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Yankees School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

May 14, 2013, 9:28 AM EDT


Every now and again — well, let’s face it, pretty much every day now — I get another email telling me that Vernon Wells — Vernon Bleepin’ Wells — just got another two hits with another homer with another three RBIs and so on.

The emails are from Michael Schur, Parks and Recreation executive producer, and the emails have a purpose: Michael is convinced that it is time that I just admit that I am wrong, and he is right about the New York Yankees being a magical species, not unlike house elves. He is fairly enraged that I will not just admit defeat. I picked the Yankees to collapse under their own weight this year. He thinks I’m a flat-earther who will not face the obvious truth — that the Yankees will always, continuously, endlessly, constantly, incessantly and unceasingly win forever and ever, amen. He thinks it is way past time for me to admit it doesn’t really matter who is actually ON the Yankees — doesn’t matter if every single baseball player on earth gets hurt and they are forced to have Shecky Greene hit second and play centerfield. In this case, Mike is convinced that Shecky Greene would hit .289 with 24 homers and win a Gold Glove.

His latest evidence for this Yankees sorcery is, of course, Vernon Wells, who at this moment for the Yankees is hitting .299/.349/.526 with nine homers — he’s ninth in the American League in home runs per at-bat after a career of never once being in the Top 10 in that category. He is roughly on pace for 100 runs and 100 RBIs, something he did only once, a long time ago, when he was 24 and full of promise.

Vernon Wells, the last two seasons, made a compelling a case for being the worst semi-regular player in baseball. I don’t think it was quite a winning case — it seems to me there are probably a half dozen players like Adam Dunn and the ever popular Yuniesky Betancourt* who were worse — but the point is he was in the discussion.

*Four times this year — FOUR TIMES THIS YEAR — the Milwaukee Brewers have hit Yuniesky Betancourt in their cleanup spot. There … um … you know … it seems … but … the thing … I’m sorry, the mind’s spluttering, I can’t even come up with a joke for this.

How bad was Wells? Well, usually you can’t define someone by a single number but Wells’ on-base percentage in 2011 and 2012 was .258. That is not just bad. That is legendarily bad. At the very core of offensive baseball is the game’s golden rule “Do not make outs.” Vernon Wells has been one of the great transgressors in baseball history.

Adding to the Wellsian knot was the seven-year, $126 million deal Toronto gave him beginning in 2008. Wells was a pretty good player in 2008, but he was also 29 years old and he only played 108 games. Bad signs sparked like fireworks. But by then the deal was signed and it was too late. He was fairly dreadful in 2009, a good player in 2010, and then the roof caved in, but not before Toronto managed to unload him on the Angels, who seem desperate to corner the market on terrible contracts. You can almost imagine an Angels-inspired movie, sort of the anti-Moneyball, with Bruce McGill as a GM shouting, “How in the heck did Philadelphia beat us on this terrible Ryan Howard contract? Were you guys even paying attention? Was the bank closed that day?”

Wells hit 25 homers for the Angels in 2011 but posted an astounding .248 on-base percentage, which was the lowest for a corner outfielder since the legendary George Barclay, nicknamed Deerfoot, posted a .241 OBP in 1904. Wells only played 77 games in 2012, hit about the same in those games, and then then Angels were so desperate to get rid of him they gave him to the Yankees and agreed to pay about 70% of his remaining contract.

It should be added that the Yankees were so injured and desperate, that they took Wells and agreed to pay 30% of his remaining salary, which still comes out to $13 million, which still would be a huge overpay for the Vernon Wells of the last two seasons.

But, Michael — a huge Red Sox fan who has watched such Yankees miracles from a front row seat — immediately predicted that Wells would end up having a really good year. His prediction was not based on Wells looking good in spring or being in the best shape of his life or anything like that. It was simple math. The Angels are in that low funk where everything they do is just kind of stupid. And the Yankees, of course, are magical.

And it seems that Michael, despite what seem to me obvious flaws in his thought process, is right again.

Not that he ever doubted it. Michael now includes a list of players in his Vernon Wells emails. You look at this list and decide:

1. Shawn Chacon. He was a generally struggling pitcher for the Rockies who in 2004 had gone 1-9 with a 7.11 ERA. The league slugged .500 against him that year. In July of 2005, the Yankees — who hovered only a few games over .500 and in second or third place all year and were desperate for starting pitching — traded for Chacon. His first start, he threw six innings of shutout baseball. His first seven appearances, the Yankees won six of them. They were battling for first place. And in mid September, Chacon threw back-to-back starts of eight innings, zero runs, as the Yankees overtook first place and, eventually, won 95 games. The league hit .225 and slugged .348 against Chacon with the Yankees.

The next year, Chacon returned to being  generally struggling pitcher.

2. Aaron Small. A Michael Schur favorite. He was 33 years old and in that same year, 2005, and he had started all of three games in his big league career. He started nine games for the Yankees and the Yankees won eight of them. In September that year, he threw a five-hit shutout against Oakland and came in against Toronto in the second inning and threw 6 2/3 shutout innings. His record, that year, was 10-0.

The next year, he pitched 11 games with an 8.46 ERA and did not pitch another big league game.

3. Raul Ibanez. One of my favorite people in the game, Raul has had a nice career, but he was 40 years old his one year with the Yankees. He hit 19 homers in 384 at-bats. But veterans will sometimes do that, you know, swing for the fences and give a team a few home runs. What made Ibanez magical was the time. In October he was like a walking miracle. Against the Red Sox on Oct. 2, with the Yankees in a huge fight for their postseason lives, Ibanez hit a two-run homer to tie Boston in the ninth then hit a walk-off RBI single to win it in the 12th.

A week later, in the ALDS against Baltimore, he pinch-hit for A-Rod in the bottom of the ninth with the Yankees down one and hit the game-tying homer. Leading off the 12th, he homered again to win it.

Three days later, with the Yankees losing to Detroit by two in the ninth, he homered again to tie the score..

For about 10 days, Raul Ibanez was Roy Hobbs. “Could this have happened on any other team but the Yankees?” Michael asks.

4. Eric Chavez. He was a terrific player as a young man, but once the injuries started it seemed like they would never end. After winning six Gold Gloves and hitting 227 homers before he turned 30, Chavez did indeed turn 30 and for the next three years he played only 64 games and hit .222 with three homers. He was thoroughly done, and then the Yankees got him, Then, at age 34, last year, he hit 16 homers, slugged .496 and helped the Yankees reach the postseason again.

5. Ichiro. He was 38 years old last year.

Ichiro for Seattle in 2012: .261/..288/.353.

Ichiro for Yankees in 2012: .322/.340/.454

6. Bartolo Colon. He did not pitch at all 2010 and had not made 25 starts in a season in six years. He made 26 starts for the Yankees and the team won more than than half of them, and while there was all sorts of talk about HGH and stem cells and various other nefarious methods that Colon might have used to get back, Michael is convinced it was simply Yankees black magic.

Now, at this exact moment, the Yankees are by any objective measure a dreadful team. Look at a typical lineup.

Leading off: Brett Gardner (CF). Missed almost all of last year with injury.

Batting second: Robinson Cano (2B). Truly great player.

Batting third: Vernon Wells (LF), who the Angels paid $29 million to go away.

Batting fourth: Travis Hafner (DH), who is 36, and hasn’t slugged .500 in seven years. He’s slugging .500 now.

Batting fifth: Ichiro Suzuki (RF), who the Mariners dumped last year. Batting FIFTH?

Batting sixth: Jayson Nix (3B). Thirty-year-old on his fifth big league team, replacing injured Kevin Youkilis who was dumped by both Red Sox and White Sox last year.

Batting seventh: Lyle Overbay (1B). Thirty-six year old on his fifth team since 2010. He’s slugging .480.

Batting eighth: Alberto Gonzalez (SS). Thirty-year-old backup shortstop for five teams, he replaced Eduardo Nunez, who was hitting .200 while replacing Derek Jeter, whose ankle may or may not be getting better.

Batting ninth: Christ Stewart (Cat.). Thirty-one year old backup catcher for fifth organization.

Now, seriously, what if that team was playing in Kansas City. Or Seattle. Or Milwaukee. Take away Cano, and you can imagine it very easily. How many games would that team win? More to the point, how many would they lose? Ninety-five? A hundred? In New York, that lineup — and a pitching staff with 41-year-old Andy Pettitte and 38-year-old Hiroki Kuroda trying to get the game to 43-year-old Mariano Rivera — is in first place with the best record in the American League.

I continue to tell Michael It won’t last. But the truth is, I’m losing faith in the science-based baseball world. I know that sooner or later, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter will return. And, I must admit, that’s magic even I have no choice but to believe in.

  1. The Dangerous Mabry - May 14, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    I think it’s only appropriate to refer to the man as Ken Tremendous any time he talks about baseball. Nothing against the proud Schur family, but it’s objectively a more awesome name.

    Also, he might have something here, but I’ll take it one step further. There’s a balance of mojo in NYC, where even truly historically bad players who go to the Bronx become awesome, and truly awesome players who go to Queens become miserable. There has to be something going on there, right?

  2. rickdobrydney - May 14, 2013 at 9:37 AM

    Yes, there IS something magical about pulling on the pinstripes—Yankee fans have known that for years—-

  3. mybrunoblog - May 14, 2013 at 9:42 AM

    The Yanks have been very good for the last 20 years right? When you put newly acquired players in a lineup or rotation with other good players I believe several things happen. There’s is not as much pressure to produce, batters see better pitches, pitchers rub elbows with real good pitchers and it helps them, success often breeds more success.
    Yeah, I’m simplifying it but that’s my take. No secret formula, no potions, no magic elves…..well, maybe a few elves.

  4. turdfurgerson68 - May 14, 2013 at 9:43 AM

    Someday the long awaited crash will come.

    Unfortunately it doesn’t appear to be in 2013…the Yankee juggernaut keeps rolling along.

  5. randygnyc - May 14, 2013 at 9:44 AM

    The Yankee universe, where winning is a human right. Brian Cashman is the greatest GM in the history of baseball.

    • turdfurgerson68 - May 14, 2013 at 12:15 PM

      Um, no way is Cashmen the best ever.

      Easy to appear good when you’ve been operating wirh unlimited $$$.

      And how’s that A-Roid contract looking now. And that Texiera contract.

      Oh yeah, lets not forget his most brilliant deal of all: Kei Igawa.

      • 18thstreet - May 14, 2013 at 12:51 PM

        The least you could do is spell his name right. Cashman: two a’s.

        I mean, you completely missed the point of Joe’s article. The odd thing about this Yankee season is unexpectedly great seasons from unexpected sources.

        Having read the comments on the David Ortiz article, I’m quite confident that Yankee fans like Randy know this means they’re all on steroids (it’s the only possible explanation!), whereas Red Sox fans like me know for a fact that it’s all happening cleanly (because you can’t prove they’re using!).

      • turdfurgerson68 - May 14, 2013 at 1:17 PM

        Im replying to randygayc’s moronic (as usual) statement that cashmAn is the best GM ever.

        I didnt miss any point about the article…you obviously missed the point of my reply to randygayc.

        CashmAn def deserves credit for this season’s sucsess, no denying that.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 14, 2013 at 3:51 PM

        And how’s that A-Roid contract looking now.

        That wasn’t Cashman’s doing, that was Hank’s. Which is why Hank is now living upstate with the rabbits…

      • 18thstreet - May 14, 2013 at 4:05 PM

        You’re insulting Randy G in NYC by calling him Randy Gay?

        Are you 12?? I mean, honestly. Are you 12? Are you posting this from the computer lab at Kennedy Jr. High School? Because I can’t believe that even a person with the user name Turd would say something that juvenile without actually being a juvenile.

        Grow up, Turd.

  6. chipperforever - May 14, 2013 at 9:44 AM

    The only thing magical is the dimensions in Yankee Stadium. I’m pretty any lazy fly ball somehow becomes a Home Run in RF

    • whatthehellisansky - May 14, 2013 at 10:41 AM

      you do know that in the game of baseball both teams each get chances to bat?

      You’re obviously pretty slow on the uptake so i’ll spell it out for you – Both teams can hit lazy fly balls “that become home runs in RF”

    • ezthinking - May 14, 2013 at 10:42 AM

      12-7 Home; 12-7 Road. I’m sure its just the park.

      • bigharold - May 14, 2013 at 2:00 PM

        Logic? Reason? Facts? How dare you!

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 14, 2013 at 3:54 PM

        Logic? Reason? Facts?

        I would have gone with: “Logic? Reason? Facts? a commenter craves not these things…

  7. jfk69 - May 14, 2013 at 9:46 AM

    Thirteen or so paragraphs to make a point.

    • 18thstreet - May 14, 2013 at 4:58 PM

      I agree. Also, the Bible is too long. Could have been summarized with Leviticus 19:18 and saved us all a lot of time. Blah blah blah. I mean, what was the point of that flood, anyway? And why bother with a NEW Testament?

      Joe, in the future, please limit all your posts to 12 or so paragraphs, which JFK69 thinks is a more reasonable number.

  8. jfk69 - May 14, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    and Joe…We are still stuck with Arod. This Yankee play and run just might come down to KARMA.

  9. heyblueyoustink - May 14, 2013 at 9:50 AM

    I’ve heard the magic is so strong, that from time to time, a Yankee player can morph into an ancient Greek mythological creature to pose for a sculpture or painting.

  10. Fruitland Generic Citizen - May 14, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    As we Orioles fans say about the Yankees…

    Satan Is Real.

    • uyf1950 - May 14, 2013 at 10:55 AM

      I can only imagine then what Orioles fans have said about Peter Angelos for about the last 20 years.

  11. southpaw2k - May 14, 2013 at 10:07 AM


  12. jm91rs - May 14, 2013 at 10:10 AM

    So you’re friends with Mose Schrute? That’s pretty fun.

    • spellingcops - May 14, 2013 at 1:44 PM

      Mose is awesome.

  13. moe0594 - May 14, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    For all of you Yankee haters out there….JOIN THE DARK SIDE

    • bigharold - May 14, 2013 at 1:14 PM


      Cause we have beer!

      • cackalackyank - May 14, 2013 at 3:19 PM

        …and no chicken’s were harmed in the clubhouse.

      • Kevin S. - May 14, 2013 at 4:58 PM

        Really, really shitty beer.

  14. terencemania - May 14, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    The Yankees are using a “statistically optimized” lineup with their best hitters batting 2nd and 4th. They have an “empty OBP” guy batting lead-off. A slugger who usually doesn’t get on base a lot is batting 3rd and a guy who can drive in the base-runners ahead of him with singles and EBH is batting 5th. It’s literally by the book:

    • ezthinking - May 14, 2013 at 10:52 AM

      You realize the stats used for the Book are based upon using a traditional lineup configuration and that when you change the configuration, the resultant opportunities change, right?

      Move that best hitter out of the 3 hole to the 4 hole and put a worse hitter in the three hole and what happens to the 4 and 5 hole hitters’ opportunities? Goes down right?

      This Book is statistically flawed to say the least.

  15. ctony1216 - May 14, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    The Yankees do have a magical elf. His name is Yogi Berra. (How else do you explain 10 World Series rings?)

    Previous elves have included Miller Huggins, Casey Stengel, Phil Rizzuto, and Billy Martin (more of an imp than an elf, though).

    As a Yankees fan, I’m really glad other teams don’t believe in magical elves.

    • ctony1216 - May 14, 2013 at 11:19 AM

      Add another former Yankees elf to the list: Don Zimmer. … Jeter would actually rub his head for luck. If only the Red Sox had known of Zip’s magical powers:


      • indaburg - May 14, 2013 at 2:03 PM

        Zim’s our elf now (the Rays). How else do you explain James Loney?

  16. bigmeechy74 - May 14, 2013 at 10:53 AM

    This really does make me sick. The yankees already have more money than anyone else. They also always had the umps in their back pocket throughout the mid to late 90’s. They got EVERY borderline ball/strike call to go their way. Now they have a bunch of below replacement level guys that are dominating. I give up.

  17. offseasonblues - May 14, 2013 at 10:54 AM

    And here I thought it was something in the water in the Bronx.

    Thanks for publishing that list, Joe. I’ve been compiling it in my head since the Chacon / Small season, and after Wells was unloaded on the Yankees made a prediction to my snickering friends that Wells would be an asset, not a joke, in his new uniform.

    As a Red Sox fan, I’m not at all happy about being right, but at least now I have the clearly laid out evidence to support my “reasoning”.

    • cackalackyank - May 14, 2013 at 3:23 PM

      Well there is something in the water in the Bronx, but….

  18. chacochicken - May 14, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    The only magic in NY is the foulest of necromancy bringing the moldering dead back from the grave. There has to be a blood trail, Has to be…

  19. losanginsight - May 14, 2013 at 11:02 AM

    Good for Vernon he was able to leave the ship before it sunk.

    • nbjays - May 14, 2013 at 11:48 AM

      Right after he chopped that hole in the hull below the waterline…

      • Francisco (FC) - May 14, 2013 at 5:18 PM

        No, no, no, you misunderstand. He chopped the hole to get OUT of the ship.

  20. faulkner22 - May 14, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    Dan Shaughnessy article in the Globe forthcoming claiming the entire Yankees’ roster is on PEDs.

  21. Chris K - May 14, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    Just wanted to say I loved this article! Hope to see more Pos stuff like this!

  22. bronxsanman - May 14, 2013 at 11:19 AM

    I JUST WANT TO THANK THE GOOD LORD FOR MAKING ME A YANKEE FAN! And to all the haters out there all I can say is, IT SUCKS TO BE YOU! Ha Ha.

    • sophiethegreatdane - May 14, 2013 at 11:42 AM

      @bronxsanman: clearly, it actually sucks to be you. Have fun living vicariously through a baseball team, and looking down on others as if you had something to do with it.

  23. Reggie's Bush - May 14, 2013 at 11:36 AM

    “You’re a Yankee, Harry!” – Hagrid

  24. sleepyirv - May 14, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    That’s nothing. Babe Ruth was a pitcher before he got to Yankees and retired as the Home Run King. Anyone can hit in pinstripes!

  25. realgone2 - May 14, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    I’m guessing this is the wrong FEAR?

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