“What, Me Worry?”

Not only has there always been a stunning physical similarity between Ian P. Kennedy and Alfred E. Neumann, the mascot for Mad. Now Kennedy also seems to have adopted the same rhetoric and approach to his pitching that Mad and Neumann made popular in the mid-1950s. When questioned about his performance after last night’s train wreck, Kennedy might as well have uttered Neumann’s own “What, me worry?” when he said this, according to Pete Abraham: “I felt like I made some good pitches,” he said. “I’m not too upset about it. … What was it, a bunch of singles and three doubles? I’m just not real upset about it. I’m just going to move on and I’ve already done that.”

Well, that’s terrific Ian. Thankfully, in the course of a couple short hours after you got positively shelled in your first major-league start since May 27, you’ve “moved on” because you’re “not too upset about it.” I’m sure your Yankees teammates, playing for a franchise notorious for taking losing hard [as illustrated below], will be pleased to read or hear about your phlegmatic approach to your dismal loss–which just so happened to sink the Yankees back 6 1/2 games in the division they’re trying to win.

What an insufferable dolt.

Maybe Kennedy simply intended to say that he was shrugging off the negative psychological effects of the battering the Angels laid on him and was restoring confidence–however ham-handedly and forced–because confidence seems to have been what Kennedy used to lack. Maybe like Kei Igawa, the fellow “tweener” to whom Kennedy has taught English profanity (and from whom presumably learned indifference to his pitching performances in exchange at SWB), Kennedy has adopted an impenetrable insouciance that he feels will abet his brief major-league career. Less sanguinely, maybe he thinks he actually fared well last night.

To take the latter possibility first. Hey, Ian, you gave up “a bunch of singles and three doubles”–in 2+ innings, not 8! While three third-inning hits were bleeders, the rest in his all-too-brief stint were scalded. For whatever reason–to maintain confidence, or out of a misguided belief that he showed positives to build on–he’s shrugging at an unmistakable pounding. I should know. Seemingly unlike Kennedy, I watched all of it.

Worse, Kennedy is shrugging off–at least rhetorically–an embarrassing performance that his teammates undoubtedly took hard. That loss should be gnawing at Kennedy until his next start–if he makes another one–and beyond. It certainly will carry forward with his teammates. That’s part of what’s made the Yankees who they are. The Yankees have always taken losing hard. Read David Halberstam’s classic Summer of ’49 and learn about how Yankees rookie second baseman Jerry Coleman worked himself up into a nervous fit before every game because he was afraid of letting down his teammates, who made it clear from day one that losing was not an option. To wit, here’s a lengthy quote from Summer of ’49, pages 140-142 [Harper Perennial Edition, 1st ed., 2002]:

The Yankee players, not the managers, became the keepers of their own tradition. The harshness in the locker room was a reflection of the economic coldness of the world outside. If a young player came up and did not play hard, the veterans would get on him. “That’s my money you’re playing with,” they would say, and they meant their World Series checks. Usually that was enough. When Eddie Lopat joined the Yankees after several years with the White Sox, he was stunned by the more serious attitude of the Yankee players. Right from the start, in training, they were talking about the need to win the pennant in order to play in the World Series. Nothing was to come between them and their rightful postseason bonus. …

“It was a very tough team,” Gene Woodling later said. “It was a team where everyone demanded complete effort. It was not a team where anyone ever said ‘nice try’ when you made a long run after a fly ball and didn’t get to it. I played on a lot of other teams and they all did that. But not on the Yankees…We led the league in RAs–Red Asses–that’s the baseball term for very tough, hard guys…” …

In 1948 Yogi Berra did not yet seem to understand that baseball on this team was a deadly serious matter. The Yankees had been playing against Detroit, and Berra had not run out a pop-up; he made it only to first. That cost the Yankees a run and, as it turned out, quite possibly a ball game. After the inning Berra came in to strap on his catcher’s equipment. Charlie Keller came over to him. “You feeling all right, Yogi?” he asked. “Yeah, I’m fine,” Berra said. “Then why the hell didn’t you run it out?” Those were hard words from a man who did not waste words. [Johnny] Lindell immediately joined in. Berra looked over to [Joe] DiMaggio as if to ask for help, particularly because he was a fellow Italian. DiMaggio gave him a withering look. Eddie Lopat, who had watched the entire scene unfold, thought to himself, Now I know why this team is special.

Later that season the Yankees went to Washington for a doubleheader. By then DiMaggio was exhausted by the season and the pain [from his foot injury], but he insisted on playing both games. He was so tired that by the end of the second game Lopat and Allie Reynolds virtually carried him off the field. Berra, claiming fatigue, had begged out of the second game, and in his place Gus Niarhos played. Niarhos came up several times with men on base and drove none of them in. Later in the locker room, DiMaggio turned around and said, loud enough for Berra to hear, “Jesus Christ, a twenty-year-old kid and he can’t play both ends of a doubleheader when we’re fighting down the stretch. What kind of bullshit is this?” From then on Berra’s work habits began to improve.

Think Kennedy couldn’t use some “Red Asses” treatment? Think some players won’t consider giving it to him? Think again. It may be different in today’s game, where players are more sensitive to criticism, are more subjected to media scrutiny especially in a cauldron like New York, and make infinitely more money than the Yankees of six decades ago who were in good part driven to such a cash-conscious mindset by the miserly George Weiss. But I don’t doubt that Kennedy will get more than a few hard glances from players and, in some form if more benevolent than Keller and DiMaggio would have administered, some kind of locker room talking to. Think Kennedy’s quote wouldn’t bother a no-excuses player like Jeter, who publicly makes it known that the Wild Card is not an option? that they “play to win the division” and World Series?

My (Red) Ass it wouldn’t. Shape up or ship out, IPK.

[Edit: Thanks to Mike for mentioning IPK’s quote late last night.]

Published in: on August 9, 2008 at 9:25 am  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. perfect. thank you.

  2. I was wondering the same thing. I was like, why is this guy so calm after the loss? He isn’t worried? He looks just like Alfred E too.

  3. Kennedy had some nerve. He sounded like he didn’t care… and if he doesn’t, he should go back down to the minors where everyone doesn’t care about the games either.

  4. Perfect post. Perfect image.

  5. Thanks, Mike and Mike. Kennedy really baffles me, and this lackadaisical attitude probably helps explain a lot about why he stayed in the minors so long recently. I question his mindset in pitching and his approach to the game when reading this stuff. First he complained about the tough media scrutiny in New York; he’s right, but suck it up. Now he’s “not real upset about” getting positively shellacked. Keller and the gang would have been up one side of Kennedy and down the other faster than I can say “Ian E. Neumann.”

  6. Hey, Jason …

    I still can’t believe the quotes made by Ian Kennedy, after the Yankees 10-5 loss to the Angels. He totally showed no remorse, with that little “smirk” on his face, as he actually said, he was “not upset about the loss” … Ahhhhh !!!

    Everybody else in the Yankees Universe, was, and, still is, upset about the loss — except, Mr. Kennedy. Well, hopefully, that loss was his last start — this year — for the Yankees, and maybe, his last start ever for the Yanks.

    I like your take on this whole matter … Bringing up how the great Yankee teams in the past handled these kinds of situations. Even the great Yogi Berra had to learn this lesson early on in his career.

    Back then, it was about Yankee pride and tradition; and, the players “took care of business”. The description at the beginning of the “Summer of ’49” passage in your post, is a good image of how these players of the past would handle situations when “other players” disrespected the great “Yankees Tradition” …

    From the passage …

    “The harshness in the locker room was a reflection of the economic coldness of the world outside. If a young player came up and did not play hard, the veterans would get on him. ‘That’s my money you’re playing with’ … and, they meant their World Series checks. Usually, that was enough”.

    The money issue is a big part of the ballplayers attitudes of today [the players are making too much money] ; and, many of today’s ballplayers will just not “confront” other players who are not hustling, have no respect for the game, or just do not care about losing a game.

    When I first heard the quotes by Kennedy, one of the first things I thought about was, “how Thurman Munson and Billy Martin would have handled this situation”. Like I said on my blog, in the post I wrote about Ian Kennedy, “they [Munson and Martin] surely would have given ‘this kid’ something to be upset about”.

    It will be interesting to see what the consequences will be for Mr. Kennedy in the upcoming days and weeks.

    Also, it will be interesting to see how the current Yankee players react, and handle this very disturbing “lack of respect” of the great Yankees tradition, by a very selfish, and ungrateful young Yankee player — who has no idea on what a great honor and privilege it is to wear the New York Yankees uniform, and play for the greatest team in the history of baseball, and all sports !!!

    Excellent Post, Jason !!!

    — Jimmy [27NYY]


  7. Thanks, Jimmy. It’s a great point about Munson and Martin, a couple “Red Asses” themselves without question. Martin was a little off kilter, but he was a guy who bled pinstripes and hated being traded to KC. He wouldn’t have cottoned Kennedy’s comments for a minute, and probably would have spoken about it for some time afterwards. Martin never forgot a slight, and probably would have treated Kennedy’s comments as such. Munson would have as well, in all likelihood.

    I think Kennedy looked nervous and awkward during his interview, and it was probably a product of not handling himself and his post-game emotions well, to say the least. But this goes beyond not choosing one’s words wisely. It reflects an attitude of not being serious enough about the game, the profession, and the Yankees’ precarious position for the playoffs. Those things should have been first and foremost on his mind when reflecting upon his dismal outing.

  8. […] needed Bowa, whose loss is one of the great casualties of the last off-season. He’s needed a Red-Ass, and Bowa was that to a tee. Melky was a joke when he was up, making stupid mental mistakes in […]

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