Curt Schilling was saying the other day on ESPN that he has seen thousands of players sign baseballs with their telephone number and toss them to pretty women in the stands.
I believe him. I believe this, too. There's only one player who would do it in the middle of a postseason game after he had been pulled from the lineup, knowing full well that he's liable to end up in the New York tabloids for flirting with an Aussie bikini model.
And although hitting on women in spring training might be as American as the game itself, most guys would be so red-hot angry about being pulled from the biggest stage for not hitting a baseball, they'd be thinking three things: 1. Screw Joe Girardi; 2. Screw Brian Cashman; 3. I'm going to stick it to Girardi and Cashman next time I get up to the plate.
Not Alex Rodriguez. He seemed more interested in the delights from the Land Down Under. Rest his soul, Billy Martin would have stuffed that baseball down A-Rod's throat. In one way, this episode is uniquely A-Rod and only one of many reasons that the Yankees must spend all winter hunting for someone dumber than they were for signing Rodriguez to that 10-year, $275 million extension in 2007. Yet in another way, it also symbolizes some of the denial and lack of maturity dogging the franchise.
Put it this way: The Yankees, ignominiously swept from the ALCS by the Tigers, are too old and not mature enough.
Nick Swisher talked about how the Yankee Stadium fans got to him during the ALCS. An anonymous Yankee then told the New York Daily News that the booing "spooked a lot of guys. A lot of guys hadn't been booed before. They couldn't believe how nasty it got. ... I was surprised by how much it bothered them. I really don't think they ever recovered."
Think about that for a second. These guys play in New York, for the Yankees, and they were surprised about getting booed in the Bronx? Wow. Talk about a sense of delusional entitlement. Either they live in a dream world or Yankee Stadium, now semi-filled by mostly the richest fans, really has become too upscale for the daily dose of Bronx cheers.
And there was the Yankee brass after they had been swept, throwing it all on one bad week of non-hitting, as if this one hiccup would simply return to domination next spring training. Robinson Cano hit .075 in the postseason [3-for-40]. A-Rod hit .120 [3-for-35]. Curtis Granderson hit .100 [3-for-30, 16 strikeouts]. Eric Chavez, who replaced A-Rod, did the impossible. He did worse. He went 0 for 16. When the Yankees were finished swatting at flies, they had set a major league record for the lowest batting average ever in a postseason for teams that played at least seven games [.188]. Cashman called it the "perfect storm."
The perfect storm, in fact, has been forming for a long time, and those black clouds aren't going away by themselves. Yes, the Yankees held off the Orioles. Yes, they won 95 games. Yes, they showed September moxie. Yes, they hit more home runs than anybody. Yet this team had so many problems hitting in the clutch all season that the October meltdown — save Cano's — can't be seen as a total shock. Grandy Man is turning into King Man, Dave Kingman that is. Swisher is a career postseason bust. And for so many of the Yankees, the AARP cards should be in the mail any day now.
With 27 world titles and the 2004 ALCS collapse in their ledgers, nobody has set higher highs and lower lows. The Yankees forever surf the world of hyperbole. And although this 2012 demise certainly isn't worse than blowing the 3-0 series lead to the Red Sox, never had the team looked more comically anemic ... or aged.
Mariano Rivera will be 43 when he returns next spring. A-Rod is 37. Derek Jeter, who underwent ankle surgery Saturday, is 38. Raul Ibanez is 40. Ichiro is 38. Andy Pettitte is 40. More than jettisoning age, this team needs to shed some of its "star power," and focus in on some intensely reliable everyday players who consistently hit with contact. Ones who care more about RISP and less about HR.
Obviously it starts with trying to getting rid of A-Rod. Nothing seems to shame him, and with his no-trade contract, it's going to take finesse to convince him that Miami or L.A. is better for him than the Bronx. Needless to say, it also will take somebody silly enough to pick up some of the $114 million due him, but, hey, if the Dodgers can relieve the Red Sox of $250 million in payroll burden, miracles do happen.
His teammates probably want to take a collection to keep him. As long as A-Rod is around, nobody else seems subject to the full firestorm of the New York media. That's part of the problem. The circus needs to move to another town and the Yankees need to rekindle more of the collective grit and relentlessly grinding ways of the late 1990s. Easier said than done, but it must be a goal. That'll mean swallowing an ungodly gulp of A-Rod's money.
Look, the transition is going to take a couple of seasons, especially because this winter's free-agent class is limited. And the transition could be more delicate than Jeter's surgery. Swisher? Gone. Chavez? Gone. Rafael Soriano will opt out. Gone. Andruw Jones. Long gone. But even looking at guys you'd bring back, these are one-year matters: Ichiro, Pettitte, Kuroda, Mariano. If the Yankees are not careful, this will turn into a parade through the Canyon of Geezers, toasted only by glasses of prune juice. Even Jeter doesn't figure to ever have another season to match 2012. In the meantime, you've got to find out if young guys like Eduardo Nunez can do more than electrify with his bat and legs. He's a lousy infielder. Get him to winter ball. See if he can play the outfield.
Obviously, it's not as easy as saying do this one thing and it's all fixed, especially because the Yankees, with a $220 million payroll, are determined to reduce it to the $190 million luxury tax threshold by 2014. Whatever the number, however, smart changes at third base and the outfield need to be the goal. I'd try my best to move Granderson, the strikeout machine who suddenly has a date with the eye doctor. That letter at the top of the eye chart, Grandy? K. Sign his $15 million option with the intent of trading him to reshape the outfield.
On second thought, Cashman was right. This was the perfect storm. It was the perfect culmination of a decade of spending more than any team in the history of baseball and making the playoffs every year save one — yet winning only one World Series. You can buy a postseason berth in baseball. You cannot buy a championship. Beyond starting pitching, there is no perfect formula for getting players guaranteed to produce every October. So you patiently wait. You watch. And you search for those patient, contact hitters like, oh, Paul O'Neill from another championship time.
So now the Yankees are older than an Oldtimers' Game. Now they need to get younger and more mature — at least with the bat.