Buck O’Neil died last week and with his passing baseball lost its final chance to honor him while he was alive to enjoy it by inducting the former Negro Leagues player, chronicler and ambassador into the Hall of Fame. To the voters who withheld their support I can only say, he was characteristically magnanimous in the disappointment at his rejection while it would be hard to imagine how you will explain your self-righteousness going forward.
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Good pitching beat good hitting in the Motor City Saturday night. More to the point, good pitching beat no hitting. I cannot recall seeing a lineup of such diverse batting tendencies – free swingers, patient hitters, power hitters, line drive hitters – go collectively cold quite like the Yankees did. Of course we should give credit to the Tigers’ staff, which pitched brilliantly, but the ineptitude of the Yankee lineup, particularly but not solely Alex Rodriguez, was absolute. When a lineup is called Murderers Row and Robinson Cano, you expect a little more production than we saw.
Going into the series the feeling was the Yankees biggest weakness was its own pitching staff and as it turned out they were hardly a match for the Tigers, but a clutch hit here or there might have jump started the Yankees offense and made the series more interesting if not closer. The other aspect of this Yankee club that did them in was there poor fielding. Having to choose between Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi at first base was only one of Joe Torre’s nightmares for this series; watching Rodriguez at third was a season-long one. If ever someone needed a change of scenery it is Rodriguez.
After the series, the usual reports surfaced immediately that “The Boss” was angry. Any owner would express his disappointment over such a quick exit from the post-season, but not King George. Disappointment is not in his vocabulary. He overpaid his money and expects nothing less than satisfaction, i.e., the World Series championship; anything less means heads must roll. Torre’s is reportedly on the block and after years of a strained relationship between the two, he probably looks forward to leaving the Bronx; for his part, King George is likely to accommodate him.
Does anyone think the Yankees would hesitate to bring back former players Lou Piniella (who also managed them in the late '80's) or Joe Girardi to take over the reigns? Steinbrenner has shown a tendency to prefer “family” but it is difficult to imagine how the strong-willed Piniella or the apparently equally self-assured Girardi would tolerate any interference from on high. Of course Piniella has already managed the Yankees before, so he is clearly familiar with the owner's tendencies, but both of them were a lot younger then and perhaps marginally more tolerant than they are now. As for how Girardi would handle Steinbrenner's participation, that is anyone's guess, but among the latter's many faults, berating the umpires from a field box is not one of them.
In the end, Torre is very popular with most of his players, and they would like to see him stay. King George does not run things based on popularity, however, as his treatement of Yogi Berra and other ex-Yankees over the years clearly demonstrates. (Berra and the Yankees are now reconciled.) The Yankees lost this series for two reasons: they ran into an inspired Tigers team and they got old. Going into the playoffs the Yankees' most experienced starters were either injured or reovering from injuries. Several position players had their share of nicks and bruises, too, and others were in various stages of recovery. It's a long season as nearly everyone will tell you when asked. In the Yankees' case it was apparently just a little too long.
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The other team in New York fared far better. Going into their series the feeling was the Mets were in big trouble because of their starting pitching, but unlike their cross-town rivals, they did hit the ball. Their lineup, frankly is more fearsome than that of the Yankees because the mix of speed and power keeps the pressure on with hitters 1 – 8. And unlike King George’s team, the Mets are capable of overcoming any limitations of the starting rotation in a short series by outscoring their opponents. Their bullpen is superior, too, and it showed throughout the series.
The Dodgers’ Jeff Kent commented after the sweep that though it might sound “cheesy” he felt his team outplayed the Mets but the New Yorkers were luckier. It does sound “cheesy”, Jeff.
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Old friend Placido Polanco is still playing baseball on this date but former teammates Marlon Anderson and Bobby Abreu are not. In the two games in Detroit, Abreu could be seen wearing a familiar pained expression, one we saw for many years when his pinstripes were red not black. Polanco also grimaced throughout the first round, but that’s his normal expression.
It looks like Endy Chavez, whose career in Philadelphia could charitably be described as modest, will get the start in left field for the Mets after Cliff Floyd strained his Achilles heel. Chavez had a marvelous season as a super-sub in New York. Look for him to have a great series against the Cardinals. Chavez is just the sort of bit player who shines on the national stage.