There was a moment in Spring Training, a month ago in Tampa, Fla., almost exactly, when Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees newbie, was telling the media that he was ready for the scrutiny he would face when he came north with his new team.
"The good times will be magnified, and so will the bad," Stanton said. "The fans expect a lot. I expect a lot, too."
It was another way of saying that he felt as if he were prepared for New York and Yankee Stadium and Yankees fans, the whole thing. He was telling the truth, and he sounded quite reasonable.
Only he wasn't prepared. Hardly anybody ever is. They don't know what it's like until they are here. It always reminds me of an old line from Ernie Accorsi, former New York Giants general manager, about what it's like for players who've never played in the Super Bowl to run out of the tunnel to actually play the game.
"It's like they've just landed on a different planet," Accorsi said.
Not everybody struggles. Some struggle for reasons that have nothing to do with baseball. So many of Reggie Jackson's problems in his first year with the Yankees, one that ended with him hitting three home runs against the Dodgers on the night when the Yanks won the 1977 World Series, were self-inflicted because of the "straw that stirs the drink" article about him in Sport magazine, one that got him sideways right away -- to say the least -- with Thurman Munson. And Reggie was a much bigger baseball star by the time he got to New York than Stanton ever was in Miami.
So it's quite prophetic that Reggie said this to my friend Pete Caldera of the Bergen Record one day in Clearwater, Fla., this past spring, speaking of Stanton:
"It'll be fun in Spring Training. It'll be work the first month."
It has turned out to be work for Stanton this first month -- oh boy, has it ever. The guy who hit 59 home runs for the Marlins last season and chased 60 all the way to his last at-bat in a Miami uniform -- and who broke in on Opening Day with two home runs against the Blue Jays -- is hitting .185 in 81 at-bats. He has struck out 32 times. He went 0-for-4 against the Blue Jays on Sunday. His OPS is .678. He started slowly for the Marlins last season, but not like this.
The other night, Stanton got an infield hit against the Blue Jays and a walk and worked the count a few times, and this was treated like some kind of triumph at the Stadium. It had come to that. And having told you that, and given you the numbers, I still believe Stanton is going to have a big year. He absolutely has started slowly before. He has had brutal slumps in the past, when it seemed as if he struck out for a whole month.
Maybe he won't hit 60 homers. Maybe he and Aaron Judge won't combine for 100. But Stanton will power through this -- in all ways -- the way Reggie did and Alex Rodriguez did when he got to New York, even though it wasn't nearly as bad for A-Rod as it's been for Stanton. In his first April in New York, in 2004, A-Rod hit .268, with four home runs and seven RBIs, numbers that seem Ruthian right now compared to Stanton's. He ended up with 36 home runs that year. The next year, he hit 48 for the Yankees, and two years after that, he hit 54. It is also always worth remembering that Rodriguez was hitting in the old Stadium, not the new one, where balls fly out of the place like Titleists flying off the face of one of those new space-age drivers.
But again, nobody, especially nobody in New York, should be shocked at this kind of start for Stanton. It was probably inevitable that he would start this way, just because so many new Yankees have started pretty much the same way. It is a familiar Yankees version of "The Out-of-Towners." You think you know what to expect. You don't.
Tino Martinez, who turned out to be a big Yankee on a Yankees team as great as they have ever had, which means Joe Torre's Yankees, was a hot mess when he first joined the team in 1996. Not only was he new, he was replacing Donald Arthur Mattingly at first base, and everybody knows the last memory of Mattingly that had been burned into the hearts of Yankees fans: He had hit .417 against the Mariners in one of the great and rousing first-round series, against Seattle in 1995.
Tino showed up in town and was hitting under .100 at one point in April. He had three hits in his first 34 at-bats. He looked even more helpless at the Stadium at the beginning than he did on the road, so he was the one who heard it from Yankees fans the way Stanton has, including getting booed at the Yankees' home opener on a day when he struck out five times. But by the end of the 1996 season, Tino had 25 homers,117 RBIs and a .292 batting average, and the Yankees had won their first World Series since 1978.
Didi Gregorius, who was as dangerous a hitter as Judge last October, struggled mightily after running out to shortstop to replace Captain Jeter in April 2015. He struggled at the plate and in the field and on the bases and maybe even driving to work on the Major Deegan Expressway. He came out of it, of course. He was too talented not to. So was Tino. So, mightily, is Stanton. What he is experiencing so far is like pledging the most famous baseball fraternity in this world. Soon, maybe by the end of this week, the big launch angler from South Florida will be likely launch-angling like crazy.
Just not yet.
Something else worth remembering: Stanton has frankly never faced this kind of scrutiny before, even hitting 59 homers in a season. He has never had this kind of stage, this kind of attention, this kind of noise, never faced this kind of pressure in a baseball life that hasn't yet seen a single postseason game. That is just the fact of things. It was nice in South Florida. It was warm. It was relatively quiet. It's different here. Others have discovered that. Now he has.
Big city. Different planet. Again.