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March 14, 2010
On the Beat
TAMPA, Fla.—With spring training nearly reaching the one-month point, Curtis Granderson has had time to be fully indoctrinated into the ways of being a member of the Yankees. Yet the center fielder continues to be amazed with his new surroundings. Granderson came to the Yankees fully understanding the ways of being a major-leaguer. He made his debut with the Tigers in 2004 and spent six seasons with them, including the American League pennant-winning club in 2006, before being traded to the Yankees at the winter meetings last December.
However, Granderson has never experienced anything quite like he has this spring, observing that, "Everything that is done here is done with a purpose. Everything. We have a team full of guys who have had great success in their careers and that won a World Series last year. These guys act like they haven't accomplished anything, though. It's really been an amazing thing to see."
Thus, it seems complacency isn't going to be a factor that might derail the Yankees from becoming the first team to win back-to-back World Series since they captured three in a row from 1998-2000. If anything, manager Joe Girardi senses a greater sense of urgency from his club.
"I think winning a World Series makes you hungrier, at least that's been my experience in my time with the Yankees," said Girardi, a catcher with the Yankees when they won World Series in 1996, 1998 and 1999. "Once you get that taste of it, you want to experience it again and again and again. You find out that one time isn't nearly enough."
That is indeed the atmosphere in the Yankees' clubhouse. There is a clear sense of what the purpose is for 2010.
"Last year is over and it's a new year," shortstop Derek Jeter asserted. "Last year was great but it means nothing now. It's all about this season and there won't be one person in this clubhouse who is satisfied unless we end the season by winning the World Series."
The Yankees are the only team in baseball that feels the season has been a failure if they do not win it all and the only other organization even close to having that mindset is the Red Sox. However, that is the tenor that was set when the Yankees were winning four of five World Series from 1996-2000 and carried on throughout the first decade of this millennium, even through nine years without a title. After all, no other franchise in baseball has even half as many as the Yankees' 27 World Series titles.
"I know it sounds harsh to people on the outside," Jeter said. "That's the mindset we have, though. It's a different standard than the rest. It makes it harder to lose but it also makes it sweeter to win."
Girardi believes that tone is set by the veteran group of Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada, closer Mariano Rivera, and left-hander Andy Pettitte that has been dubbed "The Core Four." All have been part of the Yankees' last five World Series titles.
"We have such great leaders on this team," Girardi said. "They're not rah-rah guys, but they really set great examples by the way they go about their business in the clubhouse and on the field."
Granderson has seen the other side of expectations. When the Tigers lost to the Cardinals in the World Series in 2006, their fans were just thrilled with Detroit's first pennant in 22 years, one that came just three years after a 119-loss season. The Tigers haven't been back to the playoffs and blew a seven-game lead to the Twins in the American League Central during the final month of last season. While that caused disappointment, it did not bring strike. Granderson shudders to think what would happen in New York if the Yankees were to suffer such a collapse.
"The fans let you know exactly what they are expecting this season and that's another World Series winner," Granderson said with a smile. "It's not a bad thing, though. You want to be in a situation where there are great expectations. The goal should be to win it all at the start of every season."
To help the Yankees reach try to reach that ultimate goal for the 28th time, general manager Brian Cashman retooled the roster over the winter. He acquired right-hander Javier Vazquez from the Braves to slot into the rotation, and he also signed Granderson, first baseman/designated hitter Nick Johnson, and outfielder Randy Winn as free agents, while also allowing two of the Yankees' more popular players, left fielder Johnny Damon and DH Hideki Matsui, to leave as free agents.
"We needed to get more athletic and more versatile, and we needed to add pitching depth," Cashman said. "We're always looking to get better. We're never content to stay status quo."
While seemingly everything was going the Yankees' way last season, it seemed everything was conspiring against the Mets as they went 70-92 in an injury-wracked year. Manager Jerry Manuel became the target of derision from the media and fans as the year wore on, as they felt he was, at best, blindly optimistic, or, at worst, disingenuous by remaining positive throughout the season.
Manuel, though, had a reason for keeping an upbeat attitude. He truly believes the manger's attitude directly impacts that of the team, something he learned while playing in the minor leagues under Jim Leyland, then coaching in the major leagues under him.
"Your players and your coaching staff have to see you as that immovable object, as that person who is not going to be affected by anything," Manuel said. "The manager sets the tone of the entire clubhouse. If I'm complaining or feeling sorry about not having this guy or that guy to the media then the players are going to start complaining and feeling sorry. Once that starts happening, you're sunk."
The Mets were indeed a sinking ship in 2009 but Manuel isn't apologizing for the way he handled things last season. In fact, he is even more optimistic about this season even though star shortstop Jose Reyes will begin the season on the disabled list because of a hyperthyroid condition, and could be out for an undetermined amount of time.
"I really believe that if you can endure, if you can remain positive and hopeful, eventually that kind of faith is going to pay off," Manuel said. "Eventually, the kinds of hardships you absorb are going to make you a championship team. And if they don't, maybe you didn't have the kind of character to be a championship team in the first place."
Nearly every major-league team hires a media specialist to address its manager, coaches, and players each spring. Apparently, the message is to be as dull, bland and colorless as possible, for it seems so many baseball people's quotes these days, in essence, say nothing.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, though, is a most notable exception. The colorful skipper answers questions honestly and directly, which often lands him in trouble with White Sox GM Ken Williams, who likes to tell the media to "stay out of White Sox business." Guillen, though, offers no apologies for his candor.
Guillen would like to do more to educate the fans beyond his daily in-season media sessions. He recently opened Twitter and Facebook accounts, though he has been strictly forbidden from revealing any club secrets through social media by Williams. Guillen had also planned to start a website before opening day with a portal through MLB.com. However, the White Sox put the kibosh on that, much to Guillen's disappointment.
"Fans know so much about the game because (of the) media and so many ways to cover a team,'' Guillen said. ''Before, it was just the newspapers, and now it's computers and Facebook, so many things. I think the more fans know about the game, know about what we're doing here, I think they could love the game more. Fans know a lot about what happens on the field, but they don't know what happens off the field. Sometimes they criticize people because they don't know how we make the team, why this guy is here, why this guy is not here. The more fans know about the game, they would appreciate that.''
Guillen understands the White Sox's rationale behind nixing the website. He also said he will not argue the point with Williams. However, don't expect a new, politically correct Ozzie repeating the same generic quotes.
"I don't need a web site, I don't need Twitter, I don't need Facebook to let the fans know how I feel about my ballclub," Guillen said. "I'm very open with the fans, I'm very open with the players, and I'm very open and honest with the media. That's why I don't need any of those tools to get to the fans.''
The other manager in Chicago, the Cubs' Lou Piniella, also does not deal in generic quotes. Because of his propensity for telling the truth, he has declined to answer if he wants to return after his contract expires at the end of this season. He doesn't have an answer because he is said to be truly on the fence about retiring.
However, it was a quote by team president Crane Kenney this past week that brought into question whether the Cubs want Piniella beyond this year. Keep in mind that Piniella signed his contract before the Ricketts family bought the Cubs last September, so it could be that ownership wants its own man.
''If Lou feels well and wants to keep going, we'll have an interesting conversation,'' Kenney said.
Piniella reacted the same way to Kenney's comment as he did throughout the offseason when asked his contract status, saying he did not want his situation to be a distraction.
MLB Rumors and Rumblings: It appears left-hander Francisco Liriano will get first crack at stepping into the closer's role with the Twins if Joe Nathan is unable to overcome his torn elbow ligament. GM Bill Smith would prefer to stay in-house rather than pursue an outside option such as free agent John Smoltz. "I like our bullpen and I like our team the way it is right now," Smith said. … The Dodgers will go with rookie A.J. Ellis rather than 40-year-old Brad Ausmus as their primary catcher while Russell Martin begins the season on the disabled list. "When you're a manager who was once a catcher, you're going to lean toward going with a defensive catcher, and A.J. really, really knows his stuff behind the plate," Joe Torre said. … Either veteran utility infielder Alex Cora or prospect Ruben Tejada will be the Mets' opening-day shortstop with Reyes sidelined. … The Pirates are shopping utility infielder Ramon Vazquez and resigned to the likelihood that they will likely have to eat almost all of his $2-million salary. … Left-hander Cliff Lee is quickly assimilating with his new team, giving the Mariners hope he might agree to a contract extension before he can become a free agent after the season.
Tim Wakefield's spot in the Red Sox's rotation is secure to begin the since Daisuke Matsuzaka will start off on the disabled list. However, the knuckleballer is likely to become a swingman once Matsuzaka is activated. … Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez has not ruled out 20-year-old outfielder Mike Stanton making the opening-day roster, though there does not seem to be a starting job open. … Rookie left-hander James Russell, son of former All-Star reliever Jeff Russell, has been the surprise of the Cubs' camp. … Now that Brandon Webb is certain begin the season on the DL as he continues his recovery from shoulder surgery, Billy Buckner is assured a spot in the Diamondbacks' rotation, and Rodrigo Lopez becomes the favorite to be the fifth starter.