(Aside: Due to their advertisement in Tradition Field, I am currently enjoying a Land Shark Lager
. If you want a Corona without spending the extra two bucks for an import or just want to support Jimmy Buffett, I say go for it. Just let it be known, it’s not as good as a Corona especially if you’re like me and prefer your adult beverage without a lime. One last thing before we begin; here’s a fitting tune for the article
Per Joel Sherman (Post,) “[Frankie] will handle New York without a problem.”
Per Patrice Evans (NBC Sports,) “Despite his inconsistencies, Ollie has been a durable workhorse, and one who has proven he can handle the intense NYC media hotbox.”
Per Mark Feinsand (Daily News,) “Cashman said that a player’s ability to handle New York is something he takes into consideration, but it’s impossible to know how a player will fit with the Yankees until he’s already wearing the uniform.”
The theme from the aforementioned quotes is repeated every offseason in New York. When discussing either the Mets or the Yankees (or any New York City sports team for that matter,) pundits from television, print and the radio consider not only if a player has the ability to play the game but also the ability to handle New York™. I am among the fans that believe that baseball is unlike any other major sport in America. Unlike football where freshly drafted rookie can be among the best players in the league, baseball is more of a skill game that requires years of concentration and practice. Due to the latter, a player that “can’t handle pressure” is mostly eliminated sometime during his years of development. Of course, there are exceptions; but in general this is why I basically tune out the handle New York™ talk every year.
Cue Gordon Edes of Yahoo! Sports, to awaken me from my slumber. “[Frankie] was pitching for his country, but in a sense this was Francisco Rodriguez’s first audition as a member of the New York Mets… Less impressive was his postgame performance… Rodriguez told the Venezuelan media representative that he would not speak to reporters…”
Frankie would eventually be interviewed and answered why he didn’t want to speak to the reporters. Basically saying that he felt the Venezuelan team was slighted by reporters after their 15-6 loss to Team USA, but the real gem from Edes comes next:
“Slugger Magglio Ordonez was booed by the Venezuelan contingent here for his appearance at a rally supporting Venezuelan president’s Hugo Chavez’s winning campaign to abolish term limits, setting himself up for another six years in charge. But still, that would seem comparatively mild to what Rodriguez is liable to hear in Queens if the Mets stumble. The over-under on the first “K-Fraud” headline is Mother’s Day.”
My problem with the pressure of New York talk is two-fold. Edes brings up the first problem. This whole theory that players cannot handle intense media scrutiny, espically the intense New York media scrutiny, is perpetrated by the media, specifically the New York media itself. Maybe it’s only me, but doesn’t this come off as arrogant, chest-beating talk on the part of the media. Do they really think that Francisco is going to be on the mound, having just given up a tying run and thinking to himself, “If only I wasn’t thinking about what Bart Hubbuch wrote about in his blog for the Post.” I mean did Edes really just compare Venezuelans booing Maggs for supporting an alleged election rigger and expeller of Human Rights Watch to something Frank would have to deal with “if the Mets stumble?” I know we are passionate in New York, but give me a break; how self-important does that sound?
All that aside, my second and main gripe with this whole handling New York argument, is the fact that no evidence is ever, and I looked hard, presented in support. The media has repeated the theory so often that I hear/read regularly fans repeat this handle New York rhetoric. It seems to me that there are two players, represented by these streams of thought:
One player is good -> it’s wondered if he can handle New York -> he plays good -> he can handle New York.
Another player doesn’t play well in New York -> He couldn’t handle New York.
As Jim Bouton said (roughly,) “In baseball, just cause B follows A doesn’t mean A caused B.” I can recall three players that were hit with the “couldn’t handle New York” label, Roberto Alomar, Jeremy Burnitz, and, perhaps the biggest one, Jeff Weaver. Let’s quickly look at them case by case.
Alomar’s debut with the Mets in ’02 was a huge disappointment but the dude just couldn’t play baseball anymore more than couldn’t deal with New York.
That same year, easy going Burnitz was criticized for not being able to handle the pressure. He ended up hitting (the term “hitting” used loosely) .215/.311/.365. That offseason he must taken some confidence juice because he hit .274/.344/.581 before being dealt to the Dodgers for Victor Diaz among others.
Age IP ERA+
22 164 89
23 200 108
24 229 104
25 200 123
26 159 73
27 220 102
28 224 97
29 172 78
30 146 70
Weaver’s terrible year with the Yankees at age 26 combined with a return to mediocrity two years following leaving New York is probably the strongest evidence for the theory. But the fact that he pitched well when he came over in a midseason trade during his age-25 year is ignored and the fact that his terrible age-26 season is probably more attributable to a heavy workload in his past. In addition, Weaver was pretty overrated in the first place.
Look, I love New York and find it to be the best place to live in the world. It’s a city full of variety and options. I recognize that there are more writers in this city and more people taking pictures. I just don’t see any evidence that there are professional baseball players that play worse under these conditions. I can see someone’s life being much different than if they were in Kansas City, but once a player crosses the chalk lines, I don’t see a difference in performance.
I’ve been wrong before, maybe I’m forgetting someone or missing something, I’m interested in what you guys think, just be prepared to present actual numbers if you make a bold claim. (Example: A-Rod can’t handle New York, look at the Madonna scandal. Response: The scandal started July 1st, A-Rod hit .337/.413/.621 for the month.)