This is truly a nation divided.
Yankees Nation, that is.
Injured slugger Giancarlo Stanton’s presence on a podium at Yankee Stadium on Thursday evening led us to post a very, completely, 100 percent unscientific poll on Twitter. We asked Yankees fans the following:
Do you want Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup for the playoffs or would you prefer not to have him in the lineup for the playoffs?
Fifty-two percent of those who responded want Stanton in the lineup come October.
Forty-eight percent would rather take their chances without the former NL MVP. Without a guy who hit 59 home runs a mere two years ago. Without a guy who hit 38 home runs last season for the Yankees in what was an off year for him.
The split speaks to an uncomfortable truth: Much of Yankees Nation is ambivalent about Stanton. They don’t see the prodigious power. They see Stanton too often flailing on three consecutive outside sliders from righthanders.
And this season, they see the injuries. A biceps. A shoulder. A calf. And, the current one, the one Stanton was discussing on Thursday: a right knee sprain that has had him out since June 26.
Stanton has appeared in nine games this season. The Yankees went into Thursday’s game against the Indians with an 81-41 record. To say they haven’t missed him is an understatement.
Would they miss him in October? The people may be divided, but the organization is not. They want Stanton healthy and they want him back.
“That’s an impact bat,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “He’s not just the DH, he’s much more than that. He’s an athletic outfielder, too, despite his size. Hopefully we’ll be in a position to utilize him.”
Here’s the thing: Stanton may not be ready in time. He said he will need “a few weeks of at-bats before October” to feel ready.
As manager Aaron Boone put it: “If he’s not what we believe is close physically to what he’s capable of being, then he wouldn’t be returning. But we feel like he’s moving in that direction and it’s realistic.”
Asked if he has a deadline, Stanton coldly said: “The deadline is when my knee is ready to play major league games.”
Stanton doesn’t have a warm and fuzzy persona, which may be part of the reason much of the fan base hasn’t warmed up to him.
On the field, Stanton was very durable in his first season in pinstripes. He played in 158 games, one off his career high.
In his first postseason appearance, Stanton homered in the AL wild-card game victory over the A’s. But he hit .222 with four singles, no home runs, no RBIs and six strikeouts in 18 at-bats in the Yankees’ four-game ALDS loss to the Red Sox.
Stanton doesn’t have a 13-year, $325-million contract to hit four singles in a playoff series. With a full no-trade clause, that contract will keep him in the Bronx until at least 2027 (unless he opts out after next season, which seems unlikely).
Is it fair to place expectations on players based on their salaries? Of course it is!
There’s just something in the fan DNA that roots for guys like Mike Tauchman and Mike Ford — both of whom were in the lineup Thursday — because they are on the lower end of the pay scale and, seemingly, the talent scale.
Stanton is on the top of both scales, so the expectations go up as well. That’s life in the big city and life when you’re a 6-6, 245-pound block of granite. Even if there have been more than a few chips in 2019.
When Stanton hits a ball hard, it stays hit. When he gets hot, as he did in 2017 with the Marlins, he can hit 18 home runs in a month.
Imagine that kind of run in this year’s postseason. Li’l Yankee fans will be getting Stanton onesies as gifts this Christmas.
But if his knee doesn’t allow it, Stanton will have to wait till next year. He’s trying, but time isn’t on his side.
Neither, it seems, is about half of his team’s fan base.