The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Sunday, July 01, 2001


A Different Mark Wohlers

Continuing to bolster their bullpen, the Yankees acquired Mark Wohlers from the Cincinnati Reds. Isn't this:
• the same Mark Wohlers who was at the wrong end of the biggest hit of the Joe Torre era, a three-run shot by Jim Leyritz in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series?
• the same Mark Wohlers who saved 97 games over a three-year span for the Atlanta Braves before experiencing a spooky inability to find the plate?
• the same Mark Wohlers who then spent two years in baseball oblivion, with a 10.71 ERA over 21 innings at the major-league level and almost two walks per inning?
• the same Mark Wohlers who while working himself back into a major-league pitcher blew out his elbow, then rehabilitated himself into a serviceable enough middle reliever to be sought after by the three-time defending World Champions?

Pennant races make for strange bedfellows. So it isn't that surprising that the latest addition to the Yanks roster is so linked to their past. In baseball, as writer Roger Angell has observed, everything connects to everything else. Wohlers's arrival in pinstripes coincides with a time where the Yankees are shopping Chuck Knoblauch. Knoblauch is one player on a short list (Steve Blass, Steve Sax, Mackey Sasser, and Rick Ankiel come to mind) whose first-hand experience with throwing difficulties is in the same league as Wohlers'. Both players were struck by anxiety disorders while at the top of their games, and both have required considerable readjustments in their roles to salvage promising major-league careers. Both are easy targets, whether in hecklers' crosshairs or soft-focus human-interest pages.

Knoblauch has stood in the fire of the New York media, not always gracefully, but he has worked his way back to being judged on the whole of his game. Unfortunately for Chuck, right now the whole of his game is not pretty--a 39-for-206 (.189) slump has left the Yankee offense without their familiar table-setter. For the moment, Knoblauch is fighting for at-bats among an increasingly crowded outfield and fending off trade rumors.

Wohlers seems prepared to stand in the fire as well, saying he would answer all questions about the Leyritz homer and his control probems, and then hopefully move on to doing his job in the Yankee bullpen. His numbers in Cincinnati (3-1, 3.94 ERA, a K/W ratio of 3:1) show that he's capable of contributing. But the tabloid vultures will be circling overhead for at least a little while, and the Bleacher Creatures will be poised for a shower of Bronx cheers should he falter. Say it ain't so, Joe Torre!

But this isn't the same Mark Wohlers. After the nightmare that he has lived through and emerged from, pitching in a pennant race ought to be no big thing.

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