Is Nick Swisher Hair Today and Gone Tomorrow?
It hasn’t been an especially good 2012 post-season for Nick Swisher.
Mired in a miserable 4 for 26 slump, Swisher through seven post season games is hitting an anemic .154, with only one double and one run batted in. Over his entire post-season career, he has an embarrassing stat line of 1 for 34 with respect to runners in scoring position, according to a published account. At times, he has looked like a man who is thoroughly lost at the plate. Which isn’t good when you’re a free agent playing for a contract next season.
Compare that to Ichiro Suzuki’s play this post-season, and you start to wonder whether the New York Yankees are going to allow their popular, albeit quirky, rightfielder to walk this off season?
After all, the New York Yankees may have a reported $195 million payroll, but is there really room on a team for a guy whose most memorable thing in the last couple of years has been a guest starring role on an episode of the CBS hit, How I Met Your Mother?
Now comes word that Swisher and his wife, the actress JoAnna Garcia, both received less than complimentary tweets after Saturday’s American League Championship Series Game 1 loss to the Detroit Tigers, the game in which the Bronx Bombers lost shortstop Derek Jeter for the rest of the year.
According to the New York Daily News, people apparently tweeted both Garcia and Swisher that they blame the outfielder — who has heretofore had a great relationship with the fans known as the Bleacher Creatures — for the broken ankle that is sidelining Jeter for the rest of the series.
In an article from yesterday’s paper, Daily News sports writer Peter Botte quotes Swisher as follows: “‘(Saturday) night was pretty big. A lot of people saying a lot of things that I’ve never heard before,” Swisher said. “‘Prime example — I missed that ball in the lights and the next thing you know, I’m the reason that (Derek) Jeter got hurt. It’s kind of frustrating. They were saying it was my fault.”
To refresh your memory, in Game One, Delmon Young’s one-out double off David Phelps in the 12th inning eluded Swisher, who appeared ready to dive but couldn’t get his glove out when he realized the ball was closer to him than he had thought.
“I thought I had a great jump, but then I got caught in the lights, and I lost it for a few seconds,” Swisher told ESPN afterwards. “I was completely blind. It’s a helpless feeling. I really thought I could make that play.”
If Swisher makes that play, so the thinking goes, there are two outs instead of one, and maybe the Tigers pinch hit for shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Instead, Peralta hit the ball that sidelined Jeter for the year.
That’s the kind of thinking that reminds me of a famous All in the Family episode. Archie Bunker (played by the late Carroll O’Connor) and his son-in-law Mike Stivic (Rob Reiner) are talking about diversity in basketball and integrating the four major sports. Mike says that 18 percent of the players in the National Basketball Association are black (remember, this was the early 1970s).
“So what are you saying?” the bigoted Bunker retorts. “That 82 percent of the Harlem Globetrotters ought to be white?”
Similarly, are we to believe that Peralta wouldn’t have hit the same ball to Jeter if Swisher didn’t misjudge Young’s ball? Besides, in a post for the Huffington Post that was published yesterday, reconstructive surgeon Dr. Neal Blitz also believes that Jeter may have had an underlying stress fracture that weakened his ankle to begin with. And before the American League Divisional Series against the Baltimore Orioles, didn’t Jeter foul a ball of his foot and develop a limp that caused him to come out of Game 3 and left him as a designated hitter in Game 4?
Then there’s yesterday’s game and the blown call at second base that led to Yankee manager Joe Girardi’s ejection. The Tigers led 1-0 in the eighth and had Omar Infante on first with two outs. Austin Jackson singled and when Infante took a wide turn at second Swisher threw behind him. Second baseman Robinson Cano made a swipe tag as Infante made a head-first dive back to second. Cano missed Infante’s arm but brushed his body, replays clearly showed. But umpire Jeff Nelson called Infante safe. ESPN’s post-game account is as follows;
“I think the umpire got confused ’cause he saw my hand, something with my hand made him think I was safe,” Infante said.
Was he out?
“Of course,” Infante said.
Listen, you want to blame Swisher for his less than stellar performance at the plate so far, go right ahead. But since misery loves company, you should blame Cano, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez, as well. They’ve been just as dreadful. Fact is, Granderson and A-Rod have already whiffed a combined 26 times this post-season.
In fact, though the Yankees beat the Birds in the ALDS, it was only because Baltimore’s offense was only slightly more pathetic than the Yankees’ was. The Yankees scored 17 runs in five ALDS games; the Orioles scored just 10. And yesterday, Detroit’s Anibal Sanchez continued a strong run of starting pitching by the Tigers this postseason; Detroit’s rotation has a reported 0.94 ERA in seven playoff games this year.
So while Nick Swisher can shoulder some responsibility for the position the Yankees now find themselves in, i.e., down two games to the Tigers with Justin Verlander — last year’s Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player waiting in the wings — there’s plenty of blame to be spread around. And though we tend to forget that even ballplayers are people with feelings, a lot of the criticism directed at Swisher borders on the outright cruel. Here’s what he told Botte:
“That’s the last thing that I ever thought would be in this ballpark, that people would get on you that bad. Especially your home, where your heart is, where you’ve been battling and grinding all year long. It’s just frustrating, man. You never want to be in that spot. It’s not like you’re trying to go out there and do bad on purpose. It’s just tough, man.
“It hurts,” he continued. “Sometimes I’m a sensitive guy and some of the things people say, they get under your skin a little bit.”
Yankee fan Paul Mondello believes that Swisher is all but gone from the team anyway. Though he and CC Sabathia share the same publicist, and though Swisher has publicly professed his love for both the Yankees and the City of New York, Mondello thinks there isn’t a chance that Hal and Hank Steinbrenner will re-sign Swisher.
“You want to know why?,” Mondello asks of someone in his chair. A stylist at Brooklyn Attitude, an award-winning hair salon located in Saratoga Springs, New York, Mondello co-owns the shop with his mother, MaryAnn Guerriero and her husband, Glen, a former minor-league umpire.
“Why?,” says his customer.
“He’s growing his hair long again,” replies Mondello. “That means he wants out of New York.”
Now Mondello, who is such a Yankee fan that he regularly eats Turkey Hill’s Bronx Bombers Sundae and Pinstripe Brownie Blast ice cream, can be a bit — how do I put this kindly — eccentric. He’s celebrating Halloween this year by showcasing a Yankee pumpkin at his workstation. He once burned candles when the New York Mets fired former Yankee great Willie Randolph as their manager on June 17, 2008. Then again, that eccentricity is obviously an inherited gene — MaryAnn regularly tells her clients that she and Glen are in negotiations for a reality show based on their salon. Think of it as a cross between Jersey Shore and Long Island Medium set in a hair salon and you get the idea.
The reason I take Mondello seriously — besides the fact that, if I ever get him agitated, he could go all Sweeney Todd on me — is that the Yankees are known for their narrow-minded, parochial approach to haircuts. Jeez, do you remember Oscar Gamble? Heck, it wasn’t too long ago that the Boss himself — the late George Steinbrenner, not Bruce Springsteen — actually benched Don Mattingly, a.k.a Donnie Baseball, because he needed a trim.
My all-time favorite story about the Yankees’ policy with respect to haircuts is what Sweet Lou Piniella himself related on an episode of Yankeeography, the show produced by the club’s YES Network.
According to Piniella, he had just reported to the Bronx Bombers’ spring training complex in Tampa, Florida, following his 1973 trade from Kansas City to New York, when the senior Steinbrenner called him into his office.
“You know,” so the story goes, “you’re a little rough around the edges,” the Boss apparently told Piniella. “You’re a bit unkempt. You need a haircut.”
“But Mr. Steinbrenner,” said Piniella, “our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, had long hair, and he was a good, kind and decent man.”
Steinbrenner considered that statement and guided Piniella over to his office window, which overlooked a beautiful view of an adjacent lake.
“Lou,” the Boss supposedly said, “see that lake? Well, when you can walk on water like Jesus Christ did, you don’t need to listen to me. Until that occurs, go get your hair cut.”
So it’s easy to appreciate where Mondello is coming from. As for me, I just think it’s a combination of great pitching besting good hitting. That and the fact that the Yankees are pressing.
No matter what, though, Yankee fans shouldn’t be going to such extreme lengths to razz Swisher. ‘Cause if they do, he will want to sign elsewhere. Warts and all, he’s still a quality player. Remember, he could be hair today, and gone tomorrow.
(Douglas J. Gladstone is a freelance writer from New York and author of the book, “A Bitter Cup of Coffee,” which tells the true story of why nearly 900 retired players don’t receive pensions and health insurance from Major League Baseball.)