Tag Archives: New York Yankees

Southpaw Flashback: Journey to 30 Ends Tonight

Editor’s Note:  For the remainder of June we will be counting down our 10 favorite columns as we celebrate summer vacation. Coming in at number 8 on our countdown is a column from September 23, 2013.

Tonight at Minute Maid Park the New York Yankees will face the Houston Astros for the first of three games to end the regular season.

Minute Maid Park Photo R. Anderson
Minute Maid Park
Photo R. Anderson

Having been eliminated from the postseason Wednesday night with a loss to the Tampa Bay Rays the Yankees will end their season Sunday afternoon and prepare for next year.

With losses at an all-time record setting pace the Houston Astros will end their season Sunday and will most likely prepare for more of the same next season.

So with two teams facing off with really nothing to play for tonight it makes for an interesting combination of seasons that did not go as planned.

On a personal note when I take my seat for the game tonight it will complete a 12-year journey to see all 30 Major League teams in a single ballpark.

While many in Houston have complained about the Astros moving to the American League the change in scenery allowed me to cross off the Mariners, Athletics, Orioles, Twins, Angels, and Yankees this season.

Although I had already seen all of the National League teams and some American League teams during Inter-league play over the years it would have taken many more seasons to be able to see all 30 teams had the Astros stayed in the National League and I waited for the teams to come through on the regular Interleague schedule.

Tonight the New York Yankees come to Minute Maid Park for only the second time to take on the Houston Astros. When the first pitch is thrown it will complete my quest to see all 30 Major League Baseball teams at Minute Maid Park. Photo R. Anderson
Tonight the New York Yankees come to Minute Maid Park for only the second time to take on the Houston Astros. When the first pitch is thrown it will complete my quest to see all 30 Major League Baseball teams at Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

So from a purely selfish perspective the Astros moving to the American League served me well in my quest to see all 30 teams at least once at Minute Maid Park.

It seems fitting in a way that the final team to cross off my list is the New York Yankees since they are both respected and despised among the baseball world.

The Yankees are making only their second trip to Minute Maid Park. I cannot recall why it was that I missed their last visit to town but I definitely knew I would not be missing this one despite the price gouging committed by the Astros.

My ticket that would normally cost $5 was “dynamically priced” to around $26 since the Yankees were coming to town and the front office knew people would likely pay more for the privilege of seeing them.

Of course with that ticket I will get to see the last game pitched by Andy Pettitte as well as one of the last three games pitched by Mariano Rivera assuming that the Yankees are not too far ahead of the Astros by the time the ninth inning rolls around for it to still be a save situation.

I missed the Yankees first trip to Minute Maid Park but I did not miss out on the souvenir cup. Photo R. Anderson
I missed the Yankees first trip to Minute Maid Park but I did not miss out on the souvenir cup.
Photo R. Anderson

Ironically near as I can tell this will be the first time that I have seen Pettitte pitch in person despite his two and a half seasons playing for the Astros.

I saw many Astros games during that time frame but never seemed to time those visits with nights he was pitching.

So making my first game to see Pettitte pitch correspond with his last scheduled career start seems that much more special. Of course since he has already come out of retirement once it will be interesting to see if the Deer Park, TX native stays retired this time or is urged to give it one more try Brett Farve style.

It is estimated that over 30,000 fans will attend each of the three games against the Yankees which would be more fans than have attended any games this season.

That tells me that there are way more Yankees fans in Houston than Astros fans. Of course it could also just mean that there are Astros fans that waited until the last week of the season to attend a game since all of the previous weeks were too painful to watch.

While the start of the end of the regular season begins today for the Yankees and the Astros it also marks the start of the Tampa Bay Rays last series in Toronto as they push to maintain their hold on the top Wildcard spot.

If all goes to plan I will be rooting for the Rays all the way to the World Series which would certainly make myself and DJ Kitty very happy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a game to get ready for.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Derek Jeter Walks off into the Sunset at Yankee Stadium

Yesterday, Derek Jeter, long time shortstop for the New York Yankees, played in his last game at Yankee Stadium.

Yankee Stadium is the second to last stop in the farewell tour that began at Minute Maid Park against the Houston Astros in April to honor the career of a man who played two decades in pinstripes.

At each stop along the way teams have paid their respects to Jeter by bestowing gifts upon him, and making donations to his charity.

The final stop on the tour will be Fenway Park this weekend and it will be interesting to see what kind of tribute Red Sox Nation has for the Captain.

Last night the Baltimore Orioles, American League East Champions,  lost to the New York Yankees in Derek Jeter's final game at Yankee Stadium. Photo R. Anderson
Last night the Baltimore Orioles, American League East Champions, lost to the New York Yankees in Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium.
Photo R. Anderson

While fans throughout baseball have saluted Jeter all season long, yesterday was about saying goodbye to the hometown fans at Yankee Stadium.

Even unfavorable weather forecasts that threatened to move the game to Monday, or cancel it altogether, could not dampen the spirits of fans who paid well above face value on tickets to be able to say that they were there when Jeter said farewell to Yankees Stadium against the Baltimore Orioles.

In the end the rain stayed away, and the Yankees defeated the Orioles 6-5 thanks to the retiring bat of Derek Jeter.

While Derek Jeter’s career was certainly full of big moments, one could argue that securing a victory in his last game at Yankee Stadium with a walk off single was one of the biggest, if not one that he will remember the most.

There are those fans of conspiracies and hats made out of tin foil who are sure to claim that the fix was in to allow Jeter to hit that game-winning walk off single since a) baseball loves happy endings and b) Orioles Manager Buck Showalter was Jeter’s first manager with the Yankees.

Could the fact that Derek Jeter drove in the winning run in his last at bat at Yankee Stadium be called just a little too convenient? Sure.

But as Peter Parker’s uncle Joe would say “With great power comes great responsibility” and for Jeter that responsibility is helping his team win when placed in positions to do so.

It also helped that the Yankees bunted a runner into scoring position ahead of Jeter’s at bat to avoid risk of him hitting into a double play.

While the ending was certainly worthy of a Hollywood sparks falling on the field from the lights kind of thing, to those tin foil loving conspiracy fans I say that there is no way that the game was fixed to allow Jeter to win it.

One need only look at what happened to Charlie Hustle himself, Pete Rose, to see what baseball thinks about game fixing.

For those too young to remember, Rose received a lifetime ban from baseball for betting on games he managed since it was believed that he could somehow manipulate the results in a manner favorable to his wagers.

Another example of what Major League Baseball thinks about throwing games, further back than Rose, is the Black Sox scandal where several players of the Chicago White Sox were banned for life for fixing the World Series.

Beyond the threat of being banned for life for throwing a game, another issue that shoots holes in the “they let him win” argument from the tin foil hat society is the fact that, while Buck Showalter may have managed Jeter for 15 games 20 years ago, his current team, the Baltimore Orioles, are trying to secure home field advantage in the playoffs.

Orioles manager, Buck Showalter, was Derek Jeter's first Major League Manager. Despite that history Showalter's Orioles did not let Jeter's Yankees win despite what some might think. Photo R. Anderson
Orioles manager, Buck Showalter, was Derek Jeter’s first Major League Manager. Despite that history Showalter’s Orioles did not let Jeter’s Yankees win despite what some might think.
Photo R. Anderson

A team looking for home field advantage in the playoffs does not intentionally lose games, even if it makes for good Hollywood stories.

So to be 100 percent clear the fix was not in last night to allow Derek Jeter to score the winning run of the game.

It just worked out that way and gave Derek Jeter another lasting Yankee Stadium memory.

Much like Mariano Rivera did during his farewell tour last year, Jeter has said that he wants his final on-field memories to be from Yankee Stadium despite the team still having three games left in the season.

Jeter will be available as a designated hitter during the series against the Boston Red Sox, but fans expecting to see him standing at the shortstop position at Fenway Park will be greatly disappointed much like the fans at Minute Maid Park were last year when Rivera decided to stay in the bullpen and not make a curtain call appearance against the Astros.

While Derek Jeter’s career will end with a few plate appearances in the designated hitter’s role against the Boston Red Sox, instead of in another World Series as many had hoped at the start of the season, few other players in the history of baseball have had as much success or had the type of fan base as number 2 had.

While Derek Jeter’s career is ending the debate regarding whether he will be the first unanimously chosen member of the Baseball Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in five years is just beginning.

Between now and the time the Hall of Fame voters fill out their ballots in 2019, Derek Jeter will try to become a normal person and do the things that he put off during a 20-year career in pinstripes. Only Derek Jeter knows what that next chapter will be.

What is known is that for 20 seasons, in one of the most intense environments around, by all accounts Derek Jeter played the game of baseball in a way that he can be proud of and in a manner that many would be wise to duplicate.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready for the last weekend of the regular season.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

Lou Gehrig’s Speech is Still Powerful 75 Years Later

There are certain moments in baseball that are timeless and manage to span the generations.

Whether it is a classic call from a broadcaster who has long ago passed away, or the visuals of Hank Aaron rounding third after setting the record for home runs, the visuals and sounds of baseball stick in the memories of fans even if they were not alive when the actual events occurred.

Such is the case with Lou Gehrig’s famous “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech which was given before a game between the New York Yankees and Washington Senators 75 years ago on July 4, 1939.

In the speech Gehrig listed all of the positives of his life despite being diagnosed with a death sentence in the form of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS.

Friday marked the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig's famous speech at Yankee Stadium where he stated that he was, "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
Friday marked the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s famous speech at Yankee Stadium where he stated that he was, “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

ALS, now known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. There is no cure for ALS. While advancements in treatment have prolonged patient life, the disease is still considered a fatal diagnosis.

Growing up I had heard the speech as it was part of a greatest moments in baseball VHS tape that I owned. While I had heard the speech for me, as a Cal Ripken, Jr., fan Lou Gehrig was just the final man to pass in the consecutive games streak. I did not really appreciate the full impact of what made the speech so perfect at the time.

Before getting into the speech it is important to look at the man who gave it.

Lou Gehrig played 2,130 games in a row for the New York Yankees until he was physically unable to play anymore. Lou Gehrig was also the first Major League Baseball player to have his number retired.

Lou Gehrig stepped to a Yankee Stadium microphone on July 4, 1939, and told fans he was “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” despite the fact that he was dying from the inside out.

Throughout the speech, and through eyes welled up with tears, Gehrig thanked teammates, fans, and his family for all of the experiences they had shared together.

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

“Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.”

Nearly two years to the day after giving that speech Lou Gehrig died on June 2, 1941 at the age of 37. His death came almost 16 years to the day after he started his consecutive games streak on June 1, 1925.

It would have been easy for someone like Lou Gehrig to be bitter for being cut down in the prime of his career by such an invasive and painful disease but there is no bitterness in the speech. Many fans at the time probably felt that it was not fair that they were losing their first baseman to an illness that many had likely never heard of.

But instead of being bitter in his circumstances Lou Gehrig found the courage to be at peace with the hand he was dealt and to make the most of the time he had left.

I often wonder how many people when faced with the same circumstances would in the words of Monty Python, “always look on the bright side of life?”

In my own case, I would like to think that I would be able to muster the same positive response as Lou Gehrig but in reality I would likely fall well short of that level of peace in my circumstances.

As for Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak, it was finally broken in 1995 by Cal Ripken, Jr. who extended it to 2,632 consecutive games played before finally taking a game off for the first time in his career on September 20, 1998.

Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak was broken in 1995 by Cal Ripken, Jr. who extended it to 2,632 consecutive games played before finally taking a game off for the first time in his career on September 20, 1998. Photo R. Anderson
Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak was broken in 1995 by Cal Ripken, Jr. who extended it to 2,632 consecutive games played before finally taking a game off for the first time in his career on September 20, 1998.
Photo R. Anderson

It is likely that it is a record that will never be broken.

One the night that Ripken broke the streak he showed that Lou Gehrig was very much there in spirit to share it with him.

“Tonight I stand here, overwhelmed, as my name is linked with the great and courageous Lou Gehrig,” Ripken said at the time. “I’m truly humbled to have our names spoken in the same breath.”

While Gehrig’s career was cut short it is still a career that reaches through the generations as doctors and others work to find a cure for the disease that bears his name.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a speech to listen to.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Baseball’s Beasts are in the East

This week the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays faced off in an American League East battle.

Before that it was the New York Yankees and the Rays facing off.

After all of the inter division dust settled the margin between the first place Orioles and the last place Rays was a mere three and a half games.

The Baltimore Orioles currently sit atop the American League East standings where only three games separate first from fifth place. Photo R. Anderson
The Baltimore Orioles currently sit atop the American League East standings where only three games separate first from fifth place.
Photo R. Anderson

The order of teams in the division is likely to change many times between now and the end of the regular season with the Rays, Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees and Blue Jays each having a legitimate shot to win the division when all is said and done.

The same can be said in the National League East where only three games separate the tied for first place Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals from the last place Philadelphia Phillies.

As is the case in the American League East, each of the five National League East teams, Marlins, Nationals, Phillies, Braves, and Mets should feel pretty good about their postseason chances at this point in the season.

While the beasts in the east are all within striking distance of each other things get a little more spread out for teams west of the Mighty Mississippi.

The American League Central has a 6.5 game spread between the first place Detroit Tigers and fifth place Minnesota Twins. In fact the Tigers have a 4.5 game cushion over the second place Chicago White Sox.

The Washington Nationals are currently tied for first place in the National League East with the Miami Marlins in a division that also has three games separating the top from the bottom of the standings. Photo R. Anderson
The Washington Nationals are currently tied for first place in the National League East with the Miami Marlins in a division that also has three games separating the top from the bottom of the standings.
Photo R. Anderson

Out in the American League West the margin stretches to nine games from the first place Oakland Athletics to the fifth place Houston Astros.

In the National League, both the Central and West Divisions have a 9.5 game margin between first and fifth place.

This snapshot of the standings shows once again how the most competitive divisions in baseball reside along the Atlantic coast. But the question remains what is it about those 10 teams that makes them so good year after year?

One could make the argument that much of baseball started with the east coast teams and the fact that they are still competitive could be in direct result of their longevity as franchises.

While it is true that the bulk of the teams in the East Divisions have long histories that does not account for the three World Series appearances by the relatively young Florida based teams.

Despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball the Tampa Bay Rays manage to stay competitive year after year in one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball proving that money cannot always buy wins. Photo R. Anderson
Despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball the Tampa Bay Rays manage to stay competitive year after year in one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball proving that money cannot always buy wins.
Photo R. Anderson

The Rays have one World Series appearance ending in a loss and the Marlins won their two trips to the October Classic proving that age is not the only driving factor when it comes to success in the east.

With length of franchise existence ruled out as the driving factor behind the success in the East one might be tempted to say payroll is the key to what makes baseball on the East coast so much more competitive than the western counterparts.

While it is certainly true that the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies are not shy about spending money to sign players, the current teams atop the National League East and American League East, the Marlins and Orioles respectively, have some of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

Additionally the Tampa Bay Rays have shown year after year that they can be competitive despite a payroll that is a fraction of the size of some of the big spenders in the division.

So one cannot use history or finances to point to as reasons behind the competitive balance in the Eastern Divisions of Major League Baseball.

A third possible reason behind the success of the Eastern Division franchises that could be pointed to by some is the proximity of the teams to each other that leads to heated rivalries.

While it is true that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have proximity as well as a heated rivalry that has spanned over a century there are rivalries in all divisions in Major League Baseball so the Eastern Division teams cannot claim a monopoly on that reason either.

In the final analysis one cannot really point to why the 10 Eastern Division teams seem so much more evenly matched than the other 20 teams in baseball.

Sometimes there are not simple answers for things.

One does not need to know how exactly it is that the Earth spins down to the molecular level to appreciate that it prevents people from floating off into outer space any more than one needs to know the complete formula for the success the teams in the Eastern Divisions.

Sometimes in life it is just best to enjoy the resulting sausage without having to see how it was made, and right now there is some very tasty sausage being made in the American and National League East Divisions.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am suddenly craving some bratwurst for some reason.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Jeter Farewell Tour Hits a Slump

As the Derek Jeter Farewell tour rolls into its second month the namesake of the tour finds himself in a bit of a hitting slump.

Of course slumps in baseball are part of the game. So the fact that Derek Jeter is in one, on the surface, is no cause for concern.

Below the surface however trouble is lurking in the form of how to handle an extended slump.

While benching players in a slump is commonplace, how does one bench a player in the middle of a Farewell Tour without ruffling the feathers of the fans who have paid their money for one last look at the Captain of the Yankees?

The Derek Jeter Farewell Tour and gift giving kicked off at Minute Maid Park against the Houston Astros. Other teams may not feel so giving if Jeter does not suit up when he gets to their towns. Photo R. Anderson
The Derek Jeter Farewell Tour and gift giving kicked off at Minute Maid Park against the Houston Astros. Other teams may not feel so giving if Jeter does not suit up when he gets to their towns.
Photo R. Anderson

In recent days the manager of the Yankees, Joe Girardi, (who also was a teammate of Jeter’s) has been asked by various media outlets about the possibility of benching Jeter or moving him down to the bottom of the batting order if his production at the plate does not improve.

While Girardi responded by saying that every option remains on the table, to date Jeter is still in the lineup most days trying to hit his way out of the slump while the Yankees have dropped a couple of games to division opponents.

Benching Jeter is certainly within the purview of a manager to do but will added pressure be brought to ensure that Derek Jeter plays in each of the cities on the tour?

Last year during the Mariano Rivera Farewell tour Rivera decided to not play during a visit to play the Houston Astros since he wanted his last memories of the mound to be when Jeter and Andy Pettitte came to take him out of his last game at Yankee Stadium.

While many in attendance at Minute Maid Park were certainly disappointed to not have the opportunity to see Mariano play, as the chorus of boos rocking the rafters when each pitcher not named Mariano Rivera came out of the Yankees’ bullpen demonstrated, in hindsight one can certainly respect Rivera’s wishes.

Of course Rivera only had to be on for one to two innings a game so he faced less pressure than the expectation for Jeter to be on the field for nine innings a game.

There will be people in each of the remaining cites on the farewell tour that will have purchased their tickets with the sole purpose of seeing Jeter play one last time.

While the time may come this season when benching a slumping Jeter is in the best interests of the Yankees as a whole there will likely be more Ballparks filled with booing fans in the event that Jeter does not take the field during his final visits to each city.

Derek Jeter is certainly not the first athlete to falter down the stretch during their careers.

In fact, comparisons to Jeter’s current slump and that of a former NASCAR driver on his “victory tour” can certainly be made.

NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip, like Derek Jeter had trouble knowing when to call it a career. Photo R. Anderson
NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip, like Derek Jeter had trouble knowing when to call it a career.
Photo R. Anderson

In 2000 Darrell Waltrip entered what was to be his final year as a race car driver in a season dubbed his “Victory Tour.”

With full sponsorship from a “big box” retailer and a marketing campaign to boot, the Victory Tour begin with all of the brashness and pomp that one had come to expect from the driver nicknamed “Jaws.”

While few drivers could compete with Waltrip during his prime, the fact remained that the 2000 season was far from DW’s prime as a driver.

In fact, by the time Waltrip’s Victory Tour rolled around it had been eight years since the three-time series champion had been to victory lane.

Waltrip had to use a Champion’s Provisional to qualify for most of the races and when those dried up there were many races that he failed to qualify for.

When Darrell Waltrip's car looked like this he won the Daytona 500. Photo R. Anderson
When Darrell Waltrip’s car looked like this, he won the 1989 Daytona 500.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course even in the races where Waltrip did qualify he was often many laps down or out of the race by the time the checkered flag waved.

While Derek Jeter still seems to have more in the tank than Darrell Waltrip did at the end of his career the fact remains that both men likely held on a little too long making their farewell tours seem a little sad for fans who remember the way they were in their prime.

Despite the lackluster “Victory Tour” Darrell Waltrip was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for is many career accomplishments. There is little doubt that regardless of how his farewell tour goes that Derek Jeter will end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame so few can argue that both men weren’t champions for the bulk of their careers.

By the time his "Victory Tour" rolled around in 2000 it had been about eight years since Darrell Waltrip saw victory lane. Derek Jeter is hoping his farewell tour ends with a World Series title. Photo R. Anderson
By the time his “Victory Tour” rolled around in 2000 it had been about eight years since Darrell Waltrip saw victory lane. Derek Jeter is hoping his farewell tour ends with a World Series title and does not just have him running laps as was the case with Waltrip’s last year.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course there will still be moments where the Derek Jeter of old shows through this year but fans need to temper their expectations and realize that more times than not there will be strikeouts and hitless nights.

There will also likely be nights coming up where Derek Jeter is not even in the lineup.

In a perfect world Jeter would want the farewell tour to end with a sixth World Series title for his career which still could happen despite any potential benchings or extended slumps.

Unlike Darrell Waltrip, who was left to mainly fend for himself on the track, there are eight other players on the field with Jeter at any given time to help pick up the slack as the team moves towards October.

But even if the Yankees do give Jeter the final World Series title the whispers of him hanging on too long will still continue just as they do for every athlete who finds themselves staying around while the mind is still willing but the body is weak.

For every Ray Lewis who retires with a Super Bowl title in his prime there are countless other athletes who just don’t know when to say when.

Now if you’ll excuse me, in the words of Darrell Waltrip it is time to boggitty, boggitty, boggitty.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson