Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Yankees on the Brink?

Even at the bottom of the standings, the New York Yankees are hogging the limelight. Alex Rodriguez’ torrid April gave way to a torrid May but not of the kind that translates into hits, home runs, batting average, and ultimately wins. Jason Giambi is on the hit parade by Major League Baseball, the media, and the fans for his admission of using steroids just when the team doesn’t need any more distractions. Carl Pavano went from pitching hope to hopeless case. The Yankees, who lost the Dice K sweepstakes to rival Boston Red Sox, went out to get another Hideki Irabu in Kei Igawa (if you don’t remember Irabu then you know what I mean). Joe Torre and Brian Cashman’s job security has once more been the talk of town ad infinitum since their 2004 meltdown against the Boston Red Sox.

Whew… and the sub-plots aren’t even done. When you think about it, A-Rod’s pre-season admission of the frostiness of his relationship with team captain Derek Jeter was an ominous portent of the season to come. Andy Pettitte must be wondering if coming back to New York was the right decision when he could have re-upped with the Houston Astros.

But this isn’t the Bronx Zoo as chronicled by its mid-1970’s fun loving and Cy Young-winning closer Sparky Lyle when he recounted the clubhouse turmoil that followed the signing of free agent signee Reggie Jackson. In case you weren’t born then, Jackson even before his first at-bat in pinstripes declared that he was the straw that was going to stir the Yankees’ drink and not (catcher and team captain) Thurman Munson who could “only stir it bad.” The late Billy Martin, who was the Yankees’ manager then got into the act as he openly feuded with Jackson. And it didn’t end there when the team’s principal owner George Steinbrenner brought in closer Goose Gossage despite the presence of Lyle. Were fireworks? Hell yeah and that was an understatement. Though eventually, they won two out of the four World Series they played from 1977 to 1981.

The Joe Torre era of the Yankees may only be comparable to Casey Stengel’s fabled run in the late 1950’s but just like the old perfesser’s tenure – for all his success, he’s only as good as his last win. So how long ago was that?

Torre may have near deity status in the Big Apple but the end is clearly near and maybe even cruelly in this writer’s honest opinion, the managerial change may be a season or two too late. Sure the Bronx Bombers may have made the post-season 12 consecutive times but this year unless they embark on another miraculous comeback shades of 1978, then this season will be one of big change and we’re not just talking about the extremely hot summer morphing into another brutal winter.

This $200 million line-up of All Stars can’t seem to live up to its expectations. It’s not that players have been selfish or even looking out for their own stats. They’ve been for the most part quiet and workman-like in their approach to the game. It’s the lack of fire and the unfortunate combination of bad luck that has hounded this team since it’s Hall-of-Fame bound closer Marian Rivera gave up a bloop single to Luis Gonzalez that cost the Yankees the 2001 World Series title. Maybe they should bring back the sainted Paul O’Neill, Jim Leyritz, or even Roger Clemens to bean someone to put some fight and sense of urgency into pinstipe apathy.

Oh, they’re bringing Clemens back? The Rocket may still be one of the better pitchers out there at age 44 but to even ask him to resuscitate a season that is slowly spiraling out of control. But if he does and leads them to the title then the $28 million they’re paying him will be peanuts. Yet just when he’s ready to take the mound against the Chicago White Sox, he’s sidelined with a groin injury forcing pitching coach Ron Guidry – who’s familiar with all these distractions having been a part of those 70’s title teams – to recall Igawa (2-1 with a 7.63 ERA) who’s been demoted in the minors for almost a month now trying to rework his delivery.

Clemens’ recurring groin injury has troubled him for the last five years but if he heals fast enough, he’ll be making his debut in front of an adoring home crowd in the Bronx. But Clemens’ addition could be the straw that will break the camel’s back. His rider stipulates that he can choose not to join the team during days when he isn’t pitching and already a few Yankees have muttered under their breath their dismay over this preferential treatment. And should the Rocket’s come back be anything less than a big bang then this season is over much like the team’s high-priced cheerleader Carl Pavano.

So what else can go wrong? Chien Ming-Wang who has been the team’s best pitcher over the last two years is struggling after an injury that cut his pre-season short and forced him to miss the first few weeks of the 2007 campaign. Lead off hitter Johnny Damon’s hobbled. The Red Sox’ Mike Lowell knocked out New York’s first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz for a couple of weeks while running the base paths. How’s that for rubbing one’s face in the dirt? The starting pitching staff needs virtual relief as everyone save Andy Pettitte has gone down to various ailments. And as a sign of their current hitting woes, outfielder Bobby Abreu jokingly asked for the ball after sending a ball through the gap for a double in last week’s win against Boston. Although they won two of their last three games versus Boston, the Yankees are still behind by 12 ½ games. In the first game of the last series against Boston, the Yanks teed off on knuckleballer Tim Wakefield for the third time this year.

Now if they only had Wakefield on the mound everyday then they’d continue to look like world-beaters. Unfortunately reality is the Yankees are fast becoming irrelevant in the standings while serving as fodder for the tabloid pages.

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