Monday, August 2, 2010

Fat Elvis Has Entered the Stadium

By Tony Mangia


If you don't get it right the first time, just do it again. A maxim the New York Yankees can afford to--and always do--live by. After a trio of off-season acquisitions have seemingly gone bust, the major league leading Yankees have replaced the malfunctioning parts before the July 31st deadline without losing any cash or real prospects.

The original threesome---DH Nick (me like DL better) Johnson, OF Randy (never) Winn and reliever Chan Ho (out of the) Park will be replaced by ex-Astros first baseman, Lance (Fat Elvis) Berkman, outfielder Austin Kearns and relief pitcher Kerry Wood. I always wanted to see Wood pitch at the stadium but I never thought in a million years it would be in pinstripes.

The Yankees need help in all three areas and, with the Tampa Bay Rays manhandling them this weekend, they are only a snort ahead of the Floridians. A revitalized and always pesky Red Sox team comes to town for a four game set this weekend and the Yanks could really use the steady and powerful DH bat of Berkman and an energized Wood as an upgrade as the set-up man for Mariano Rivera. All of the new Yankees are considered on the down low---none of them have contracts for next season and come from miserable teams---so fans might be optimistic and expect to see an added spark under their cleats. Going to a playoff contender can do that. As Berkman put it after the possible playoff-positioning series, "I don't think I've played in a meaningful game in three years. With this type of intensity you have to manage your emotions."


Still trying to figure out why would Joe Girardi would leave Alex Rodriguez and Brett Gardner on the bench while using Mark Teixeira as the DH in the rubber-game against the Rays? Maybe it was a "welcome to the Yankees" gift to newly-acquired Lance Berkman---a capable first baseman--- a day of rest for his starting players or maybe he is just playing for a wild card.

Girardi has always been known to play for the long-term. His pitchers rarely go more than six innings and everyone knows about the Joba Rules but, Gardner is still a frisky colt and one of the Yankees best spark plugs.

Berkman might have cost the Yanks a win on Sunday when he couldn't scoop up an errant throw by Robinson Cano---something the gold-glover Teixeira could have done blindfolded although Fat Elvis did make a baseline grab that probably saved two runs later in the game.

It's hard to criticize the manager's decision. Girardi has been successful playing for the big picture. He knew that the Trop was sold out for all three games (first time for Tampa in regular season play) and there was a playoff-type intensity down by the bay, but he has been successful utilizing his players over the long run. The ex-catcher still refuses to over work the veterans or burn out the pitching staff's arms even under the glare of his critics.

The Yankees and the Rays are the two best teams in the majors right now. The potent Texas Rangers have recently made big strides in beefing up their lineup and pitching while Boston is still hanging around so, on a day when the Rays' James Shields out dueled CC Sabathia, and his changeup had Yankee hitters literally mumbling to themselves, maybe Girardi's philosophy that playoffs aren't won in August will pay off again in October.

The Wisdom Of Ozzie

It's easy to dismiss Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen after he speaks. He spouts so much trash mixed with misdirected passion, sometimes its hard to keep up or take him seriously. I honestly don't know how Chicago deals with Ozzie and Lou Piniella during the same season.

This time Ozzie has a point. He says there is a lack of help for Latino players adjusting to life in the big leagues as compared to the support afforded to new players from Asia. Dominicans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans et al rarely have the luxury of interpreters and other cultural perks that teams give Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese players. Guillen claims that the Latino players are treated as no more than low-cost commodities.

I agree, but I am not all on board with the statement. Latino players are usually brought up through the minor leagues with minor league contracts while Asian players in MLB are usually veterans with years of overseas experience and big contracts. A team that invests in long-term, million dollar contracts for players like Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Satsuki wants to make sure they are treated like the established stars they were in their native countries. These are men who are celebrated in the far-east, and probably know three words of English---strike, ball and out. Asians don't use our alphabet and are usually the only Asian on the team. It must be pretty lonely with no one else who speaks your language. If Albert Pujols only knew a dozen words of English the Cardinals would give him a pair of Harvard English professors.

Major league rosters are filled with Latin players who came up through the ranks. Many come from impoverished backgrounds and work their way through the system with minor league paychecks. They deserve the same attention---interpreters or instruction---that any other teammate gets but the education should begin at home. MLB should have more representatives teaching in the youth leagues of the Dominican Republic or Venezuela about the dangers of PEDs (where it is more easily available), other temptations and basic English. When was the last time you heard of a drug scandal with a Japanese player?

Guillen has brought up a topic that should be addressed but it shouldn't be turned it into a racial or cultural chasm. Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and many other big contract Latinos had interpreters travel with them. It seems to be more of a player-by-player determination until more Asians assimilate into the majors through a minor league system.

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