A little something to take your mind off Tuesday night's Fenway fiasco. WFAN's Sweeny Murti, a Yankee beat reporter since 2001, took the time to answer some questions from me. Our Q&A is below.
Pinstripe Alley: We have been having a very lively 'Phil Hughes vs. Chien-Ming Wang' in the rotation debate. Your thoughts on which one should be starting, and how the Yankees have handled the situation in general?
Sweeny Murti: Well, as I've said several times recently on the radio I think Wang got screwed up after the Yankees took him away from that last rehab start a few weeks ago after Joba got hit on the knee. They were afraid of being caught short-handed in the pen, and when they didn't need Wang the next night he had nowhere to go. They they were forced into starting him against Texas because of his inactivity. He's been screwed up for weeks now. But he told me feels back to normal. He needs to be a starter, and he deserves it if he's healthy again, which we are led to believe he is.
As for Hughes, I am a big fan, but I don't see any harm in having him continue to work and build at AAA. He has always put up good numbers there, so maybe it seems he is too far ahead for that level, but he still needs to pitch and build innings. He's still only 22, turns 23 in a couple weeks. There is a long way to go to get the most out of Phil Hughes.
PA: We all know what the issues or complaints have been about the new Yankee Stadium. Your thoughts on what changes the organization is inclined to make, and what fans are just going to have to live with?
Sweeny: I don't think you'll see anything happen this year, that's just silly to be honest. Let the year play out, let them get their expert opinions together and figure out what works best. A knee-jerk reaction is the worst thing in the world. If you have to tiners with it again right away when the first thing doesn't work, it just becomes a big joke. Live with what you've got this year, then let them play with the fences a bit and see what they come up with.
One of my biggest complaints is I haven't seen signs or banners along the railings like I used to and not once have I seen anyone hanging K signs to count the strikeouts. That's always a fun thing to see. Maybe the fans who used to do that in the old park have been pushed away from the rails?
The atmosphere thing can be debated all we want, but we all know that it will never feel like Yankee Stadium until we see playoff and World Series games there. Let's just remember how many decades of history was built into the old place that made it feel like the Cathedral that it was. No matter how much money you pour into a shiny new building it is wholly impossible to build decades of shared memories into it.
PA: The more I watch this team the more I start to think it might be the most versatile, complete Yankee team since the championship years. Agree or disagree, and why?
Sweeny: I think it's younger and better, but I'm not sure about the versatile and complete part. They have two spare infielders on the bench who really don't do much now that A-Rod is healthy. The bench doesn't have a Chili Davis or Chad Curtis or Darryl Strawberry type. The starting pitching is better than in years past. If Rivera is still 90% of his old self, he is still good enough to lock down big games. If he's not, the Yanks will be fighting for every out all year long.
PA: Fans might think covering a pro sports team is a cushy, dream job. I know it's work. Give us a sense of what it's like following a team like the Yankees day-in and day-out?
Sweeny: It's pretty close to a dream job. It's not cushy, but I don't have the right to complain to fans who can't even afford to go to one game at the new Stadium this year. The Yankees keep you busy all day every day, but what else could a kid who grew up loving baseball and listening to the radio dream of doing for a living? I get a great seat to a Yankee game every night of the year. Not a bad way to make a living.
PA: Favorite Yankee player you have ever interviewed ... or, easiest to interview? Toughest guy you've had to deal with?
Sweeny: Well, I will exclude anybody on the current team for reasons you should understand. Over the years I always loved talking to Bernie Williams and Mike Mussina. Both guys always listened to the questions and thought about them instead of answering with the first cliches that popped into their heads.
Toughest to deal with, I would tell you that my first year on the beat, 2001, I was dropped into that veteran core and didn't really get comfortable with them that year. O'Neill and Brosius and Tino were tough, but strangely enough I have had very good conversations with them in the years since. I think that was just a function of my being a rookie in the middle of the that group. It's been a lot easier as the years have gone by, especially considering I'm now older than every player in the room except Mariano!
PA: What's the deal with the food in the press box? Kim Jones is forever blogging about who eats what. How can Paul O'Neill eat so much, and how come she never tells us what you eat?
Sweeny: The food in the new Yankee Stadium press box is outstanding. O'Neill apparently is an eating machine, as I too am fascinated at Kim's detailed log of his activity. And i don't think anybody would find my eating habits nearly that entertaining. "Ooh, look ... he had another potato chip!"
PA: Joe Girardi seems like a more relaxed guy this season. Is that just because winning cures all ills, or has Girardi really changed?
Sweeny: As the older, enlightened Forrest Gump said, "It's a little of both." Girardi wears losses on his sleeve a lot more than Joe Torre did, so the postgame interviews always looked more tense and hard to endure. I think he has gotten more comfortable in the media role, no doubt. But the Yanks are a first-place team right now and that's made it a lot easier to deal with as well.
PA: Any thoughts on the booing Alex Rodriguez continues to get at the Stadium every time he fails to drive in a runner in scoring position?
Sweeny: I thought about this the other day. Think about how much it costs a fan to come to the Stadium these days. They pay several hundred or maybe more than a thousand dollars to see a guy making almost $30 million a year ground out with 2 runners on base. It doesn't matter to them that he might still get a hit 3 out of 10 times. He failed that time. And that's not what you're supposed to do for that kind of money. It's never going to equal out. The best hitters in history fail more than 6 times every 10 at-bats. But the bullseye is on him for better or worse.
Don't get me wrong. There have been so many times that he has failed miserably in a big spot. But that he gets booed after a ground out in the 3rd inning gets a little ridiculous.
PA: Everybody likes to talk about how this Yankee team is looser and more fun than past teams. I suppose there is no real answer to this, but in your mind does chemistry on a team lead to winning or does winning build chemistry?
Sweeny: Yea, that's kind of a chicken or the egg question. I tend to believe winning builds chemistry. The pie in the face thing wouldn't even be a story if they hadn't actually won those games. And the crazy personalities and fun times in the clubhouse -- fans wouldn't care one bit if the team was 10 games under .500. You'd be complaining that they need more intense guys like O'Neill and Brosius. Winning is all that matters, no matter what kind of personalities you have collected.
PA: The biggest hole on this team is probably the relief corps, where it seems the Yanks still aren't sure what they are going to get every night. Do you think they will make a deal for bullpen help, or do you think they will continue to try and fix it from within?
Sweeny: They will definitely look to the outside, but they need to find if Bruney can come back 100% and Marte too before they decide to go elsewhere for help. In another month teams will start to figure out whether they are buyers or sellers and that's when the Yanks can narrow their searc. I know they like some of their options from within, but the Yankees stood pat over the winter in relation to their bullpen. I would be absolutely shocked if they did so again at the deadline.
-- Thanks to Sweeny for taking some time from his busy schedule to answer our silly questions. Be sure to check out Sweeny's blog.