Admittedly, there are few things in baseball that I enjoy more than watching the Yankees fail with a new, big ticket free agent. Don’t we all? Don’t get me wrong: being a Mets fan, we’ve had our share of horrible signings too. Mo Vaughn and Roberto Alomar are the reason Steve Phillips is now on ESPN making equally bad strategy calls in 2009, luckily from the commentary chair as opposed to the GM chair in Flushing.
My own team’s hilarious failures aside, let’s get back to the Bronx. The Yankees have made a tradition of signing the biggest free agent available every year, and since the glory days of four rings led by the likes of Clemens, Pettitte, Wells, Cone and El Duque, this usually means trying to fill the large gaps in the rotation by throwing money at the problem. Sometimes this works, most of the time it doesn’t. Yankee fans aren’t exactly known for their perspective or patience, and the much maligned “New York media” doesn’t help matters. The entity that traditionally throws the big can of gasoline onto the fire (and can create a raging inferno out of a tiny spark) is the New York Post. Here’s a retrospective:
For good measure, I need to show you at least two examples of what you’ll see on the front page: one is a classic, the other is more current.
I was hoping to get some great images of past Post covers bashing on the likes of Hideki Irabu, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, Randy Johnson and so on, but they’re a bit hard to dig up. I think you get the point though: if you have one bad start, or one bad game in New York, the Post will act like the apocalypse itself has occurred, and there’s a 99% chance the headline will involve an awful, insulting pun with your name in it. And if you’re Kei Igawa or Phil Hughes, just starting your career with the Yankees, you can imagine how demoralizing it is to see these headlines after a bad game. I’m sure if they’re in the middle of a poor start, the prospect of “What are the papers going to say tomorrow?” has to take away some focus from the task at hand.
Even if you don’t read The Post, you see the paper everywhere you go in New York City; in train stations, subways, newsstands, and so on. So if you’re a casual baseball fan (as most New Yorkers are until October), this is the impression you get of the team and the players. Even if you know the Post is sensationalist, these headlines have a way of seeping into the city’s collective subconscious, and before you know it, A-Rod is being booed and labeled a choke artist despite winning two MVPs awards in pinstripes.
Which brings us to Mr. Sabathia. I think you’ll be hard pressed to find any baseball fan with a bad word to say about his character or past track record (I know Boston fans will hate on him because that’s what they do, but seriously? Even this guy?) In my lifetime, I have never seen a player literally carry a team on his shoulders the way he did for the Brewers staff in 2008. It seemed every few days, he was taking the ball on short rest, and pitching complete games.
Unbelievable in this day and age, where pitchers are coddled, and pitch counts are used to protect arms like expensive, fragile glass. CC had free agency and the biggest payday of his lifetime looming, and chose to put his arm at risk. It would have been easy to just start every five days, ask to leave after reaching his pitch count, sit back and wait for the big contract in the winter. However, he went above and beyond the call of duty in a way we rarely see these days, willing the Brewers to their first playoff appearance since 1982. That’s the kind of integrity and team-first mentality that the Yankees have been lacking with many of their free agent signings over the years.
So, while I spent Monday basking in the glory of Santana’s greatness coupled with a poor opening day for the Yankees and their new ace, it dawned on me that Sabathia was going to get his first taste of the New York media’s wrath. What would his first Post headline be? I spent the rest of the day joking with my friends, speculating on what bad pun they’d choose. Here it is:
Wonderful. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the Yankees just flushed $161 million down the toilet! Luckily, baseball is a sport that provides cold, hard facts to go along with sensationalist headlines, so let’s take a look at them. Here are CC Sabathia’s ERA and WHIP numbers, by month during his full career:
March/April: 4.51 ERA/1.393 WHIP
May: 3.33 ERA/1.233 WHIP
June: 3.84 ERA/1.206 WHIP
July: 4.61 ERA/1.404 WHIP
August: 3.21 ERA/1.201 WHIP
September/October: 2.77 ERA/1.084 WHIP
Yankee fans, please take a look at those numbers, take a deep breath, and remember context. Sabathia always starts slow, will settle down in May, and will probably have a rough stretch in the dog days of summer. Be thankful that he’ll turn it on during crunch time in September, where his numbers are off the charts. Be thankful that he’s got a great head on his shoulders, he’s taking the responsibility that comes with his contract seriously, he’s the best kind of teammate you can ask for, and support him.
Most of all, be thankful that he’s not going to react like this guy, or countless free agent Yankee pitchers before him: