My fellow Yankee fans all need to take a deep breath and remain calm regarding Javier Vasquez’s performance during his re-debut in pinstripes. I understand that you’re a bit nervous after his performance in St. Petersburg: 5.2 innings, 8 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO,2 HR, 12.71 ERA. David Price had the Yankees lineup looking foolish the entire night and even if Vasquez had only given up half the runs that he did, Derek Jeter and company were not putting many runs on the board.
In December 2003, the Yankees sent Nick Johnson, Randy Choate, and Juan Rivera north of the border to the Expos in exchange for their then young flame thrower, Vasquez. Following a horrific second half of the 2004 season in which he pitched to a 4-5 record, 6.92 ERA, and two Johnny Damon homeruns (one of which was a salami in game seven of the American League Championship series), the Yankees worked quickly to see him play anywhere but the Bronx. In January 2005, Vasquez, along with Brad Hasley and Dioner Navarro were shipped to Arizona in exchange for future hall of famer Randy Johnson. The decision makers in the Yankee organization hoped that Johnson would rekindle the fire he threw at the bombers during the 2001 October Classic that saw the Bombers lose in a heartbreaking game seven.
Fast forward to 2010 and Javier Vasquez finds himself donning the pinstripes once again. The Yankees handed over fan favorite (and clutch 2009 performer) Melky Cabrera, along with Mike Dunn, Arodys Vizcaino, and $500K to the Atlanta Braves. I was disappointed to see the Melk Man get traded following a 2009 were he took his game to the next level, but the transaction was a necessity for the Yankees who needed to lock down a fourth starter. Brian Cashman had a tremendous off season by fully exploring the trade market and landing Curtis Granderson and Javier Vasquez.
Yankee fans all over the country tend to harp on the 2004 season in discussions of Vasquez. It’s important to remember that the 2004 Vasquez is a different player than the 2010 version. The man is six years wiser and has perfected his craft with stops in Arizona, Chicago, and Atlanta. During his last tour of duty he was a young kid whose experience was limited to pitching in front of a few thousand people in Montréal and suddenly he was thrust into the circus that is New York baseball to be the ace of the rotation of what is arguably one of the most popular teams not only in New York, but around the country. In most other situations it would be naïve to think that a professional ball player needs an adjustment period. They should just be professional and throw the ball and that’s all there is to it, right? I have to argue that playing in New York is unlike playing anywhere else in the world and we have seen that even more seasoned guys like the aforementioned Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez had a hard time of it in the beginning. While I can understand the frustration that fans feel toward Vasquez, I think it’s hard to use the 2004 season against him in an argument without also using it to his defense. He pitched a very solid first half and earned an All Star nod that season.
In the written history of this sport, the 2004 New York Yankees will always have the stigma of being the biggest choke in the history of baseball. New York fans like to point to the Mets blowing back-to-back division titles as being a worse feat, however, all seasons in New York are judged on October baseball. Yankee fans hate to see the video of a shaggy Johnny Damon launching a ball into the left field seats in game seven, but if you think the 2004 loss to Boston fell solely on Vasquez’s shoulders, you, my friend, are not a sound baseball mind. It took a whole team of men to lose that series to Boston and Vasquez was only one man in a rotation that can barely be classified as decent. Yankee fans need to let go of the past and focus on the future and the quest for world championship number 28.
Being asked to be the ace of the New York Yankees following a World Series loss is much different than being asked to be the fourth starter of a team coming off a World Series win.
As the Yankees raise their championship flag and pass out World Series rings tomorrow, the Stadium will be rocking. I’ll be in the stands with my Derek Jeter jersey on and my eyes glazed over when the core four receive their hardware. Five World Series rings is no laughing matter. Hideki Matsui’s reception by the fans will be one for the ages and surely be an emotional moment for everyone involved.
Please do not boo Javier Vasquez during introductions tomorrow, Yankee fans. We are classier than that and it would definitely cast a shadow on what will be a glorious day in the Bronx. 2004 happened and we all wish that it hadn’t, but the 2010 Yankees, whether they were on that fateful team or not, are not the same men. Opening Day 2010 is about celebrating the 2009 World Championship and not about ridiculing a former/current member of the ballclub. I hope that you will all join me in welcoming Javier Vasquez back to the Bronx with open arms and let him prove all of your 2004 arguments null and void.
Jay Ferraro is the Executive Producer of Baseball Digest LIVE and Gotham Baseball LIVE. He is also the Fantasy Editor for Baseballdigest.com as well as a columnist for Baseball Digest Magazine and Gothambaseball.com. You can reach him at Jay_Ferraro@Juno.com , follow him on Twitter and add him on Facebook.