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Something's happening in the Bronx

Jun 3, 2009, 9:44 AM EDT

Tyler Kepner of the New York Times was in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees’ clubhouse recently and saw a sign posted with the title “Yankee Play Hard Index.” On
it were seven rules for the farmhands to follow, all of which basically
boil down to “hustle and work hard.” Mark Teixeira was never a Yankee
farmhand, but based on his play in last night’s game against the Rangers, he appears to be living up to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre standard. This description, courtesy of ShysterBall reader, J.W.:

Nice little series of events in the bottom of the 4th of the
Yankees–Rangers game, as Vicente Padilla plunks Mark Teixeira for the
second time to load the bases. Teixeira jaws at him. A-Rod stepped to
the plate looking to pick up his teammate, and did what A-Rod does best
in situations in which he feels some kind of pressure to perform, he
flailed and failed, chopping a hard(ish) hit grounder over towards what
I believe was the second base side. The ball was fielded cleanly and
slung over to second base in what looked to be a sure-thing double
play. And yet, Teixeira dialed it up to a gear we may never see him
reach again and went flying into second to break up the play. It was a
cleaner break-up slide than you’ll often see; he even took the time to
swipe the bag with his hand as if to say, “See, this was a legit
slide!” It was a nice piece of aggressive play that didn’t hurt anyone
and showed some of that competitive fire that is sometimes lacking in
the great game of baseball.

A couple of things before I say what I’m going to say about this.
First, I don’t believe that grit and determination and fire or any of
that stuff outweighs baseball talent. You can have the latter without
the former and still help a team win, but if you have the former
without the latter, God help you.

Second: I don’t believe that the Yankees’ biggest problem of the
past several years has been that they’ve brought in mercenaries who
don’t understand “The Yankee Way” or somesuch nonsense. The problem has
been a lack of depth — which may be a byproduct of the free agency
spree, but not a necessary one — and the fact that a short playoff
series can be a crapshoot. They didn’t get the job done over the long
haul in 2008, but between 2001 and 2007 they could have just as easily
won the World Series as they were eliminated, with only a few bounces
and random hot streaks standing in the way. They haven’t been a perfect
club over that time, but they haven’t been fatally-flawed either. Stuff
happens.

All of that said, I think there really is something to note in
Teixeira’s hard slide last night. A little of that intangible fire,
sure, but also evidence that the most recent batch of free agents
brought to town is a bit different than that which Brian Cashman has
brought in before. More complete players in some important ways, both
in terms of makeup and ability. Alex Rodriguez is an otherworldly
talent, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him get angry like Tex
apparently did and I can’t recall him really barelling into second like
that to break up a double play. Jason Giambi could hit the cover off
the ball in his day, but he was so limited defensively and on the
basepaths that comparing him to Teixeira is a rather silly exercise.

Where does all of this lead? Probably to a place where we can
honestly say that building through free agency, while not the most
efficient thing to do, isn’t something that is going to necessarily
keep the Yankees from winning another World Series title as so many
adherents to those 1990s Yankees teams suggest. At the same time,
however, it probably also forces us to conclude that the intangibles –
fire, grit, determination — matter at least a little as well, if for
no other reason than they often accompany a player with a good
all-around game like Teixeira’s.

Whatever the case, it certainly feels like something different is
happening in the Bronx this year. Something that hasn’t happened in a
long time. Something that, just maybe, will give New York a better shot
at navigating that postseason crapshoot than they have in nearly a
decade.

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