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Some days, you can’t swing a dead cat without running into stupid human
tricks.

In Atlanta, Bob Boone demonstrated the death grip he has on baseball strategy
of the late 19th century by benching the major-league leader in home runs, Adam
Dunn
, for the second straight day, this time against right-hander Shane
Reynolds
. The benching came one day after Dunn popped a pinch-hit
grand slam in the 11th inning to propel the Reds to a 7-6 victory.

I don’t really care what kind of rationale Boone pulls out of his nether
regions. The fact is, he’s limiting Dunn’s playing time for two reasons:
batting average and strikeouts. We’re more than 20 years into a more modern
way of looking at baseball, and Bob Boone can’t see far enough past batting
average and strikeouts to notice that he’s sitting his second- or third-best
hitter.

If Boone really needs to get Jose
Guillen
in the lineup, how about benching the first baseman?


               AVG   OBP   SLG   2B   3B   HR   SO   BB   EqA   MLVr
Sean Casey    .295  .352  .410    6    1    5   25   17  .262   .061
Adam Dunn     .227  .328  .583    4    0   18   48   29  .289   .098

The only things Sean
Casey
does better than Dunn are make contact and hit singles. Perhaps
because those were Boone’s primary offensive skills as a player
(.254/.315/.346, extra-base hit every 18 AB or so, a strikeout every 12), he
finds them attractive in his personnel. They don’t put runs on the board the
way the guy slugging .583 does, however, no matter how often the big guy
strikes out. Dunn is a monster, and every game he starts on the bench is
another notch in the argument that Boone should be fired.

Then there’s one of the lifetime leaders in the category, George Steinbrenner.
Steinbrenner, unhappy with how the Yankees have been playing lately, has taken
to issuing veiled threats towards Joe Torre. That’s the manager who has been,
by such a distance that it’s not even funny, the Yankees’ most successful
skipper since Casey Stengel and the first manager in the age of Steinbrenner
to last seven complete seasons.

Joe Torre isn’t the Yankees’ problem. On the list of things the Yankees have
to fix, Joe Torre comes in somewhere between Derek
Jeter
‘s looks and the shade of blue paint used atop the dugouts.

So far this season, Jeter has missed six weeks, Mariano
Rivera
has missed five weeks, Bernie
Williams
has been gone about a week and will be out for much more, and
Nick
Johnson
has missed two weeks and is gone for much more. Steve
Karsay
never threw a baseball in anger before being declared done for
the year. Jason
Giambi
can’t see. The bench is, once again, brutal; the bullpen is a
disappointing collection of castoffs; and George’s big winter prizes have been
awful. About the only guy Torre asked for was Todd
Zeile
, and while that wasn’t Joe’s best moment–Zeile is long past the
point of being able to contribute as a first baseman or DH, and is hitting
.217/.292/.396–it’s silly to argue that Zeile is more than a tertiary reason
for the Yankees’ 9-16 May.

I love what Brian Cashman has done for the Yankees over the years, but he did
not have a good winter. Setting aside the international signings, he’s largely
responsible for the weak bench and bullpen, which have been major flaws in the
Yankee machine. Charles
Gipson
? John
Flaherty
? Juan
Acevedo
? For years now, the Yankees have been one of the game’s worst
teams at picking up quality depth through secondary sources; this year, it
finally comes back to bite them as their luck with good health disappears all
at once.

Meanwhile, the players Steinbrenner went out and got with his checkbook have
been a disaster. I don’t believe Hideki
Matsui
will hit this poorly (.259/.308/.361) all season, but it’s
clear that the comparisons I made to Brian
Giles
lost something in the translation. Matsui is hitting more
groundballs than he ever did in Japan–more than just about any player in
baseball, in fact–so this may just be an adjustment period. Regardless, his
performance has been a big part of the Yankees’ offensive problems this month,
and he’s a Yankee because George wanted him.

The same can be said for Jose Contreras, who aside from a couple of
spring-training outings and two mop-up appearances has been awful. Contreras
was signed largely because Steinbrenner couldn’t bear the thought of losing
him to the Red Sox, but it’s increasingly clear that the current version bears
little resemblance to the pitcher who beat the Baltimore Orioles a few years
ago. Contreras has yet to look like a major-league pitcher, and until he does,
has to be considered a huge mistake of Andy
Morales
/Hideki
Irabu
proportions.

For Steinbrenner to blame Torre for the Yankees’ slump, to single out a man
who has done so much for this franchise, for Steinbrenner himself, is a
despicable act. Steinbrenner is as much responsible for the Yankees’ state as
anyone; he brought in Matsui and he threw bags full of money at Delroy Lindo‘s stunt double to
be a rotation starter.

The funny thing is, this will likely all go away in the coming weeks. Just as
the Yankees opened the season with a light schedule and went from that into
five weeks of hell, they go forward into a much easier stretch: the Tigers,
the NL Central, and then two solid weeks of the Devil Rays and Mets. The
Yankees may not be any better in a month than they are right now, but their
record sure will be.

Finally, there’s Ruben
Rivera
. Rivera, long considered a player with tremendous physical
tools and a serious lack of baseball smarts, made one of the stranger trips
around the bases last night.

For those of you not awake at 1:30 a.m. EDT, here’s what happened: Rivera was
on first base as a punch-runner with one out in the ninth inning and the
Giants tied 2-2 with the Diamondbacks. Marquis
Grissom
lifted a fly ball to deep right field that should have been
handled easily, but David
Dellucci
whiffed on it, allowing the ball to bounce to the wall.

Rivera, who was all the way down past second base, saw Dellucci about to catch
the ball and began backtracking towards first, correctly re-touching second on
his way back. When he saw Dellucci chasing the ball, he reversed field, and in
a move that would have made the 1890s Baltimore Orioles proud, cut from about
10 feet shy of second base across the infield grass and headed towards third.
He’d just about reached the base path when he realized his error and ran back
to touch second base, then continued on to third.

(Oh, no, we’re not done yet.)

Rivera slid into third base safely as the relay throw short-hopped Alex
Cintron
and bounced back towards the infield. Seeing this, Rivera took
off for home plate, a needless risk under the circumstances and a silly one
given the location of the ball. Tony
Womack
gobbled up the loose ball and gunned down Rivera at the plate
by three steps.

It worked out for Rivera, however, thanks to some great bullpen work by the
Giants (four shutout innings) and a 13th-inning triple by Grissom that notched
the win for the G-men. I guarantee you, however, that Rivera’s long, strange
trip is going to be a staple of sports blooper shows and between-innings
lowlight reels for decades to come.

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