Friday, November 26, 2010

Nightmare Scenarios: If the Yankees Hadn't Re-Signed...

Nightmare Scenario 1: After the 1933 season, the Yankees decided that it was unseemly of Babe Ruth to keep asking for more money in the depth of the Depression. Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey was more than happy to send the Yankees $200,000 to bring the Babe back to his original big-league team. And the Babe was thrilled to be reunited with his fans back in Boston.

Not having the Babe is widely considered to be the reason the Yankees did not win the Pennant in 1934. The Red Sox didn't win it, the Detroit Tigers did. But Yawkey's money had bought several stars, including Philadelphia Athletics slugger Jimmie Foxx and pitcher Lefty Grove, and was about to go after Washington Senators shortstop and manager Joe Cronin, and give him the same jobs at Fenway Park.

The Babe suggested to Yawkey that he offer the Cleveland Indians a lot of money for Mel Harder, and the Chicago White Sox a lot of money for pitcher Ted Lyons. With a rotation of Grove, Harder, Lyons and Wes Ferrell -- and a quick medical checkup to heal an early-season leg injury for the Babe -- the Red Sox won the 1935 Pennant and World Series, their first since 1918. The Babe retired a World Champion.

(Note: The idea that the Babe was not washed-up at age 40 in 1935, but was simply hurt, and the Boston Braves ignored that possibility, was raised by Bill Jenkinson in his book The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs.)

The Yankees, who finished 3 games behind the Red Sox and 2 behind the Tigers, looked like idiots.

Fortunately, they had Joe DiMaggio coming up to join Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey. Unfortunately, a knee injury that DiMaggio had picked up in the minors prevented him from becoming a big star, and the Yankee dynasty was over.

The Tigers finally won their first World Series in 1945. The Red Sox won it the next year, although they didn't win another for 40 years.

On May 17, 1975, Hank Aaron hit his 738th career home run, breaking Ruth's career record.

On April 15, 1976, Meadowlands Stadium opened in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Yankees and the NFL's New York Giants -- the only team to win a World Championship while playing home games at Yankee Stadium between 1933 and its closing after the 1975 season -- both played there until 1997. So did the NFL's New York Jets from 1984 to 1997.

In 1986, Julia Ruth Stevens, the Babe's daughter, threw out the first ball before Game 3 of the World Series. The Sox won, and completed the sweep of the New York Mets the next day.

In 1991, Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News wrote a book about the Yankees and their inability to win a World Series since 1932. He called it The Curse of the Bambino.

In 1998, Trump Stadium opened over the West Side Rail Yards in Manhattan, west of Madison Square Garden. The Yankees and Jets both moved in. In 2010, Giants Stadium opened, next-door to the former Meadowlands Stadium, which has been demolished.

The Mets lost the 2000 World Series to the Seattle Mariners, and have not won a World Series since their 1969 "miracle."

Although the Yankees have won Pennants in 1943, 1957, 1958, 1963 and 1981, they still haven't won the World Series since the Babe called his shot in 1932.


Nightmare Scenario 2: After the 1946 season, the Yankees decided that Joe DiMaggio hadn't come back from World War II sufficiently strong. So general manager Larry MacPhail, drinking with Yawkey, agreed on a trade: DiMaggio, whose righthanded bat was a good fit for Fenway Park and its close left-field wall (not yet known as the Green Monster because the advertising signs wouldn't come down, revealing the green underneath, until the next season), for Ted Williams, whose lefthanded bat was a good fit for Yankee Stadium and its right-field "short porch."

The next morning, Yawkey sobered up, and decided that Williams was better than DiMaggio, and demanded the Yankees throw in another player. A funny-looking Italian outfielder who could also catch.

(In the history that we know, this was the dealbreaker. Here, it's not.)

MacPhail and co-owners Dan Topping and Del Webb so wanted to get rid of DiMaggio, seemingly washed-up at age 32, and his salary demands that they threw in Larry Berra (not yet widely known as Yogi) and got Williams.

Big mistake. Williams didn't get along with the New York press any more than he did the Boston press. He lost a lot of hits in Yankee Stadium's spacious center field. Meanwhile, DiMaggio recovered his stroke, and won the Triple Crown, the MVP, and the World Series with the Red Sox in 1947 and 1949, and won the Series in 1948, 1950 and 1951 as well, before hanging 'em up.

Williams clashed with Yankee manager Casey Stengel too often, and when the Marine Corps called Ted back for the Korean War, the Yankee organization, from management to players, was a bit relieved. They were all too happy to give Williams' Number 9 to that kid from Oklahoma, who until now had been wearing DiMaggio's Number 5.

That was Mickey Mantle. He helped the Yankees win World Series in 1956, '58, '61 and '62, before injuries and alcohol slowed him down. The Yankees haven't won the Series since the Cuban Missile Crisis -- not at Yankee Stadium (1963-75), not at Meadowlands Stadium (1976-97), not at Trump Stadium (1998-present).


Nightmare Scenario 3: After his Triple Crown season of 1956, Mantle asked for a doubling of his salary from $32,500 to $65,000. "We don't double salaries," said Yankee GM George Weiss. "I want $65,000," said Mantle. "You'll take what we give you, or we'll trade you to the Cleveland Indians," said Weiss. Mantle went over Weiss' head to co-owner Topping.

(In the history that we know, Mantle got his $65,000.)

Topping and Webb stood by Weiss, and the Yankees sent Mantle to the Indians for their amazing young lefthander, Queens native Herb Score.

On May 7, 1957, Indian 3rd baseman Al Smith hit a line drive right back at Score. The accident had devastating consequences. Bones in his face were broken. His vision was affected. He was never the same pitcher again.

(In the history that we know, Score stayed with the Indians, despite Yawkey offering the Indians $1 million, and the franchise, so often in financial trouble over the next 30 years, turned it down. And it was the Yankees' 3rd baseman, Gil McDougald, who hit the liner that curtailed Score's career.)

Mantle didn't like hitting in Cleveland's cavernous Municipal Stadium, but the Indians were willing to pay him the $65,000. They won the Pennant in 1957 and the World Series in 1958 and 1959.

Just before the 1960 season, Indian GM Frank Lane traded Rocky Colavito to the Tigers for Harvey Kuenn. Mantle complained about this to the press. Shortly thereafter, Mantle was traded too, for Charlie Maxwell and Steve Bilko.

Pennants were won by the Baltimore Orioles in 1960 (lost the World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates), Mantle and the Tigers in 1961 (Mickey broke Ruth's record with 61 home runs while Roger Maris hit 54 for the Yankees, and the Tigers beat the Cincinnati Reds), Mantle and the Tigers again in 1962 (lost to the San Francisco Giants), the Yankees in 1963 (lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers), and the White Sox in 1964 (their first Pennant since the Black Sox scandal of 1919, but lost the Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, and wouldn't win another Series until 2005).

The Yankees still haven't won a Pennant since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy -- not the strangest thing about that assassination, not even connected to it, but interesting nonetheless.


Now, let's reverse the nightmare scenario. What if the Yankees HAD re-signed... Reggie Jackson after 1981?

Although Reggie had his last great season in 1982, it probably wouldn't have helped, as the Yankees were too far back. In 1983, Reggie had his lowest batting average and home run and RBI totals for a full season, and George Steinbrenner would have thought he'd made a mistake to re-sign Reggie. A better season in 1984 probably doesn't derail the Tiger express that year. But in 1985 and 1986, Reggie's still-there power could have made the difference between winning the AL East and not.

In 1985, the Yankees sweep a 3-game series from the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto on the final weekend of the regular season. Then, for the 4th time in 5 tries, they beat the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS. And I really wish those Cardinal fans would shut up about Don Denkinger's call: They still needed just 3 more outs, and could have gotten them, and there was still a Game 7. "Best baseball town in America"? Not St. Louis, not as long as they whine about Denkinger costing them the 1985 World Series. Yankees win.

In 1986, well, let's just say that Dave Righetti was not Bob Stanley, and Don Mattingly was not Bill Buckner. First Subway Series since 1956, and Yankees win.

In 1987, Reggie plays one more year, but it's not enough for the Yanks to edge the Tigers for the AL East title.


The Yankees didn't re-sign Tino Martinez after the 2001 season, getting Jason Giambi instead.

We can't be sure that the Bamtino would've hit in the regular season or the postseason better than the Giambino. Especially since Giambi's 2 homers gave the Yanks a chance to come back in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. But all Tino would've needed was one RBI more than Giambi got in Game 4 or Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS, and we'd still be talking about the "real" Curse of the Bambino.

I've already done one of these examining what might have happened if Andy Pettitte had been re-signed after 2003. His injury in 2004 would have caused him to miss the postseason for the Yankees every bit as much as for the Astros in real life, so that's not a help.

The Yankees didn't re-sign either Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui after the 2009 season. Would either of them have been better, in the regular season or the postseason, than Curtis Granderson (with Damon staying in left and Brett Gardner staying in center) or Marcus Thames (Matsui as the usual DH)?

Both had their moments, and Granderson was one of only 2 Yankees to hit well in the 2010 ALCS, along with Robinson Cano. But Thames was horrid in that series, with a .301. That's not a batting, on-base or slugging average, that's his OPS, on-base PLUS slugging. He reached base in just 3 out of 17 plate appearances. Either Damon or Matsui, batting in place of Thames, might have meant a Pennant, or more.


Now, let me bring you Nightmare Scenario 4:

It's the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 7 of the 2011 American League Championship Series. The home crowd is going wild. Their team is down 4-3 with 2 outs. But the tying run is on 2nd, and the winning run is on 1st.

The batter is Derek Jeter.

The opposing team's closer looks in. He fires. Jeter swings.

He drives the ball into the left-center gap. The tying run scores easily. Here comes the winning run. Here's the throw from left field, the shortstop takes it as the cutoff man, he throws to the plate...

A good throw would have gotten the runner. Instead, the shortstop screws it up. Ballgame over. Derek Jeter has led his team to the American League Pennant.

Final score, Angels 5, Yankees 4.

Mariano Rivera sits in the visitors' clubhouse at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, head down, seriously considering retirement. Yankee Fans are already inundating message boards with suggestions that the Yankees shouldn't have given Mo a big new contract a year earlier, and that he can't be trusted to close out the big games anymore.

There's also some mention on said boards of how Alex Rodriguez went 2-for-28 with just 1 RBI, a 450-foot homer in Game 5 after the Yankees were already down 8-2 following another spit-the-bit performance by A.J. Burnett.

In the Angels' clubhouse, team owner Arte Moreno is so glad he decided to show Jeter the money... money he was willing to spend, and the Steinbrenner brothers and Brian Cashman were not.

In the World Series, Jeter spends the first 5 games flailing away at the plate. In the Daily News, Lupica writes in his column that the Steinbrenners were right after all.

Then in Game 6, Jeter hits a single and a double for 3 RBIs, and the Angels finish off the Reds. Over the next 3 days, first Yankee manager Joe Girardi and then Reds manager Dusty Baker are fired.

The Yankees pry Don Mattingly away from the Dodgers to be their 2012 manager. He lasts until 2015, and is fired after 3 seasons with no Playoff berths. Yankee Fans finally realize there is one true curse in baseball: The Curse of Donnie Regular Season Baseball. No team with Don Mattingly in uniform, as player, coach or manager ever wins a Pennant.

Derek Jeter retires after the 2016 season, at age 42, with 3,786 hits, 3rd all-time, and 8 World Championships to his credit: 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2014.

The Mets celebrate the 50th Anniversary of their 1969 Miracle by winning the 2019 National League Pennant. But they lose the World Series to the Utah Buzz, in only their 5th season since moving to Salt Lake City following their inability to get a new ballpark to replace the inadequate dome they'd played in as the Tampa Bay Rays. Don't ask Met fans about the play that caused them to lose Game 7 in 2019: It's still too painful. Terry Collins last 2 more years as manager before he is fired.

Jeter is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020. His plaque shows him wearing a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim cap.

The Yankees still haven't won a World Series since 2009, or made the Playoffs since 2011.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes a book titled The Curse of Derek Jeter: How the Yankees Threw It All Away.

It will be another few years before a dying Reggie Jackson asks Hal Steinbrenner to make peace with Jeter, to bring him back for Old-Timers' Day, to retire his Number 2, and to give him his Monument Park plaque. Too stubborn, Hal refuses to do so.

In 2036, Alex Rodriguez is snubbed by the Baseball Writers' Association of America for the 15th and final time. Neither he, nor Barry Bonds, nor Mark McGwire, nor Sammy Sosa, nor Gary Sheffield, nor Roger Clemens have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this way. Nor has Pete Rose, still on the permanently ineligible list, well after his death.

In 2040, Alex Rodriguez dies of a stroke. He is only 64 years old.

Shortly thereafter, Derek Jeter, about to turn 66, decides it's all silly, and patches things up with Yankee management. On Opening Day, his Number 2 is retired, he is given his Plaque, and he tells the fans, "It's good to be home." Before Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium II, Jeter and Rivera throw out ceremonial first balls to Natasha and Ella Rodriguez, A-Rod's daughters. The Yankees win the Series in 6 games, over the Tokyo-based Yomiuri Giants.

(Note: There was a TV show a few years back called Space Precinct, which predicted exactly this matchup for the 2040 World Series: Yankees vs. Yomiuri Giants. I figure that Hideki Matsui, formerly of both teams, will throw out the first ball before one of the games at the Tokyo Dome.)

Jeter, like Yogi Berra and Ted Williams did before him, uses his influence with the Commissioner of Baseball and the Hall of Fame's Committee on Veterans. In 2041, shortly before what would have been Pete Rose's 100th birthday had he lived, Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson are removed from the ineligible list, and they are elected to the Hall of Fame. So are A-Rod, Clemens and Bonds, with the reasoning that, in spite of the criminal convictions against the latter two, they would have made it to the Hall even if they hadn't used steroids. McGwire, Sosa and Sheffield remain on the outside looking in.

In 2042, an author writes a book of sports what-ifs, with one of the chapters being, "What if the Yankees had re-signed Derek Jeter in 2010?"


Wouldn't that be a great question to NOT have to ask?

1 comment:

  1. I have another scenario:

    What if the Angels would have won the West in 1998 instead of Texas? They only finished three games back, but they had New York's number that year, being the only team to have a winning record against them. Maybe 2002 happens four years earlier.