Eric Chavez was the assistant hitting coach for the New York Yankees for roughly two weeks before quitting yesterday. In a perfectly hilarious world, he would have come into town, told Aaron Boone he couldn’t fix Gleyber Torres and wouldn’t even try to, and stormed out. Instead, he got a promotion to actual hitting coach by the team the Yankees have always excelled at ignoring, the New York Mets.
This would normally be right up Comrade Roth’s alley, as we know, but he is on assignment trying to assess what the picture of Mr. and Mrs. Met sitting in the front row of an empty ballpark is subliminally suggesting. Thus, it is left to us to admire the way the Mets are doing, albeit on a small scale, what the Yankees once did—outbid the field. Why this applies to Chavez, the former Oakland Athletic, is something best left to the turbulent intercranial atmospherics of manager Buck Showalter, but it seems clear that Showalter, who used to manage the Yankees, saw something he wanted, went to Steve Cohen, the drunken sailor on leave who owns the Mets and said, “Get me one of those.”
And Cohen, ever compliant in search of back page relevancy, did.
Now if this leads to an actual achievement of rivalry in a market that has always leaned heavily Bronxward, great. Eric Chavez as the first shot fired is a weird way to go about it, but Showalter is not only 65 and hasn’t got a lot of etiquette-based poops left to give, he can also put a finger in the Steinbrennerian eye along the way.
This assumes, though, that this is only the first salvo that eventually (as in swiftly) gets to out-and-out roster raiding. The Daily News saying that Chavez “dumps Yankees” or the Post describing Chavez’ promotion as “a hitting coach coup” isn’t exactly a paradigm shifter. Cohen needs to start some serious Judge tampering or LeMahieu larceny to make this the kind of thing that could energize New York baseball faster than Rob Manfred smothering it. It helps a bit that the Daily News story by Kristie Ackert and Deesha Thosar hints at “a tricky negotiation process with the Yankees,” suggesting that the next time Showalter wants a Yankee, it will be a more contentious process that inspires Yankee president Randy Levine to go off his trolley as he occasionally (as in often) does. That is, if the pixies who control all our fates are doing their jobs.
One of the enduring myths about two-team baseball cities is that there are natural rivalries born of geography, like this is still New York and Brooklyn in the ’50s. There aren’t. The Dodgers don’t notice the Angels. The Giants dismiss the A’s. The Cubs act all snooty with the White Sox. It takes actual competitive collisions, or hyperaggressive theft to get today’s owner angry at today’s other owner. Cohen is just such a wild card, his credit line is sufficiently primed for mischief and Showalter is just enough of a control freakish loon to fuel Cohen’s dreams of making Hal Steinbrenner wish he were Cohen. Or at least enough to want to destroy him. Given Steinbrenner’s closer eye on the bottom line and Cohen’s obvious wallet thickness advantage, this could actually be fun, or at least more fun than New York baseball usually is.
Of course, it won’t be. Cooler, duller heads will prevail, especially during lockout conditions, and owner solidarity while applying the knee to the players’ collective neck is paramount to the overarching management strategy of killing baseball while making money from baseball, and some hitting coach going across town, uptown, or just sideways from one suite in hell to an adjoining one isn’t going to make that happen. We’ll need more, much more, and for that we’ll need Cohen to break programming and lift more Yankees with more influence in the public’s dark little hearts.
And that’s the important part here—Cohen becoming a rogue owner, if only to make the other 29 have to deal with a guy who doesn’t consistently play by corporate rules. Again, we’re hoping against hope that he has that eyepatch-and-parrot mentality, the one that makes him tweet things that other owners hire people not to do. The window is small here, because the history of rogue billionaires succeeding while staying outside convention is depressingly small.
But we smell revolution in the air, one coach at a time. Somewhere in the depths of Yankee Stadium, there’s an MIT grad with a new way of computing and affecting launch angles in real time that can spark the insurrection that can save the game from the fatheads smothering it with dry-cleaner bags and money-insulated couch cushions.