New stadium, new look: Next year's Yanks will be very different
NEW YORK -- Everyone said goodbye Sunday night to the grand old lady known around here simply as The Stadium, and the going-away party worked perfectly for the about-to-be-demolished ballpark.
Naturally, the pre-game ceremony was spectacular in the Yankees over-the-top way. Then, after the Yankees beat an Orioles club so weak it might as well have been handpicked for a high school homecoming, active Yankees legend Derek Jeter stole the post-game celebration by thanking the fans, who filled the great place all season to watch a surprisingly mediocre brand of baseball. Jeter didn't apologize for the home team's unexpectedly dreadful season; that sentiment was implied.
Hours earlier, do-it-all Jeter directed a democratic mound conference, ending a debate about whether yet another active legend, Andy Pettitte. should stay in the game, by saying something along the lines of "Pet, get the [heck] out of here.'' Jeter's words inspired an exit far less ceremonious than that of the old ball yard.
Pettitte received a curtain call, and he said afterward, "I'm pretty beat up. All I wanted to do was give us a good start.''
When what he really did was give the world's most famous sports venue the best ending imaginable.
"It was a great night, a great night,'' said an emotional Mariano Rivera, the third active legend.
All the legends, past and present, were treated like kings. It was an evening to pay homage to the Yankees' past, which is far better than its present. The glam event and 7-3 victory that delayed elimination will be recalled as the highlight of a season that will be officially lost with either one more Yankees defeat or a Red Sox victory.
But enough for now about the pumped-up pomp (more on that way down below) ...
It should come as no surprise that the last Yankees team housed in the House that Ruth Built will not be accorded the same sort of ceremony, circumstance and good feeling as The Stadium. Instead, the roster will be ripped apart without fanfare, only proper for a $209-million failure.
"Changes ... they are a 'comin','' said one person who speaks regularly with Yankees' decision makers.
Those alterations will not involve the manager and probably not the general manager, either (while absent Hank Steinbrenner takes an occasional shot at Brian Cashman, sources say they will attempt to bring Cashman back and most believe there's a decent chance he'll eventually accept). The changes will involve a roster that proved to be long on age but short on way too much (from viable starting pitchers to above average defenders to solid backups).
Cashman wasn't ready Sunday to answer these or any other winter questions. But we'll give it a go ...
1. When does the CC Watch begin? It's never too soon. CC Sabathia is the free agent the Yankees most covet, though there's a divergence of opinion whether he'd give up his two biggest dreams of playing in his home state of California (one Yankees person expressed some doubt whether he'll come, saying it would take "crazy'' money) and playing in the National League. However, money often talks in wintertime, giving the Yankees hope they can beat out the Angels and other preferred locales.
2. Is Mike Mussina really retiring? Come on. Who retires after going 18-9? My guess is that this rumor started based on Mussina's usual unhappy clubhouse mutterings. Eventually, good sense will prevail, and Mr. Personality will consider a return once some of the Yankees' top free agent options fade away (A.J. Burnett seems like a possible option but injury-prone Ben Sheets may prefer the South and Ryan Dempster is believed most likely to return to Chicago).
3. How about Pettitte? The guess here is Pettitte would like to join his buddies Jeter, Jorge Posada and Rivera in the next Yankee Stadium, depending on what the other options are. "I would like to pitch over there. But I need to get away right now,'' Pettitte said.
4. Could Johnny Damon really be the center fielder? No shot. Damon is more than fine in left but he's no full-season answer in center. And while Brett Gardner has provided a recent spark and Melky Cabrera is still around, the Yankees are more likely to pursue a proven commodity to man the most hallowed position in baseball (even if that ground will be across 161st Street). Nate McLouth, David DeJesus and Matt Kemp are among the names being speculated on inside the Yankees' clubhouse.
5. Might Robinson Cano be traded? He appears to be not only the biggest headache for Girardi but also the Yankees' best trade commodity. Folks around the team suggest Cano's old manager, Joe Torre, has a strong interest for the Dodgers. A Cano-for-Kemp trade would be intriguing, and one AL official said he believes the Dodgers might consider moving Kemp (though it isn't known whether they'd entertain that very trade idea).
6. Could Jason Giambi return? Not much chance of that happening. He no doubt had a lot of fun in New York, and he provided some highlights. But the Yankees believe they must improve their defense. So it is time to move on. Casey Blake is a solid defender at several positions who's sparked the Dodgers at third in his short time there and would represent a major improvement at first defensively. And, in a year when the Yankees have nearly $90 million coming off the books, don't discount the possibility they'll try to steal Mark Teixeira away from the Angels.
7. What about Bobby Abreu? While he's a solid professional hitter, the Yankees badly need to improve their outfield defense and the most obvious solution would be to move Damon to left, Xavier Nady to right and acquire the center fielder they desperately need.
More on the Stadium sendoff
It was a nice touch to pay tribute to all the greats, and to bring back almost all the living greats. And if it seemed unusual that the last pre-game introduction was saved for Bernie Williams, and that the biggest ovation went to Bernie -- even beyond the response accorded Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Reggie Jackson and family members representing Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris -- it didn't seem odd at all to this New Yorker.
Bernie is beloved in this town. Plus, he hadn't been back since he played in 2006. All the heroes of the most recent championship teams are held in increasingly higher regard as the seasons go by and the more recent, higher-priced Yankee teams show how hard it was to win four rings in five years. Or even one ring.
Every star from those championship teams was well-received. Except, that is, for Joe Torre and Roger Clemens, who weren't received at all. For very different reasons, the two were excluded from mention.
Clemens was the most prominent living Yankee player who was available to attend but still wasn't there (for instance, Don Mattingly is coaching for Torre's Dodgers). As Jeter said, the Yankees are about "pride.'' The team may not be so proud of that association anymore.