Posted: Thursday September 1, 2005 3:34PM; Updated: Friday September 2, 2005 2:57PM
The Yankees are not known for playing rookies, but they gave Robinson Cano a chance and he's had success.
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Robinson Canoe -- this is what New York sports-radio personality Chris "Mad Dog" Russo kept calling Yankees rookie second baseman long after he came up. "If you think the Yankees are going to trade Canoe for Mike Cameron, then you're crazy," exclaimed Russo. "Canoe -- I'm not going to say he's untouchable, but for the Mets to get Canoe, they're going to have to give up more than Cameron."
Russo also liked to refer to the Yankees' scrub-faced rookie center fielder Melky Cabrera as "Milky," though, to be fair to the ballplayers, Dog butchers any word that has more than two syllables. And although Russo gets paid more than a million dollars a year to keep abreast of the New York sports scene, with the revolving door of "Milkys," Buddys, (Groom) and Bubbas (Crosby) in New York, can you blame him for botching the names? The Yankees' revolving door has seen so much action that when infielder Felix Escalona was called up to the parent club, his name was misspelled Escolona above his locker. I can see his new mates congratulating him, "Welcome to the bigs, Esca...lo...um...I'll be right there coach."
Remember the scene in Major League in which an Indians fan is sitting in a diner reading the roster out loud? "Rick Vaughn? Willie Hayes? Who are these guys?" That's how I feel about this year's Yankees. Andy Phillips? Wayne Franklin? Sean Henn? Colter Bean? Last time I went to Whole Foods I think I saw a special on colter beans in the organic produce section.
The nadir occurred in the 17-1 drubbing the Yanks took from the Red Sox on July 15 when starter Tim Redding lasted one inning and was followed by the less-than-immortal quartet of Darrell May, Jason Andersen, Groom and Scott Proctor. David Cone to Mariano Rivera to John Wetteland this was not.
Until this year, the Yankees always seemed to "get the girl," metaphorically speaking. Just the possibilities of slimming pinstripes for the hubbies and Madison Avenue shops for the wives was enough to attract the offseason's sexiest free agent. Oakland's Jason Giambi went so far as to take the if-you-can't-beat-em'-join-em' approach after the Yanks took his playoff lunch money in 2000 and 2001. And this past offseason, while the Yanks made a splash by trading for Randy Johnson and signing Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, the player who everyone assumed would be patrolling center field in the Bronx for the next seven years was Carlos Beltran. It didn't happen because the businessman in George Steinbrenner didn't want to take the exorbitant luxury-tax hit.
The implementation of the luxury tax and the Yankees gluttonous spending in past years hurt them not in fielding a gold-plated starting nine (with Bernie Williams in center, there are former All-Stars at every position but second base) but in solidifying their depth. The richest team in baseball was forced to fill out its 25-man roster by picking through the waiver wire for players discarded by lesser teams, which is a bit like Karl Lagerfeld filling gaps in his wardrobe by shopping at the Salvation Army.
It's as if "Give us your tired, your hungry, your weak" was the new message on the marquee on the side of Yankee Stadium. Tim Redding was 0-5 with a 9.10 ERA with San Diego. Perfect fit. Al Leiter was 3-7, 6.64 ERA with Florida. Slide him right in. Things got so bad that New York started recycling Boston's trash by claiming left-handed pitcher Alan Embree (1-4 7.65) and infielder Mark Bellhorn (.216, 109 SO, 283 ABs with Boston and .176, 24 SO, 68 ABs in Class AAA) and plopping them into meaningful spots. I can only assume the Yanks are preemptively measuring swaths of pinstripe cotton in anticipation of Mike Remlinger and Kevin Millar hitting the open market. These day the Yankees may still get the girl but only after she's been romanced by Ron Jeremy, Randy West and Peter North.
The amazing thing is that while Cashman's high-priced stars have faltered, these rookies and reclamation projects have quite often been the ones who have kept the team not just afloat, but ahead in the wild-card lead. Shawn Chacon has been a mid-season shot in the arm, not unlike El Duque last year. Aaron Small and Chien-Ming Wang have a combined ERA of 3.63 in 119 innings, while Johnson's ERA is 4.04 in 189 innings. The fact that the Small-Wang combo has outperformed the Big Unit just proves "it's not the size of the ship but the motion in the ocean."
That being said, do I think the Yanks will be playing more than 162 games this year? Of course I do. They have too much firepower in that lineup. A $212 million dollar payroll doesn't buy what it used to, but it does guarantee you a spot in the playoffs.