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Archive for the ‘Yankee History’ Category

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

For 16 years, Tampa has been the Yankees’ spring training home, but it still seems like just yesterday when the team’s camp was located down the coast in Ft. Lauderdale. I am sure most fans who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s still reflexively hearken back to those days of yore, while the real old timers’ memories probably take them all the way back to St. Petersburg, where Yankees’ legends from Ruth to Mantle toiled under the Florida sun.

Over the years, spring training has evolved significantly. Once upon a time, it was a pre-season retreat designed to help out-of-shape ballplayers shed the pounds added over the winter. In the early part of the last century, before even reporting to camp, players would often attend spas in places like Hot Springs, where they would purge their bodies of the inequities from the offseason. Then, games would either be played among split squads (in the old days, the camps would be split into teams of veterans and hopeful rookies, the latter often called Yannigans) or against local minor league and college ballclubs. Finally, the teams would barnstorm their way back up north before finally kicking off the regular season.

Today, spring training is more big business than quaint tradition. Thanks to the growing competition between cities in Arizona and Florida (each state now hosts 15 major league clubs), teams have been able to extract sweetheart stadium deals, allowing them to turn the exhibition season into a significant profit center. Still, at the heart of spring training is hope and renewal, as teams begin the long journey that is the baseball season.

The Yankees’ spring history has been a journey all its own. Below is an outline of some significant mileposts along the way.

Yankees’ Spring Training Homes Since 1901

1901-1902: The Orioles of the brand new American League began preparations for their inaugural season in Baltimore, the same city in which they would play their regular season games. Unfortunately, the rainy weather in Baltimore would make for a less than efficient camp and lead to excessive “loafing” by the ball players. In 1902, manager John McGraw took his ball club down to Savannah, GA, where the franchise trained while a member of the National League (before folding at the end of the 1899 season). In the Baltimore Sun, McGraw vowed to have a more productive preseason and proclaimed that there would be “no loafing” this time around.

(more…)

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On January 6, former Yankees relief pitcher Ryne Duren passed away at the age of 81.

Dark glasses and a wild fastball were trademarks of Ryne Duren.

Duren was the original wild thing. Thanks to the combination of a power arm and poor eyesight, the fire balling right hander ranked as one of the most intimidating pitchers in all of baseball, mostly because he often had no idea where the ball was going.

Instead of feeling limited by his poor eyesight, Duren would sometimes use the handicap to his advantage. According to legend, the right hander would fire a “warning shot” by purposely throwing an errant pitch during warmups. Whether intentional or not, seeing Duren, who wore thick-framed glasses that covered his face, pepper the backstop with explosive fastballs had to make the waiting batter think twice about getting too comfortable at the plate.

Ryne Duren likes to fire his first warm-up pitch into the dirt or eight feet above the catcher’s head. Then he squints his thick glasses at Yogi Berra with a puzzled expression that says, ‘Funny, I could have sworn there was a plate around there somewhere.’” – Red Smith, The New York Herald Tribune, November 9, 1958  

Being wild wasn’t an act for Duren. His inability to consistently throw the ball over the plate forced the talented right hander to spend the better part of his 20s in the minor leagues. From 1949 until 1957, when he was acquired by the Yankees from the Athletics, Duren pitched 1,448 1/3 innings in the minors…and walked 1,079 batters along the way! At the start of his career as a 20 year-old with the St. Louis Brown’s Wausau affiliate in the Wisconsin State League, Duren walked 12.1 batters per game, but his impressive fastball, which was rumored to top out over 100mph, ensured that he would be given an extended chance to develop.

Wild Things: Pitchers with the Most BBs and HBPs in 600 or Fewer Innings

Player HBP IP   Player BB IP
Brian Fuentes 47 525   Ryne Duren 392 589.1
Ed Doheny 45 561.2   Grover Lowdermilk 376 590.1
Juan Cruz 43 570.2   Brian Williams 332 595.1
Mike Myers 43 541.2   Juan Cruz 299 570.2
Ryan Rupe 42 476.2   Whitey Moore 292 513.1
Trever Miller 41 502   Mike Cvengros 285 551.1
Ryne Duren 41 589.1   Felix Rodriguez 283 586.1
Johnny Cueto 37 531   Blake Stein 281 475.2
Grover Lowdermilk 37 590.1   Daisuke Matsuzaka 278 585.1
C.J. Nitkowski 36 479   Bucky Brandon 275 590

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Over his lengthy stay in the minors, the wild right hander gradually refined his command, but his greatest strides were made in 1956 with the Orioles’ Vancouver Mounties affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. At Vancouver, Duren shaved two walks per game off his previous season’s total, finally achieving a respectable rate of 3.8. The following year, while pitching for the Yankees’ PCL team in Denver, the emerging right hander improved further to 2.6 walks per game. A promotion to the big leagues was finally within Duren’s grasp.

Lefty O’Doul had me at Vancouver. He taught me not to aim for the center of the plate, but for the corner of the strike zone. So, if I aim for the left corner, say, and the pitch sails to the right, I correct my aim like a rifle site that’s off.” – Ryne Duren, quoted by Brush-Moore Special Writer Ed Nichols on March 13, 1959

In 1954 and 1957, Duren pitched briefly in the majors, but his real breakthrough came with the Yankees in 1958. After opening eyes in Spring Training, Duren made the team, emerged as its top reliever and ended the year with a win and save in the World Series. In addition to making the All Star team, Duren also finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting and 22nd in the MVP tally. Not bad for a pitcher who had toiled for so long in the minors because of his inability to throw strikes.

Duren before a game at Yankee Stadium in 1958 (Photo:AP).

Despite having such a strong season, Duren’s wildness was still evident, but his erratic behavior extended beyond balls and strikes. During the 1958 season, the Yankees new relief ace developed the reputation of being a headhunter. In a game on July 19, 1958, he plunked Kansas City Athletics’ outfielder Bob Cerv immediately after surrendering a three-run homer to Bill Tuttle in the 12th inning of a tie game. In an interview with Kansas City Star writer Joe McGuff, Cerv accused Duren of intentionally targeting him. In the same article, McGuff also wrote about the growing animosity toward Duren that was building around the league and sarcastically suggested, “The American League would do well to assign a fifth umpire to the games that Ryne Duren pitches. The duty would be to count for the knockdowns.”

The American League never took action, but only days later, the Detroit Tigers did. Earlier in the game on July 24, Duren dusted Al Kaline with his first pitch, so when he finally came to the plate three innings later, Paul Foytack exacted revenge. The pitch hit Duren squarely on the left side of the face, leaving him sprawled upon the ground until he could be carried off the field and taken to the hospital. The right hander wound up missing the next 10 days, but, almost as if to let the league now he would not be intimidated, plunked the next to last batter in his first game back. And, for good measure, Duren hit four more batters before the end of the season.

Hitting opposing batters wasn’t Duren’s only problem. In September 1958, he also took a swing at one of his coaches. Unfortunately for Duren, he decided to tangle with Ralph Houk, his former manager in Denver who also happened to be an Army Ranger during World War II. According to published reports, the Major got the better of the brawl, leaving Duren with a bloodied eye and a bruised ego. “Duren can’t drink,” Houk told AP, “He’s a Jekyl and Hyde”.

This shouldn’t happen. You get whiskey slick and then you fight with your own.” – Yankees Manager Casey Stengel, quoted by AP, September 17, 1958

Houk couldn’t have been more right. You see, Duren was an alcoholic whose real battle was not controlling an explosive fastball, but handling his drinking problem. After 1958, Duren had one more dominant season with the Yankees, but thereafter mostly struggled to make an impact. At the same time, his life was also spiraling out of control.

Duren’s final season was in 1965 with the Washington Senators. By that time, he was completely ravaged by alcoholism. So, after a rough outing against the White Sox, he knocked back a few drinks, climbed atop a bridge overlooking the Potomac River and threatened to jump. The police were eventually able to talk him down, but Duren was still far from hitting rock bottom. According to the Los Angeles Times’ Jim Murray, following his subsequent release by the Senators, “[Duren] went from the penthouse to the flophouse. From Yankee Stadium to a mental institution. From World Series checks to raiding his insurance money.” His career was over; his life not too far behind.

The old time Yankees were tough outs. But for Rhino, the real Murders Row lineup consisted of Scotch Rocks, Cutty Water, Vin Rose, Seven Seven, Three Fingers Bourbon and the all-time cleanup hitter, One Martini. Ryne Duren’s dark glasses didn’t scare them all. They hit him like they owned him. Because they did”. – Jim Murray, The Los Angeles Times, July 17, 1978

Ryne Duren not only overcame his addiction, but spent the rest of his life helping others do the same. In addition to directing alcohol education and recovery programs near his hometown in Wisconsin, Duren also told the story of his recovery in two autobiographies, “The Comeback” (1978) and “I Can See Clearly Now” (2003). In 1998, he also helped start Winning Beyond Winning, a foundation dedicated to helping athletes derive physical and psychological benefits from competition.

After years of trying to find the strike zone, Duren finally found himself. Although his contribution as a player was marginal, his impact as a man was significant. Duren’s coke bottle glasses may have been intimidating at one time, but the clearer vision he later developed proved to be the real inspiration.

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

The acquisition of Russell Martin hasn't had most Yankee fans doing handstands.

The New York Yankees are in the unfamiliar position of entering a new year without having made any significant improvements to the team. Although the free agent signings of Russell Martin and Pedro Feliciano are both positive complementary acquisitions, the team’s failure to make a big splash has left it vulnerable to a serious of question marks, one of which will become an exclamation point should Andy Pettitte decide to retire. Patience has been this offseason’s theme, and hopefully its virtue, so instead of looking too far ahead, perhaps it would be better to look back at past acquisitions over the last decade? Below is a list of the major names acquired (re-signings generally excluded) after each season (based on conventional wisdom at the time) along with an assessment of the group’s overall performance.

2009: Javier Vazquez, Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson

Fresh off their 27th World Series championship, the Yankees were far from complacent. The team said goodbye to veteran contributors Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui and replaced them Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson. Cashman also sought to round out what had been a top heavy rotation by acquiring what he hoped was a rejuvenated Javier Vazquez from the Braves. On paper, the Yankees got a little younger, if not better, heading into their title defense.

Until Granderson and hitting coach Kevin Long worked on an adjustment in August, Cashman’s three most significant offseason moves all looked as if they would come up snake eyes. Since returning to the lineup on August 12, however, Granderson posted a line of .261/.356/.564 in his final 192 plate appearances, and then followed that with an OPS above 1.000 in both the ALDS and ALCS. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a “rags to riches” end for either Johnson or Vazquez. After getting off to a poor start, Johnson developed his usually spate of injuries and was eventually shutdown for the season. Meanwhile, Vazquez temporarily rebounded from a poor beginning, but eventually resumed his struggles and ended the season with an ERA+ of 80.

2008: Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett

The Yankees rearmed for 2009 with the signings of Sabathia and Burnett.

After making the playoffs in 12 consecutive seasons, the Yankees finished in third place under rookie manager Joe Girardi in 2008. With high salaries like Jason Giambi and Mike Mussina coming off the books, the Yankees pushed their chips all in and came away with a pair of aces and a wild card.

CC Sabathia’s acquisition was the linchpin, and with the big lefty in the fold, everything fell into place in 2009. Although not as dominant, A.J. Burnett turned in one his finest seasons and teamed with Sabathia and Pettitte to form a three-man rotation throughout the playoffs. Meanwhile, Mark Teixeira was everything the Yankees expected, both with his potent bat and golden glove at first. When all was said and done, the three acquisitions played a monumental part in the Yankees’ return to glory.

2007: Alex Rodriguez* and LaTroy Hawkins

Even though Alex Rodriguez was already a member of the team, the whole production surrounding the opt out made his eventual return seem like a new acquisition. Perhaps distracted by the Rodriquez situation, the Yankees made few other significant additions. LaTroy Hawkins was expected to be a sold bullpen contributor, but after raising the ire Yankees fans by wearing Paul O’Neill’s unretired #21, he struggled mightily and was eventually trade to Houston.

Although Alex Rodriguez had a very strong 2008 campaign, he not only declined from his MVP form in 2007, but also missed 27 games. Still, Arod wasn’t the reason the team missed the playoffs. Instead, it was the failure to strengthen the rotation that did the Yankees in, especially when the team’s reliance on Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy backfired. During the offseason, the Yankees were widely expected to trade for Johan Santana, so the team’s subsequent failure was seen as a repudiation of Cashman’s decision to forgo obtaining the Cy Young lefty from Minnesota. However, one season later, Cashman’s decision would be vindicated.

2006: Andy Pettitte and Kei Igawa

Kei Igawa's press conferences provided a rare opportunity for fans to see him in pinstripes.

In 2006, the Yankees had a powerhouse lineup, but the starting rotation proved rather thin. So, in addition to clearing out a few square pegs like an unhappy Gary Sheffield and Randy Johnson as well as Jaret Wright, the Yankees’ focus for 2007 was centered on acquiring a reliable starter. With the rest of the market both thin and overpriced, the team eventually wound up reuniting with Pettitte, who had left for Houston after the 2003 season, and rolling the dice on Kei Igawa, a move that was at least in part a knee jerk reaction to Boston’s acquisition of the more heralded Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Pettitte, who went 15-9 with a 112 ERA+, was exactly what the Yankees needed in 2007. Unfortunately, the rotation was little improved from the previous year because Mike Mussina suffered through the worst season of his career. What’s more, the signing of Igawa proved to be a colossal bust as the Japanese import was quickly exposed as nothing more than a triple-A talent. The Yankees’ continuing rotation crisis forced them to lure Roger Clemens out of retirement one more time, but even the addition of the 44-year old Rocket wasn’t enough. Not only did the team relinquish the division title for the first time since 1997, but its lack of pitching depth was exposed in the ALDS as the Cleveland Indians knocked the Yankees out of the playoffs in the first round.

2005: Kyle Farnsworth and Johnny Damon

The Yankees won their eighth consecutive A.L. East division title in 2005, but didn’t make it past the Angels in the ALDS. During the decade, the Yankees gradually drifted toward being a lineup of mashers that would compensate for a mediocre pitching staff by bludgeoning other teams, and 2005 was the pinnacle of that trend. Still, the Yankees most significant offseason move was to snatch Johnny Damon from the rival Red Sox and continue to gradually nudge Bernie Williams toward retirement. Damon was an immediate success in pinstripes and eventually wound up providing commensurate value over the entire term of the four-year deal, contrary to initial expectations at the time.

On the pitching side, the Yankees brought in Kyle Farnsworth to take the place of the departing Tom Gordon, who had proven to be an invaluable regular season reliever. The team made no adjustments to the rotation, however, despite its collective failure during the 2005 season. Instead, the Yankees seemed to roll the dice that Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina would rebound from disappointing years, while Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright would enjoy better health in their sophomore seasons in pinstripes. Only Mussina panned out, and the Yankees once again found themselves with a subpar rotation.

2004: Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Tony Womack, and Jaret Wright

Carl Pavano also had little use for his home uniform after the press conference announcing his signing.

The 2004 ALCS collapse to the Red Sox was a cataclysmic event that prompted the Yankees to pretty much replace their entire starting rotation. Javier Vazquez, Jon Lieber and Orlando Hernandez were all jettisoned from the staff in favor of Johnson, Pavano and Wright. Although much was expected from Johnson, the initial reaction to the acquisitions of Wright and Pavano was met with justified scorn. Neither would contribute much to the team over the terms of their contracts, but Pavano’s comical 145 innings over four season earned him a special brand of infamy. Luckily, the 2005 season would be saved by two unheralded acquisitions, Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small, who combined to go 17-3, as well as the emergence of Chien-Ming Wang from the minor leagues.

In 2004, Miguel Cairo had surprisingly strong season, but the Yankees smartly decided not to roll the same dice the following year. Unfortunately, they opted to go with an even worse option by signing Tony Womack, who quickly proved to be one of the more futile players in recent team history. Once again, however, fate played a favorable hand when the promotion of Robinson Cano not only added life to the lineup, but also forced the Yankees to incorporate a player who would eventually emerge as a bonafide star. In the meantime, however, Womack continued to be a drag on the lineup as a left fielder.

Although Johnson led the Yankees with a 17-8 record and a respectable 3.79 ERA, he wasn’t the dominant force that team thought it had acquired. Particularly because of the three brutal free agent signings, the 2004 offseason easily ranks as one of the worst in team history. It would take several seasons for the Yankees to free themselves from the mistakes made in the winter of 2004, which only added insult to the injury of that year’s shocking ALCS.

2003: Tom Gordon, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown

The Yankees lost the 2003 World Series to the Marlins, but the euphoria from winning a dramatic ALCS against the Red Sox almost seemed to override that disappointment. Nonetheless, Brian Cashman wasn’t resting on his laurels, despite having a lineup and pitching staff that both performed well above average. On offense, the Yankees added a perennial masher in Gary Sheffield (even if Cashman’s preference for Vladimir Guerrero would have worked out better in the long run). However, an offseason injury to Aaron Boone added a significant hole at third base, which the Yankees wound up filling with the shocking acquisition of Alex Rodriguez. The idea of adding Arod and Sheffield to a lineup that already included Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui seemed like enough to guarantee a return trip to the World Series…and it should have…except for a late season breakdown in the pitching staff.

In addition to a lineup overhaul, the Yankees also revamped the starting rotation by replacing Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens with Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown. On paper, the swap seemed to favor the Yankees, and the early returns were somewhat positive, but both Brown and Vazquez suffered a myriad of mental and physical breakdowns that quickly made their situation in the Bronx untenable. Both pitchers would contribute in a big way to the team’s game seven debacle in the ALCS and forever be branded as failures in the minds of Yankees fans.

The ALCS collapse also stained Tom Gordon, who had two outstanding regular seasons in pinstripes, and even Rodriguez, who was on his way to being the series MVP before going dormant over the final three games. Because of the team’s demise in the playoffs, the overall contribution of Cashman’s 2003 offseason acquisitions was largely discounted. Collectively, the quartet contributed 18.5 wins above replacement, but it was their high profile failures in the ALCS that would be remembered.

2002: Todd Zeile, Hideki Matsui, Jon Lieber and Jose Contreras

After the 2002 season, the Yankees were feeling the unfamiliar sting of an early exit from the playoffs. It was hard to get too worked up, however, because the team recorded 103 wins and outperformed statistically in just about every phase of the game. So, it seemed as if only minor additions would be needed.

The verdict on the Hideki Matsui signing was two thumbs up.

Along with the addition of some depth in Todd Zeile and a reclamation project like Jon Lieber, the Yankees turned to the international market for reinforcements. Both Hideki Matsui and Jose Contreras were widely acclaimed as stars in their respective countries of Japan and Cuba, so much was expected from the two veterans. Matsui was always ticketed for the Bronx, but the pursuit of Contreras caused the first real resumption of hostilities between the Yankees and Red Sox when Boston General Manager Theo Epstein reportedly trashed his hotel room after learning of the Yankees’ signing. Although the conquest of Contreras also prompted Boston CEO Larry Lucchino to refer to the Yankees as the Evil Empire, it was the signing of Matsui, who hit a key double off Pedro Martinez in the fateful eighth inning of the 2003 ALCS, that would torment the Red Sox for years to come.

2001: Robin Ventura, Steve Karsay, Rondell White, Jason Giambi and David Wells

The Yankees responded to a shocking and bitter walk off defeat in the 2001 World Series by making several significant changes to the team. The most notable was the replacement of Tino Martinez with Jason Giambi, who at the time was one of the most feared hitters in the game. The Yankees also compensated for the retirement of Paul O’Neill and Scott Brosius with the signings of White and Ventura, respectively, before rounding out the bullpen and rotation with the addition of Karsay and the return of Wells.

With the exception of White, all of Cashman’s moves worked according to plan, and the team went onto to an impressive 103-win season, despite getting eliminated by the Angels in 2002 ALDS. Over the long term, however, the addition were mostly stop gap moves, with the exception of Giambi, whose declining skills and defensive limitations (not to mention steroid revelations) eventually made his contract an albatross.

2000: Mike Mussina

The Yankees seldom had “too much pitching” during his tenure, but Mike Mussina was always an anchor of the staff.

In a classic case of the rich getting richer, the three-time defending world champions responded to that season’s sudden decline of David Cone by replacing him with Mussina, one of the game’s best pitchers. The addition of Mussina helped give the Yankees a formidable front-line rotation in 2001 and provided the team with an anchor during a turbulent decade that featured more than its share of mediocre starting pitchers. Unfortunately, Mussina never won a World Series with the Yankees, but his 123-72 record over eight seasons in pinstripes is testament to the quality of the signing.

It’s hard to pinpoint which offseason from the recent past is most similar to the current one. In many ways, by putting all of their eggs in the Cliff Lee basket, the strategy resembles the team’s approach with Mussina after the 2000 season. Would the Yankees have returned to the World Series in 2001 and 2003 without the former Orioles ace? And, more importantly, will they go back soon without Lee?

Then again, with the Yankees anxiously awaiting a final decision from Andy Pettitte, this offseason could wind up resembling the 2006 winter when the veteran lefty’s return gave the Yankees’ rotation enough rope to hang on until a midseason reinforcement. We know it won’t end up looking like the treasure troves acquired after the 2003 and 2008 campaigns, but by the same token, Cashman’s philosophy of patience should help avoid the long-term negative ramifications from an offseason similar to 2004.

Unlike all of the offseasons mentioned above, the one difference from this year is there are still three more months until Opening Day. Although very few attractive free agents remain, there is still the possibility of a trade. From a historical perspective, Yankees’ fans just have to hope that if such a transaction occurs, it will turn out to be more like another Arod trade than the one for Randy Johnson.

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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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From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, Thanksgiving in Yankeeland usually meant waiting around to see if George Steinbrenner was going to make a managerial change. Like a conflicted hunter standing over the neck of his Thanksgiving Turkey with an axe, the Yankees’ owner would often take all winter to make a final decision. Perhaps the Boss enjoyed serving up a little humble pie over the holiday?

World Champs all bundled up for the 1996 Thanksgiving Day Parade.

More recently, however, a Yankee Thanksgiving has meant having a float in the Macy’s parade down Fifth Avenue. Although Bucky Dent rode on a parade float the November after winning the 1978 World Series MVP, the first reported instance of several players appearing under a team banner occurred after the Yankees’ return to glory in 1996. That year, Joe Torre and most of the team’s players, including Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Wade Boggs and Tino Martinez, waved to the holiday crowd from atop the Daily News’ float. Unfortunately, that Thanksgiving also happened to be one of the coldest in recent history. How cold was it? It was so cold that O’Neill was reduced to a childlike figure, constantly asking Michael Kay, who along with John Sterling accompanied the team, if the end of the parade route was near (as relayed by Kay on his radio show).

Joe Torre and Mayor Giuliani accompany the World Series trophy on Thanksgiving 1999.

In 1998, only Joe Torre, El Duque and David Cone made the trip to Herald Square. Perhaps the memories of the cold two years earlier kept the rest of the team away? Then, in 1999, the Yankees presence in the parade was reduced to Torre riding along with New York City major Rudolph Giuliani. Torre eventually became a semi-regular at the event, appearing even in years when the Yankees didn’t win, but the team would be represented again in 2000 and 2009 as well.

Sadly, there is no championship for which to give thanks this season. Maybe, to help fill the void, the Yankees can find it in their hearts to reach a quick settlement with both Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera (just like the George Steinbrenner did with Bernie Williams on the eve of Thanksgiving in 1998)? On a day of thanks, re-signing the team’s two legendary free agents would make for a perfect celebration. 

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Last night was the deadline for major league teams to offer salary arbitration to their ranked (type-A and type-B) free agents, and a surprising 35 of the 64 eligible players were extended the invitation. The most active teams were the Rays and Blue Jays, who respectively offered seven and four players arbitration. With draft picks at stake for those free agents who sign elsewhere, and inflated annual salaries awaiting those who remain, you can bet that most teams will be sitting on pins and needles over the next week as the players decide whether to accept or reject the offer. The Yankees won’t have to endure any suspense, however, because their lone offer was made to Javier Vazquez, who has already agreed to decline the invitation.

The Yankees have been involved in 21 cases since the first arbitration hearings were held after the 1973 season. Over the last decade, however, the team has been much more reticent to engage in the process. Since beating Mariano Rivera in 2000, the Yankees have gone to a hearing with only one other player: Chien Ming Wang in 2008.

All-Time Arbitration History, By Team

Team Won Lost Total Win %
Rays 5 0 5 100%
Phillies 7 1 8 88%
Orioles 11 3 14 79%
Red Sox 12 5 17 71%
Dodgers 14 6 20 70%
Nats/Expos 22 10 32 69%
Cubs 4 2 6 67%
Rockies 2 1 3 67%
White Sox 14 8 22 64%
Braves 15 9 24 63%
Blue Jays 5 3 8 63%
Angels 15 10 25 60%
Cardinals 9 6 15 60%
Reds 18 13 31 58%
Yankees 12 9 21 57%
Astros 8 6 14 57%
Mets 11 9 20 55%
Twins 15 13 28 54%
Indians 7 6 13 54%
Padres 10 9 19 53%
Mariners 10 9 19 53%
Rangers 10 9 19 53%
Pirates 9 9 18 50%
Brewers 2 2 4 50%
Diamondbacks 1 1 2 50%
Athletics 17 18 35 49%
Royals 9 10 19 47%
Marlins 3 5 8 38%
Giants 2 4 6 33%
Tigers 6 14 20 30%

Source: bizofbaseball.com

The Yankees rank in the middle of the pack in terms of both the number of cases heard as well as winning arguments made. However, the team has had several high profile cases that were particularly noteworthy, particularly for the reaction they elicited from owner George M. Steinbrenner III.

In 1980, Rick Cerone had a breakthrough season in his first year with the Yankees. After finishing seventh in the MVP voting, the veteran catcher asked for a raise that would more than quadruple his salary to $440,000. The Yankees countered with a more modest increase to $350,000, but the arbitrator sided with Cerone. Following the decision, Steinbrenner lambasted Cerone for being disloyal, but the embattled catcher defended his victory by saying he was more than willing to compromise at the midpoint. At the time, Cerone’s award was the second highest in the process’ history, trailing only the $700,000 salary won by Bruce Sutter in his 1980 hearing with the Cubs.

I don’t enjoy a young guy off one good year who was plucked out of Toronto showing so little regard for me. It’s not what I am looking for in my kind of guy. I don’t think Tommy John would do that, or Reggie Jackson or Lou Piniella.” – George M. Steinbrenner III, quoted by the New York Times News Service, February 16, 1981

In 1987, Don Mattingly, who was coming off one the best seasons of his career, asked for a record salary of $1,975,000, which not only turned out to be the largest arbitration award to that point, but also the highest salary ever paid by the Yankees. Once again, the Boss was not happy about making history.

The monkey is clearly on his back…I’ll expect him to carry us to a World Series championship…He’s like all the rest of them now. He can’t play little Jack Armstrong of Evansville, Indiana. He goes into the category of modern-player-with-agent looking for the bucks. Money means everything to him”. – George M. Steinbrenner III, quoted by the New York Times News Service, February 18, 1987

The organization wasn’t the only side to come away from the arbitration process with a sour taste. Before throwing a pitch for the Yankees, Jim Abbott, who was acquired before the 1993 season, first had to do battle with his future employer in the hearing room. Despite having a 2.77 ERA with the Angels in 1992, Abbott was coming off a 7-15 record, which in a less enlightened time probably made his request to double his salary seem a little obscene. After Abbott lost his hearing, Murray Chass of the New York Times wrote that the left hander “wasn’t pleased about the decision”, which only compounded his less than enthusiastic reaction to being traded to the Yankees in the first place.

In 1996, the displeasure was back on the Yankees side when Bernie Williams won a whopping 650% raise from the team. The Yankees had been hoping to negotiate a long-term deal instead, but with Williams and his agent Scott Boras already looking ahead to free agency, the team had little choice but to take things one year at a time.

Continuing a trend, the Yankees also had difficultly inking their other young core players to long-term deals. In 1999, the team lost arbitration hearings to both Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, and then the following season took their closer to the table once again. The Yankees prevailed over Rivera the second time, but still wound up handing out the largest arbitration-derived salary in team history.

The most interesting element of the 2000 hearing with Rivera was the arguments made on both sides. Rivera’s camp suggested that the closer was at least as valuable as Jeter, who had signed a $10 million deal earlier in the winter. The Yankees, however, countered by suggesting that Rivera added less to the bottom line, citing the fewer number of internet hits and derivative revenue that he generated compared to Jeter.

The Yankees offered a compelling argument to support that claim, noting that from 1997-99, Jeter merchandise sales at Yankee Stadium totaled $2,280,000, compared with $57,000 for Rivera. Over the same three-year period, Jeter received 727,196 hits on the team’s Web site, compared with 68,974 for Rivera.” – Anthony McCarron, New York Daily News Sportswriter, February 19, 2000

I wonder what Casey Close (Jeter’s agent) thinks about that argument now?

Complete History of Yankees’ Arbitration Cases, 1974-Present

Year Player Ask Offer $ Increase % Increase
1974 Wayne Granger* $46,000 $42,000 -$1,500 -3.2%
1974 Gene Michael $65,500 $55,000 $0 0.0%
1974 Duke Sims $56,000 $50,000 $0 0.0%
1974 Bill Sudakis* $30,000 $25,000 $10,000 50.0%
1981 Rick Cerone* $440,000 $350,000 $340,000 340.0%
1982 Bobby Brown $175,000 $90,000 $10,000 12.5%
1982 Ron Davis $575,000 $300,000 $100,000 50.0%
1982 Dave Revering $325,000 $250,000 NA  NA
1987 Don Mattingly* $1,975,000 $1,700,000 $600,000 43.6%
1988 Mike Pagliarulo $625,000 $500,000 $450,000 257.1%
1993 Jim Abbott $3,500,000 $2,350,000 $500,000 27.0%
1993 John Habyan $830,000 $600,000 $100,000 20.0%
1993 Randy Velarde* $1,050,000 $600,000 $690,000 191.7%
1994 Pat Kelly* $810,000 $575,000 $650,000 406.3%
1994 Kevin Maas $490,000 $425,000 $170,000 66.7%
1994 Terry Mulholland $4,050,000 $3,350,000 $700,000 26.4%
1996 Bernie Williams* $3,000,000 $2,555,000 $2,600,000 650.0%
1999 Derek Jeter* $5,000,000 $3,200,000 $4,250,000 566.7%
1999 Mariano Rivera* $4,250,000 $3,000,000 $3,500,000 466.7%
2000 Mariano Rivera $9,250,000 $7,250,000 $3,000,000 70.6%
2008 Chien Ming Wang $4,600,000 $4,000,000 $3,510,500 717.2%

*Denotes player won the arbitration hearing.
Source: bizofbaseball.com and baseball-reference.com

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

Derek Jeter’s contract negotiations have easily been the most widely discussed topic in Yankeeland, despite there really not being much news to report. For some reason, several media types have used the off-season lull to repeatedly denigrate Jeter to the point of portraying him as a charity case (e.g., Joel Sherman’s “I am Derek Jeter, pay me” scoff in today’s New York Post). One hopes this sentiment is merely an example of the human condition’s disposition toward kicking a man when he is down, and not evidence of the Yankees’ brass negotiating through the media. In any event, the contract talks with Jeter have proceeded slowly, which really shouldn’t be a surprise considering that it’s in the best interest of both parties to make a deal (i.e., there isn’t a third-party threat for either side that might push the negotiations along).

Since inking a deal with Jeter after the draft in 1992, it hasn't been easy for the Yankees to get his signature on a contract.

Instead of beating the same drum by looking at Jeter’s negotiations in the present day, perhaps it might be more constructive to take a look back at how the two sides have dealt with each other when talking contract in the past? So, without further ado, following is a summary of the financial path that Jeter and the Yankees have taken to reach the current situation.

In 1991, the Yankees engaged in a protracted and expensive contract negotiation with first round draft pick Brien Taylor, so it was somewhat of a surprise when the team came to a quick resolution with Jeter, who was drafted with the sixth overall pick in 1992. Only a few weeks after being selected, the young shortstop from Kalamazoo agreed to an $800,000 signing bonus just one day after his 18th birthday. The award was almost half of what was paid to Taylor.

We reached a number and didn’t feel we needed to go any higher. I hope Derek understands the significant effort this organization made to recognize his fine rookie year. But he and his agents went higher than we wanted to go and we couldn’t get it done.” – General Manager Bob Watson, New York Daily News, March 6, 1997

 In his 1996 rookie campaign, Jeter earned the minimum salary of $130,00, which turned out to be a relative bargain when the young shortstop not only won the rookie of the year award, but also helped lead the team to its first World Series championship in 18 years. Not surprisingly, the Jeter camp was in search of a sizeable raise the next season, but the Yankees initial offer of $450,000 was rejected. After gradually inching up the offer during the negotiation process, the Yankees abruptly decided to renew Jeter at the $150,000 minimum when he and agent Casey Close refused to budge from their demands. Cooler heads prevailed, however, and after a personal meeting between the shortstop and owner George Steinbrenner, an amicable deal was reached. Jeter was given a base salary of $540,000 (just $10,000 below what he was reportedly seeking) with $25,000 in combined performance bonuses ($10,000 of which was obtained).

If you get renewed, only one side agrees. I think it was big that we both agreed on it. I appreciate it.” – Derek Jeter, New York Times, March 11, 1997

In 1997, Derek Jeter had a nearly identical season to his rookie campaign, but the Yankees weren’t feeling as flexible with their young stars that offseason. While GM Brian Cashman, who took over for Bob Watson in the winter, was busy trading for All Star second baseman Chuck Knoblauch and signing international pitching star Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, there apparently wasn’t enough time to work out a contract with Jeter, who along with Mariano Rivera was renewed at a salary of $750,000.

I think we’re being generous. The last two years, we’ve gone above what was required. I think the world of [Jeter and Rivera]. I value them, and they’re family. We negotiated with the union. They have to live with it.” – George Steinbrenner, New York Times, March 6, 1998

After a historic 125 win season in 1998, the Yankees still couldn’t get on the same page with their core group of homegrown stars.  Once again, the team and Jeter were far apart on the terms of a new deal: the Yankees were offering $3.2 million, while Jeter asked for $5 million. This time, however, Jeter was eligible for arbitration, so the hammer was removed from the organization’s hand. Still, Cashman refused to accept agent Casey Close’s offer for a midpoint settlement and the dispute landed on the desk of a third-party, who sided with Jeter’s $5 million figure. The team also lost its arbitration hearing with Mariano Rivera (the following year, the Yankees settled the score by beating Rivera in a second hearing that turned out to be the Yankees’ last to this day).

I wouldn’t really say it was ugly, but no one wants to sit there and listen to a team tell you how bad you are. You think you’re doing a pretty good job and they tell you how bad you are.” – Derek Jeter, speaking about the arbitration process, New York Daily News, February 16, 1999

Just after Nomar Garciaparra signed a 4-year/$22.25 million deal in the spring of 1998, whispers about a long-term contract for Jeter began to filter into the news. In reality, as each successive contract negotiation proved, no progress toward that end had been made. In fact, despite the persistent rumors, Jeter emphatically told the New York Daily, “You read in the papers that there have been offers or we’re trying to talk, but there’s been no discussions about a long-term deal.”  

After the arbitration hearing in 1999, the media started to dwell on Jeter’s contract status. Unlike the current environment, however, the shoe was on the other foot. This time, the pundits criticized the Yankees for being short-sighted, arguing that every year that passed would only cost the team more in the long run. On November 29, 1998, the same Joel Sherman mentioned above wrote about all the reasons Jeter was worth the money he was reportedly demanding. Basically, Sherman’s argument was “ He’s Derek Jeter, pay him”.

Before the start of the 2000 season, it seemed as if the Yankees were finally going to heed the advice of those beseeching them to sign Jeter to a long-term deal. The two sides had gone so far as to establish the parameters of a seven-year, $118.5 million agreement, but late in the process Steinbrenner became reticent about topping Kevin Brown’s record $15 million salary  by paying Jeter nearly $17 million per season. As a result, the Yankees instead inked their star shortstop to a one-year deal worth $10 million. Once again, the drum beat from the press corps was the same: the Yankees would pay more in future because of their refusal to tip the scales in the present.

If [George Steinbrenner] is using the [Ken Griffey Jr.] pact as a ruler, he should remember this: If Jeter gets to free agency, Griffey’s deal is going to be obsolete. Plus Jeter, who is coming off a career year in 1999, could have a pair of MVP awards and two more World Series rings by the time 30 clubs can bid on him.” – George King, New York Post, March 26, 2000

When Jeter signed a 10-year/$189 million deal on February 10, 2001, it looked like all of the pundits were right: the Yankees’ penny wise strategy had proven to be pound foolish. Not only did the team wind up paying $2 million more in annual salary, but they also had to throw in three more years and an extra $70 million in guaranteed money. Of course, the Yankees probably couldn’t be blamed for not foreseeing the mega deal that Alex Rodriguez signed two months earlier, but nonetheless, the length and terms of the deal left many believing the team would seriously regret its decision to back away from the smaller deal that was all but in place the previous spring.

When you do a deal this important with a player as important as Derek Jeter, it’s better to get it right than rush to judgment. People would have liked it done sooner, but it’s better to be done right.” – Yankees’ President Randy Levine, New York Daily News, February 10, 2001

“I wanted to play here. I never wanted to see if the grass was greener somewhere else. I couldn’t picture myself doing it, and even if I played out the year and became a free agent, I wouldn’t have.” – Derek Jeter, New York Daily News, February 10, 2001

The two comments above were in reference to Jeter’s recently expired contract, but they could both easily apply to the current round of negotiations taking place today. Interestingly, however, had the Yankees signed that initial 7-year/$118.5 million deal, no such conversation would be taking place. Instead, Jeter’s deal would have expired after the 2006 season, which also just so happened to be one of the best of his career. A 32-year old Jeter, coming off a season in which he finished second in the MVP voting (.343/.417/.483), could have easily commanded another big money deal. After all, the 2006 season off season, which occurred before the recent market correction, featured the following overpriced deals: 8 years/$136 million for Alfonso Soriano; 7 years/$126 million for Barry Zito; and 6 years/$100 million for Carlos Lee. Based on that context, it isn’t far fetched to think Jeter could have signed another 7-year deal worth around $154 million.

Based on the previous assumption, it seems as if the Yankees decision to hold off on signing a contract extension in 2000 actually paid off in the long run. So much for the wisdom of all those pundits? Of course, the final verdict on that decision won’t come until an agreement is reached this offseason. If Jeter acquiesces to the Yankees’ current 3-year, $45 million proposal (Scenario A), the Yankees will wind up coming out ahead by almost $40 million (without factoring in inflation as well as time value). However, if the terms of the new deal are closer to 4 years at $80 million (Scenario B), the difference would be a virtual wash. In that case, the Yankees would have probably been better off giving Jeter his new deal back in 2006, when there would likely have been less acrimony, especially with George Steinbrenner still involved in the process.

 Scenario A Amount Years Annual Salary
2000 Reported Proposal $118,500,000 7 $16,928,571
2007 Estimated Contract $154,000,000 7 $22,000,000
Total $272,500,000 14 $19,464,286
       
Actual 2001 Contract $189,000,000 10 $18,900,000
2011 Reported Proposal $45,000,000 3 $15,000,000
Total $234,000,000 13 $18,000,000

 

Scenario B Amount Years Annual Salary
2000 Reported Proposal $118,500,000 7 $16,928,571
2007 Estimated Contract $154,000,000 7 $22,000,000
Total $272,500,000 14 $19,464,286
       
Actual 2001 Contract $189,000,000 10 $18,900,000
2011 Reported Demand $80,000,000 4 $20,000,000
Total $269,000,000 14 $19,214,286

Although Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees have enjoyed a strong relationship through the years, the facts show that they haven’t always been on the same page when discussing money. If that was the case when Jeter was still in his prime, should we be surprised that they are still disagreeing on “value” at the end of his career? As both sides have repeated numerous times throughout the years, baseball is a business. So, instead of getting all hot and bothered over an ongoing negotiation that is likely to culminate in an agreement, it makes much more sense to simply let business takes its course. If the two sides do eventually decide to part ways, they’ll still be plenty of time to assign blame.

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After a nearly two-month search, the Mets are poised to name Terry Collins as their next manager, according to several media reports.

Collins first managerial job was with the Astros in 1994, but could have been as a Yankee several years earlier.

The hiring of Collins, who served as Mets’ minor league coordinator in 2010,  really shouldn’t come as a surprise considering his recent connection to both the organization and new vice president of player development and scouting Paul DePodesta.  In 2004, Collins was one of three finalists for the Mets’ managerial position before losing out to Willie Randolph. Then, one year later when DePodesta was General Manager of the Dodgers, Collins was believed to be the front runner to replace Jim Tracy as skipper. However, midway through his search for a new manager, DePodesta was unexpectedly fired by Los Angeles, and the team’s new GM Ned Colletti eventually settled on Grady Little.

It’s been 11 years since Collins managed in the big leagues. His last game as a major league field general was a 6-5 loss to the Cleveland Indians on September 2, 1999, after which he resigned the position. With the Yankees in town to begin a four-game series, Collins held an emotional press conference to announce his decision, which then Angels’ GM Bill Bavasi insisted was completely voluntary.

Collins second stint as manager with the Angels ended with a teary resignation.

Before serving as manager of the Angels from 1997 to the end of the 1999 season, and after several successful seasons leading the triple-A Alburquerque Dukes (Dodgers) and Buffalo Bisons (Pirates), Collins got his first shot at managing in the majors in Houston, where he led the Astros to a 224-197 record from 1994 to 1996. However, his first breakthrough almost came with the Yankees several seasons earlier.

Even before Dallas Green was fired during the 1989 season, the Yankees were rumored to have had an interest in both Collins and the Buffalo Bisons’ triple-A affiliate that he managed. Leading up to Green’s dismissal on August 18, 1989, the Yankees reportedly had expressed increasing interest in moving their triple-A operations from Columbus to Buffalo as well as adding Collins to the organization as a coach. Sure enough, the day after firing Green, two Yankees’ executives, including George Bradley, then vice president of player development, traveled to Buffalo, sparking rumors that Collins was either ticketed for the Bronx or Columbus, which was in need of a new manager after Bucky Dent was named interim manager.

Once again, however, fate played an unfortunate hand for Collins when Yankees GM Syd Thrift, who was hired only five months prior, resigned a little over one week after Green was fired. Thrift, whose four-year tenure as Pirates GM came to an end when he was fired after the 1988 season, was thought to be the driving force behind the Yankees’ interest in relocating their triple-A club to Buffalo as well as one of Collins’ biggest advocates in the organization. With Thrift gone from the picture, talk about Collins and Buffalo subsided, and the Yankees eventually decided to appoint Dent as full-time manager.

After two close calls, Terry Collins has finally made it to the top of the heap as a manager in New York. Some have expressed concerns about his high strung personality, particularly with regard to handling the pressure that comes with managing in the big city, but the Mets’ have clearly settled on a manager with extensive baseball experience. Even more importantly, their selection represents a complete break from the more laid back culture that the team has fostered since firing Bobby Valentine after the 2002 season. Although the Mets probably couldn’t turn back the clock and rehire Valentine, opting for Collins seems to be the next best thing. Ultimately, success on the field will be determined by the players that new GM Sandy Alderson is able to obtain, but in Collins, the Mets have definitely taken another step in a new direction.

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Ryan Sandberg has returned to the organization where his career began.

After losing out to Mike Quade in his bid to become manager of the Chicago Cubs, Hall of Famer and team icon Ryne Sandberg has left the organization to pursue a managerial opportunity with the Triple-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. Sandberg’s transfer is an ironic kind of homecoming. In one of the worst deals in major league history, the Phillies sent Sandberg and fellow future All Star Larry Bowa to the Cubs for Ivan de Jesus during the winter of 1982.

Had he been awarded the Cubs job, Sandberg would easily have become the current manager with the best playing career (and the best since Frank Robinson retired as manager of the Expos in 2006). Instead, they opted for Quade, who never played above the double-A level. Although likely unpopular in Chicago, history suggests the Cubs probably made the right decision. Not only doesn’t being a better player usually translate to being a better manager, but the opposite seems to be true. With that in mind, below is an “All Star” team of mostly “All Star” managers. To qualify for the list, candidates had to manage at least 700 games, win at least one pennant and maintain a winning percentage above .500. Then, the playing careers of all qualified managers were considered to determine the representative for each position. Listed below are those choices.

 
RHP: Clark Griffith, 1901-1920, White Sox, Highlanders (Yankees), Reds and Senators  
  IP W K ERA+ WAR
As Player 3385 2/3 237 955 122 49
  W L W-L% WS Penn
As Manager 1491 1367 0.522 0 1

*Inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1946.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith was a player/manager for four different organizations, but notably was the White Sox’ first manager as well as the Yankees’ first manager while in New York.  Despite winning only one pennant (in his first season as player/manager with the White Sox), Griffith finished his managerial career with 1,491 victories, which is still good for 20th all-time.

Although Griffith was also a mediocre outfielder, he was most known as a player for his accomplishments on the mound. A seven-time 20-game winner, Griffith, ended his career with 237 victories.

Honorable Mention: Bob Lemon won 207 games as a pitcher and 430 games as a manager, including two pennants and a World Series championship with the Yankees.

 
LHP: Tom Lasorda, 1976-1996, Dodgers

  IP W K ERA+ WAR
As Player 58 1/3 0 37 67 -0.2
  W L W-L% WS Penn
As Manager 1599 1439 0.526 2 4

*Inducted into the Hall of Fame as a manager in 1997.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Tommy Lasorda always liked to say that he bled Dodger blue, and there was no denying he was a blue blood among managers. Lasorda’s 1,599 wins as a manager rank him 17th on the all-time list. He also owns four NL pennants and two World Series victories.

Lasorda makes it to this list solely on the basis of his managerial ability because he actually never won a game as a player. As only one of two left handed pitchers (Eddie Dyer being the other) who met the screening criteria, Lasorda’s competition was light, so this All Star team gets the benefit of including one of the games best ambassadors and entertaining storytellers.

(more…)

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