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Wild Card Round Game 1: All you could ask for

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That was ideal, was it not? The Yankees clobbered Cleveland in Game 1 of this best-of-three series, 12-3. The offense was all over Shane Bieber and Gerrit Cole mowed down his opponent. It’s not like the Yankees needed to blow out Cleveland to feel comfortable, either. In fact, this one felt over after Aaron Judge’s two-run blast on the fourth pitch of the game. An early lead with Cole on the hill against a scuffling Cleveland offense? Just what the doctor ordered. Let’s break it down.

The bats took Bieber off his gameplan immediately. The Yankees’ offense may have been frustrating and inconsistent during the regular season, but that was far from the case tonight. Intimidated by the presumptive American League Cy Young winner? Not a chance. The Bombers took a 2-0 lead four pitches into this one. It completely took Shane Bieber off his game. DJ LeMahieu led off with a single and Aaron Judge followed with this:

That was quick. Bieber had come out firing all fastballs and the Yankees made him pay immediately. The right immediately shied away from his heater thereafter.

Bieber threw 27 fastballs the rest of the game, or 26.7 percent of his final 101 pitches. He’s not necessarily a fastball dominant pitcher as he used the pitch just over 37 percent in the regular season, but still. The Yankees scared him off the pitch.

Cleveland’s ace had a chance to settle down after a scoreless second and two relatively quick outs in the third inning. But instead, the Yankees’ relentless offense made him pay. Bieber fell behind Aaron Hicks 3-0, got it to 3-2, but then walked him. Up came Luke Voit:

Not a fastball, but rather, a cutter right down the pipe. Voit made him pay to give the Yanks a 3-1 lead.

The Yanks tallied a couple of more runs against Bieber in the fourth. Brett Gardner jumped a first pitch fastball for an RBI double and DJ LeMahieu delivered an RBI single up the middle against a heater too. The Yankees may not have seen Bieber’s fastball much, but when they did, they pounced. And they weren’t done jumping on Bieber’s fastball there. Gleyber Torres delivered the knockout blow in the fifth.

That was the end of Bieber’s night. 4 2/3 innings and 7 runs for the starter with a 1.77 ERA this season. Welp!

The offense didn’t let Bieber capitalize on his curveball, either. As impressive as it was to see the Yankees punish Bieber’s sporadically thrown fastball, it was also great to watch them not flail at too many of Bieber’s curveballs. Opponents had a .095 batting average, .143 slugging percentage, and 51.5 percent whiff rate against his yakker this season. Tonight, it’s not what they did when they put the ball in play (1-for-6), but rather, what they did against it otherwise.

Sure, Bieber racked up four Ks on his breaking ball, but that doesn’t tell the story. They whiffed on 7 of 18 swings (39 percent) against the curve, well below his regular season rate. They also fouled it off 5 times. Plus, Bieber was only able to nab 3 called strikes on it. It simply just wasn’t his typical putaway pitch this evening.

Overall, Bieber went to his curveball on 36 percent of his pitches this evening, 10 percent higher than in the regular season. That would have been a decent plan tonight had his curveball been fooling Yankees’ hitters. Instead, the offense was locked in. They hunted fastballs while spoiling Bieber’s curveball.

Gerrit Cole. The offense really stole the show from Gerrit Cole tonight, who was brilliant in his own right. After the bats staked him with a 2-0 lead, Gerrit set in the tone in the bottom half of the first. A 1-2-3 inning including two strikeouts on 13 pitches. You knew it was on from there.

The only real trouble Cole faced this evening came against Josh Naylor (!?!), who came over in the Mike Clevinger trade. Naylor went 3-for-3 against Cole including a mammoth solo homer in the fourth inning. That came after Naylor doubled off the center field wall in his first faceoff with Cole.

Cleveland’s other run against Gerrit was a bit fortunate, but also gave Cole his biggest test of the night. The Yankees were up 3-0 and Cole had gotten to two outs with a runner on second in the third inning. César Hernández was up and the scalding-hot José Ramírez was on deck as the potential tying run. Hernández dribbled a grounder past Cole to Torres for an infield single, a batted ball that had a .210 expected batting average. Up came Ramírez.

Cole bounced back to strike out Carlos Santana on three pitches to escape further damage. Naylor may have hit a homer in the next inning, but Cleveland never really threatened against the Yankees’ ace.

The Yanks’ $324 million man racked up 13 strikeouts in 7 innings. He threw 105 pitches and probably could have gone one more inning if necessary, but given the 9 run lead, there was no need to push it. If 13 strikeouts didn’t say it already: Cole had everything working. But in particular, this was the best fastball we’ve seen from him in 2020.

Cole’s fastball got hit a little harder than usual this year (.327 wOBA, 24.7 whiff rate). Last year, those marks were .254 and 37.6 percent. Tonight? Cole’s fastball looked like that 2019 version. Of the 55 he threw, Cleveland batters swung-and-missed 35 percent of the time. He did allow a couple of hard hits against the pitch (namely doubles by Ramírez and Naylor), but he also garnered three pop outs and a soft line out. Dominant.

His curveball was really working too. Of ten swings against it: five whiffs, three fouls, and two balls in play. The highest exit velo against it was 85.2 MPH. Very, very good. Also good? Five called strikes on it. Remember, Cole had some trouble throwing the curve for strikes earlier this season.

The slider and changeup were very effective too. He generated five whiffs on ten swings against the slider and another whiff on two hacks at the changeup. Neither the slider or changeup had an exit velocity against above 90.5 MPH.

Again, everything was working. A masterpiece, just as we had all hoped.

Leftovers

  • The decision to start Brett Gardner over Clint Frazier sure worked out. He scored twice and had three hits: an RBI double, a two-run homer to give the Yankees an 11-2, and a single in the ninth. Clint was great in the regular season even with a slow finish, but Boone’s decision to play the hot hand certainly made the manager look good. Don’t worry, Frazier is still the team’s left fielder next season. I don’t know what they do tomorrow, though.
  • How did Kyle Higashioka do? He certainly didn’t hurt the Yankees tonight in place of Gary Sánchez. Higgy had a single in four trips to the plate, though perhaps the most notably play was a throw he sailed into center field in the third inning on a wild pitch. A better throw might have nabbed Delino DeShields at second base and ultimately keep a run off the board that inning. Didn’t turn out to be a big deal, of course.
  • Luis Cessa pitched the eighth and ninth innings and allowed one run. Nice job by him to save the bullpen for tomorrow.

Game Two is at 7:08 p.m. EDT tomorrow. If we see the version of Masahiro Tanaka we’re used to seeing in the playoffs, the Yankees will wrap things up tomorrow and advance. Carlos Carrasco counters for Cleveland. A very good pitcher in his own right, but I can’t wait to see what the Yankees’ offense has in store after this evening. Have a good night everyone.

Game 48: That was easy

This one was over pretty early. The Yankees put up crooked numbers in the second, third, and fourth innings en route to a 20-6 victory. Rookie Deivi García was great again, the offense socked a bunch of homers, and Toronto’s gaffes in the second inning opened things up. The winning streak is up to six and the Bombers are back in second place in the AL East. To the takeaways we go:

But first, we interrupt this recap to bring you a few words from David Cone and Michael Kay:

Yes, yes, we agree. Now, back to your regularly scheduled recap.

The Yankees are finally catching some breaks. It wasn’t that long ago when the Yankees couldn’t help but trip over themselves. Remember that awful loss to the Mets in extras? Those were the bad times when the team was making tons of sloppy plays and players were hitting the injured list on a daily basis. The tides have turned of late, though. Tonight, especially.

If not for Derek Fisher, the Yankees might have not scored in the second inning. Instead, one error and a misplay scored a single really allowed things to unfurl. Jays’ starter Taijuan Walker couldn’t stop the bleeding and pick up his outfielder, either.

First, with Gio Urshela (welcome back!) on second and one out, Clint Frazier hit what should have been a routine fly out to right:

Brett Gardner followed with a fly ball in the gap that Fisher couldn’t track down:

Two brutal miscues, but Walker still had a chance to get out of this with just one run allowed. After the Gardner hit, Walker struck out Gary Sánchez for the second out of the frame. That left just Tyler Wade between Walker and a trip to the dugout with the score just 1-1. Walker got to 0-2 on Wade, but couldn’t finish him off. A few pitches later, Wade delivered:

That’s just inexcusable for Walker. Wade, a lifetime .188/.264/.293 hitter coming into this game, should be an easy out especially when he’s behind 0-2 and is the final batter before the top of the order. Instead, after the Wade knock, DJ LeMahieu singled in another run to make it 3-1. That’s when things really snowballed.

Those back-to-back homers knocked Walker out of the ballgame. The offense continued to pour it on against Toronto’s next two arms, Shun Yamaguchi and Anthony Kay. The bats wound up scoring 20 runs, though this one was effectively over after the second inning.

All this happened as a result of a few things going the Yankees way. It’s nice to be the beneficiary of fielding gaffes and poor execution, isn’t it?

Deivi García was up for the challenge. This was the rookie’s second straight start against the Blue Jays. I wrote about the adjustments that he or the Jays could make for today’s game. Whatever either side did, Toronto didn’t do much better this time. García gave up 3 runs in 7 innings after he allowed 2 in 7 in Buffalo.

There were a couple of differences in Deivi’s approach against Toronto tonight, though I’m not so sure they were voluntary. First, He threw just 3 curveballs all night, which indicates that he didn’t have great feel for the pitch. It’s typically his most-used breaking ball, as you know. He threw one in the second, one in the third, and one in the fourth inning. The last one was a hanger that Lourdes Gurriel hit for a two-run homer. At that point, García probably had seen enough of the pitch.

The other difference: fastball command. Take a look at where he spotted his heater tonight:

Now, take a look at where he put it last week:

He was much more over the middle with that pitch tonight and Toronto made plenty of hard contact against it. Most notably, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. took Deivi deep on one of his heaters down the middle. Toronto had a 95.8 MPH average exit velocity on the pitch.

In spite of not having his best fastball command, it’s pretty impressive that Deivi was able to still use it 58 percent of the time (he used it 59 percent last week). It might sound as if he was fortunate considering the high exit velocity, but keep in mind that Deivi tends to generate a lot of harmless pop ups and fly balls. Toronto recorded six outs on fastballs hit between 92 and 100 MPH off the bat. Five were fly outs, none with an xBA above .230. The other was a groundout. Clearly, it’s hard to square up the righty even when he’s missing his spots.

What more can you say about García? He’s been impressive in all four of his starts with the Yankees and is just 21 years-old. Even when he doesn’t have his best stuff (i.e. tonight) he’s able to succeed. Can’t wait to watch him pitch next.

Leftovers:
  • Welcome back Gio Urshela. The third baseman went 3-for-4 with 2 doubles and a walk.
  • Giancarlo Stanton went 0-for-4 in his return, but he did draw a walk. He also scalded a 111 MPH lineout. He was the only starter to go hitless in this one.
  • Toronto wound up using infielder Santiago Espinal to pitch in the eighth inning. He gave up a solo homer to DJ LeMahieu, but otherwise left unscathed. He was probably the team’s best pitcher all night!
  • A few other home runs to note: Voit delivered his second of the night in the sixth inning. It came against Ken Giles, who was getting some work in after returning from the injured list. Voit leads the league with 18 homers. Gary Sánchez and Clint Frazier also contributed homers of their own.
  • Michael King pitched the eighth and ninth innings for the Yankees. He gave up a few runs in the ninth, but they were harmless.

The series resumes tomorrow. Same time, same place. Have a good night everyone.

Game 44: Cole shoves

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Now this is more like it! Homers and dominant pitching against the Orioles is what we’re accustomed to. Today, Gerrit Cole went the distance and blanked Baltimore’s bats while the offense struck often and early. Let’s break it down before the second game of the twin bill.

We finally got the Gerrit Cole outing we’ve been waiting for. He put everything together in his complete game two-hit shutout this afternoon. The ace was on from the start and didn’t allow any hits through 4 2/3 innings. That’s when Hanser Alberto broke things up with a single to right, but it didn’t phase Cole.

Cole struck out 9 and walked just 1 in his 7 innings of work. Perhaps most notable of it all: he didn’t allow a home run. It’s the first time he’s done that this season. In fact, Cole didn’t allow much hard contact at all. The average exit velocity against him was 84.4 MPH.

Cole got a lot of mileage out of his curveball and slider today. He got 5 whiffs on 7 swings on the former and 10 on 20 swings on the latter. I wrote about Gerrit’s trouble with his secondaries ten days ago, particularly his ability to throw them in the zone. Perhaps that was part of his success today? Let’s see. First, his curve:

Hmm..not quite here. Not that these are all bad locations! But you could tell from watching that he was a little frustrated with his curve at times, especially the few that slipped and went high out of the zone. Now, let’s examine the slider:

Now that’s an improvement. He really seemed to have a good handle on it today and threw it where he wanted, whether in the zone or off the plate. Maybe he got a little too much plate with a few of those, but again: he got a ton of whiffs on the pitch and it wasn’t hit hard (79.9 MPH average exit velocity on 4 balls in play).

Numbers aside, Cole going the distance was huge. Obviously, this is the first game of today’s double header so he gave the bullpen a reprieve. Aaron Boone let Cole start the 7th inning despite having thrown 100 pitches through 6, though in fairness, Cole probably wouldn’t have let Boone pull him. That’s what you want out of the ace.

Home runs are good. I’ve been pining for the days of #TooManyHomers, and today, the Yankees gave me my wish. The lineup took Alex Cobb deep three times this afternoon. DJ LeMahieu led off with a dinger while Brett Gardner and Kyle Higashioka chipped in two-run homers each. On Gardy in particular, look at what this big dumb blog said about today’s lineup construction:

Here are all three homers:

Not much else to say other than that. Most good offenses thrive on home runs and the Yankees aren’t going to be the exception. Granted, guys like LeMahieu, Gardner, and Higashioka aren’t exactly known for their home run prowess. But when the big bats like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton return (apparently soon!), the Yankees will need the long ball from them. Remember when Judge was swatting dingers every day? Those were the good times. Those were the Bronx Bombers.

Leftovers

  • Mike Tauchman went 3-for-3, all singles. And hey, one of his hits came against a fastball! An 85 MPH from Tom Eshelman, that is. It was confounding to watch Alex Cobb keep throwing Tauchman splitters today, by the way.
  • Brett Gardner reached base all three times today, including the homer. However, he was caught stealing twice.
  • Gary Sánchez, the DH in this one, went 0-for-2 with a walk to bring his batting average down to .119. One of his two outs recorded was a bit of hard luck though: a 103 MPH line drive to first baseman Pat Valaika, which had a .700 xBA.
  • Here are the game two lineups:

Baltimore Orioles (20-23)

  1. Cedric Mullins, CF
  2. José Iglesias, SS
  3. DJ Stewart, RF
  4. Ryan Mountcastle, LF
  5. Rio Ruiz, 3B
  6. Renato Núñez, DH
  7. Hanser Alberto, 2B
  8. Chris Davis, 1B
  9. Chance Cisco, C

LHP Keegan Akin

New York Yankees (23-21)

  1. DJ LeMahieu, 3B
  2. Luke Voit, 1B
  3. Aaron Hicks, CF
  4. Clint Frazier, RF
  5. Gleyber Torres, SS
  6. Miguel Andújar, DH
  7. Gary Sánchez, C
  8. Brett Gardner, LF
  9. Thairo Estrada, 2B

RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Game 37: Make it 19 straight vs. the Orioles, somehow

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Another day, another blown four run lead. But this time, the Yankees pulled it out! They topped the Orioles 6-4 in the first of two games this evening. Let’s get right to the takeaways:

It’s tough to be a King without command. 25 year-old rookie Michael King labored through this one. The righty didn’t record a single 1-2-3 inning as the Orioles put seven runners aboard in four innings of work. His final line: 4 hits, 3 runs, 2 walks, 1 hit batter, 3 strikeouts, and 2 homers.

Baltimore broke through against King immediately. Cedric Mullins wasted no time giving the Orioles a 1-0 advantage in the top of the first:

He retired the next three batters in order, but every other inning he pitched in this evening featured at least two baserunners. King prevented the Birds from scoring in the second and third frames, but gave up two in the fourth. Both runs came on one swing:

Including tonight, King’s ERA and FIP stand at 6.33 and 5.90, respectively, through 21 1/3 innings this season. It just doesn’t seem like he’s a viable rotation option at this point. And that’s OK. Remember, 2019 was mostly a lost year for King as he suffered a stress reaction in his elbow early on. That said, it doesn’t mean he should be getting too many important innings this season. I don’t expect him back in the rotation again anytime soon. He’s only taken a couple of turns over the last week because of the absurd amount of doubleheaders.

King’s time in the rotation might not be now, but it’s also not hard to see why the Yankees like King. His minor league track record is excellent (2.93 ERA in 387 innings across all levels). He didn’t rack up big strikeout numbers, but he induced a ton of ground balls (54.2 percent) and limited walks (4.1 percent). However, since coming to the majors, his batted ball profile has changed:

LevelGB%FB%LD%
Minors54.2%28.0%17.8%
Majors41.7%45.0%13.3%
Major league numbers entering tonight’s game.

This appears to be a big reason why King hasn’t succeeded with the Yankees in limited time. It seems pretty obvious why he can’t keep the ball on the ground too. His sinker, a pitch he throws over 55 percent of the time, has been up far too often this year. Look:

He has to bring that pitch down for it to be effective. Otherwise, he’s going to get hit hard and give up dingers like he did tonight.

Now, further on the bright side: King has shown some proficiency in limiting hard contact. Tonight, even with the dingers, the average exit velocity against him was 84.4 miles per hour. Entering this evening, he was in the 89th and 90th percentiles for exit velocity and hard hit percentage, respectively. That’s good, but again, those need to be on the ground to be converted into outs. Otherwise, we’ll see bloop base hits more often, and when he does get hit hard, home runs.

Offense strike early, but couldn’t put this one out of reach. Sounds a little bit like yesterday, right? Well, I don’t really want to blame the offense for last night’s loss. The Yankees should win when they score seven runs, period. Tonight is a different story though. They scored one in the second and three in the third, but the bats probably could have done more in that third frame. First, here’s how the run in the second came about, courtesy of Gary Sánchez:

That tied the game at one.

Let’s move to the third. The Yankees loaded the bases immediately for the scuffling Brett Gardner. To his credit, he delivered:

That put the Yankees ahead, 3-1. Clint Frazier walked thereafter to reload the bases, still with no outs. But up came a triumvirate of batters hitting under the Mendoza line: Mike Ford, Sánchez, and Mike Tauchman. Ford flew out to left, not deep enough to score a run. Gary struck out. Tauchman managed to draw a walk on an eight pitch at-bat, which increased the lead to 4-1. Thairo Estrada struck out to end the frame. Let’s go back to that Tauchman walk. Yes, it drove in a run, but look at some of the pitches he fouled off:

You really can’t make it up. Tauchman fouled off three fastballs right down the middle. The guy cannot hit a middle-middle fastball. Literally!

Tauchman had three chances to smack a ball into the gap or over the wall. Instead of a five, six, or seven run inning, his walk resulted in a four run frame. Sigh. In fairness, Ford, Gary, and Estrada deserve a bit more ire. Even though Tauchman missed some very hittable pitches, at least he didn’t make an out. The other three couldn’t do anything against Branden Kline, who entered today with a 5.93 ERA.

As you know, King allowed the Orioles to get back into this one. Ben Heller then gave up a solo homer to Renato Núñez. It stinks the pitchers gave it up, but really, the offense has to do better. Must I remind you that these are the Orioles!? Three runs while loading the bases loaded twice with no outs in an inning is an incredibly bad job.

The Yankees finally catch a couple of breaks. This one went to extra innings, which meant the 2020 extra inning rule was in effect. Gary Sánchez started the inning on second base and immediately advanced to third on a wild pitch. So, runner on third and no one out. The Yankees are gonna score, right? Nope. Thairo Estrada lined out and Aaron Hicks bounced into what felt like a back breaking double play.

The Orioles had a chance to win it in the bottom of the eighth and Aaron Boone went to Jonathan Holder. Ryan Mountcastle hit a sac fly to center to advance designated runner Pat Valaika to third. It looked like things were about the end, but Holder escaped. He struck out Dilson Herrera, walked Ramon Urias, and finally got Anthony Santander to fly out to preserve the tie. Phew.

Holder’s escape was the first break. The offense scoring not one, but two runs, in the ninth was a pleasant surprise. Miguel Andújar, fresh up from the Alternate Site, played hero:

Yes, that’s Jonathan Holder scoring the go-ahead run. The Yankees pulled removed their DH to put Miggy in at third when Aaron Hicks pinch hit for Tyler Wade. Anyway, the Yankees weren’t done there. Clint Frazier added one on for good measure with a single to make it 6-4.

That Frazier RBI proved to be a pretty big insurance run, as Baltimore did score once in the bottom of the ninth against Chad Green. It took a little bit of good fortune to do so. An infield single put runners on the corners with nobody out, but Núñez hit into a 5-4-3 double play. Even though that made it 6-5, the bases were clear with two outs which allowed Green to wrap this one up. Bryan Holaday flew out to end it. Exhale.

Leftovers

  • That’s 19 wins in a row against Baltimore.
  • It’ll be curious to see how the Yankees handle the nightcap’s bullpen. No Holder, Green, Britton, or Chapman I’d assume, as all pitched tonight.
  • Clarke Schmidt is on the active roster! The Yankees optioned Ben Heller after the game. Perhaps we see Schmidt in relief given how many arms pitched in game one.
  • Three hours and forty five minutes later, whaddya say? Let’s play two! The second game should start around 9:20 p.m. EDT. I’ll share the lineups below once they are out.

New York Yankees

  1. Aaron Hicks, CF
  2. Luke Voit, DH
  3. Brett Gardner, LF
  4. Clint Frazier, RF
  5. Mike Ford, 1B
  6. Miguel Andújar, 3B
  7. Erik Kratz, C
  8. Tyler Wade, SS
  9. Thairo Estrada, 2B

RHP Deivi García

Baltimore Orioles

  1. Cedric Mullins, CF
  2. DJ Stewart, RF
  3. Renato Núñez, DH
  4. Pedro Severino, C
  5. Ryan Mountcastle, LF
  6. Rio Ruiz, 3B
  7. Pat Valaika, 2B
  8. Dilson Herrera, 1B
  9. Andrew Velazquez, SS

RHP Jorge López 

More Thoughts on Baseball and Race

Remember last week when I said baseball is political? Well, it still is! And since there’s nothing else to talk about regarding baseball, we’re going to keep that discussion going. You know what, though? That last sentence…I don’t really like it. As I said last week, not talking about these things in baseball isn’t helpful. While I may prefer to be talking about actual on-field stuff in this space every week, it’s important to acknowledge these things as they come, rather than letting them boil over later on.

Former Yankee–and guy who should be in the Hall of Fame–Gary Sheffield wrote a piece for the Players’ Tribune, detailing a harrowing experience he and his uncle, Dwight Gooden, had with police in South Florida. The title of the piece–Do You Believe Me Now?–got me thinking about another racially-charged incident from Sheffield’s pace that involved the Yankees.

In http://2007, Sheff did an interview with Andrea Kremer for HBO in which he said Joe Torre treated black players differently than he treated other players.

Sheffield, who was traded to the Detroit Tigers during the offseason, claimed that black and white players in the Yankees clubhouse were treated differently, specifically how players Tony Womack and Kenny Lofton were handled by Torre. In the interview with HBO, Sheffield says the black players on the Yankees’ roster would be “called out” in the clubhouse by Torre, while the white players would be called into Torre’s office to discuss matters.

“They weren’t treated like everybody else. I got called out in a couple of meetings that I thought were unfair,” Sheffield told Kremer.

Sheffield later added: “He had a message to get across to the whole team, so he used me to get the message across.” Sheffield said Torre didn’t use the same method with white players.

“No … I’d see a lot of white players get called in the office and treated like a man. That’s the difference.”

When asked Saturday to respond to Sheffield’s comments, Lofton said: “All I can say is, Sheffield knows what he’s talking about. That’s all I’m going to say,” Lofton told the AP in the Texas Rangers’ dugout just before the team took batting practice.

Sheffield said he doesn’t consider Torre a racist. “No. I think it’s the way they do things around there,” he said. “Since I was there I just saw that they run their ship different.”

At that point, Kremer says to Sheffield that the Yankees most high-profile player is black. “Who?” Sheffield says.

Told Jeter, Sheffield says: “Derek Jeter is black and white.”

First, a question: If Sheffield–or any player with any manager–made these comments today, how much more weight would they carry? The answer is a lot. From what I remember back then, these comments were largely derided and swept away. They definitely disappeared as the 2007 season came and went, as did Torre’s tenure with the Yankees. But in our climate today, hell, even in the one just a few years after these comments, this would get a lot more attention. I’ll admit to brushing these comments off at the time, chalking them up to Sheffield’s attitude and the fact that Womack and Lofton didn’t do well with the Yankees and were frustrated. But is it possible that a lack of comfort led to them not performing well? Yes. It’s not necessarily the reason, but it’s worth mentioning. As Sheffield says, it’s not likely that Joe Torre is/was a racist, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t implicit, unconscious biases in his head–like there are in all of us–that influenced his decision making.

The comment about Derek Jeter, followed later by “[i]t’s just [Jeter] ain’t all the way black,” doesn’t feel great, but we also have to acknowledge that colorism is a thing and that Sheffield, Womack, and Lofton all having darker skin could play into the aforementioned implicit biases.

Gary Sheffield was one of my favorite players on the team in his brief time with the Yankees. Maybe he wore out his welcome–as he did in lots of places–but that doesn’t mean we should’ve so easily brushed off his comments about the Yankees and race. While he may have been a prickly dude, when a Black man speaks up about mistreatment because of his race, no matter how big or small, we should pay more attention and give it more respect than we did to Sheff in 2007.

Expanding on this discussion, let’s jump to the Boston Globe and Alex Speier’s article about biases in scouting. This relates to what Sheffield said about Torre. The scouts in here are likely not racists. That doesn’t mean, though, that there aren’t certain things that influence or leverage the way they talk about players or categorize players.

Public statements from MLB lately show they’re at least aware of the problem. And those statements talked about uncomfortable conversations, introspection, all that. So here are some questions for MLB that need answers in something beyond platitudes.

Why are there so few Black American/Canadian players in the game?

Why are there so few Black coaches and managers and executives?

Why are Black American/Canadian players being shut out of positions, almost entirely? From the article:

Moreover, Black players are drastically underrepresented as starting pitchers and catchers because of what Huntington and others see as the same sort of bias that for years limited opportunities for Black quarterbacks in the NFL.

That’s from Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington, and something Randy, Bobby, and I touched on during the last week’s podcast.

I used this article as a conversation-starter with some friends at work–all fellow white men who also love baseball. Their reaction was positive; they said it made them think in ways they hadn’t before, which is a step in the right direction. It also started two spinoff conversations, one about Brett Gardner and one about Gary Sanchez.

In the former, one colleague asked if Brett Gardner fits the term “grinder.” I said yes, but that’s really the default for short white guys. Were Gardner black, I posited, scouts and media probably would’ve focused on his speed. I brought up Dustin Pedroia (who I realize is one of my least favorite players ever) and how even he, unfairly, got the ‘grinder’ tag placed upon him. Pedroia was a second round pick from a NCAA baseball powerhouse, not some diamond in the rough. He was an immensely talented (if annoying) baseball player and compared to Gardner–a walk-on at his college–nothing like a grinder. I also mentioned that rare is the time when a black player is called a grinder.

The Gary Sanchez conversation started from a place it often does with Sanchez–at least from more ‘mainstream’ fans: Sanchez is lazy because he doesn’t run out ground balls. I retorted that Sanchez is just slow and that players like Jason Giambi and Mark Teixiera–also fellow piano-draggers, but very white–were never criticized for lack of hustle on grounders. What I forgot to say was, yes, there was a time when Sanchez not busting it down the line cost the Yankees a win in Tampa…but he was already playing through pain at that point and then injured himself later on while ‘hustling’ down the line. I did, however, remember to say that hustle down the line is often eyewash, etc. My colleague–a different one than the one who brought up Gardner/grinder–saw a brown player not hustling due to lack of speed, but chalked it up to laziness. He didn’t do the same thing for white players. Does this make him racist? No, but it showed a bias, even for just a moment. That bias is (part of) what baseball needs to reckon with.

Baseball alone is not going to cure the ills of racism in American society. It’s too deeply ingrained in our systems to be undone by one relatively frivolous (in the grand scheme of things) business/whatever baseball is or is supposed to be. But it still has a responsibility to be the best it can be. I’m glad baseball is starting to reckon with this, even in a surface-level way. Hopefully they start coming up with answers to the tough questions.

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