Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mike Lupica is a Jackass: Chapter Four

Lupica's back again with more slanted bufoonery.

Bat on shoulders as rest swing away

The Yankees once won nine World Series in 10 tries with Joe DiMaggio as their center fielder. After DiMaggio came Mickey Mantle. When the Yankees made it back to the Series in the late '70s, Mickey Rivers played center, and before he started to fade, Mick the Quick was some tough out at leadoff, and some player. Finally, in this generation, it was Bernie Williams in center as the Yankees won four World Series in five years. Bernie was such a champ in center, for such a long run, the Yankees apparently decided he would be out there forever.

Hey what about Whitey Whit? Or for that matter, since we're talking about great Yankee centerfielders, why no mention of Hall of Famer Earle Combs, he of the three rings and life time .325/.397/.452? Oh, you've probably never heard of him and were too busy trying to justify Mickey Rivers as a great centerfielder. Rivers of the two championships. And when did he start to fade? Because in 1978 (his second championship year) his stats were at best mediocre (.265 /.302 /.397). He played six more years after that and only once in those years were his numbers as poor as in 1978. He only played in New York for 3 1/2 years.

What I'm trying to say, Mike, is that I see what you're trying to say: the Yankees have had a number of very good centerfielders in their history. You're just doing a piss-poor job of explaining that.

It is not just any piece of real estate, center field at Yankee Stadium. But that is what it became in 2005. We saw a fading Bernie, Bubba Crosby, Tony Womack, Melky Cabrera and Hideki Matsui. Matsui was the best of the lot, but only because he looked a lot more solid in center last season than he did in left.

Really, it is just a centerfield. Just because great players played there before doesn't mean you need "this generation's Joe DiMaggio" out there just to make you feel all warm and fuzzy.

Now there is no one in center field for the Yankees. Imagine that prime piece of real estate with a "Help Wanted" sign where DiMaggio and Mantle used to be.

Yes, the Yankees are looking for a centerfielder. It's November. The winter meetings haven't even come yet. A couple of years ago there was a "Help Wanted" sign at first base, where Gehrig and Foxx and Bauer and Mattingly used to play. There was a "Help Wanted" sign in 1996 where Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey used to play. In fact, the Yankees have had a history of great catchers in the World Series. Why no outcry when they signed Joe Girardi in 1996?

If the season started tomorrow, Bubba Crosby would be the starting center fielder on a team still more expensive than the last two World Series champs combined. So you have to say that it is a lucky thing for the Yankees that the season doesn't start tomorrow.

Your Mets don't have a catcher. If the season started today, Ramon Castro would be the starting catcher. Lucky thing for the Mets the season doesn't start tomorrow, huh? Wait, no, how is it "lucky" that the season doesn't start in November? Boy, the Yanks really dodged a bullet there, what a bit of good luck that the regular season has been pushed back until March this time!

If you don't think Brian Cashman is changing the way the Yankees do business, right in front of our eyes, then you are not paying attention.

It is early in the baseball winter, for Cashman and the Yankees. For now, though, the Yankees get off to the same kind of start in the offseason that they did in the real season. Yankee fans can only hope that their team comes on strong at the end, after the Mets and the Red Sox - the only competition that matters in George Steinbrenner's universe - have stopped making headlines and deals.

Every year you bitch about how the "rich get richer" and how the "Yankees are trying to buy a championship." However over the past two seasons, Omar Minaya has overpaid for every free agent he can find (Pedro, Beltran, Wagner, taking on Delgado's bloated contract....)

"We've worn the winter crown for a long time," Cashman said yesterday morning. "Seriously, it seems like every year we're declared the champions of the winter. My goal is for us to be the champions next October."

Steinbrenner called then on the other line. Cashman said he would call back in a few minutes. When he did, he was asked how the old man was doing these days, with Josh Beckett to the Red Sox and Billy Wagner and Carlos Delgado to the Mets and even the Blue Jays making some noise with B.J. Ryan, indicating they think they can play with the big boys now in the AL East.

"(Steinbrenner) is just fine, thank you," Cashman said, and then he was talking again about all this activity with the Mets and Red Sox and nothing from the Yankees, at least so far.

"People say we're not doing anything," Cashman said. "I keep reminding them that the shaping of the 2006 Yankees, in my mind, began in May of '05."

He means after that Sunday game against Toronto when he decided to take Womack off second and put him in center for the time being, and give the kid, Robinson Cano, a chance at second. That was also the week when Chien-Ming Wang got his first start.

Yes, trying to build a team sometimes takes more than from the last out of the World Series until when you think the season should start, which is apparently November 30th.

"This thing wasn't working," Cashman said yesterday morning, which is the same thing he said to Joe Torre last May when they decided to shake things up.

After that the Yankees didn't make a big trading deadline move. They stuck with Cano, who started to hit like a young star. Wang became a solid starter, got hurt, came back. Aaron Small came out of nowhere. So did Shawn Chacon. The '05 Yankees got fixed, on the fly, with small moves instead of big money.

So why are you criticizing everything?

Cashman decided things had to change with the Yankees, that they couldn't just keep throwing money at aging stars, that they had tried that for five seasons and a billion dollars in payroll and taxes and hadn't won a World Series.

Besides, that job is now taken by Minaya and Ricciardi.

"You know what my goal is?" Cashman said. "To get better with a younger team and a smaller payroll."

It will be interesting to see if he sticks to his guns on this if Johnny Damon is still out there in a week or two, or even a month. The Red Sox are offering Damon three years, somewhere shy of $30 million. Scott Boras, agent to the stars, thinks he can get Damon five years at least, especially if B.J. Ryan is getting five years from the Blue Jays and Wagner effectively has five years with the Mets.

BJ Ryan is 29 years old. When his contract expires, he will be as old as Billy Wagner is today. What does any of that have to do with Damon, an aging centerfielder whose defense has slipped in past years getting a 5-year contract? Was Ryan overpaid? Yes. Was Wagner signed for too long by your good pal Omar? You betcha. Would a Damon 5-year contract be even stupider? Of course.

It is also fair to wonder what would happen to this sudden fiscal sanity at Yankee Stadium if Carlos Beltran were out there this winter instead of last winter. The Yankees didn't want Beltran at $100 million last year, less than the Mets paid. Omar Minaya grabbed Beltran knowing this year's free agent market was going to
be thin.

If Beltran were out there this year, he wouldn't command nearly as much since Minaya overpaid for him based on a hot October, and his desire to compile the All-Latin All-Star team.

Maybe the Yankees were smart to pass. Or maybe he would have hit like a star with Jeter in front of him and A-Rod and Sheffield and Giambi and Matsui behind him. Maybe Beltran will come back big this season and again look like somebody who would have solved a lot of problems for Cashman's baseball team for the next 10 years.

Well he certainly didn't hit like a star in Shea.

"Right now, it's a good market for other teams to fill their needs," Cashman said, "and a bad market for the Yankees."

"But," Brian Cashman said, "it's early."

The availability of the two pressing needs on the Yanks - CF and bullpen - have both had problems. There effectively ae no centerfielders except through trades. The bullpen arms have mostly been overpaid, signed early with other teams for personal reasons, or were waiting for the big moves of Ryan and Wagner. It is early. The trade market should heat up at the winter meetings.

Early in the offseason, sure. But a little late for the Yankees to have noticed Bernie was looking older than the monuments. A little late to start thinking about a replacement. The New York Yankees don't have a center fielder. It is big news until they do. Help wanted.

The Yankees noticed this in 2003. They signed Kenny Lofton. Torre played Bernie anyway. They noticed it in 2005. They brought up Cabrera. They moved Matsui to CF. Torre played Bernie anyway. Don't put this all on Cashman, you jackass.

Originally published on November 29, 2005

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posted by Mr. Faded Glory @ 8:58 AM   2 comments


At 11/30/2005 11:16 AM, Blogger Lee said...

Let ALONE, what about the years Bobby Ray Murcer, Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield patrolled center?

How many rings do they have with Yankee insignias?

A grand total of NONE.

And two are hall of fame players.

So what's Lupica's point?

At 11/30/2005 11:28 AM, Blogger Mr. Faded Glory said...

His point is probably that the Yankees should get Johnny Damon, which is who he's pushed for all offseason because he has a man-crush on him.

Or maybe he just wants to see him get a haircut.


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