TAMPA, FL—In a spring showdown between two venerable organizations that will battle one another daily during the 2008 regular season, the New York Yankees are scheduled to play a nine-inning game Sunday against their greatest rivals: the media.
The Yankees vs. Media game, a preseason tradition dating back over 100 years, began as a friendly exhibition, but in recent years has escalated into a tightly played, ultra-competitive match. Although the game often only draws a crowd of 1,000 fans to Legends Field, it has historically received an unusually large amount of media coverage.
Though the Yankees have dominated the media in the past, winning 76 of 107 contests, if they hope to continue their string of success, they must overcome such factors as an aging veteran core, young inexperienced pitchers, and ESPN.com's Buster Olney adding a late-moving cut fastball to his pitching repertoire.
"No doubt about it, the New York media is tough," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. "[New York Post columnist Mike] Vaccaro's got a nasty splitter that dives away from right-handed hitters, [WFAN radio host] Chris "Mad Dog" Russo can wreak havoc on the basepaths, and [New York Daily News writer] Mike Lupica is just a gigantic asshole. But we've got a good team, too."
"Obviously, we'd be in a better position to face the media if we had gotten Johan Santana," Jeter added. "[Bergen Record columnist and left-handed home-run threat] Bob Klapisch is 0 for 17 lifetime against him with eight strikeouts."
The Yankees have announced that most of their regulars will be in the starting lineup, with the exception of Jason Giambi, who has traditionally fared poorly against the media.
The media will counter with Mike & Mike on the left side of the infield, Jim Caple at second base, Stuart "Stretch" Scott at first base, Jeanne Zelasko behind the plate, and an outfield comprising Daily News columnist Bill Madden, ESPN's Jim Rome, and WFAN's Mike Francesa, the big slugger who can really drive the ball to the opposite field. YES Network studio analyst and former MLB player David Justice is available off the bench as a backup right-fielder.
In light of the two sides' contentious past, umpires have called a pre-emptive warning against the Yankees, as Jim Rome has been beaned in the head with a 90 mph fastball eight times in recent matchups—including twice while in the on-deck circle.
YES broadcaster and sports talk-radio host Michael Kay will be doing the play-by-play. The media refused to let him join their team again, as in previous years, he has openly rooted for the opposing Yankees, and according to Caple, he "throws like a girl."
"The only way to handle the New York media is to stay inside on their hitters, be aggressive on the basepaths, and not let the big guns like Peter Gammons beat you," said new Yankee manager Joe Girardi, who is looking to prove himself to the media in the wake of Joe Torre's departure. "We can't make any bad errors or bonehead plays, because the media will just latch onto those tiny little mistakes and use them against us."
Many in the media, however, questioned if Girardi has what it takes to go head-to-head with the media. "Girardi has managed in the past, but has he ever dealt with the immense power and defensive prowess of Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci before?" Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci wrote in his column Monday. "As manager of the Marlins, he has only ever had to face the Florida media, who—let's face it—suck at baseball."
The Yankees players, meanwhile, look at this game as an opportunity to avenge certain statements the media has made about them in the past.
"They called me 'Mo' Problems," said closer Mariano Rivera, referring to Joel Sherman's New York Post headline following a blown save in April 2007. "I'll show you 'Mo' Problems. How about a 96 mph tailing fastball that starts at your hips and breaks back over the inside corner of the plate? Striking out Joel Sherman would be sweeter than winning 10 World Series."
A portion of Rivera's statement has already been reprinted on the back cover of 14 New York tabloids, all claiming that Rivera does not care about winning.
The upcoming game poses a challenge for many players, including Yankee superstar Alex Rodriguez, who tends to try too hard when facing the media.
"The media has a great team with a proud tradition of excellence, professionalism, and fairness," Rodriguez told members of the media Tuesday. "Tim Kurkjian has electric stuff, NBC Sports writer/blogger Aaron Gleeman is young and talented, and The New York Post's George King is one of the greatest defensive centerfielders I have ever seen. To be honest, I wouldn't mind being a part of the media someday."
Despite only occurring once a year, the Yankees vs. Media game has spawned its share of memorable moments in past seasons, including Journal News beat writer Peter Abraham's walk-off home run off Mike Mussina in 2004, Carl Pavano's perfect game in 2005, and a bench-clearing brawl in 2006 that saw Gary Sheffield attack Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan and ESPN Page 2 pop-culture writer Bill Simmons, who lost four teeth and received a gaping head wound that needed 45 stitches to repair.
The New York Mets were scheduled to play an exhibition game against the New York media Wednesday, but the media did not show up.