- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 16, 2006

News item: The New York Yankees sign Sidney Ponson to bolster their starting rotation.

Sidney Ponson?

Just how desperate are the Yankees to overtake the Boston Red Sox in the American League East?

Obviously, pretty desperate.

Sid baby belongs in pinstripes about as much as Angelina Jolie. He’s a lousy pitcher and, moreover, one who gets into almost as much trouble off the field as on.

Have you forgotten how Sir Sidney landed in jail after reportedly punching a judge in his native Aruba a couple of Christmas Days ago? This is the same Aruba where he was knighted in 2003 — an honor that suggests there were no other candidates at the time. Sid also has had his problems with drinking and possibly some other shortcomings we don’t know about.

But obviously the Yankees don’t care. After all, the greatest Bronx Bomber of them all — George Herman Ruth — was known for enjoying wine, women and song, not necessarily in that order.

In reporting that Ponson appeared headed for the Bronx, the Associated Press described him as “the talented but troubled right-hander.” Troubled, sure, but talented? I doubt the Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, his previous horsehide employers, would use such an adjective.

Over nine major league seasons, Ponson has experienced one good year: 2003, when he went 17-12 with the Orioles and Giants. Otherwise, his record entering this season was an unsnappy 59-79 with a 4.81 ERA. Even nowadays, with the hitters in control throughout baseball, few “talented” pitchers allow nearly five earned runs a game.

This season Ponson was 4-4 with a 5.24 ERA for the strong Cardinals. Too bad he wasn’t picked up by another National League team, because I’m sure ex-teammate Albert Pujols would love to take his hacks at Sir Sidney. But not even the Washington Nationals, who need pitching in the worst way, were interested.

So why the Yankees?

“It’s hard to upgrade your pitching, it really is,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “Hopefully, this is something that will work out for us. It’s low-risk.”

Actually, it’s very high-risk. But the Yankees don’t have much in the rotation behind Mike Mussina (10-3 at the All-Star break), Randy Johnson (10-7) and surprising Chien-Ming Wang (9-4), so they figured why not grab a gander at Ponson?

“He’s still got a great arm,” Cashman said hopefully.

Funny, Brian baby didn’t mention Sidney baby’s head.

If he manages to stick around for a full season in 2007, though, some team records might be in danger. For example, most losses (22, by Joe Lake in 1908), most runs (165, by Russ Ford in 1912) and most home runs (40, by Ralph Terry in 1962).

You have to wonder how pitching coach Ron Guidry feels about working with Ponson. Guidry went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA in 1978 and finished his 14-year career with a 170-91 record, so he and Sir Sidney should have almost nothing to talk about.

Over the decades, the Yankees have built their 38-pennant dynasty on starting pitching as much as hitting, with the likes of Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Red Ruffling, Whitey Ford. Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat, Allie Reynolds, Bob Turley, Mel Stottlemyre, Roger Clemens and — for one game anyway — Don Larsen.

Sidney Ponson?

Of course, life is full of surprises, so maybe Sir Sidney will turn into a latter-day version of Ol’ Reliable, as the Yankees used to call outfielder Tommy Henrich in the 1940s because of all his clutch hits. Stranger things have happened in baseball, such as slap-hitter Brady Anderson cranking 50 home runs for the Orioles a decade ago.

Nonetheless, if I were Guidry or manager Joe Torre, I’d hand Ponson the ball with great reluctance. Players rarely ascend to new levels with their 30th birthday on the horizon, and Sir Sidney will reach that significant milepost in November.

Funny thing, you’d think he would have grown up by now.

So Yankees fans everywhere must be crossing their fingers and muttering their prayers as Sir Sidney prepares for his first start Tuesday night against Seattle. But in that great dugout in the sky, maybe all those Yankees immortals ought to cover their eyes.

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