“Hey, what you gonna do now, D?” asked Spike Lee as he backslapped Derek Jeter in the Yankee clubhouse, a few minutes before the clock struck twelve on Saturday’s Long Day’s Journey Into Bronx.
“I’m going to watch the games on tape,” joked Jeter. Or maybe he wasn’t. Even without the beanings and the protests, Saturday’s sweep should provide better viewing in Yankeeland than Mission: Impossible 2. The Subway Series provided a rare opportunity for a Yankee team with an uncharacteristically short first-half highlight reel to feel good about themselves. Just how bad has it been, and is the ship finally righted? Read on, McGriff.
The Good News: Up the middle. Strong? Hell, the ’00 Yanks are grain alcohol Jell-O shots with a tequila chaser. Don’t tell Junior’s dad, but Bernie Williams has quietly morphed into the best center fielder in the game. Look for him to put up Mantle-ish or even DiMaggiovian numbers. (His first-half pace projects to a .332 average, 38 homers, 128 runs, and a boggling 160 RBI.) Derek Jeter has plateaued—has he slipped behind Nomar and A-Rod for good?—but with a .326 average, he’s still more solution than problem. However, the biggest props go to Jorge Posada. He’s been positively Pudgy—.312 average, .544 slugging—except for his exceptional .449 on-base percentage, which is far better. Move him up in the lineup where he belongs and he’d have a Munson-esque 60 RBIs and 50 runs scored by now. The pen: Who’s the best Yankee reliever? He hasn’t got a save, but Jeff Nelson’s numbers—1.79 ERA, .163 average against—merit a trip to Turnerville, and lefty Mike Stanton has been nearly as good. All-Star Mariano Rivera, however, has looked decidedly mortal at times, so the Yankee faithful had best continue praying to the patron saint of the rotator cuff for the continued health of that skinny but oh-so-valuable arm.
The Bad News: The right side. Hovering dangerously close to late-Don Mattingly territory, the .259-hitting Tino Martinez is conceding a lot to the Frank Thomases of this world. And game savers aside, Paul O’Neill is playing the outfield like Rickey Henderson and hitting like Shane Spencer. Chuck Knoblauch? It’s official; screw up long enough, and you too can transcend being a laughing stock and become an inspiration. So set your VCRs for Knobby’s appearance on a very special episode of Touched by an Angel. But let it be noted that Alfonso Soriano has been playing second at Columbus. As for the pitching, on a staff in which the top three starters are all on the wrong side of 35 slippage is inevitable. Just look at 37-year-old David Wells. Um, bad example. But the silver lining is that none of the Yank golden oldies have terminal arm troubles—say, a rotator cuff or a Tommy John elbow. So a midsummer turnaround is possible, even likely. If not, help—a Schilling for your thoughts?—is on the way.
The Prognosis: It sounds weird, but as recently as last week the Yankees had the seventh-best record in the AL. And if the Red Sox or the Blue Jays had gone feral the way, say, the White Sox did, the Yankees could be down by double digits in the loss column and facing down a shades-of-’78 Starsky and Hutch-style second-half car chase. Instead they enjoy a percentage-points lead in the standings. What’s ahead? Our crystal ball says 93 wins, a solemn announcement about a player or two diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome (“Fuckin’ Torre, fuckin’ Torre can fuckin’ eat shit!”), and more-than-they-bargained-for playoff dates against Seattle and Chicago.