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Archive for November 30th, 2010

While the Yankees continue to bicker with their legendary shortstop, the Colorado Rockies have taken a dramatic step to lock up a player who they think will become one.

Tulowitzki wears #2 in honor of Derek Jeter, his boyhood idol.

Yankees’ fans probably first took notice of Troy Tulowitzki back in June 2007, when he went 5-12 in the Rockies’ three game sweep of the Bronx Bombers.  Even as all eyes in that series were taking notice of Tulowitzki, the young shortstop was still fixated on his counterpart in pinstripes. According to Tulowitzki, who wears number two to honor Derek Jeter and used to hang a pitcher of the future Hall of Famer in his locker, the specter of playing the Yankees was a key motivation for making the ballclub out of spring training that season. Before the series, the Rockies’ rookie even bought bottles of Jeter’s cologne, Driven, for all of his teammates, and went so far as to ask for an autograph from the Yankees’ shortstop.

He’s a winner, you know what I mean? Growing up, I always saw the Yankees in the World Series. He was always the guy coming up with the clutch hit. He just seemed like a good leader out there, and a very good player at that.” – Troy Tulowitzki, The New York Times, June 21, 2007

Since he was selected seventh overall in the 2005 draft, Tulowitzki has inspired expectations of greatness. After an impressive rookie campaign in 2007, which was capped by a very strong final two months amid a furious pennant race, it seemed as if all of those predictions were coming to fruition. As a result, the Rockies decided to lock Tulowitzki up to a six year/$31 million deal after the season. Unfortunately, an injury in 2008 set the promising young star back in his development, but by the second half of 2009 (.344/.421/.622), he was back on track to the stardom everyone had been expecting.

In case anyone had forgotten his promise, Tulowitzki put on another second half show in 2010, including a historic September in which he hit 16 HRs and knocked in 40 runs as the Rockies tried in vain to catch the Giants and Padres. Once again, the Rockies responded to their shortstop’s continued emergence with another large contract extension. According to published reports, the new deal will pay Tulowitzki an additional $134 million from 2014 to 2020. When combined with the years remaining on his previous deal, the annual value will end up a shade below $16 million.

Incredibly, some have already characterized the deal as bad for both sides, and even questioned Tulowitzki’s fortitude for not trying to break the bank in free agency after the 2014 season. Although it is true that the 25-year old shortstop likely would have earned a significant amount more by waiting for free agency, it seems absurd to question his decision to not only ensure his family’s financial security for generations to come, but also make it possible to remain in a city that he seemingly enjoys.

From the Rockies standpoint, they are betting that Tulowitzki’s 2009 and 2010 performances are only the beginning of his path toward stardom. It isn’t a stretch to imagine the shortstop as being among the best players in the game by 2014, so preemptively signing him to a new deal could wind up saving the team millions of dollar per season over what they would have had to bid in free agency.

It’s only natural to compare the value of Tulowitzki’s new contract to the amount being sought by Jeter, but the comparison really isn’t fair. For starters, the Rockies’ shortstop was not a free agent, and therefore lacked the leverage that Jeter has now. Secondly, Jeter’s stature in the organization has led his agent to argue that the Yankee legend contributes equity to the team’s brand, something that doesn’t quite exist in Colorado. So, although Tulowitzki’s value on the field should far surpass Jeter’s going forward, it is much too simple to compare each player’s salary on that basis alone.

Tulowitzki’s connection with Jeter makes the juxtaposition of each player’s current situation all the more interesting. With all of the reports about the Yankees looking to hold the line on three additional years for Jeter, don’t doubt for a second that the Rockies desire for an extension wasn’t at least in part due to the expectation that the pinstripers would be a major player for Tulowitzki in free agency. And, even if the thought never occurred to the Rockies, you can bet it has crossed the minds of many Yankees fans who envisioned the talented Tulowitzki as an heir apparent to Jeter. With the signing of this extension, however, that dream has been dashed.

When his10-year deal expires in 2020, Tulowitzki will be a ripe old 36, just as his idol is right now. It remains to be seen how he will measure up to Jeter over the course of his career, but come that time, we could have another dicey negotiation on our hands. Perhaps, if Jeter has time in between crafting his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, he’ll be able to provide Tulowitzki with some advice on how to handle the situation. In the meantime, Jeter is the one who could probably use some words of wisdom. Does anyone have Cal Ripken’s phone number?

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)

The Yankee family has lost yet another member in 2010 with the passing of Gil McDougald at the age of 82.  McDougald, whose 10-year Yankee career included five world championships and eight pennants, was best know for his versatility, a quality that made him a favorite of Casey Stengel, who once called him “the best second baseman, the best third baseman, and best shortstop in the American League”.  

McDougald's unorthodox batting stance didn’t make a good first impression with manager Casey Stengel.

McDougald broke into the majors alongside two other notable New York rookies: Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Although that centerfield duo would reach legendary status, in 1951, the Yankees’ understated swing man was the toast of the town. Not only did he have a better season than both Mantle and Mays, but he also won the American League Rookie of the Year award and became the first freshman to belt a grand slam in the World Series.

The irony of McDougald’s immediate superiority over his Hall of Fame counterparts was just as evident in 1951 as it is now. While Mantle and Mays both inspired predictions of greatness, the only thing McDougald elicited was laughter…literally. His unique batting style, which now would be called an open stance, was often referred to as a “school girl swing”, leading Stengel and several Yankee coaches to doubt his ability to hit major league pitching. After hitting .306 with 14 home runs, however, it was McDougald who had the last laugh. In fact, after hitting the grand slam against the Giants in game five of the World Series, Stengel proudly told AP, “He’s the lousiest looking ball player in the world, but he’s splendid”.

Everything he does looks wrong but it comes out right. He bats funny but he hits like heck. He’s got a peculiar way of throwing but his arm is strong and accurate. He runs like a pacer but he is fast and knows how to run the bases. He’s only a rookie but he’s done as much for me as any of the veterans”. – Yankees manager Casey Stengel, quoted by Joe Reichler of AP, October 10, 1951

Unfortunately, McDougald’s career was also notable for two infamous beanings. On August 3, 1955, he was hit in the left hear by a batting practice line drive off the bat of Bob Cerv. Although the ball caused significant swelling and a severe laceration, the early diagnosis from team doctors was that the injuries weren’t serious. So, after a visit to the hospital for x-rays, McDougald was back on the field only three days later. Eventually, however, the injuries he sustained would lead to a gradual loss of hearing in not only his left ear, but the right as well. By the mid-1970s, McDougald, who was then a coach for the Fordham University baseball team, was almost completely deaf, and remained so until receiving a cochlear implant in 1994. After having his hearing restored, McDougald once again proved his versatility by becoming a tireless advocate for both the hearing-impaired and the cochlear technology capable of helping them.

In the second incident, which took place on May 7, 1957, Indians’ pitcher Herb Score was the victim of a screaming line drive off the bat of McDougald. Only 12 pitches into the game, the Yankees’ short stop sent a rope back to the mound that ricocheted off Score’s right eye toward third base for a 1-5-3 groundout. The young left hander immediately began to bleed profusely from his eye and was eventually carried off the field on a stretcher. McDougald, who along with teammates Yogi Berra and Hank Bauer went to Lakeside Hospital in Cleveland immediately after the game to check on Score’s condition, was so shaken by the incident that he told reporters he would quit baseball if the pitcher went blind. Although Score’s vision was completely restored, he didn’t get back on the mound until the following season and was never effective again. After the 1962 season, Score retired at the age 29.

It’s amazing how many things can go through your mind when a thing like that happens. Before I hit the ground, I thought about being blinded for life, that my teeth were knocked out, that my nose was broken and that something had happened to my tongue”. – Indians left hander Herb Score after being hit in the eye by a line drive, quoted by AP, May 8, 1957

Spending more time with his family was a driving force behind McDougald’s early retirement (Photo: Life).

McDougald’s career also came to a premature end after the 1960 season. His early retirement at age 32 was partly due to his gradual hearing loss, but mostly borne of the desire to spend more time with his family and manage his building maintenance business in New Jersey. After ruminating on the decision since the end of the 1960 World Series, McDougald finally made his announcement upon learning that he would be left unprotected in the upcoming expansion draft. According to the Yankees’ infielder, he didn’t want one of the new teams to waste a selection on him in case he decided to hang it up. It was a typical display of class from a man who had become well known for exhibiting that quality.

McDougald brought more than physical skills to the Yankees. He brought them an extra touch of class, honesty, decency and integrity. He announced his retirement when he did because ‘it was the honorable thing to do’. It was typical of him”. – New York Times columnist Arthur Dailey, December 16, 1960

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