Results tagged ‘ Ken Griffey Jr. ’

ESPN scheduling creates red-eye baseball

As I suggested after Sunday’s game ended just before 1 a.m. EDT in Boston, the Yankees would likely arrive in Arlington, Texas, sometime around dawn. Well, how does 5:30 a.m. CDT sound? Pretty close to dawn, right? It was almost 7 o’clock before the Yankees reached their hotel on the same morning they had a game scheduled against the Rangers 12 hours later.

Is this any way to run a professional sport?

Listen, we all love ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. It’s a cool way to end the weekend to settle in front of the flat-screen set and take in some ball. But the price some teams pay takes into question why that cable network can’t use some common sense in picking the games. Surely any Yankees-Red Sox matchup is a potential ratings winner, but did no one notice that one of those teams had a four-hour flight waiting afterward? Did no one entertain the idea that extra innings was a possibility?

Major League Baseball sold its soul to television years ago, so my complaint will fall on deaf ears. For several years, the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game before the All-Star break featured the Mariners at home, which forced Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson to fly all night from Seattle to get to the All-Star workout day in the host city on next to no sleep.

The minute Sunday night’s Yanks-Red Sox game was chosen for SNB, the commissioner’s office should have stepped in. The players gripe about the schedule all the time, yet every contract year the collective bargaining agreement is reached without this issue being settled so that players are not subjected to such a travel nightmare.

I’d like to see some TV executives face Yu Darvish in 99-degree weather on little sleep.

KC fans target Cano

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The American League is the home team for Tuesday night’s All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium, but the Yankees’ Robinson Cano was rudely treated as a visitor Monday night at the start of the Home Run Derby.

The reason is that local fans were expressing their displeasure that Cano as captain of the AL Home Run Derby team did not select Billy Butler, the hometown Royals’ representative, to be one of the four sluggers for the competition. Obviously, this was a favorite-son beef, considering that Cano also passed on the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton and the Red Sox’ David Ortiz.

Cano’s selections in addition to himself were Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista, Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder and Angels outfielder Mark Trumbo. It is difficult to argue about those picks. Bautista is tied with Hamilton for the AL home run lead with 27. Trumbo has 22 homers and Cano 22.

As for choosing Fielder, who has 15 home runs, over Butler, who has 16, Cano is justified based on career performance. After all, Fielder was the Most Valuable Player of last season’s All-Star Game at Phoenix when he was still in the National League with the Brewers.

And Fielder ended up winning the Home Run Derby for the second time in his career. He also won in 2009 on the other side of the state at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. He is one of two players to have won the Derby more than once. The other was three-time winner Ken Griffey Jr.

Cano took the booing good-naturedly. He won the event last year but failed to homer this year. If nothing else, Robinson may have made some people happy.

“You play for the Yankees, everywhere you go you get booed,” he said.

Tweaked lineup result helps Kuroda relax to victory

Yankees manager Joe Girardi tinkered with the lineup seven games into the season Friday and got immediate results. Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez were flip-flopped in an effort to make it more difficult for opposing managers to have an advantage by bringing in a left-handed relief pitcher with two left-handed batters, Curtis Granderson and Cano, back-to-back in the order.

Against right-handed starters, Girardi had Granderson batting second, Cano third and Rodriguez fourth. The manager tried something new in the home opener by batting A-Rod third and Cano cleanup. By doing so, Girardi did not have lefty hitters batting in succession. He said he would continue to use such an order against righthanders, even before it produced dividends in a 5-0 victory over the Angels that pushed the Yankees over .500 (4-3).

Rodriguez entered the game batting .174 with no RBI in six games and 25 at-bats. After Ervin Santana began the game with strikeouts of Derek Jeter and Granderson, Rodriguez jumped on a 1-0 fastball and lined a single through the middle. He eventually scored the first run of the game following walks to Cano and Mark Teixeira on Nick Swisher’s bases-loaded double that proved sufficient support of Hiroki Kuroda.

A-Rod kept up his assault in the third inning and connected for a home run to center, his first of the season and career No. 630, which tied him with former Mariners teammate Ken Griffey Jr. for fifth place on the all-time list.

“It was special because Griff and I sort of came up together,” Rodriguez said. “He was both a mentor and a brother to me.”

Rodriguez followed Granderson’s second homer of the season with a single to center in the fifth.

The reason for Girardi’s lineup switch never came into play as the Angels used two righthanders in relief of Santana in a game in which they never seriously challenged. The long-awaited first game of Albert Pujols at the Stadium was something of a dud. The three-time National League Most Valuable Player had a quiet 1-for-4 game. He singled to center in the fourth but was erased on a double play. Pujols also flied out to left, struck out and grounded into a double play.

Rodriguez, a three-time American League MVP, stole the thunder from Pujols.

“The great ones like to measure up against each other,” Girardi said. “Alex worked the middle of the field great.”

Girardi will return Cano to third and Rodriguez to fourth when opponents start a lefthander because the switch-hitting Swisher bats second in that case, which negates the need to move Cano, who was the Yankees’ RBI leader last season but is the lone regular who has yet to drive in a run this season. His time is coming.

Kuroda answered a lot of questions that came up after he got smacked around in his Yankees debut April 7 when he gave up six runs (four earned), eight hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings in an 8-6 loss. As a fly-ball pitcher who benefit from the pitcher-friendly surroundings at Dodger Stadium, Kuroda seemed vulnerable to a different climate at hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium.

Girardi allowed him to start the ninth, but when Bobby Abreu reached on an infield single the manager brought in David Robertson to finish the job. The sellout crowd of 49,386 treated Kuroda to a standing ovation.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Kuroda said, “and I would like to repeat it as much as I can this year.”

Kuroda admitted that he was nervous before his first start at the Stadium and that he was able to relax somewhat after the Yankees gave him the 3-0, first-inning lead.

“I was able to get a really good rhythm going after that,” Kuroda. “I felt I had a good curve, but my split was not 100 percent.”

Maybe not, but Kuroda kept getting the Angels to beat the ball into the ground. The righthander got 10 of his 24 outs on ground balls and six more on strikeouts. He walked two batters and was backed up by two of the Yankees’ three double plays.

“In my previous game, I was too careful trying to hit the corners and had a bad outing,” Kuroda said. “This time, I tried to be more aggressive.”

Yankee Stadium turned out to be more of an ally than expected.

Finally

So there.

Maybe it was standing on third base Tuesday night and watching four players from the Blue Jays breeze past him finishing their home run trots that got to Alex Rodriguez or perhaps he was just waiting for Wednesday, the third anniversary of his reaching 500 career home runs.

Whatever the reason, A-Rod finally became the seventh member of major league baseball’s 600 Club with a first-inning blow off a 2-0 fastball from Shaun Marcum that landed on the netting atop Monument Park.

Considering the traffic around Yankee Stadium Wednesday, there were quite a few ticket holders that had yet to reach their seats before Rodriguez went deep for the first time in nearly two weeks, ending an odyssey that had grown to epic proportions and coincided with a five-game Yankees slide down the American League East standings since July 23, the day after A-Rod got to 599.

They were a second-place club when they took the field Wednesday, but all that seemed to be on everyone’s mind was whether Rodriguez would end this drought that covered 46 at-bats that included a hitless string of 17 at-bats leading into his first plate appearance.

So the long wait is over, and Alex can now breathe freely and intake the rarified air that he shares with Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa. Exclusive company that. So now A-Rod’s team can get back to the business at hand, which is to catch the Rays and keep the Red Sox from climbing up their backs.

Oddly, Rodriguez’s quest drew scant national attention beyond the nightly ESPN SportsCenter updates. Not a single national baseball columnist flew into town to witness the event. And when Sunday’s game in St. Petersburg, Fla., was cablecast by TBS, A-Rod was not in the lineup, although he did get an at-bat late in the game as a pinch hitter.

Part of that has to do with the tight-belt budgets of newspapers these days and part with Rodriguez’s admission last year that while in his three seasons in Texas he used anabolic steroids. Nevertheless, fans were into it, even in the games last weekend against the Rays. The crowd at the Stadium went ballistic as the ball went into the air. And it was somehow appropriate that the teammate who first met Alex with a hug at the plate was Derek Jeter, who had led off the game with a single.

One more thing; it was no bum off of whom Rodriguez struck his 600th home run. Marcum took a 10-4 record into the game and was on a three-game winning streak in which he had a 2.04 ERA with one walk and 19 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings. That was not some tomato can out there.

Those in the Stadium had the opportunity to purchase a special commemorative issue of Yankees Magazine entitled “All in Stride, an Extraordinary Look at Alex Rodriguez and his Chase for 600.”

The 32-page souvenir featuring in-depth articles and laden with color photographs will be available for the bargain price of $10 at the Stadium for the duration of the homestand as supplies 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.

Time to toss Derby

Isn’t it time for Major League Baseball to retire the Home Run Derby? What started out as a friendly competition among sluggers during the workout day on the eve of the All-Star Game has morphed into a bloated, dog-and-pony show that has often been responsible for messing up some hitters’ swings.

There is no chance of this happening, of course, because ESPN loves it and years ago turned into a prime-time attraction, if one considers listening to Chris Berman screech away all night attractive. But if this is such a big deal, how come many of baseball’s top home run hitters don’t want anything to do with it?

There was a time when the big thumpers all regularly took their cuts, from Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. But now look. Alex Rodriguez is on the verge of hitting 600 home runs, and he stays away from the Derby. No Ryan Howard, either. And this year Albert Pujols has dropped out.

Why else would Robinson Cano be offered a berth? He is not a classic home run hitter. Cano can’t be faulted for being excited about wanting to compete because he only saw the fun in it not to mention the spotlight. The Yanks wisely thought otherwise and convinced the second baseman to pass on the opportunity.

The Yankees were concerned that the strenuous nature of the event could affect Cano. Hitting coach Kevin Long expressed his unease about Cano’s involvement.

“It’s just an exhausting process,” Long said. “It takes a lot out of you. It’s taxing. You see guys come back after the home run-hitting contest, and it affects their swing.”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi convinced Cano that despite the honor of being selected to compete it is not worth the risk, particularly since he has been nagged by a sore lower back recently. It could explain his first real dry spell of the season. Cano  is 3-for-23 (.130) in July and has had a longer stretch of mediocre results dating to June 11 batting .236 with four home runs and nine RBI in 89 at-bats.

Robbie was out of the lineup Wednesday night for the first time this year. He was due for a rest. He’ll get another one the night before the All-Star Game. Now if MLB will just give the whole idea a rest.

Cano needs to be careful

Robinson Cano has agreed to take part in the All-Star Home Run Derby. Let’s hope the Yankees second baseman doesn’t suffer the same consequences of other former participants whose swings were altered by the process.

Bobby Abreu, David Wright and Josh Hamilton are just a few examples of players whose power swings were tempered after having impressive showings in the Home Run Derby. All three eventually got their grooves back, but the popular exhibition has had a hangover effect.

Not on everybody, of course. Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez won the Home Run Derby before the 1997 All-Star Game at Cleveland and went on to hit a career-high 44 home runs that year and also set personal bests in RBI (141) and batting (.296) in finishing second to former Mariners teammate Ken Griffey Jr. for the American League Most Valuable Player Award.

Mike Piazza quit participating after failing to hit one home run two years in a row. Alex Rodriguez needs to protect his surgical right hip and no longer takes part. Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols begged out this year.

Cano’s AL mates will include Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera and Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells. Good luck, Robbie, but try not to develop any bad habits.

Remembering a Yankee killer

With Ken Griffey Jr. having announced his retirement, Alex Rodriguez is now the active home-run leader in the major leagues. A-Rod pushed his total to 591 Thursday in the Yankees’ 6-3 victory over the Orioles. The next stop on the all-time list for Rodriguez is Sammy Sosa, very catchable in sixth place at 609. A-Rod would need to have a monster few months to catch fifth-place Junior at 630, but it remains possible. He has hit at least 47 home runs in a season five times, although not since his 54-homer year of 2007 when he won his third American League Most Valuable Player Award.

Probably most surprising about Griffey’s career is that he was an MVP only once, albeit unanimously, in 1997 when his former teammate, Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez, was the runner-up. Junior somehow got lost playing in Seattle and amid a crowd of contemporaries who used performance-enhancing drugs, as A-Rod himself admitted. The Sosa home-run race with Mark McGwire in 1998 and the growing dominance of Barry Bonds dropped Junior into the background after the turn of the century.

Yet Junior remained the most exciting player to watch since Willie Mays. Yankees fans will never forget , but would like to, his dash around the bases at the Kingdome on Edgar Martinez’s double that produced a walk-off Mariners victory over the Yankees in Game 5 of the first AL Division Series. I can still see third base coach Sam Perlozzo furiously waving Junior home, and his legs churning toward the plate concluding with a picture-perfect slide.

That was a time when I looked forward to Yankees-Mariners games like no other just for the pure pleasure of watching Junior Griffey patrol center field and take target practice at the right field seats. His fence-climbing catch of a Jesse Barfield drive remains one of the best catches I’ve ever seen at Yankee Stadium. His father, Ken Griffey Sr., made one of the greats, too, in left field that is also high on my list.

In retrospect, Griffey’s decision to go home to Cincinnati 10 years ago was a career mistake. He and pitcher Randy Johnson and manager Lou Piniella were the axis that saved major-league ball in Seattle. All eventually left, but none was missed more than Junior. Going to the Reds was a family decision for Griffey. Among his reasons was a desire to play for a team that had its spring training camp in Florida, which the Reds did at that time.

I thought at the time that if Junior had to leave Seattle the best landing place for him would have been Atlanta. The Braves were a winning organization with a terrific general manager-manager combo in John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox, plus the best pitching staff in the game and a spring training facility near Disney World in the backyard of Junior’s adopted residence of Orlando, Fla. Think of how many more World Series the Bravos might have won with Griffey. It might have been a different story for the Yankees in 1996 and ’99.

It’s too bad Junior had a dim view of the Yankees because he was made for the Stadium. He was reprimanded by manager Billy Martin as a youngster when his father played for the Yankees and never forgot it. It was a grudge Griffey should have dropped years ago. He paid them back over the years, batting .311 with 36 home runs and 102 RBI in 501 career at-bats against the Yankees.

The Braves couldn’t come up with a package for Griffey, so off to Cincinnati he went. I can remember when people thought he had an off year in 2000 when he hit .271 with 40 homers and 118 RBI. He never achieved those power numbers again. He had only one other comparable season with the Reds, in 2005 (.301, 35 homers, 92 RBI) as his career took no longer the path of Willie Mays but rather that of Mickey Mantle as injuries piled up higher than his statistics.

News of his retirement became obscured by the story out of Detroit about Armando Galarraga’s bid for a perfect game foiled by umpire Jim Joyce’s erroneous call. That can happen to the best of them. In a Yankees game 32 years ago Thursday, Lou Gehrig hit four home runs and Tony Lazzeri hit for the cycle. Topping the sports page, though, was John McGraw’s announcement that he was retiring after 30 years’ managing the New York Giants.

Griffey’s leaving the game deserved the same attention. He passed the home-run baton to a former teammate who last year finally achieved what always eluded Griffey, a World Series championship. A-Rod remembered Junior fondly.

“I came in at 17, right out of high school, and I got to see our Michael Jordan, our Tiger Woods, the best of the best,” Rodriguez said.

If you don’t believe that, get out tapes of that 1995 ALDS, the one in which Griffey punished the Yankees with a .391 average, five home runs, seven RBI and that mad dash home in the clincher. You will not see his like again.

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