July 25 – Happy Birthday Javier Vazquez
I do sort of feel sorry for Javier Vazquez. He had developed into a very good Major League pitcher during his first six big league seasons with the Montreal Expos, when he was traded to the Yankees for Nick Johnson, Randy Choate and Juan Rivera after the 2003 season. At first, he seemed to thrive pitching on baseball’s biggest stage, making the 2004 AL All Star team with an 11-6 record during his first season in pinstripes. It seemed as if he was following the path of pitchers like David Cone and David Wells, guys who had come up with and pitched well for other organizations and then been traded to the Yankees and performed even better. Like Sinatra sings in that song, “If you can make it there you’ll make it anywhere.”
But Vazquez’s Yankee career turned after that All Star selection. He won just three more times during the 2004 regular season and then gave up that grand slam home run to Johnny Damon in the second inning of Game 7 of the ALCS against the Red Sox. That heart wrenching playoff series against Boston was one of the most disappointing events in Yankee franchise history and Vazquez’s gopher ball has come to symbolize the depths of despair Yankee fans felt as we watched New York turn a three game lead into an agonizing seven game nightmare. Instead of becoming the next Cone or Wells, he was instantly turned into the next Eddie Whitson.
I feel sorry for Vazquez because blaming him for the loss against the Red Sox ignores the fact that plenty of his teammates were responsible as well. After that loss, it seemed as if the Yankee brass decided that they no longer felt they could afford to trade for a pitcher they expected would do well in pinstripes. They needed to get guys they knew would do well. At the time, that meant Randy Johnson, Arizona’s five-time Cy Young Award winner. So in January of 2005, Brian Cashman sent Vazquez and two prospects to the Diamondbacks for the “Big Unit.” Me and every other Yankee fan thought we had seen the last of Javier in pinstripes. But Brian Cashman had other ideas. The GM always felt that New York put too much pressure on Vazquez during his first go-round with the team, sort of setting him up for failure. He waited five years and after the Yankees had signed both Sabathia and Burnett to anchor their starting rotation and then beat the Phillies in the 2009 World Series, Cashman felt bold enough to reacquire Vazquez from the Braves for the popular Melky Cabrera. He was certain Vazquez would thrive as the Yankee’s number four starter and I agreed with him at the time.
Unfortunately, as we all now know, that’s not what happened. Vazquez got off to a slow start in his second tenure with the team, losing four of his first five decisions and raising the ire of the Yankees’ most fickle fans. Even though he then won eight of his next eleven decisions, it seemed as if everyone was waiting for him to fail. The wheels came off for Vazquez in August, when he gave up seven home runs in his next four starts and was demoted to the bullpen. He finished 2010 with a 10-10 record and an ERA of 5.32. Since it was his option year, Cashman was spared the task of trying to trade him and simply let Javier become a free agent.
I’m pretty certain Javier won’t be putting on the pinstripes again but I’m one Yankee fan who doesn’t pin the team’s failures in 2004 or 2010 on his right arm. He was 24-20 as a Yankee and he’s had winning seasons with four different big league teams.