Thoughts on Memorial Day baseball

Stephen Dunn

I don’t know if they still do this or not, but the Yankees and Mets used to let military personnel in for free just by showing their military ID cards. At Yankee Stadium, they sent you in the press gate, and ushers directed you to an empty section of seats.

The first time my friends and I used this perk was May of 1998. The Yankees were on the road, but the Mets were home, so we walked into a Mets-Reds game at Shea Stadium. I don’t remember a single thing about the game, but Baseball-Reference tells me that the Mets won with John Olerud and Carlos Baerga home runs. Barry Larkin had three hits for the Reds, and former Yankee Mark Hutton took the loss.

In May of 1999, our schedule coincided with a Yankees home game, so we headed to Yankee Stadium to see them play the White Sox. Orlando Hernandez started for the Yankees. It was his first full season in the Bronx; my friends had no idea who he was, and after a train ride of me talking him up, he didn’t have his best day. El Duque didn’t make it out of the fourth inning, surrendering 4 runs on 3 hits and 5 walks in only 3.2 IP. It felt like he was behind every batter, and the game was excruciating to sit through. He threw 81 pitches, and although 51 were strikes, only 10 were called strikes. Yankee pitchers threw 173 total pitches, and the game lasted 3:37. The Yankees actually led 1-0 going into the fourth inning, but after Chicago’s four-spot it wasn’t much of a game, as they won 8-2. Five walks in less than 4 innings tells most of the story, but my friends were less than patient and less than understanding (they fit right in at Yankee Stadium). It was also cold – 54 degrees at game time. Definitely one of the least enjoyable games I’ve ever been to.

The most dominant pitching performance I ever saw in person was due to my Army service. I was stationed at Fort Sill, OK, in the fall of 1999, and a college roommate of mine who was a Rangers fan scored tickets for Game 3 of the Yankees-Rangers ALDS. Fort Sill was only a three hour drive from Dallas, so off we went. Roger Clemens started, and pitched seven shutout innings, allowing only three hits and two walks. Mariano Rivera closed it out with two innings of one-hit ball. The Yankees scored the only three runs of the game in the top of the first on a three-run homer by Darryl Strawberry, and it never felt as close as the 3-0 score indicated. Clemens only struck out two, but from our seats down the right field line he seemed unhittable. Strawberry’s homer took the crowd out of the game as soon as it started, and Clemens never gave them a chance to get back in it.

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After Friday night’s game against the Red Sox, the season will be one-third over. Let’s use that occasion to take a quick look at how they’re hitting and pitching as a team.

Their current .248 team batting average and .311 team OBP would be their worst since 1990, and second worst since 1969. Yikes. Their .412 SLG would be their worst since the 1988-91 Yankees put up slugging percentages of .395, .391, .366 and .387. Their current 4.24 runs scored per game is eleventh in the AL, and would be their worst since the 1990 and 1991 teams. How did the 1990 team manage to be so uniformly bad offensively? I’ll point out that they gave 218 plate appearances to Oscar Azocar, who walked in two of them, and 371 PAs to Mel Hall, who walked in six of them (twice intentionally) and leave it at that. Luckily there’s reason for optimism, as the hitting should improve as Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Youkilis, and Derek Jeter get healthy.

How about the pitching? Their 3.78 runs allowed per game would be their best since 1978, and their 3.64 team ERA would be their best since 1981 (or 1980, if you prefer non-strike seasons). That 1981 team, by the way, had a 2.90 ERA for the season. Both marks are second best in the league.

That’s a change from the way we’ve gotten accustomed to seeing them do business. Since 2002, they’ve finished first, second or third in runs scored every year but 2008, when they finished seventh. Although they finished third and fourth in runs allowed per game the last two years, they haven’t finished as high as second since 1999, and there was a six year run (2004-09) where they never finished better than sixth.

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