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.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bleachers' Brew #273 Fading Star

This appears in the Monday August 15, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.

Fading Star
by rick olivares

It isn’t exactly Mudville. These New York Yankees, far removed from their 80s malaise, will not want to go back to that dark and joyless place that is the cellar. They are, and have been since the early 90s, a baseball power. The Boston Red Sox’s Larry Lucchino called them “the Evil Empire.” But in the light of the recent surge of the Red Sox is spending and recruitment, maybe the more appropriate term is, “the Clone Wars.”

In another Star Wars reference, maybe it’s time for a player to go to Dagobah. Tatooine even.

My fixation for George Lucas’ fictional universe aside, a little over three years ago, as the New York Yankees celebrated their 27th Major League Baseball World Series title, their “Core Four” of Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera were celebrated as a winning quartet like no other in the sport.

But that was then and this is now.

Pettitte retired after the end of last season. Rivera, still on track to break Trevor Hoffman’s all-time saves record has been looking far from the automatic “lights out” relief pitcher he is known to be. Before Jeter reached the 3,000 hits mark, his hitting and fielding was once more under a microscope. It is without a doubt that his days as the Yankees’ lead off batter are numbered. He could even go the way of Cal Ripken, the great Baltimore Orioles shortstop who had to be moved to third base when decline began to set in. The way the young Eddie Nuñez played, he’s the heir to Jeter’s spot in the rotation. But for now, Jeter is still safely ensconced at the six.

As for Posada, he is no longer their everyday catcher. In fact, he has not backstopped any pitcher this season. He was inserted as Designated Hitter early in the year but has since been benched for the lack of production. If the Yankees were another club, Posada would have certainly been waived. It is speculated that the only reason why he’s still on the bench is because of what he has done for New York. But whether he will be on the club’s post-season roster is altogether another matter.

For such a franchise that is long on tradition, it’s a stark reminder that while people are playing a child’s game, at the end of the day, it’s still a business.

Posada lashed out earlier in the year at what he felt was disrespect but he didn’t certainly earn much sympathy since in the last 15 years (a tone set by former manager Joe Torre), the Yankees have become a club that prefers to do their talking on the field. So unlike the Bronx Zoo days of the 1970s where everyone wanted to be the straw that stirred the drink. Posada also forgot that timeless saying of, “There’s no crying in baseball.”

There’ll be time to celebrate Posada’s achievements but the task now is to take the American League East from Boston who has proved to be the one difficult hurdle for New York this season.

Posada should have seen that coming. Unless he isn’t well versed in Yankee and baseball lore, then he is doomed to commit the same mistakes of those who preceded him.  

The great Babe Ruth, who helped New York to four World Series championships, went on a barnstorming tour of the Far East (Japan and the Philippines) after the 1934 season. The Bambino knew his numbers had taken a massive tumble and he wanted to end his career by replacing Yankee manager Joe McCarthy. He clashed with McCarthy in his latter years in pinstripes and unlike the NBA of today where it’s a player’s league, baseball, then as it is today, is traditional. Remember the “reserve clause” that took decades to strike from the contracts of players? Baseball is by and large a league where management bargains from a position of great strength. And sure enough, by the time Ruth returned to the United States, the slugger, now in great decline, was traded to the Boston Braves. And this is the Sultan of Swat and didn’t he build that house along River Street?

Barry Bonds knows that all too well. After a record-breaking asterisk season, the slugger, has not played another game. Fill the seats before you’re done, why don’t you?

Sentiment was out of the window. The Babe did get his number retired by New York and he has a monument inside the stadium. He’s in Springfield and is remembered as the greatest Yankee of all time.

And there’s 1958, a year of infamy in the Big Apple. That was the year when the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers moved out of the Big Apple to go westward to California. The move, due to financial reasons, ripped out the hearts of the communities that adored and followed them.

When you walk around Flatbush, the wave of immigration has seen a host of new Yankee or Mets fans. The old timers, remember the Dodgers and much surrounds the team in myth and nostalgia. Ebbets Field, where the likes of Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and Gil Hodges played, is gone. The stadium was torn down and in its place stands the Ebbets Field Apartments in Crown Heights. The Brooklyn Cyclones, were eventually organized, but as a minor league team for the New York Mets that plays in Coney Island.

In a perfect world, at least for Yankee fans, the Bronx Bombers would have won the 2001 World Series (especially after three riveting games at the old stadium) right after the 9-11 attacks. Or maybe New York wouldn’t have collapsed against Boston in 2004.

But it is what it is. Jorge should know about Willie Mays, staying around longer than he should have – stumbling about in the outfield chasing flies he would have easily snagged a decade earlier. There’s Steve Carlton, Carlton Fisk, and maybe more recently for Posada, Omar Vizquel who days of greatness are over and now instead has become a bench player out of respect for what he has achieved.

It’s never easy to say goodbye to something you love. The mind may say this and that but the body unfortunately, has turned a deaf ear.

But who knows? Maybe, Posada won’t whiff like Casey did in his final at bat. Maybe’ll pull a Kirk Gibson in one at bat.

Hope does spring eternal especially in a game like baseball.

After all, Obi-Wan Kenobi did come out of retirement to give Luke Skywalker a chance to escape from the Death Star.

Post-script: On cue (one day after I wrote this column), Posada was given a chance by Yankees manager Joe Girardi and he belted a grand slam in a 9-2 win over Tampa Bay to give the pinstriped team a 72-46 record. Like Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”

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