June 29th

On Thursday, June 29th, 1905, Archibald Graham entered a game for the New York Giants in the top of the ninth and his team at bat against the Brooklyn Dodgers, but the inning ended with him in the on deck circle. He played the field in the bottom half of the inning, but never returned to the major leagues and became a historical footnote famously recounted in the movie “Field of Dreams”.

If you are a baseball fan, you know that movie. Ray Kinsella goes in search of recluse author, Terrance Mann, really JD Salinger but he threatened to sue, and then runs into Moonlight Graham before meeting his long dead father. It’s a wonderful movie and it always makes me cry at the end when he plays catch with the younger version of his Dad.

My Dad died on June 29th, 1999, and I live about a five minute walk from the remnants of the ballpark in Brooklyn where Moonlight Graham made his only appearance in the bigs. It’s a Con Edison lot, but there is a wall that remains from the ballpark, abandoned over 100 years ago when the Dodgers moved to Ebbets Field. I go there every June 29th to remember the ghost of Moonlight and dream of one more catch with my Dad.

Yesterday was a perfect day for baseball here in New York. As I watched the early evening sun gather around the ruins of Washington Park, I could picture Moonlight out in right field, sprinting after anything that came close to him. I could picture my Dad, an Englishman who thought baseball was the most boring thing ever but a father who wanted to bond with his son, making me learn to hit lefty and exhorting me to keep my glove up higher and be ready for the ball.

So I was more excited than usual to watch last night’s game. Baseball was swirling in my mind and I was really excited to see Dustin Fowler’s big league debut. He was playing right and hitting sixth. But, the weather in Chicago was terrible, and the game didn’t start until almost 11pm here in NYC.

The Yankees looked to have a great inning on their hands in the top of the first. Brett Gardner singled, Aaron Judge walked, and then Didi got a run home thanks to an error. 1-0 good guys, and they were threatening to do much more. But Sanchez hit into a double play and Ellsbury flew out to left, so the inning ended with Fowler in the on deck circle.

Almost seven years ago, I was walking my daughter to school on a beautiful October morning. As we got to the middle of the street, I realized the car heading towards us wasn’t going to stop in time. I pushed my daughter forward, and turned to scream, “STOP” at the car. I remember feeling the impact on my left leg, pounding on the hood while I yelled, and being knocked back. Amazingly, I was ok, I walked over to my sobbing daughter, scooped her up and sat down next to a chain link fence while people and cops swarmed around us to make sure we were ok. A short while later, an ambulance came and the EMTs convinced me to go to the hospital and get checked out. A neighbor took my six-year old, and I took a ride. It was only about an hour later, after sitting in a wheelchair and then being asked to walk to x-ray, that I realized something was wrong. I tried to stand but couldn’t. The diagnosis was a tibial plateau fracture, the x-ray technician told me I was lucky, usually that injury included damage to the patella tendon, but since I was standing initially, my patella must be ok.

Luis Cessa was on the mound and he got two quick outs, a strikeout and an infield grounder. His first pitch to Abreu was a 96-mph fastball that Abreu was late on, fouling it away. Abreu watched a similar offering go down the pipe, for strike two. Having no reason to change things, Cessa went back to the fastball for his third pitch.

Fowler was racing as the ball flew towards right. Abreu was late on this one too, so the ball was tailing towards the stands. Fowler had a chance, but it was going to take everything he had. At the very last second, he realized that an impact with the stands was imminent and he tried to put his left hand out to absorb the impact.

He was going too fast at this point, and his right knee took the brunt of the collision. He almost went completely over the railing and into the stands, but quickly righted himself, grimaced and tried to walk. A step, a grimace, and then a hop. Something was clearly wrong. He tried one more step, but crumpled to the ground. You could see the security guy waive at the dugout for help and Girardi race out of the dugout with the Yankee trainer, Steve Donahue.

Donahue went to examine the knee and placed his hands just below Fowler’s kneecap. Fowler’ expression never changed, he was probably in shock, but Joe Girardi put his hand up to his face to stop the tears. Donahue signaled frantically for the cart to come out as Fowler’ teammates circled around him thinking of what to say.

I watched it all in horror. Seeing the hop he took and the way he collapsed, I figured it was the tendon. I cursed the baseball gods and history. I cried for Fowler, Moonlight, and myself. And I went to bed thankful that I won’t have to face another June 29th for 364 more days.

Meet the New Guy at First….

Guess what, Chris Carter is back! How did this happen? Well Tyler Austin was apparently dealing with a hamstring injury when they promoted him and it has turned into a bigger thing. He is going to be out awhile.

Greg Bird isn’t doing so hot, so he is going on the 60-day DL. That sounds worse than it is because he has been on the DL since the start of May, and that means he can be activated whenever he is healthy, or if he is healthy again this year.

That left the Yankees with a couple of choices. They could keep sending Romine out there, but that leaves them exposed at catcher. They could try Refsnyder there, but he isn’t hitting and hasn’t looked great at first. So, Carter gets the call because he is already getting paid, so the Yankees will see if a week off makes a difference.

The interesting thing is the Yankees made another move, sending Andujar down and promoting Dustin Fowler. Andujar had a great debut, you really couldn’t ask for more, but the Yankees wisely want him to get reps at third, and they are not benching Headley.

And that brings us to Fowler, another top prospect who is getting a shot. Fowler is 22, a lefty, and is hitting .293/.329/.542 in AAA. He has 13 steals, so he has speed. He’s spent most of his time in center, but he can play right and left.

His promotion is interesting because they could have recalled Mason Williams with the injury to Austin, but instead they are DFA’ing him to clear a roster spot. Is Fowler being showcased for a possible trade, or are the Yankees looking at him as a possible replacement for Gardner or Ellsbury? Time will tell.

And Another Ones Gone….UPDATED

Matt Holliday is headed to the DL with an ominous sounding “virus” and the Yankees are recalling Miguel Andujar. If you are scoring at home, that is the third regular from the lineup to be lost in the past week, and that trifecta- Holliday, Hicks, and Castro, were the most productive hitters in the lineup after Judge and Sanchez.

Whatever is going on with Holliday, it is good the Yankees are taking this step. He originally had what was termed an “allergic reaction” in Oakland, but has told Joe Girardi he feels like all of his energy is gone. That’s scary stuff, and i hope the doctors in NY can find a quick and easy remedy for whatever it is.

Andujar is probably going to be primarily a DH for now. He would not have gotten the call except for the fact that he is right-handed and on the 40-man roster. He hit well at AA, and in his seven games at AAA, but he wasn’t expected in the Bronx this early. The scouting reports like his bat, but worry about his defense at third. If Rob Refsnyder was doing more with the bat, this move wouldn’t have been made. This will be a good chance for the Yankees to take a look at how he handles the majors, but I wouldn’t expect them to send Chase Headley packing anytime soon.

One other note, as I speculated the other day, Chris Carter passed through waivers and is headed to Scranton. If Tyler Austin falters and Greg Bird can’t make it back to the field, I could see the Yankees turning back to Carter.

UPDATE-5pm
Pretty wild lineup tonight:
Gardner cf
Judge rf
Sanchez c
Gregorius ss
Headley 3b
Romine 1b
Andujar dh
Wade lf
Torreyes 2b

The Closer Fallacy

The Yankees lost a gut-punch game last night and while Delin Betances meltdown takes some heat off of Girardi this morning, it shouldn’t. Joe made the classic mistake modern managers do today, he treated the 9th inning as the most important. Let’s dig in.

This game was an old school pitchers duel with Luis Severino and a Jose Quintana dominating. The White Sox took a 1-0 lead into the 8th, but the Yankees broke through for three runs and took a 3-1 lead. With Severino at 105 pitches, Girardi didn’t want to push him and turned to the bullpen.

That’s understandable, but the first mistake he made was not putting Betances in at that point. Now Joe is going to say that Chapman was unavailable and he wanted Betances to pitch the 9th. The problem with that logic is you don’t know what the score will be in the 9th, nor do you know how many pitches Betances will need to pitch the 8th. Maybe he sets the side down in 8 pitches and you feel good about brining him out for the 9th. Maybe the Yankees tack on a bunch of runs in the 9th and blow the game open. You can’t predict that, but you know that with a two-run lead in the 8th, you are in a critical spot.

And Girardi turned to Domingo German, a guy with just over 60 innings of experience above A-ball. Let me emphasize that, A-ball. Not surprisingly, German walked the two batters he faced. Now Girardi makes his second mistake, going to Clippard over Betances. Clearly, Girardi didn’t want to use Clippard, or he would have started the inning with him over the inexperienced rookie, but then he turns to him when there are two guys on and no one out? Clippard promptly threw a wild pitch and then walked the bases loaded. And Girardi makes mistake number three, leaving him in.

And amazingly, this one paid off, but it really shouldn’t have. Clippard got two guys out, then walked in a run to make it 3-2. Then, on a full count, he got a strike out to let the Yankees escape the 8th. It was ugly, and it probably should have ended with him imploding, but it didn’t.

Ironically, that was Betances’ job as he didn’t have it and lost the game in the bottom of the 9th. Some will say that his meltdown is proof that Girardi did the right thing. But it isn’t. The Yankees had three choices for the 8th, the rookie, the guy who has been hit all over the park recently, and Betances. You have to pick Betances, hope he gets you to the 9th, and go from there. Managers used to know that.

Clean it Up

I will always love the Yankees on the field, but off the field their behavior can drive me bonkers. I hate the fact that they built a stadium financed with tax-free bonds when New York City has so many things much more deserving of financing. And I don’t like this report from today’s New York Times on their “community” charity, which doesn’t look good at all.

Now the article doesn’t directly implicate the Yankees, but the Yankees need to think about the fact that their name is on the masthead and they could have tremendous influence over the charity. The ballclub does a lot of great things, HOPE Week being one of the best. But, that doesn’t excuse this. I hope the team will stand up, correct the problem, and make sure the money in the charity only goes to things in the neighboring communities.

This is Silly

The Yankees opened the season with their starting shortstop on the DL. Assuming Starlin Castro goes to the DL after tonight, every other opening day starter, apart from their DH, 3B, and LF, has been on the DL. Add in Aaron Hicks, and the Yankees’ lineup has been wracked with injuries.

You can also add the closer, Chapman, the 7th inning guy, Warren, and the 3rd starter, Sabathia, to the total. Their opening day DH may hit the DL and the 3b has skirted the DL. The Yankees should encase Aaron Judge and Brett Gardner in a protective shield.

We don’t know what will happen with Castro at this point, but Tyler Wade has been removed from his game in Scranton, and is probably on his way to Chicago. Losing Castro would be a big blow, but bringing Wade to the bigs could be a huge lift. For all the injuries, the Yankees are lucky they have depth.

Carter Released

The Chris Carter era is over for now as the Yankees DFA’ed him after 57 games and a .204/.286/.383 line. His low average was not a surprise, he is a career .217 hitter, but he never delivered the power the Yankees hoped for. He might end up at Scranton, because I’m not sure any major league team will give him a shot.

Now the Yankees turn to Tyler Austin, one of the three rookies they brought up last August. Austin’s foot injury opened the door to Carter, and his recovery closed it. Greg Bird is waiting to see if his cortisone shot worked. If it didn’t, and Austin doesn’t produce, the Yankees will have to go to plan D at first.

A Night in The Bronx

I made it to my first game of the year last night, and while the result was disappointing, the atmosphere was not.

It’s been awhile since I have seen the Stadium like that. I got there right before 5pm when the gates were about to open and it was already really busy. Lots of fans had lined up to get into the game to see batting practice. The outfields were pretty packed with fans trying to catch balls and things were loud. The attendance was announced at 39-thousand something and I would believe it. Not a lot of empty seats anywhere in the ballpark. Ownership must be thrilled. A mid-week game on a school night drew almost 40,000 fans.

It will be interesting to see what happens from here with attendance and the Yankees. NYC schools get out June 28th, so that should help. Continuing this seven-game losing streak would clearly not. But even if they continue to struggle, fans want to see Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. There were a ton of those jerseys in the stands last night and both of them rewarded their fans with long balls. It’s funny how Sanchez has been a bit lost in all of the Judgemania. In 2016 he was Judge, with 20 homers in the final 53 games. He got hurt early in 2017, missed a month, but look at him now. 12 homers in 41 games.

Who knows where the season goes from here, but based on a Tuesday night in the Bronx things look pretty good and the fans seem pretty energized.

When It Rains…

The Yankees just announced that Gleyber Torres is going to need Tommy John surgery to repair a UCL tear in his elbow. This is obviously very bad news, but the saving grace is that the injury is to his left, non-throwing, elbow, so he should be ready to go at the start of next season.

However, he clearly won’t be able to help the team this year. That’s not a huge deal because I am not sure he would have been called up anyway. The Yankees probably would have turned to Tyler Wade before Torres. But it also means he is going to lose 1/2 a season of experience in the minors, which will delay his arrival in the Bronx next year.

All of this because he tried to slide into home face-first. Teams really should spend time teaching players to slide feet-first. So many more things can go wrong when you go in face-first, especially to home plate.

A Guess About the Future

Tim Kurkjian asked 12 people in baseball (GM’s, managers, players and umpires) what the game would look like in 2037. It’s an interesting collection of predictions.

It’s worth a read and I imagine things like a Sabermetrics coach and the pace of play ideas will happen. But I think three of the predictions are worthy of a deeper look.

First is the prediction that MLB will be a 28-team league in 20 years with the subtractions of Tampa Bay and Oakland is impossible in my mind. The fact is the owners of these teams have way too much invested in them to ever agree to contraction. And, the owners of the remaining 28 teams would never agree to the fees they would have to pay to contract those two teams. I think you always have to follow the money, and the money in this case is for more teams, not less. (I would be thrilled to go back to 28 teams and the elimination of divisions as the article speculates, I just can’t see it.)

The second prediction is, “ticket prices also will rise to a level that will make it even less affordable than today to attend a game.” I think we are actually arriving at a tipping point with ticket prices, stadium design and television. The fact is that all sports leagues are creating a two-tier system. The first tier is the premium experience- great seats and great service. The second tier is the opposite- terrible seats and no service. I believe that as television gets better and better, demand for the second tier is going to disappear. Let me explain.

There are few things better than going to a ballpark on a nice summer day and enjoying a game. But, if the reality is that you have to spend 1/2 my weekly paycheck to sit in some remote location where you can barely make out the players, I think most people are going to simply stay home and enjoy the game from the comfort of their living room, on their enormous wall-sized televisions. On that television, they will be able to control the 56-different camera angles available inside the stadium thanks to miniaturization and drones. With 3D television, it will almost feel like you are at the game. The people in the luxury seats will still come, but the other guys won’t, or won’t come very often. To that end, I expect that stadiums are going to shrink a lot in the coming years. If a new Yankee Stadium is built in 2030, I would expect it to look a lot like the current one, just without the upper deck because fans who can only afford those seats don’t want them. The kids of today are used to seeing anything they want, at any time they want, in incredible detail. It will be next to impossible to convince them to attend a sporting event if they are seated miles away from the action.

Lastly, I think this is the most important paragraph in the whole article:

With all that money to be made, players will find a way to get the most they can, even if it means using performance enhancing drugs. As long as the carrot is there, as long as there is motivation and there are wildly competitive players, there will be those players that will try to beat the system, as there is, for example, with insider trading. There will always be new designer steroids, and there will always be more chemists trying to make them undetectable.

It’s absolutely right. When you are talking about life-changing contracts, the incentives to cheat the system will always be greater than the threats of punishment. Look at Rafael Palmeiro. He is one of the biggest pariahs in baseball and is ridiculed for his PED-use. But, he earned almost $90-million playing baseball. Wherever he is, he should not ever have to worry about how he will house or feed his family. The money has grown exponentionally since Palmeiro left the game, Brian McCann got about $90-million in one five-year contract. Unless MLB comes up with real financial penalties and retroactive testing like the Olympics uses, PED’s will be everywhere.