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Category: Days of Yore Page 1 of 3

Remembering Some (Excellent) Guys as Gerrit Cole Keeps Rolling

It’s no secret that Gerrit Cole is off to an incredible start in 2021. Through 10 starts, he is doing exactly what the Yankees acquired him to do and more – he’s currently 6-2 with a 1.81 ERA, 92 strikeouts in only 64.2 innings, and an incredible 226 ERA+. Even his bad starts are merely average.  Although the true Gerrit Cole experience in New York may have been delayed, fans are finally hoping to see what a full season of ace pitching will look like from the team’s marquee 2019 signing, and so far we have not been disappointed.

If we were to project Cole’s early-season stats to an entire year, assuming he pitches approximately 200 innings, the results would be pretty mind-blowing; you would see something in the range of an 18-win season with over 270 strikeouts and 8+ WAR. Although the year is young, I couldn’t help but wonder – that would be the Yankees’ best starting pitching season in a really long time, right?  Where could Gerrit Cole rank in the pantheon of recent Yankees’ aces when the book is closed on 2021?

Throughout their vaunted history, the Yankees have employed many great pitchers who have done many great things. However, most lists of the “greatest Yankees starting pitchers of all time” and “greatest single-season Yankees starting pitching performances” feature predominantly, if not exclusively, performances from before 1980.  1980 was a long time ago – Gerrit Cole, in fact, was not born until September 8, 1990.  Cole is clearly poised to become the standard-bearer for a new era of Yankees pitching, but he may also be on his way to the best season the Yankees have seen since before his own birth.  To contextualize, I bring you a few excellent seasons by Yankees starting pitching, post-1990 edition.

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Remembering Dr. Bobby Brown

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Dr. Bobby Brown, a member of the vaunted New York Yankees championship teams of the 1940s and ‘50s, and a Korean War veteran who made his post-playing name as a cardiologist and baseball executive, passed away today at the age of 96. He leaves a legacy as one of the most well-rounded and interesting people to have ever played Major League Baseball.

Brown was born in Seattle on October 25, 1924, and was allegedly a hot baseball prospect by the age of 13.  When he graduated high school in 1942, however, he began attending Stanford University.  While at Stanford, he received a Silver Lifesaving Medal from the Coast Guard when he assisted in the rescue of a Guardsman from a plane crash.  He also enlisted in the Navy during his college years; because he was a pre-med student, during his time in service he was assigned to UCLA and then Tulane to complete his medical training. He was discharged in 1946, and that year, in a staggering feat of multitasking, he convinced the dean’s office at Tulane Medical School that he could balance his coursework and a professional baseball career.

He signed with the Yankees that year and made his Major League debut at third base in September alongside his minor league roommate, Yogi Berra. Over the course of his 548 game career, all with New York, Brown hit .279, drove in 237 runs, and won four World Series titles.  He batted .439 over the course of seventeen World Series games.

A Baseball Remembrance

This is a repost from something I wrote at RAB in 2015. Updates are in brackets.

Every baseball or softball game that I’ve ever played in has, generally, started the exact same way: some running, some stretching, some throwing. Lately, as in, since I graduated (read: got too old for one) from baseball to slow-pitch softball, I haven’t had a consistent throwing partner before games like I did during high school and American Legion baseball. Back then, I generally threw with the same teammate before each game. My first throwing partners, though, were my relatives, namely my father and his father, my grandfather. This is hardly unique; I’m sure that many of you reading this learned the game through your parents, grandparents, and siblings. Now, however, I’m going to be a bit selfish because today, May 10, would have been my grandfather’s [93rd] birthday.

When it’s hard for me to think back on the totality of the person my grandfather was, I think back on specific memories that involve him or his home where I spent so much time as a kid. And every image has something to do with baseball.

He kept a tennis ball under his deck that he’d throw at his neighbor’s roof if the pigeons he kept got up there. I used to take that ball every chance I could and throw it against his neighbor’s garage, whose outer wall faced into my grandfather’s yard.

Before big pigeon races, he would take his birds to random locations in the tri-state area (he really loved the Vince Lombardi Service Station on the Turnpike for this). One time, I went with him and we let the birds go on a baseball field. I was young, still playing on the small diamond. For fun, I ran the bases of this big diamond; I’m sure it took me forever and a half, but he made me feel like Rickey Henderson.

I recall his living room, which was my father’s childhood bedroom, where I would adjust the blinds so there wouldn’t be too much glare so we could watch the Yankees–at least until he fell asleep in his recliner.

On Saturdays when I would have games of my own on his side of town, my father and I, pizza in tow, would sit in his backyard, waiting for the pigeons to come home, listening to the Yankees on the radio.

His backyard sloped and when we did have a catch, he always insisted that I stand on the top part of the slop so I felt like I was pitching, so my throws would be easier, would seem harder, faster. Even now, I can picture his throwing motion, almost perfectly overhand, his bicep practically clipping his ear as it passed; this makes me think he’d absolutely love watching Chase Headley throw (seriously, could his throws be more over-the-top?).

I can’t even begin to count the amount of times he and I sat with my father around the kitchen table, talking about baseball. The generational connection so often peddled out by MLB for marketing purposes is definitely tired, but it exists for a reason. The three of us did not always have a lot in common–how could we?–but baseball was always there to bind us, to lighten our stresses.

And then on July 24, 2006, after a little under a month in the hospital, my grandfather died. To cope, or to help cope, I threw myself headlong into baseball. Looking back, I most definitely pushed away family and friends at times that summer, which I regret, but I embraced baseball with vigor I hadn’t known before. Every night when the Yankees played, that was my catharsis. I doubt I expressed this properly then, maybe I couldn’t, but turning on those games on TV or the radio, or being at the Stadium made me feel a connection to my grandfather. For three hours a night, I felt better and that’s all I cared about.

I owe all the baseball writing I’ve done to my grandfather. It is partially through the memory of him that I love watching the game, and talking about the game, and writing about the game. This piece alone cannot adequately encapsulate just how much I miss having him around, but (again) selfishly, it feels good to put “pen” to “paper” and talk about his influence on me as a player of and a fan of the game. Happy Birthday, Louie; thanks for helping imbue me with a love for the greatest game there is.

My Top Three Part 3: Important Players

Welcome to another edition of my Top Three series. As always, I hope you’re doing well and staying healthy where you are. Thanks, again, as always, for reading along during these tough times. There’s a lot of ways you could while away your hours and that you choose to do part of that with us here is flattering to say the least. We’re all in the same boat by isolating or quarantining or sheltering in place and it’s comforting in an uncomfortable time to know that. But we’re also in the same boat when it comes to missing baseball. Hopefully we can provide a little taste of that, even if it isn’t game action. Anyway, on to the list…

Today, I’m gonna discuss the three players I think were most important to my development as a fan and writer. These players aren’t necessarily the ones who had the most impact on the game or were even the best players for my lifetime. Rather, they’re the ones whose careers shaped the way I think about the game or the way I write about the game.

First up is Derek Jeter. Is this cliche for a fan my age (32)? Hell yes. Do I care? Hell no. This isn’t to say Jeter was always my favorite player growing up. Bernie Williams was eventually my favorite with Andy Pettitte close behind. But what Jeter represented and when he did it made him more important to my budding fandom. As Jeter rose to prominence, so did the Yankees. As the Yankees rose to prominence, so did my fandom. Like many young people, I found it easy to latch onto the idea of Derek Jeter–not that his ballplaying didn’t match that image most of the time–and root for him and the team. As the years went on, that image faded and I, like many fans my age and of my persuasion, poked holes in the Jeter image. But all the while, I owe a lot of my Yankee fandom to him. He came along at a perfect time to hook a young fan for life.

Next on the list is Chien-Ming Wang. CMW’s career with the Yankees, despite its brevity, was impactful to both the team and me. To the team, he was the first “real” starter they’d developed since Andy Pettitte. He turned in two back-to-back excellent seasons with the Yankees in 2006 and 2007, finishing (a distant) second to Johan Santana, ahead of Roy Halladay, in 2006’s Cy Young Award voting. It was all going great until June 15, 2008 (coincidentally, my 21st birthday!) when he was injured on the bases in Houston. I’ll never forget the way Robinson Cano went from signaling Wang to stay up, not slide, to waving for a trainer in a split second. But I digress…

Wang’s importance to me came well before that terrible afternoon in Houston. Back then, I spent a lot of time arguing about baseball, mostly on message boards, forums, and the like. Then at some point in 2007, I decided to put myself out there and submitted something for publishing.

It was a piece about CMW that got posted to Dugout Central and, in retrospect, it is terrible, horrible,no good, very bad. Were I to read it today–and I definitely prefer not to–I would likely be embarrassed by its hypothesis, its content, its writing. But what mattered is I published something somewhere public where I could get feedback from outside the closed echo chamber of a forum where I knew everyone. About a year later, I had set up my own blog, then began my odyssey of Yankee writing that eventually led me here. May I have done that anyway, having written about someone other than CMW? Probably. But the reality is I wrote about him because something in his game inspired me to do so. Now here I am, almost 15 years later, still spilling digital ink about the Yankees.

Nick Swisher will likely not go down in any sort of Yankee lore. He was a fun, easy to root for player for some good Yankee teams, but his impact wasn’t monumental. Despite that, he was one of my favorite players in that 2009-2012 run. He was also important to my development as a writer.

When Swisher was acquired from the White Sox, there were doubts about him, considering how poorly he fared in 2008. And even after Spring Training, he wasn’t penciled in as a starter in the outfield–Xavier Nady was until he was injured and Swisher took over full time starting duties and never gave them away. Those doubts, which Swisher eventually erased, helped me become a better baseball writer. I had to make an argument for a player. I had to use (for the time) off the beaten path data to make that case in my writing.

Having to craft the argument(s) in favor of Swisher honed my writing skills and my analytical ability and informed how I would write and analyze going forward. Both things have certainly evolved since then, but they came from humble beginnings.

My Top Three Part 2: Playoff Games

Welcome to another edition of my “top three” series, which started last week when I detailed my three most cherished regular season games (LINK TO LAST WEEK’S POST). Today, I’m going to talk about the same thing with Yankee playoff games this time around. As Yankee fans, we have a lot of playoff games to choose from. You already know this and I don’t need to go into too much detail, but we’re lucky to root for a franchise that doesn’t raise banners for Wild Card games.Like last time, I’ll go in chronological order. 

2009 is my absolute favorite Yankee season ever, so let’s start there, specifically with Game 4 of the World Series. Sure, AJ Burnett’s clutch performance probably makes Game 2 more exciting. And who doesn’t love a clincher like Game 6? But Game 4 offered me such a unique experience that I’ll never forget. Back then, in the first year of Yankee Stadium III, the team tried to cater to fans a little bit more–or so it seemed. And because of that, I was able to “go” to Game 4, even though it was in Philadelphia. The Yankees opened the stadium to fans and for a cheap fee–I think it was $8 and parking was free!–you could get in and watch the game on the big screen in centerfield. A friend and I went, more or less on a whim, and it was a blast, not only because of the game, but because of the unique atmosphere.

Maybe it’s just because they only seated fans in the lower bowl–minus the Legends seats–but the crowd felt just as loud and into things as if the game were playing out for real in front of us rather than on a screen. It was like watching the game at a local bar, but with thousands of people, a comfortable seat, and the ability to talk to those around you.

As expected, the crowd got even louder as the Yankees mounted their comeback and go-ahead in the top of the ninth inning. One thing I’ll likely never forget is the collective “NO NO N–YES!” feeling that just about everyone in the stadium had when Johnny Damon stole second and third in one shot. 

The other thing I won’t forget is walking back to my car with throngs of fans outside, screaming our heads off with excitement while residents in the apartments shouted down the same feelings from high up, waving Yankee flags, banners, towels, jerseys, shirts, whatever out of their windows. My refrain, which many passing by picked up (I swear!), was, “TEN DOWN, ONE TO GO!” A few nights later in the Bronx, it was over and the Yankees were back on top. World Champions for the 27th time. 

I’ve only actually attended one real playoff game, and it was a good one: Game 3 of the 2012 ALDS. Earlier that day, I was day subbing in my hometown back in Connecticut, covering for a gym teacher at my high school. Around lunch time, my wife (then girlfriend) texted me saying, “We should go to the game tonight.” At work, she found tickets and bought them, and I was off to my first playoff game. 

Despite the excitement of that, the feeling I remember for most of the game was frustration. Hiroki Kuroda was pitching his ass off for the Yankees–he only threw two bad pitches all night, which, unfortunately, went for homers–and the offense just couldn’t push anything across. And when Joe Girardi pinch hit for Alex Rodriguez, my immediate reaction was that it was a bad idea. Of course, Raul Ibanez proved me wrong and tied the game with a home run.

I never experienced a playoff game at Yankee Stadium II and I know people like to compare the new one to it negatively in terms of atmosphere. However, after that Ibanez homer, the upper deck of YSIII was rocking. I could feel the feet of thousands across the hard ground, shaking the section to its core. And three innings later, the process was repeated when RAUJ did it again and sent us all home happy. If I never go to another playoff game again, it would be okay, considering the result of this one I did get to go to. 

The 2017 Yankees were an absolutely fantastic ride. Even at my most optimistic, I didn’t expect them to do more than to compete for the second wild card spot. Then, led by Aaron Judge (the should’ve been MVP even before the Astros cheating thing) and Gary Sanchez, they won the first wild card in convincing fashion, beating out the Twins by six games. And all that almost came to a screeching halt when Luis Severino couldn’t get out of the first inning and put the Yankees in a 3-0 hole during the AL Wild Card Game

And then Didi Gregorius came to the plate and the momentum didn’t stop from there. His three run homer to tie the game and swing things back the Yankees’ way is on the short list of ‘most pumped up I’ve ever been during a baseball game’ moments. If it weren’t for the sleeping baby upstairs, I would’ve screamed my head off. Instead, I just silently punched the air about a dozen or six times and knew, from that moment, that the Yankees were winning that game. 

The 2017 run ended in frustration and, given the circumstances, probably shouldn’t have. But that first game of their run was so spectacular that it offers at least a little comfort. The game itself seemed a microcosm of the Yankees and Twins’ many playoff matchups in this century. No matter what, the Twins just can’t seem to get over that hump from the Bronx. 

What are your top 3 playoff games and why? Head to the comments and let’s remember some playoff games. 

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