1. The Boss, the rapper and the All-Star
Here comes Robinson Cano racing back to the Bronx, history already being written.
A real, live Seattle Mariner actually guesting on The Tonight Show.
In the name of all that is sacred—and weird—we never saw Ruppert Jones or Bruce Bochte sit with Johnny Carson. We never saw Mike Blowers crack wise with Jay Leno. Yet there Cano was on the eve of this week’s reunion with Derek Jeter and co., chatting it up with Jimmy Fallon, Jay Z and $240 million now the wind beneath his wings.
Meanwhile, you look at the Yankees infield, and the obvious reaction is: Brian Roberts and Yangervis Solarte at second base? Are you kidding? (And yes, I know Solarte’s current on-base percentage is .400).
Things always were going to be different after George Steinbrenner’s passing, but it’s difficult to get a handle on the Yankees these days.
“Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing,” The Boss famously said while his 1998 club was steamrolling toward 114 wins and a World Series title. “Breathing first, winning next.”
For a time after Steinbrenner’s death, for the Yankees, it became breathing first, avoid paying luxury tax second, make life luxurious for the swanky set behind the plate at new, soulless Yankee Stadium third...and winning somewhere after that.
So in 2013, as the Yankees worked hard toward reducing their luxury tax, they also reduced their winning. They finished third, watched the playoffs on their flat-screens and shuddered when the Red Sox won again.
Then a team that cannot for the life of itself produce a fertile farm system and homegrown stars kissed off Cano, one of its last remaining homegrown stars, and dove into the free-agent market after Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran.
Later in the winter, they completely blew past the luxury-tax threshold in signing Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka.
So a team that a year ago was obsessed with a self-imposed mandate to go below the luxury-tax threshold reversed course in record time and spent $470 million this winter. And it still can hold a T-shirt giveaway day at The Stadium this summer: “We spent $470 million and all we got was Kelly Johnson at third base and Roberts/Solarte at second.”
“Owning the Yankees is like owning the Mona Lisa,” Steinbrenner once said.
Yet this infield is more like the artistic rendering of Dogs Playing Poker, given the situations at second and third (in the wake of Alex Rodriguez’s suspension), the likelihood that Mark Teixeira never will be what he once was following wrist surgery and Derek Jeter attempting to play championship-caliber shortstop at 39.
Recognizing how much Cano was about to get from Seattle, the Yankees signed Ellsbury on Dec. 7 to a seven-year, $153 million deal. Cano signed with the Mariners five days later.
If you believe it came down to a choice, as the Yankees said at the time, fine. There are fair arguments on both sides of that fence.
But could the Yankees have signed both? And McCann and Beltran and Tanaka? Sure. Why not? They’re the Yankees. Since when do they have a payroll lower than the Dodgers—or anybody else?
Marquee stars in their primes just don’t leave the Yankees. At least, they didn’t under The Boss.
“Second place is really the first loser,” he once said.
And: “As I’ve always said, the way New Yorkers back us, we have to produce for them.”
With The Boss gone, last season was only the second time since 1994 that the Yankees failed to make the playoffs. And the postseason was even expanded last year.
Now, even Mariners are climbing onto The Tonight Show stage. Even if Cano does have only one home run through 102 plate appearances.
2. Racism strikes at Jackie Robinson's team
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” Jackie Robinson told us in words of wisdom, so on point that they could have comes straight from the Ten Commandments.
So. Let’s talk NBA, Clippers owner Donald Sterling and Matt Kemp.
Kemp has spoken eloquently for years as baseball celebrates Jackie Robinson Day each April 15.
He also is an NBA fan and close friends with the Clippers’ Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. He took his mother to a Clippers game awhile back and posed for a photo with V. Stiviano, Sterling’s former mistress.
Then in the latest leak of a taped conversation between Sterling and Stiviano, the owner was giving her a hard time for posting that photo on Instagram because, well, Kemp is black, and The Donald didn’t want his squeeze having anything to do with African-Americans in public.
“I thought Matt Kemp is mixed, and he was OK, just like me,” Stiviano told The Donald in the taped conversation Deadspin revealed on Sunday.
In my favorite moment by far of the past week, Kemp’s reply was pointed: Before each of his four at-bats Sunday, his walk-up music in Dodger Stadium was Michael Jackson’s “Black or White.”
“Racism is kind of old. For real,” Kemp said Sunday. “Honestly, I just feel sorry for him that he feels that way about African-American people.
“I feel sorry for my boys on that team that have to play for a guy like that. Chris and Blake and all those guys, where we come from, that’s not acceptable.”
One of the best things baseball does is turn Jackie Robinson Day into a national holiday each April 15. The day Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 extends well beyond just the game itself. It was one of the most important days in American history.
Baseball truly is a social institution, as commissioner Bud Selig habitually reminds us, though even with Robinson as its shining moment, things are not always perfect. Anybody who remembers John Rocker can attest to that. If you don’t remember him (and, truthfully, even if you do), make sure to read Jeff Pearlman’s excellent piece here.
Baseball hasn’t had an issue like this with an owner since Cincinnati’s Marge Schott, who was suspended in 1993 following a series of racist and insensitive comments, and again in 1996 for saying Adolf Hitler “was good in the beginning but went too far.”
Kemp said playing for an owner like Sterling “would be tough. I would figure out a way not to be in that situation anymore.”
As Kemp said, in as accurate a statement as anybody will issue this year, “Black, blue, green…it doesn’t matter what race you are. We’re all people. We all want the same things. Happiness and all that great stuff, you know? It’s weird.”
3. The American League, but looks like the World Baseball Classic
Not only did Toronto whip Boston 7-1 on Sunday, the Blue Jays did something that had never been done before: They became the first major league team to field a starting lineup with six players from the Dominican Republic.
“It might get me a job in winter ball this winter,” Jays manager John Gibbons quipped. “I’ll be in the next WBC.”
The six Dominican Jays in the lineup: Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Juan Francisco and Moises Sierra.
4. Bryce Harper, We Hardly Knew Ye
Yasiel Puig, Josh Hamilton and now Bryce Harper all have missed time this season because of hand injuries suffered sliding headfirst into a base.
More teams than not now employ two hitting coaches. When, oh when, will somebody hire a coach to tackle these guys who A) slide headfirst into first base and/or B) slide headfirst into any bag?
It’s been a brutal couple of weeks for Harper, between getting yanked by manager Matt Williams for not running hard to first base the other day and now facing thumb surgery that will sideline him until July. Bryce, while you’re out, here’s some reading for you.
5. Brother, can you spare a hit?
Pitchers have dominated in recent years, but this is borderline ridiculous: Sunday was the first time in history that 10 pitchers went seven-plus innings while allowing three or fewer hits, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
- Houston’s Collin McHugh (against Oakland).
- Kansas City’s James Shields (against Baltimore).
- The Angels’ Garrett Richards (against the Yankees).
- Atlanta’s Julio Teheran (against Cincinnati).
- The Cubs’ Jason Hammel (against Milwaukee).
- Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto (against Atlanta).
- The Mets’ Dillon Gee (against Miami).
- St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright (against Pittsburgh).
- San Diego’s Ian Kennedy (against Washington).
- San Francisco’s Ryan Vogelsong (against Cleveland).
6. They’re not booing, they’re Abreu-ing
Is it time to close the polls for American League Rookie of the Year voting? If White Sox slugger Jose Abreu has a couple of more weekends like the one he just finished against the Rays, it just might be (with apologies to the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka, of course).
The Cuban defector leads all AL rookies with 10 homers, 32 RBI, 20 runs, 29 hits, 67 total bases, 17 extra-base hits and a .626 slugging percentage.
And contrary to what you might believe, no, he did not compile all of that in four games against Tampa Bay over the weekend. Close, though.
Against the Rays, Abreu went 7-of-17 with three homers, including a walk-off grand slam Friday night. Not long after that slam, Sox catcher Tyler Flowers raved about Abreu to us on the Round Trip show on SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio.
Among other things, Flowers is impressed not only with Abreu’s power, but with the fact he has a plan.
“The guy takes batting practice,” Flowers said, “and it’s like, what is this big guy doing shooting balls to right field?”
Just preparing to mash for another evening, apparently.
7. Rehabilitation Blues
Two aces, two unhappy guys.
The Phillies’ Cole Hamels was not happy last Wednesday when, in his first start of the season following a bout with biceps tendinitis, manager Ryne Sandberg lifted him following just 86 pitches and six innings. Hamels said he could have thrown at least 100.
“For me, I thought it was outstanding for a first outing,” Sandberg said, noting Hamels had thrown around 90 pitches in his final rehab outing in Clearwater, Florida, and was approaching 90 in Dodger Stadium and that there was a huge difference in effort in the venue.
The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, following his first injury-rehab outing last Friday for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga, lobbied hard to rejoin the Dodgers’ rotation this week. But given that he’s missed a month, the Dodgers will have him make another rehab start—likely in Double-A Chattanooga—Wednesday.
Kershaw is not cool with that.
“Not really,” the 2013 NL Cy Young winner said. “I did the best I could (in lobbying to return), but I’m not going to fight the team if everybody doesn’t want me to do something.”
8. A sock in the jaw would be better than a bat in the face
Scary—and unbelievable—moment in Milwaukee on Saturday when shortstop Jean Segura was hit in the face by a bat swung by teammate Ryan Braun.
On the dugout steps.
Segura took stitches and hasn’t played since. The Brewers aren’t sure when he’ll be back. And Braun suffered an oblique strain later in the same game, and he’s out as well. So those hot-starting Brewers, with the majors’ best record at 19-7 starting the week, have some issues.
Beginning with, isn’t one of the first things any player learns as a kid is to not swing the bat near a crowd of people?
And isn’t the second thing any player learns as a kid is to watch out for anyone swinging a bat?
“I do my warmups every game, so I’m actually surprised something doesn’t happen like that more often,” Braun told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt.
9. Take that, Yankees
With one more win, the Dodgers will become only the fourth franchise in major league history to reach the 10,000-wins mark, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The first three? The Giants, Cubs and Braves.
“The Yankees have done it, right?” Dodgers manager—and former Yankees first baseman—Don Mattingly asked.
“That’s cool,” he quipped. “Hey, L.A. is on my hat.”
9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day
Dedicated this week to Donald Sterling and points beyond...
“Racism lives in the U.S. today
“Better get hip to what Martin Luther King had to say
“I don’t want my kids being brought up this way
“Hatred to each other is not okay
“Well, I’m not a preacher just a singer, son
“But I can see more work to be done
“It’s what you do and not what you say
“If you’re not part of the future then get out of the way”
—John Mellencamp, Peaceful World
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.
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