and from my buddy Vecsey...May 4, 2005SPORTS OF THE TIMESYankees Are Growing Old UngracefullyBy GEORGE VECSEY
HE Yankees do not lead the American League in games won. Much to their chagrin, they do not even lead their division. But the Yankees do lead the league in one category: designated hitters.
As befitting the first team to send this monstrosity up to the plate back in 1973, the Yankees have now stockpiled enough designated hitters to furnish a few expansion teams.
Almost by definition, designated hitters tend to be slow of foot or clumsy of glove or weak of arm or top-heavy of age, or all of the above. This seems to describe the full set of designated hitters put together by George Steinbrenner's baseball people, as if for some over-28 slow-pitch league.
The chillingly surgical moves late Monday night cannot be the end of it for the current Yankees, who from certain angles resemble the 1965 Yankees.
Remember 1965? Having been a boy reporter back then, I remember Ralph Houk, the once and future manager, then the general manager, reassuring us: "You know Mantle's going to hit. You know Maris is going to hit. You know Tresh is going to hit. You know Howard's going to hit." And so on. None of them did, at least for the Yankees, who plummeted from first in 1964 to sixth to 10th in 1966.
One bright spot is that the Yankees cannot finish 10th this year because there are only five teams in their division, including the sad-sack Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who trounced the Yankees, 11-4, last night in St. Petersburg, Fla. Kevin Brown showed why the Yankees need more of a youth movement.
It could be worse. The Yankees could be the Devil Rays, managed by Sweet Lou Piniella. Did you catch poor Lou suffering Monday night?
His team made its own version of the Yankees' shuffle, bringing in a minor leaguer to play right field. The first ball hit near him plopped directly behind him, maybe because he lost it in the milky white glow of the hideous dome, or maybe not.
The old Lou would have torn up the dugout, but Lou just shuddered on the dugout bench.
The Yankees are shuddering, too, but at least they have George's money, and a few options. They are 11-16, and Joe Torre and Brian Cashman have started a minor youth movement.
The other day they had no players under 28, but now they have Robinson Cano, 22, playing second base, the Taiwanese pitcher Chien-Ming Wang, 25, who started Saturday, and Sean Henn, 24, who will take Randy Johnson's turn tonight.
Last night, Hideki Matsui moved from left to center, Tony Womack moved from second base to left, Cano was up from the minors to play second, and good old Bernie Williams was on the bench, while Jason Giambi was the designated hitter for the moment.
It is not Williams's fault that he has tendinitis in his throwing elbow and is lobbing the ball, but it is poignant to see a mainstay of 10 straight postseason appearances be summoned from center field, where he has roamed so gracefully. Last night Torre said he intended to get Williams plenty of at-bats. But how?
The Yanks have four players whose primary function is to wait around to hit every few innings, American League style: Williams, Giambi, Andy Phillips and, on the disabled list, Ruben Sierra. They also have Tino Martinez, their best defensive first baseman, who hit a home run last night.
Giambi looks shot, shorn of power by the loss of weight and the mysterious ailments last year, as well as the stress from the Balco investigation. Giambi may never be the same - a cautionary tale for all knuckleheads still taking steroids in the majors and the minors, just learning that the union officials Donald Fehr and Gene Orza cannot enable their habit forever.
Matsui, who was a center fielder in Japan, is surely a stopgap measure until another center fielder arrives next spring. Matsui is proud of his 1,602-game consecutive-game streak, going back to the Yomiuri Giants, but if he's going to chase the rockets hit off this pitching staff, Torre needs to rest him, maybe against a lefty, once in a great while.
Torre has been a great manager, and he knows that tantrums and bullying would not help. A few Yankee fans in the area are agitating to bring in Sweet Lou and let him toss bases in the Bronx, or turn the club over to Joe Girardi or Don Mattingly, who sit near Torre in the dugout.
This is the 10th year of Torre's regime. Sparky Anderson felt himself losing the Cincinnati Reds when he looked around the clubhouse and saw the best guys in baseball, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan and Tony Perez, yawning when he spoke. But familiarity is not the issue. Dry rot is the issue. As Ralph Houk told us: You know Williams is going to hit. You know Giambi is going to hit.