Sunday, May 15, 2011

Yankees showing their age

I’ve followed the Yankees for – egads! – fifty years, and this edition of the Bronx Bombers is beginning to remind me of the 1965 club. That team’s roster was filled with a core of legendary players – Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson and Elston Howard – that seemed to grow old and infirm at the same time.

As a result of the ravages of time and injury, those Yankees, who had made 12 World Series appearances in the previous 14 years, stumbled to an ignominious sixth-place finish and plummeted all the way to the basement of the 10-team American League in ’66. That decline, precipitated by a failure of management to replenish the farm system during those pre-free-agency days, took years to reverse.

Father Time is the one opponent no one can defeat, so you have to wonder if this current edition of graying Pinstripers is going to be able to squeeze another playoff berth out of a roster featuring a soon-to-be-37-year-old shortstop (Derek Jeter), a 41-year-old reliever (Mariano Rivera), a 36-year-old third baseman (A-Rod), a 39-year-old designated hitter (Jorge Posada) and four starting pitchers over the age of 33.

The age issue has been front and center all season as we’ve watched Jeter, Posada and A-Rod struggle mightily at the plate. And, now, thanks to the Yankees recent slump (a 3-7 record in the past 10 games) as well as Saturday night’s feud between Posada and GM Brian Cashman over the designated hitter’s decision to beg out of the lineup after being dropped to 9th in the batting order, the tabloids and talk shows are having a field day.

It’s sad to witness Posada’s demise because he’s been such a gamer and such an integral part of the Yankees five World Series-winning clubs during his 17 seasons in the Bronx. He’s already solidified a spot as one of the greatest catchers in team history, following in the legendary line of backstops that have included Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Ellie Howard and Thurman Munson.

But it is clear Posada has become merely a shell of his former self. Manager Joe Girardi, who was a mentor to and teammate of Posada, was right to drop the five-time All-Star and his .165 batting average to the ninth spot. And he also was right to realize that Posada no longer could cut it as a full-time catcher this season.

I understand Jorge’s frustration. And I can even understand him going into Girardi’s office before the game and saying he needed a mental health day. But you can’t then go and tell the press that you had been nursing a strained back when you haven’t sought treatment.

I’ve never been a big Cashman fan, and he certainly handled the situation about as poorly as Posada did when he called a press conference during last night’s game and essentially called Posada a liar.

Can you say Bronx Zoo?

Although this makes for a good soap opera, it obscures the bigger issue. Namely that, despite having $200 million at his disposal, Cashman put together a deeply flawed team. No, he couldn’t possibly have known that a young ace like Phil Hughes would come up with a mysteriously dead arm. But Cashman’s attempts to cobble together a pitching staff featuring a soon-to-be-39-year-old Bartolo Colon and 34-year-old Freddy Garcia, and his belief that Jeter was going to bounce back and become the player he used to be was fool-hardy.

Even if the brilliantly talented Robinson Cano and Mark Teixiera and Nick Swisher snap out of their slumps and put up robust numbers – definitely possible – and even if Curtis Granderson continues his march toward a home run title I believe there are too many miles on too many odometers of too many Bronx Bombers for this club to go very far.

Father Time is catching up with this team, just like he did in 1965.

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