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.