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No Yankees letter yet

May we all keep following this, all the other news about baseball is terrible.

The Yankees and Major League Baseball on Monday asked the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals to prevent public release of a 2017 letter from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to the Yankees that disgruntled fantasy league players say may contain evidence about cheating violations by the ballclub.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff last week granted a request to unseal the letter by attorneys representing a group of DraftKings daily fantasy players who sued MLB over the impact of the Astros’ and Red Sox’ electronic sign-stealing scandals of 2017-18.

The letter from Manfred to the Yankees was included in discovery materials handed over during the fantasy players’ lawsuit, which was filed in the southern district of New York. It was sealed from public view because the Yankees said that making the letter public would cause “severe reputational injury.”

Attorneys for the fantasy players, however, say the letter may provide evidence that the Yankees were involved in a “more serious, sign-stealing scheme” than the ballclub’s technical violations cited by Manfred in 2017.

See here for the background. Judge Rakoff has since put his original ruling on hold pending appeal, so who knows how long this could take, and for something that may ultimately be about not very much that’s new. But until then, we all get to speculate and post stuff on Twitter. That counts as entertainment in these troubled times. CBS Sports and NJ.com have more.

A twist in the sign stealing story

We’ll see how twisted it gets.

A federal judge ordered the unsealing of a 2017 letter from Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred to the New York Yankees that, according to court documents, detailed a “more serious, sign-stealing scheme” than the league initially revealed that September.

The Yankees and Major League Baseball have until Monday at noon to submit “a minimally redacted version” of the letter, according to the 12-page memorandum order filed in the Southern District of New York.

The letter itself may not be unsealed until June 19 in order for the Yankees to file an emergency appeal.

[…]

The letter in question was obtained during the discovery phase of a $5 million class-action lawsuit brought by DraftKings players against the league, the Astros and Boston Red Sox in the wake of the sign-stealing revelations earlier this winter.

A group of more than 100 plaintiffs, led by daily fantasy player Kristopher Olson, claimed the league and two teams were liable for any money lost during games where either the Red Sox or Astros cheated.

Judge Jed S. Rakoff dismissed the suit in April, but the plaintiffs are appealing the decision to the 2nd Court of Appeals.

Rakoff wrote Friday’s memorandum order that called for the letter’s unsealing, finding in favor of the DraftKings players who remain as plaintiffs. In their argument to keep the letter’s contents sealed, the Yankees said releasing the letter would inflict “significant reputational injury.”

“Much of the letter’s contents have already been revealed in the 2017 press release,” Rakoff wrote in his decision. “Furthermore, embarrassment on the part of MLB or the Yankees about the precise contents of the letter is not particularly weighty, and the privacy interests of any individuals mentioned in the letter may be remedied by minimal redaction.”

See here for more on the DraftKings lawsuit, to which the Yankees were not a party. My guess is that the single most likely outcome of this is that the letter tells us very little we didn’t already know, based on what Judge Rakoff says in his ruling, but the possibility certainly exists for something juicy to be in there. It’s not going to change anything the Astros did, but it might contribute to their “everyone else was doing it too” defense. It’s also possible that this will make MLB look bad – again – for the way they handled the investigation and the punishments that were handed out. We’ll find out soon enough. At this point, all I can say is that I’m glad for some baseball news that isn’t about the owners’ latest ridiculous season-starting proposal to the players. Views from 314 and Pinstripe Alley, both Yankees blogs, have more.

Won’t you join our lawsuit?

This is going to keep giving me content for years.

Did not age well

After filing two sign stealing-related lawsuits against the Astros on behalf of Houston season-ticket holders, a Corpus Christi law firm is asking Dodgers and Yankees fans who attended 2017 postseason games in Houston if they, too, are interested in suing the ballclub.

The websites yankees-astros-scandal.qualified-case.com and dodgers-astros-scandal.qualified-case.com were launched by the firm Hilliard Martinez Gonzales. Both sites were advertised on Facebook in an effort to contact fans of the teams that traveled to Houston for playoff games in 2017, when the Astros beat the Yankees and Dodgers en route to the World Series title.

“We’re trying to find people who traveled to Minute Maid Park, Yankees or Dodgers fans, who spent money in flights, hotel rooms, rental cars, to watch a game that was not fair,” said John Duff, an associate with the Hilliard firm.

“They didn’t get their money’s worth, and we wanted to see if any of those potential clients want to get compensated.”

The Yankees website asks, “Are you a Yankees fan that traveled to Houston for the ALCS in 2017?” The Dodgers site asks, “Were you a Dodger ticket season holder during the 2017 season?”

Both sites note that the Astros were penalized by Major League Baseball for using electronic methods to steal catcher’s signs and adds, “This is unfair to paying Yankees (or Dodgers) fans and compensation should be demanded.”

Any potential suits on behalf of Dodgers or Yankees fans would be filed in Texas state court or in federal court in California or New York, Duff said. He declined to estimate how many answers the firm had received in response to the inquiries.

“There was confirmed cheating during the ALCS and World Series, and those tickets are more expensive and the damage model is higher,” Duff said.

See here and here for the background. As this story notes, the three Harris County lawsuits have all now been consolidated and moved into one court, the 152nd Civil Court. I don’t have anything to add, I just look forward to the next chapter in this highly entertaining story.

“The luckiest man on the face of the earth”

Seventy-five years ago today, Yankees great Lou Gehrig said farewell to baseball and the fans at Yankee Stadium with one of the most memorable speeches of sports history. Here’s an old newsreel of Gehrig’s career and a clip from his farewell speech, on July 4, 1939.

Sports On Earth has the full text of Gehrig’s speech, and a comparison to the version from Pride of the Yankees. They’re paying tribute to the Iron Horse today at Yankee Stadium. Lou Gehrig died of the disease that bears his name in 1941, but his memory endures. Happy Fourth of July, everyone.

Astros to the AL update

I remain puzzled by this.

Major League Baseball is discussing with prospective Astros owner Jim Crane possible compensation for agreeing to move the team to the American League.

Three people familiar with the negotiations said on Thursday that MLB has broached the subject with Crane, who in May reached an agreement to purchase the team from Drayton McLane for $680 million. One industry insider said MLB representatives floated $50 million as a possible compensation package for Crane and his group of investors to move the team from the National League. It is not known if MLB has formally offered the $50 million, or if such compensation would come from a reduction in the sale price or by other means.

The discussions would suggest that MLB commissioner Bud Selig has moved past vetting the Crane group and will attempt to finalize the sale.

“Baseball seems very interested to cause this to happen,” an industry insider familiar with the negotiations said on Thursday.

That would constitute a significant shift from August, when MLB removed a scheduled vote to approve the sale from the owners’ meetings agenda. A person familiar with top MLB officials’ thinking said concerns about past business practices of Crane’s companies remain a point in contention in approving the deal.

Another industry insider contends MLB has been using past EEOC complaints and settlements involving war profiteering as “a bargaining chip” to leverage Crane into accepting a move to the AL as a pre-condition to taking over the team. Selig and the MLB Players Association have stated a desire for two 15-team leagues that will allow for the addition to two wild-card playoff teams. One of the 16 NL teams would have to change leagues for that to happen, and there have been no volunteers. With a pending sale, coming off the worst season in franchise history (56-106), the Astros would appear to be susceptible to persuasion to sever ties with the NL that go back to 1962.

Let’s put the question about the extra playoffs aside for the moment. It’s ironic that this is being discussed at the end of the season that featured the two most dramatic playoff races of the wild card era, but the shift in emphasis from the regular season to the postseason is a ship that sailed so long ago it’s on its third round trip by now. What I don’t understand is why 15 teams per league, which will necessarily mean interleague play year round, is considered desirable. If you want balanced divisions, I’d rather make like the NFL and expand to 32 teams with four four-team divisions per league and no wild card, or two eight-team divisions with the top two from each making the playoffs. Failing that, if interleague all the time is where we’re heading, then let’s drop the pretense of having separate leagues, essentially a fiction these days given that there are no more league presidents, and adopt saner schedules as folks like David Pinto have advocated. That would mean coming to a decision one way or the other on the DH – as a lifelong American League fan, I’m for it as I’m sure the MLBPA would be too – but that’s a debate I’m willing to have and to lose if it comes down to it. The current proposals are to me the worst of all possible worlds, which means I’d better start getting used to it. At least having the Astros in the AL would mean I’d get to see the Yankees every year. Even for me that’s not worth the ridiculousness of it all, but you take your silver linings where you can find them.

Der-ek Jet-er!

Clap-clap-clap clap clap.

After Derek Jeter fouled off consecutive full-count pitches in the third inning on Saturday, the Yankee Stadium organist tickled the ivories to the tune of “Let’s-Go, Yank-ees!” Impulsively, the 48,103 fans who made up the sold-out crowd responded by chanting “De-rek, Je-ter!”

On a picture-perfect afternoon in the Bronx, the Yankees and Jeter were one and the same.

Jeter acted on cue, recording his 3,000th career hit on the very next pitch by lacing a David Price curveball to left field for a solo home run. In becoming the first player in franchise history to reach the 3,000-hit plateau, Jeter went 5-for-5, carrying the Yankees to a 5-4 victory over the Rays.

Hard to write a better script than that, isn’t it? Click the link to see the video, since you can’t embed from MLB.com. Congratulations to the Captain, Derek Jeter, on reaching this milestone. May there be many more hits left in the tank. See you in Cooperstown later this decade. Be sure to read this Joe Posnanski appreciation for a great perspective on his career, and maybe a few things you didn’t know.

RIP, Bill Gallo

The great sports cartoonist Bill Gallo has passed away at the age of 88.

Bill Gallo, treasured cartoonist and columnist for the New York Daily News, passed away Tuesday at the age of 88 due to complications from pneumonia. Gallo, a New York institution, worked for the newspaper for seven decades and was perhaps best known for portraying late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner as a Prussian general.

[…]

He was born in 1922, and he started work as a copy boy for the Daily News shortly after graduating high school. Gallo wound up serving in the Marines during World War II — where he saw action at Iwo Jima — and enrolled at Columbia University upon his stateside return.

Gallo also returned to the Daily News around that time and began making headway in his profession. He told the Associated Press that he dreamed of becoming a reporter like his father, Francisco, a writer and editor at La Prensa. He was also inspired by cartoonist Milton Caniff, who drew “Terry and the Pirates,” his favorite comic strip from youth.

Gallo created his own indelible characters, among them Basement Bertha and Yuchie, who represented downtrodden and devoted fans of the Mets. His most famous character — General Von Steingrabber — poked fun at Steinbrenner for his domineering ways and for his ability to co-opt so much of the newspaper’s sports pages.

Gallo’s cartoons were a must-read for me every day in the Daily News when I was a kid. You can see a sampling of them here. Be sure to go all the way to the end, where you’ll see his tribute to Yankees catcher Thurman Munson the day after Munson’s tragic death. I still get choked up looking at it, more than 30 years later. Rest in peace, Bill Gallo.

RIP, Bob Sheppard

Preceding George Steinbrenner in death was the legendary PA announcer Bob Sheppard, known as both the voice of Yankee Stadium and the Voice of God. If you watched the All Star Game on Tuesday night, you got to hear a recording of Sheppard introduce Derek Jeter; at Jeter’s request, a recording of Sheppard has announced Jeter’s turns at bat since Sheppard’s retirement in 2007, and will continue till Jeter hangs up his spikes. Let me again recommend Jay Jaffe and the links he provides – be especially sure to read Ed Alstrom’s words – for the best of what is being said about this extraordinarily well-loved man. Which makes me wonder – why isn’t he in the Hall of Fame? Surely he could fit in as a broadcaster. I smell a Facebook opportunity here.

Anyway. Robert Merrill, Eddie Layton, Sheppard, and Steinbrenner – if this isn’t the last vestige of my childhood saying good-bye, I don’t know what would be. If there is a heaven, Bob Sheppard is now announcing its new arrivals. Rest in peace, Bob Sheppard.

UPDATE: The Yankees paid tribute to Steinbrenner and Sheppard at last night’s game.

RIP, George Steinbrenner

It was kind of a rough week for the New York Yankees, as they lost two of their icons while I was on vacation. I’ll have something to say about Bob Sheppard, their legendary and longtime public address announcer, in a subsequent post, but for now let me extend my condolences to the Steinbrenner family and the entire Yankee franchise on the passing of The Boss, George Steinbrenner. I was fortunate enough to pick up a copy of the Daily News special edition with its wall-to-wall coverage. (See also Jay Jaffe‘s writeup and roundup for more.) There are two things that stand out in all of this that I want to highlight. One is that for all of Steinbrenner’s bombast and bullying and attention-grabbing behavior, the words most frequently used to describe him are “kind” and “generous”. I’ve heard stories like this of him stepping in to help people and organizations in need, often in an extremely low-key way, for decades. It’s as much a part of who George Steinbrenner was as all of the things that made him a pop culture villain. (And in typical fashion, Steinbrenner was gracious and a good sport about that.)

The other thing is that Steinbrenner was about one thing, and that was for his organization to be the best, and to be the champions. Everything he did, and that includes a lot of the bad things, was geared towards that. It’s a cliche to hear people gripe about the Yankees spending gobs of money to “buy” championships, and how that’s somehow supposed to represent what’s wrong with professional sports. I say it’s owners who don’t care about winning that are the problem. Steinbrenner wasn’t in it to cash checks, his team wasn’t just another asset in a media/real estate/whatever portfolio, and if every team had an owner with the same desire to bring home a trophy there’d be a lot fewer long-suffering fans out there. He cared about his team’s fans in a way that very few owners do any more, and that will be greatly missed.

I’ve been a Yankees fan for as long as I can remember, and that more or less coincides with his purchase of the team from CBS in 1973. I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around the thought that he won’t be around any more. He’ll never be forgotten, though, that’s for sure. Rest in peace, George Steinbrenner.

Bob Sheppard officially retires

The legendary Bob Sheppard, the amazing longtime PA announcer at Yankee Stadium, has called it a career.

Bob Sheppard has no intentions of returning to his longtime job as the public-address announcer at Yankee Stadium, MLB.com reported yesterday.

Sheppard, 99, hasn’t worked a game since late in the 2007 season due to illness.

“I have no plans of coming back,” Sheppard told the Web site in a telephone interview. “Time has passed me by, I think. I had a good run for it. I enjoyed doing what I did. I don’t think, at my age, I’m going to suddenly regain the stamina that is really needed if you do the job and do it well.”

More here and here. Sheppard’s voice over the PA, along with Eddie Layton on the organ and Robert Merrill singing the National Anthem, were what made games at the Stadium so memorable. In fact, I’m so overcome with nostalgia as I read this, I need to hear Merrill’s version of the Anthem again:

The singing begins at about 1:30. That, my friends, is how you do the Star Spangled Banner. I’m glad they still maintain the tradition of Merrill performing on Opening Day, and I’m glad Sheppard’s voice will continue to introduce Derek Jeter. The Yankees have always been about their history, and this is a great way to honor it. In the meantime, my best wishes to Bob Sheppard in his retirement, even if he doesn’t like to use that word.

Thurman Munson, thirty years later

It was thirty years ago today that New York Yankees catcher and captain Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash in Canton, Ohio. I was just rereading the post I wrote in 2004 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his death, and it still chokes me up after all this time. I don’t think I can really add anything to what I wrote before, so go read Moss Klein and this Daily News piece that ran in 04 and is being rerun today about Munson’s final hours and the two men who were in the plane with him and survived the crash. Rest in peace, Thurman Munson.

UPDATE: Here’s Reggie Jackson’s memories of Munson and the crash.

From the “Math is hard” files

Inside this article on the Astros’ poor home attendance numbers so far comes the following mathematical muddle.

Through May 20, only 10 of the 30 teams in the majors were seeing an increase in average attendance over last year. Of the 20 teams experiencing a decline, the Astros — at 13 percent — were one of nine whose average was down more than 10 percent. Among the others are the New York Yankees (14 percent) and New York Mets (22 percent), who not only are winning but would have figured to benefit from the fact they’re playing in new parks.

ESPN has a handy dandy reference page for MLB attendance going back to 2001, so you can examine the numbers for yourself. It’s true that the Yankees, who nonetheless still have the best average home and overall attendance in baseball, have seen their numbers decline since last year. It’s also true that last year they were in a stadium that had nine percent more seats (57,500 to 52,235) than they do now. In fact, if they were filling every seat this year, their attendance would still be down from last year’s 53,069 mark. If they were filling seats at the same 92.3% rate as last year, their attendance would be down nine percent. What I would actually say is that their attendance is down eight percent relative to last year, because they’re at 85.2% of capacity this year, and 85.2 is an eight percent decline from last year’s 92.3. That’s a definite issue, one having to do with their pricing model for tickets, and it’s certainly gotten their attention. But however you present it, if you’re going to talk about how their attendance is down despite having a new stadium, I think you’re leaving something out if you don’t mention the reduced capacity in that new stadium.