Jon Heyman
Monday September 22nd, 2008

NEW YORK -- Everyone said goodbye Sunday night to the grand old lady known around here simply as The Stadium, and the going-away party worked perfectly for the about-to-be-demolished ballpark.

Naturally, the pre-game ceremony was spectacular in the Yankees over-the-top way. Then, after the Yankees beat an Orioles club so weak it might as well have been handpicked for a high school homecoming, active Yankees legend Derek Jeter stole the post-game celebration by thanking the fans, who filled the great place all season to watch a surprisingly mediocre brand of baseball. Jeter didn't apologize for the home team's unexpectedly dreadful season; that sentiment was implied.

Hours earlier, do-it-all Jeter directed a democratic mound conference, ending a debate about whether yet another active legend, Andy Pettitte. should stay in the game, by saying something along the lines of "Pet, get the [heck] out of here.'' Jeter's words inspired an exit far less ceremonious than that of the old ball yard.

Pettitte received a curtain call, and he said afterward, "I'm pretty beat up. All I wanted to do was give us a good start.''

When what he really did was give the world's most famous sports venue the best ending imaginable.

"It was a great night, a great night,'' said an emotional Mariano Rivera, the third active legend.

All the legends, past and present, were treated like kings. It was an evening to pay homage to the Yankees' past, which is far better than its present. The glam event and 7-3 victory that delayed elimination will be recalled as the highlight of a season that will be officially lost with either one more Yankees defeat or a Red Sox victory.

But enough for now about the pumped-up pomp (more on that way down below) ...

It should come as no surprise that the last Yankees team housed in the House that Ruth Built will not be accorded the same sort of ceremony, circumstance and good feeling as The Stadium. Instead, the roster will be ripped apart without fanfare, only proper for a $209-million failure.

"Changes ... they are a 'comin','' said one person who speaks regularly with Yankees' decision makers.

Those alterations will not involve the manager and probably not the general manager, either (while absent Hank Steinbrenner takes an occasional shot at Brian Cashman, sources say they will attempt to bring Cashman back and most believe there's a decent chance he'll eventually accept). The changes will involve a roster that proved to be long on age but short on way too much (from viable starting pitchers to above average defenders to solid backups).

Cashman wasn't ready Sunday to answer these or any other winter questions. But we'll give it a go ...

1. When does the CC Watch begin? It's never too soon. CC Sabathia is the free agent the Yankees most covet, though there's a divergence of opinion whether he'd give up his two biggest dreams of playing in his home state of California (one Yankees person expressed some doubt whether he'll come, saying it would take "crazy'' money) and playing in the National League. However, money often talks in wintertime, giving the Yankees hope they can beat out the Angels and other preferred locales.

2. Is Mike Mussina really retiring? Come on. Who retires after going 18-9? My guess is that this rumor started based on Mussina's usual unhappy clubhouse mutterings. Eventually, good sense will prevail, and Mr. Personality will consider a return once some of the Yankees' top free agent options fade away (A.J. Burnett seems like a possible option but injury-prone Ben Sheets may prefer the South and Ryan Dempster is believed most likely to return to Chicago).

3. How about Pettitte? The guess here is Pettitte would like to join his buddies Jeter, Jorge Posada and Rivera in the next Yankee Stadium, depending on what the other options are. "I would like to pitch over there. But I need to get away right now,'' Pettitte said.

4. Could Johnny Damon really be the center fielder? No shot. Damon is more than fine in left but he's no full-season answer in center. And while Brett Gardner has provided a recent spark and Melky Cabrera is still around, the Yankees are more likely to pursue a proven commodity to man the most hallowed position in baseball (even if that ground will be across 161st Street). Nate McLouth, David DeJesus and Matt Kemp are among the names being speculated on inside the Yankees' clubhouse.

5. Might Robinson Cano be traded? He appears to be not only the biggest headache for Girardi but also the Yankees' best trade commodity. Folks around the team suggest Cano's old manager, Joe Torre, has a strong interest for the Dodgers. A Cano-for-Kemp trade would be intriguing, and one AL official said he believes the Dodgers might consider moving Kemp (though it isn't known whether they'd entertain that very trade idea).

6. Could Jason Giambi return? Not much chance of that happening. He no doubt had a lot of fun in New York, and he provided some highlights. But the Yankees believe they must improve their defense. So it is time to move on. Casey Blake is a solid defender at several positions who's sparked the Dodgers at third in his short time there and would represent a major improvement at first defensively. And, in a year when the Yankees have nearly $90 million coming off the books, don't discount the possibility they'll try to steal Mark Teixeira away from the Angels.

7. What about Bobby Abreu? While he's a solid professional hitter, the Yankees badly need to improve their outfield defense and the most obvious solution would be to move Damon to left, Xavier Nady to right and acquire the center fielder they desperately need.

It was a nice touch to pay tribute to all the greats, and to bring back almost all the living greats. And if it seemed unusual that the last pre-game introduction was saved for Bernie Williams, and that the biggest ovation went to Bernie -- even beyond the response accorded Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Reggie Jackson and family members representing Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris -- it didn't seem odd at all to this New Yorker.

Bernie is beloved in this town. Plus, he hadn't been back since he played in 2006. All the heroes of the most recent championship teams are held in increasingly higher regard as the seasons go by and the more recent, higher-priced Yankee teams show how hard it was to win four rings in five years. Or even one ring.

Every star from those championship teams was well-received. Except, that is, for Joe Torre and Roger Clemens, who weren't received at all. For very different reasons, the two were excluded from mention.

Clemens was the most prominent living Yankee player who was available to attend but still wasn't there (for instance, Don Mattingly is coaching for Torre's Dodgers). As Jeter said, the Yankees are about "pride.'' The team may not be so proud of that association anymore.

The Astros made a very nice run before falling apart. Some in Houston are blaming Hurricane Ike. Others are blaming commissioner Bud Selig.

They've definitely been through a lot, and it's easy to understand their disappointment. They'd won nine of their first 10 games in September when two home games against the Cubs were canceled due to Ike and moved to Milwaukee by Selig.

One other factor that may have hurt them was Astros owner Drayton McLane's attempts to convince baseball that the games could be saved for Houston (maybe the hurricane didn't hit his fancy neighborhood), which seemed like a desperate attempt to save gate receipts but ultimately delayed MLB's decision where to play them. The first choices were Arlington and Atlanta, but Selig feared a rainout would really mess things up. So he settled on Miller Park, which has a dome.

The first game in Milwaukee, the Astros were no-hit by the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano, setting an ominous tone for the rough stretch that has followed.

They are in a tough spot now, four games behind the wild-card-leading Mets. But there is a bit of hope (though not as much as the astros.com headline suggests: Astros enter final week in thick of Wild Card hunt.)

The Astros were hurt by adversity not of their own doing. But ultimately, they could not come close to overcoming it.

The 10-man post World War II Hall of Fame Veteran's Committee ballot, which includes the names of Joe Torre, Dick Allen, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Al Oliver, Vada Pinson, Ron Santo, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills, will hopefully produce at least one or two new Hall of Famers this time.

The new streamlined Veterans Committee may not be so stingy with its votes after three previous times pitching a shutout. This time the ballot is smaller, and so is the voting block.

I'd check yes for Torre, Hodges and Santo. Torre will eventually get in as a manager but this ballot allows consideration of all roles, and the combination of playing and managing should be plenty for both Torre and Hodges. Santo was a great two-way player. It's somewhat surprising he isn't already in.

• The inability to land trade target Brian Roberts didn't cost the Cubs. But it may hurt the Brewers, whose efforts to land Roberts went more under the radar.

• There's been some speculation that Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy could be expendable since the talented Alcides Escobar may be ready to play shortstop next year. But I wouldn't be so quick to trade Hardy. They should first try to see if anyone will take Rickie Weeks instead.

• The Matt Cain-for-Prince Fielder trade possibility makes some sense, but not the way it's been presented publicly. One report had the Giants getting Hardy and another player along with Fielder, which seems rather lopsided. ("I'd say Cain plus another player'' is more in line, one NL exec said ).

• A trade of Cain for Fielder would solve the Giants' most glaring need. I might be getting ahead of myself here, but it would interesting to see whether the Giants might try to replace Cain by signing Sabathia, who's said to love the idea of playing for his hometown team. That would be a bold move by the Giants' new managing partner Bill Neukom.

• This is probably a long shot. But how about Colorado as a destination for Sabathia? While it seems like a financial stretch for the Rockies, Colorado GM Dan O'Dowd said he'd like to add a No. 1 pitcher and has been a fan of Sabathia forever, going back to O'Dowd's days overseeing the Indians' minor leagues.

• The Mariners just concluded an 0-11 road trip but haven't yet locked up the first-overall pick. They have a half-game lead for it on the Nationals. It's hard to say whose season has gone worse, but suffice it to say, it's been a rough year for Washington, the district and the state. The Mariners spent $100 million and will finish last. Meanwhile, the Nats failed to sign their first-round draft choice and have a GM (Jim Bowden) who's under investigation in the bonus skimming scandal.

• The Mariners will be looking for a GM and manager this winter. Manager Jim Riggleman is a fine baseball man, but that 11-game slide sealed his fate.

• If I were going to start a team, I might take David Wright to start mine. But Joel Sherman pointed out on his New York Post Hardball blog that Wright's RBI total (now 118) is mitigated by his many chances (at the time of the blogging, Wright had more at-bats with runners in scoring position, 219, than anyone else in the majors.

• Among other things, the Pirates might regret not taking left-handed reliever Phil Coke in the July deal with the Yankees, as was originally agreed. Coke has been dominant so far for the Yankees, with 11 1/3 scoreless innings.

• Scenes from a Stadium closing: 1) Richard Gere, Val Kilmer and Matthew Broderick hanging out, though not together; 2) Spike Lee filming A-Rod as he entered the workout room; 3) Derek Jeter greeting boyhood idol Dave Winfield. 4) Blinding flashbulbs whenever Jeter batted. 5) Players autographing for other players, and Mussina telling A-Rod to note his "almost 20 wins in 1997'', his "almost no-hitter in 1999,'' and his "almost world championship in 2001.'' 6) Willie Randolph smiling broadly again, even when he wasn't stealing a scene by sliding into second base; 6) Hal and Jennifer Steinbrenner were there, though not the more chatty Hank, who might have been home in Tampa polishing his dumb quotes.

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