Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On the Hood of a Cadillac

Pete Hamill - in his exquisite work "Downtown:  My Manhattan" wrote that, "Time itself is long, even if the time of man in short."   If you are even a casual follower of the American League baseball team that calls Manhattan's northern neighbor home, then you know that thus far this season time has seemed to be closing in with ever-increasing rapidity on certain of its players.  The fact that those for whom the footsteps sound the loudest are those whose stars have shone the brightest for the past decade and a half underscores the quickness with which the curtain closes.  Opening Night seems so, so far away now.  The famous final scene?  It feels as if it shall be upon us any time now.  Any time at all.

Jorge Posada has been my favorite member of the Yankees for a long time.  I think the fact that he spent most of his years - every one until this one in fact - behind the plate wearing "the tools of ignorance" has much to do with my affection for him.  Undoubtedly his attitude has a lot to do with it too.  I remember years ago - when the Yankees of the latter half were in the midst of their tango approach to October baseball ("One! Two! Three! We're Done!) - reading somewhere that one of former teammates from the World Series teams of the late 1990's described Posada as the team's Sergeant-at-Arms.  By that he meant that while Jeter is the Captain and the face of the franchise, Posada is the guy in the clubhouse who his teammates both respected and feared.  He was the one who maintained order and who injected himself into the sometimes messy business of teammate relations with which Jeter - publicly at least - has never seemed to be too comfortable.

This past weekend Posada did something extraordinary.....and not in a good way.  He is struggling through the worst season of his life in the final year of his contract and what is likely the final year of his Yankees career.  He has been brutal at the plate thus far this year.  And this year, unlikely every other year, he earns his living 100% with his bat.  The Yankees decided after last season that Posada could not catch any more.  According to a number of reports, GM Brian Cashman told Posada in November not to pack his catcher's gear when he reported to Spring Training in February.  He would not need it.

Considering that Posada has been the #1 catcher on six World Series teams, including four of which won the World Series - including the World Series way back when against the Phillies in 2009, he bristled at the manner in which he felt the Yankees were treating him.  Once upon an earlier time, when Jorge had no gray hair in his head, the Yankees had a #1 catcher whose name was not Jorge Posada.  His name was Joe Girardi.  Girardi once held Posada's old job.  Now he holds Joe Torre's old job.  Over the years writers have written many words about the lack of any semblance of a close relationship between Joe G. and Jorge P.  They have known one another a long time.  Long enough I suppose to realize that they are never going to get any closer than they are presently.

Posada was embarrassed on Saturday afternoon to have Girardi tell him of his decision to bat Posada in the #9 spot for that night's nationally televised game against the Red Sox.  Candidly, Girardi only intended to bat him 9th because there are no lower spots in a Major League batting order.  Had 14th been an option available to the skipper, he likely would have pursued it.  And given Posada's buck forty five batting average, an argument could have been made......that 14th was still too high.

Posada reacted in a manner that seemed so foreign to him and to what he has appeared to be about his entire career that when I first heard the news of it, I checked every source I could think of on-line before I could accept it as true.  It was - and still is - utterly incomprehensible to me that he did what he did.  Two hours or so after his manager told him where he was to bat, Posada asked out of the lineup.  What followed was an extremely terse, personal and at times uncomfortable exchange of words between Posada (represented in some of the exchanges by his fiercely protective wife Laura) and the Yankees - in the person of the Silver Spoon Twins' designated hatchet man, GM Brian Cashman.  Saturday night was indeed all right for fighting in the Bronx.....except for on the field where they were waxed 6-0 by Josh Beckett (who every time I turn around - regardless of uniform - appears to be pitching a shutout against the Yankees on a Saturday night in the Bronx) and the Sox.

Saturday - even if only for a little while - Posada quit on his teammates.  A man whose paycheck for 2011 has eight numbers to the left of the decimal point ($13,100,000.00) declared that he would not do his job that day because he was upset over the position in the batting order from which his boss wanted him to play it.  Sunday, Posada returned to Yankee Stadium and - his words - "sort of apologized" to Girardi for his actions on Saturday night.  Girardi - who is another one of my Pinstripe favorites and who spent the weekend doing and saying all of the right things so as to avoid dropping a safe on his player - publicly declared the matter closed.  Posada - again using his words - expressed his regret over having let the fans down and his teammates down and offered to apologize to his teammates if any of them needed him to do so.  Water under bridges now; anyone

Among those who declared that Posada had not a thing for which to apologize?  Derek Jeter.  Jeter told the media on Sunday that, "If I thought he [Posada] had done something wrong, I would be the first one to tell him" and also told them for good measure that he did not think Posada had anything for which he had to apologize.  In case one was not certain of which side of the pinstriped battle lines Jeter stood, he referred to Posada as someone he thinks of as his brother. 

On Monday, the Silver Spoon Twins made it known through various media outlets that they were less than enthralled with Jeter's very public siding with Posada.  Several hours later, the Yankees announced that Jeter had spent a portion of Monday on a conference call with Cashman, Hal Steinbrenner and team know-nothing Randy Levine discussing the issue and that all parties were "on the same page".  And in related 100% factual news, NASA announced that the moon is indeed made of cheese while the FBI disclosed that its research proved that one really can spot a liar simply by looking for flaming pants. 

War has broken out in the Bronx.  And while it is being waged between various members of the Yankees organization, it is hardly civil.  Jeter and Posada represent two-thirds of the remaining bridge to Joe Torre.  Mariano Rivera is the third and final musketeer.  To date, Mo has remained essentially immune to criticism, especially when he appears to be the only reliever whose entry into a game these days is not a harbinger of really, really bad things to come.  It is not yet Mo's turn in the line of fire.  He is such a remarkable physical specimen and such a pitching aberration (he has essentially gotten hitters out at Hall-of-Fame rate for fifteen years throwing one pitch) that it may never arrive.  I hope it does not.  For while Torre is long gone, he most assuredly is not forgotten among the men with whom he descended into emnity prior to making his own great migration West.  Nor is he forgotten among the men who played for him and who have remained Yankees in the aftermath of his departure.

While the criticism of Jeter's performance and the criticism of Posada's performance to date this year has been well-deserved, it is difficult to argue at times that the words emanating from the home office about them have often appeared to have been written with a poison pen.  Both Jeter and Posada represent a link to what the Yankees once were.  And while the successes that they have been a part of are the kind that one might presume the boys in charge of the kingdom would extol and celebrate, the fact of the matter is that those running the show now had scant little to do with those successes.  And worse yet, they know that you know and I know it.  These emperors have no clothes.  And in a castle made of glass that is not something that is easy to hide.

It worries me more than a bit that both Jeter and Posada might also represent a link to what the Yankees are now:  a team laden with players being paid more for their past than their present whose future may not require sunglasses.  It is only the middle of May but as a former Yankee catcher once observed around these parts it gets late early.

And at closing time it matters not where you go....

....it matters only that you cannot stay here.

-AK

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