Results tagged ‘ Lou Piniella ’
Hey, remember when the Yankees signed Hiroki Kuroda, which prompted questions about whether he could handle the American League? It was a legitimate concern. I recall years ago Lou Piniella telling me to beware of the records of pitchers on teams from southern California.
“The ball doesn’t carry well in night games in Los Angeles and San Diego,” Sweet Lou said. “A lot of those guys go elsewhere and their good numbers don’t transfer well.”
Kuroda was only so-so in his four seasons with the Dodgers, a 41-46 record despite a 3.45 ERA, so it was fair to wonder how he would do in a league that has an extra hitter in the lineup and in a division – the AL East – that has hitter-friendly venues and some dangerous lineups.
Is anyone questioning Kuroda now? Probably not even Piniella.
The Japanese righthander may have been the Yankees’ most reliable pitcher last year and has been their top starter this season as well. Kuroda improved his 2013 record to 5-2 with a 2.31 ERA Sunday in the Yankees’ 4-2 victory over the Royals. After the Yankees overcame a 1-0, first-inning deficit with a three-run third powered by a two-run home run by Robinson Cano and a solo shot by Vernon Wells in successive at-bats off Kansas City starter Ervin Santana, Kuroda did not allow another run until the eighth, his last inning.
It was not an overpowering outing by Kuroda, who had only one strikeout, but it was no less formidable. Kuroda got 16 outs in the infield and kept the Royals hitless in three at-bats with runners in scoring position. KC would make it 0-for-4 in the eighth when David Robertson retired Billy Butler on a fly to center stranding a runner on second base.
Kuroda is now 21-13 with a 3.13 ERA during his time with the Yankees. His adjustment to the AL has been extraordinary.
The Yankees’ sweep of the Royals ran their winning streak to five games heading into a makeup doubleheader Monday at Cleveland. It was a far more pleasant experience at Kauffman Stadium this year than last for Mariano Rivera, who was honored by the Royals in a pre-game ceremony featuring Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett. Rivera, who tore up his left knee in KC last May, earned his 15th save in 15 opportunities this season and his 29th in a row against the Royals. Mo was 37-for-39 in save chances against them in his career.
In addition to his ninth home run, Wells had two other hits, both singles, and a stolen base. Wells has had a strong trip, batting .360 with three home runs and seven RBI in 25 at-bats and overall is hitting .295 with 20 RBI. With Curtis Granderson close to returning to active duty with the Yanks, Wells promises to give manager Joe Girardi some headaches trying to figure out how his outfield will look on a daily basis.
Considering all the difficulty Girardi has had dealing with an abundance of Yankees injuries, he probably won’t mind that challenge.
The Yankees got a break with the third of their four home runs in the second inning Monday night. There was no question about the legitimacy of the drives by Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, but the blow by Russell Martin. . .well.
Cano started the onslaught with his 31st homer, a shot into the net protecting Monument Park in center field. After a one-out single by Nick Swisher, Granderson launched a 1-2 pitch from Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz into the second deck in right field inside the foul pole for his 41st homer. Martin next hit an opposite-field fly ball that landed above the auxiliary scoreboard.
It required a review by the umpires before Martin’s 21st home run became official. I found it hard to believe that four sets of eyes didn’t seen what my set did, which was that the ball struck the outstretched arm of a fan leaning over the top of the scoreboard. Fortunately for the Yankees, the umps saw it the way they did.
It all proved inconsequential because the Yankees kept scoring – five more times for a total of nine runs, the most they have had in one inning since July 30 last year when they scored 12 in the first against the Orioles. A sacrifice fly by Alex Rodriguez, a two-run double by Cano and a two-run homer by Mark Teixeira (No. 24) in his first game back in three weeks from a left calf strain had them rolling to a 9-0 lead.
The four home runs tied the franchise record, accomplished twice before June 30, 1977 at Toronto and June 21, 2005 at Yankee Stadium against the Rays. Cliff Johnson hit three home runs in the ’77 game, an 11-5 Yankees victory, two in the eighth inning, along with Thurman Munson and Lou Piniella. In the ’05 game, a 20-11 Yankees victory, Gary Sheffield hit one of his two home runs in the eighth inning, along with A-Rod, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada.
A couple of years ago, I did a lengthy question-and-answer session with longtime Yankees favorite Lou Piniella about Ichiro Suzuki. Lou was the manager of the Mariners when Ichiro came to the major leagues in 2001. Here are 10 questions from that interview that I think should give Yankees fans some insight into the career of their newest outfielder.
Q1. Can you remember your first impression of Ichiro?
A: Ichiro first came to the Mariners as an exchange player in the spring of 2000. He was with us during the pre-exhibition period because he was not allowed to play in games. Watching him work out, I could tell that he could run, he could throw and he had good bat control. But we didn’t see him under game conditions.
Q2. Before the 2001 season began, did you expect Ichiro to have as much success in the majors as he has had? Why?
A: I could not predict all that would happen, but no, it does not surprise me. He was a disciplined hitter with great physical tools. That spring with us in 2001, he put the ball in play, utilized his speed and didn’t strike out much. We got the feeling we had something special here. He was already a star player in Japan, so really the only question was how he would do in the 162-game schedule.
I remember our general manager, Pat Gillick, worked very hard to sign Ichiro. We thought it we got lucky that we might have a really good player for six or seven or maybe eight years. And look, he’s still playing at a high level in his 10th year in the big leagues.
Q3. I heard you were so worried about Ichiro’s power part because he hit only to the opposite field during preseason games in 2001 until you asked him to pull the ball. Is that a true story?
A: Yes. The first few games for us that spring Ichiro hit the ball to left field exclusively. I remember talking to his translator and asking him if Ichiro could try to pull the ball so we could get a better idea of what he could do. The next day, Ichiro led off and pulled the first pitch over the right field wall for a home run. I saw what I needed to see and left him alone after that.
Q4. Can you analyze the reasons why Ichiro was able to have 200 hits for 10 consecutive seasons? Which part of Ichiro’s hitting is impressive to you?
A: He has great hand-eye coordination, which is important for a hitter, and he keeps himself in great physical shape. He can expand the zone a bit by chasing the ball up, but he puts the fat part of the bat on the ball so consistently and gets out of the batter’s box so quickly that infielders have to cheat on him. He actually is moving to first base often when he hits the ball, but he keeps his upper body straight and follows through on his swing. You don’t see anyone else do that.
Q5. From the manager’s point of view, Ichiro should have selected more pitches to hit? Or he should have taken more walks?
A: He is not going to walk much, that’s true, but he won’t strike out that much, either. His on-base percentage is not as high as maybe it should be for someone with a high batting average, but look, he gets on base with hits, so why worry about walks? His eyesight is superb, so it is not a matter of pitch recognition. He is just so adept at putting the ball in play. He’ll foul off a lot of pitches, but he does not swing and miss very much. Pitchers don’t want to walk him because of his speed on the bases. So if they get behind in the count, he still may get something to hit.
Q6. Do you have any specific memory of Ichiro during your managing career with the Mariners?
A: It was during his first season, a game in Oakland. I don’t remember the hitter or runner, but I do know that the runner was very fast. He was on first base when the hitter drove the ball into the gap in right-center. Ichiro chased down the ball, and I was thinking I hope he throws the ball to second base to keep the hitter from advancing because I didn’t think he had a prayer of getting the other runner going from first to third. He made a perfect throw to third and got the guy. It surprised the runner, my third baseman, the coaches, me and even the umpire. It’s still one of the greatest fielding plays I have ever seen.
Q7. Do you think he can reach 3,000 hits in the majors?
A: The key is for him to stay healthy. He stays in great shape physically, which he will have to continue to do to get to 3,000 hits. I think it’s possible, but it won’t be easy. I figure it would take him at least four more years. When you get to his age , you start to deal with some injuries. If he can avoid that, he has a good shot at it.
Q8. Did you see any differences on Ichiro between now and the time when you were the manager?
A: The only thing I see is that he doesn’t score as many runs, but the Mariners are a much different team from the one I had when we had a strong offensive club. Put some good hitters around him, and he’ll score 100 runs again on a regular basis. He still runs very well, has great instincts in the outfield and plays with so much pride.
Q9. What do you think about how Ichiro’s speed helps his hit record?
A: It’s a great asset. As I said before, infielders have to be on their toes with him. You see them often hurrying their throws on what are otherwise routine ground balls for any other hitter.
Q10. Should Ichiro make it to Hall of Fame? Why?
A: Absolutely. He is one of the greatest leadoff hitters in the history of the major leagues. He has excelled at nearly every aspect of the game. Ichiro is not a power hitter, but he has still hit his share of home runs, almost 100, I think. He’s a great hitter, a great base runner, a great fielder with a great arm, a game breaker. All of those qualities add up to me as a Hall of Fame player.
The scene changed for Ichiro Suzuki Friday night at Yankee Stadium. For the first time he wore a home uniform in his major-league career that did not have ‘Mariners’ across the breast. The pinstripes and inter-locking ‘NY’ of the Yankees seemed to fit him perfectly.
Across the way was the team that is the chief rival of the Yankees managed by the first American to sign Ichiro’s praises. It was during the 2000 World Series that Bobby Valentine, then manager of the Mets, spoke glowingly of Suzuki from the skipper’s time in Japan. Valentine at the time tried to convince the Mets to get in the bidding for Ichiro, but the front office disagreed. Suzuki ended up in Seattle, which turned out to be a very good landing place for him.
Suzuki was embraced by his manager, Lou Piniella, and a city with a sizeable Asian population. Baseball fans throughout North America came to appreciate the fleet-footed outfielder with the penchant for spraying line drives and beating out infield grounders that he totaled more than 200 hits a season for 10 consecutive years.
Valentine recalled before Friday night’s opener of the Yankees-Red Sox series that in his days in the Japanese Pacific League Ichiro’s speed was such that he was a threat to beat out ground balls to the first baseman for hits.
“He was really, really fast,” Valentine said.
That was a long time, however. The Ichiro Suzuki of today is 38 years old. He is still a threat with his speed but not as great as in previous years. It also remains to be seen how he will handle the spotlight on a daily basis. The Mariners team he broke in with, in 2001, won 116 games and was a postseason team that lost to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
The Mariners have not been back to the playoffs since. Except for the All-Star Game at AT&T Park in San Francisco in 2007 when he electrified a national television audience with an inside the park home run and two other hits to earn Most Valuable Player honors, Suzuki has not been on the national stage all that much. You don’t see the Mariners on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball as often as we once did when Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez were still in Seattle.
Ichiro cannot escape the spotlight now. The Yankees are in first place in the AL East and as such a major contender for a possible berth in the World Series. They are hoping Suzuki will be a big part of that quest.
“I’m confident New York is not going to be a big thing for him,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “This guy has been there before. He is going to be on nationally televised games a lot.”
It all starts Friday night with the Bleacher Creatures’ roll call, which is something he knows about, even from Seattle. It seems that Yankees fans that came to see them play at Safeco Field did their version of the roll call before those games. Suzuki is bound to appreciate the Stadium version a lot better.
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Former Yankees managers Lou Piniella and Joe Torre were among the baseball people who came to the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend. I kidded them that they must be rehearsing for when their time comes for induction. In another two years, both will likely be on the Veterans Committee’s ballot from the Expansion Era for their careers as managers.
Lou was here for both of Sunday’s inductees, Barry Larkin and the late Ron Santo. Larkin was the shortstop on Piniella’s Reds team that won the 1990 World Series in a sweep of the Athletics. During his time as manager of the Cubs, Piniella also became a friend of Santo, the former third baseman who later was a fixture at Wrigley Field as a broadcaster.
Santo died last year, and his widow, Vicki, gave a moving acceptance speech. How she got through it without breaking down was amazing to me. She painted a brilliant picture of the man who was as identified with the Cubs as former teammates Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, who were on hand for the ceremony. They were among the 45 Hall of Famers who attended the ceremony, including Yankees favorites Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Dave Winfield, Phil Niekro and Rickey Henderson.
Larkin told a story about how Piniella addressed the Reds in 1990 before the start of spring training and explained to them that he did not like losing and that he did not intend for this team to lose. Cincinnati won its first nine games that season and went wire to wire to win the National League West, the division the Reds were in before the NL Central was created with realignment in 1994. They defeated the Pirates in the NL Championship Series before sweeping the A’s in the World Series, so Lou kept his promise about not losing.
Larkin was that baseball rarity that played his entire career for his hometown team. I could think of only three other Hall of Famers who did that, and all were Yankees – Lou Gehrig, Phil Rizzuto and Whitey Ford. Gehrig grew up on the West Side of Manhattan, the Scooter in Brooklyn and Ford in the Queens neighborhood of Astoria, and each spent his entire playing career in the Bronx.
I remember when Paul O’Neill was traded to the Yankees from the Reds in 1993, and a lot of people said that he would have trouble playing in New York. O’Neill, who was also on that ’90 Reds team and like Larkin had grown up in Cincinnati, told me once that he never had any doubts that he would do well in New York. He was not unfamiliar with the city because his sister, Molly, then the food critic for the New York Times, lived there for many years.
“There was a lot more pressure on me playing for the Reds because it was my hometown,” Paulie said. “I never felt that kind of pressure in New York. The fans in New York welcomed me and got behind me early on. I enjoyed the New York experience a lot more than Cincinnati.”
Torre came up for Saturday’s program at Doubleday Field for former teammate Tim McCarver, who was honored with the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting alongside Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun as the J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner for baseball writing. Joe and Timmy were teammates with the Cardinals and have remained good friends over the years.
Among the people McCarver credited for his playing career, which covered four decades from 1959 through 1980, was Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey, a career Yankee. McCarver said that in those pre-draft years of the 1950s that he almost signed with the Yankees because he was so impressed by Dickey but wound up signing with the Cardinals.
“Bill Dickey gave me the greatest piece of advice I ever received for a catcher,” McCarver said. “He told me, ‘Be a pitcher’s friend.’ And I am happy to say that a couple of Hall of Famers who are up on this stage with me have been lifelong friends, Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton.”
There is always concern whether a pitcher who has had success in the National League can transfer that to the American League where lineups tend to be deeper because of the designated hitter rule. This is particularly true in the AL East where pitchers get very little margin for error. Go ask Javier Vazquez or A.J. Burnett.
The issue came up when the Yankees signed Hiroko Kuroda in the off-season. The Japanese-born righthander was a sturdy if unspectacular starter with the Dodgers who had a 41-46 record and 3.45 ERA over four seasons in Los Angeles. I can remember Lou Piniella saying years ago that teams needed to be careful when acquiring pitchers from the Dodgers because their statistics are aided greatly by the conditions at Dodger Stadium where the dimensions are deep and where the ball does not travel well in the damp southern California air, especially at night.
So along comes Kuroda, who seems to have turned that theory upside-down. Yankee Stadium, with its cozy right-field porch and other hitter-friendly amenities, is hardly a pitchers’ dream, but Kuroda has pitched better in the Bronx than he ever did in Chavez Ravine.
His latest success story at the Stadium was Wednesday’s rain-shortened, 6-0 seven-inning victory. Kuroda gave up a double and three singles, did not walk a batter and struck out five in improving his record to 9-7 with a 3.46 ERA.
In 11 starts at Yankee Stadium this year, Kuroda is 7-3 with a 2.68 ERA and has held opponents to a .219 batting average with seven home runs and 21 RBI in 270 at-bats. Just think; in his years at Dodger Stadium, Kuroda was barely a .500 pitcher with a 20-21 record and 3.43 ERA.
The Yankees wasted no time in providing Kuroda a comfort level as they struck for four runs in the first inning off Toronto lefthander Ricky Romero. On a day when figurines of his likeness were distributed to fans, Mark Teixeira followed a double by Derek Jeter and a run-scoring single by Nick Swisher with a home run. One out later, Robinson Cano doubled and came home on a single by Andruw Jones.
Cano ran his hitting streak to 21 games, the longest for the Yankees since Jeter had a 25-gamer in 2006 from Aug. 20 to Sept. 16. Cano is batting .402 with 14 runs, six doubles, six home runs and 20 RBI during the streak.
The rally guaranteed that the Yankees would extend their team steak of games in which they have scored three or more runs to 42, a franchise record and six shy of the major league mark by the 1994 Indians.
Jayson Nix, who played for the Blue Jays last year, got his second straight start against Toronto and kept up his assault on his former team. Nix, who played shortstop as Jeter was the DH, has 5-for-9 (.556) with two doubles and three runs this year against his old mates.
It was part of a good day for the Yanks’ bench. DeWayne Wise, who spelled Curtis Granderson in center field, had a double, a single and two RBI.
The Yankees finished the 5-1 homestand with their eighth series sweep, one shy of last year’s total. It was their third series sweep at home this year. The others were June 8-10 against the Mets and June 25-27 against the Indians.
The Blue Jays, once considered contenders in the American League East, fell two games under .500 and into last place, 12 ½ games behind the division-leading Yankees. Toronto had 1-for-25 (.040) with runners in scoring position in the series and lost two position players. Outielder Jose Bautista was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of a left wrist strain. Third baseman Brett Lawrie bruised his right calf tumbling into the photographer’s well next to the visitors’ dugout. It has been that kind of year for the Blue Jays, who lost three starting pitchers to injury in the same week last month.
The Yankees are off to the West Coast for a four-game series at Oakland and a three-game set at Seattle, and I am off to Cooperstown, N.Y., for the National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend.
I remember covering a Yankees-White Sox game at U.S. Cellular Field May 12, 1996 in which the Yankees fell behind, 8-0, in the first two innings and thinking that a lot of teams would have folded after that. But they didn’t. The Yankees slowly fought back with a run here and two there and took the lead with a five-run sixth inning highlighted by a bases-clearing double by catcher Joe Girardi and went on to win, 9-8. I thought I would never see such a game again.
Five years later, I was in Cooperstown, N.Y., for the Hall of Fame Induction Weekend and was watching a game on television in which Lou Piniella’s Mariners took early leads of 12-0 and 14-2 over the Indians. Lou emptied his bench and came to regret it. Cleveland clawed back to win, 15-14, in 11 innings. This was the year Seattle tied the major league record with 116 victories. If the Mariners had not blown that 12-run lead, they would have won 117 and owned the record all by themselves.
Crazy stuff, right? Neither of those occasions can match what happened Saturday at Fenway Park as the Yankees overcame a horrible start by Freddy Garcia and the inability to solve Red Sox starter Felix Doubront to completely obliterate a 9-0 deficit for an outlandish 15-9 victory.
The game was so lopsided that Fox-TV turned away from it in the seventh with the score 9-1 Boston to telecast the ninth inning at Seattle’s Safeco Field where the White Sox’ Phillip Humber got the last three outs of the 21st perfect game in major league history.
By the time Fox returned viewers to the action at Fenway, the Yankees had closed to 9-5 on a grand slam by Nick Swisher and were still rallying with two runners on base for Mark Teixeira, who had homered in his previous at-bat.
That was the only damage the Yankees did in six innings against Doubront, who gave up only three other hits, all singles, and had seven strikeouts. The lefthander’s pitch count was 99, so you know what happened, of course. Yep, for no other reason he was taken out of the game. Bobby Valentine, say hello to Lou Piniella.
The Yankees wasted no time celebrating Doubront’s departure by attacking Boston’s porous bullpen. They loaded the bases against Vicente Padilla with one out on singles by Russell Martin and Eduardo Nunez and a walk to Derek Jeter.
Swisher went opposite field and cleared the Green Monster for the salami. A double by Robinson Cano chased Padilla, and an error by shortstop Mike Aviles put another Yankee on base before Teixeira, batting left-handed against righthander Matt Albers, also poled the Wall for his second homer of the game, and suddenly it was 9-8.
All that work Tex did in the off-season playing with his swing to consider hitting to the opposite field and against the over-shift he often sees is staring to pay off. He extended his major-league record of home runs from both side of the plate in the same game to 13 times. And Texeira was not done with that second dinger.
He contributed a two-run double in the eighth as the Yankees pushed together two seven-run innings to turn a blowout that had become a nail biter into a blowout again, this time for them. Swisher also doubled in two runs in the eighth to match Teixeira with a six-RBI game. Derek Jeter and Eduardo Nunez joined Tex and Swish with three hits apiece. Russell Martin, who is pulling out of a season-long slump, had two hits and two RBI.
It marked only the fifth time in club history that the Yankees came back from a nine-run deficit to win. In games like this, however, it is always more painful for the losing team than satisfying for the winning team. The best thing the Yankees did Saturday was to make the 4-10 Red Sox question whether the collapse last September was really a fluke and that perhaps despite a new manager getting back into contention in the American League East may be beyond their reach.
It is still not yet time to panic, but there is very little good the Yankees were able to take from what turned out to be a lost weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla. One consolation on which Yankees fans can dwell is that the previous time the club opened the year with three losses the Bombers went on to win 114 games and continue to a World Series championship, in 1998.
That season-opening start began with two losses in Anaheim and one in Oakland before the Yankees took two of three in a series at Seattle over then manager Lou Piniella’s troops. Sweet Lou, retired as a manager, was in the YES broadcast booth for this one and must have had a sense of deja vu. What makes this sweep particularly tough to take is that unlike 14 years ago this came against a team the Yankees are contending for the American League East title.
If a statement was made this weekend, it was by the Rays to the tune of, “Don’t let us get too far ahead.”
Tampa Bay simply out-pitched, out-hit and out-fielded the Yankees in the series. Starting pitching is considered the Rays’ strength, which was born out this weekend. Tampa Bay starters pitched to a 3.60 ERA with only one home run allowed in 20 innings while Yankees starters combined for a 6.06 ERA and allowed 21 hits, including four home runs, in 16 1/3 innings.
Jeremy Hellickson, last year’s American League winner of the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award, came within one out of a complete-game shutout in Sunday’s 3-0 TB victory in a match-up against Phil Hughes, who had an okay game but couldn’t get through the fifth inning as he pitch count climbed to 99. One good sign for Hughes is that his fastball was consistently in the low to mid 90-mph range, but he had problems finishing off hitters leading to the rising pitch count.
The Yankees’ 3-4-5 hitters — Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira — have yet to drive in a run. Meanwhile, they watched the Rays’ Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria crush the ball for three days. Pena had 6-for-12 (.500) with 1 double, 2 home runs and 7 RBI and Longoria 6-for-10 (.600) with 2 doubles, 1 homer and 1 RBI. Both sluggers lost additional home runs due to overeager fans along the right field wall who interfered with balls that turned taters into doubles.
Tampa Bay committed two errors in the series to the Yankees’ one, but neither of the Rays’ muffs proved damaging whereas the boot by shortstop Eduardo Nunez in the first inning of the season helped provide Tampa Bay two gift runs. Raul Ibanez was not charged with an error in right field in the first inning Sunday, but he did misplay a single into an RBI triple by Matt Joyce.
The normally invincible Mariano Rivera blew a save in the opener. His closer counterpart, Fernando Rodney, was the winning pitcher in one game and notched saves in the other two. The only real highlight for the Yankees Sunday came out of the bullpen with the major-league debut of David Phelps, who shut down a Tampa Bay rally by striking out pinch hitter Elliot Johnson and retiring Reid Brignac on a soft grounder to second base.
The Yankees finally get to leave the Tampa Bay area after training there all spring and being hurt by the Rays. Moving on to Baltimore where the Yankees have traditionally played very well may be just what they need.
Former Yankees manager Joe Torre, now Major League Baseball’s vice president for baseball operations, acknowledged Thursday that the umpires made the wrong call in the third inning Wednesday night at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium that credited Royals designated hitter Billy Butler with a home run. The run proved crucial as the Yankees lost, 5-4.
What was left unsaid was what Torre would have ruled had Yankees manager Joe Girardi lodged a protest over the umpires’ call. The only satisfaction Girardi got was that the umpiring crew at least reviewed the play on video replay, which did not help because they upheld the original ruling.
Girardi’s reputation as a clean Marine kind of guy worked against him here. He took crew chief Dana DeMuth at his word that he knew the ground rules. It turns out that DeMuth completely misinterpreted the ground rules. Right after the game, umpiring supervisor Steve Palermo met with the four umpires at the scene of the crime, a clear indication that something was amiss.
But since Girardi did not protest the upheld ruling before the next pitch, the Yankees had no recourse after the fact. They were left merely with the empty satisfaction of knowing they were correct in their objection to the call. You can be sure than a Billy Martin or a Lou Piniella would have protested the call on the spot. Girardi would have been wise to listen to his own first base coach, Mick Kelleher. He had been at the plate meeting before the first game of the series when ground rules at Kauffman were discussed and that issue specifically was addressed by Killer, who was told that a ball had to clear the green barrier to be considered a home run.
So what can the Yankees do about it now? Nothing. The best thing is to look ahead, not back. Yes, it was a one-run loss in a game in which the opposition got one more run than it should have. The Yankees had plenty of chances to win the game, but their starting pitcher, Bartolo Colon, struggled, and their hitters were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Jorge Posada kept his bat on the shoulder in making the last out of the game with the bases loaded.
That game is history. The Yankees need to regroup Thursday night in Minneapolis. There’s a good chance whoever was representing the Yankees in the pre-game meeting with the umpiring crew was paying extremely close attention to the ground rules at Target Field.
I have come full cycle with Old Timers Day, one of the great traditions at Yankee Stadium where it all began with a day to honor Babe Ruth in 1947. The first one I attended was in the late 1950s and getting to see Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Tommy Henrich, Red Ruffing and other stars of my parents’ generation’s youth. My father was actually a Giants fan when they still played in New York, but my mother’s family was all Yankees fans.
When I started covering the Yankees in the 1980’s, Old Timers’ Day was a favorite because I would not only get to see the Yankees stars of my youth such as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Hank Bauer and Moose Skowron but also to talk to them. Bauer was one of the best interviews ever; blunt, outspoken, colorful.
One of my favorite stories came from Bauer’s old platoon partner, Gene Woodling. (Bauer, by the way, was not crazy about Casey Stengel, who platooned him early on in the outfield before he became the regular right fielder.)
Back to Woodling; he talked of a time when players were so worried about keeping their jobs that he played for about a week with a broken bone in his heel. It swelled so much, Woodling said, that he cut out the back of his cleat and spread black shoe polish on the heel so no one would notice and stayed in the lineup. Finally, Dickey, the Hall of Fame catcher who was then Casey’s first base coach, saw Woodling’s shoe with the big hole in it in his locker and told him that he needed treatment.
Think of something like that happened today when disabled lists are almost as big as rosters!
At Sunday’s Old Timers’ Day, I was reminded of the passage of time when I encountered so many players whom I covered when they broke into the majors – Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and David Cone in my years on the Mets and Bernie Williams, Pat Kelly and Kevin Maas during my time with the Yankees. I had them as rookies, and now they’re Old Timers, so what does that make me.
Don’t answer that.
This was Bernie’s first Old Timer’s Day, and he was one of the big hits of the afternoon. He got a rousing ovation from the crowd during the introduction ceremonies. Fans were on their feet again when he doubled to the warning track in left-center in the two-inning Old Timers’ game. Then the Stadium really exploded when Bernie’s old teammate, Tino Martinez, popped a two-run home run to right off Cone, another old teammate.
I teased Bernie around the batting cage before the game after he had told writers that he still did not consider himself retired. “But I think that’s closer now,” he said.
I told him that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America was in the process of putting together the 2012 Hall of Fame ballot that will go out to voters in December, and that he would be on it; in other words, like it or not, Bernie, you’re retired.
He was asked during the press conference what his favorite memory from his playing career was. Williams could not limit it to just one and gave a very thoughtful answer.
“I would say that three things stick out – winning our first World Series championship in 1996, winning the batting title in 1999 and being on the field before the last game at the old Stadium,” he said. “I got announced after Yogi, which was pretty cool.”
Bernie officially joined the pantheon of Yankees legends Sunday, and he sounded proud of it.
“It’s a really big thing for me,” he said. “If you take the word ‘old,’ I think I’d be a little uncomfortable with it. But when I was playing, I looked forward to these days. To me, it was a reminder of the fact that we’re part of a family that has been going on for 100 years, and thinking I was part of something that was bigger than myself. And now I’m on the other side, being in the same situation, so it’s good. It’s great. I’m just really proud of this organization. When I chose to stay and have my whole career as a Yankee, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Also back for the first Old Timers’ Day appearance were former managers Lou Piniella and Joe Torre. “Sweet Lou,” who served the Yankees in nearly every category there is (players, coach, manager, general manager, broadcaster) put on the pinstripes for the first time since 1988. He had been busy elsewhere after that, winning a World Series with the Reds in 1990 and helping to build the Mariners into a viable franchise.
The pinstripes looked good on Torre, too, even while wearing a sling after recently undergoing right rotator cuff surgery. The man who won six American League pennants, four World Series and had the Yankee in post-season play all 12 of his seasons as manager had been invited before but was unable to attend because he was managing the Dodgers. Joe is now vice president for baseball operations in the commissioner’s office, but it is not really a desk job as he gets to spend a lot of time in ballparks.
With Jack McKeon (Marlins) and Davey Johnson (Nationals) back in big-league dugouts, I was curious if that gave either Lou or Joe the itch to return.
“There comes a time when you have to walk away, and I knew last year was that time for me,” Piniella said. “It was the same when I was a player. I was never one who wanted another at bat.”
“I was shopping with my wife recently,” Torre said, “and she told me how strange it was that here we were in the middle of a baseball season together and I wasn’t stressed out. I don’t miss all that stress.”
Both proudly wore rings linking them to their Yankees careers – Lou the World Series ring of 1977 and Joe of 1996. Those were the first championships for each.
“You never forget the first time,” Joe said on a day at Yankee Stadium that never gets old.