Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Memories of Yankees Past.....And Some Random Thoughts



I was watching a replay of Game 4 of the 1998 World Series on the YES Network on this rainy Wednesday and was thinking about how the 2009 New York Yankees would stack up against the 1998 edition. Granted, this is premature; the 2009 Yanks (103-59) have yet to play in Game 1 of the '09 Series. But much has been made of the late inning heroics of the 2009 Yankees, and the depth of their lineup and of their bullpen, so naturally there will be comparisons.

The 1998 Yankees are probably the standard by which all teams of the three tiered playoff system modern day MLB should be judged. They were 114-48 in the regular season and went 11-2 in the post season, including a World Series 4-0 sweep over the San Diego Padres- that makes an overall record (including post season) of 125-50, a won-lost Record that may stand forever.

There are four holdovers from the 1998 Yankees eleven years later- Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Derek Jeter. Joe Girardi, the Yankees manger in 2009, split catching duties with Posada in 1998.

Taking a look by position

First Base
Tino Martinez (1998) AVG .281, HR 28, RBI 123
Mark Teixeira (2009) AVG .292, HR 39, RBI 122
This was probably the closest call of all. As much as I love Tino I have to go with Tex because of his glove, not that Tino was any slouch. But Mark is one of the two best fielding first basemen I've ever seen- the other two were Keith Hernandez and Don Mattingly

Second Base
Chuck Knoblauch (1998) AVG .265, HR 17, RBI 64
Robinson Cano (2009) Avg .320, HR 25, RBI 85
Here its Robby by a mile. Better hitter and a better fielder. Knobby had an arm like a cannon, but too often the ball would end up in the seats by the first base dugout.

Shortstop
Derek Jeter (1998) AVG .324, HR 19, RBI 84
Derek Jeter (2009) AVG .334, HR 18, RBI 66
Here we compare 24 year old Derek to 35 year old Derek. And the Old Guy wins. His RBI production dropped because he batted leadoff in '09 and second in '98- and the bottom half of the 1998 team was on base more consistently than in 2009. The 2009 Jeets struck out less and walked more than he did in '98, and made one less error (eight) than did the 1998 version

Third Base
Scott Brosius (1998) AVG .300, HR 19 RBI 98
Alex Rodriguez (2009) AVG .286, HR 30 RBI 100
Scott Brosius was a fine third baseman who had the most complete year of his career in 1998. A-Rod missed the first month of the season and still managed 30 homers and 100 ribbies. And he's the best player of his generation- he gets the obvious nod.

Catcher
Jorge Posada (1998) AVG .268, HR 17, RBI 63
Jorge Posada (2009) AVG .285, HR 22, RBI 81
Jorge Posada shared catching with Joe Girardi in '98, and with Jose Molina in '09. He spent some time on the DL this season, but even so he managed to have a fine season at the plate at age 37....this year's model wins over the 1998 edition

Right Field
Paul O'Neill (1998) AVG .317, HR 24, RBI 116
Nick Swisher (2009) AVG .249, HR 29, RBI 82
As far as personalities go, is there a greater contrast? The intense O'Neill and the free spirited Swisher were fan favorites, but the edge clearly goes to Paulie (aka The Warrior).

Center Field
Bernie Williams (1998) AVG .339, HR 26, RBI 97
Melky Cabrera (2009) AVG .274, HR 13, RBI 68
Going into the season Melky had lost his job to Brett Gardner, but regained it before the All Star break. He's a young player who has yet to hit his stride. Bernie Williams can be found in the Top 5 or Top 10 of most offensive categories in Yankee history. He's the man in centerfield.

Left Field
Chad Curtis (1998) AVG .243, HR 10, RBI 56
Johnny Damon (2009) AVG .282, HR 24, RBI 82
Left field was a trouble spot for the '98 team. Besides Curtis, Darryl Strawberry, Chili Davis, Shane Spencer, and Ricky Ledee played left. Johnny Damon had a fine 2009, his option year.

Designated Hitter
Darryl Strawberry (1998) AVG. .247, HR 24, RBI 57
Hideki Matsui (2009) AVG. .274, HR 28, RBI 90
Straw was on the downside of his career, but not quite finished, as shown by his 24 homers. He was treated for colon cancer during the season and played in only 101 games. Matsui is no longer an everyday outfielder because of his knees, but still has plenty of pop in his bat. Hideki is the choice here.

Starting Pitchers
(1998)- Andy Pettitte- (16-11,4.74 ERA, 146 K's);
David Wells- (18-4, 3.49, 163)
David Cone- (20-7, 3.55, 209)
Hideki Irabu- (13-9, 4.06, 126)
Orlando Hernandez- (12-4, 3.13, 131)

(2009)- CC Sabathia- (19-8, 3.37 ERA, 197 K's);
AJ Burnett- (13-9, 4.04, 195)
Andy Pettitte-(14-8, 4.16, 148)
Joba Chamberlain- (9-6, 4.75, 133)

Clearly the 1998 Yankees were deeper in starting pitching than the 2009 edition. In '98 they went five deep, something few ieams can do, and every starter won between 12 and 20 games. In 2009 it was CC, AJ, Andy, then Joba (with The Joba Rules hindering his progress), an ineffective Chien-Ming Wang, and a supporting cast too long to name here. The pitching staff of 1998 gave the Yankees a chance to win everyday, and there were very few question marks.

Bullpen

Mariano Rivera is the constant. In 1998 he was 3-0, 1.91 ERA, 36 saves. This season he went 3-3, 1.76, 44 saves. In 1998 the pen featured setup men Mike Stanton (4-1), and Jeff Nelson (5-3), and long reliever Ramiro Mendoza (10-2). The 2009 club gave us young Phil Hughes (8-3), Phil Coke (4-3), and long man Alfredo Alceves (10-1).The 2009 was very good for most of the season, but the group in 1998 was nearly perfect from Day One.

Bench

The 1998 Yankees had old veterans Tim Raines and Chili Davis in the mix, plus the speedy Homer Bush. The 2009 Yanks have Brett Gardner, Jose Molina, Eric Hinske, and versatile Jerry Hairston, Jr. Its close, but I'll take the 1998 Yankees in this category.

Manager
Joe Torre (1998) and Joe Girardi (2009)
Both Italian American, both former catchers, both former managers in the National League who were fired....in Joe T's case, three times. Joe Torre manages by his gut, Joe Girardi more by the book. Girardi seems to handle his bullpen better, Torre was always that calm settling influence. Girardi has done a fine job, but Joe Torre (who else?) is the guy.

So the bottom line is its a no brainer...the Yankees of 1998 were a better team than the current Yankees, and most of that can be attributed to better and deeper pitching, both starting and in the bullpen. The current group has a better infield, man for man, than the 1998 team, but the outfield of 1998 was superior to this group in right and in center.

But if you bothered to read all of this, you probably knew it all anyway!

********

While watching the rebroadcast of the 1998 World Series, I was slightly taken aback when the focus fell on three people, two of who were San Diego Padres, the other the then newly crowned Home Run King, Mark McGwire. He was interviewed in the stands, talking about his accomplishment of hitting 70 home runs in the 1998 season for the St. Louis Cardinals. McGwire mentioned that the home run race he had with Sammy Sosa might have saved baseball, still reeling that year from the affects of the disaster of the 1994 work stoppage in MLB. He was probably right; there was a buzz that he might have been doing steroids, or ATH...but fans, management, ownership, and the media looked the other way. Nobody cared, because there was excitement in baseball's regular season for the first time in many years. It was good for business...so there was silence. When McGwire appeared before Congress years later to testify about steroid use he said nothing about it, but his statement left little doubt that he was indeed a steroid cheat. He'll be back in 2010 as the new hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals, after a self imposed exile of five years after his disgrace.

But there was worse...this morning I could see Ken Caminiti playing in his only World Series. The Padres former MVP hit .252 with 28 homers that year. He would be traded to Houston in 1999, and would leave baseball 2001. On October 10, 2004 he would die of a drug induced heart attack, following years of substance abuse, rehabilitation, and more abuse. He was 41 years old.

But there's more. The '98 Padres also had former Yankee Jim Leyritz; I had forgotten about that until watching the replay this morning. "The King" was at bat against former teammate Andy Pettitte. In recent years Leyritz had been arrested for drunk driving and vehicular homicide, had his bail revoked and ordered back to jail on one occasion (he is awaiting trial on those charges), and in July of this year he was arrested for domestic battery on his ex wife.

It was sad and sobering to watch these three men and their individual falls from grace. In 1998 they were stars- eleven years later one is disgraced, one is dead, another is probably going to prison for many years.

.....

Finally...the first World Series at the new Yankee Stadium. Its like part of a Grand Plan, its October and this is where baseball is meant to be played. I grew up believing that every team in the major leagues had red, white, and blue bunting year round, because its what you would see from cavernous old Yankee Stadium in the Dynasty Days in pictures from the packs of Topps Baseball Cards.

Yankees- Phillies, the Turnpike Series.

I love it! All is right with the world.

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