Saturday, October 07, 2006

If I were the type of blogger in the habit of giving titles to posts, I guess I might call this one Damn Yankees. The Yankees fans might be consoling themselves with the dulcet tones of Crowded House in their hit "Don't Dream It's Over." I wanted the Yanks to win, not as a Yankee fan, but as a Red Sox hater. But I like Jim Leyland as a manager. I think he radiates an old school, more competent, less snakebitten Pop Fisher (the manager from the Natural) vibe. I've never been able to summon up any negative feeling against the Tigers, which is strange for me since I hate so many things with so few reasons.

The Yankees assembled one of the great paper champions of all time this season. But like another team I hoped would best a squad from Michigan this fall, they were ready for every eventuality but one. In case you're wondering or you don't read my blog regularly, I'm referring to the Notre Dame loss to Michigan. I still don't know whether the Irish are better than the Wolverines, I believe it but I'm biased. The Yankees seemed to deflate when Detroit battled back to win game 2.

It's just me talking, but I got the sense that the Bronx Bombers expected Damon's 3 run shot to put the kibosh on the Tigers. The whole team seemed to be looking around for some other one of the All Stars to step up and get the big hits. Unfortunately, no one stepped up against Bonderman or Kenny Rogers. I don't want to diminish the excellent pitching performances both gentlemen submitted. But the Yankees of 6,7 years ago with a lesser galaxy of stars made a living out of surviving against excellent pitching performances.

This Yankee team just seemed like it lacked guts in huge moments. The Tigers seemed more like the Yankees of old than this edition of Yankees did in this series, and it decided the series. Read this article from the Tigers website. It tells me that it's go time for Oakland, and in the immortal words of Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy: "This will all end in tears" if your Billy Beane. Or at least another Bonderman inspired tantrum where he throws a chair into the wall.

Alex Rodriguez has to go. He's a great talent, I can't deny it. He says he wants to be part of the solution in NY, but I just don't think he can do it. The big stage and the pressure seem to eat him alive. It might be self-inflicted, he might take the pressure the media and the fans and his teammates put on him and internalize too much of it. But he has an absolute knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong moment. First there was his infamous war of words with Trot Nixon a couple of years ago. In the recent Sports Illustrated piece, he complained that people didn't like him because he was biracial and good looking. That seems odd to me, what with the fact that the average Yankee fan would take a bullet for Derek Jeter, who is both good looking and biracial.

I looked at his Wikipedia page, and you who read this tell me that a Red Sox fan wasn't at this. I didn't know that ARod was openly gay. I didn't know he was gay at all. Somehow, with the amount of ESPN I watch and the sports articles I read, I think I would have heard that one of the most famous players in the game swas gay. Not that I care, because it's not my business, but it presents a chance to try Red Sox Nation. Are you really so petty, and pathetic that you need to call a high profile Yankee a homosexual to feel better about yourselves? Even homophobes should be horrified by this trend.

Some other team will take him if the Yankees pay a big percentage of his salary, and he'll fill seats for them. Any other team will be glad to make the postseason, and he just might make a difference (think Magglio Ordonez, but much more talented). In New York, a Yankees championship is not the amazing event that it is elsewhere. Even winning the World Series there has a "Nice work, you did what you were supposed to do, now shut up" feel to it. Outside of the New York pressure cooker, his errors will likely drop and his offensive numbers will probably go up.

The Yankees can afford to pay him to play somewhere else. They might be better off as an organization, as strange as it seems, to pay him to play for another team. He won't be a focal point, no more pressure, no more controversy. The Yankees will have a hole in the lineup, and they'll need to find a third baseman. Aaron Boone is available, since the Indians declined his option. He'll be a cheaper alternative, with less power, but the power numbers weren't there for any Yankee in this series. It's time for the team and the player to go in a different direction, and Red Sox fans surely share my fond memories of Aaron Boone's home run to end the 2003 ALCS.
Gary Sheffield will likely be gone from the Bronx next season too. His option is too expensive for the production one can expect from him. I'll miss him. His massive swing and his if looks could kill expression were pretty cool. I remember Bill Simmons saying that Sheff looked like the last guy you see when you get too deep in the hole with your bookie (I'd link the specific article if the ESPN archive fee weren't too steep for the limited budget of this blog). He didn't look good at first base today, and is he a better option in right field than Abreu (who is most definitely under contract for next season)? Big Stein spent a boatload on the two, but he can afford to cut his losses. And as the Walrus said, the time has come to talk of other things...

I think it was unfair to talk about this Yankee team as the best offense ever assembled. Obviously they weren't, when you look at the fact that Giambi, ARod and Sheff managed three hits among them in the ALDS against the Tigers. There are, or were, two factors oft overlooked in the rush to overhype and overanalyze this Yankee team.

First, it is insane to compare any team from this era to the Murders Row Yankees of the late 1920s and early 30s. In case you may have forgotten, let me remind you that in the dark ages, pitchers hit every day. There was no DH until the 1970s. So there was a weak link in the lineup every day for those Yankee teams.

Most people who know that Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett would have submitted the two most dominating pitching performances that the human mind can conceive understand that I am fabricating the second factor from thin air. Unfortunately for Red Sox fans, they spend too much time looking at the world through rose colored glasses or perhaps the bottoms of empty glasses. But the second reason I think it is pointless to compare the current MLB players to their far distant antecedents is this: they lowered the pitcher's mound after Bob Gibson (who disappointed me by not throwing a hellacious beating on scribes who compared him to Pedro Martinez in the mid to late 90s) ruinated the MLB hitters in the 1968 campaign.

I haven't even mentioned the other peripheral issues one ought consider in such a comparison. Advances in nutrition and exercise regimens altered the physical dimension of even the average American, so what has it done for pro baseball players? And then there are the ball parks. Back in the day, what is now Monument Park in Yankee Stadium was in play. The centerfield wall was 450 feet away. I'm surprised no one else mentioned anything like that on ESPN. That has to be like 12, 13 minutes of talk on Baseball Tonight. Perhaps it's too intricate for the average fan.

I think the Tigers will win it all. Right now, they have a serious team of destiny vibe. Kind of like the Red Sox had the vibe that they were destined to be swept by the Yankees in a pivotal five game series. Heads had to roll for this season, and they did. The path is now paved for a title run next season. Ron Jackson and Dave Wallace will not be joining us for the rest of their lives (to borrow a phrase from my favorite movie villain, Hans from Die Hard).

It seems like only yesterday that Ron Jackson was the genius who undid the singles hitter mantra the Twins tried to instill in David Ortiz and turned him into one of the most feared power threats in baseball. We live in a what have you done for me lately world, and apparently when they reckoned the account on Ron Jackson, the answer was not enough. Francona (or Francoma, as the Red Sox fan who told me he'd be happy with a 12-7 split in the season series with the Yankees calls him) is still in place for the time being, but like Nebuchadnezzar's kid, the writing is on the wall. I'm thinking of betting that he'll be looking for a job come next November. I take no joy in it, I merely use it as one more avenue to pour salt into the wounds of Red Sox Nation.

This offseason will be an interesting one. Will the Red Sox spend to compete with the Yankees? Or will they weasel out and rely on the dwindling reservoir of goodwill from the travesty of 2004? At some point, Red Sox fans might cowboy up and kick back against a team with the highest ticket prices in baseball, a penchant for charging nitwits $12 to tour an empty stadium and $9.95 for citizenship in Red Sox Nation, a skewed concession economy that leaves fan with a colossal thirst paying over and above the cost of a 30 banger in a packie for a round of watered-down Bud/Bud Light and an front office devoted to misinformation (OK, so I made that last one up, can you find it in your heart to forgive me?). Third place in the AL East sticks going down, even if they did win the title two years ago, and fickle friends in New England won't take it again.

Remember, you heard it here first. The Yankees will win it all next season if they sign Roger Clemens. I dreamed it two weeks ago, now we'll see if it becomes reality. I believe in mysticism and dreams and that irrational stuff. It's fine with me if you don't, but that's how I roll. I feel so strongly about it that I'm willing to be that guy and provide a link to my own post where I initially mentioned the dream. I hate the self reference, but just so you know that the Yanks were still alive when I dreamed it.

Notre Dame did what we expected them to do today. They beat Stanford, and I actually felt badly about it. I hate Stanford, I root against them all the time in every sport, but they looked like a high school team out there this afternoon. It was like me arm wrestling my four year old niece. Dallas plays Philly tomorrow. I'd be rooting for them anyway, but I have TO, Bledsoe and Jason Witten in fantasy. Poor drafting, I know, but I was drunk.

What did we learn from the rest of the college football games this week? Michigan beat Michigan State pretty badly. Last week Illinois upset Michigan State in East Lansing. Today Illinois lost a shootout at home to Indiana. The Fighting Irish needed a miracle comeback to beat the Spartans. So Notre Dame might get through the remainder of their schedule unscathed and face USC with a 10-1 record, but then again they might be in the weeds if Illinois or Indiana decided to pull a fast one and ambush them WWE style.

While it might be intriguing to see a team that had game planned for one opponent suddenly be surprised by another team jumping into the stadium without warning, that's simply not football. And I doubt the NCAA would approve. It might happen one day, with the degeneration of sports fandom. Hopefully, I won't live to see it. I think Michigan still isn't quite as good as they were on that day in South Bend, and Notre Dame wasn't that bad. But the long and short of it is, Michigan has national title hopes, and they killed Notre Dame's chances of competing for that stupid crystal football.

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