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Keefe To The City: Presenting Yankees Midseason Awards

(credit: Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

(credit: Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

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By Neil Keefe
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I watched the All-Star Game on Tuesday night because I always watch the All-Star Game … the same way I always watch the Home Run Derby. The difference between the way I watch the two midsummer events compared to the way some other people watch them is that I take them for exactly what they are and don’t try to make anything more of them. And that is that they are both fun and entertaining, but also meaningless events.

That’s right, the All-Star Game is meaningless. It’s a meaningless game that’s treated that way by everyone except Bud Selig, who still thinks it’s a good idea to tie in the World Series home-field advantage to it. It sucks that each year the game deteriorates a little bit and then a little bit more, but it’s happening and there isn’t anything being done to stop the deconstruction of a game that I have loved forever.

I always remember the summer between seventh and eighth grade when the game was at Fenway Park and Pedro Martinez struck out the side in the first inning and the first four batters he faced in the game. The night before Pedro’s heroics, Mark McGwire set a Home Run Derby record in the first inning by peppering Lansdowne Street and coming close to taking out the Mass Pike. It was an epic back-to-back night of festivities and my friends and I watched both after spending over 14 hours over the two days playing our own versions of Home Run Derby and mimicking the players in the All-Star Game in pickup games of baseball and Wiffle ball. Now, in 2011, Pedro probably wouldn’t even show up to the game, electing to spend a few days with his family instead, and magical midsummer nights like the one in 1999 would never even happen.

Four Yankees (Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera) didn’t go to Phoenix, and I’m glad they didn’t. A-Rod couldn’t because of surgery, CC didn’t because he just pitched on Sunday, Mariano didn’t because he is just coming back from missing a few games with triceps soreness and Jeter didn’t because he is 37 years old and just got off the DL with a calf strain. While it would have been fun to see Jeter play in the game or Rivera pitch in it as it always is, it’s better that they didn’t go. I care about what happens in the baseball season starting Thursday through the end of September and what happens in October. I don’t care that Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera would rather have a few days off than go to Phoenix for a meaningless exhibition game. The All-Star Game has just lost its luster and while it’s sad, I’m OK with it … I guess.

Tuesday’s All-Star Game had everything the All-Star Game should have except for a handful of the game’s biggest stars (which is obviously the most important aspect). It had Joe Buck’s voice, though annoying it still represents the meaning of a national broadcast and gives it the feeling of importance. It had Eric Karros’ awkward interviewing style and Mark Grace’s presence (no, I’m still not over 2001 and will never be). It felt like what the All-Star Game should feel like now, which is nothing close to what it used to feel like.

I guess some of the reason why the All-Star Game isn’t the same is because of MLBTV and cable packages and satellite TV. I don’t need to watch the All-Star Game to see Prince Fielder because I can watch every Brewers game if I want from New York or Connecticut or New Jersey or anywhere. I can watch the Astros play the Cubs if I feel like it (I don’t know why I would) and I can watch all the 10:05 games after the Yankees game is over for the night if I feel like I haven’t gotten my fill of baseball for the day.

I don’t think the All-Star Game has lost its luster because players don’t treat it the same way they did 10 years ago, but it’s a combination of all these things. And while it’s devastating that it doesn’t have the same “true” meaning it used to (that’s why Selig had to create the home-field incentive), I’m used to it now. It is what it is, and I’m not sure anyone can change it back. I’m not sure I would want them to.

On that note … last season at the All-Star break I did some Yankees midseason awards, so I thought it would be good to start a tradition here and do them for the second straight year. So, with the second half set to begin on Thursday, let’s get to it. (The awards are presented in numerical order by jersey number.)

The “Tonight, Tonight” Award for “Believe, Believe In Me, Believe”
When Bud Selig said, “There isn’t a player in the last 15 years that I’m more proud of than Derek Jeter,” what he really was saying was, “There is only player in the last 15 years that I never had to worry about or get scared that I would have to call and say you’re suspended for 50 games and that’s Derek Jeter.” And for that and for being the face of the game of baseball, you would think Jeter is allowed a free pass for not going to the All-Star Game. Well, you’re wrong. Not when you have people like Buster Olney and Ken Rosenthal making it a point to mention Jeter’s absence at every chance.

Buster Olney compared Jeter’s missing the game to Manny Ramirez’s. Jeter is 37 years old. He is six games removed from a DL stint for a calf strain, which what we know from other calf strains like Jimmy Rollins’ is that it’s a nagging injury that sometimes doesn’t ever heal until the offseason and can seriously alter a player’s game. Manny missed the All-Star Game year after year with excuses that a sixth grader who forgot to do their math homework wouldn’t even consider using. But when Manny missed the game it was “Manny being Manny” and somehow his “Eff you” didn’t matter. And somehow Jeter’s “Eff you” was like he replaced the AT&T flash mob commercial that runs every three minutes with a commercial that said, “Dear baseball fans, Thank you for voting me as the starting shortstop in this year’s All-Star Game, but I don’t care about you or the game, and I’m not coming. Sincerely, Derek Jeter.”

I have never seen so much attention drawn to one player for missing the game. Sure, I understand that baseball wants to recognize him for his 3,000th hit and celebrate the accomplishment, but guess what, Yankee Stadium and Yankees fans gave him his celebration on Saturday. A celebration and applause in Phoenix would be nice, but meaningless just like the game. If that’s the reason people were truly mad about him missing the game, well it’s not a good enough reason.

As for actual baseball, I really believe No. 2 is coming back to life. We have seen it since his return to the disabled list. Now, I’m not exactly the best person to be evaluating Jeter since once he really is detrimental to the team I will still be telling people, “Don’t worry, he’ll come around! I know he will!” But right now, the real Derek Jeter looks like he is ready for the second half of the season. Maybe I’m just failing to believe otherwise and maybe the last few days were the Baseball Gods’ way of giving Jeter one last true moment as the face of the game, but I think there’s still good baseball left in Derek Jeter. Actually I don’t think it … I know it.

The Hallmark Award for “Get Well Soon”
The other day Tim Kurkjian was talking about A-Rod’s quest for 3,000 hits and where he will end up among the baseball greats. Kurkjian said he thinks A-Rod has at least 200 more major league hits left in him and maybe even 500 or 600. AT LEAST 200? MAYBE 500 or 600? If A-Rod has MAYBE 500 or 600 left in his career, umm we have a serious problem.

Is A-Rod breaking down in front of our eyes? Well, yes. He is very unlikely to meet his 30-100 line that he has done such a good job of keeping up for 13 years, and every season since 1996 except for 1997. After a hip surgery and now a knee surgery and other assorted problems that have landed him on the DL for the now fourth straight year, it’s going to be a long ride to the end of his contract in 2017.

Right now the most important thing is for him to get healthy as quickly as possible for the stretch run in September and for October. I think the Eduardo Nunez can hold down the fort until then. Well, as long as there aren’t too many balls hit to third base.

The Fulton Reed Award for “I Can’t, You Moron”
I don’t even know what’s left to say about Cervelli except for, “He’s still here?!?!”

Here’s what I wrote about Cervelli three weeks ago, and I’m going to use it again because like I said, I don’t know what’s left to say about him…

When I think of Cervelli I think of the scene in “Mighty Ducks” where Coach Gordon Bombay finds Fulton Reed in an alleyway ripping slap shots with empty soda cans into a trashcan. The following conversation transpires…

Bombay: Why don’t you play for us?

Reed: I can’t.

Bombay: What do you mean?

Reed: I mean, I can’t.

Bombay: You afraid?

Reed: No, I mean I can’t, you moron. I don’t know how to skate.

Bombay: Whoa! Is that all that’s stoppin’ ya?

So it got me thinking about a possible similar conversation that happened between Brian Cashman and Francisco Cervelli that led to Cervelli being a Yankee…

Cashman: Why don’t you play for us?

Cervelli: I can’t.

Cashman: What do you mean?

Cervelli: I mean I can’t.

Cashman: You afraid?

Cervelli: No, I mean I can’t, you moron. I can’t hit for power. I can’t hit for average. I’m not fast. I can’t field my position. I can’t make throws to second base. I can’t sacrifice bunt.

Cashman: Whoa! Is that all that’s stoppin’ ya?

The 30-Day Policy Award for “No Refunds Or Returns After 30 Days”
I like to think that in Derek Jeter’s house he has his Rookie of the Year award and Gold Gloves and World Series rings in like a Derek Jeter shrine room where he displays all he has done in his career. I also like to think that Rafael Soriano has a “No refunds or exchange sign” that he took from a Best Buy hanging in his home because is there anyone you would rather like to bring back with the receipt? OK, maybe Pedro Feliciano.

Now some will say that I can’t pair the two together since Soriano has actually pitched and Feliciano hasn’t, but the season would be better off if Soriano hadn’t pitched. That doesn’t mean that the Yankees won’t be better off with Soriano and that I don’t want him back because they will and I do.

Right now after No. 42 and David Robertson, the Yankees bullpen pecking order is a maze. If Soriano can come back and be the guy that got $35 million and two opt-out clauses then the Yankees bullpen once again becomes their strength.

Let’s just hope Girardi doesn’t think Soriano should get his role back from Roberston because his last name is Soriano.

The David Copperfield Award for “The Great Escape”
After David Robertson’s 2009 postseason performance, I gave him the nickname David “Copperfield” Robertson. I might need to rethink that name because Robertson doesn’t really work himself into seemingly inescapable jams anymore. Now he just blows the doors off everyone.

Rob Neyer wrote during the All-Star Game that the game wasn’t the same without CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander (and it wasn’t) but then he made it a point to say that he didn’t care to see David Robertson. Maybe Neyer hasn’t seen Robertson pitch that often, but it was a ridiculous thing to say. Robertson has 56 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings, has a 14.3 K/9 ratio and has struck out 56 of the 154 batters he has faced (36 percent). David Robertson belonged in that game on Tuesday night, and for people that don’t get to see him as often as we do, they should be happy they did.

It’s funny that all along the bridge to Mariano has been right under Cashman and Girardi’s noses. After trying unsuccessfully to use Rafael Soriano and to over manage and mismanage his way to the ninth inning, Girardi now has a full proof plan to get from starter to No. 42 if the starter can go seven innings. It’s an impossible formula to screw up. Now, if only there was a formula to prevent Curtis Granderson from sacrificing bunting at Yankee Stadium then we wouldn’t even need Girardi to show up to games anymore.

The Nickelback Award for “How You Remind Me”
Whenever I hear a Nickelback song, I think “Hey, this isn’t that bad.” But then the song continues and I realize “Oh no, it’s Nickelback” and then the cheesy chorus comes in at the same point in the song that every chorus in every Nickelback song comes in and I think to myself, “I should have known better.” That, ladies and gentlemen, is an A.J. Burnett start. It starts out OK, begins to unravel, then you’re sitting there with the Yankees trailing and you’re thinking, “What the eff just happened?” Sometimes it happens so quickly that a quick channel change or bathroom break is enough time for Burnett to turn a three-run lead into a two-run deficit.

Burnett has been OK through 19 starts. That’s right, OK. That’s what 8-7 with a 4.15 ERA is … “OK.” Now when it comes to Burnett, it seems like Yankees fans are very split on him. There are those that want to like him, but don’t (that’s me) and there are those that like him (or pretend to) and defend him against people like me. There is a very small percentage of rational people that just take him for what he is at this point (a .500 pitcher with a 4.00 ERA that can’t protect leads that you can’t trust). If I could draw a pie chart here it would be something like 45 percent of people that think like me, 45 percent of people that think the opposite of me and 10 percent of people that understand what he really is.

I do understand what Burnett is, but for a guy making $500,000 a start, who leads the league in walks and wild pitches and is coming off the worst statistical season in Yankees history, I’m sorry but I expect more. I wouldn’t trust Burnett in a postseason start; the way I didn’t trust him to start Game 4 of the ALCS last year and thought it was a mistake (and it was). All I can do is to continue to hope for the best from Burnett this season and next season the one after that. And then after that he won’t be a Yankee anymore. (Had to give him that fifth year! Had to!)

The Sorry 2004 Award for “I’m sorry on the weekends, sorry on the weekdays
sorry for the things I did, Sorry for the things I said”

“I’m sorry for May, and I’m sorry for June (for real), and I’m sorry for July (I am), in case I don’t tell you. August, September, October, November ’till your December. I’m Sorry.”

Did I name an award after American Idol Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard and his only song? And did I just use lyrics from that song to talk about Bartolo Colon? Yes, yes I did. The song doesn’t use January, February, March or April, which would help a little since that is when I really need to apologize for to Bartolo Colon, but you get the point since I was still sorry in May and June and now July, and will be in August, September, October, November and December.

If the postseason started today, I think the rotation for Games 1 and 2 would be Sabathia and Colon, and I would love the Yankees chances at taking a 2-0 series lead. That’s how far I have come with Bartolo Colon. Let’s forget that I wrote that piece titled “Bartolo Is A Bad Idea.” I love Bartolo!

To me, Colon has gone from why did we sign this guy to I hope he doesn’t make the team to I hope he doesn’t make the rotation to I can’t believe he made the team to I can’t believe he’s going to be in the rotation to I love this guy to I can’t believe he hurt his hamstring to I’m so happy he’s back to I love Bartolo Colon! That’s a pretty wild ride for a half of a season, but I can’t help it. I have Bartolo Fever if that’s even a real thing, and after CC he is the starter I trust most on this team.

The Best Closer Ever Award for “Mariano Gets His Award Named After Him”
No. 42 had the type of soreness recently that he seems to get at some point in every season and he needs a few days to relax. Everyone has grown accustomed to not worrying about it and just giving him a few days off form closing games. But have you seen what happens with life without Mariano?

Last week without No. 42 and therefore without a true ninth-inning guy, the Yankees were forced to keep A.J. Burnett in a game long enough to blow it, thanks to ex-Yankees Shelly Duncan and Austin Kearns. (I’m glad Joe Girardi never liked Duncan the way that Torre did because he would be a horrible right-handed bat option… and oh yeah, I’m pretty sure the only Austin Kearns ever did as a Yankee was strike out on three pitches, but there he was taking Burnett deep. Of course he was. Ladies and gentlemen, A.J. Burnett!)

Without his closer, Joe Girardi’s binder apparently did have a chapter for “What To Do When You Don’t Have Mariano,” so he stayed with Burnett one batter too late (Duncan) and then a second batter too late (Kearns), and then the Indians had a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. And when I ripped Burnett for coming up small in a big spot once again, a lot of people didn’t like that asking me “What about the first six innings of shutout innings?” Oh, OK, I’m sorry, only the first six innings count. Not the seventh-inning implosion where he blows the game. I apologize.

This was one of the many glimpses of Life Without Mariano, which is just as scary as Life Without Electricity or Life Without The Internet. The most memorable of these moments was a few seasons ago when he was unable for a series in Detroit, so the Yankees went with Kyle Farnsworth for a couple of nights, and he showed why Rivera is the greatest ever and why you wouldn’t trust Farnsworth to go to a convenience store to buy a gallon of milk.

I’m glad this latest case of “soreness” was only that. I’m not ready for Life Without Mariano, and I never will be.

The Creed Bratton Award for “What Do You Do Here?”
I wrote this on May 11, 2010:

Logan is the Yankees’ Creed Bratton. No one is exactly sure how he has a job or what his job is, but he manages to hang around despite these things. He wasn’t good enough to make the Yankees out of spring training, but suddenly he is a jack-of-all-trades for the Bombers. If he’s a lefty specialist, shouldn’t he just pitch to lefties? Instead, he pitches when the Yankees are leading and when they are trailing. He faces lefties and righties, and he comes in with men on base and also to start innings.

Now things have turned a little bit for Boone Logan. No one still has any idea what his job is. People pretend (mainly Girardi) that he is the lefty specialist, but there is nothing special about not getting lefties out. I wonder what Logan’s response is when he meets non-baseball people and they say, “What’s your job?” Does he just say “I’m a relief pitcher for the Yankees?” or does he lie and try to hype it up by saying “I’m a left-handed specialist for the Yankees?”

This brings me to this exchange involving Creed Bratton and Holly Flax from The Office:

Creed: The pleasure’s all mine.

Holly: Oh, thanks. I’m really looking forward to sitting down with you and finding out more about what you do here.

Creed: Any time.

Holly: What do you do here?

Creed: … Excuse me?

Creed: What is wrong with this woman? She’s asking about stuff that’s nobody’s business. “What do I do?”… Really, what do I do here? I should’ve written it down. “Qua” something, uh… qua… quar… quibo, qual… quir-quabity. Quabity assuance! No. No, no, no, no, but I’m getting close.

The Coach Taylor Award for “I Can’t Imagine Life Without Him”
ESPN made another brilliant move to add to its decade of brilliant moves by deciding to show Friday Night Lights again. This gives me another chance to watch the best show ever made in its entirety again. And more Friday Night Lights means more Coach Eric Taylor — the best TV character ever created.

Sometimes I think of what my life was like without Coach Taylor in it and I can’t … that’s how good the show and character are and how incredible Kyle Chandler is at portraying him. I still can’t cope with the notion that Coach Taylor isn’t a real high school football coach and that Kyle Chandler is actually just a guy that’s an actor.

Like Coach Taylor, I can’t remember life as a Yankees without CC Sabathia. Well, that’s not exactly true. I can remember what it was like, I just try and choose not to. The year before CC became a Yankee, the rotation at the end of the season was Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Darrell Rasner and Sidney Ponson. (I cringed while thinking about that and had trouble typing Rasner and Ponson’s name.) That’s how bad things were in the Yankees’ only postseason absence since 1993. Well, guess what? There’s a chance The Great Rotation Depression could happen for a second time in four years in 2012.

Sabathia is going to opt out of his contract. I’m Tommy Callahan guaranteeing it. And if Sabathia were to EVER leave, that leaves us with A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova. Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia are free agents after this year, and I don’t know if Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances will be major league ready. But the last time the Yankees stuck two unproven kids in the rotation for a season was … that’s right, 2008! The year before CC. That worked out well.

I am just coming to terms with the fact that I won’t see anymore new episodes featuring Coach Taylor or the Panthers or the Lions. I don’t need to figure out how to come to terms without seeing anymore of CC with the Yankees.

The Will Hunting Award for “It’s Not Your Fault. No. Listen To Me Son. It’s Not Your Fault.”
Just when we were starting to see the return of Reliever Joba and 2007 Joba and maybe even Joba Mania … it all disappeared.

Joba’s had a weird career. He went from untouchable/future closer, to future starter, to starter, back to reliever, back to starter, back to reliever, to untrustworthy reliever to semi trustworthy to Tommy John. This has all happened in the span of three-plus seasons and nearly four calendar years. You could make the case that Joba’s career has been more closely followed, broken down, analyzed and changed than anyone in the history of professional sports. If Joba had been in the Brewers organization, he probably would have continued to mature as a starter in the minors, given a chance in the rotation, given a while to succeed or fail as a starter and then a decision would have been made if he should be a reliever.

But under Brian Cashman’s Pitching Program, he was brought to the majors in 2007 as a lights-out reliever because Cashman thought going into the season with 40 percent of his rotation being Carl Pavano and Kei Igawa was a good idea. The same year he thought giving Roger Clemens a billion dollars to pitch here and there was an even better idea. (Suzyn Waldman seemed to think it was a good idea too, so I can’t fault Cashman there.) That forced Cashman’s hand to bolster a bullpen that included Edwar Ramirez and Brian Bruney and Luis Vizcaino (aka The Three Stooges). And then in 2008, Joba was a reliever then a starter because A YEAR AFTER making Pavano and Igawa 40 percent of his rotation, Cashman made Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy 40 percent of his rotation. But Joba was only allowed to pitch a certain combination of pitches and innings in 2008 up until he hurt his shoulder in Texas. Then he was brought back and made a reliever for the end of the season before becoming a starter again in 2009, and then a reliever again at the end of 2009, and he’s been there ever since with mixed results and nothing near what he was in 2007. I don’t know if Joba Chamberlain would have eventually gotten hurt anyway, but just from my quick summary right there, anyone who has followed the Yankees’ Chutes and Ladder career path for Joba, can’t say the Yankees didn’t have a very strong helping hand in this injury.

Let’s remember that Joba is still only 25 years old, which I tend to forget and treat him like he is much older than he is. I just hope that he comes back next season healthy and can turn back the clock to 2007 because it was A LOT of fun watching him pitch out of the bullpen that season and some of the most fun I have ever had watching baseball.

Follow Neil on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NeilKeefe