Merrill still contributes for Yanks

Posted Feb. 09, 2010, at 11:27 p.m.

Carl “Stump” Merrill is in his 40th season of professional baseball.

The former University of Maine baseball-football star and assistant coach will head to Tampa next week for another spring training.

The Brunswick native is a special assistant to New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

“I’m the eyes and ears of [Cashman] out on the road,” explained Merrill, who evaluates talent throughout the Yankees system, works with catchers and confers with management about potential needs.

“I guess I’m regarded as a player development person as opposed to a scout,” added Merrill, a former catcher who will turn 66 in five days.

He is in his 34th season with the Yankees organization after his playing career was cut short after six seasons due to a leg injury.

He has managed at all levels in the organization including a brief stint as the Yankees’ manager. He became an assistant to the GM in 2005.

The passion for the game still burns inside him.

“When it doesn’t, it’s time to go,” said Merrill, the father of two and grandfather of two.

He will receive another World Series ring after the Yankees’ championship last season ended a drought extending back to 2000.

He anticipates another Yankees-Boston Red Sox duel.

But each will have question marks entering spring training.

“They’re two very good clubs, two very competitive clubs,” said Merrill. “One of the questions they’re going to ask of Boston is how are you going to replace the numbers Jason Bay gave them? They’ve moved their center fielder [Jacoby Ellsbury] to left [to make room for Mike Cameron]. They’ll probably say their pitching is better [with the signing of John Lackey] and if they don’t give up as many runs, they won’t have to score as many [to win].

“In our situation, [Hideki] Matsui and [Johnny] Damon had very good years for us a year ago so we’re going to have to do something to improve in that area. Someone is going to have to pick up the slack,” said Merrill.

“I think their pitching is better and ours is better with the acquisition of [Javier] Vazquez and re-signing [Andy] Pettitte,” said Merrill.

“There’s a lot of work to be done between now and opening day and between opening day and closing day,” he added.

The game has changed considerably in his 40 years.

“Hopefully, the game is better now although the problems we have had with the [work stoppages] along the way have cost us some fan base. That’s unfortunate because nobody gains and the fans are the ones who lose,” said Merrill. “If we don’t put rear ends in the seats, we won’t have jobs.

“The influence of steroids on the game and the way it has come out and been handled certainly isn’t something we should be proud of, either.”

He added that baseball is becoming more of a “global” sport, noting that “47½ percent of major league players come from outside the United States.”

He witnessed the passion of the sport in Taiwan on a 10-day trip in the fall.

“Baseball is a way of life there. They played baseball from 6:15 in the morning until school started and then played after school from 3:15 until it got dark. And they’d stay in dorms except for one day when they could go home. It was incredible,” he said.

Merrill, who spent a portion of last season taking care of wife Winnie, who was hurt in a fall, has been loyal to the Yankees in a day and age when loyalty is rare.

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