OK, Bud Selig, we’re calling your bluff. After the weekend’s ugly Subway Series, Fred Wilpon is unhappy and George is downright pissed. We must face the truth: New York really doesn’t need two baseball teams. In the interest of the game’s fiscal future, we’re contracting New York baseball—and sending whatever’s left to Montreal and Kansas City. We’ll leave it up to the marketing guys to decide if this new team will be called the Yets or the Mankees, but in either case, we’ll get Rudy to build them a spanking new stadium . . . in Staten Island. But who stays and who goes? Who survives the tribal council and who is the weakest link? Good question. Here’s our starting lineup:
First Base: Mike Piazza. Choosing between Tino Martinez and Todd Zeile is like choosing between Curly Joe and Shemp. If they’re not the worst first basemen in baseball, they’re close. Taking one for the team as he’s done so many times in the past, Piazza goes from being the best-hitting catcher in history—the Subway Series, with his clutch home run and awful throws to second, show why we need to place hitting between best and catcher—to simply the best-hitting first baseman in baseball. Let’s dwell for just a moment on Piazza’s offensive greatness. Compare his career numbers (.328 average, .392 on-base percentage, .580 slugging) to Yogi Berra (.285, .348, .482) and Johnny Bench (.267, .342, .476). And then remember that he put up these numbers while playing in two of the worst hitter’s parks in the majors. The take-home lesson? Pay attention—someday you’ll be telling your grandchildren you saw Mr. Mike play back in the day.
Second Base: Edgardo Alfonzo. Since between the two teams there are four middle infielders who can play short or second, we’ll stage a fair fight: The top dogs and the also-rans will square off. First, Jeter vs. Fonzie. We like Derek Jeter a lot. But we like Fonzie better. Step back from their slow starts, and Alfonzo’s back injury, and examine their three-year splits. Jeter has a surprising edge in power (.505 slugging vs. .490), while Fonzie’s been more patient (4.08 pitches per plate appearance vs. 3.82) and considerably steadier in the field. Give a slight edge to Daddy Jee. But look more closely. Jeter hits better away from home, but Fonzie loves the road more than Willie Nelson. Take him away from Shea, and he adds 60 points to his batting average and 100 points to his slugging percentage. Which leads us to believe that in the same park, Fonzie would be a more productive hitter. The other significant number? Salary. Even for big-market teams this makes a difference, and while Jeter may be worth his $12.6 million, Alfonzo is a real New York bargain at $5.75 million per.
Shortstop: Alfonso Soriano. Now the also-rans: Rey Ordoñez vs. Alfonso Soriano. Remember that New York Times Magazine piece that paired off Jeter and Ordoñez? Forget about being Jeter’s equal, Ordoñez is peerless. He is hands-down, honest to Joe Girardi, the worst hitter in baseball. It’s no coincidence that last year with Rey-Rey gone bye-bye, the Mets made the World Series. Soriano’s better, but not a whole lot. Sure, he’s got a little more pop—so does Luis Sojo—and he’s as exciting a base runner as this town has seen since, oh, Vince Coleman. He’s also got as much patience as Mike Francesa. For a couple of weeks early in the season, Sori was living that stat maven’s wet dream: an on-base percentage that was lower than his batting average. The silver lining is that he’s only 23, so he might end up being something more than a poor man’s Juan Samuel.
Third Base: Robin Ventura. Ahhh, sweet desperation. Is it any coincidence that two thirtysomething players who were only one more subpar season away from a job selling real estate are the only players in the city who are overachieving? Haunted by the specter of Drew Henson, Scott Brosius has been very good this year, but Ventura has been Chipper Jones good. Toss in his longer-than-Joe DiMaggio hitting streak, and the fact that he’s not related to Jesse, and Robin wins a squeaker.
Catcher: Jorge Posada. Although he’s slipped some since last year’s I-Rod-esque campaign, Jo-Po is quietly leading the Yanks in homers, RBIs, and slugging percentage. That’s enough to earn him a solid nod over Todd Pratt.
Center Field: Bernie Williams. In a year or two, this could actually get interesting, as Met über-prospect Alex Escobar has been posting Bernie-like numbers in the minors. But until then, Bernie’s the top dog in the outfield. But will Sunday night be a microcosm of his career—3 for 5 with a homer in a game that will be remembered for Piazza’s heroics? He’s got four rings, a shelf full of Gold Gloves, a batting title, and a .309 career average. But look at the fine print, and you’ll discover that he’s only halfway to 3000 hits and 400 homers. He’ll get to Cooperstown. As Piazza’s guest.
Left Field: Tsuyoshi Shinjo. The good news: in moving to left, Chuck Knoblauch has learned to hit like an outfielder. The bad news? That outfielder is Lenny Harris. (Rhetorical question: Has any 31-year-old potential Hall of Famer lost this much value this quickly while snagging three World Series rings?) As for Shinjo, it’s not clear if he’s good—that .321 on-base percentage should make you afraid, very afraid—but he is better. The $64 million question: Why can’t we pencil in Ichiro Suzuki? Bobby Valentine, who managed in Japan, claims that he knew that the Mariners star was one of the top five players in the game. If that’s the case, why in the name of Benny Agbayani didn’t he stage a hunger strike until Steve Phillips dipped into the Alex Rodriguez fund and got Ichie in blue and orange?
Right Field: Paul O’ Neill. Hold your nose and vote for Paulie. Oh for eight over the weekend, he earns only the narrowest of nods over Timo Perez, who is proving himself to be that legendary no-tool prospect, while Benny Agbayani and Shane Spencer both have the scab factor working against them big time. Joe Torre probably knows something that I don’t, but a quick look at Paulie’s range suggest that the world—and the Yankees—would be better with David Justice in right.
Pitching: Roger Clemens. The 7-1 record at the tale end of a Hall of Fame career makes this pretty much a slam dunk. But even if he were having a Cone-esque nightmare of a season, he’d get the nod, just so we could see who throws what at—I mean, to—whom the first time he and Piazza converge at first on a bunt play.
Rick Reed. God, it hurts to put a scab on this team. But baseball’s played between the lines, and Sunday’s rocky outing notwithstanding, Reed has been the best pitcher in town this season, with an ERA a full run and a half better than Clemens, while allowing a Rivera-esque 8.0 base runners per nine innings.
Andy Pettitte. Quiz time. Name a pitcher who has a better career-winning percentage than Greg Maddux; since 1996 has won more games than Maddux, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and only two fewer than Pedro Martinez; and put up an 8-4 postseason record. And yet he’s made the All-Star Game only once, and never won a Cy Young award? Don’t tell me. It’s on the tip of my tongue. Tall guy . . . lefty . . . God Squadder . . .
Al Leiter. Clutch hitting aside, Leiter (46-26, 3.33 ERA, .236 batting average against) has actually been better than Mike Mussina (42-32, 3.60 ERA, .255 average against) over the last three seasons. And he’s $53.5 million cheaper over the course of his contract. After all, this is all about fiscal responsibility, right?
Steve Trachsel. Just seeing if you’re paying attention. Mariano Rivera. As constant as the North Star, Rivera has become marginally stingier this year, lowering his on-base percentage allowed from .294 over the last three seasons to .227. Who’s the most underpaid player in baseball? You’re lookin’ at him.
Armando Benitez. Who can resist a good bench-clearing brawl every now and then?
Manager: Bobby Valentine. Give Joe Torre his gold watch and his golden parachute, and then we can say we’ve seen something rarer than a perfect game: a Yankee manager leaving on his own terms. Watching Valentine manage the Mankees should be much more amusing than a George Dubya Bush presidency. Just keep him away from the red button.