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Archive for May, 2010

Last night, Minnesota Twins fans experienced their the first in-game rain delay since September 26, 1981, when a 48 minute hiatus interrupted a contest against the Texas Rangers. It was also the first delay of any kind at a Twins’ home game since August 29, 1992, when a lighting problem caused play to be halted for 29 minutes. Interestingly, the Yankees were the opponent on that night as well. Although play eventually resumed that night, yesterday’s interruption resulted in a suspended game, which will be played to completion at 5:05PM today. The game will resume in the top of the sixth inning with the score tied at 0-0.

Over the first five innings of yesterday’s game, the Yankees offense showed no signs of breaking out if its slump, so maybe the rain was a blessing in disguise. After a good night’s rest and some fresh air, maybe some of those sleeping bats will come awake. In the meantime, for those down in the dumps about the Yankees recent malaise, here is a look at the Yankee lineup from that game back in 1992. Remember, things could always be worse!

Batting
Bernie Williams CF
Randy Velarde SS
Mel Hall PH
Andy Stankiewicz SS
Don Mattingly 1B
Danny Tartabull RF
Dion James RF
Roberto Kelly LF
Mike Stanley C
Jim Leyritz DH
Charlie Hayes 3B
Pat Kelly 2B
Pitching
Bob Wickman P
Steve Farr P

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Tonight, the Yankees make their first trip to Target Field, the Minnesota Twins’ brand new ballpark and the latest in baseball’s building renaissance. The inaugural visit by the Yankees marks the first time the Bronx Bombers have played in a new American League ballpark, other than their own, in ten years. In the past, the Yankees haven’t always been the most gracious visitors on their initial trip to an opponent’s new digs.  In their first games played at the remaining 12 American League parks, the Yankees have an 8-4 record.

Opponent Ballpark (name at opening) Date Result
Minnesota Target Field 05/25/10 ???
Detroit Comerica Park 05/12/00 Tiger 9 Yankees 7
Seattle SafeCo Field 08/05/99 Yankees 7 Mariners 4
Tampa Bay Tropicana Field 07/09/98 Yankees 2 Devil Rays 0
Cleveland Jacobs Field 06/24/94 Yankees 11 Indians 6
Texas The Ballpark At Arlington 06/06/94 Yankees 17 Rangers 7
Baltimore Camden Yards 06/19/92 Orioles 10 Yankees 7
Chicago Comiskey Park II 04/26/91 Yankees 3 White Sox 2
Toronto SkyDome 06/21/90 Yankees 7 Blue Jays 6
Kansas City Royals Stadium 06/08/73 Yankees 8 Royals 1
Oakland Oakland Coliseum 04/22/68 Yankees 2 A’s 1
Anaheim Anaheim Stadium 05/06/66 Angels 7 Yankees 4
Boston Fenway Park 04/20/12 Red Sox 7 Yankees 6

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Earlier, we detailed how the decline in the Yankees offense has contributed to the team’s current 5-10 stretch. It should be noted, however, that although the 4.73 runs/game scored over that span represents a significant drop off for the Yankees, it still ranks above the league average of 4.52 runs/game. So, all of the blame can’t be placed on the lineup.

Since May 9, the Yankees have posted an ERA of 4.95, which has caused their season rate to increase a full half run from 3.42 to 3.93. More than aggregate poor performance, however, the inconsistency of the staff (and particularly its more reliable members) is what has contributed to the recent downturn.

Yankees’ Starters (May 9 to May 23)

Starters INN GS QS W L K BBI HA ERA WHIP
CC Sabathia 18 3 1 0 2 15 5 23 2.00 1.556
Phil Hughes 17 2/3 3 1 1 1 18 5 19 3.06 1.358
AJ Burnett 17 2/3 3 1 0 2 12 11 25 1.02 2.038
Javier Vazquez 13 2 2 2 1 13 4 6 11.08 0.769
Andy Pettitte 11 1/3 2 1 1 1 5 5 11 7.15 1.412
Sergio Mitre 9 1/3 2 0 0 1 7 3 9 11.57 1.286
Total 87 15 6 4 8 70 33 93 5.07 1.448

Of the 15 starts since May 9, only six have met the loose criteria of a quality start (at least six innings and no more than three earned runs). Ironically, Javier Vazquez has been the only Yankee starter to record two quality starts (as well as two wins, although one was in relief), with the remaining four permanent members of the rotation each recording only one. From those six quality starts, the Yankees earned four victories: in one, the bullpen blew a lead (vs. Boston on May 18), while in the other, the Yankees were shutout(vs. Detroit on May 12). Of course, that means the Yankees were only able to win one of the other nine “non quality” outings.

A.J. Burnett’s May 9 outing against the Red Sox (8ER 4 1/3 IP), which was the start of the current downturn, was the worst outing that the Yankees had to endure. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much worse than his May 19 start against the Rays (6ER, 6 1/3 IP), which also placed the Yankees in an early hole against a division rival.

Burnett hasn’t been the only culprit. More surprising have been the two meltdowns of the usually reliable C.C. Sabathia. In key battles against fellow aces Justin Verlander and Johan Santana, Sabathia yielded six runs in each game, effectively giving the Yankees little chance in either game. (more…)

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On Saturday, May 8, the Yankees were flying high after routing the Boston Red Sox 14-3 at Fenway Park. The resounding victory pushed the Yankees’ record to 21-8 and moved the team to within one-half game of the Rays. Since then, however, the Yankees have been in a free fall, compiling the league’s worst record over the last 15 games at 5-10. Making matters worse, the Rays (10-5) and Red Sox (10-5) share the league’s top record over the same time period. As a result, the Yankees now stand 5 ½ games from first place and only two games ahead of fourth place.

Over the course of the day, we’ll take a look at the reasons why the Yankees have struggled so mightily. This installment begins that process by examining the offense.

Offensive Statistics From May 9 to May 23
(Sorted by Usual Spot in the Lineup, excludes pitchers)

Player PA R HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS WPA
Derek Jeter 72 5 0 5 0.224 0.278 0.269 0.547 -0.362
Brett Gardner 70 9 1 4 0.219 0.286 0.297 0.583 -0.684
Mark Teixeira 68 8 2 10 0.213 0.294 0.344 0.638 -0.416
Alex Rodriguez 66 11 4 13 0.317 0.379 0.567 0.946 0.590
Robinson Cano 65 6 0 7 0.312 0.354 0.410 0.764 0.183
Jorge Posada 24 3 1 2 0.450 0.542 0.750 1.292 0.243
Nick Swisher 39 8 1 1 0.303 0.410 0.424 0.835 -0.216
Marcus Thames 36 3 1 6 0.269 0.444 0.423 0.868 0.478
Francisco Cervelli 48 6 0 7 0.275 0.348 0.400 0.748 0.035
Randy Winn 42 2 0 4 0.229 0.333 0.286 0.619 -0.428
Juan Miranda 27 6 2 5 0.261 0.370 0.652 1.023 -0.116
Kevin Russo 10 1 0 3 0.333 0.400 0.444 0.844 0.274
Ramiro Pena 17 3 0 2 0.313 0.353 0.313 0.665 -0.127
Greg Golson 5 0 0 0 0.400 0.400 0.400 0.800 -0.061
Total 589 71 12 69 0.271 0.349 0.401 0.750  

Injuries have obviously played a role in the Yankees demise. On offense, the collective impact of losing Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson and Jorge Posada has taken a toll, which was further compounded by more short-term injuries to Nick Swisher and Marcus Thames. However, injuries alone do not explain the team’s poor record over the last two weeks. After all, the Yankees should have enough star power to at least partly compensate for even three key losses, especially when you consider that two replacements, Marcus Thames and Juan Miranda, have combined for a line of .265/.419/.530 in 62 PAs.

Over the last 15 games, the Yankees real problem has not been who wasn’t in the lineup, but rather the poor performance of the remaining all stars who have been playing. In particular, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira have really struggled; Jeter for the entire month and Teixeira since hitting three home runs against Boston on May 8.

Jeter’s anemic line of .224/.278/.269 over the last 15 games has been particularly concerning because of how poorly he has looked at the plate. In addition to swinging at an inordinate number of pitches out of the strike zone (32.3%), Jeter has also posted an alarming groundball rate (4.1:1), which has come at the expense of the number of line drives (16.4%). (more…)

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In a blow to the NFL’s increasing attempt to establish itself as a cartel, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that upheld the league’s right to execute marketing and licensing agreements as a single entity.

The Court’s ruling was prompted by a lawsuit initiated by American Needle Inc., an Illinois-based company that lost its contract to make NFL licensed hats when the league entered into an exclusive agreement with Reebok International. American Needle’s lawsuit argued that the NFL’s licensing scheme ran afoul of antitrust laws that prohibit curtailment of competition, but that argument was rejected by the federal courts. In overturning the dismissal and remanding the case back to the lower court, the Supreme Court also effectively rejected the idea that sports leagues can avoid antitrust regulations by organizing unified entities to conduct business operations.

Although NFL teams have common interests such as promoting the NFL brand, they are still separate, profit-maximizing entities, and their interests in licensing team trademarks are not necessarily aligned.  – Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens

While renewed exposure to the American Needle litigation is concern enough, the bigger blow to the NFL, and leagues like the NBA and NHL who submitted briefs in support of the NFL, is the decision now limits the latitude with which it can make unilateral decisions. Had the Supreme Court upheld the lower bench’s favorable ruling, there was some talk that the NFL would use the decision as a legal launching pad for circumventing the collective bargaining process. Instead, the NFLPA will undoubtedly use the Supreme Court’s opinion as added leverage in its pending battle with the league’s owners.

As for MLB, the ruling is not as relevant because the sport enjoys much broader antitrust exemptions. Ironically, MLB might actually benefit from the ruling it if winds up hampering the negotiating power of other sports leagues, which compete with baseball for both fan share and corporate partnerships. In the meantime, baseball gets to enjoy being on the sidelines as the NFL heads toward a potentially disastrous labor war.

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The Yankees wrapped up an abysmal Sunday-to-Sunday period with an embarrassing Subway Series loss to what had been a struggling Mets team. By going 2-6 since last Sunday’s melt down against the Twins, the Yankees have gone into a free fall and dropped out of the AL East division race and into a wild card morass.

The Yankees had no answer for Jason Bay, who went 6-6 with two HRs over the final two games of the Subway Series (Photo: AP).

The Yankees were hoping C.C. Sabathia would help salvage the series and the week, but the ace lefty was in trouble from the first inning, mostly because of poor fastball command. In the second inning, a two-out, two-run hit by Alex Cora and a two-run homer by Jason Bay essentially salted the game away. While Sabathia struggled over his five innings, giving up six runs in the process, Mets’ ace lefty Johan Santana kept the Yankees bats quiet until the top of seventh inning. In that inning, Francisco Cervelli plated a run with a single that just missed hitting off the left field foul pole, but no further damage was done. The Yankees finally mounted a more sustained threat in the eighth inning, when they knocked Santana from the game with the bases loaded and two outs, but Pedro Feliciano put out that fire by getting Robinson Cano to pop out to second base.

Much like in the Tampa Bay series, the Yankees roused themselves in the ninth after trailing for most of the night. The rally forced Jerry Manuel to call on closer Francisco Rodriguez one night after he recorded a five out save. With the score now 6-2, Krod entered the game with runners on a first and third and one out. The first batter he faced was Derek Jeter, who doubled home a run on a hanging curveball. Rodriquez then retired Gardneron a ground ball to third, although the call could have gone either way. Mark Teixeira extended the game by reaching on a Baltimore chop base hit, setting the stage for a classic Arod vs. Krod battle. Heading into the AB, Arod had only been 2 for 16 with nine strikeouts against Krod, but the Mets closer still pitched carefully to the Yankee slugger. After falling behind 3-1, however, Arod just missed a fastball down the middle and a changeup on the outside corner, fouling both off instead of driving them into the gap or, even better, into the seats. Then, Krod spun a curve on 3-2, but the change of speeds fooled Arod, who swung through the pitch to end the ballgame.

For the Mets, the Subway Series victory not only provided two much needed victories, but also offered several positive signs for the team’s future. In Hisanori Takahashi, who pitched an excellent ballgame on Friday, the Mets may have discovered another reliable starter to complement Santana and Mike Pelfrey. On offense, Jason Bay, David Wright and Jose Reyes all contributed to the final two victories; if that trio can get hot at the same time, the Mets should be able to score their fair share of runs. In particular, Jason Bay had a monster final two games, going 6-6 with two HRs, five runs scored and three RBIs. If Bay can really get hot, his bat could help carry the Mets over a long stretch, which would further take pressure off Wright and Reyes.

Meanwhile, the Yankees leave Citi Field as the more beleaguered team in New York. In addition to being exposed because of numerous injuries, both Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira have continued to struggle mightily, particularly with runners in scoring position. Over the last week alone, both hitters’ failures to come through in the clutch contributed at least four of the team’s six losses. In addition, the pitching staff has also been ineffective. Ironically, over the last 10 games, only Javier Vazquez has pitched consistently well (although a poor consolation, the poor performances by Hughes and Sabathia against the Mets actually give more credibility to Vazquez’ excellent outing on Friday).

Undoubtedly, the Yankees have started to succumb to the pressure of being shorthanded. At 5-10 in the last 15 games, however, it is time to stop saying the Yankees have played well despite injuries. Instead, the truth is they have failed to step up despite having several big names to pick up the slack. Most of the blame goes on the players, like Jeter and Teixeira whose struggles have limited the offense, but some is also reserved for the manager. Over the Yankees’ 15 game slump, several of the losses have been abetted by very poor lineup construction and game strategy. Without a manager to help guide them through a difficult period, the players will either have to step up their performance in Minnesota, or the team will take a further step back in the division.

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The second game of the Subway Series features a match-up of each team’s best young starter. The more heralded Phil Hughes has finally begun to show the promise that led him to be considered one of the best prospects in the game, while the more established Mike Pelfrey has bounced back from a disappointing 2009 season to more resemble the pitcher who proved doubters wrong in 2008.

Both pitchers come into the game with five victories, but Hughes has been the more impressive of the two, posting an ERA three-quarters lower despite pitching in the American League East. Still, the Mets have to be excited about Pelfrey’s re-emergence. Like Hughes, Pelfrey’s improvement as a starter has stemmed from increased confidence in and command of the four seamer.

The key for Hughes will be using the aggressiveness of the Mets hitters along with the spacious Citi Field outfield to his advantage. Expect a heavy dose of fastballs early and then the gradual introduction of his cutter and curve. In his last start against Boston, Hughes gave up a pair of homers on the cutter, so he’ll have to work extra hard to make sure he gets the pitch in on the hands of the few left handed hitters that the Mets have.

Pelfrey’s biggest challenge will be making sure he keeps his pitch count down by attacking the front and back of the Yankees lineup. The Mets desperately need innings from Pelfrey, so even five runs of shutout ball probably won’t be much help.

The only change to the Mets lineup is the addition of Luis Castillo in the two hole, while the Yankees only adjustment is Randy Winn in left field. With both teams struggling to drive in runners from scoring position over the last few games (and over a longer period for the Mets), the first team to capitalize on a rally could gain a decided edge, especially if both pitchers are on top of their game.

While the Yankees simply need to keep winning because, well, they’re the Yankees, the Mets are teetering on the edge of having their season blow up. Jerry Manuel’s job could very well depend on the talented arms of Pelfrey and Johan Santana tomorrow, so there could be a sense of added urgency. Whether that inspires the struggling Mets, or only tightens the noose around their neck remains to be seen.

vs. Mike Pelfrey PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Derek Jeter SS 4 0.333 0.333 0.667 0 0
Brett Gardner CF 3 0.667 0.667 0.667 0 0
Mark Teixeira 1B 13 0.308 0.308 0.385 0 2
Alex Rodriguez 3B 6 0.500 0.667 0.500 0 1
Robinson Cano 2B 6 0.167 0.167 0.333 0 1
Nick Swisher RF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Francisco Cervelli C 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Randy Winn LF 10 0.100 0.100 0.200 0 1
Phil Hughes P 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
  45 0.262 0.289 0.357 0 5
             
vs. Phil Hughes PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Jose Reyes SS 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Luis Castillo 2B 1 0.000 1.000 0.000 0 0
Jason Bay LF 6 0.167 0.167 0.167 0 0
Ike Davis 1B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
David Wright 3B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Angel Pagan CF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Rod Barajas C 2 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Jeff Francoeur RF 1 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Mike Pelfrey P 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 10 0.111 0.200 0.111 0 0

 

Yankees vs. Mets    
Season: 2010 Season: 2009 Season: 2008 All-Time
TIED: 1-0 NYY: 5-1 NYM: 4-4 NYY: 43-30

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For most of the early season, the Yankees had been winning every game except the ones started by Javier Vazquez. Now, Vazquez has recorded the last two Yankee wins. As John Sterling would say (over and over again), you just can’t predict baseball.

Jose Reyes watches Alex Cora's errant toss fly over his head into center field. The seventh inning error helped the Yankees score their only two runs of the game (Photo: AP).

The story of the game for the Yankees was the precision pitching of Vazquez. With the exception of his strange refusal to throw strikes to Alex Cora, whom he walked twice, Vazquez cut through the Mets lineup like a knife through butter. Over one stretch of retiring eight consecutive batters from the first inning until the end of the third, Vazquez only needed to throw 23 pitches. The combination of throwing first pitch strikes and having the aggressive Mets hitters swing early in the count allowed Vazquez to coast through 4 1/3 innings before surrendering his first hit on a blooper into shallow center by Angel Pagan. In total, Vazquez only needed 70 pitches, 46 of which were strikes, to get through six innings.

The reason Vazquez was only able to last six innings in the game was because the Yankees had fallen beneath their injury quota and someone needed to pick up the slack. While bunting in the top of the seventh, Vazquez pinched his finger against the bat and wound up having to leave the game. Before falling victim to that misfortune, the Yankees benefitted from a bit of good luck earlier in the inning when a throwing error by second baseman Cora set the stage for a two run double by Kevin Russo, who was making his first major league start. Russo eventually advanced to third on Vazquez fateful bunt, but was stranded when Derek Jeter grounded out weakly to short and Mark Teixeira flew out to center following a Brett Gardner walk

The Yankees needed a little bit of help from the Mets defense because they were unable to cash in on several scoring opportunities throughout the course of the game. In both the third and fourth innings, the Yankees put runners on second and third with one out, but each time Mets’ starter Hisanori Takahashi responded with a strikeout (Jeter and Swisher being the respective victims) before closing the door on the inning. Aside from those two jams, Takahashi was almost as effective as Vazquez. The more disciplined Yankee lineup forced Takahasi to throw 100 pitches (73 strikes) in his six innings, but the Mets’ lefty, who was making his first major league start, left the game unscathed when he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the sixth.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Yankee bullpen was forced into duty because of the injury to Vazquez. Girardi did his usual mixing and matching with David Robertson and Damaso Marte before eventually settling on Joba Chamberlain to pitch out of a first and second jam with only one out. The reason the Mets were able to advance their first runner to second base was because Francisco Cervelli returned Cora’s favor by committing a throwing error of his own on a dribbler in front of the plate by Ike Davis.  Despite pitching behind in the count, Chamberlain pitched out of trouble by freezing David Wright on a 3-2 fastball and then getting Angel Pagan to swing at a 3-2 slider in the dirt. (more…)

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Over the past several years, the Subway Series has usually featured two teams on divergent paths. When the Yankees have been riding high, the Mets have usually been down in the dumps, and vice versa. This time, however, both teams come limping into the showdown.

The Subway Series is always important for both teams (although much more for their fans), but this time around, the relative struggles of each team has given it added significance. The Yankees’ main concern is getting back on a winning track so the Rays don’t run and hide. The Mets, however, could be playing for their manager’s job. Should the Yankees sweep, many have speculated that Jerry Manuel could be fired.

For most of the season, Javier Vazquez has been the Yankees sore thumb, but now he is being called upon to be a stopper. After a strong start in Detroit and a relief victory against Boston, Vazquez seeks to make further progress in what so far has been a disappointing season. With the offense depleted by injuries and the rest of the starters suffering their first hiccup of the season, Vazquez’ performance has ceased to be a luxury, so any step back could be a considerable blow.

The Mets, meanwhile, have been teetering on the brink of oblivion. Three-fifths of their rotation has been sidelined by either injury or poor performance, while hitters up and down the lineup have struggled to produce. In particular, the triumvirate of Reyes, Francoeur and Bay has failed to meet expectations, which has caused the offense to stagnate. David Wright has also come under constant criticism despite being the team’s best offensive player. While his 55 strikeouts have been staggering, Wright has essentially become the whipping boy for team-wide failure (ala Arod in the past).

The Yankees have been playing a National League lineup for much of the past 10 games, so tonight’s lineup doesn’t represent the usual drop off that the team has suffered in an NL park. The addition of Kevin Russo in the eighth slot is a new wrinkle, but otherwise the Yankees will rely on their core group of stars to handle Japanese import Hisanori Takahashi, who throws everything but the kitchen sink.

So, with both teams hungry for a win, it will be interesting to see if the extra scrutiny of the series tightens the noose around each team, or helps them shake off their recent doldrums.

vs. Hisanori Takahashi PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Derek Jeter SS 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Brett Gardner CF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Mark Teixeira 1B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Alex Rodriguez 3B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Robinson Cano 2B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Nick Swisher RF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Francisco Cervelli C 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Kevin Russo LF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Javier Vazquez P 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
vs. Javier Vazquez PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Jose Reyes SS 14 0.231 0.286 0.385 0 0
Alex Cora 2B 22 0.381 0.409 0.429 0 1
Jason Bay LF 13 0.167 0.231 0.167 0 0
Ike Davis 1B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
David Wright 3B 9 0.375 0.444 0.875 1 2
Angel Pagan CF 3 0.333 0.333 0.667 0 0
Rod Barajas C 16 0.133 0.188 0.133 0 1
Jeff Francoeur 5 0.400 0.400 1.000 1 4
Hisanori Takahashi P 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 82 0.273 0.293 0.416 2 8
Yankees vs. Mets
Season: 2010 Season: 2009 Season: 2008 All-Time
TIED: 0-0 NYY: 5-1 NYM: 4-4 NYY: 42-30

Interleague Facts and Figures

  • At 133-95, the Yankees have the best record in interleague games.
  • Derek Jeter (303) and Alex Rodriguez (253) have the most hits in interleague history.
  • Jeter has also scored the most runs (171) in interleague, while Arod has had the most RBIs (163).

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Long before interleague matchups, the Yankees and Mets used to play a somewhat annual exhibition known as the Mayor’s Trophy Game. The popularity of the game, which was played to benefit the city’s Amateur Baseball Federation, ebbed and flowed from the time it was inaugurated in 1946 (as a three way series involving the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers) until the last Yankees vs. Mets matchup in 1983 (the two teams also played a home-and-home series before the starts of the 1989 and 1990 seasons, but those games were not dubbed the “Mayor’s Trophy”).

New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner displays the "Mayor's Trophy" along side Dodger manager Walter Alston and Yankee manager Casey Stengel before the annual exhibition on May 23 1957. With the Dodgers and Giants moving to California, it would be the last Mayor's Trophy contest until the Yankees and Mets revived the tradition in 1963.

By far, the biggest lull in the series took place during the mid-to-late 1970s, when the Yankees were distracted by their own internal sideshows and the Mets were downright awful. During that period, attendance for the game plummeted (to as low as 9,792 in 1978) and interest among the players waned. In fact, the desire to play in the game was so low that it gave rise to perhaps the most infamous event in the Mayor’s Trophy: Graig Nettles’ alleged attempt to literally throw away the 1978 game.

According to Sparky Lyle’s chronicle of the 1978 Yankees, The Bronx Zoo (which is highly recommended reading for any baseball fan), the Yankees veterans grew increasingly restless as that year’s intra-city exhibition went into extra innings. At one point, Lyle recounted, Graig Nettles went up to him and vowed to take matters into his own hands by purposely making an error on the next ball hit his way. And, sure enough, that’s exactly what happened when the Mets’ Ron Hodges opened the 11th inning with a ground ball to third base. Unfortunately for Nettles, despite having a man on second with no outs, the Mets were unable to plate the run, thanks in large part to a great defensive play by Yankees’ second baseman Brian Doyle.

“If I get a ball hit to me, I’m going to let it beat against my chest, and I am going to throw in into the stands.” – Graig Nettles, as quoted in Spark Lyle’s Bronx Zoo

According to Lyle, Doyle was not exactly welcomed back into the dugout after his play helped extend the game. Years later in the November 1999 edition of Baseball Digest, Doyle, who was playing in his first career game at Yankee Stadium, recalled making two diving stops with the bases loaded in that Mayor’s Trophy game, including the one that came after Nettles’ error. “I was trying to show everybody I could play. I was giving 110%,” Doyle recounted, “After my first play, no one congratulated me. I thought, well, I am just doing my job. But after the second one, all of the guys were ragging me. It was pretty funny.”

It may have been funny to some of the Yankees’ players, but you can bet it wasn’t funny to George Steinbrenner, who by all accounts looked at the Mayor’s Trophy Game as a must win. In fact, Lyle’s entire book didn’t amuse the Boss. Regarding his accusation about Nettles, Steinbrenner responded, “Everybody says he’s a buffoon. He’s not a buffoon. He’s one of the least intelligent athletes I ever met”.

The play also wasn’t considered to be funny by many traditionalists in the New York sports media. Dick Young, the dean of sportswriters in the town, raged, “The DAMN THING [referring to Lyle’s characterization of the game] is played for the kids of New York…so they can grow up to be like Graig Nettles and Sparky Lyle…and all the other selfish heros.”

Young further added, “what is more pertinent to the game’s integrity, to the public image, than honest effort, on every play, even in exhibition games.”

Amid the firestorm that the allegation created during Spring Training of 1979, Nettles did issue a public denial. Although he insisted that he did no wrong, Nettles’ response was far from a rebuke of Lyle’s account.

“I never made an error on purpose in my life,” Nettles told the press. “I talked to Sparky about it. He’s my friend. Knowing Sparky, he was joking and it came out wrong.” (more…)

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