Posts Tagged ‘Bernie Williams’

Adios, Jorge

January 13, 2012

Jorge Posada

Now that I expended all my Spanish, except for words like Taco, burrito, and refried beans, on the title, it’s time to bid farewell to Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. Never been a great fan of either the Yankees or Posada, but it’s tough to overlook his accomplishments. So now the Core Four are down to the Dynamic Duo (or is that Batman and Robin?).

I’ve always been sure that Posada was overlooked when it came to the great Yankees teams of 1996-2010. This was Derek Jeter’s team. Or it was Mariano Rivera’s team. Posada sometimes seemed to be the guy who wasn’t Joe Girardi. That’s kind of a shame. He was not just good, but was a key part of the team. He wasn’t Bernie Williams cool or Paul O’Neil fiery or Tino Martinez clutch or even Chuck Knoblauch error-prone. He was, however, always there, always contributing, always available.

In some ways he wasn’t a typical Yankees catcher. He wrote children’s books (can you seriously image Yogi Berra doing that?). I read one. It was pretty good (Heck, I even understood it). He was, despite a notable accent, quite articulate. He was a major conduit into the Hispanic community.

Part of  his problem was that he was almost never the best catcher of the era. For the last decade of the 20th Century both Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez were better and for much of the first few years of the 21st that was still true. By the time they were fading there was Joe Mauer. And he was also a Yankees catcher. Consider this pedigree: Wally Schang, Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson. Quite a legacy to live up to, right? By and large I thought Posada lived up to it quite well. So he wasn’t Yogi or he wasn’t Dickey. Well, almost no one else has ever been either, but to be mentioned with them is quite a feat. And that’s not taking into account that his wife  looks like this:

Laura Posada

So from a non-fan of the Yankees, Adios,  Jorge. You were better than we anti-Yankees types wished. You were also better than we baseball fans could have hoped for. Enjoy your retirement.

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Some Thoughts on the Hall of Fame Vote

January 10, 2012

In no particular order, a few comments on the recently concluded Hall of Fame voting.

1. Congratulations to both Barry Larkin and Ron Santo. I have no problem with either making it to Cooperstown. I just wish Santo had still been alive to appreciate the moment.

2. It seems conventional wisdom was right. Of the new guys on the list, only Bernie Williams managed to hang on until next year with a whopping 10% of the vote. That doesn’t bode well for him next year when a bunch of heavy hitters show up on the ballot.

3. Doomsday for Jack Morris. I know he has 2 years left on the ballot, but next year is the first of the big guns from the late 1990s and early 2000s and he’s going to get lost in the shuffle. And in 2014 Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are on the ballot. Morris has no chance of getting in over them and the writers almost never elect 3 or more candidates.

4. No love for Edgar Martinez again. I don’t think the DH is the best idea since canned beer or the worst since Disco either, so we have to live with the fact it exists. The idea that a one-dimensional player has no place in the Hall of Fame begs the question what are Ted Williams, Ozzie Smith, Bill Mazeroski, and almost every pitcher who ever made it doing there? They all did one thing really well. If Maz doesn’t turn the double play better than anyone ever, does he get it? If Smith isn’t a great fielder is he getting in on his hitting? If Williams doesn’t hit a ton, is he getting in?  Martinez also did one thing well.

5. As more and more relievers pile up more and more saves, Lee Smith’s chances for the Hall dim.

6. I still wonder what will happen to Don Mattingly’s chances if the Dodgers start doing well. Will a successful stint as a manager help his chances for Cooperstown? I think failure in the dugout has hurt Alan Trammel.

7. Saw that Juan Gonzalez fell off the ballot. That does not bode well for big hitters with steroid allegations. Although Gonzalez was the weakest of the crew in question, once you start dropping one of the off, it becomes easier to drop the others. It will be interesting to see how that translates to the next few years.

And now a couple of questions about the next couple of years.

1. Will the revulsion about steroids lead to a backlash that puts in non-steroid users (or at least people who have no current taint of use) who might otherwise have to wait a while before election? I’m wondering here about Curt Shilling specifically.

2. Will Nomo be afforded Jackie Robinson-like status in 2014?  He didn’t have nearly the career Robinson had, but his impact for Asian players is as great.

3. Will Mike Stanton survive the 2013 ballot? Set up men get no glory and little press. Stanton is one of the best ever. How will that translate to votes for the Hall? Frankly, I don’t think he’ll do very well.

Legacy

March 16, 2011

Yankee Stadium 1930s configuration

There are some positions that are just simply the glamour spots for a team. For the Giants, as evidenced by their latest championship and their long history of great pitchers, it’s the mound. For the Red Sox it’s left field.  Both teams have produced an inordinate number of high quality players at the position. For the Yankees, that position is, with apologies to catchers and second base, center field.

The Yankees were formed in Baltimore in 1901 and shifted to New York in 1903. The “Yankees” team moniker came during the teens. They were a team that was sporadically competitive prior to 1920 and the arrival of Babe Ruth. Afterwards they were the dominant franchise. Whether the team was winning or losing, they have usually had a fine center fielder since. the key word there is “usually.”

Way back in 1921 when it all began, the center fielder was the immortal Elmer Miller (that’s OK, I never heard of him either). Whitey Witt came in ’22. Not a bad player but certainly not the reason they were winning (That Ruth kid had something to do with it). He stayed through 1925, hit .287 with no power and not much speed. He gave way to Earle Combs, who was a revelation in center. Combs could hit (.325), had doubles power (309), and speed. He didn’t steal a lot of bases (with Ruth and Gehrig hitting behind you, would you?), but the papers of the time indicate he was adept at going from first to third on a good single and coming home from second on a clean base hit to the outfield. And of course he was on base quite a bit (OBP of .397, which ain’t bad, but not all that great either. He never finished higher than 5th in OBP.) for Ruth and Gehrig to drive home. He stayed through 1935 and eventually made the Hall of Fame. His successor was Joe DiMaggio who  stayed in center through 1951 and was replaced by Mickey Mantle in 1952. Mantle remained a fixture in New York through 1968.

Now I don’t mean to imply that Combs, DiMaggio, and Mantle played every game in center between 1925 and 1968. Obviously they missed games, and DiMaggio lost three years to World War II. Additionally, Mantle moved to first base in the last two years. But as a rule for the entire period a Hall of Famer stood in center field for New York. That’s not a unique event. Take a look at Boston left fielders from Ted Williams through Jim Rice, but the Yankees center fielders played on winners year after year.

Bobby Murcer replaced Mantle (after running Joe Pepitone and Bill Robinson out there for a couple of years). He’s generally overlooked as a Yankees center fielder, but he was pretty good. He wasn’t DiMaggio or Mantle, but he may have been Combs. There have been a lot of really terrific underrated players in baseball history. Murcer is in the list and, in my opinion, toward the top. He lasted through 1974 then came back in 1979 (although not as the regular center fielder). He was also the last of the power hitters who spent significant time out in center.

The rest of the 1970s and 1980s saw New York send a lot of men to center. They won two World Series titles with Mickey Rivers out there. But as a rule guys like Jerry Mumphrey and Ruppert Jones weren’t anything to write home about. They did try Rickey Henderson in center in the mid to late 1980s. As a center fielder Rickey Henderson made left fielder Rickey Henderson look like Roberto Clemente (Henderson led the league in errors in 1985.). But at least he could track down the ball. All the searching for a quality center fielder changed when Bernie Williams showed up. He gave New York a fine center fielder. He could hit, run, play the field. He won a  batting title and hit clean up on four World Series winners. Is he a Hall of Famer? We’ll find out in a couple of years.

I know that’s not a  comprehensive list of Yankees center fielders, not even since 1921, but what I wanted to show was a long and sustained period of quality play at one position. And the Yankees center fielders certainly, despite some hiccups, did that.

The “Core Four”

December 9, 2010

The "Core Four"

Recently some genius’ have begun referring to four Yankees players as “The Core Four”: Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera. It’s supposed to be a reference to how important they have been to the Yankees winning ways in the last fifteen or so years. It’s catchy, but because it totally ignores the contributions of a number of other players, it’s utter nonsense.

The argument goes that these four players are the “core” of Yankees teams that have won five World Series. First, that’s difficult to sustain if you know that Posada played only eight games in 1996 (the first of the five World Series championships), none in the postseason, and that Rivera was the setup man, not the closer in 1996 (John Wetteland was both closer and Series MVP). It’s kind of like giving Sandy Koufax credit for the Dodgers winning in 1955 when he pitched in only 42 innings over 12 games and five starts (“Boy are we lucky we had him. We woulda never won the damned thing if he wasn’t on the roster.”)  Most importantly it completely downplays the contribution of other players, a sort of second “core four” (actually five).

As Posada was no factor in the 1996 World Series championship, and Rivera’s contribution was important, but not primary, we may only consider the “core four” as winning in 1998, 1999, 2000, and after a significant break, 2009.  There are another five that may be considered equally crucial in winning the 1998-2000 championships: Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Chuck Knoblauch, Scott Brosius, and Paul O’Neill (this without reference to pitchers). All five participated in the same three wins as the “core four” (and Williams, Martinez, and O’Neill made the 1996 Series also). I question how their contributions can be considered less than the so-called “Core Four.”

You might also argue that once Williams, Knoblauch, Martinez, Brosius, and O’Neill left, the “Core Four” were unable to secure a World Series championship until the arrival of a second four: Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, and Mark Teixeira. Perhaps it is those four that made the difference. In fact, following this idea to its conclusion, one could argue that the key player was Teixeira. After all the “core four” couldn’t win until he arrived. Or maybe it was Melky Cabrera. Heck, the Yanks didn’t win until he took over in center. Or maybe it’s really all about Andy Pettitte. Pettitte left after the 2003 Series loss and the Yankees failed to make a World Series until 2009. Meanwhile, Pettitte went to Houston, a team that went to the World Series in 2005 for the first time ever, then returned to New York in 2008, exactly one season prior to the last Yankees championship. So maybe Pettitte, not the “Core Four,” is the key.

Now you can rightly argue the idea that Teixeira (or Cabrera) was the crucial element is silly and I wouldn’t complain.  I wouldn’t mind if you laughed at the idea that it was all Pettitte. Because the point is that it requires a lot of good players to win, not just a “core four.”  With no loss of respect to the “Core Four”, how about a little credit to the rest of the team Yankees fans? It’s been a heck of a run and a lot of guys have been responsible for the success (several of which I didn’t name).

The Way to Win: Observations

August 13, 2010

This is the final post in the series. I want to make a few observations about what the series is and isn’t. Let me begin by saying what prompted it.

I noted the comments about the Yankees “Core Four” (Jeter, Pettitte, Posada, Rivera in alphabetical order). I thought it was catchy, but immediately decided it was incorrect. The “Core Four” should be the core about eight or nine. Because the late 1990’s dynasty that ended in Phoenix in 2001 (the 2003 team is not, in my opinion part of that dynasty) had more than those four as significant members of the dynasy. There was Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Chuck Knoblauch, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Joe Girardi, and of course manager Joe Torre who were significant contributers to those winning teams. When I sat down and listed all the significant parts I decided to compare them with the other great Yankees dynasties of the past (1920s, 1930s, 1950s, 1970s). I simply wrote down the major players from the 1996-2001 team, then listed beside them the same position players for the other teams. It became fairly obvious that all the teams were a lot alike. They were all built very much the same. So I wondered if that worked for other dynasties as well.  As I’m spending a lot of time this year looking at the 1910 season, I especially wondered about the A’s team of that year. I decided to find out. I looked at a number of other teams (72-74 A’s, 29-31 A’s, 10-14 A’s, 57-59 Braves, 06-10 Cubs, 01-03 Pirates, 62-66 Dodgers). Turns out all of them had the same broad characteristics as the Yankees.

Let me emphasize these are broad characteristics and do not look at the details of the teams. In other words, I wasn’t looking at the stats so much as the quality of the players involved. This is, if you will, a macro look at the teams, not a micro look. Let me also emphasize that this is not a rigid formula to win. I don’t think there really is a good one of those (except maybe to keep your best players healthy). Back about 20 years or so I looked for the baseball stat that was the best predictor of getting to a World Series. I found it to be opponent’s runs. That was the stat the World Series contenders most frequently led their league in on a yearly basis. Don’t know if that’s still true (and there are new stats that weren’t available to check then). This current overview of mine is not meant to be something you can hang your hat on and say this is the winner this season.

Having said all that, I’ve begun to realize that a properly constituted team of stars, good players, and role players has a good chance of winning. Teams of all-stars don’t do it (Except, in the 20th Century,  for the 1930s Negro League Crawfords, and even they had role players.). It also helps to have a fluke; what I call the “one year wonder” rule. You can never account ahead of time for a Shane Spencer (of the 1990s Yankees) to have a short run that will help the team to victory or a Hurricane Hazle (of the Braves) to put you over the top. But they do happen and good teams take advantage of them.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the series and will look at teams a little differently now.