Results tagged ‘ Lee Mazzilli ’

Big Unit, Pedro have fond memories of Stadium

The 2015 Hall of Fame election was one for the ages. For the first time in 60 years and for only the fourth time in the history of the voting that dates to 1936, as many as four players got the nod from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in this year’s election. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio are a classy quartet and proved so in Wednesday’s press conference at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Johnson and Martinez were particularly amusing discussing their time pitching at Yankee Stadium as opposing players. The “Big Unit,” of course, also wore the pinstripes for two seasons, although he readily admitted those were not the finest hours of his career. However, he conceded that he had a whale of a time.

“I won 34 games over those two seasons, but I didn’t pitch as well as people wanted,” Johnson said. “But to be able to sit down in the dugout and talk to Yogi Berra about the old days, to have Whitey Ford ask me to sign a jersey and then sit down and chat about pitching, what could have been better? To get to know Reggie Jackson really well and begin a long friendship, it was great. Reggie texted me [Tuesday] and said, ‘How did you get more votes than me?’ That’s Reggie.”

Johnson, who won five Cy Young Awards and was the co-Most Valuable Player of one of the most exciting World Series ever played (in 2001 for the Diamondbacks against the Yankees), has stronger memories of pitching against the Yankees than for them. He recalled the first time he was scheduled to pitch at the Stadium for the Mariners in 1992 he was followed into the park by Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, then a Yankees broadcaster.

“I played college ball at the University of Southern California under the legendary coach Ron Dedeaux, who always referred to a player on the team as ‘Tiger,’ probably because he couldn’t remember names,” Johnson said. “So ‘Tiger’ became a sore of alumni sign. I was coming into the Stadium that day and I heard someone shout to me, ‘Tiger, Tiger.’ I knew it had to be a USC alum, and sure enough it was Tom Seaver. He wanted to know why I was carrying my own bags on a night when I was pitching. We became good friends after that. How can you not cherish such memories?”

“You were lucky,” Martinez chimed in. “You have no idea what it was like to pitch at Yankee Stadium for the Red Sox.”

Martinez was one of those Boston players Yankees fans loved to hate. The more abuse they could heap on him the better, but the diminutive righthander was never bothered by it. He eventually made New York his baseball home as well later with the Mets but saw a major difference between the two fan bases.

“I learned a lot while coming over to New York as a visitor with the Red Sox and also coming later on and dressing in the uniform of the Mets,” Martinez said. “In Queens, fans are wild, they’re happy. They settle for what they have. The Yankees fans do not. It’s ‘Win or nothing. Win or nothing.’

“Yankees fans were really good at trying to intimate you. As the opposition, they wanted to intimidate you. But deep in their heart, they appreciate baseball. They appreciate everything that you do. They recognize greatness. And they’re gonna boo you and they’re gonna call you, ‘Who’s your daddy?’ They’re going to chant until you just go away.”

I pointed out at the press conference a footnote that Martinez is the first pitcher under six feet in height to be elected to the Hall of Fame in 41 years since Whitey went in with his teammate and pal, Mickey Mantle, in 1974. I added that today Pedro stands as tall as the 6-foot-10 Johnson.

They were equals in effectiveness. Johnson’s 4,875 career strikeouts are second only to Nolan Ryan’s 5,714 and the most by any lefthander. The Unit’s five Cy Young Awards are two shy of Roger Clemens’ record, and his four in a row with Arizona from 1999-2002 matched a similar run by Greg Maddux, who was elected to the Hall last year, from 1992-95. Martinez led his league in earned run average five times and had a career 2.93 ERA, remarkable considering the era of offensive explosiveness in which he pitched.

And was there ever a pitcher in baseball who excelled equally as a starter and a reliever more than Smoltz? As a starter, he won a Cy Young Award (1996), and as a closer he won a Rolaids Relief Award (2002). He had moved to the bullpen while recovering from elbow surgery. Talk all you want about Dennis Eckersley, but he did not have the career as a starter than Smoltz did. And after three years as the Braves’ closer Smoltz returned to the Atlanta rotation and led the National League in victories in 2006.

This was a unique pitcher, and as I told John on the phone Tuesday when I notified him of his election as the BBWAA secretary-treasurer, “Unique players go to the Hall of Fame, and they go in right away.”

He told me that he was relieved and mentioned a breakfast we had together at the Stadium one Sunday last summer with David Cone and Lee Mazzilli and the talk was about the Hall of Fame. “I had just seen what that induction weekend was all about as a broadcaster for MLB Network as I watched my old buddies [Maddux and Tom Glavine] give their speeches,” Smoltz said. “I just wanted to low-key it after that and not get too caught up in it. So it’s quite a special feeling right now.”

Smoltz was courted by the Yankees as a free agent after the 2001 season, but he chose instead to stay in Atlanta. Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson took the new class of elected players to dinner Wednesday night at ‘21’ in midtown Manhattan. That is precisely the place the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner would have wined and dined Smoltz to seal a deal to come to the Bronx.

Biggio grew up on Long Island and played football and basketball at Kings Park High School in Suffolk County. He was a Yankees fan whose favorite player was Thurman Munson. Yogi was a coach with the Astros during his estrangement period from the Yankees and encouraged Houston officials to move Biggio from behind the plate to second base where his career took off.

Among his 3,060 career hits were 668 doubles, the fifth highest total in history and the most by a right-handed batter. Think of it, more than the likes of Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Paul Molitor, now that is distinctive.

Idelson visited with Yogi in New Jersey over the past weekend, and the first words out of the legendary catcher’s mouth was, “Is my man Biggio going to make it?”

That was the day before we counted the ballots and discovered that we could tell Yogi a resounding “Yes.”

Yankees deep-6 number for Joe Torre

At the latest number retired in Monument Park (left to right) Joe Torre’s sisters, Sister Marguerite and Rae; his son, Michael; his daughters Andrea and Lauren; his wife, Ali; Joe; Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and his wife, Christina; and Yankees general partner Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal.

At the latest number retired in Monument Park (left to right) Joe Torre’s sisters, Sister Marguerite and Rae; his son, Michael; his daughters Andrea and Lauren; his wife, Ali; Joe; Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and his wife, Christina; and Yankees general partner Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal.

And then there was one, which is actually two.


The discussion is about uniform numbers. The Yankees retired No. 6 for Joe Torre Saturday. It occurred to the popular former manager that the shortstop he brought to the major leagues and nurtured through his early career has another distinction besides being the Yankees’ all-time leader in games played and hits.

Looking into the dugout where Derek Jeter was leaning against the railing from the top step, Torre said to the sellout crowd of 47,594 in the pregame ceremony, “There’s one single digit left out there.”

That would be Jeter’s No. 2, the only single digit not yet retired by the Yankees but definitely will be at some point, perhaps as early as next year following his retirement. Yogi Berra, one of the two No. 8’s retired (fellow catcher Bill Dickey is the other) took part in the ceremony, along with several former players, including two others who have had their uniform numbers retired, Reggie Jackson (44) and Ron Guidry (49).

Berra and Dickey are in that group of single-digit retired numbers that also features Billy Martin (1), Babe Ruth (3), Lou Gehrig (4), Joe DiMaggio (5), Mickey Mantle (7) and Roger Maris (9). So DJ now stands alone.

Torre, his wife Ali and other members of the family began the ceremony in Monument Park where he unveiled his number and plaque alongside Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and general partner Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal. They eventually made their way to the center of the field for the ceremony amid former players David Cone, Hideki Matsui, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte; former coaches Guidry, Willie Randolph, Jose Cardenal and Lee Mazzilli; longtime managers Tony La Russa (who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year with Torre) and Jim Leyland; former trainer Gene Monahan and Jackson.

An especially nice touch was Jeter escorting Jean Zimmer from the dugout to the field. Known by her nickname, “Soot,” she is the widow of the late Don Zimmer, Joe’s longtime bench coach. There was also a touching video message from former Yankees pitcher and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, who was unable to travel to the event.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who served for Torre both as a catcher and a bench coach, presented his old boss with a framed version of his Monument Park plaque. Hal Steinbrenner and his wife, Christina, presented a framed version of No. 6. Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal on behalf of the organization gave Torre a diamond ring with No. 6 embossed in the center.

Observing all this from the visitor’s dugout was another of Torre’s former players, White Sox manager Robinb Ventura.

“It feels like the World Series all over again,” Torre told the crowd. “To have a number retired for any team is something special, but when you’re talking about the history and tradition of the New York Yankees, it is a feeling you can’t describe. There wouldn’t have been a Cooperstown without Yankee Stadium. I want to thank Randy Levine, Lonn Trost and Brian Cashman and the woman behind the scenes, Debbie Tymon, who does so much for this organization. Arthur Richman mentioned my name to George, but it was Stick Michael who recommended me for the job.”

And what a job Torre did. The Yankees reached postseason play in all 12 of his managerial seasons and won six pennants and four World Series, including three in a row from 1998-2000.

Torre acknowledged his gratitude to the late owner George Steinbrenner for taking Gene Michael’s advice and hiring him despite a resume that included mediocre results as a manager with the Mets, Braves and Cardinals, the same three clubs for whom he had played during a 16-season career. The kid from Brooklyn who grew up a New York Giants fan clearly fell in love with the pinstripes.

“George gave me the greatest opportunity in my professional life,” Torre said, “I played in the majors for 16 years, but they could never match my 12 years in Yankees pinstripes. I will be forever grateful to the Steinbrenner family for trusting me with this team.

“One thing you never forget or lose feeling for are you people, all of you people, and it continues. I walk around and people thank me. They don’t realize what a good time i had. New York fans make this city a small town. When you get to this ballpark you feel the heartbeat, and it’s something that does not go away.

“It’s a short distance from the old Stadium to here but a long, long way from the field to Monument Park. I was blessed to make that journey on the shoulders of some very special players.”

In his previous managerial stops, Torre had worn No. 9, but he could not get that with the Yankees because it had been retired for Maris. Early in his playing career with the Braves, Torre wore No. 15 (his brother, Frank, had No. 14), but that was also not available with the Yankees since it was retired in honor of the late Thurman Munson.

Actually, Torre is one of four Hall of Famers who have worn No. 6 for the Yankees. Some fans may not know that Mickey Mantle wore No. 6 as a rookie in 1951 before switching to 7 the next year. Tony Lazzeri was the Yankees’ first No. 6, followed by his successor at second base, Joe Gordon.

Perhaps some karma was in the air because the Yankees second baseman Saturday, Martin Prado, was a huge factor in their 5-3 victory over the White Sox that was a fitting accompaniment to the afternoon.

Prado, who won Friday night’s game with a walk-off single in the ninth inning, had a part in four of the Yankees’ runs Saturday. His bunt single in the second helped build a run that subsequently scored on a double play. He drove in two runs in the fourth with the first of his two doubles in the game. He also doubled in the sixth and scored on a fly ball by Stephen Drew. Carlos Beltran drove in the other Yanks’ run in the sixth with his 15th home run.

Perhaps the only thing more appropriate would have been if the Yankees had scored six runs. What is definitely appropriate is that the number was retired for the person who wore it the longest, one more year than the player who had it for 11 seasons, Roy White (1969-79).

Now all that awaits is the day when Jeter, who got a rare day off Saturday, completes the single-digit retirement.

Paulie’s nephew drafted by Yankees

Michael O’Neill, a nephew of former Yankees outfielder and current YES analyst Paul O’Neill, was drafted Friday by the Bombers in the third round (103rd player overall) of Major League Baseball’s First Year Player Draft. O’Neill is a right-handed batting outfielder at the University of Michigan.

In other activity on the second day of the draft, the Yankees selected in the fourth round (No. 134) shortstop Tyler Wade of Murrieta Valley High School in California, in the fifth round (No. 164) right-handed pitcher David Palladino of Howard College in Texas, in the sixth round (No. 194) shortstop John Murphy of Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, in the seventh round (No. 224) right-handed pitcher Nick Rumbelow of Louisiana State University, in the eighth round (No. 254) outfielder Brandon Thomas of Georgia Tech, in the ninth round (No. 284) left-handed pitcher Conner Kendrick of Auburn University and in the 10th round (No. 314) left-handed pitcher Tyler Webb of the University of South Carolina.

In addition, L.J. Mazzilli, second baseman at the University of Connecticut, was taken by the Mets in the fourth round (No. 116). L.J. is the son of former Mets and Yankees outfielder Lee Mazzilli, who also coached for the Yankees and managed the Orioles is now a special advisor in the Yanks’ corporate sales department.

The Yankees will get a look at pitcher Jeremy Bonderman for the first time since 2010 in Friday night’s game at Safeco Field. Bonderman is 3-9 with a 5.62 ERA (52 ER, 83.1 IP) in 14 games, including 13 starts, in his career against the Yankees, who have a three-game winning streak against him dating to May 10, 2008.

Prior this this season, Bonderman last appeared in the Majors in 2010 with the Tigers when he was 8-10 with a 5.53 ERA in 30 appearances, all but one as a starter. He had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in April 2012 and was also limited to only 20 games (13 starts) combined between 2008-09 because of thoracic outlet compression syndrome in his right chest, including going 461 days between major league starts between June 1, 2008 to Sept. 5, 2009.

Bonderman, who has 975 days between major-league starts, is the first Mariners pitcher to have at least 975 days between big-league starts since Gil Meche from July 4, 2000 to April 5, 2003 went 1,005 days between starts (where previous start may have been with a different team). The longest gap between starts for a Mariners pitcher was Mike Stanton from Sept. 27, 1975 to Sept. 1, 1982 who went 2,531 days between starts (Stanton did appear in 126 games in relief in the majors from 1980-82).

The Mariners used only nine position players in the 16-inning marathon Wednesday against the White Sox, the first time a team used only nine position players in a game of 14 or more innings since Seattle in a 14-inning loss July 20, 2012 at St. Petersburg, Fla. The Yankees were the last American League team prior to the Mariners to do this in 15 or more innings Aug. 26, 1985 in a 3-2, 15-inning loss at Oakland. Seattle is the first AL team since the DH was put in place in 1973 to use only nine position players in a game of 16 or more innings.

Pitcher Chien-Ming Wang has decided to opt out of his contract with the Yankees and sign with the Blue Jays. The righthander, 33, was 4-4 with a 2.33 ERA at Triple A Scranton but had been pushed down the depth chart with the injury to Ivan Nova, the emergence of Vidal Nuno and the impending return of Michael Pineda, who will begin an injury-rehabilitation assignment for Class A Tampa Saturday with a start at Lakeland, Fla. Wang, twice a 19-game winner with the Yankees before sustaining a foot injury running the bases in 2008, was 2-6 with a 6.68 ERA last year for the Nationals.

The Yankees entered Friday night’s game on a four-game winning streak, one shy of their season high of May 8-12. This is their fourth winning streak of at least four games this year. The Yanks have scored at least six runs in three of the four games after having reached the six-run plateau three times over their previous 18 games.

The Yankees have hit a home run with at least two men on base in each of their past four games (Mark Teixeira grand slam Monday, Teixiera three-run homer Tuesday, Brett Gardner three-run homer Wednesday and Robinson Cano three-run homer last night). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it marks the first time the Yankees have had such a four-game stretch since four straight games from April 9-13, 2006.

Kevin Youkilis has reached base safely (via hit, walk or hit by pitch) in all 19 games that he has started at Safeco Field. The Elias Sports Bureau reports that the only player with a longer current streak of reaching base in consecutive starts at Safeco Field is Youk’s former teammate, Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, in his past 20 starts.

Pinstripe Bowl charity golf outing May 20

The New York Yankees Foundation will be the host of the third annual New York Yankees/New Era Pinstripe Bowl charity golf tournament, sponsored by UnitedHealthcare, Monday, May 20, at Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y.

Net proceeds from the event will benefit the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Pediatric Cancer Center, Tourette Syndrome Association of Central New Jersey, Boomer Esiason Foundation Fighting Cystic Fibrosis and UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation. More than 400 individuals have participated in the tournament the past two years, and in excess of $200,000 has been raised for charity.

Registration and lunch will begin at 11:30 a.m., followed by a 1:30 p.m. shotgun start for the scramble-format tournament. A cocktail reception, dinner and an awards presentation will take place at 6:30 p.m. For more information, fans can call (646) 977-8400.

This year’s event includes Yankees alumni and broadcasters, football Giants alumni and select head coaches from Big East football and basketball teams.

Among those scheduled to attend are Yankees president Randy Levine; general manager Brian Cashman; former Yankees players Ralph Branca, David Cone, John Flaherty, Ron Guidry, Pat Kelly, Lee Mazzilli and Mickey Rivers; former Giants players Mark Bavaro, Luke Petitigout and Amani Toomer; Rutgers head football coach Kyle Flood; Syracuse University athletic director Dr. Darryl Gross; Syracuse head football coach Scott Shafer; Princeton head basketball coach Mitch Henderson; CBS sportscaster Don Criqui; WABC-TV weatherman Bill Evans; Sports Illustrated writer Jack McCallum, ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer; WPLJ Radio personality Scott Shannon and New Era Cap Company chief executive officer Chris Koch.

Westchester Country Club offers two championship golf courses and a nine-hole executive course. The West Course continues to be a regular location for professional golf events, including the Westchester Classic, Buick Classic and most recently, The Barclays, the first of four stops on the FedEx Tour. Westchester Country Club was also the site of the Senior Players Championship in 2011.

The New Era Pinstripe Bowl will take place Saturday, Dec. 28, at Yankee Stadium, pitting a team from the Big East Conference against a representative from the Big 12 Conference.

Kind of a perfect Sunday

I stopped in Sheppard’s Place, the media dining room behind the press box, to have breakfast Sunday with my pals Lee Mazzilli, John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman. At the table next to us were David Cone and David Wells, the former pitchers turned broadcasters.

Cone was at Yankee Stadium as part of the YES crew with Michael Kay and Paul O’Neill. Wells was here as Dick Stockton’s partner on the TBS telecast of the Yankees-Angels game. The two Davids, of course, pitched perfect games with the Yankees, Wells in 1998 against the Twins and Cone in 1999 against the old Expos (now the Nationals). Sterling broadcast them on the radio. Waldman was then covering for WFAN and I for the Hartford Courant.

O’Neill played right field in both those games. He also was the Reds’ right fielder in 1988 when Tom Browning pitched a perfect game against the Dodgers. Paulie is the only player in major-league history to have been on the winning side of three perfect games.

Also at the Stadium Sunday was the guy who was O’Neill’s opposite, the only player to have been on the losing side of three perfect games. Alfredo Griffin, the Angels’ first base coach, was a former shortstop who spent 18 seasons in the big leagues. He was the Dodgers’ shortstop in the Browning perfecto and also in the one the Expos’ Dennis Martinez pitched against Los Angeles in 1991. Griffin had been the shortstop for the Blue Jays in 1981 when the Indians’ Len Barker threw a perfect game against Toronto.

Another piece of trivia about that Browning perfect game: Vin Scully, the voice of the Dodgers, broadcast 19 no-hitters in his legendary career. It would have been an even 20, but he was not with the Dodgers for the Browning game because he was covering another game that night on assignment for NBC when it did national coverage Saturday afternoons and Monday nights.

How perfect is all that?

Gates for Sunday’s Old Timers’ Day open at 10 a.m.

Fans planning to attend Sunday’s 65th annual Old Timers’ Day are encouraged to get to Yankee Stadium early. Gates will open at 10 a.m. with the Old Timers’ Day ceremonies to start at 11:30 a.m., followed by the traditional, two-inning Old Timers’ Day game. The regularly scheduled inter-league game between the Yankees and the Rockies will have a first pitch of 2:20 p.m. The entire day’s activities will be cablecast on the YES Network.

Bernie Williams and former managers Lou Piniella and Joe Torre will be making their Old Timers’ Day debuts. “Sweet Lou” will be putting on a Yankees uniform for the first time since 1988. Torre, whose Yankees teams defeated Piniella’s Seattle Mariners in the 2000 and 2001 post-seasons, is still active in the game as Major League Baseball’s vice president for baseball operations.

They will be among 50 former Yankees on hand for the ceremonies. Other headliners among returning Old Timers will be Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage, plus the perfect game trio of Don Larsen, David Wells and David Cone. The Yankees will also hold a special tribute honoring long-time team trainer Gene Monahan, who will retire at season’s end after 49 years of service to the organization.

In addition, players and coaches from Yankees championship teams of the past will include Dr. Bobby Brown, Jerry Coleman, Moose Skowron, Luis Arroyo, Homer Bush, Brian Doyle, Cecil Fielder, Joe Girardi, Dwight Gooden, Ron Guidry, Charlie Hayes, Graeme Lloyd, Hector Lopez, Tino Martinez, Lee Mazzilli, Ramiro Mendoza, Gene Michael, Jeff Nelson, Graig Nettles, Joe Pepitone, Mickey Rivers, Charlie Silvera, Darryl Strawberry, Mel Stottlemyre and Roy White.

Joining the Hall of Famers and other former Yankees on the baselines will be the widows of five legendary Yankees – Arlene Howard (Elston), Helen Hunter (Jim “Catfish”), Jill Martin (Billy), Diana Munson (Thurman) and Kay Murcer (Bobby).

Bernie an Old Timer? He will be June 26th

Are you ready to consider Bernie Williams an old timer? Well, get used to it. Bernabe will make his first appearance on Old Timers’ Day when Yankees alumni gather for the 65th annual event Sunday, June 26, at Yankee Stadium.

Also making their Old Timers’ Day debuts will be former managers Lou Piniella and Joe Torre. “Sweet Lou” will be putting on a Yankees uniform for the first time since 1988. Torre, whose Yankees teams defeated Piniella’s Seattle Mariners in the 2000 and 2001 post-seasons, is still active in the game as Major League Baseball’s vice president for baseball operations.

They will be among 50 former Yankees on hand for the ceremonies that begin at 11:30 a.m., followed by the traditional, two-inning Old Timers’ game. The current Yankees will play the Colorado Rockies in an inter-league game starting at 2 p.m. The entire day’s activities will be aired exclusively on the YES Network.

Other headliners among returning Old Timers will be Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage, plus the perfect game trio of Don Larsen, David Wells and David Cone. The Yankees will also hold a special tribute honoring long-time team trainer Gene Monahan, who will retire at season’s end after 49 years of service to the organization.

In addition, other players and coaches from Yankees championship teams of the past will include Dr. Bobby Brown, Jerry Coleman, Moose Skowron, Luis Arroyo, Homer Bush, Brian Doyle, Cecil Fielder, Joe Girardi, Dwight Gooden, Ron Guidry, Charlie Hayes, Graeme Lloyd, Hector Lopez, Lee Mazzilli, Ramiro Mendoza, Gene Michael, Jeff Nelson, Graig Nettles, Joe Pepitone, Mickey Rivers, Charlie Silvera, Darryl Strawberry, Mel Stottlemyre and Roy White.

Joining the Hall of Famers and other former Yankees on the baselines will be the widows of five legendary Yankees – Arlene Howard (Elston), Helen Hunter (Jim “Catfish”), Jill Martin (Billy), Diana Munson (Thurman) and Kay Murcer (Bobby).

Alumni of both teams in the house

Yankees relief pitcher Luis Ayala and catcher Gustavo Molina, who started the season with the Yankees but is now at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes Barre, brought to 111 the total of players who have spent time with both the Yankees and the Mets. Several of those former players were on hand Friday night at the first Subway Series of 2011 at Yankee Stadium.

David Cone and Al Leiter, who wore both uniforms during their career and opposed each other in the 2000 World Series, were in the YES booth working the cablecast with Michael Kay. Lee Mazzilli, coordinator for special projects with the Yankees, was also on duty as he is for every home game. Enjoying the game in one of the suites were Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden.

March madness

Baseball in March. What a concept. The powers that be in Major League Baseball cannot seem to figure out a way to condense the regular-season schedule so that World Series games do not dip into November, so the season now starts at a time that used to be reserved for the winding down of spring training.

The weather was less than ideal for the Yankees’ season opener Thursday at Yankee Stadium. The first-pitch temperature was 42 degrees, and the wind was whipping the flags on the roof. Mike Mussina, who someone joked could probably still make the Yankees’ rotation, handled the duties of tossing out the ceremonial first pitch.

Not surprisingly, Derek Jeter received the loudest ovation from the crowd in pre-game introductions. The captain batted second in manager Joe Girardi’s first lineup of the season with center fielder Brett Gardner in the leadoff spot. This will be the look at the top of the order when the opposing starting pitcher is right-handed, as is Detroit’s Justin Verlander. Jeter will go back to leadoff and Gardner to ninth against left-handed starters. Nick Swisher will likely hit No. 2 vs. lefties.

Girardi made it clear before the game that Jorge Posada’s days as a catcher are all but over. Now a full-time designated hitter who batted seventh Thursday, Posada won’t be counted on to work behind the plate. Girardi, himself a former catcher, was asked if Posada would be considered an “emergency” catcher in the event that newcomer Russ Martin and backup Gustavo Molina get hurt in the same game.

“Well, we might put Jorgie out there before someone like [Eduardo] Nunez,” Girardi said, referring to the backup infielder.

Well, that’s pretty plain. It sounds as if Posada can throw his old shin guards away.

Wednesday night, the Yankees held their annual Welcome Home Dinner at the New York Sheraton, a splendid affair that was attended by all the members of the team as well as club executives and employees.

In the VIP cocktail hour before the game, Hall of Famer Goose Gossage signed autographs with fellow former Yankees Tino Martinez, Lee Mazzilli, Oscar Gamble and Rick Cerone.

Deborah Tymon, the Yankees’ vice president of marketing and the dinner’s organizer, was given a special award from managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner. Debbie said that the late George Steinbrenner told her when she began running the dinner to make sure the food and service was first rate but, most importantly, that the players get out early so they can get plenty of rest before the home opener.

The special moment of the night was the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, who was also at the Stadium bright and early Thursday to tour the clubhouse and wish the Yankees luck.

Also on hand was another Hall of Famer, Reggie Jackson, looking very fit after having undergone spinal surgery last September. Reggie suffered from spinal stenosis from straining his back while tiling an area in his home and last fall found it difficult to walk more than a few yards on his own power.

“I’m still having regular physical therapy, but I’m making progress,” he said. “It feels good to be back at Yankee Stadium.”

Joe, Donnie back at Stadium to honor the Boss

Right away Monday, I knew things would be different at Yankee Stadium. As I entered the lobby, I ran into a pair of old friends – Joe Torre and Don Mattingly.

Yes, this was going to be quite a night.

The former Yankees manager and captain were in the new Yankee Stadium for the first time to be part of the ceremony before Monday night’s Yankees-Rays game to honor the memory of the late Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner with the unveiling of a plaque in the middle of Monument Park.

“I wanted to come back here last year for the World Series, but I didn’t do a good enough job,” Torre said, alluding to his Dodgers team’s failure to get past the Phillies in the National League Championship Series.

Last Friday, Joe announced that he was stepping down as Dodgers manager next year and will be succeeded by his bench coach, Mattingly, who will finally fulfill his dream by managing on the major-league level. Donnie gave me a hug and I said, “I can’t call you ‘Cap’ anymore. I’ll have to start calling you ‘Skip’ now.”

There were a lot of years and memories of Yankees greatness in these two figures standing in the Gate 2 lobby where next to the elevators stands a statue of “The Boss.”

Shortly after, Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost came out of one of the elevators and greeted Torre and Mattingly and proceeded to start them on a tour of the two-year-old park. Let’s hope that this is the beginning of a renewed relationship between the team and its estranged icons.

Trost contacted Torre right after his press conference Friday and invited him and Mattingly to the ceremony. Monday was an open date on the Dodgers’ schedule

It must be noted that both men left the Yankees after the 2007 season not on the best of terms, Torre more so than Mattingly. Unable to get a contract extension that suited him, Torre left and went to the Dodgers. Mattingly had been a candidate for the Yankees manager’s job, but it went to Joe Girardi. Mattingly went to Los Angeles to be on Torre’s coaching staff.

“I always expected to come back,” Mattingly said. “I played my whole career here. I love the Yankees. I’m with another storied organization in L.A. now, but it was the Yankees who taught me the game, and I love coming back.”

As for Torre, Mattingly likened his return to the Stadium to when Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, who was also at the Stadium for the Steinbrenner ceremony, returned to the Bronx in 1999 after a lengthy feud with the owner.

“Like Yogi, Joe needed to get back,” Donnie said. “I remember those years when Yogi wasn’t around and thinking his coming back needed to happen. It’s the same with Joe.”

Torre and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman agreed that their relationship was strained after “The Yankees Years,” a book co-written by Torre and Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, characterized them as having opposing views towards the end of Torre’s 12-year run as Yankees manager.

They spoke Monday for the first time since parting ways three years ago.

“It was time to turn the page,” Cashman said. “I was the general manager for 10 of the 12 years Joe was here, and it was a magic carpet ride nearly all of that time. I was disappointed that the majority of our time together was not presented in the book. But we had a good talk, and we’ll move on from there.”

One thing Torre and Cashman were in agreement over was their respect for Steinbrenner. Cashman said those in the front office are still adjusting to running the Yankees without him.

“You have to understand that he did everything with the Yankees,” Cashman said. “No matter what area of business there was, he had the final say. And you always knew when he was in the Stadium. You could just feel his presence once you got two feet into the door. Some would say you could feel it in the parking lot.”

“George is responsible for the best years of my life professionally,” Torre said. “We had some disagreements, but it was a good relationship. You always knew how much George wanted to win, for this city and for this organization. The last time I spoke to him was his 80th birthday. I knew he would get a lot of attention that day, so I actually called him the day before. We spoke for about 10 minutes. He was in very good spirits. It’s a good feeling to get back to this. George belongs not only in Monument Park but also in the Hall of Fame.”

The pre-game ceremony was attended by Joan Steinbrenner, George’s widow, and her four children – sons Hank and Hal and daughters Jennifer and Jessica and their spouses. Other guests included Berra and fellow Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson as well as commissioner Bud Selig, Gene Michael, Roy White, Lee Mazzilli, David Wells and Tino Martinez.

Torre was accompanied by his wife, Ali. Yogi and the Steinbrenner family climbed on to a golf cart and began a procession down the right field line and along the warning track to Monument Park beyond the center field wall. Not surprisingly, the loudest cheers were for Torre and especially Mattingly.

“There has never been a greater group of fans than the fans at Yankee Stadium,” Torre said.

The plaque read:

George M. Steinbrenner III
July 4, 1930 – July 13, 2010
New York Yankees Principal Owner
“The Boss”
1973 – 2010

Purchased the New York Yankees on January 3, 1973.

A true visionary who changed the game of baseball forever,

he was considered the most influential owner in all of sports.

In his 37 years as Principal Owner, the Yankees posted a Major League-best .566 winning percentage,

while winning 11 American League pennants and seven World Series titles,

becoming the most recognizable sports brand in the world.

A devoted sportsman, he was Vice President of the United States Olympic Committee, a member of
the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors and a member of the NCAA Foundation Board of Trustees.

A great philanthropist whose charitable efforts were mostly performed without fanfare, he followed a
personal motto of the greatest form of charity is anonymity.

Dedicated by the New York Yankees

September 20, 2010


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