Back in the golden days AKA “The Derek Jeter Era,” when King George Steinbrenner ruled the Bronx, the Yankees were known for making tsunami-splash trades and nabbing the most coveted free agents off the market.
They were also known for taking in talented, high-priced ballers who have worn out their welcome in other cities. Whether it was a Darryl Strawberry or Scott Brosius or Tino Martinez or Hideki Matsui or Dwight Gooden or Jason Giambi or Gary Sheffield or Roger Clemens, the Bronx Bombers always brought the brand names to Yankee Stadium and once in pinstripes, these players endure a whole other level of corporate dominance and fan pressures.
The hair is cut. The locker room is serene. The uniform is crisp and commands respect. The media scrutiny is unparalleled, but once you achieve, your legendary rise to fan favorite is swift and lasting.
The Yankees also embrace players with a history. A story of overcoming the odds. Like his fellow Cuban MLB stars, newly-acquired Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman had to first escape from the clutches of Fidel Castro in order to live his major league dreams and flash the cannon of an arm that has made him the fastest flame thrower in a league full of guys who can bring the gas.
His journey reminds me of former Yankees Cuban star Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, who claims to have defected from Cuba with his wife and several others, in a small, rickety sailboat.
According to a first-account description by El Duque in 1999, “Under cover of night, they drove with three friends to Caibarien, a coastal town about 120 miles east of Havana. As day was breaking, they trudged through woods and waded into waist-high water to board a small sailboat with three others.”
They faced possible starvation, detection and death, but made it to the United States.
The story is more myth than confirmed truth, but in any event, El Duque’s triumph became a source of inspiration for Yankees Nation and other Cuban ballplayers with hopes of defecting and collecting some of those plentiful US MLB greenbacks.
The righty with the funky delivery and ill assortment of pitches was a key cog in a Yankees rotation that captured World Series championships in 1998, 1999, and 2000. He also won a championship in 2005 with the Chicago White Sox.
The Long Journey To Paradise
Chapman pitched for Holgun domestically and internationally for the Cuban national baseball team. After a failed attempt to defect in the spring of 2008, Chapman reported to Havana to meet with Cuban President Ral Castro who gave him a conditional reprieve, suspending him for the remainder of the National Series season and also keeping him off Cuba’s national team for the 2008 Summer Olympics but allowing him to return to the National Series and play in the WBC in 2009
He defected from Cuba in July of 2009 while in Rotterdam, Netherlands where the Cuban national team was participating in the World Port Tournament. Chapman two-stepped out the front door of the team hotel, dipped into a waiting whip driven by his homie and Chapman eventually established residency in Andorra, the sixth-smallest European nation and petitioned the MLB to be granted free agent status.
In 2010, Chapman agreed to a long-term contract with the Cincinnati Reds. It was a sweet six-year contract, worth $30.25 million according to MLB sources. That’s the point where his Cuban past met his Americanized future and his destiny crystalized into the combination of heights and lows often endured by unique superstars with personal obligations that extend beyond the playing field.
A Feb, 2014 ESPN The Magazinepiece by Eli Saslow, painted the perfect picture of Aroldis Chapman’s ever-evolving life in the U.S. Chapman hit the MLB-ground running, making his debut in 2010 and starting in 2012 he’s been named to four straight National League All-Star teams. He’s blossomed into one of the most dominant and feared relievers in the game.
In exchange for Chapman, the Reds get some top Yankees farm prospects in third baseman Eric Jagielo, second baseman Tony Renda, and right handed pitchers Rookie Davis and Caleb Cotham.
With bullpen stability becoming the most important aspect of a baseball game, Chapman would team with Andrew Miller and fellow All-Star Dellin Betances to provide a seventh, eighth and ninth inning steel cage committee capable of shutting down any squadron of lumber in the game.
In 2015, Chapman recorded a stingy 1.63 ERA with 15.7 K/9, 4.5 BB/9 and a 37.1 percent ground-ball rate. Over the past four seasons in Cincinnati, The Cuban Missile flosses a hardbody 1.90 ERA while averaging 16.1 strikeouts and 3.8 walks per nine innings to go along with an average of 36 saves per season. Chapmans money pitch is his heater; the lethal lefty averaged 100.3 mph on his heater in 2014 and followed that up with a incomparable 99.5 mph average this past season.
The Yankees only current concern is a possible suspended by MLB because of Chapman’s domestic violence allegations. The police have closed the case citing lack of evidence, but MLB is investigating and unfortunately Chapman could be suspended under baseballs newly implemented domestic violence policy. However, if the police couldn’t find any wrong doing on his part then I don’t see how MLB could.
In any event, when Chapman toes the rubber, the Yankees community will be welcoming another superstar into the fold. An arm that will surely create excitement at the Stadium and begin to take on a life of its own depending on the success Chapman has here. Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer of all-time, so Yankees fans have skyscraping standards for their closer. If any reliever in the game is up to the task its The Cuban Flame Thrower (TSL renamed him The Cuban Calico)
For those Yankees fans unfamiliar with Chapman, here are five moments in his career that epitomize his ridiculous mound management.
The Cuban Calico
He holds the record for the fastest recorded pitch speed in MLB history at 105 mph and also reached 106 mph in a game.
I Get K’s
On July 11, 2014 he broke the master of the splitter, Bruce Sutter’s record, for the most consecutive relief appearances with a strikeout, having struck out at least one batter in 40 consecutive appearances.
Racks on Racks On Racks
On July 19, 2015 he became the fastest pitcher in MLB history to reach 500 strikeouts.
Chapman is a throwback hurler. He would have existed just fine in the days of Bullet Bob Gibson and the inevitable and totally acceptable brush back heat. His reputation for pitching inside keeps hitters aggravated and bailing and makes his fastball even that more intimidating. He won’t gain any friends around the league by joining the Yankees organization.
Golden Arm Meets Metal Head
Though he can mix it up on the mound and isnt afraid to toss a purpose pitch, Chapmans no sucker, head-hunter. He can take it as well as dish it as evidenced here by the shot he took off the face in 2014, which fractured a bone above his left eye, requiring surgery. A permanent metal plate was inserted in the bone above Chapman’s left eyebrow.
Welcome To The Bronx Zoo !