I have been a Yankee fan for more than 60 years and I have the baseball cards to prove it. Over the years the Yankees have had some great clutch hitters and a plethora of mid season pick ups and one years signees that have produced in the clutch.
Tommy Henrich was known as “Old Reliable” and others like Johnny Lindell, Enos Slaughter, the great Johnny Mize, Hank Bauer, Hector Lopez, and Johnny Blanchard were known for their timely hitting. There have been scores of others who have hit key and memorable homers like Bucky Dent, Jim Leyritz , Chris Chambliss, Thurmun Munson, Hidecki Matsui, Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posoda. Great hitters like; Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Jeter and Cano seem to produce key game winning hits so often that many of those specific accomplishments are lost in the midst of a lifetime of exceptional play. Mantle’s game-winning, walk-off homer against Barney Schultz in the 1964 World Series was fabulous. But, the fact that the Yankees lost game seven to the Cards relegated that home run to just another great Mantle blast.
Up until the era of the playoffs, players had rare opportunities to shine in the few playoffs that were created only by statistical ties. The great, and most heralded performance, was that of Bobby Thomson in the 3rd game of the 1951 playoff series against the Dodgers. With his famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” he became legendary.
Most players had few opportunities to shine on the national stage until the elongated post season arrived in the 1970’s. With the Yankees, who have dominated much of baseball history from 1921 through today, they participated in few real pennant races and therefore memorable walk off hits or home runs like Bucky Dent’s were few and far between.
Over the years, I have been watching an unlimited amount of Yankee games every year, and in that time I have been able to discern who I can expect to deliver a “clutch” hit. Now “a one” time “clutch” hit or even a great playoff series isn’t indicative of anything more then a lucky event, or just a hot series. Brian Doyle, Billy Martin, Aaron Boone, Bucky Dent and scores of others have had a key hit or a great series. That doesn’t make them a great player or a “clutch” hitter. Bobby Richardson was the hitting star of the 1960 World Series, but because the Pirates won in dramatic fashion, in game seven, with Bill Mazeroski’s walk off homer, Richardson’s incredible performance was more or less forgotten. Aside from that World Series, Richardson never had a similar week of production in his whole excellent career.
In my time, I was able to witness countless “key” hits and great at bats by people like Yogi Berra, Roy White, Elston Howard, Hank Bauer, Hector Lopez, Lou Piniella, Paul O’Neill, Hidecki Matsui, Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter. Those players aside from their yearly and lifetime numbers, seemed to get their “bat on the ball” when it counted. I am reminded of how well Keith Hernandez and Don Clendenon carried the Mets in two different seasons, by getting key hits after the 7th inning, with men on bases. Some players make almost every at bat count and sometimes someone with 85 RBIs is more productive then the player with 110.
As to Alex Rodriguez, who became the focus of last night’s remarkable victory authored by Raul Ibanez, the question remains; is he through? In all the years I have been watching baseball I have never seen a player with his career numbers, get so many meaningless hits. It seems to me that he homers when the Yankees are either way behind of way ahead. He certainly is the type of player who’s good enough to get a hit now and again, but he has seen his steroid-enhanced skills deteriorate in the same way as others who had preceded him. Look what happened to McGwire, Sosa, Giambi, Pudge Rodriguez and many others when their bodies were weaned off drugs. They lost power and that affected their timing. Too bad they have him signed for five more years. In the past, he would have been cut already. Now its hard to argue with 650 homers and oodles of RBIs, but with regards to the old cliché, “What have you done for me today.” When was the last time a Hall of Famer went without a homerun, or even an RBI, in 65 or so at bats?
This year’s Yankee team featured absolutely terrible hitting with men on bases. This Yankee futility has been well-chronicled. Their lack of comeback rallies after the 7th inning, for a team that led the league in victories, was astounding. They hit a team record 245 home runs, but their individual production was mediocre. Robinson Cano, their best hitter, had his statistics decline from last year. He went through weeks like he was sleep- walking. Jeter was great, what else is new?
But high paid talent like Teixeira and Granderson saw their production drop off from their 2011 numbers. Rodriguez and Martin had their second successive year of mediocre production and Swisher basically matched last year’s statistics. The following are the percentage of strike outs during the past season, per at bat, for Granderson (32%), Rodriguez (25), Swisher (21), Martin (22), Teixeira (18) and Jeter (13%). Each player but Jeter and Teixeira increased their strike outs dramatically.
The team, along with the great acquisition of Ichiro, was carried by role players who happened to have some hot stretches. Ibanez, Chavez and others, including even Jones were quite heroic at some time during the season. The regulars did not win the 2012 Division.
The bottom line is that the team is producing less, not hitting with men on base, relying on home runs, and is an aging team, which depended on its role players. The future status of Swisher is in doubt. Jeter, Rodriguez, Ichiro, Ibanez, Chavez, Pettitte, Rivera, and Kuroda are between 35 and 40 years old, and can the Yanks really depend on Sabbathia, Teixeira and Martin to continue to produce? So far I see no great future from anyone but Cano.