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KISSIMMEE, FLA. (AP) - It’s hard to bet against the New York Yankees.
All the legends. All the history. All the championships.
But it’s time to declare their time has passed, at least for this season.
All of a sudden, the Yankees have grown old. Real old. So old they should try to work out some sort of sponsorship deal with AARP. Heck, it’s going to seem like old-timer’s day all summer at Yankee Stadium. The only way you’ll be able to tell any difference is when Yogi Berra rides out in a car, which means it actually is old-timer’s day. (Then again, he’s only 87; the Yanks might have plans to put him behind the plate.)
Sorry, there’s just no way to see this group of banged-up geezers getting back to the playoffs, unless everyone else in the AL East falls apart.
“If we win, then we’re experienced,” shortstop Derek Jeter said the other day, still in the midst of his comeback from a broken ankle. “If we lose, we’re old.”
We’re betting on the latter.
You can’t ignore those numbers on the birth certificates.
Closer Mariano Rivera is 43 and coming off major knee surgery. Starting pitcher Andy Pettitte is closing in on his 41st birthday. Outfielder Ichiro Suzuki is 39. Jeter, the Yankees‘ shortstop and captain, will turn 39 before the All-Star break.
“It makes me feel kind of young,” quipped outfielder Matt Diaz, who’ll turn 35 on Sunday.
If there were a true mix of old and young, that would be one thing. Experience has its place, a very valuable place. But the Yankees, with their never-ending quest to win yesterday, have found themselves saddled with a long-in-the-tooth roster that is highly unlikely to hold up over the grind of a 162-game schedule. It’s struggling just to answer the bell for spring training _ the Yanks lost their seventh straight exhibition game on Friday.
The opening-day lineup is expected to include only two players in their 20s _ outfielder Brett Gardner (who will turn 30 before the season ends) and catcher Francisco Cervelli. The average age of the regulars will be nearly 33, and that doesn’t include Alex Rodriguez, who’s 37 but played like he was 137 last October.
A-Rod is still recovering from hip surgery and not expected back until around midseason, though that’s probably a Bronx Blessing (other than having to pay him all that money). Rodriguez has grown old faster than anyone on a team filled with aging stars, perhaps because of all that junk he was putting in his body years ago.
The pitching staff is much the same story.
Ace CC Sabathia is a relative youngster at 32, but he’s still recovering from offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his left elbow. Next up are 38-year-old Hiroki Kuroda and Pettitte, who’s already retired once and come back. There’s some kids at the end of the rotation, but Phil Hughes is sidelined with a bulging disc, Ivan Nova pitched poorly down the stretch last season, and David Phelps is unproven.
By Tom Fitton
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