the greatest hitters ever, from the Babe and Lou to Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson, from Willie (Mays), Mickey (Mantle) and the Duke (Snider), on to Don Mattingly and Keith Hernandez.

Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle all won batting titles as did fellow Yankees Snuffy Stirnweiss, Paul O’Neill and Bernie Williams. Other batting champions in New York were the Dodgers’ Robinson, Jake Daubert, Zack Wheat, Pete Reiser, Dixie Walker and Carl Furillo and the Giants’ Mays, Larry Doyle and Bill Terry, the last National League player to hit .400 (.401 in 1930). No Mets player has led the league in batting, but Dave Magadan and John Olerud came close.

Ott won no batting titles, either, even though he was a career .304 hitter. Ott’s specialty was the long ball. His total of 511 was the NL record for 20 years before Mays passed him in 1966. Ott led the league in home runs six times, and the NL trophy for the annual home run champion is named after him. He also had 488 doubles and 72 triples and hit .295 with four homers and 10 RBI in 16 World Series games.

Ott would have fit very well into today’s game as an on-base specialist. He led the NL in walks six times, walked more than 100 times in 10 seasons and had a career .414 on-base average. A left-handed batter, Ott took advantage of the short right field dimensions at the Polo Grounds utilizing a quirky hitting style in which he lifted his right leg as he started his swing. Copying that style years later was the Japanese slugger Sadaharu Oh of the Yomiuri Giants.

In his last six seasons in the majors, Ott wore two hats for the Giants as a player manager. A soft-spoken man from Louisiana with a demeanor not unlike that of Gehrig, it was Ott to whom Leo Durocher came up with his famous line, “Nice guys finish last.”

Ott never did finish last, and when he did finish his career he was first among New York players in total hits. Now that distinction belongs to Derek Jeter, another nice guy who doesn’t finish last.

Numbers game

More than any other team in the majors, the Yankees make it difficult for a new player to receive his preferred uniform number. The main reason is that the Yankees have retired 14 numbers (including 8 twice, for both Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra), the most of any team. In the case of the three players traded to the Yankees over the weekend, two were able to get the numbers they had worn for their previous clubs, and none of the three numbers issued had been retired.

First baseman-designated hitter Lance Berkman received No. 17, which he had worn throughout his career in the National League with the Astros. Outfielder Austin Kearns got No. 26, the same number he had worn in his time with the Indians. Kearns’ preferred number would have been 28, which he wore with the Reds and the Nationals. He was unable to get it in Cleveland because it was worn by pitcher David Huff, now in the minors, and had no chance with the Yankees since 28 is the number of manager Joe Girardi.

Relief pitcher Kerry Wood, who made his Yankees debut in Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Rays, was given No. 39, the first time he has worn a number in the majors other than 34, which he had with both the Cubs and the Indians. Number 34 was not available because it belongs to pitcher A.J. Burnett.

The matter of uniform numbers can get dicey. A lot of players have jewelry made up with their numbers, and the trinkets become useless if they can’t get their number with a new team. That was the case with Rickey Henderson when he came to the Yankees in 1985. He had worn No. 35 in Oakland, but Phil Niekro had that number when Rickey came to New York. Henderson took No. 24 and then continued to wear that number most of the rest of his career with eight more teams. The only teams he couldn’t wear No. 24 for were the Mariners, who had just traded Ken Griffey Jr. but wouldn’t give out the number, and the Dodgers, who had retired it for Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston.

Reggie Jackson did something similar. He had worn No. 9 with the A’s, but that was Graig Nettles’ number with the Yankees when Reggie reached the Bronx in 1977. Reggie switched to No. 44, which he later wore with the Angels and when he returned to Oakland. Both numbers were retired by the Yankees – 44 for Reggie and 9 for Roger Maris. The latter number was retired by the time Joe Torre, who had worn it throughout his career, came to the Yankees as manager in 1996. He wore No. 6 for 12 years.

Randy Johnson wore No. 51 in Montreal, Seattle, Houston and Arizona, but when he came to the Yankees in 2005 had to change because that number belonged to Bernie Williams. The Big Unit took No. 41, which was his age at the time.

Tino Martinez wore No. 23 with the Mariners, and the number was available when he came to the Yankees in 1996 because Don Mattingly, who had worn it, retired. In deference to Mattingly, a player he greatly admired, Tino declined and instead took No. 24, which is now worn by Robinson Cano. Robbie had worn No. 22 but gave it to Roger Clemens when the Rocket rejoined the Yankees in 2007. Cano then took 24 because it is the reverse of 42, now retired in perpetuity in honor of Jackie Robinson, for whom Cano was named.

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