“What’s up bro… Did u get the new iphone yet?” It was Brooklyn’s Own Mike Dantone texting me early this morning. “No. Ordered it. Shipping July 19. You?” was my reply. BOMD: “Got it yesterday. It’s Sick.” Me: “How? I know you didn’t wait on line at the Apple Store”. BOMD: “I went to the Apple store, went to the front of the line and paid the kid in spot #7 $100. My new iphone was activated 12 minutes later.“ Me: “You’re an effing genius. Best $100 you’ll ever spend.” BOMD: What’s up with A.J.?” Me: “I think he’ll come around. But I think Hughes and Pettitte will get hit for a while.” BOMD: “We will win or lose the division by 2-3 games. Just always happens that way.”
There was a blurb in the paper a few days ago that caught my eye and made me mutter to myself, which I rarely do. Russell Branyan was picked up by the Mariners. I wasn’t muttering because the move made no sense, which was true. Made no sense. Why would a team that was out of contention and basically existed to sell off its more valuable pieces (read: Cliff Lee) want to pick up a 35-year old left-handed power hitting DH/1B? Instead of bringing up a prospect, seeing what he had under the hood and getting him some experience? Made absolutely no sense. But that wasn’t my problem. My problem was that the Yankees hadn’t faced the Mariners yet this season, and Branyan, still the only man to hit the black glass batter’s eye at the new Stadium, always pummels the Yankees. Mariner last year – pummeled them. Indians this year – pummeled them. So I knew tonight was coming. That’s why I was mumbling.
So here’s where I try and piece this together. Like Brooklyn’s Own Mike Dantone said – you’re going to win or lose this division by two or three games. Seems about right. That’s certainly where we are right now. The fact that the Yankees have the best record in baseball is a bit of a farce. If you’re watching these games, it’s clear that they aren’t that good. Michael Kay made a comment on the broadcast the other day. Something to the effect of, “Kevin Russo, Chad Huffman, Ramiro Pena, Colin Curtis…. It’s certainly a far cry from Chili Davis, Tim Raines, and Darryl Strawberry.” He’s right. The Yankees have no excuse. There aren’t a ton of injuries. There are basically two. To the same position. Nick Johnson – I’m going to call him “TNT” because of what a huge bomb he’s been – and Marcus Thames. That’s it. But you’d never know it by looking at the lineups that the Yankees are trotting out night after night. Why is this?
I’ve hated this concept of the roving DH from day one. The Yankees have been resting Crazy Al, Jeter, and/or Posada every night. And often they’ll rest Granderson just because a lefty is starting (great deal, Cash. You let Damon and Matsui walk, two guys who hit lefties with power and regularity, for a guy who’s quick fodder for any lefty specialist in the late innings). There is no starting DH. That’s right. The Yankees do not have a starting DH. Just let that waft over you for a second. An American League team, the defending World Champs, the guys who outspend everybody just for sport, do not have a starting DH. And they seem perfectly happy about it. So what happens when the starters rest? The aforementioned Colin Curtis, Ramiro Pena, Kevin Russo, or Chad Huffman get the start. And Cervelli gets the start behind the plate. Often more than one of these guys is in the starting lineup. This is sinful. Here’s why. First of all, three of them are hitting under .200. This is a big deal. Especially since opposing pitchers, particularly the good ones, are pitching around the regulars to get to these guys. You got a miracle the other night against the Dodgers. And it’s a good thing you did, because you would have been staring at four losses in a row, having been dominated by five starting pitchers in a row, including Padilla on Friday night, from whom they were fortunate to get a win. The problem with these guys isn’t just that they can’t hit. The problem is that their only option is to try and hit. Not get on base. Not do little things to help the team. Hit. There’s a popular saying in the Dominican Republic. You can’t walk your way off the island; you have to hit your way off. These guys are in the same boat. They’re trying to stick. If not here, somewhere. And to do it they need to hit. They have mismatched priorities with the team. A 2-0 or 3-1 count to them means they’re probably going to get a fastball, and that means they are swinging. Even though the team really just needs the baserunner. This is what you get when you start calling up a bunch of minor league kids.
At its core, I have a big problem with this approach. Why wouldn’t the Yankees go out and get Russell the Muscle Branyan? Does anyone else see that he is the perfect type of midseason pickup the Yankees used to make? A lefty power-hitting DH? At Yankee Stadium? For a team that has no DH? Hello?? Anybody out there? How is it that the Yankees are going exclusively with guys from Triple A to fill any and all gaps? And it’s not like they are big prospects or anything. These are guys that nobody has heard of, playing almost every day. Yes, Michael Kay. Where are the Chili Davis’s, the Tim Raines’s and the Darryl Strawberry’s? Or the Jerry Hairston’s and Eric Hinske’s? It certainly feels like the Yankees have made a conscious decision to try and run this team on the cheap. I know there were some whispers this past off-season that the Yankees were going to try and cut the payroll. Is anyone else offended by this? The Yankees had to cut the most expensive ticket prices again this year, acknowledging they overcharged their most loyal fans. And no one disputes that they positively printed money last year and this year with the revenue from the new Stadium. We’re talking about a major upward spike in revenue. And they want to CUT payroll? “Hey fans. Steinbrenner family here. Listen, we understand that we’ve lined our pockets with way more of your money the last two years, but we need to spread it around a bit more since the old man is retired, so we’re going to have to stretch it a bit. Here is your **** sandwich. Eat up.”
This never would have happened if the old man was still in charge. The Boss used to drive people nuts, but you couldn’t argue with his core belief. He didn’t just want to beat you, he wanted to beat you senseless and then eat your lunch. He wanted to win at all costs. Not once did you hear him say he wanted to cut the payroll. Money didn’t excite him. Winning excited him, and he wanted to leave nothing to chance. The Mets stole the New York headlines for four or five years in the mid-eighties, and The Boss made them pay for it for the next two decades, as the Yankees pulled in those Met teams’ biggest stars to win multiple championships in pinstripes. That’s the only kind of owner you want. You show me a guy who owns a team to try and make money; I’ll show you a team that doesn’t win. I’m afraid the new Steinbrenners are not nearly as focused. They don’t feel the same sense of responsibility as the guy who actually took the risk, plunked down his cash, and bought the team.
I’m not saying the Yankees won’t make moves. I think they will. But they’re in no hurry. I think they’ll wait until they absolutely have to make a move. The fact that they’ve taken this approach over the first half of the season is telling. And when all is said and done, Brooklyn’s Own Mike Dantone could very well be right. Two or three games. You keep showing up limp like you have the last five games, that two or three will happen pretty quickly.