Why John Sterling is to Blame for the Yankees’ Quiet Offseason
With the winter meetings coming to a close, many observers have noted that the normally hyperactive New York Yankees have been unusually quiet. In terms of the free agent market, Brian Cashman has been doing his best Commander Richardson impression. Other than re-signing two players who were unlikely to sign with any other major league club (Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte), the Evil Empire has been eerily inactive this offseason.
Some people attribute the team’s lack of activity to Hal Steinbrenner’s much talked about plan to get the team’s payroll under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million by the beginning of the 2014 season. Others speculate that the Yankees have remained stagnant due to the mediocre talent of this free agency class. Still other people wonder if Cashman is a little gun-shy after his decision last offseason to trade the top prospect in the Yankee system for an overweight power-pitcher with diminished velocity who ultimately required season-ending surgery to his throwing shoulder.
Given the team’s track record over the last ten years (i.e., signing Jaret Wright for 3 years/$21 million, Carl Pavano for 4 years/$40 million, Kei Igawa for 5 years/$46 million, or Roger Clemens for 4 months/$18.7 million; trading for Javier Vazquez and Jeff Weaver), none of these theories seems plausible. Obviously, middling talent and exorbitant salary demands have never prevented the Yankees from signing free agents.
No, the proffered explanations are all too far-fetched.
To understand the Yankees’ current offseason strategy, one must wade past these shallow justifications and, instead, focus on the dichotomy between the players the Yankees have attempted to sign versus the players the Yankees have been content to ignore. Intense analysis and painstaking research revealed a slowly emerging pattern and that is when it all became perfectly, horribly clear. There is only one inescapable reason for the lack of offseason activity, and it has everything to do with the Yankees’ dutiful radio announcer, John Sterling.
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When not ruminating about the inherent randomness to a game of baseball (“You just can’t predict baseball, Suzyn”) or debunking the value of any form of statistical analysis (“But what does that stat mean anyway”), John Sterling provides play-by-play for Yankee fans on WABC:
However, John Sterling’s real gift to the art of sports broadcasting has been his home run calls. Aside from his normal refrain (“It is high . . . it is far . . . it is gone!”) as the ball soars over the wall (or, at least, comes close to soaring over the wall [at the 3:05 mark]), the nicknames that he bestows on the Yankee players are what set him apart from all other radio broadcasters, past or present.
Sterling’s “Golden Age” of nicknames occurred in the early to mid-2000s. These Yankee teams not only had a plethora of players from which Sterling could concoct astounding home run calls, but the team also hit plenty of home runs (finishing in the top-five in team home runs every year from 2002 to 2007), which allowed Sterling to perfect his craft. His calls for Bernie Williams (“Bern Baby Bern!”), Derek Jeter (“El Capitan” and “Oh captain my captain”), Melky Cabrera (“The Melk Man delivers,” “That’s the Melky Way,” and “The Melkman always knocks twice!”), Hideki Matsui (“A thrilla for Godzilla!”), Alex Rodriguez (“An A-Bomb for A-Rod”), Jorge Posada (“Jorgy Juiced One”), and Robinson Cano (“Robbie Cano! Don’cha know!”) exemplified Sterling’s imagination and originality. Of particular brilliance was Sterling’s bastardizing of Babe Ruth’s famous nickname, “The Bambino,” as Tino Martinez became “The Bam-Tino” and Jason Giambi became “The Giambino.”
By the late 2000s, however, new waves of free agents came to the Yankees and ushered in Sterling’s “Silver Age” of home run calls: Johnny Damon (“Positively Damonic” and “It’s a Johnny Rocket”), Bobby Abreu (“El Comedulce! Bobby Abreu is as sweet as candy!”), Mark Teixeira (“A Tex Message” and “You’re on the Mark, Teixeira”), and Nick Swisher (“Jolly Old St. Nick!” and “Swishilicious”). Sterling’s home run call for Curtis Granderson personifies his Silver Age as the home run call is clearly inferior to the calls of his preceding age and characteristically exhibits an overindulgence in style: “Oh Curtis, you’re something sort of Grandish! Oh, the Grandy-man can! Oh, the Grandy-man can!”
Recently, it appears that Sterling has entered his “Bronze Age” as his home run calls for recent additions to the Yankees have been downright awful: Lance Berkman (“Sir Lancelot rides to the rescue! C’est lui! C’est lui!”), Eric Hinske (“Hinske with your best shot!”), Austin Kearns (“Austin Powers a home run”); Russell Martin (“Russell shows muscle! Monsieur Martin est la!”), Jesus Montero (“Jesus is loose”), Raul Ibanez (“Raul be seeing you” and “Raul…so cool”), Andruw Jones (“Andruw Jones makes his bones” [at the 5:59 minute mark]), Brett Gardner (“Gardy goes yardy”), and Dewayne Wise (“That’s a very wise man”). Sterling’s newest home run call for Ichiro Suzuki, who was acquired just prior to the trade deadline in 2012, may ultimately come to symbolize Sterling’s Bronze Age: “The Yankees Rising son [or sun] says ‘sayonara.’” Aside from the call being wholly illogical, there was some fan backlash accusing Sterling of being racist.
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In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Roman poet tells a story about the Four Ages of Man: Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. The Iron Age, for lack of a better description, is when all hell breaks loose. It is an age characterized by greed and impiety. Ultimately, almost all of mankind is wiped away during the Iron Age.
The Yankee brass has clearly been monitoring John Sterling as he has progressed through his ages and is well aware that we are all standing on the precipice of Sterling’s “Iron Age.” Fearful of what types of inane home run calls an “Iron Age” would bring next year, the Yankees have clearly refocused their efforts this offseason in an attempt to stave off such bedlam.
The Yankees are therefore scrutinizing free agents like never before and are refusing to sign any players that would enable Sterling to create a new home run call. The Yankees realize that they cannot stop the home run calls for the players who are already signed for next year, but they can stop providing Sterling with the opportunity for home run calls in the future. (Additionally, an aging roster in conjunction with the lack of free agent acquisitions will result in the Yankees hitting fewer home runs and, consequently, Sterling making fewer home run calls.)
A case in point is the decision to not even extend a contract offer to Russell Martin, despite not having an experienced catcher on the team. At first blush, this seems illogical. But, taking into account the Yankees’ true goal of this offseason, this decision makes absolute sense. Clearly, Brian Cashman felt that going into the season without an experienced catcher was worth the risk to ensure that Sterling could no longer scream “Russell’s got muscle!”
Why do you think there are so many rumors about the Yankees trading Granderson?
The desire to prevent future Sterling home run calls is the team’s primary objective going forward. For this reason, the Yankees have stayed far away from the best free agents on the market: Zack Greinke (“He is a Greinke Doodle Dandy!”), Michael Bourn (“Baby, you were Bourn to run!”), Shane Victorino (“To the Victor go the spoils!”), Josh Hamilton (“You must be joshing me, a home run for Hamilton”), or Mike Napoli (“That was a power Nap!”)
Likewise, do not expect to see the Yankees go after the following mid-tier free agents either: Ty Wiggington (“Gettin’ Wiggy with it!” or “He is Wigging Out”), James Loney (“Only the Loney”), Cody Ross (“Ross is Boss”), Scott Rolen (“He is Rolen on a river” or “He is Rolen in the deep!”), Reed Johnson (“Reed all about it” or “No need to Reed between the lines”), Stephen Drew (“He drew that one up perfectly”), Brandon Inge (“Give him an Inge, and he’ll hit it a mile”), or Adam Kennedy (“Ask not what the Yankees can do for you, but what you can do for the Yankees” or “Ich bin ein Homer”),
The Yankees are flat-out petrified of putting these names in Sterling’s hands. No one knows what may happen if Sterling gained access to these names. It may cause a total protonic reversal destroying all life as we know it or cause the heads of all radio listeners to simultaneously explode.
Why have the Yankees only made contract offers to Jeff Keppinger and Nate Schierholtz? Because these are two of the few players who the Yankees have identified as having names that may prevent Sterling from creating an absurd home run call.
The Yankee upper management has been receiving a lot of heat due to its lack of activity this offseason. But, in light of the ultimate reason behind the Yankees’ inactivity, the fans should actually be grateful.
Therefore, before criticizing the Yankees for not attempting to sign a free agent, one must first ask themselves, “What would Sterling say?”