Nate Should Be Odd Man Out

  The familiar mantra in baseball circles is that “you can never have too much pitching” and said mantra usually applies doubly when it comes to starting pitching. However, with the long-awaited return of Ivan Nova from his date with the knife and Tommy John’s namesake medical procedure, the Yankees are faced with the same proverbial dilemma. Although Joe Girardi has committed to going with a six-man staff for at least one turn through the rotation, as our neighbors in Flushing will attest to, six-man rotations don’t work for very long. For those of you keeping score at home, the Continue reading Nate Should Be Odd Man Out

Jeter Departure Marks End of An Era and Tradition

This week’s new cycle as far as the Yankees are concerned will be entirely Jeter-centric as we collectively reminisce ad-nauseum over the great career of the iconic Yankee Captain. Jeter’s impending retirement marks the end of an era, an era defined by unprecedented success built around a foundation of homegrown talent commonly referred to as the “Core Four,” of which Jeter is the last remaining member. With all of the attempts to recount the best Jeter moments currently circulating the media and the interwebs, I figured I would seek some perspective from someone who had the good fortune of seeing basically all of them.

If you’re a Yankee fan that goes to game or watches them on TV, you’ve probably heard the pinstriped faithful chanting the names of players until they acknowledge them, in what has come to be known as ” Roll Call.” However, what you may not know is that there is a man behind the chant, a man who whips the unwashed masses that refer to themselves as the “Bleacher Creatures” and who can be aptly described as the de facto leader of this group of die hards.

That man is Vinny Milano, known affectionately in Yankee-dom as “Bald Vinny.” He has been in charge leading Roll Call and some other now-banned on unmentionable chants for the better part of the last two decades and by virtue of his role, has had the good fortune of seeing most of the great moments of this “golden era” of Yankees baseball, live and in person.

Very few people realize that aside from being a group of rowdy/vocal fans, the “Bleacher Creatures” are an organization that engages in a number of different initiatives, many of them philanthropic with Milano serving as one of the principle organizers/point men. Milano believes that “it doesn’t take a lot to make a real difference,” so he tries to use his platform to help out as much as he can. The Creatures and Milano have done extensive work with the charitable foundations of several current and former players, including Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, David Robertson, and Carlos Beltran, just to name a few. However, it isn’t just players that the Bleacher Creatures work with, when an opportunity presents itself to help a fellow pinstriped brother in need, Milano and the Creatures will make every attempt to do whatever they can to make a difference. Whether that means guest bartending at Foley’s to raise money for a fellow creature whose daughter was diagnosed with Cancer or raising money for a victim of senseless in-stadium violence, Milano and the Creatures are there to lend a helping hand.

Although he never anticipated being such a big part of the Yankee game day experience, Milano tries to use his platform for good. What started out as him “trying to chase the dream by chasing the Yankees,” turned into something much more and he is committed to growing the bleacher creature brand. When asked what the Bleacher Creatures brand represents, he responded “passion, dedication, and maybe a little obnoxiousness.” One would be hard-pressed to disagree with him on that point but because of how long he has been “Bald Vinny,” leader of the Bleacher Creatures, he has been able to have experiences that would make most fans green with envy.

When asked to recount his favorite Jeter moments and memories from the Core Four era of Yankee baseball, Milano is quick to point out and share a sentiment that is felt widely across the Yankee Universe in regards to the “Core Four”.

“I hate when people talk about the Core Four, sure those guys were great but you can’t talk about this era and the foundation of those teams without including Bernie Williams.”

For Milano, he describes the last 20 years or so as a “total highlight reel, my favorite memories and moments from this era are less about the on-field stuff and more about the personal moments, the players I had the good fortune of meeting and working with, etc. Some of my favorite memories of these guys, Jeter especially are small personal moments as opposed to the memories every Yankee fan shares.”

“My favorite Jeter moment was during Hope Week a few years ago, the Yankees had a picture day where you could go on the field and actually talk to and rub elbows with some of the players. The day before, my picture was in the Daily News because Justice Sotomayor was sitting in the bleachers with us at the game. Derek came up to me without us ever having met before and said ‘Hey Vinny, I saw you in the paper, you looked good.’ I was shocked that he knew he I was but it’s moments like those that are the most meaningful for me and ones that tell you everything you need to know about Derek.”

Considering he admits that he has attended virtually every home game since 1998, I asked Milano for a little perspective and if he realized early on that Jeter, as well as the other members of the “Core Four” would eventually become they iconic players they are known as today:

“Derek was pretty much too cool for school right off the bat because he was always in the public eye. In terms of the different personas of these guys, I always like to compare Jeter to Joe DiMaggio and Mariano Rivera to Yogi Berra. Mo is like everyone’s grandpa, he’ll sit there, talk with you, and tell stories. Derek on the other hand, because he’s always been in the limelight he’s less accessible but they’re all just regular guys at the end of the day.”

Many media-types, especially the talking heads that occupy the local radio airwaves like to talk about certain players’ place in Yankee lore and the question that constantly comes up is: Who is a monument guy and who is just a plaque guy? (referring to monument park). When posed with the same question Milano had this to say:

“Wow, that’s a tough one, it’s not something I really give much thought because I don’t have a say in that decision. I guess you would have to say that Jeter is the only one that deserves a monument and the rest just get plaques but like I said, I don’t have to make those decisions.”

Over the course of our conversation, Milano revealed that he and Jeter are “hanging it up” on the same day, the Long Island native is giving up his tickets and his honorary position as the leader of the roll call. When asked about what prompted the decision to give it up after all this time, he admitted:

“My situation has changed, when I was younger and didn’t have a family it was easier for me to do. I was able to turn my passion into a business (referring to his River Avenue T-Shirt stand) and that’s why I was able to go to all those games because I had to be there anyway. However, the business isn’t what it used to be and I found the job I really wanted . There’s nothing I want and love more than being Bald Vinny but I have to think of life beyond River Ave, I have to think about my family. It just felt like a fitting time to go.”

With the future of the Roll Call now in flux it begged the question as to whether anyone would take up the mantel and pick up where he left off:

“I hope it continues because it’s not just about one person, it’s not just me, there’s a ton of people, hundreds of Bleacher Creatures behind it.”

When asked what it would be like for him during that final home game and what he will take away from his time and tenure with the Bleacher Creatures, Milano said:

“It’s probably going to be a little bit surreal but the one thing I’ll take away and always remember is everything I was able to do with the Bleacher Creatures because we went from nothing to being a part of the franchise. What I will really remember and cherish are the people: the friends, the fans, the relationships I made.”

When the final out is recorded tonight and number two walks off the field at the corner of 161st and River Ave for the last time, just drink it in and reflect. Remember the on the field moments, the moments that had you at the edge of your seat, from the old stadium to the new stadium and everywhere in between, and most importantly remember who you were with because it’s the people that have made this run and this era so special and if you have the good fortune of being there be sure to wish Vinny a happy birthday as well. Continue reading Jeter Departure Marks End of An Era and Tradition

The Death of the Dynasty

Rivera4For most of us, it’s easy to remember the magic and the dominance of the late 90’s Yankees, the teams that won four World Series in five years including three straight from 1998-2000. If you remember that then you definitely remember the day the Yankee Dynasty died on a November night in Arizona with the greatest closer of all-time doing the inexplicable and literally throwing the game away.

13 or so years later no team in Major League Baseball has been able to recapture the dominance those late 90’s Yankees teams including the Yankees themselves and unfortunately it doesn’t appear that they ever will again. The Yankees are a victim of their own past success and the way in which they have decided to do business ever since that fateful night in Phoenix. Due to the success of the past two decades, the standard has been set so high that the Yankees are incapable of accepting the notion of a few down years in order to rebuild. Instead, they choose – and in fact, need to retool/reload or they run the risk of seeing Citi Field-esque crowds in their monument to excess in the Bronx.

When George was still acting as “The Boss” from 2002-2007, the Bombers made a host of short-sighted, big-money signings that never really panned out because they thought that they could simply reload with high-priced veteran talent but it turned out they were paying more for past performance than anything they could possibly do in pinstripes. Names from Kevin Brown to Jaret Wright to Carl Pavano to Rondell White to Gary Sheffield all saw turns with the big club in the Bronx and none of them were able to get the Yankees back to the promised land and the glory days of the dynasty years.

In fact, it is these contracts that are precluding the Yankees from being able to build another dynasty team because they provided the proverbial rising tide that lifted all boats in that they paid top dollar for over-the-hill talent so much so that teams are in the position where they have to dole out $16 million dollars a year for a 37-year old AJ Burnett (I know). Obviously hindsight is 20/20 here but perhaps the contract that had the biggest ripple effect throughout baseball was the $275 million behemoth they gave to Alex Rodriguez after his 2007 MVP season because it started the trend of paying still-in-their-prime players on the wrong side of 30, prime money until they reach geriatric age at least in baseball terms.

Obviously it hasn’t hindered their ability to keep adding additional big-money contracts but what it does do – and we’re seeing it now, is that it creates logjams at certain positions especially DH. If you sign Mark Teixeira to an eight-year contract that averages around $22 million a year up and through his late 30’s, the odds you are going to draft and cultivate a slugging First Baseman over that time period is not incredibly likely. The same can be said for many of the other contracts the Yankees have doled out recently including and especially the Brian McCann contract who will be earning All-Star Catcher money despite the fact that offensively he was been trending downwards for the past few years.

Instead of building teams that can contend for and win World Series for an extended period of time, the Yankees try to buy windows and those windows are the early years of those big money contracts when the players are still in their respective primes. You saw it in 2009 where CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett were all in the first year of their contracts and proved to bey key cogs and they kept the window open up until 2012 but with the aforementioned Sabathia, Teixeira, Rodriguez, and alike showing signs of wearing down and beginning to trend downwards the window closed in 2013 with the Bombers missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008, it once again became to purchase another 3-4 year window. Right now it appears we are in a never-ending cycle of relatively small windows bought with increasingly pricey long-term contracts.

If we are ever going to witness anything remotely resembling the late 90’s run again, the Yankees need to be willing to take their lumps for a couple of years when it comes to gate revenues and TV ratings in order to build a sustained winner by cultivating players as opposed to purchasing them. The Yankees simply don’t have the patience to wait for some of their home-grown talent to mature, some of the best Yankees farm hands are currently on other teams including Austin Jackson and Zach McAllister but instead of waiting for Jackson to become what he is now, Cashman and the front office think tank traded for the higher-priced and decade older version of Jackson in the form of Curtis Granderson who is now playing out the “back nine” of his career in Flushing, while the Tigers have their centerfielder for the next 10 years.

Unfortunately unless the economics of baseball in terms of the way in which players are compensated or the way and specifically the way the Yankees depend on star power to garner revenue, the trend appears destined to continue and repeat itself. Perhaps a big market team will figure out a strategy somewhere between the austerity of the Mets and the free-wheeling Yankees to find that elusive dynasty formula and maybe a team like the Red Sox is well on their way to that end but in the interim I’ll just sit back and enjoy watching the front end of another window of contention. Continue reading The Death of the Dynasty

Baseball Loses One of Its True Good Guys

These days it’s very easy to get caught up in thinking about what is wrong with the game of baseball, choosing to focus on the controversial figures in the sport but very rarely do we acknowledge those who do all the right things and make a tremendous impact without the fanfare. Michael Weiner was one of those who fell into that latter category, a man who spent 20-plus years at the Major League Baseball Players’ Association before being named Executive Director in 2009. A man who exemplified what it means to do things the right way, during a time in a sport characterized by scandal and excess.

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone that even come close to saying a single bad word about the man as he was as genuine as they come, beloved by virtually all those that came in contact with him. It’s plain to see what Weiner’s membership thought of him, given the outpouring of support from players following his diagnosis and subsequent battle with Stage 4 Glioblastoma. It was never more apparent than it was this past Summer during the All-Star Game festivities at Citi Field during MLB’s “Stand Up to Cancer” Tribute where players and fans alike stood up for an individual they knew who was afflicted or battling cancer and virtually all of the players stood up for Weiner something he described as “truly moving” in email correspondences.

Michael’s influence stretched well beyond baseball as he was extremely generous with his time even after his diagnosis, he spent weekends volunteering and teaching at his local Hebrew school and took on a number of speaking engagements both in and outside of the academic sphere. He even served as a mentor of sorts to his fellow Sports Union Leaders as he was very close to his predecessor and current NHLPA Executive Director, Donald Fehr as well as NFLPA Executive Director, DeMaurice Smith.

[caption id="attachment_60960" align="alignright" width="300"]AP Photo | FRANK FRANKLIN II AP Photo | FRANK FRANKLIN II[/caption]“He was what we aspire to be: a great father, champion of the rights of players and working people, a brilliant lawyer and above all else a kind and loyal friend.” Said Smith when asked to comment on his experiences with Weiner both personal and professional.

My first encounter with Weiner was in late 2010, mere months into my undergraduate career and he was speaking on a panel at the Marriott Marquis alongside former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent and ESPN Radio Personality, Mike Greenberg. At 18 years old I couldn’t really muster up the courage to say anything intelligent or substantive so all I can recall is airing some type of a complaint about TBS’ Playoff Coverage and having to listen to the same Kid Rock song in virtual perpetuity, to which he was he very gracious and understandably dismissive.
Continue reading Baseball Loses One of Its True Good Guys

Scoreboard Watching: 4 GB

Welcome, welcome, welcome, Yankees fans. This is a brand new post-series hatched by yours truly, considering that this is the first time in a while that the Bombers haven’t been front-running going into a pennant race and in addition to just reeling off as many wins in a row as possible, we’re going to need a little help from the teams in front of us. As it stands today, there are precisely three teams: The Indians, O’s, and A’s that stand between the Yankees and a Wild Card berth and another three that are in front in the AL East race: The O’s, Rays, and of course, the Red Sox. I am going to attempt to update you guys daily on the status of all these teams as we careen towards the home stretch of the season.

Wild Card Standings:

TB: 72-53, GB: +1.5

The Rays culminated their head-to-head series with the Orioles last night in Camden Yards, dropping their only game of the series 4-2. Both Adam (not Pacman) Jones and Chris Davis homered last night to down the Rays and hand Jeremy Hellickson the loss. Buck Showalter had to do a lot of mixing and matching with his once-steady bullpen to nail it down in the ninth as the Rays were threatening but the game ended in dramatic fashion as Matt Wieters gunned down Kelly Johnson trying to steal second.

What’s Next?:

The Yanks head to the Trop for a head-to-head series that could see the Rays’ Wild Card lead dwindle. Then there’s the other option which could see an increase in that lead but we’ll think positive thoughts. With Kuroda, CC, and Nova on the bump over the next three games, the Yankees are set up nicely to take yet another series but as John Sterling is so fond of saying; “You can’t predict baseball.”

OAK: 71-55

Hisashi Iwakuma had yet another strong start for the Mariners, going seven strong innings while giving up seven hits and yielding only three runs to the A’s offense. Seattle notched their second win in a row against the A’s, with the winning run coming on a big collision at the plate between Dustin Ackley and Stephen Vogt.

What’s Next:

Billy Beane’s ragtag group travels east to Camden Yards to take on the O’s, it’s Bud Norris (9-10, 3.93) against Dan Straily (6-7, 4.22) in game one.

CLE: 69-58, GB: 2.5

The Tribe knocked off the Angels 3-1, Justin Masterson was masterful again (pun slightly intended), throwing 6.2 of one-run ball. Ex-Yank, Nick Swisher provided the run support with a two-run dinger and Chris Perez came in to shut the  door for his 20th save.

What’s Next?:

The Twins come to town on Friday for a three-game set with Ubaldo Jimenez on the bump in game one.

BAL: 68-58, GB: 3.0

NYY: 67-59, GB: 4.0

AL East Standings:

BOS: 75-54

The Sox are on a West Coast-swing and just got through taking the Giants to the proverbial woodshed, winning 12-1 and making Barry Zito look like…well Barry Zito. Stephen Drew and the beleaguered Will Middlebrooks both homered to extend maintain their AL East lead, at least for another day.

What’s next:

The West Coast trip continues as the Sox take on Yasiel Puig and the red-hot Dodgers, it’s the opinionated John Lackey (8-10, 3.22 ERA) against Ricky Nolasco (4-1, 2.98 ERA) in Game One.

TB: 72-53, GB: 1.0

BAL: 68-58, GB: 5.5

NYY: 67-59, GB: 6.5

TOR: 57-70, GB: 17.0 Continue reading Scoreboard Watching: 4 GB

A-Rod: “A Villain of Fortune”

“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” It’s funny how superhero movies and sports intersect so conveniently and so appropriately sometimes. Batman references aside, it happens in virtually every sport, players fall in and out of favor with fans like the waxing and waning of the tide. When you’re young and productive, people love you but unless you retire at the peak of your career, inevitably you hang around long enough to “see yourself become the villain” in the eyes of your fan-base, a fading star with a bloated price tag…remind you Continue reading A-Rod: “A Villain of Fortune”

MLBPA Statement on Biogenesis

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New York, NY, Wednesday, June 5, 2013 … 

Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner today issued the following statement regarding ESPN’s Biogenesis report.   

“The Players Association has been in regular contact with the Commissioner’s Office regarding the Biogenesis investigation.  They are in the process of interviewing players and every player has been or will be represented by an attorney from the Players Association.  The Commissioner’s Office has assured us that no decisions regarding discipline have been made or will be made until those interviews are completed.  It would be unfortunate if anyone prejudged those investigations. The Players Association has every interest in both defending the rights of players and in defending the integrity of our joint program. We trust that the Commissioner’s Office shares these interests.”

The question here is what side of this issue the MLBPA comes down on because they have to wear two hats here. On one hand, they have a fiduciary duty to represents the interests of their constituents (the players) and on the other they also have maintained a strong commitment in conjunction with the Commissioner’s office to having a clean game free of PED’s. Assuming the reports are true and that Bosch is fully cooperating with the Commissioner’s Office, it has the potential to open Pandora’s box and subject some of the game’s biggest names to extended suspensions.

Any potential suspension as well as the length of said suspension will hinge on the interpretation of a clause in the MLB’s Joint Drug Agreement (not the Basic Agreement) that apparently allows Commissioner Selig. Just as an editorial, I have yet to find this purported clause in either the Joint Drug Agreement or The Basic Agreement but I will keep looking. In spite of the Daily News report, I believe what Bill Madden and crew were referring to was the determinations and subsequent punishments outlined in the Joint Drug Agreement, which is located in Section 7 for those of you who want to see for themselves.

There has been a lot of talk about the Commissioner seeking to impose a 100 game suspension on Braun and the Yankees very own Alex Rodriguez (among others). Selig will attempt to make the argument that these players committed an initial and subsequent violation by acquiring these substances and then proceeding to lie about it during an official MLB investigation. Although Selig is the absolute arbiter of discipline when it comes to violations of the Joint Drug Agreement, it is unlikely that when the MLBPA inevitably appeals and files a grievance, that an arbitration panel will uphold such lengthy suspensions. Regardless of what the Commissioner decides to do the fates of Braun, Rodriguez, and a number of other players including current and ex-Yankees alike, will rest in the hands of an arbitrator. That said, section 8-A of the Joint Drug Agreement stipulates that the arbitration panel cannot reduce the length of the suspension below the minimum threshold level, which for most of these players would be 50 games.

It will be interesting to see how everything shakes out over the next few weeks/months but one thing is for sure, Bud Selig and Michael Weiner will be spending a lot of time on the phone with each other as the fates of these players and the impending wrath of their respective fan bases hang in the balance.
Continue reading MLBPA Statement on Biogenesis

Subway Series Live Blog

They’re determined to get this one in and its currently raining hard enough to make Sandy jealous, anyway looks like we’ll be in for a long night and I’ll be with you guys every step of the way, live blogging (or at least trying to) my heart out.     6:44 PM: Cats and Dogs aren’t large enough animals to describe the weather. 6:58 PM: It’s a veritable ghost town in here, definitely not getting this one off in time. This has the makings of fantastic pitcher’s duel that no one will see. 8:02 PM: Tarp is off and all Continue reading Subway Series Live Blog