Saturday, September 17, 2005

Excuse Me?

I’m sitting here watching the bottom of the 9th as the Yanks try to fend off the Blue Jays to go 5-0, and I find myself uncharacteristically frustrated. Not that I don’t get frustrated, just not usually to this degree1. The reason: my Dad.

I love my Dad, and though it may not be overly ostensible, I really do admire him. He taught me so many lessons over the years. And, of course, I ignored those lectures and did things my way, many times crashing and burning worse than those skateboarding 15-year-olds down the street.

But he’s stuck with me through inane decisions followed by more failure than I thought I was capable of accepting. He supported me during a journey through college that led me to three institutions and tens of thousands of dollars. He supports me as I sit at home in my underwear in the morning, trying to fuse my thoughts onto this electronic paper in hopes of catching somebody, anybody’s attention.

Before the strike in ’94, he brought me to a Yankees game every year. Just remember how things were in the late 80s and early 90s. Yeah, not the most exciting time to be a Yanks fan, but we still relished every game nonetheless. Sure, it may have been Wade Taylor on the mound, but it was still Yankee Stadium, which seemed as large as America itself to me at the time2 .

This isn’t leading to a tribute to my father, though he deserves one. Conversely, he’s the one who is causing me this massive headache. Why, you ask? Well, it was a culmination of statements he’s been making over the course of this season, but it came to a head with the latest one: “Tom Gordon sucks.”

Excuse me? I’m sorry, I haven’t showered yet today and must have some wax lodged in my ear canal. Did I just hear him right? Tom Gordon…sucks?

Sure, I was blurting out similar criticisms of Gordon in April, but those were the words of a desperate Yankees fan trying to cope with the fact that the team didn’t post a .500 record in April. Gordon’s near 5.00 ERA and two blown saves were, to the fan scrambling for excuses, part of the reason the team was in shambles. In fact, as soon as I heard the rumor, I wanted the trigger pulled on a Tom Gordon for Mike Cameron trade ASAP. Before Flash could do any more damage.

Having been rendered temporarily insane by a court of law, I obviously didn’t realize a few facts. 1) He’s allowed to have a bad month. 2) The Yanks were so thin in the bullpen that Gordon. 5.00 ERA and all, was a necessity. And D) He’s not Mariano Rivera.

And as the Yankees exited Bizzaro world, so did Flash. He pitched like the set-up guy we brought in prior to the 2004 season over the next few months, culminating in an August in which he yielded a singular run over 13.1 innings (0.68 ERA), and has given up but one run this month as well, in 8.1 entering today.

Befuddled by Dad’s remark, I asked him why Gordon sucks. His first argument: he’s not automatic. Of course he’s not. If he was automatic, he wouldn’t be pitching for the Yanks now. If he was automatic, he never would have gotten the boot in Boston.

Argument No. 2: he doesn’t even finish his inning, the eighth. Mariano has been coming in to finish off the eighth and into the ninth lately. And you know what, Dad’s right. It’s just unfortunate that he didn’t bring up the fact that Gordon has been coming in late in the seventh lately to compensate for Tanyon Sturtze not being the guy he was earlier this year.

In fact, the last time Tom Gordon failed to get three outs in an appearance was back in JULY, in the game the Yanks beat the Angels 4-1. Gordon allowed a leadoff single to Vlad Guerrero, and after a pop out, issued a walk to make it first and second, one out. And since Mo hadn’t pitched in the last three days and the next day was an off day, it only made sense to bring in the Sandman in that situation.

I know I haven’t constructed a very elaborate argument, but it should suffice to prove that Tom Gordon, in fact, does not suck. And I don’t really believe my dad thinks that he does. It goes a bit deeper than that, burrowing its way all the way to the leader, Joe Torre.

He may complain about all the players – ESPECIALLY A-Rod – but all of my dad’s complaints boil down to Joe Torre and his so-called questionable decision making. And while I agree that Torre’s decisions are shaky at best sometimes, I can’t justify grudgingly bashing him after every move I don’t particularly care for. Because, quite frankly, who the hell am I?

I’m a fan, plain and simple. Never have I purported to be a soothsayer or an expert on how to play the game of baseball. Sure, I play fantasy manager when I’m sitting on the couch with my buddies. I’m telling them when I’m headed out to the mound to talk to the pitcher, and what I’ll say. I point out changes I’d make to the lineup. I announce definitively when I’d pull a pitcher, who I’d put in, and exactly what it would take for me to yank that guy.

But never, ever have I claimed to be right in these matters. That’s why I’m sitting at my computer in my boxers and Torre is in the dugout nightly.

Sure, a lot of his moves leave us scratching our collective heads, but just remember, he’s the guy with the rings. True, he inherited a team with a plethora of talent and an unlimited budget, but you can’t just put anyone in charge of those guys. Just ask Grady Little, Mike Tice, Steve Spurrier (with the ‘Skins, not the Gators), Art Howe, Rick Pitino (think Celts and Knicks), Mike Shannahan (post-Elway), or any other of the “Had Great Talent But Didn’t Have A Clue What To Do With It” coaching fraternity.

(Imagine a frat party at that house! You’d have Mike Tice funneling brews a la Frank the Tank. Grady Little would think about flagging Howe after he thought he had too many, only to waver on the decision and witness Howe carted off in an ambulance for alcohol poisoning. And, possibly most entertaining, Pitino and Shanny would be sitting there going, “no, you ask him. No, you ask him,” as they try to get Spurrier to say something in that squeaky, pre-pubescent voice.)

So the next time you want to bash Torre for his decisions, feel free; it’s your right as a fan to bitch and whine and complain. But just keep it lodged in the back of your brain that you don’t know what’s going on in the clubhouse. You don’t know who went up to Joe that afternoon and said, “Skip, I don’t think I can go tonight,” unless Michael Kay tells you so.

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1 By the way, Gordon was the just the recipient of a pitcher’s best friend, and the game is over. One zip, Yanks. 5-0, baby, with 15 to go.

2 Those memories will always be etched in my mind, never letting me forget the names of Alvaro Espinoza, Roberto Kelly, Pat Kelly, and of course, the guy who I saw sock four dingers in the games I attended over the years, Matt Nokes.