Okay, so those 1990s Yankees teams where everyone was all buttoned down and careful to keep any potential controversies or distractions behind closed doors… yes, those were truly great teams.
But this is more entertaining.
The Yankees have barely been in Tampa one week, but so far, we’ve got Mariano Rivera upset over the Yankees’ refusal to offer him an extension before the season starts. We’ve got Bernie Williams being offered only a minor-league contract and neglecting to either show up or return Joe Torre’s phone calls (guess that’s a “no”). We’ve got Mike Mussina publicly calling out Carl Pavano on his DL sabbatical (though they seem to have hugged it out since). We’ve got Steinbrenner’s son in law and heir apparent, Steve Swindal, getting busted for a DUI, which is what happens when you cut off a cop car at 4:30 in the morning while going twice the speed limit. Finally, of course, we’ve got the Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez saga; the fact that this story has become front- and back-page news is final proof that while sports fans are supposed to be drenched in testosterone and masculinity, they in fact have many of the same interests that I did in seventh grade.
Those last few items probably won’t have any significant impact once the season starts. Controversy doesn’t seem to affect a team’s winning percentage one way or the other, and ultimately the Yankees’ success this year will have much more to do with their pitching than with whether or not Alex is in Derek’s five. The Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera decisions, though, are legitimate issues.
It’s a good thing I’m not a GM, because I would never have been able to refuse Bernie Williams a job. I’ve been watching him play for 16 years, and he was an instant favorite, with his shy and distracted demeanor, gracefulness, big nerdy glasses, and obvious intelligence — to say nothing of his hitting. I even bought his jazz-guitar CD when it came out, though that turned out to be going too far. Still, from a pure baseball perspective, letting him go appears to be the best option at this point; he’s has been in a slow decline for four years now. He hit much better than anyone expected last year, but at this point in time, as hard as it is to wrap your head around, Melky Cabrera seems to the better all-around player.
Mariano Rivera, though, is a different story. Yes, he’s 37, and yes, he had some arm trouble last year; I can certainly see why Brian Cashman would want to wait and see how he looks in 2007 before handing him a fat contract. On the other hand, this is Mariano Rivera. He’s certainly one of the best closers of all time, if not the best, and it’s hard to overestimate his impact on the Yankees’ success over the last 11 years; I don’t even want to think about how they’ll one day try and replace him. What current player would you rather have as your closer? Bernie Williams had an excellent career, but Rivera is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and so far he’s showed absolutely no signs of falling off. And he’s currently making less money per year than Gil Meche.
No wonder he’s irate. It seems out of character for Rivera to complain about money, but he’s been underpaid (it’s all relative, of course) for a long time, partly because he always made it obvious that he didn’t want to play anywhere else, and thus cost himself some serious leverage. Should Rivera seriously test free agency, the sky’s the limit, even at his age; frankly, I think this is one of those times where you throw caution to the winds and do whatever it takes to keep the guy happy and here. Yeah, baseball is a business first and foremost, always was and always will be. But – as with Roger Clemens – Rivera is so good at what he does that you simply have to make an exception.