Friday, March 25, 2016

Remembering Early Wynn, and the danger of becoming an A-Rod nostalgia act

In 1962 - the year Willie McCovey's laser found Bobby Richardson's mitt - the great Early Wynn was finishing his majestic career with the Indians. On Sept. 8, Wynn won his 299th game, putting him one measly win away from immortality. But he was struggling. At age 42, he would go 7 and 15, with an ERA of 4.46 - awful for a starter back in those days. All he wanted was Number 300. Once there, he could retire.

You don't retire with 299 wins. You just don't.

In his first start, Wynn was shelled - 6 runs in 5 innings. Next start, 5 runs - wham. In his last start of the year, kaboom - hammered for 7. The season ended, Cleveland braced itself, and Early Wynn was coming back.

You just don't retire with 299.

He began 1963 as a starter. It didn't last. After a few outings, Wynn was sent to the bullpen, where he pitched sporadically. Finally, in his 20th appearance, the Fates smiled upon him, the planets aligned, and he won 300. (By the way, the Indians would finish fifth.)

I say this because - among bitter Yankee fans, like me - one reason for hope this season is Big Papi's farewell tour in Boston. If David Ortiz loses a millisecond on his swing, his production could fall off the table, as did that of Mo Vaughn, George Scott, Jason Giambi, and countless others of the aging hulk DH template. Once pitchers can get a fastball past you, it's over. The only question is how long it takes to realize - and then accept it.

Which brings us to A-Rod, who is - by the way - an aging hulk DH. If he were to race Big Papi to first, both would pull a hammy and miss six weeks. Last year, A-Rod hit 33 HR, though he collapsed at the end, and his batting average slid to .244 - the lowest since he was a punk prospect coming up in Seattle.

Two days ago, Alex announced plans to retire after the 2017 season. (These long term retirement announcements are getting out of hand. I would like to now announce my retirement in 2033, because the asteroid is going to finish us off anyway, right?) Yesterday, he equivocated. And everybody knew why: He had that Early Wynn gleam in his eyes.

A-Rod is 75 home runs away from Barry Bonds' all-time record. Considering how he is viewed by many in baseball, it's unlikely there will be a slew of Denny McClains, willing to serve up gopher balls to him. (Denny, of course, gave Mantle his 500th, an act of craven ego for which I will never forgive.) Could the 2017 Yankees devolve into the 1963 Indians, trotting out A-Rod every game, letting him swing from his heels, and just hoping he connects? Your DH is supposed to bat in the middle of the lineup. A .212 hitter there can kill a team.

Recently, we endured two emotional farewell tours. Both ended with wonderful tears and grand pageantry - and no post-season. The Yankees couldn't even get Mo and Jeter to the playoffs when the both remained productive players. What happens when the star is an easy out?

I say this because if you do the math, things get screwy.

If A-Rod hits 35 HRs this year, that means next year, he's 40 away. He could end 2017 within a handful of HRs... but what then? At some point, the Yankees will have to ask themselves: Do we want to win? Or do we want to Early Wynn?

3 comments:

Tom said...

2 things:
1. A-Rod is gonna mostly suck this season with a few weeks of sucking less. Aug and Sept were harbingers of his decrepitude.

1a. Wish I were wrong, but I don't see 75 HRs in his future. Ortiz is smart to get out now, although his vitamin regimen might prop him up for another season.

2. Denny McClain did serve up a meatball to Mantle, but it was one of his last not his 500th, which came the previous season against the Orioles. Boy, Mantle sucked at the end, although nobody was hitting much then except for Frank Robinson and Yaz.

Anonymous said...

DON'T FORGET, AROD HAS THOSE "MILESTONE HOME RUN" PARAGRAPHS IN HIS CONTRACT....AND DON'T FORGET WHO OUR OWNER IS NOW...... I DON'T THINK WE WILL HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT IT...... HAL CAN'T WAIT TO GET HIM OFF THE BOOKS, AND TO BE HONEST, SO DO I.

Alphonso said...

Don't forget? Don't forget?

Hal is the dolt who panicked and re-signed A-Rod to this "death for the Yankees" contract 8 years back. When Hal competed against himself to spend more? When everyone in the sane world knew the Yankees should let A-Rod walk.

Don't count on Hal to do one thing useful or rational.

Don't forget. Hal is an idiot.