Joba Rules, But Remember A Guy Phil?

Eli Manning may not have been the only New York sports figure to have found himself in the post-season of 2007. In a less dramatic and certainly less impactful way, it’s just possible that Yankee pitcher Philip Hughes did so as well.

I’ve found it interesting to see the change in the view of Hughes since Joba Chamberlain hit the scene. Hughes was once regarded by some as the top pitching prospect in all of baseball. He didn’t make the immediate impact Chamberlain did, and now it’s Chamberlain who is the next big thing.

That may not be such a bad thing. In Spring Training last year, Hughes seemed to be feeling the pressure and pitched poorly. This resulted in his starting the year back in the minors. When he was called up in late April, he pitched two games before getting hurt and staying out until August. In his second May start, he pitched 6 1/3 innings of no-hit ball, striking out six and walking three before leaving with a hamstring injury.

When Hughes returned it took a while for him to find his legs again. But in September, he appeared to right the ship and made it on to the Yankees’ post-season roster. It was here that we finally saw again what we had seen in that second start, as he looked every bit as advertised against Cleveland. In two relief appearances in the ALDS, Hughes tossed 5 2/3 innings, surrendering one run on a solo homer, striking out six and not walking a batter. If this was his arrival, we’ll know it soon enough of course.

I think I’m higher on Hughes than most. But what strikes me is how many of those writing in sports media and the blogosphere have revised their view of Hughes.Continue reading “Joba Rules, But Remember A Guy Phil?”

Moments, Glorious Moments

I am an analyst by profession, and I bring that into my sports fandom. Analysis of baseball and football is a major part of how I follow, study and think about the games. In the baseball realm, I’m inclined toward what people called statistical analysis, Bill James, Baseball Prospectus and the like. Football, despite the efforts of people like the good folks at Football Outsiders, is not given to such quantification (a limitation the guys at FO are still struggling to get some perspective on), but even there, serious thought, challenging conventional wisdom and, yes, even some limited number crunching, is part of what I do as a fan.

That stuff is fun. It helps my understanding and appreciation of the games. But in the end, it’s the heart that is the center of sports fandom. There are moments in sports that explain why I get so emotionally attached to the games, why I growl in frustration when Kyle Farnsworth is brought into a tight situation and blows a lead, why I pound the table when Amani Toomer drops a key third down pass that hits him square in the chest. There are magical moments that make it all worthwhile.

Sometimes, those moments can come even when it’s not my team. Kirk Gibson’s game-winning homerun off of Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series was one of those. The gimpy slugger, forced to generate the power in his swing just from his arms, wins the game against the best reliever of his era. That’s a moment for poetry, not analysis. And it’s the beauty of baseball. Analysis can capture the value of a player’s season or career. But in a given moment, in one at-bat, or one play from scrimmage, anything can happen.

Of course, it’s better when it’s your team overcoming obstacles and long odds. But those moments can also be created by mediocre players. The 1978 season saw a near-miraculous comeback by the Yankees, overcoming a 14-game deficit to a very good Boston Red Sox team. But when all of that seemed like it might be for naught, it was weak-hitting Bucky Dent who creamed a three-run homer off Mike Torrez to bring the proper flourish to the Yankees’ season.

But moments are at their sweetest when your team is the underdog. The ’78 Yankees were a great team and the defending world champions. For the most part, even the greatest moments are somewhat dampened for Yankee fans. The Bronx Bombers are the greatest dynasty in sports. When they win, it is merely a promise fulfilled. It is when your team is clearly the inferior one, but wins anyway that sports find their potential for their greatest moments.Continue reading “Moments, Glorious Moments”