Jered Weaver just pitched the game of his life tonight; he pitched seven innings, allowed one run, struck out a career-high fifteen batters. Absolutely fantastic achievement! As I was reviewing the article about his triumphant game, I started to think about Jeff Weaver's career. Jeff Weaver was a fantastic young pitcher with Detroit when I first started to like him. The Tigers were terrible, but Weaver put up a few winning seasons to start his career. Assuming a normal player will continue to improve, I thought he was going to be a star of the game for years to come.
When he got traded to the New York Yankees, I thought they had stolen him from the Tigers--how could the Tigers give up a guy in his young twenties that they could build their rotation around? I was disappointed also because I am a Boston Red Sox fan. The Yankees had bolstered their rotation with one of the best young arms in the league. The Red Sox had fallen further behind merely because they had gained. Jeff Weaver had a modicum of success with the Yankees. By Yankee standards, he was a failure. He went 12 - 12 over his year and a half in pinstripes.
There are websites and blogs set up around players that flopped for the Yankees. It makes sense, there are numerous players they have traded for or signed that have come to New York and failed. Some were able to get out of New York before they had ruined their careers beyond repair.
Carl Pavano got paid $40M to pitch about 145 innings and go 9 - 8. He was 18 - 8 the year before with Florida. In 2010 he pitched 221 innings for Minnesota and went 17 - 11. What happened in New York? Chuck Knoblach was an All-Star second baseman for Minnesota. After one year in New York, his career fell precipitously until he had to be benched because he couldn't throw the ball to first base, and because his batting had dropped over 100 points. He had never had more than eleven errors in a season, his last full season in New York, he had 26.
Do the Yankees cause these players to fail? Is it the pressure of playing in the American League East? Is it the spectacle of the city, the franchise, the media? Or is it bad scouting and management in the Yankee organization?
Some fans will say that Brien Taylor is the biggest bust in franchise history. He got a lot of money and was the number one overall draft pick, yet he never played in the majors. That is different than the Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez stories--those players were already stars that had established themselves before going to New York. Taylor never had anything more than hype.
George Steinbrenner may have made the Yankees great after purchasing the franchise back in the 1970's. He certainly was willing to put himself out there as a figurehead of the team, but he was also willing to put his money on the line. He could not imagine what the Yankees had become after the decades of amazing teams that he remembered as a kid. He would do whatever it took to return the franchise to its rightful esteem. He was willing to lose money if that's what it took. In some ways Steinbrenner made the Yankees a better team, and in others he was a part of their failure. He had every right to do whatever he wanted, but his style of management cost him and the team. Managers and coaches got fired at the drop of a hat, players were constantly feeling scrutinized about their play, and executives wondered constantly whether their jobs were secure.
Were these conditions the cause of some of the great players' failures in pinstripes? It takes a special type of player to play in New York and succeed. There are expectations on any player on a team that spends that much money with the intention of winning every year. Guys like Chuck Knoblach who play in smaller markets with lower expectations might have a hard time adjusting to the cruel businesslike feel of playing with so much pressure. Perhaps Knoblach would still have played at an All-Star caliber for years if he hadn't gone to New York. Kevin Brown played in Los Angeles for the Dodgers, so he was used to playing in a big market, but the West Coast is considerably different with their sports attitude. Los Angeles really hasn't made a valiant effort to get and NFL team back in the second largest US market. Do you think they put a pile of pressure on its baseball teams? One can understand the trials that Hideki Irabu had coming over from Japan; he was facing social and cultural changes. They play the game differently across the Pacific.
It takes a special type of player to succeed in New York, but with that success comes history. Sure the Steinbrenners will continue to put pressure on their players, perhaps not as much as George did, but they are already making headlines in their own right. The city will continue to revere its sports heroes and criticize those that aren't capable of handling all the spotlight has to offer. The failures of these stars and many others has kept some players from signing contracts there--Cliff Lee comes to mind immediately. One thing is for sure, if money were more of an object, the failures of these players would have had more of a lasting effect on the franchise and its ability to compete. Instead, they throw more money at more players than anyone else can. If you are a Yankees fan, consider yourself blessed that your team can afford to burn money on the failures, and still go out and compete year after year. Major League Baseball would be a considerably different league if all franchises could do this.