The 1989 season was a bad one for Yankee fans. That year’s team became the first New York club in fifteen seasons to lose more regular season games than it won, (74-87.) It was a season of transition for my favorite baseball team but unfortunately, that transition was moving in the wrong direction. That year would be the last time Don Mattingly would average .300 in a full regular season in pinstripes. It was the first time in almost a decade that Dave Winfield wasn’t a Yankee outfielder and the last season Ricky Henderson was. It was the first year of Ron Guidry’s retirement and the final year George Steinbrenner would officially have dictatorial control over all organizational and personnel moves before being suspended for his role in the Howie Spira scandal. The Yankee managers that season were Dallas Green and then Bucky Dent, both of whom were fired, clearing the way for the Stump Merrill era to begin one season later or as I like to refer to it as “the era of being completely Stumped.”
It appeared as if the only good thing happening in Yankee Stadium in 1989 was the introduction of a flashy Venezuelan-born starting shortstop. But alas, even that turned out to be an illusion. When I think of Alvaro Espinosa during his Yankee playing days I’m reminded of a line that comedian Billy Crystal used on Saturday Night Live whenever he impersonated the actor, Fernando Lamas, with one slight modification. “It is better to look good than to play good.”
At first appearance to Yankee fans, Alvaro Espinosa looked like a classic Major League shortstop. He hit .282 his first full year as a Yankee and played shortstop with a flair that often thrilled us. As time and Yankee seasons wore on however and the team’s losses mounted, it became clear that Espinosa’s defensive skills, though not horrible were far from great and his propensity to swing at terrible pitches on 3-0 counts and his lack of run production made him a liability in the Yankee lineup. When Buck Showalter replaced Stump Merrill in 1992, Espinosa’s three-year reign as New York’s starting shortstop was officially over. There was of course Espinosa’s great gold necklace. I could be wrong but I do believe it was Alvaro who first introduced bling to big league baseball in the Bronx. In any event, happy 52nd birthday to Mr Espinosa and may he enjoy many more. He shares his birthday with this Yankee catcher.
|CLE (4 yrs)||344||802||749||88||189||36||2||11||74||4||22||103||.252||.276||.350||.626|
|NYY (4 yrs)||447||1528||1424||133||363||58||5||7||94||8||46||171||.255||.281||.317||.598|
|MIN (3 yrs)||70||107||99||9||24||3||0||0||10||0||2||19||.242||.265||.273||.537|
|NYM (1 yr)||48||144||134||19||41||7||2||4||16||0||4||19||.306||.324||.478||.801|
|SEA (1 yr)||33||78||72||3||13||1||0||0||7||1||2||12||.181||.213||.194||.408|
As near as I could figure, Chris Stewart’s most important asset is his ability to effectively frame pitches. That’s a term that describes how catchers position and quickly move their gloves on pitches that are just out of the strike zone in an effort to deceive umpires into thinking they are strikes. Now you probably find it as hard to believe as I do that the mighty Yankees would reward any catcher with the starting job behind the plate based on an ability to steal strikes. The truth is of course that the richest team in baseball had decided after the 2012 regular season that they were going to lower their annual player payroll to $189 million by 2014, which would save them $50 million in subsequent luxury tax payments. To get the dollars down to that level, they’ decided to gamble, or actually penny-pinch with the catcher’s position. Instead of paying Russell Martin the $7.5 million in annual salary it would have taken to keep him in a Yankee uniform for the next two years, they let Martin go to the Pirates and put Chris Stewart in the starting catchers’ slot. That’s the same slot once filled by the likes of Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Ellie Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada and last winter, the Yankee front office thought it was a good idea to put Stewart in it.
Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi believed that Stewart was as good a defensive catcher as Martin was for them and I guess that might have been true. It appeared that most of the Yankee rotation didn’t mind and might have actually preferred having Stewart behind the plate instead of Martin when they were on the mound. But Stewart lacked Martin’s offensive skills, especially in the power and base-running departments and he’s not as “fiery” as the former Yankee catcher either. My biggest concern with Stewart behind the plate was his near automatic-out track record with the bat. Opposing pitchers had little to fear when they faced him and that wasn’t a good situation for the Yankees, especially during the team’s injury-plagued 2013 season during which every one of their top offensive weapons, with the exception of Robbie Cano spent mucho time on the DL.
As it turned out, the Yankee front office put Stewart in a no-win situation last year. He proved he couldn’t handle the starting catching responsibilities and in the process lost his claim to the role of serving as the team’s back-up receiver. This winter, New York went out and signed Brian McCann. He is everything Stewart was not and if he stays healthy, will help my favorite team return to postseason play. Meanwhile, the Yanks traded Stewart to the Pirates where ironically, he will once again serve as the backup to Russell Martin, a role that suits him perfectly. I wish him well.
In addition to the Yankees, Stewart has saw time with the White Sox, Rangers, Padres and Giants. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee shortstop.
|NYY (3 yrs)||165||500||438||43||96||14||0||5||38||6||40||71||.219||.291||.285||.577|
|TEX (1 yr)||17||43||37||4||9||2||0||0||3||0||3||6||.243||.300||.297||.597|
|SDP (1 yr)||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|SFG (1 yr)||67||183||162||20||33||8||0||3||10||0||16||18||.204||.283||.309||.592|
|CHW (1 yr)||6||8||8||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||.000||.000||.000||.000|