Thursday, June 01, 2006

Patience Should Not Be a Four-Letter Word

by Scott Silversten

We live in a sports age in which patience is a four-letter word and even those athletes who have experienced nothing but success during their careers can find themselves loudly booed in their home ballparks (see Jeter, Derek and Rivera, Mariano).

Last season, it took most Yankees fans and several members of the media a grand total of six games – SIX GAMES! – to determine that Melky Cabrera was not a major league caliber player. Over the course of those six games, the outfielder hit a paltry .211 (4-for-19) and was a butcher in center field, most famously misplaying a shot by Boston’s Trot Nixon into an inside-the-park home run.

Of course, little was made of the fact that Cabrera had not even played above Single-A prior to the 2005 season, and was only at Double-A Trenton when he was recalled by the Yankees as a short-term injury replacement. Let the New York Mets’ Lastings Milledge be forewarned: If you do not perform immediately, it will quickly be time to search for your replacement.

Well, if one dog year is equivalent to seven human years, then one year in sports should be equal to one year in a dog’s life. It’s amazing how fast things change in baseball, because last July is essentially the dark ages in the life and times of Melky Cabrera.

Not only has Cabrera proved over the last three weeks that he can perform at the major league level, but at the current time, he might just be the most important outfielder on the Yankees roster.

Yes, it can be repeated...Melky Cabrera is the most important outfielder on the Yankees’ $200 million roster.

For those not paying attention, New York has already lost left fielder Hideki Matsui indefinitely with a broken wrist. Right fielder Gary Sheffield only recently returned from a wrist injury, but was scratched prior to Tuesday’s game in Detroit and may need to return to the disabled list in the coming days.

And to make matters even worse, center fielder Johnny Damon is battling a chipped bone in his right foot and is starting to sound pessimistic that he can play effectively while dealing with the problem.

“Right now, it’s not good when I am on it a lot,” Damon said earlier this week. “The pain is in a greater area and it gets more painful after I run a lot. If I go out every day, I could possibly be down for a couple of weeks or a month.”

Damon was supposed to be the durable replacement in center for an aging Bernie Williams, who is on the verge of being thrust back into an everyday role that his body likely will not be able to handle. Bubba Crosby, projected to be the Yankees’ fifth outfielder this season, is sidelined with a strained right hamstring.

That brings us to Cabrera, who recorded a career best four hits in Tuesday’s victory over Detroit and is currently batting .318 with a .392 on-base percentage. The Dominican native has also begun to play a steady outfield after giving Yankees fans palpitations when he misplayed another ball in his season debut on May 9 against Boston.

Sometimes you can even see a player like Cabrera grow up almost instantaneously. The instance in this case occurred on May 20 when he fell behind 0-2 against Mets closer Billy Wagner before working an 11-pitch walk during the Yankees’ dramatic four-run ninth inning rally.

Cabrera has yet to hit a homer in the major leagues, which seems to worry some in the New York media despite the fact that the Yankees can make up for that lack of power by getting production from positions where other teams lack offensive punch, such as shortstop and third base.

In addition, most fans and media members who lack patience – there is that word again – won’t recall that Williams hit just three homers in 85 games during his rookie year of 1991. Players improve, especially switch-hitters who had only 326 games of total professional experience entering this season and will not turn 22 years old until later this summer.

Of course, the Yankees have a "win now" mentality because they have “wasted” so much money in recent years in only reaching the postseason while failing to capture the ultimate prize, a World Series championship.

Thus, rumors are swirling about possible trades for a veteran to help the outfielder. Of course, that is what has gotten the Yankees in this predicament in the first place.

In Scott Boras’ pitch to the Yankees during the off season, the agent highlighted Damon’s durability and the fact that the former Red Sox, Athletic and Royal had played at least 145 straight games in 10 straight seasons. Of course, nobody has a history of injuries until they do, and the older players get, the more likely they are to have nagging problems that will keep them out of the lineup.

The Yankees immediate solution to their outfield dilemmas still might be a trade for an established veteran. However, their future should rest in the hands of players like Cabrera, who deserved more than six games before being declared a failure.

Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", appears every Thursday


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Friday, July 21, 2006  
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Saturday, July 22, 2006  

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