Friday, October 26, 2007

Is Don Mattingly cursed?

Can the team with winning-est tradition have one big name who's an albatross - a bird that hovers over the ship while it endlessly circles the Bermuda Triangle unable to get the proper compass reading to get back on course.

This place where the cursed birds fly is also known as the horse latitudes - so named because when you are stuck in these doldrums, the ship runs out of supplies. When the ship runs out of supplies, the horses don't get fed, so dump them overboard will ya mate? And don't attach anything heavy to them to make them sink; better they float to the surface - hooves up - to warn other sailors to take another tac.

Do the Baseball Gods even care enough to curse just one man (or team)?

The Torre dust if not reverb has cleared a bit so now it's: Mattingly, Girardi or Pena?

In reverse:

Candidate 1. Tony Pena must take the long view, stay on track, don't break any major bones and look for his real opening after the other candidates shatter femurs. Pena was a catcher (the best postion pool for manager talent); the KC Royals hired him, he was 'Manager of the Year.' But 83 wins for the high budget = higher expectations Yankees = don't let the door hit you on the way out. Pena's respected - considered a 'good communicator.'

But, though I hate to even think it, I think 'good communicator' may still be code for he speaks spanish and fulfills the Bud Selig mandated minority interview slot. Sad to say, but a latin player who gets a shot to manage has much less room for error. Pena had his chance, made good, but got canned ...and that's the one chance he gets?

Ugh. Smells like Hank Steinbrenner's ashtray.

Candidate 2. Joe Girardi is thought to be GM Cashman's favorite and the sons of George (Hal and the elder Winston smoker Hank) say it's Cashman's call. Joe was a winner Yankee catcher - also did those field manager things that catchers do.
Also bagged a manager job with a weak franchise and was named 'Manager of the Year' for exceeding expectations.

Hank called him 'smart.'
Perhaps code for he has an engineering degree from Northwestern.
Or code for he's whiter than Pena.

More Ugh.

I hope I'm not right.
I hope I'm just in a dark place because the Red Sox swept another World Series.

Girardi may even be hired by the time you read this.

But in some ways, I think this entire decision will hinge a bigger franchise question that elicits even bigger questions in me.

Is Don Mattingly cursed forever or ready to shock that monkey of his back - become a Torre redux?

The ooky-ooky superstitious half of me says some people are just cursed.

That voice in me says no way Donnie Baseball. Not with my dynasty.

That voice has evidence:

Mattingly joins the Yankee show just in time to miss their 1981 World Series appearance.
Then plays his entire career during their longest ringless stretch since the team was called the Highlanders.

And it gets more karma-cursed than that: His 1994 team, with a real chance to make some real noise in a real post-season, got blocked before the finish line by the only players lock-out to nix a World Series. That team's closer was Steve Howe - he of the Lindsay Lohan binge and rehab cycle - so perhaps implosion was just a relapse away.

Then, when Mattingly picked up the post-strike pieces on his very bad back and drove team 1995 to the first AL Wild Card ever, that's as far as he/they could get. The Yanks even took a 2 - 0 series lead; we all thought Mattingly was going to get his just in the nick of the nick of the nick of time time nick.

But the M's and Yanks went back in the Seattle Deathdome and Randy Johnson (pornstar) dominated the Yankees in a way that he never did when he pitched FOR the Yanks. Randy has hurt the Yankees every which way but up.

The Yankees loss was the Mariners gain - may have saved that franchise.

And it seemed to eliminate Yankee hopes for years to come.

So exeunt Donnie.

Just in time to...

Miss the entire Joe Torre Dynasty for God's sakes!

So then " Jesus that isn't fair! Get Donnie back here to coach before this party is over!"

But when Donnie showed for 2004, he was just in time for the Dynasty buzz-kill.
The chokemaster of all team sepacus.
The 2004 ALCS loss to the Red Sox.
In the history of ML baseball, NOT ONE TEAM had lost four straight in any post-season series after going up 3-0.
But Donnie made sure to get a front row seat for the first time it ever happened.

Cue sounds of gears grinding to halt then somebody stands up in the Yankees post-choke locker room (maybe me; it is my fiction), points at Mattingly and says:


But then:

I think rationally/compassionately.
Compassion doesn't have to eclipse rationality.
The states of feeling and thinking can marry.

Maybe he/we can chase our superstitions away long enough for Mattingly to manage the Yankees to a Championship.

Is this possible?

Let's look at supportive empirical evidence on the side of curses are meant to be broken or maybe don't really exist.

First: The 2004 Red Sox bust up the Bambino Curse of 1918. And add 2007 just to prove the 2004 squad wasn't just a room full of monkeys with typewriters who finally wrote Hamlet.

2nd: The 2005 White Sox exhumed the Black Sox curse of 1919. That may have been a vision - no follow-up yet.

AND THEN: Let's look at the career of another player who seemed to be cursed. Another guy just below the Hall of Fame bubble as a player. Another ex-MVP with Gold Gloves.

Joe Torre.
Joe also seemed to be hefting heavy curses.
Not on his back, but definitely in his droopy spaniel eye-bags.

But when Joe finally had HIS horses, he turned into the penny stamped with a four leaf clover.
The guy with all the luck.
The one you want next to you when you absolutely must run the table in Tahoe.

The truth that applied to Torre and I think would apply to Mattingly: Lady Luck by design shows up when you have 5 good starter pitchers and a sixth serviceable option just in case.

And Mariano Rivera to close the deal.

Nothing ooky about it.

Donnie is not cursed.
And there are 75 non-championship years in Yankee history to prove it.

And yet, to veer to the personal again:

I still don't know how he can take it.

Or I do.

I just don't how he takes it without strapping antlers to his head, then raving into the Indiana backwoods during deer hunting season without his safety orange vest. Maybe without his clothes altogether.

He's taken the bounces without acting like everybody's favorite Yankee martyr.

If Mattingly does get the job and can lead them back to the promised land, I know I'll feel the weight off my shoulders. That may seem pathetic to some - attaching my grand narrative to a ballplayer's destiny.

I can live with that judgement.

I've got my own albatrosses, horses and monkeys; sometimes ballplayers in play teach me how to get rid of them.

Yes, Mattingly's hard luck has been a major pain in my psyche.
Like so many in my demo-gen: I expect too much - assume the hard workers always get their due, hopefully in a gloriously cathartic bottom of the ninth inning homerun way.

Meanwhile, Donnie was just happy to get a cup of coffee in the bigs.
He's already exceeded his expectations.
Which means he may actually feel less pressure than any Yankee suit or fan.

Anyway, if doesn't work out, and Mattingly is cursed, Girardi or Pena may be available to clean up the albatross feathers.


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