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Are there some players who just can't hack it in New York?

Apr 30, 2010, 10:24 AM EDT

Javier Vazquez cap.jpgI’m extremely reluctant to give credence to the “Player X just can’t handle New York” line of reasoning because as explanations go, it rarely if ever accounts for all of the variables.

Javy Vazquez is a good example, inasmuch as that meme doesn’t account for the fact that he handled things just fine in New York until he got hurt back in 2004. Something else is almost always going on when a guy is playing poorly for the Yankees or any other team — maybe many something elses — and if we care at all about figuring out what it is, we’re best to leave unverifiable, unquantifiable blanket explanations out of the equation until there is nothing else available.

But you know what? Sometimes you may not have any other explanation. Take pitcher Ed Whitson. As ESPN’s Ian O’Connor writes, the fact of being in New York seems to have been his biggest problem during his brief tenure with the Yankees back in the mid-80s:

“It’s like working in an office and your boss comes in and says, ‘You
suck,’ after you’ve tried your best,” Whitson said. “Now multiply that
by 50,000 bosses, all of them telling you that you suck, and imagine
what that feels like.

“You feel like everybody’s against
you, and sometimes you just want to quit. But you can’t ever quit.”

Some people are just wired to be more sensitive to criticism than others. I have no idea if Javy Vazquez is one of those people or if his struggles this year are a function of playing in New York. And given that there’s still a lot of season to go and scores of reasons why any one pitcher can struggle, I’ll probably be the last guy to hop on that train when assessing Vazquez. Let’s talk about his decreased velocity first, ya know?

But “he just can’t handle New York” is not a wholly fictitious concept. There are extremes to the place that major leaguers don’t face in San Diego, where Whitson thrived, or the Columbus, Ohio suburbs where he now lives.

I suspect that the vast majority of ballplayers face more pressure simply making it up through the ranks to the bigs than they face from a hostile crowd or press corps, thereby rendering the pressures of New York relatively quaint, but it can’t be said for absolutely everyone.

  1. Ed Whitson - Apr 30, 2010 at 10:28 AM

    Hey, I resemble that remark!

  2. YankeesfanLen - Apr 30, 2010 at 10:50 AM

    It’s kind of strange having the experience of Whitson used to supposedly parallel those of Javy. But leave it to O’Connor to try. I’m very blessed that ESPN recruited his padded resume so I don’t have to use his banter in The Record for the bird cage anymore.
    If anything, there have been a few players over the years that got “pshyed out” by their exposure to the big team, and I don’t think Javy is among them. What of all the established free agents that loved and were loved on the “Big Stage”? Damon, Abreu, Matsui, Cone, Clemens, then contributors Giambi, Johnson all had among the best performances of their careers here. If you don’t agree, at least say they didn’t run over the GWB with their hair on fire.
    And the Core Four, who grew up here, have never had a problem and couldn’t be traded without a major insurrection.
    2007-8: Cano is trade-bait every other day. Well, who has the last laugh now- Cashman is brilliant and home grown, and ARod would be a bit squirelly playing for the Royals, but leave him alone.

  3. Evan - Apr 30, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    Craig, how does the line go again? “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half physical” – Yogi
    .
    Playing in NY is an extreme. If it’s not the relentess media, it’s the relentess fans. If it’s not the huge salary, its the huge expectations. If it’s not “the Boss,” it’s the two junior bosses. You can’t walk around the clubhouse without bumping into a few Hall of Famers. You can’t walk the stadium without passing a plaque, landmark or statue. You can’t walk through the dugout without tripping over a future hall of famer and a perenial all-star.
    .
    On top of all of that, as a pitcher, you (typically) play in the best division in baseball with the expectation of winning a World Series every year.
    .
    I think its ignorant and inaccurate to think that NY isn’t different then most other places to play.

  4. Simon DelMonte - Apr 30, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    New York is a tough town for everyone. Crowded, noisy, demanding, with undercurrents of anger and fear and frustration. Plenty of people come here and run away screaming. Plenty of people are born here and do the same. And plenty of people, native and transplant, thrive on life here.
    So I think that there would have to be athletes who just don’t cope with NYC that well, aside from coping with being a Met or Yankee and coping with the media. There are probably players who, given the choice, would rather be anywhere else. Just like there are players who just love it here for reasons that have little to do with Yankee mystique or the chance to make a fortune being an NYC superstar.

  5. JBerardi - Apr 30, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    I love that Yankees fans 1. Constantly bitch about certain players who can’t succeed in New York and 2. Help to make it very difficult for certain players to succeed in New York. I mean really, who’s the dysfunctional one in this relationship?

  6. dlf - Apr 30, 2010 at 11:52 AM

    Maybe the Yanks and Braves can revisit the Cabrera for Vazquez deal. That trade appears to have been a steaming pile of suck for both clubs.

  7. jimbeetle - Apr 30, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    Any time you take your basic .500 pitcher and put him on a New York stage and he performs down to exactly what his talent level is folks are going to say he can’t hack it in NYC.
    Whitson was your basic .500 pitcher (126-123), as is Javy (143-142). Why anybody would expect them to perform better in the Bronx than they have anywhere else, well, I can’t quite understand.
    Take out their Yankee W-Ls and you have 111-113 and 128-129, respectively. Yep, basic .500 pitchers. So, apparently it ain’t the New York pressure that’s a problem.
    They’re basically just warm bodies to eat innings because you don’t have a .550 pitcher available.

  8. Evan - Apr 30, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    Philly fans are the worst. We might put undue pressure on our players but they intentionally vomit on children…

  9. YankeesfanLen - Apr 30, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    There is absolutely no reason to revisit the Cabrera/Vazquez trade. Melky is a decent centerfielder and I’ll take Granderson any day. Not to mention that Melky was a distraction to Robbie Cano that is no longer there, so he’s hitting .407.
    If Javy ends up 12-10 I won’t be pleased of course but can’t see that happening. Biggest concern right now is weak scoring in innings 7-9. Walk-Offs! Come from behind!That’s what happened in ’09 and that will come, maybe not even til June.
    BTW 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. (Thanks to aging rock star most likely to be named best Orson Welles look-alike)
    Captcha: like plumper- CC or Joba?

  10. markfd - Apr 30, 2010 at 12:31 PM

    I read yur headline and opening paragraph and thought to myself, what about Ed Whitson and low and behold two paragraphs later, Ed Whitson! Awesome.

  11. Wendall - Apr 30, 2010 at 1:13 PM

    I agree with most of the posts on this subject , with that in mind the next candidate for a beating is Nick Johnson . In essence they got rid of Matsui , or Damon for him . I didn’t see anything wrong with Damon leaving as he hurt you in the field , but would anyone take Johnson over Matsui ? I don’t think so . Bad move on the Yankees part . Johnson may have to go .

  12. The Rabbit - Apr 30, 2010 at 1:46 PM

    Would the parallel axiom be then that some players thrive in New York? Would that explain Frenchie’s success to date? I wouldn’t think so but I could be wrong.

  13. Joey B - Apr 30, 2010 at 1:56 PM

    It would be virtually impossible not to have players that can’t handle NY. There are plenty of people out there that don’t want to be in charge, don’t want to make decisions, don’t like to speak in public, don’t want to coach the kids’ teams. I’m one of those people. I like being the guy that supports the guy that goes to the meetings. I like being the guy to coach 3rd and throw batting practice.
    It’s the same in the pros. Not everyone has the same emotional IQ. The same guy that might melt (Weaver?) in NYC might do well in a more relaxed atmosphere. Some guys might come in from Cincy, see 50,000 in the stands, and can’t wait to start playing in front of them.
    As much as NYY fans don’t want to admit it, Vazquez might not be a NY player.

  14. Joey B - Apr 30, 2010 at 2:33 PM

    “There is absolutely no reason to revisit the Cabrera/Vazquez trade. Melky is a decent centerfielder and I’ll take Granderson any day.”
    You’re really replacing Damon with Granderson since Gardner was going to start anyway. And by bring Granderson into the discussion, then the trade has to include giving up Vizcaino, AJax, Coke, Kennedy and Dunn. Seems like a lot to give up to upgrade from Damon to Granderson and adding Vazquez.

  15. Joey B - Apr 30, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    “Would the parallel axiom be then that some players thrive in New York? Would that explain Frenchie’s success to date? I wouldn’t think so but I could be wrong.”
    I absolutely think that’s true. Manny was a much better player when he faced NY than he was against others. And there have been some fairly mediocre players that have come to NY and excelled. How does a guy like Small go 10-0? I think some guys come to NY and it’s a dream come true, and for others, a nightmare.

  16. YANKEES1996 - Apr 30, 2010 at 4:29 PM

    There are some players that talk the talk and then there are some players that walk the walk. In most sports it is the players that walk the walk that do well, an example of both walk the walk player – CC Sabathia, talk the talk player – Terrell Owens.

  17. char in miami - May 1, 2010 at 12:13 AM

    as a long-time yankee fan, i was sorry to see some of the off season trades that they made. it figured that they would trade damon but it wasn’t necessary to get rid of matsui. i like the addition of granderson – did not like losing cabrera. nick johnson seems to be a loser to me – i don’t care how many walks he gets or his obp. he absolutely sucks.
    the one thing the yankees should have done last year was to get roy halliday from toronto. they could have traded joba for him and i think the trade would have gone through. joba was horrible last year and it doesn’t appear he will be much better this year.

  18. char in miami - May 1, 2010 at 12:15 AM

    as a long-time yankee fan, i was sorry to see some of the off season trades that they made. it figured that they would trade damon but it wasn’t necessary to get rid of matsui. i like the addition of granderson – did not like losing cabrera. nick johnson seems to be a loser to me – i don’t care how many walks he gets or his obp. he absolutely sucks.
    the one thing the yankees should have done last year was to get roy halliday from toronto. they could have traded joba for him and i think the trade would have gone through. joba was horrible last year and it doesn’t appear he will be much better this year.

  19. Jeff - May 1, 2010 at 12:37 AM

    Javier Vazquez will be fine. Look at how bad CC Sabathia was last April and everyone was saying he couldn’t handle New York either.
    Some people are still trying to find their groove. Do you think A-Rod and Teixeira are going to hit like this all year too? Clearly not. God help the rest of the teams in the AL when they do start to hit, because the Yankees are 15-7 after getting nothing from their 2-3-4 spots in the lineup and with Vazquez not pitching well yet either.

  20. pisano - May 1, 2010 at 1:25 AM

    I agree with you 100 % I only hope Johnson wakes up soon , he’s really not a number two hitter at this point . Arod and Tex will have their usual numbers it’s Johnson I’m worried about , he seems lost at the plate .

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