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by Harold Friend
A New York City tabloid reported recently that Yankees’ scout Bill Emslie had been sent to watch Pittsburgh Pirates’ left handed relief pitcher John Grabow, which is not surprising since the Yankees have been seeking a reliable lefty specialist since the departure of Australian Graeme Lloyd almost a decade ago. What is interesting is that John Grabow is one of a handful of Jewish major leaguers, and even more intriguing is that if the Yankees acquire Grabow’s services, John will be the first Yankees’ Jewish left hander since Ken Holtzman during the late 1970s.
Jewish Yankees' Players
There have been fewer than 150 Jewish players in the history of the game. Jewish Yankees have included Jimmy Reese, who was Babe Ruth’s roommate and used to say that his roommate was really Babe Ruth’s suitcase, Ron Blomberg, who was the game’s first designated hitter, Elliott Maddox, who converted to Judaism, and Holtzman, the Yankees' only Jewish left hander.
John Grabow Is Not Religious
John Grabow’s grandmother came from Beirut, Lebanon. Some members of the family moved to Israel, some to Panama, and others came to the United States. John grew up in Arcadia, California and is not especially religious, but his grandmother and great aunt are orthodox. John’s father is not Jewish. John is proud of his Jewish heritage but notes that because he is not a star, that fact has almost slipped under the radar.
Grabow Should Be More Successful
Grabow spent six seasons in the minors before being called up by the Pirates at the end of 2003. The scouting report states that he has a 94-mph fastball that runs in on lefties, a late breaking slider, and a change of pace. He has not done as well as the scouts think he should. Grabow has been a workhorse since 2004, never appearing in fewer than 63 games in any season, but he has allowed 289 hits in 276 2/3 innings. His WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched) is 1.462, which is not good. His ERA+ is only 98.
Adding Grabow Would Be An Upgrade for the Yankees
The 2008 Yankees’ pitching staff is one that has been poorly constructed. The only left handed relief pitcher they have used is journey man Billy Traber, who has made repeated trips between Yankee Stadium and the Yankees’ top farm team at ScrantonWilkes-Barre. Traber has pitched ineffectively at best, and adding Grabow would be an upgrade, but the Pirates have another lefty relief pitcher who would be a much better fit than Grabow.
Damaso Marte Is Better Than Grabow
The Yankees have been interested in obtaining Damaso Marte for a number of years. Marte is thirty-three and has had some fine seasons. In 445 1/3 innings, he has allowed only 358 hits with a 1.242 WHIP and an ERA+ of 143. The price for Marte would be much higher than for Grabow, and the Yankees have been reluctant to trade value for value lately, which makes it more likely if they make a trade for one of the Pirates’ lefty relief pitchers, it will be for Grabow.
Modern baseball teams are interested in profits, and if the Yankees have a choice between Grabow and Marte, they will try to balance the pitchers’ ability with their bottom line. Today’s mindset, for most teams as well as for most fans, is to be competitive and have a chance to make the playoffs. The days of George Steinbrenner correctly insisting that the only successful Yankees’ season is one that ends with a World Championship.