Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Category: Yankees

Is A-Rod Really “Clutch” Now?

Did Johnny Damon give the Yankees their 27th title with an alert baserunning play? Sure, CC and A-Rod and Teixeira and Posada and even Brad Lidge helped a little bit, but the Damon play might be the one to have secured the hardware for the Stanks. We’ll never know how Lidge would have pitching if Damon was on second base instead of third—when, stealing second base, he simply continued to a third base unoccupied because of the “Teixeira shift”—and whether the series would have actually been any different because of it. But if this series ends as we all think it’s going to end, this is the moment from which we can create stories. The Yankees seeing an opportunity and, after nine long years, taking it.

The series not over, but it’s close. For the Phillies to win, they’ll need something of a repeat performance from Cliff Lee, for Pedro Martinez to avoid for a second time the possibility of Yankee onslaught at the new Stadium, and for Cole Hamels to finally show up for the postseason. The Yankees will have to concurrently implode, with A.J. Burnett turning in one of his vintage Fenway performances, Andy Pettitte turning in one of his vintage Game 6 performances, and CC turning in one of his vintage playoff performances. Even then, it might not be enough. The ball has been bouncing against the Yankees for nine years. At some point, they have to get the breaks. On top of that, they have the better team. It’s not impossible for the Phillies to catch up, but it’s unlikely. Plan for the worst, hope for the best.

It probably didn’t escape anyone’s notice that the guy who got the game winning hit last night was A-Rod, a guy who was excoriated for not being “clutch” so many times that he had a pro bono defense league among “sabermetricians” who otherwise hated him. They’d cite small playoff sample sizes, as if there was any excuse for the highest-paid baseball being so bad he was dropped from the lineup in the 2006 ALDS against Detroit. Michael Schur, aka Ken Tremendous of Fire Joe Morgan, has been Tweeting comparison stats all postseason that usually show A-Rod’s numbers to be comparable to his former buddy Derek Jeter. That’s well and dandy, but those numbers include this year’s playoffs; without this year’s explosion, A-Rod’s numbers are pedestrian or worse. Fans who pointed out that A-Rod failed in the clutch were simply pointing out the obvious.

Now that he’s turned it around, Will Leitch says “R.I.P, A-Rod Isn’t Clutch Meme.” First of all, I’m loathe to discuss any meme not involving Keyboard Cat. Second of all, calling it a “meme” implies it’s something silly and frivolous (It wasn’t. He hadn’t hit in the playoffs. It was true. God forbid someone watch something as dreadfully important as baseball and say the most obvious thing to pop into their heads). Third, the point Leitch, Schur and others make isn’t that anyone is clutch: players are simply good or they’re not. It’s a fair point. But A-Rod’s emergence now doesn’t obscure his very real failures in the past, the same way Barry Bonds’ monster 2002 postseason doesn’t obscure his performances in years prior. The difference is that A-Rod will probably win this year, and to a great many people, that will be all that matters. He’ll have his title. If we really want to speak truth to power, let’s not forget why the “meme” was started now that it’s dead.

Of course, as John Elway shows, winning once might be all that matters, and A-Rod is finally poised to do just that.

Derek Jeter and the Hank Aaron Award

Tonight, Derek Jeter received the Hank Aaron award for the “top offensive player” in the American League. Derek Jeter is a great baseball player. He batted .334 this season, with 18 home runs and 66 RBIs. If you’re into OBP and slugging percentage, he rocked .406 (not bad!) and .465 (pretty good!). Also, his team won 103 games. That’s excellent!

He was not, however, the best offensive player in the American League.

Joe Mauer, the catcher for the Minnesota Twins, led the American League in batting average. He hit .365. (That’s excellent!) If you like OBP, he got on base at a .444 clip (Wow!), also to lead the AL. And slugging? His .587 clip beat all comers (Golly!). Not only that, he put together impressive numbers for homers (28) and RBI (96). Notice what all these numbers have in common? No, not that they’re awesome (But they are!). They’re all better than Jeter’s.

Every. Single. One of them.

Let that sink in for a second. This award isn’t like the MVP, the “valuable” condition of which lends itself to interpretation. But maybe Dude X made the clubhouse better! No; this award is for offense. Nor is it like the Hall of Fame, which encourages voters to include character-related factors in the vote. Albert Belle was a poophead, and I’m not going to vote for him! None of that here. You could kick your dog in public and you’d still be eligible for this trophy. It’s all about how offensive you are.

(Chase Utley just hit a home run; huzzah!)

Before I got on a tear here, one more time: Jeter is a great baseball player. But he’s not the offensive player Joe Mauer is. Nor is he the defensive player, but that’s not important at the moment… unless it is. Mauer will win the MVP award; the Twins sneaking into the playoffs basically clinched that. Maybe the voters wanted to recognize Jeter somehow, and, realizing that his long-suffering efforts to win an MVP (When will he be recognized for his contributions? It’s like no one ever talks about him) were going to fall short yet again, decided to give him a lesser trophy. Well I’ve got bad news: giving out hardware to those who don’t deserve it devalues the hardware itself, the name associated with it, and the game they’re playing. There are times when legitimate disagreements can be had about a hitter’s value; this is not one of them. By giving Jeter an award he did not earn, the voters have devalued the award. Derek Jeter’s greatness is secure without changing the rules for him. Let’s let the story be the story, and not try to write a new one to serve our own ends.*

* And as we, the fans, voted on this, I’m talking to you.

The World Series Is Over (Update)

Coachie has been all over this from the beginning, but it’s worth saying it now: the World Series is over. The next few days might bring great, plot-rich baseball, but the tension is gone. The story has been written. The Yankees are World Champions.

The half of you who hate the Yankees will say that I’m giving up too soon and the half that loves them will say I’m trying to pull some sort of voodoo “reverse jinx.” Sadly, both of these are wrong. I belived until right now that the Yankees could not win the World Series. I saw the strength of other teams, I saw the Yankees’ flaws, and I thought that given the remaning task and the obstacles in their way that there was a chance they could be derailed through injuries, slumps, and the bounces of the ball. Tonight that chance has been reduced to zero.

2004 may loom in the minds of many, but that’s a bad comparison. That year, the Red Sox had the feel of a team on a mission, and Yankee inevitability had been stretched to such absurd limits by Aaron Boone and their 3-0 series lead that the tension broke. Any baseball statistician will tell you that the chances of beating a very good team four times in a row is hard, but they will also say that it’s hard for them to beat you three times in a row if your team is good, and that if one team has beaten the crap out of a comparable team over any stretch of time it will eventually even out. It was just time for the Red Sox; I think that, now, it is time for the Yankees. Their teams have just been too good over the last nine years for their postseason failures to continue, especially now that they’ve got a team of this level two wins away.

If there’s any anecdotal measure by which to judge the series, it all works in the Yankees’ favor. As CF noted in his baseball preview, this Yankee team appears to be more cohesive than those of years past, and that the loose locker room has kept a group of the world’s best baseball players ready to do their jobs. The chances that this group cracks hard enough to lose three out of four games to a team that, frankly, they’re better than seems unlikely. Only a CC Sabathia meltdown of epic proportions could keep Philly’s hopes alive, by both evening up the series and casting a black cloud for the Yankees over a potential game seven with Sabathia on the hill.

But that too seems unlikely. Sabathia doesn’t seem to dominate great teams the way he dominates lesser ones, but he’s still a very good pitcher, and his October record is bound to adjust toward career norms at some point. For all the silly A-Rod/True Yankees business we’ve been exposed to this year, has anyone bestowed baseball’s greatest fake honor upon CC? And doesn’t it seem sort of inevitable?

The problem is not that I will believe it will happen, but that it doesn’t matter what happens later today. The Yankees are going to win the World Series now because they are the best baseball team on the planet and they only need to win two more games. A Phillies win would be one for history books, but only because of its sheer implausibility. Tonight, the World Series ended.

UPDATE: Scratch this. Choose life.

Blame Bradford Campeau-Laurion

The 2004 title wasn’t enough. The Red Sox humiliated the Yankees in the ALCS, won the World Series, and got the so-called monkey off their back. Still, Yankees fans brought the bravo. Instead of “1918” T-shirts, Bronx-ers parroted lines like, “There was no curse… you just sucked for 86 years” and “26 to 6… who’s counting?” Humbled they weren’t, even if they had become the historical standard for in-series futility. They were the Yankees. The ship would right itself.

In 2005, the status quo reigned. The Yankees and Sox both went out in the first round of the playoffs. The Yankees took their series to the seventh inning of game five; the Sox got swept.

In 2006, the Yankees crept back up to the top. The Red Sox finished third in the American League East, which drew chuckles around these parts. Sure, I was laughing when Kenny Rogers absolutely b*tched the Yankees in the playoffs, but there was a real concern that 2004 was just a fluke. A beautiful, miraculous, oh-my-God it happened fluke, but just a giant speedbump on the Yankees dominance train.

Then came 2007. The Red Sox won the AL East and won the World Series. They could compete with the Yankees on a decade-long basis. Good. But the cycle wasn’t fully complete. The Yankees still made the playoffs. They didn’t get to feel what it was like to sit at home in October, watching an octet of other teams compete for their trophy. They hadn’t seen the bottom.

And then, last year, it happened. In the farewell season to The Stadium, it was hoped that the Yankees would close it with a bang and title number 27. Instead, their playoff chances were done by September 27. Now they were the third place team, the second-class team, the funniest team money could buy. They were finally just another team, and it was glorious.

Unfortunately for all of us, they had sown the seeds of their resurrection. They just didn’t know it. In a September game, they kicked out a fan for attempting to pee during God Bless America. That man’s name is Bradford Campeau-Laurion. Bradford Campeau-Laurion is a Red Sox fan. And Bradford-Campeau Laurion is a bastard. You see, we finally had everything that we wanted. And then he had to go and ask for more.

Campeau-Laurion contended that the Yankees had violated his first amendment rights by preventing his tinkle, and sought to have them apologize and end the policy. Sure, he was completely legally right and was right to challenge the policy, but that’s hardly the point: Campeau-Laurion taunted the beast. “Look,” God said, “What else do you want? You’re not even asking for money. I gave you everything you wanted, and you want more. Remember everything I did for you to get you out of this mess. I think you’re being greedy.”

Campeau-Laurion was taken aback. “I don’t think I’m—”

“SILENCE!” God said. “I’ll be the judge of that.”

While He was judging , the Yankees signed CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. A-Rod got called out to the point where he stopped caring about what other people thought of him, and simply cared about hitting a baseball. The Yankees finished a stadium with a 150-foot right field porch, and hit approximately 75 home runs in April.

I’m not saying God is all “Go Yankees!” They’re in the World Series now, and I doubt God has a preference between them and the Phillies. But something changed this year, and I refuse to believe it’s a long-overdue balancing of the scales. No, I believe other forces are at work. Campeau-Laurion won his lawsuit in May, getting his lawyer’s fees paid for and a small, unsolicited payout from the city. The Yankees also agreed to forever allow peeing during God Bless America. Unfortunately, that includes during the World Series, too. Ergo, Brad’s fault.

I hope you’re happy.

True Phillies and Fake Yankees

I missed the baseball game yesterday (just saw the highlights. Yikes). Oh, the Yankees lost? Splendid. Lest I spew any pessimistic garbage about how they’re probably going to win anyway—which is true, even if only according to TEH PROBABILITIES—let’s ride this ALCS out to another game. 2004 did wonderful, wonderful things, my friends, and one of those is keep hope alive for the little guy against the Yankees. Sure, the little guy spends a ton of money, but don’t let facts get in the way. Anyone’s little next to the Yanks, like Conan O’Brien standing next to Shaq.

Whoever wins the series—and it will be the Yankees—will play the Phillies. Wild note about the Phillies: they’re the first team since the 2001 Yanks to make the World Series in consecutive years. A little mind-blowing, no? In basketball and hockey, it’s happened within the last two titles (hockey had a str8 up rematch last year). In football, it hasn’t happened since The Trits® threw down on the Iggles in 2004 and, as a result of their victory, I threw up in a bucket on camera, which was subsequently broadcast on Manhattan Public Access TV. Some things are better left unseen, though I feel bad for the alien spaceship cruising Orion’s belt that only gets MNN and is destined to pick up the signal in 400 million years. Not as bad as they’ll feel for me, I’m sure.

(One thing that should be noted about these aliens—or ones with a full array of channels—is that the switch to digital cable is going to seriously impact their ability to watch TV. Or will they be able to see even more channels with the rise of satellite TV? Or will they not see because the satellites are pointed at Earth, whereas old-fashioned signals broadcasted out from Earth? Is it that simple? And if not, how much bullshit is it that these future aliens can get the NFL package and I can’t?)

An… y… how… this Philies team has the possibility of becoming an iconic team, the type of which that even your mom knows who Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are. The Yankees, it should be noted, are like this every year. Given their outsized payroll and ego, the Yankees are always the self-fancied cock of the walk, each one trying to get their “true Yankee” cred. When people say player such-and-such “couldn’t make it in New York,” they usually mean that the player was unable to deal with the garbage of being booed mercilessly in the hazing process of becoming a “true Yankee,” the title of which, once bestowed, allows you not to be booed right up until the fans decide to yank it away. Which can be at any time. My boss, without a shred of irony, told me yesterday that A-Rod had finally become a “true Yankee” in this postseason. In his sixth year on the team. It’s not just that my boss is wrong in principle (he is), he’s also wrong on the facts. By trying to be Jeter Junior, A-Rod wore himself out, physically and emotionally, to the point where he corkscrewed himself into oblivion come playoff time. It was only after disowning that nonsense that he’s managed to absolutely rip it in October. A-Rod hasn’t become a true Yankee—he’s transcended it.

Of course, the label is silly and self-gratifying to begin with. The thing about the Phillies is that the fans have unconditionally loved them since April, and embraced newcomers along the way (Pedro Martinez and Cliff Lee) like new members of the family. That’s true love, in the best sports sense. The Phillies may not win the World Series, but they know a good thing when they see it.

A-Rod

I’ve probably written more about Alex Rodriguez than I have about any other athlete (last winter’s entry here). He has been everything a sportswriter could ask for: outgoing, vain, naive, foolish, and a hundred other celebrity adjectives. He’s been proud of all of them, even as his on-the-field performance—you know, his job—has suffered at the times it’s needed most. The stats tell part of the story. Until this year, he has been ordinary in the playoffs: not as bad as his critics say, but nothing befitting one of the best players in the game. Three years ago, he was benched against the Detroit Tigers when he was supposed to be carrying the Yankees past an inferior team. At the beginning of this year, he was outed as an incurable narcissist and steroid user in a book by Sports Illustrated’s Selena Roberts. It was the best thing that could have happened to him.

For years, A-Rod had been embarassing himself in increasingly ridiculous ways, and this March, the bubble finally burst. Short of being convicted of any sort of crime, the public’s love affair with the A-Rod foibles was over. People like intrigue, but they don’t cheaters (or what they consider cheaters, at any rate). So A-Rod fell into the background like only he could: he stopped talking, and started dating Kate Hudson. Only in A-Rod-Land can you start dating Goldie Hawn’s daughter and somehow become less interesting, but that’s exactly what happened.

Instead of being the incurable narcissist with the cerebral, psychologist wife whom he tried to please, he started a frivolous relationship with someone who actually appeared to like him. For all A-Rod’s popularity, he has always seemed very alone, trying to fill the significant gaps in his life with newspaper headlines and the plaudits of the baseball aristocracy. His bizarre fascination with cooler-than-thou Derek Jeter was odd, unsurprising evidence of this.

With a relaxed, simmed down A-Rod tearing up everything he sees at the plate, the rapport between him and Jeter has mellowed significantly. Every time something happens that’s good for the Yankees, it’s the two of them clapping and hollering on in lockstep. That is, unless it’s another one of A-Rod’s home runs. Then it’s only Jeter, clapping away on the top step for a teammate he finally respects.

It’s hard to talk about A-Rod without talking about Jeter, and I suspect that Jeter realizes how much he needs Rodriguez these days. Jeter is still a great player, playing at a Hall of Fame level, but the needy, nervy A-Rod threatens to suck the life out of a Yankees team with brutal efficiency. It’s possible and likely that the Yankees’ new additions have kept the clubhouse “loose,” and with Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia working their magic, A-Rod feels like he’s just part of the club of elites instead of bearing the weight of the Yankees season on his shoulders. If Jeter was impervious before, maybe he was oblivious to how much the toll took not on Rodriguez, but the team as a whole. For the first time, it appears they genuinely like each other.

Make no mistake: if the Yankees win this title, it will be A-Rod’s World Series. Jeter will get “one for the thumb,” but the talk will all be about Rodriguez. He’s done so much to lead them there so far it’s almost inspiring to think that he might be able to keep it up. Just as Barry Bonds transcended his October woes to turn in a signature postseason, it appears A-Rod is going the same. The difference is that Bonds did it through methods that ultimately made him a villain (and perhaps not incidentally, he lost). A-Rod did it the other way: by finally becoming the good guy.

Booze, Baseball and True Love

You’re not going to believe this, but after yesterday’s blotto football-and-supermarket session, I’ve been in a lot of pain today (I’m writing this Monday night instead of Tuesday morning). I did however, interview a major league baseball player at work today, so I had that going, which is nice. Now I’m full of vegetable samosas that I apparently bought yesterday.

And now some words on the baseball playoffs, I guess.

The only thing I do not want to happen this year is for the Yankees to sweep through the ALCS and World Series without much competition, stomping to a 1998-2000-style championship. I obviously don’t mean “sweep” in the traditional sports sense here, but one win does not a series make for the Angels, or, far more importantly, for me.

In the National League, I avoided paying attention until about thirty minutes ago. I’ve followed the action until now but haven’t really watched it, for fear of gorging myself on meaningless baseball. It was just: if the Yankees were going to romp whomever they played, the NL playoffs were something of a Bataan Death March. Given that I’m increasingly interested in Game 4, I guess that the Yankees loss has at least given me hope. Audacious, I know.

The Red Sox lost eight days ago, and during game two of the Yankees/Angels series—the so-called “classic” that lasted 13 innings—I turned it off after 11, realizing that I knew the outcome ahead of time, and that I hated both teams. But that realization was also a result of a day of booziness, and I realize that when I’ve had a couple and watch the Yankees, I’m immediately transported back to their glory years, expecting the worst. It’s a terrible way to live. In the light of day, it’s not so bad. My liver is excited for more of these “days” of not pounding back whatever’s put in front of me, as is my brain, my stomach, and everyone but my readers, really. You guys love some drunk posts, don’t you?

While we’re talking NL playoffs, a quick note on these Phillies. I’ve never seen a fanbase so dead-set on a repeat title that they have basically disowned their championship. I mean, they haven’t really, but they’re not using it as a hammer. They want this. For all the deserved teasing of Philly sports fans, there isn’t a much healthier attitude to have than to seize the moment. The only Boston team of the decade that inspired this attitude was last year’s Celtics, who were derailed by Kevin Garnett’s injury from what now appears to have been a very winnable title. Even when the Patriots did win back-to-back Super Bowls, they seemed inevitable, and the Sox’ 2007 campaign fell flat… but the Yankees won the playoffs. We don’t even need to discuss the hangover from 2004.

Like Celtics fans last year, Phillies fans are embracing the idea that the windows to win titles are small, especially in a sport as fickle as baseball. It’s one thing to put together good players, and it’s another to have championship teams. The alchemy between the two is mysterious and possibly apocryphal, but Philadelphians know they’ve got something good. Hell, they’ve waited long enough, they ought to know it when they see it. It’s kind of like true love, I guess.

UPDATE: Jimmy Rollins.

Writings on other sites

I wrote a very thorough and, in retrospect, early Sports Guy-esque column evaluating whether the Yankees front-office family compared more favorably to that of The Godfather or Arrested Development over here.

I also had a good Republican/Democrat give and take with a friend of mine in the comments to this post.

You can’t make this up

A-Rod gives money to Giuliani… who leads all the way up to when it matters… and then Giuliani tanks. It’s just so perfect.

If you haven’t yet, read my essay, The Huckster, about A-Rod’s failure of personality, here.

The Huckster

My essay The Huckster is now up on Last Exit Magazine.

If you like the stuff up there, please sign up for their mailing list. They promise not to spam you, and more of my stuff will be on there in the future.