Monthly archives: April 2003
BACK TO BASICS Jose
BACK TO BASICS
Jose Contreras had an impressive start yesterday for the Columbus Clippers, throwing five scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out eight. Apparently, the big Cuban's heater was clocked at 98mph, a far cry from what we saw from him when he was with the Yankees. To be fair, Contreras is a starter, and was regulated to the bullpen in New York.
Mariano Rivera is ready to go for the Yanks, and Derek Jeter was back with the team last night, shit-eating-grin and all. Jeter was goofing around on the bench, certainly a sight for sore eyes for us Yankee fans. He expects to be activated in a couple of weeks.
With a base on balls last night, Nick Johnson has now walked in thirteen consecutive games. He leads the AL in that category too.
Not for nothing, but I'm glad that Suzyn Waldman is not calling the games for YES any longer. He strength is doing the pre and post game shows, and I think she does that fine (although she's better suited for the radio, and I used to like her coverage of the Knicks as well as the Yanks). But I've noticed that she has become so breathy, that I'm going to start calling her ol' Iron Lungs. Each breath she draws sounds dramatically like it will be her last. Not only that, but she's looking more and more like Karl Malden with each passing day.
The Yanks face ol' man Moyer in the Bronx tonight. Moyer has an even better Bugs Bunny change than Chris Hammond. I don't know what his numbers are against the Yankees, but I always feel like he kills us. And it's a slow, painful death at that. I practically feel like jumping out of my shoes at home. My cousin Gabe said it would be good for baseball if the Yanks lost tonight (making it three in a row). "Then they can win 44 straight of whatever."
FORBIDDEN FRUITS The subject
The subject of homosexuality in baseball is a touchy one indeed. After all, who really wants to talk about it? We're not Gay. Well, Christian Ruzich, The Cub Reporter, and I do, and we've exchanged e-mails on the topic, and I thought I would share them with you. First, here is what New York Times reporter Buster Olney had to say about it when we spoke several weeks ago:
BB: Do you think baseball is ready for a gay player to come out?
BB: Because of the hoopla that would surround it?
BB: And they chose him for his personality as much as his ability as a ballplayer.
Here is the first letter I received from Christian:
To which I responded:
Here is Christian's reply:
Todd Jones is quoted in an article by Denver Post theater critic, John Moore, on Richard Greenberg's play "Take Me Out." The piece is an indepth and insightful examination of the deep-rooted homophobia that exists in pro sports. Greeenberg told Moore:
Colorado pitcher Todd Jones probably speaks for the majority of ballplayers when he said:
"I wouldn't want a gay guy being around me," Jones said. "It's got nothing to do with me being scared. That's the problem: All these people say he's got all these rights. Yeah, he's got rights or whatever, but he shouldn't walk around proud. It's like he's rubbing it in our face. 'See me, hear me roar.' We're not trying to be close-minded, but then again, why be confrontational when you don't really have to be?"
All-around good guy, Mark Grace had a more enlightened take:
"I've played for 16 years, and I'm sure I've had homosexual teammates that I didn't know about," he said. "If one out of six or seven men are homosexual - do the math."
I'd like to think that there are more guys like Mark Grace than Todd Jones out there, but I'd also like for money to grow on trees. Still, I think this is a fascinating subject and I'll continue to write about it as long as there is something to add to the discussion. Anyone with thoughts or comments, please send them in. I'm curious to know what the readers are thinking. Are you saying, "Enough already with the Fruits, let's get back to boxscores and pitch-count?" Let me know.
GIL, A REAL MECHE
GIL, A REAL MECHE
Seattle right hander Gil Meche overshadowed Roger Clemens and the hoopla surrounding Ichiro and Godzilla at the Stadium last night, as the Mariners shut out the Bombers, 6-0. Meche, winner of the Audie Murphy award, looks like he just jumped out of an old WWII movie; he has the innocent good looks of the boy next door. ("He's attractive," my girlfriend Emily remarked, "but he could use a hair cut." For what it's worth so could Matsui. "Godzilla needs to get his ass to Barbazon.") He pitched quickly, and had the Yankee batters out of synch all evening.
After the game, Meche told reporters:
Clemens wasn't terrible (he did strike out eight), but he did give up 3 dingers (Boone, Davis and Edgar).
I was reminded just how much strong the rivalry with the M's has been over the past few years last night. Damn, I hate losing to those guys. But honestly, with the exception of Brett Boone, there is hardly anyone to dislike on Seattle. I don't even hate Boone, it's just that his cockines is easy to root against. Sheeet, what's not to love about Olerud, Edgar and Ichiro? And Bob Melvin appears to be a good guy as well.
No, the worst part about last night was that the Sox just keep coming and coming.
But fug it, I shouldn't be riffing. The Yankees will probably not be shut-out too many times this year. It could be worse,after all: I could be a Mets fan.
Speaking of which, my cousin Gabe called me in the middle of the Card-Mets game last night. I had caught Ty Wiggenton's at-bat with the bases-loaded in the first. He battled Matt Morris to a full-count and then smacked a grounder deep in the hole at short, which Edgar Renteria fielded and then threw a seed to first to record the out. Typical Mets I thought. About 20 minutes later, I saw on the ticker that the Cardinals had scored three in their half of the first. Ugh.
Gabe, who is anything but an alarmist, calls and says, "I'm not trying to be pessimistic, but this could be the season right here. They could be done. And I don't mean that as a judgement, but as an observation."
That just may be the case. Hey Steve Phillips, remember what ol' Satch said: "Don't look back, something may be gaining on you."
YANKEE BENCHES By Guest
By Guest Columnist: Chris DeRosa
Hello, Bronx Banterers. Alex asked me to come off the bench with a Yankee-related feature, so I thought I would take substitution as my theme and discuss Yankee benches: the best benches the team has had in the past and those of the current dynasty.
Yankee fans of a sabermetric bent tend to ignore the slew of coffee table books about the team, and therefore may have missed the fact that Bill James wrote three parts of the latest entry in the genre, The New York Yankees: One Hundred Years, The Official Retrospective. He writes short essays on each of the 25 greatest Yankees as selected by a group of sportswriters, five of the most famous Yankee teams, and six of the club's greatest managers. It is a pricey book, but it is fun to have James's always intriguing perspective and to have him take on greatest- (NY)-team-ever debate, even in abbreviated form. Besides, what other coffee table book is going to diss the '61 club and poke fun at Bobby Meacham?
Anyway, one thing James mentions in talking about Casey Stengel was how frequently his teams led in "Bench Value Percentage," a measure of the percentage the non-starters contribute to a team's success. Stengel's Yankees led three times, 1949, 1951, and 1954. I looked them up. Not surprisingly, these three also had the three highest win shares totals that any of Stengel's Yankee benches amassed. Might one of those clubs, I wondered, be identified as the best bench in team history?
Choosing one is harder than I thought. First of all, who should count as being a bench player?
If someone is acquired in the last third of the season to be part of the starting lineup, is his contribution really "off the bench"?
If a bench player plays himself into the starting lineup halfway through, score one for the bench? Or count him as a regular?
If you're half of a strict platoon, are you a semi-regular, or riding the pines?
Chili Davis is supposed to be your regular DH, but he gets hurt. Darryl Strawberry steps in and leads the team in homers much of the way. Strawberry gets sick and Davis makes it back late in the year. Strength in depth for sure, but which one counts for the bench?
The easiest thing to do is to define the bench as the contributions of everybody beyond the eight (or nine with DH) players who got the most playing time. Even then, you've got to make some common sense adjustments. Joe DiMaggio shouldn't count as a bench player for the 1949 Yankees even if he got less playing time than Cliff Mapes. Clearly, what matters in discussing the bench is the contribution of Mapes and other players who stepped in when DiMaggio was injured.
The question of injuries raises a further complication. The 1949 team was famously riddled with injuries. Is a reserve squad that is called on more often for this reason better than another that is equally ready and able, but kept on the bench by a healthy lineup? Maybe not better, but probably "greater." It's like when they rank the presidents. You have overcome a major crisis or two in order to rate with the greatest ever. Here are the total win shares claimed by some of the most active Yankee benches and their top not-ready-for-full-time-players:
1949 59 Mapes 12, Johnson 9, Lindell 6, Silvera 6, Stirnweiss 6, Keller 5, Kryhoski 4, Phillips 4
Another reason the total doesn't tell the whole story is that it is difficult to measure the crucial bench quality of versatility. The variety of problems a team can solve off the bench is important along with the overarching measure of their contribution offered by win shares.
All of which goes to say that it may be too hard to identify the one best bench in team history. Here are some of the excellent ones, though. The bench didn't figure much until Casey Stengel came along, and he always had a deep and talented roster. There is an extensive literature on Stengel's use of reserves, so I won't rehash all that here. In 1949, he did most of his rotating in the outfield and at first base. I think it was his 103-win 1954 club that best exemplified his concept of the roster as 16 players who were all worthy, with the batter-by-batter circumstances dictating which eight were playing and which were licking their chops.
1954: Only Mantle and Berra, the two best players in the league, batted 500 times on this team. The rest of the team was like a giant awesome bench. Charlie Silvera hit well in a handful of at bats backing up Berra, as he always did. At first base was Joe Collins (343 ab), Moose Skowron (215), and Eddie Robinson (142) combining for 22 homers and 89 walks. In the infield were Andy Carey (411), Gil McDougal (394), Phil Rizzuto (307), Jerry Coleman (300), and Willie Miranda (116). The outfielders after Mantle in descending order of playing time were Irv Noren (426), Hank Bauer (377), and Gene Woodling (304), Enos Slaughter (125) and Bob Cerv (100). All these players, with the arguable exception of Miranda, were important contributors to the Yankee dynasty, although not all played well in 1954. James's Guide to the Baseball Managers reports the 1954 Yanks set a record for pinch hitters, 262, who hit .292 and set a record with 7 dingers.
1977: An example of a fine bench that didn't get to strut its stuff the way Stengel's did is that of the 1977 World Champions. Billy Martin got over 500 at bats for seven regulars, but he had in reserve plenty of offensive punch and a couple of glove men who didn't hurt the team at the plate. Despite the signing of Reggie Jackson, Lou Piniella managed to get over 300 at bats again in a platoon outfielder-DH role, and he hit the snot out of the ball: .330 and slugging .510. Cliff Johnson hit .296 and slugged .606 in 142 at bats, in 56 games at 1B, DH, and catcher. Infielder Fred Stanley (.261) and outfielder Paul Blair (.262) came bearing gloves. George Zeber and Dell Alston both hit .320 in limited trials, and subsequently appeared on those four-head-shot Topps rookie cards in 1978. Klutts' also had Alan Trammell and Paul Molitor, so that turned out to be a pretty good card.
1980: Like 1954, a 103-win team that didn't go all the way and had few regulars. Only Reggie, Randolph, and Rick Cerone batted 500 times, Cerone actually led the team with 147 games. The bench was deep in bats. Switch-hitting outfielder Bobby Brown got a big break in center when Ruppert Jones got hurt and played pretty well, hitting 14 homers and swiping 27 bases in 137 games. From the right, Lou Piniella again had a good 300+ at bats, hitting .287 and slugging .462. When Graig Nettles went down, Semi-regular DH Eric Soderholm hit .287, slugged .462, and subbed at the hot corner when Nettles got hurt (though they later added Aurelio Rodriquez to play third and he didn't do much ¡© wrong A-Rod). From the left, back-up first baseman Jim Spencer smacked 13 homers in 259 at bats, outfielder Bobby Murcer hit 13 in 297 at bats. Best of all, Oscar Gamble, a great 200 at bat player, popped 14 dingers in 194 at bats. At the bottom of the bench, Joe Lefebvre kicked in 8 homers and 27 walks in 150 at bats and Dennis Werth hit .308 with 12 walks and slugged .492 in 65 at bats. However, the infield and catching subs didn't play much or well.
Comments on Torre's Benches:
Each of Joe Torre's benches made key contributions to the championship run. The 1996 bench had a couple of good players in Jim Leyritz and Darryl Strawberry (slugged .490), Gerald Williams hitting .270, and Ruben Rivera's best 88 major league at bats (.284, .443 slug). But that was just the first half bench. For the stretch drive, New York adding Cecil Fielder (13 homers in 200 at bats as a mostly-regular), Mike Aldrede and Charlie Hayes (both slugged .456), and Luis Sojo (.275 with defense). Fielder, Hayes, and Sojo (the best lousy player I've ever seen) all helped the Yankees win postseason games.
The team in Joe Torre's tenure that got the most help from the lower half of the roster was not any of the champions, but the 1997 wild card team. This was a bench built on the run. In June the Yankees added text-book fourth-outfielder Chad Curtis (.291/.362/.475) to supplement reserve outfielder H.H.M. Whiten. In August they grabbed ex-Showalter stalwart Mike Stanley (.287/.392/.483) and acquired slick-fielding Rey Sanchez (.312) to supplant second baseman Pat Kelly. At third they used a straight platoon of Charlie Hayes and Wade Boggs, but in the ALDS it was Hayes in four of five games, so Boggs rounded out the playoff bench as a .292 hitter from the left side.
For me, Game 4 of the 1997 Division series against Cleveland kind of prevents this bench from numbering among the team's greats. In the 9th inning, after Sandy Alomar homered off Rivera to tie the score 2-2, Mike Jackson was on the hill to face the bottom of the Yankee order. Torre let Charlie Hayes (.330 obp) lead off with Wade Boggs (.380 obp and the platoon advantage) on the bench. Chad Curtis also would have been a better leadoff option, but Torre wasted him earlier in the game as a pinch runner. Assenmacher was out of the game, so if Hargrove wanted a lefty, he'd have to go to Alvin Mormon (5.89 era). And you just knew Boggs would have given us a good at bat and that Hayes was just going up there to hack, which he did, easy out. Then Torre let Girardi hit for himself with Mike Stanley on the bench. Girardi is the kind of hitter who is down 0-2 coming out of the on-deck circle. Another easy out. Sanchez made the third out.
Come on, if you couldn't use Boggs to lead off against a right-hander in the ninth inning when you only needed one run, why even have him on the roster? Easy moves: the kind where the guy played the same position as the guy for whom he should have hit. So for all the previous contributions of the 1997 reserves, in October we'd have been better off with a bench in which the manager had more confidence. Okay, back to the benches:
The 1999 bench wasn't as impressive, but Curtis (195 ab), Spencer (205), and Ledee (250) shared left field and each offered something: Ledee hit .276 with 9 homers, Spencer hit 8, and Curtis hit .262 with 43 walks. He also went Reggie in a series game and blew off Jim Gray. Luis Sojo and Joe Girardi again provided the glovework. Darryl Strawberry batted only 49 times, but he came back just as the Yankee attack was flagging a little bit and he was briefly the most feared hitter in the line-up, hitting .327/.500/.612. In fact, I've never seen Strawberry more locked in than he was in that little 1999 stint, not even in his glory days. Facing a world champion lineup with Bernie, Jeter, and O'Neill, people were pitching around a troubled 37-year-old recuperating cancer patient who had just come back to the majors.
The last title team had a weak bench in the first half, consisting of a large dose of Clay Bellinger, too-old outfielders like Lance Johnson and Roberto Kelly, and no-good back-up catcher Chris Turner. But the 2000 stretch-drive/playoff bench was a different beast. They added two right-handed bats, Jose Canseco (by then an unobtrusive vet who hit 6 homers and drew 23 walks in 111 at bats), and Glen Hill, who hit .333 and slugged .735, blasting 16 homers in 132 at bats. His spurt was almost twice as long as Shane Spencer's in ¡®98, and this time the Yankees really needed it. They also imported not one but two solid all-infield fielders, Jose Vizcaino and trusty Luis Sojo. Torre may do it by the seat of his pants, rather than by any Weaver-esque logic, but he picked spots for these guys and they won us the World Series again. Sojo, of course, had an extremely high Mookie Factor (the aura which causes game-turning events to occur in one's immediate vicinity).
How will Flaherty, Trammel, Zeile and company hold up against the benches of the past? Three trends are notable. First, since Posada became the regular catcher, Torre has relied on good-field/no-hit back-ups in the mold of his favorite, Joe Girardi, and shied away from boppers like Mike Stanley, the man Girardi replaced. He passed over Todd Greene and Bobby Estrelella last year to retain Alberto Castillo, and going into 2003, one senses that Chris Widger may have accidentally hit himself out of a job with his .297 average last year. The preference is most curious when you consider that as a player Torre was a slugging backstop himself.
Second, it appears that Enrique Wilson is going to keep pinch running. On April 13th against the Devil Rays, Wilson ran for Erik Almonte (to get "veteran presence" on the bases, said the broadcaster), got caught stealing to end the inning, then struck out in the 9th inning of a one-run loss. This performance recalled a series of costly pinch running appearances Wilson made in 2002. Here are the highlights:
9 August, Oak @ NY: Wilson ran for Jason Giambi in a tight game, got thrown out at the plate, then went 0 for 3 and made an error. The Yankees lost 3-2 in 16 innings.
14 August, NY @ KC : Wilson ran for Ventura, didn't score, and then went 0 for 2 in a game NY won 3-2 in 14 innings.
11 September, Bal @ NY: Wilson ran for Giambi and didn't score in a game NY won 5-4 in 11 innings. Coomer went in to play first base and went 0 for 1.
On the plus side of the ledger, on 21 July, Wilson pinch ran for Giambi and scored on a ball Giambi might not have to edge Boston 9-8 (the game in which Weaver gave up five bombs). I guess Yankee fans raised on sabermetrics are kind of like Eisenhower Democrats as far as Joe Torre is concerned. We know he's the right man for the job, but every once in a while there's a stinging reminder that we're not from the same party. I just hate losing those Giambi at bats to pinch running gambles! Generally, for a pinch running move to pay off, somebody needs to hit the ball, and then the hit has to be the exact right kind for the baserunning to make a difference. If you're taking out superior bats, then you're stuck with inferior production in these tied extra innings games. The hidden cost to the run Wilson scored against Boston is pinch running moves is his 0-6 on the three dates mentioned.
The third trend, on a less nitpicking note, is the aggressive rebuilding of the bench. If the current pine-riders should flag at all, the Yankees will not hesitate to overhaul the bottom of the roster in midseason. They've done it under both Bob Watson (1996 and 1997) and Brian Cashman (2000 especially), which may indicate that Torre himself has a substantial hand in retooling his benches for the playoffs, where few skippers have pushed buttons better.
Chris DeRosa is a historian living in Long Branch, NJ, who writes an annual newsletter for all his baseball friends. You can reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
THIS DATE IN ROCKET
THIS DATE IN ROCKET HISTORY
On this day in 1986, Roger Clemens struck out 20 Seattle Mariners. Tonight, he is gunning for career victory number 298.
WILLIE MAKES SURE SORI
WILLIE MAKES SURE SORI DOESN'T GET A SWELL HEAD
While Alfonso Soriano continues to defy the laws of probability with his battery-operated bat, he has steadily improved with the glove as well. But his mentor, third base coach, Willie Randolph isn't blowing smoke up lil' Sori's ass:
ICHIRO, GODZILLA IN THE
ICHIRO, GODZILLA IN THE PLACE TO BE
Mariano Rivera will join the team for the first time this year, and Yankee fans will hold their collective breath until we see him pitch.
There should be a terrific crowd buzzing at the Stadium tonight, and I have a feeling the next week will provide a tense, playoff-like atmosphere in the House that Ruth Built.
Check out this scouting report on the Yankees from Seattle native Shane O'Neill.
Also, don't sleep on U.S.S. Mariner, for comprehensive blog coverage of the series.
DOGPILE ON THE METSIES
DOGPILE ON THE METSIES
Buster Olney has an article that appeared on the front page of The New York Times this morning about the state of the Mets. As well all know, it isn't a pretty picture.
Mike Lupica, the King of the tabliod columnists in New York, weighs in on the ugliness that is the Mets, and characteristically doesn't pull any punches:
A LITTLE OF THIS
A LITTLE OF THIS AND A LITTLE OF THAT
The Yankees return home to New York today, where it is a clear, sunny and brilliant spring day. It's the perfect day to talk a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. The Bombers start a six-game homestand tomorrow, and will face the Mariners and the A's. (Meanwhile the Red Sox will host the Royals and the Twins at the Fens.) Next week they fly out west to play in Seattle and Oakland. The next two weeks will be a good test of how the Yankees stack up against two of the best teams in the league.
Heavyweight Tom Boswell gives his take on the always-interesting/never-boring New York Yankees in The Washington Post:
Lastly,John Sickels, ESPN's minor-league guru, has this to say about Derek Jeter's temporary replacement, Erick Almonte:
MONEY-BOSS PLAYER The hot
The hot baseball book of the spring is clearly "Moneyball, The Art of Winning an Unfair Game," Michael Lewis' study of Billy Beane and the Oakland A's. Christian Ruzich, The Cub Reporter and Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus received reviewer's copies and are enjoying the book immensely, and quite frankly, I can't wait to get my hands on it too. The New York Times Magazine published an excerpt from the book last month, and Billy Beane comes across as a charming, slick, and danergous operator---like a shark from a David Mamet play. (Kevin Spacey should play him in the movie version).
Joel Sherman has a column on the book today in the New York Post. Needless to say, former Oakland skipper, and current Mets manager Art Howe, who was famously at odds with Beane, is not portrayed in a favorable light. Howe refused to comment on the book, but as Sherman reports:
Considering the way the Mets played yesterday, Howe could have used cardboard cutouts of his players which may have at least cut down on all the errors.
TEXAS 2-STEP I'm happy
I'm happy to report that my girlfriend Emily returned from her recovery-hiatus in the hills of Vermont this past weekend. She was down at my place in the Boogie Down Bronx on Saturday, and it was nothing short of great to be with her again. Em was even excited to watch the Yankee game on Saturday night, even though she was so beat by the time the game started, she didn't make it past the third inning. She was awake long enough to see her boy Giambi hit a first-inning home run. I had told her that Giambi---her favorite Bronx Bomber, had been slumping, so not to expect much. So naturally he hits a homer.
"Now that I'm back, he's going to be fine," said Emily.
David Wells didn't pitch particularly well, but he did go eight innings. The game irritated the hell out of me, for some reason. You know how there are some games that just drive you nuts? This was one of them. I figured the Yankees were going to be blown out. Boomer whiffed A Rod in his first two at-bats, but then Rodriguez jumped all over a 2-0 fastball his next time up, and tied the game with a solo shot to center. I turned in with the ol' girl during the seventh inning stretch figuring I had better things to do than dick around watching the game.
But I couldn't get to sleep, so against my better instincts, I got up to check the score about 45 mintues later, just in time to watch Juan Acevado K A Rod on three pitches (all looking), in the 10th inning to give the Yanks a 7-5 win. The Freak Soriano had 3 hits and collected the game-winning RBI off of Ugie Urbina.
Rodriguez, and The Rangers exacted a measure of revenge on Sunday, pounding the Yanks 10-6 to avoid being swept. A Rod went 5-5 and had 6 RBI, including a bases-loaded double that had Joe Torre second-guessing his decision to leave lefty Randy Choate in to face the King of Swing.
Sunday's game was the ugliest game of the series, but I didn't mind so much. Sometimes you gotta get spanked, right? Jeff Weaver didn't have much and when Joe Torre came to get him, he looked like he was trying to suppress a smile. Hey skip, I sucked pretty bad today, huh? The Yanks ended their longest road trip of the year at 8-2, so what's not to like about that?
I flipped back and forth between the game, and the Hoopskaball playoffs. As badly as the Yankees played, Jason Giambi pinch-hit in the ninth and represented the tying run. Even though the Yanks got smacked around, they still had a chance to win the game.
The Yanks are now 20-5, and the only drag is that the Red Sox are only 4 games back. Boston pulled out a 14-inning win over the Angels last night in Anahiem (incredibly, the Cardinals beat the Marlins in a 20-inning game yesterday too). Naturally, Pedro Martinez didn't get the win, although he looked fine, striking out ten in seven innings of work and leaving with a 4-2 lead.
I was talking with Ed Cossette of Bambino's Curse yesterday, and he expressed to me the constant anxiety Red Sox fans live with regarding Pedro's health. I was thinking about it later, and I have a question for the reader: Who was the last great pitcher who was as vunerable while he was in his prime as Martinez? I don't think the Koufax analogy works, because according to Jane Leavy's book, Koufax knew going into the 1965 season that his days were numbered. I don't get that sense with Pedro at all. Has there ever been as dominant a pitcher who was as frail as Pedro Martinez seems to be?
Inquiring minds want to know. (Like me.)
DEEP IN THE HEART
DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS
The Yankees won the opening game of a three-game series in Arlington last night, beating the Rangers 3-2. Mike Mussina improved to 5-0, struck out nine, and allowed one run in eight innings of work. Mussina seemed to get better, working quickly, as the game went on. After striking out the side in the eighth inning, I was a disapointed that he didn't return for the ninth. Not only was Mussina spotting his fastball, and using his over-the-top knuckle-cuve effectively, but he added a three-quarter-arm breaking ball which had the mighty Texas bats stumped all night.
Juan Acevado pitched the ninth instead and made things interesting. With one out, Juan Gonzalez swung at a shoulder-high fastball and lofted the ball towards the seats down the third-base line. Robin Ventura followed the high pop fly, and carefully stepped onto the tarp, stood up, leaned over slightly and recorded the second out of the inning, before he fell gently over into the stands. Almost everything about Ventura appears laconic, and this play was no different. It was a sure-footed play, but it seemed as if it was happening in slow motion. YES broadcaster, Ken Singleton commented that Ventura, "Looks like one of those loggers, doesn't he?"
Carl Everett then reached on what looked like Alfonso Soriano's first error of the season (a difficult grounder to his left that he booted), and scored on Ruben Seirra's double to right (Raul Mondesi, showing off his powerful arm, almost nabbed Sierra at second to end the game). The second baseman, Michael Young was next, and he smacked Acevado's first pitch off the glove of first baseman Nick Johnson. The ball bounced to his right, and lil' Sori scooped it up and flipped it under-hand to Acevado to end the game. It was a long way to toss a ball under-hand, and Acevado practically snow-coned it in his glove, and they narrowly beat the streaking Young by a half-a-step, to seal the win.
Boy, the Rangers are a strange team. They are a motely crew of muscle-headed sluggers, managed by one straight-laced strategist in Buck Showalter. This is the first time Buck has managed against the Yankees since he left the Bronx in the October of 1995. Orel Hirshiser is his pitching coach, and the two of them look prim and studious.
Showalter and Orel each have their own, sleek little table-stand in the dugout. Hirshiser dilligently charted each pitch thrown by his staff. He has just the kind of business-like efficiency that makes him a perfect fit with Buck.
YES broadcaster Michael Kay said that he had asked A Rod before the game how he liked Showalter, and A Rod looked at him in the eye and said, "I love him. You know wanna know why? Because I crave discipline and he provides it."
It's not often that you hear your superstar saying he craves more order, and structure and accountability. Kay reported that Showalter compared Rodriguez with Mattingly, in terms of his love for the game and his work ethic. According to Kay, that is not a comparison Buck throws around lightly.
But the Rangers roster isn't just weird, it feels perverse. They have some youth of course, even though Mark Teixeira didn't play. The kid Hank Blalock did, and boy is he milk-fed, bro. "Good-looking ballplayer," as Buck O'Neil would say. He looks like a ballplayer. Or he looks like a jock, California-style, ala Shane Spencer. I would find it hard not to call him "meat." Mussina duped him into grounding into a weak ground out his first time out by throwing him an offspeed pitch on a full count; the next time up, he wacked a hanging curve ball up the middle for an RBI single; the last two times up, Mussina set him down on three pitches.
It was good to see Mr. Universe himself, Alex Rodriguez, and although I've never cared for him too tough, it was nice to see the smooth fielding, sweet-swinging future Hall-of-Famer Rafie Palmero too. But in the second inning, when Mussina faced Juan Gonzalez, Carl Everett and Ruben Seirra, I felt like I was watching a bad reality-TV show where they get a group of former celebrities and force them to live together. Or some ill espisode of the Rikki Lake show.
What a collection of Bone-heads, man.
My favorite Martian, Alfonso Soriano had a mutliple hit game again. As Steve Goldman noted in his Pinstriped Bible column this week, Nick Johnson is serving as a terrific counter-point to Sori. He is as patient as Sori is aggresive. Johnson collected a base on balls for the tenth consectuctive game. He flew out deep to left in his first at-bat, and hit a two-run homer to left in the sixth.
Jason Giambi put together a solid at-bat in the third, and drove a full count pitch up the middle to drive in the Yankees first run. Colby Lewis started for Texas, and he pitched well, mixing a good curve ball in with mid-90s gas.
LE FREAK, C'EST CHIC
LE FREAK, C'EST CHIC
I'm not the only one calling Alfonso Soriano "The Freak," these days. Aaron Gleeman simply prefers "Freak of Nature," which is the same difference, really (Initially, I started calling Sori "Superfreak," but he's still too young for that title, which I think fits Vlad Guerrero better at this stage of the game). Gleeman, who has a real gift for statistical analysis, covers lil' Sori, and his freaky-ass self in his column today:
Freakin A, bro.
BIBLE THUMPING Here are
Here are the last two installments of Steve Goldman's excellent Pinstriped Bible column over the YES website (I'm sorry I forgot to link last week's piece). Goldman offers objective analysis of the current Yankee team, while providing a thorough, and detailed historical context to measure their accomplishments by. It makes his weekly column a must-read for all Yankee fans.
This week, Goldman compares the 2003 Yanks with four other Yankee teams who got off to similar starts (1928, '39, '49, and '58---yeah, all those teams went on to win the World Serious).
Here is what Goldman has to say about Nick "Godzookie" Johnson, since Joe Torre moved him to the 2-hole in the batting order:
GREAT GOOGLIE MOOGLIE Just
GREAT GOOGLIE MOOGLIE
Just how good are the 2003 Yankees? Jayson Stark has a column at ESPN that says, well, they are damn good, perhaps great. Of course, it is way too early to be talking about great anything (the mere suggestion makes my Spidey Sense tingle), but considering that they've been without Rivera and Jeter (and a productive Jason Giambi), the Bronx Bombers have done a good job of living up to their moniker, for sure:
PEOPLES IS PEOPLES Steve
PEOPLES IS PEOPLES
Steve Keane, sole owner and proprietor of The Eddie Kranepool Society, writes:
As a whole, I think athletes are self-centered, but not any more so than your run-of-the-mill actor, musician, or artiste. As a side note, Steve mentions today that it may be time for the ancient mariner of the Mets radio broadcast booth, Bob Murphy to step down. Personally, the less coherent Murphy becomes, the more I enjoy listening to him. His voice, garbled, and slurred, sounds like Schlitz Beer, if Schlitz Beer could talk.
"Eeeeeee Strugg 'im out."
BOMBED I got an
I got an e-mail from Ed Cossette yesterday as the Sox were getting their tits lit in Texas, and he told me, "I guess I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue." Derek Lowe continues to be inconsistent, and manager Grady Little told the Boston Globe:
Trouble is already brewing between the Sox and the Boston press, according to the Boston Globe. Pedro Martinez is not talking to reporters, and now Grady Little has issued a mandate that his players only talk to the media about baseball related issues, after a definite-type-of-situation went down earlier this week.
For what it's worth, I'm sure Ed will feel just a wee-bit better when he wakes up this morning and finds out that the Yankees finally lost a game. Andy Pettitte didn't have much of anything last night, and the Angels jumped on him for six runs; the Yankee bats for once, were unable to rally, and the Yanks are no longer the best team in baseball. The best team would be your Kansas City Royals, baby. Don't throw rocks at the throne, playa.
Not for nothing, but I caught the tail end of Mike Lupica's diatribe against the Bronx Bombers last night on ESPN's the Sports Reporters II. Ostensibly, Lupica echoed what my friend John alluded to yesterday, and that is that watching the Royals win is much sweeter than the watching U.S. Steel win. I understand his point. If you are an average fan, what's not to love about the Royals winning? It's a great story. But the Yankee fan in me says, "Speak for yourself, papi." Lupica finds the Yankees to be obnoxious and joyless, which is fair enough. But that's not going to stop me from enjoying their success, no matter how high their payroll climbs. (Do I ever feel guilty about it? Sure. But it's all part of being a Yankee fan.) If you can't find any joy in watching Soriano or Bernie hit, then it's your loss, not mine. But hell, Lupica has to sell papers, I just get to root for my team.
STARTIN' SOMETHING? Things may
Things may not look promising for the Mets this year, but at least they are only 3 games out of first place. This doesn't feel like a team that go out and win 20 of 25 games, but at least Cliff Floyd and Robbie Alomar are starting to get hot. Floyd has been pounding the ball this week, and cursing the ill winds at Shea too, as he has had several balls knocked down short of the wall, and land safely in the gloves of the opposing team. Alomar had two doubles last night and now has nine on the season (he had 24 last year). What's more impressive is that he's driving the ball in the gaps like the Robbie of old.
Last night, Pedro Astacio made him first start of the year and Mets beat the Astros, 7-4.
GETTING DEFENSIVE David Pinto
END OF THE LINE...
END OF THE LINE...
The Mets placed David Cone on the DL yesterday, and though nobody said it, his career could be over.
According to the New York Times:
At the same time, Cone admitted:
DEAR JOHN Here is
Here is an e-mail I got this morning from an old friend of mine, John Burdick, one of my creative writing professors when I was in college, who also happens to be a long-time Yankee fan:
Here is another e-mail I received today; this one is from reader, Steve Bonner:
I want to thank all the readers who have sent me comments on the Buster Olney interview, and I especially want to thank my fellow bloggers (and Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus) for all the plugs and kind words. All of your support is more than somewhat appreciated.
Jason Giambi, one of the few Yankees who is not on fire these days, told Klap:
ROMPER STOMPER "The Freak,"
"The Freak," Alfonso Soriano has hit a home run to lead off a game three times this year---all in support of Roger Clemens, who earned his 297th career victory last night in the Yankees 9-2 win over the defending World Champs. Raul Mondesi added a homer of his own, and Bernie Williams had a couple of hits and a couple of RBI (he now leads the team with 22). At the rate lil' Sori and the Yankees offense is going, how long will it be before the Yankees get in their first brawl? If they don't slow down soon, it's hard to believe that the rest of the league is going to sit back and watch them roll over everyone without getting a bit nasty with them.
Soriano's brilliance is unsettling in this regard: just how long can he keep this up? Both John Sickels and Rob Neyer confirmed his status as a freak of nature last year. So the question remains: Is Soriano a great player, or the next Juan Samuel? The great Sandy Koufax spoke with Joe Torre before yesterday's game and told the Yankee manager:
There is something about Soriano's blinding talent that makes me question whether it will last over five, ten years. Still, it won't stop me from appreciating every moment that little freak gives us in the meantime.
The Bombers dominating offense and sterling starting pitching has masked the team's mediocre bullpen, which is starting to look like a M*A*S*H unit. Antonio Osuna joined Mariano Rivera and Steve Karsay on the DL yesterday with a strained groin. In his place, the Yankees have called up right-hander Al Reyes, who they picked up after the Pirates released him this spring. According to the Daily News:
The young Jason Anderson now moves into Osuna's set-up role, and the Yankees better pray that their bats keep clicking with Seattle, Oakland, and Boston on the horizon.
Rivera, who was supposed to throw yesterday, pushed his outing back one day due to some general soreness and will pitch this afternoon instead. He will likely join the team next week in New York when the Yankees face Seattle and then Oakland.
Meanwhile, Billy Conners is busy working on fundamentals and mechanics with Jose Contreras in Tampa:
Contreras is scheduled to pitch for Triple A Columbus next Tuesday.
HURTIN' This morning I
This morning I sent Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus an e-mail asking him what we should make of the Steve Karsay situation. Yesterday, the Times reported that he would likely miss the remainder of the season, but after his visit with Dr. James Andrews, the reports today are that he'll be okay....when we don't know. I'm not the swiftest cat on the block when it comes to sports medicine so I asked Will why Karsay would need two cortisone shots.
Meanwhile, things are sure looking bleak over at Shea these days. David Cone left last night's game vs. the Astros after two innings with a gimpy hip, and to make matters worse, Jeromy Burnitz suffered a broken hand late in the game when he was nailed by a 97mph Billy Wagner pitch. Naturally, Burnitz had been the hottest hitter on the team.
I caught some of the game on TV last night, and after Cone was yanked, Mex Hernandez was talking about how it's probably time for Cone to hang it up. The announcers didn't know why Cone had been pulled from the game at that point, so I don't know if Mex changed his tune when he learned that Cone had been hurt. But I would doubt it.
Cone, one of the all-time stand-up guys, spoke with the media following the game:
The Wilpons (Jeff and his father Fred) are going to have to think long and hard about the future of their team. I thought that Steve Phillips should have been kicked to curb along with Bobby V last year, and if anything good comes out of another misbegotten season at Shea, it will be the firing of the GM. Steve Keane, who runs The Eddie Kranpool Society, has been harping about Phillips for weeks now. For the skinny on the sorry sons of bitches from Queens, be sure and check out Steve's blog, pronto.
JETER RE-INJURED Yeah, my
Yeah, my heart skipped a beat too, when I recieved an e-mail carrying this subject-heading yesterday. I should have known better when I saw that it was from my ol' pal, Greg G, winner of the most obnoxious Yankee fan west of the Mississippi contest (and that's saying something). Fortunately for the Anahiem faithful, Greg G will not be attending the Yankee-Angels series this week.
After I was finished cursing him out for fooling me with his phoney headline, I must say, his e-mail made me smile:
AFTERMATH Jose Contreras had
Jose Contreras had a bullpen session for the Yankee brass in Tampa yesterday and is scheduled to pitch a simulated game on Thursday. If all goes well, Contreras will start next Tuesday night for the Columbus Clippers. While George Steinbrenner has remained mum about the subject, Joe Torre has put his beef with George behind him:
Mike Lupica spoke with former Yankee manager Dallas Green, who clashed plenty with George during his stint at the helm of the Bombers in 1989. Here is Green's take on the Torre-George affair:
We will be hearing that this is Joe's last year for the next six months, so we had better get used to it. Still, Green hit the nail on the head when he said:
At 17-3: mission accomplished, thus far.
YANKS BOMB WORLD CHAMPS
YANKS BOMB WORLD CHAMPS
Since I get up at six a.m. during the week, there is no way I'm going to catch any of the Yankees-Angels series. I can't just catch the first few innings, because no matter what's happening, I'll get too worked up to fall asleep. Traditionally, west coast swings have been murder for the Bronx Bombers, so I have no qualms about holding out until the morning, and discovering the results on the backpage of the tabloids on my way to the subway.
Having said that, you can imagine the spring in my step this morning when I read that the Yanks rolled over the World Champs, 8-3 last night in California. Last week, a reporter asked Joe Torre if he looked at this series as a rematch of last year's playoffs. Torre said, "Let me ask you a question: If we sweep them, do we get their World Series rings?"
Still, the Yankees manager admitted:
Bernie Williams had two hits and two RBI, "the freak" Soriano had two hits again (and so did Giambi), and Jorge Posada added a home run to keep the conga-line moving along. Jeff Weaver wasn't sharp, but he pitched well enough to earn the victory. Yankee starters are now 15-0.
Antonio Osuna left the game in the 8th inning with a leg injury. The morning papers didn't know the seriousness of the injury. In related news, the Times reports:
BUSTING OUT Buster Olney
Buster Olney and Mike Freeman have an front page article in The New York Times today on the state of drugs in Major League Baseball. The piece is lengthy and well-researched, though it ostensibly tells us what we already know: that athletes will do just about anything in their power to give themselves a competitive edge. What the article does shed some light on, is just how unsettled the players are about how to address the issue of drugs and drug testing. Olney and Freeman cover everything from steriods to amphetamines:
Union rep, Tom Glavine, disagreed:
As Malcom Gladwell told Rob Neyer last summer, most players have probably moved beyond steriods and are now experimenting with Human Growth Hormone, which is much harder to detect:
BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: BUSTER OLNEY
I had the opportunity to meet up with Buster Olney on Easter morning at Shea Stadium to talk about the life of a baseball beat writer. Olney covered the Yankees for the Times from 1998 through 2001, and currently writes about the New York football Giants. We spoke for about 40 minutes in the chilly Shea Stadium parking lot, and I found him to be an engaging and bright guy.
I hope you enjoy our conversation.
The following interview was conducted on April 20, 2003.
Bronx Banter: Could you tell us how you became a beat writer?
BB: Where did you grow up?
BB: So what's with the Lakers and Dodgers?
BB: Terrible at sports?
BB: How long did it take you before you reached the Times?
BB: The Alomar years.
BB: Were there just too many sour personalities?
BB: But you didn't grow up as a Yankee fan.
BB: Did that affect you when you covered them?
BB: How adversarial is your relationship with the players?
BB: What is the relationship like between you and the other beat writers?
BB: I just read Bob Klapisch and John Harper's book about the 1992 Mets, "The Worst Team Money Can Buy," and they painted a tense portrait of the working relationship between that Mets team and the media. Was that your experience as well working the beat in New York, or was it just about that particular team?
BB: Like Soriano.
BB: That kind of outburst was rare on the David Cone Yankees.
BB: What about Bernie?
BB: You know there was a lot of talk about how the clubhouse was different last year after losing Martinez, and Paulie O, and Brosius, even Knobolauch. But the other night I was watching Matsui sitting on the bench next to Todd Zeile and Robin Ventura, and I think they pick up where the old guys left off, in terms of providing a steady, veteran professionalism.
BB: Can you pinpoint what it was that was tangibly different?
Buster: Mondesi came in, and has a reputation as a guy who is very active off the field. And that's pretty different from what they had. You know his approach to hitting was you know¡¦.
BB: Dude is a hacker.
Buster: The thing that I remember about last year is the way Joe dealt with Giambi was very different than what I had been around.
BB: With kit gloves?
Buster: A little bit. Joe is always focusing on ways of winning, so in other words if he thought Cecil Fielder gave the Yankees a better chance to win than Tino Martinez in the '96 Series, he would put Cecil Fielder in the game. Strawberry would start one game; Raines would start another. And the players accepted it. With Giambi last year, I don't think there is a question that they are better team defensively with Nick Johnson at first base. It was interesting to see Joe, rather then at some point go to Giambi and say, 'We're a better team with you as a designated hitter,' and Nick Johnson as a first baseman. He never really did that. Giambi had good hands and no range. And he's not a very good defensive first baseman. And I'm curious to see if that takes place at some point. But that was a different type of thing from what I had seen with the Yankees.
BB: How much of a difference was there between the Mets and Yankees clubhouses?
Buster: The culture was definitely different. It's night and day. Joe, I think has a lot of players that he doesn't like. It's not players he doesn't like. For instance: Wells. I don't think he's going to be going out to dinner with Wells when he retires, but Joe realizes how to deal with a situation in a professional manner. With Bobby, I always thought he was superior to Joe in terms of in-game preparation. But in terms of managing people, he didn't do it as well. And that filtered over into the clubhouse. And I really believe this. I don't think the Mets have had good leadership in their clubhouse. They don't have leadership personalities.
BB: What's the deal with Mo? He was always known as a clubhouse guy in Boston. Is it all about having to produce?
Buster: Yes. He's a terrible player for the Mets. And because he is a terrible player, if he says anything, it kinda bounces off hollow walls.
BB: Isn't that what happened with Cone during his disastrous 2001 season?
Buster: I think so. Well, he felt that way; I don't think the other players felt that way. But he understood it because he had been around long enough. At the end of that year he had really toned it down in terms of talking [to the media] because he felt like he didn't have the credibility. And that's an important part of it.
BB: Do you think Bobby V's arrogance can be attributed to the fact that he's younger than Torre?
Buster: No. Joe suppresses a lot. I've heard about meetings between him and Steinbrenner where he basically picks and chooses his spots. Bobby is a guy who if he was a solider, would be in the front lines, always involved, always engaged. Joe is much more calculated. Bobby is quicker to react.
BB: Do you think Torre's years as a television broadcaster helped him understand the media angle better?
Buster: He says it did. But from my understanding of Joe, that's how he always was. Where as when you think about Bobby's history, you see that he was class president, ballroom dancing champion---
BB: Pancake-eating champ.
Buster: Yeah, he's out front on everything. 9-11, he was out there, all the time, trying to do things. He likes to be right out front. When he managed in the American League with the Rangers the other managers referred to him as ¡®Top Step,' because he was always on the top step of the dugout. Now, you could look at it and say he's only in it for his own ego, but after being around him, I think that's just the way he is. He likes to be out front.
BB: He's perfect for TV.
BB: He's got the charm and the ego for it.
Buster: Ego, not so much. You could argue it's ego, but Bobby doesn't mind having his opinions known, and I think Joe picks and chooses his spots.
BB: Is Michael Piazza an easy guy to work with?
Buster: The beat writers like him a lot. This year, there is the perception that he isn't enjoying himself as much has in the past. But I know the beat writers think he's a terrific guy.
BB: You mentioned earlier that the relationship between beat writers is basically adversarial, was it the same way between writers at the Times, or were you guys all allies?
Buster: Definitely allies. I loved working with those guys. For instance when I covered the Yankees, Jack Curry and I would talk all the time, go through ideas, do a lot of sharing. The columns, the same way. If I heard something I'd tell Tyler [Kepner, now the main Yankee beat writer for the Times].
BB: How much did you learn from Murray Chass?
Buster: A ton.
BB: He's the Yankee Don, right?
Buster: I think there are two essential pioneers in our business. One of them is Murray, who was the first to really delve into the financial side of baseball. Think about how much is written on contracts and negotiations and stuff. I think that all started with Murray. And then you have Peter Gammons. He was the first to do a Sunday notebook. Which has now become a staple. Think about being a baseball fan, being excited, waking up Sunday morning, reading the baseball notes. Peter essentially invented that, and I think that the thing I've always admired about Peter is that he likes people. I know this, because I fell into this trap---and we all do---but Peter managed to stay out of it. He understands that you have to give people some space. You have to give players some space. And he hasn't gotten into the trap, even though he's almost 60 years old, of saying all ballplayers are jerks. He basically treats them as individuals and gives them the benefit of the doubt.
BB: Is Gammons widely admired amongst the baseball writers?
Buster: I think that most people that know him have enormous respect for him, yeah.
BB: How well did you work with the other guys at the paper?
Buster: Our paper was great. You hear stories. And that can come and go. Like when I worked in Baltimore, with Kenny Rosenthal. I loved working with Kenny. He had enormous energy: he could compliment what I did, I could compliment what he did. He could feed me stuff, I could feed him stuff, and it was totally wide open. Where you run into problems---and I never had this at the Times---is when the beat writer keeps stuff, hoards stuff away from the columnists. At the same time, if the columnist is not open to the beat writer, it's the same thing. And I never understood that because a beat writer is going to help the columnist, and vice versa. It seems silly to me when I've heard stories about that, but that happens.
BB: Do you enjoy baseball more now that you are not covering the beat anymore? Now that you do weekend-fill-in stints.
Buster: I always enjoyed it. I never lost---I love to come to the park, and I love to watch the games. And that never waned. The only thing that became extremely difficult was being away from home. Going away for ten days, two weeks, coming back, and your child is a different person than when you left. [Olney has a three-and-a-half year old daughter] But in terms of coming to the park, sitting down, starting up the pitch chart that I would keep, I loved doing that. I love watching sequences of pitches, seeing what the pitchers are trying to do. I'm probably watching more baseball now than I ever have.
BB: You got the dish?
Buster: Oh, yeah. Direct TV. Flip back and forth between games. Let's see what Brad Radke's doing. You know it's neat being able to see the Kansas City Royals. Because let's face it, where I grew up we didn't have a television. Everything I got was on radio. And if I saw a baseball highlight it was like a UFO sighting. And now, you can sit there and click through all these different games, and it's pretty neat.BB: Did growing up with baseball on the radio force you as a writer to pay greater attention to detail?
Buster: I would guess that is true. Ned Martin and Jim Woods were the Red Sox radio broadcasters. And I never got more excited---you ask me about being a fan, and there are times I walk up to players like Reggie Jackson, who I rooted against as a kid, it's a benign experience to me now. But when I saw Ned Martin, I almost tackled him; I was so excited to see him. I think I scared him. Thank you Mr. Martin, so much, I learned so much about baseball from you . We used to have a silver radio that we would carry around---I grew up on a dairy farm, and we had a silver radio, about four inches by six inches. And I would just take that with me, through hay fields, on the tractor, shoveling manure, stacking wood. That's what I would do all day. At nights, I would listen to WDEV in Waterbury, Vermont and the signal would go dim at eight o'clock. So I would try to pick up games from other cities. CAU in Philadelphia. I heard some Expos games on the French stations. I don't understand a word of French, but I got to know the scores, and I learned the numbers so I could pick up the scores. It was funny I had a hard time picking up Yankee games, but I could pick up the Phillies, Orioles. I remember one game, it must have been a weird atmospheric thing, I actually got a Mariners game. And I don't know why. But for about an hour I got the bounce, all the way across the country.
BB: You grew up in Red Sox country. Do you root for the Sox?
Buster: No, I was actually a huge Dodgers fan. Psycho Dodgers fan. I followed the Red Sox because that's the team I could listen to on the radio. And you know, I wanted them to win the '75 World Series; made bets with my teachers. Going to Fenway Park¡¦you know, that my Mecca. Going to games. But I didn't quite catch that sickness. And that's quite a relief. I can imagine going through my whole life thinking, there's no way one of my teams is going to win a World Series.
BB: Well, what are they going to do with themselves when they do win a World Series?
Buster: They won't.
BB: They won't?
Buster: No. (Laughs)
BB: Will a Chicago team win the World Series before the Sox do?
Buster: Before the Red Sox, yeah. No, I'm kidding. No, they obviously have a good team this season. But it's part of the culture that they won't [win a Championship]. It's part of the culture that they'll fail. In some ways it's reassuring. I've met Chicago Cub fans, whose team does badly, and they seem relish that a little bit. Oh, yeah the Cubs stink . Where as the Red Sox fans are like, every year: This is the year! . It's reassuring that have it there. It's like a prisoner with like a life sentence or a death sentence, waking up in the morning thinking: I'm going to get out! I'm going to get out!
BB: It seems to me that the baseball life can be and extremely lonely one. The constant travel. It must affect the writers just as it does the players. Did you have some sort of empathy with what players go through in this regard, or them with you, for that matter?
Buster: No. In the years that I covered the team I think I had two players ask me about my family, or knew something about my family, period. I mean it's a totally one-way relationship. It didn't bother me too much, and I think the reason why is because I grew up in such a small town. I would basically be alone on the farm for three months at a time. It doesn't bother me to be alone. But I do think it does--and I don't know what it is, and I haven't been able to define it--but it does something to your personality that makes most of the relationships you are in, totally one-way. I think what covering baseball does actually, is it takes away your own empathy. Because when you walk up to a player, it's so much about them, it's all about them, it's all about them. Some days they are a little bit annoyed that you are asking questions about them. And I found myself toward the end of my being a beat writer, feeling that way toward people in my life.
BB: They are always interviewing you.
Buster: They're asking about me, and I was so busy, that I would be like: You know, I'm really busy . I don't know exactly how to define it, but I know that now that I've been off the beat, I can see how the life can skew your personality if you do it for too long. There is something unhealthy about living your whole life where everybody in your life, you focus on them, and they aren't interested in you. Not that they should be.
BB: You get about as much love as an unsolicited shrink.
Buster: Yeah, right. Exactly. I'm not complaining about it. It's not like it bothered me that players didn't ask me. But it's part of the dynamics and it's odd. It's odd. It's not normal. If I worked with you in an office and I got to know you, I would know if one of your kids was born, even if we weren't good friends. I would still know that; send a card, wish you Merry Christmas and that type of thing. And it just didn't exist that way. If you think about it, you deal with these guys and you know so much about them. You know their personal lives, you know how much they are making, their moods, their mood swings, and they don't know anything about you.
BB: Nor do they care.
BB: Even Torre and these guys? The coaches.
Buster: I mean they may know you from your writing. But you know I had a child when I was on the beat, and nobody asked me about it or said anything. It's not a complaint, it's just the way it is.
BB: How do you find football players to be different from baseball players?
Buster: Well, there is definitely a harder line of us against them [in football]. I think baseball players generally view the writers as colleagues. It's like Hey, howya doing . You walk up to Mike Stanton, How you doing tonight? Yeah, tough game. With football players, it's like climbing over the wall to see their personality. The access you have in baseball is great. You have three-and-a-half hours before the game, lots of time after the game. In football, it's 45 minutes. You are rushing around, you don't have any time to say to a player, How you doing? And I've probably felt that type of connection with Tikki Barber, Strahan a little bit. A couple of the guys: Jason Garrett, who is the back-up quarterback. But it's much more difficult to get that in football. I understand why the NFL does it, because they want to keep that hard line. But I think people don't understand the personalities like we do in baseball and I think that is a detriment. Think about how much we learned about someone like Clemens, or Cone, or Brosius or O'Neill, because of the time that writers got to be able to know these guys.
BB: Are you going to stay with football for the foreseeable future?
Buster: You know the dynamics of it, where you cover the same players and only have sixteen games to write about? I don't see myself doing it for the rest of my life, that's for sure. I can see two or three years.
BB: Would you like to go back to baseball as a columnist?
Buster: I think that's Times choice. I love covering baseball, but I really love covering the NFL. I love the strategy, I love trying dissect that. There was a lot of stuff that happened in the games that was fun to explore like baseball was fun to explore. I loved covering the Giants last year, I just can't see doing it for a long time.
BB: Could the paper just up and put you on the NBA beat if they wanted to?
Buster: It's the same thing as baseball. The travel. In theory I would love to cover the NBA. I covered a ton of college basketball, the southeastern conference. So I love basketball, but the travel is brutal.
BB: Who was the best baseball player you covered while working on the beat?
Buster: The best player that I ever saw was Robbie Alomar in the first half of the '96 season. Every day the guy invented ways to win games. He was incredible. Then he broke he was thumb midway through that year, but for those three months, he was the best player I have ever seen. Deon Sanders is the fastest player I ever saw. There is no doubt that the most winning player was Jeter. I mean he just had an enormous prescence.
BB: When did the Yankee team look at Jeter like OK, he's the one?
Buster: See I don't know, cause I wasn't doing the Yankees until '98. I don't know if it was there right away.
BB: Was it there in '98?
Buster: Oh yeah. He had established himself as being a guy who cared a lot, but they could see that in '94, '95 when they saw him in spring training.
BB: We know Jeter's defensive numbers don't stack up. And there are several guys at his position who are superior offensively. So you try and rate him, and he may be the forth or fifth best shortstop in the game, but he may be his team's most valuable player, in spite of how well the Yankees have played without him.
Buster: Except for Rivera. I think a lot of the players on the other teams believe that Rivera is essentially the difference between the Yankees winning two championships and winning four or five. Because the Yankees had what other teams didn't have: a closer who would not lose in the ninth inning. He has this very calm demeanor but he is unbeliebably competitive. The purest confidence I ever saw in any player I was around came from Rivera and Jeter. I mean it wasn't even close. The classic thing about Rivera is when he gave up the homer to [Sandy] Alomar ['97 playoffs], the next year, you had the stereotypical story for every writer: Was this thing that was going to devastate Rivera? Would he have a Donnie Moore moment and never come back? So we watched him answer all theses questions, over and again as all the different writers came into the city, and he was very genteel about it. He always answered all the questions. And I said, ¡®It really doesn't bother you, does it?' Then he explained to me what he believed in his heart, or what he'd convinced himself, is that Sandy Alomar was lucky that he was pitching. Against any other pitcher, he never would have hit a home run. Because Rivera throws so hard, and throws it out over the plate, Alomar sticks his bat out, gets it off the middle of the bat, it flies into the stands. So Rivera thinks that even though he lost the game, he was in control of the situation. That's pretty rare. And he and Jeter are the only two players I saw that were like that. And actually, Jeremy Shockey, the Giants tight end has some of those same traits. You can see it right away; he thought he could control situations. O'Neill was a great player, and Cone was a great player, and so was Clemens, but they don't they didn't have that same level of confidence.
BB: Did Reggie Jackson have it?
Buster: I don't know. No, I don't think he did. There were times when he would struggle for two or three months at a time. I would guess not, but I can't really answer that.
BB: You mentioned that Robbie Alomar at one point was the greatest player you ever saw. When you see him know is it just a totally different guy?
Buster: Totally. Completely different. He can be a very moody player. I think that the Hirschbeck incident took a lot of his energy out of the game. I know he hated being booed, he hated the way people felt about him. You know he was public enemy number 1 for a couple of years. Every park that the Orioles went to, he got booed.
BB: What exactly did Hirshbeck say to him?
Buster: The situation was, it was late in the year, and the Orioles needed to win the game. It was a very tense game. In an important moment, Robbie complained about a call, went back to the dugout, and Robbie said, ¡®Just pay attention to the game.' Then Hirschbeck threw him out. He came on the field, Robbie's going nuts. [Baltimore manager] Davey Johnson asks Hirshbeck, ¡®Why did you throw my best player out of the game?' And he said, ¡®I don't care about that motherfucker, he's outta here.' Robbie was right there. Now subsequently people said that Hirshbeck used a racial slur, or that he was gay, or whatever it was, but that night, what everyone involved said, was, I don't care about that motherfucker . I think the other stuff is revisionist history.
BB: Do you think baseball is ready for a gay player to come out?
Buster: No. It's interesting cause when I covered the Padres Billy Bean was on the that team [that's Billy Bean, the gay ballplayer, who came out publicly a few years ago, not Billy Beane the Oakland GM]. I really believe that if any team would have been able to handle that situation, it would have been that team. Because the best player, Tony Gwynn, is a very tolerant person, he's very broad-minded. It was a very young team, that had stripped it down and they had all these young players, and Billy was very well liked. Some of the other leaders on the team like [Brad] Ausmus, were very bright guys. Trevor Hoffman, very accepting personality. If it was going to work, it would've worked on that team. But there is no doubt veteran teams like the Yankees I covered, or the Mets now: no chance. There is no chance.
BB: Because of the hoopla that would surround it?
Buster: Well, not only that, but the anticipation of it would prevent the front office from even making the move. Saying that, if the greatest pitcher in the game came out and said he was gay, they'd probably bend the rules. But it would have to be a great player. If you think about how they did it with Jackie Robinson, part of the reason why it worked was because he was a great player.
BB: And they chose him for his personality as much as his ability as a ballplayer.
Buster: Exactly. Billy Bean said that it's basically unworkable, and I agree with him. It would have to be a player who is established. A player who won three Cy Young awards and then came out. Right. And even at that point, he would never be accepted by half of the players. No matter what he did or what he said.
BB: How are women reporters treated in Major League clubhouses now? Are they more or less accepted?
Buster: By and large they are expected. But I can honestly say there have been times when players have come up to me and said, ¡®Why does she have to be here?' Some of them are leery, and suspect¡¦
BB: That they are pecker checkers.
Buster: That they are leering at the players, yeah. But I think most of the players dealt with it professionally. Are they all comfortable? No. But they dealt with it professionally.
BB: Are the male sportswriters uncomfortable with women reporters?
Buster: No. I never heard a word from another male reporter about it. I always thought it was extremely difficult for women to cover baseball. More so than in football because of the access you have in baseball. You have an incredible amount of access in baseball. A lot of beat reporting is based on relationships you have with the players. A woman can come in there and be the best reporter in the history of the sport, be the greatest writer, and at least a third of the players, if not half, would never accept her. Just because that's just the way of the world I guess. It's not right, but that's the way it is. As a male writer in baseball, I could exploit the tremendous amount of access that I had. There is a comfort level they are going to have with me that they would never have with a woman.
BB: How much of a barrier existed between you guys and the Latin players?
Buster: None. Sojo was one of the nicest guys I ever covered and Duque was one was one of the most difficult guys I ever covered. The language thing could be frustrating and I was glad that I had taken some Spanish in high school.
BB: What about my boy Hurricane Hideki Irabu?
Buster: I thought him to be one of the saddest players I ever covered. He so had so little self-confidence. I don't know him, and I can't document it, but I just thought he was like the kid who got picked on in high school, and was just very defensive. There was something about his background; you could just see he had no self-confidence.
BB: Do you get the same impression from Jose Contreras, or have you not been around enough to see him?
Buster: I don't know him. The times I've seen him, the body language, you can tell he doesn't have much confidence right now. Whether or not he can build that up, I can't say. But there is no doubt watching him pitch, that he doesn't have any confidence.
BB: When you go into the Stadium this morning have you already thought of an angle for today's story?
Buster: No, I'm actually working on the book I'm doing.
BB: What's the book about?
Buster: It's about the Yankees championship run.
BB: Oh cool. It's about time. Hey, this is something I wanted to ask about the transition years in the early 1990s: how much influence did Brain Sabean have in developing some of the farm talents?
Buster: I think Stick [Michael] and Showalter were the two main guys. Sabean learned a lot, but Stick definitely changed the culture and changed what they were looking for: more left-handed hitting, on-base percentage guys, and quality personality guys. Getting rid of guys like Mel Hall, and bringing in guys like Mike Gallego. Even though he wasn't a great player, there was a culture a respect that clearly developed in the early ¡®90s.
BB: I always felt like when they won it in '96, somebody should have held up a glass to Don Mattingly in the locker room after the game.
Buster: He started that. There are strands of his DNA all through the championships. Jeter told this great story about him. The two of them were on a backfield during spring training. And they were by themselves. The team was off playing a team in another town somewhere, and those guys were just working out. This was '95. And Mattingly turns to Jeter in an empty stadium and says, ¡®You never know who is watching. We'd better run it in.' So these two guys run it in, cause that's the right way to do it. And a lot of the players from O'Neill to Bernie, talked about Mattingly's respect for his teammates, and how well he treated his teammates. That continued all through the championship years. And that, by and large is still present today. The players have an enormous amount of tolerance for each other. Irabu tested it, Wells tests it. But if you go in their clubhouse it's a lot more tolerant than the Mets clubhouse let's say. There is a perception that some of the Mets under-cut Bobby. Some of the players don't like Benitez, the ownership. It's just a very different culture than the one you find at Yankee stadium.
CHINKS IN THE ARMOR
CHINKS IN THE ARMOR
Even as the Yankees mushed the Twins yesterday 15-1, completing the season sweep, and improving their overall record to 16-3, all was not well in Yankee land. The latest controversy between Joe Torre and George Steinbrenner is far from over, and according to the New York Times, the Yankees will likely be without the services of set-up reliever Steve Karsay for the remainder of the season (speaking of injuries, Rafael Hermoso reports that Cliff Floyd's gimpy achillies may be a long-term problem for the Mets this year):
Joel Sherman joined Mike Lupica in suggesting that this may be Torre's final season with the Yankees:
David Pinto thinks that George will come to his senses and move past this mess, but I'm not convinced. At the very least, this incident should serve as a reminder to Yankee fans that we should be appreciating and savoring every moment of every game this year. Because when Joe joes, who will stop George from ruining the Yankees all over again?
The Twins must be happy they don't have to face the Yankees again. Boomer Wells pitched his second complete game of the season yesterday,"the Freak" Soriano, belted a grand slam, Bernie Williams added a homer, while Nick Johnson hit two of his own to lead the Yankees conga line past Minnie. The Gashouse Gorillas head to Anahiem tonight to face the World Champion Angels in a 3-game series, before ending their longest road-trip of the season with a weekend series in Arlington against the Rangers.
JOE RIPS GEORGE Things
Things have been going too well for the Yankees. They've been playing terrific ball, despite missing their two biggest stars, Jeter and Rivera. And in spite of the fact that the Red Sox are keeping pace with them in the AL East. Maybe George Steinbrenner is bored. He reared his ugly head again this weekend.
In an uncharacteristic display of emotion, Joe Torre publicly criticized Yankee owner George Steinbrenner before he won his 700th game as manager of the Bombers, over the organizations decision to send struggling pitcher Jose Contreras to see George's pitching guru in Tampa (Billy Conners), after Torre had told Contreras that he would be headed for Triple A Columbus. It is the angriest Torre has been in his eight years as Yankee skipper.
According to the New York Times:
I was out at Shea Stadium early yesterday morning to conduct an interview with New York Times writer Buster Olney. Olney covered the Mets in 1997, and then worked the Yankee beat from '98 through 2001 (he now covers the New York football Giants, and is currently writing a book about the Yanks). We spoke for about 40 minutes in the chilly Shea Stadium parking lot before he went to work---Olney spells the regular beat writers on the weekend (I hope to transcribe the interview and have it posted later in the week). We had no idea about the impending Contreras/Torre controversy, but here is how Olney characterized the Yankees' manager:
Yesterday, Torre picked his spot:
Mike Lupica opines:
Expect George to fire back. Torre accomplished what he set out to do: maintain his authority and respect level in the clubhouse, with his players. He's willing to take the hit with Steinbrenner in the papers in order for his players to know where they stand with him. Maybe Lupica is right. What if Torre walks away, regardless if the Yanks win the championship or not? What will George have to say for himself then?
MONSTERS OF THE MIDWAY
MONSTERS OF THE MIDWAY
The Yankee machine kept rolling along over the weekend against the Twins. The Bombers won all three games and extended their winning streak to 12 over Minnie. About the only bump in the road came on Sunday, when Joe Torre blasted George Steinbrenner, but I'll get to that in a moment.
Roger Clemens was not sharp on Friday night, but he was his usual plodding, domineering self, and he powered the Yankees to a 11-4 win, aided by homers from Ventura (who hit two), Mondesi and Soriano.
The funniest play of the game was when Clemens covered first on a slow roller to Jason Giambi. It looked like two offensive lineman doing an egg-toss drill. Clemens caught Giambi's lip and slid/crashed into first base to record the out.
Anderson, Contreras and Osuna followed Clemens to close the Twins out. Contreras allowed a double and a base on balls and was swiftly yanked. He stood out even further because of his flacid mechanics. The other Yankee pitchers worked quickly, with confidence, while Contreras continued to look lost. He wasn't using the lower-half of his body, his legs, at all. It's even more glaring because he's such a big, powerfully-built guy.
Jason Giambi continued to struggle, swinging through fastballs. The Yankee bullpen was a bit shaky again, and Giambi angrily scooped a throw in the dirt late in the game, that was pretty funny. Torre whispered something in the slugger's ear as he came off the field.
Saturday's game was closer, but the Yanks still managed to come out on top, 4-2. Andy Pettitte pitched a nice game, and Chris Hammond and Juan Acivedo closed the game out with some flair. In the sixth inning, Tori Hunter made a sensational catch, robbing Nick Johnson of a homer. Two batter later, Hunter almost pulled off the feat again, but Bernie Williams' shot was caught by a fan in the first row, and Hunter slammed his mitt into the wall in frustration. (It was the second magic trick Bernie had pulled off in two nights; on Friday he somehow was called safe on a steal of second.) It has just been going that way for the Twins.
Sunday's game held some promise for Minnie, with their young gun Kyle Lohse taking the hill, but after giving up lead-off singles to Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson to start the game, Jason Giambi tee'd off, and creamolished a fastball to straight-away center to give the Yanks a 3-0 lead. Giambi, who had been 0-8 since Friday, ended the day with two hits, and he also blistered a line-drive that was turned into a double-play. Giambi may be stirring from his slump, and is certainly the most dangerous .194 hitter in the league. With Mike Mussina pitching for New York, the Twins were in trouble, and the Yanks cruised to an 8-2 win. Ron Gardenhire protesting home-plate umpire, Joe Brinkman's stingy strike zone, got himself run early, but it didn't help his team too tough. Bernie Williams hit another homer.
Alfonso Soriano had at least two hits in all three games. A few weeks ago I was looking for a word that best describes Soriano. "Freak" was the most apt word I could come up with. Then I thought maybe we should call him "Superfreak." But after thinking about it for a while, I think Vladimir Guerrero is "Superfreak," and Lil' Sori is just "The Freak." Still, there is no other way to explain him. He's just a freak of nature.
DAY DWEAM BEWEAVER On
DAY DWEAM BEWEAVER
On a cold and blustery afternoon in the Bronx, Jeff Weaver allowed three hits over 7 2/3 innings, and earned his first win of the season as the Yankees shut-out the Blue Jays, 4-0, to improve to 12-3. Weaver threw a lot of breaking pitches, as he was without his good fastball. John Flaherty, who started in place of Jorge Posada behind the plate told the Times:
Raul Mondesi continued his hot hitting, collecting two more hits, including a solo homer. Manager Joe Torre told the Post:
Mondesi credited Reggie Jackson, who worked with the slugger throughout the spring, for his improved patience and offensive production:
Lil' Sori added a solo shot of his own, and who else but Godzilla Matsui delivered a bases-loaded double to give the Yankees all the runs they would need.
Lupica spoke with Toronto Manager Carlos Tosca (who looks like a combination of Larry Bowa and W.C. Fields), who is more than somewhat impressed by this year's Yankees:
No kidding, bro.
THE DEFENSE RESTS Here
THE DEFENSE RESTS
Here is a letter I recieved this morning from Harley, a loyal reader of Bronx Banter, responding to my column yesterday about the Yankees' suspect defense:
I should put Harley in touch with my boy Greg G, a native New Yorker now living in Venice, who has made a cottage industry out of terrozing the Southern California locals at Angels games. You take the lout out of the Bronx, but you can't take the Bronx out of the lout. Ya heard?
THE RETURN OF PRINCE
THE RETURN OF PRINCE P
I know baseball season has officially begun when I start grinding my teeth whenever the Red Sox win a game. I have tried to be fair in my coverage of Boston's Home Nine, but now that the games count, I find that I've reverted back to the maturity level of a 5th grader. Cursing them, hating them, instinctively and irrationally. Still, in spite of my limitations, it's been great to enjoy a good rapport with Ed Cossette, who runs the excellent Red Sox blog, Bambino's Curse.
Pedro Martinez will pitch tonight against the Devil Rays after experiencing the worst outing of his career. I was e-mailing with Ed the other day, and here was his reaction to Pedro's performance in the Sox home opener:
I remember talking to a Yankee fan a couple of years ago about the "Yankees Suck," chant. "The worst part about it," I said, "is that it just isn't true. I could almost deal with it if they Yanks did suck. I mean I'm not interested in going to the Stadium and yelling, '1918,' or 'Red Sox suck.'"
"Yeah, the only difference is the fuggin Red Sox do suck."
Oy veh. There isn't much difference between Yankee fans and Red Sox fans after all. We both think we are superior. And we are both wrong.
DEFENSIVE CONCERNS John Perricone,
John Perricone, whose Only Baseball Matters, is an essential daily read, had an article yesterday about defensive efficiency. Though it is still early, we know the Yankees are not a good defensive team. And while their D hasn't hurt the Yanks yet, according to John, it will sooner or later.
With shoddy defense and a suspect bullpen, the Yankee bats are going to have to keep booming, and the starting pitching is going to have to stay sharp, for the Bombers to fend off the Red Sox over the next six weeks.
PLAYER HATING There is
There is a Mariners-based baseball blog, called the U.S.S. Mariner, written by Jason Michael Barker, David Cameron, and Derek Milhous Zumsteg that is worth checking out. Here is what Derek Zumsteg recently wrote about Alex Rodriguez:
Never mind the kid hasn't missed a game since Christ was a Cowboy, and has done nothing but put up two of the best seasons ever by a shortstop in the process.
BLUE JAY WAY The
BLUE JAY WAY
The Yankees rallied, down 5-0, to tied the score against the Blue Jays last night, but Sterling Hitchcock and the bullpen could not hold the lead and Toronto beat the Bombers for the first time this season, 7-6. The temperature dropped over 25 degrees from the opening pitch to the 9th inning, and the winds were swirling wildly. David Wells started and was not sharp. The fatal blow came when he hung a breaking ball to Carlos Delgado, who smacked a 3-run dinger with practically one arm. (Yikes, that man is stong.)
Just how bad is the Yankees bullpen, and how much should Yankee fans be worried about it? It's piss poor, and with a tough schedule ahead, I would say it's time to start getting a bit nervous. After today's game, the Yanks go out west, and play four against the Twins, followed by 3 against the World Champs, and then 3 in Texas. They return home to host Seattle and Oakland, before going back out west to play the same two teams again. After that, Anahiem comes to the Bronx, followed by Texas. Then the Bombers travel to Beantown for 3, and finally, return home for 4 games against the Jays and then 3 vs. the Sox. All in all, it is the roughest stretch of the year for them. Mariano Rivera will likely be ready by the time the Yanks face Seattle, and believe me, they are going to need him:
Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus, opined:
The pressure is going to be on the starting pitching and the offense to break even or better during this stretch. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees fair against the league's elite teams with their patch-work bullpen. But I fear it could get ugly.
On a lighter note, Jason Giambi put together an impressive at-bat against his boyhood pal, Corey Lidle, smacking a 2-RBI double on a full-count pitch, as the Yankees rallied to tie the game. Giambi, who has more walks (14) than hits (11), has clearly struggled at the plate; he looked uptight and irritated with himself on the bench last night:
Just like last year, perhaps Giambi will get into a groove once the Yanks hit the road.
Raul Mondesi continues to impress offensively, taking pitches, and driving the ball with authority. Erick Almonte deftly bunted for a base-hit during the big Yankee rally, but struck out wildly in his next two at-bats. With men on 2nd and 3rd and no out in the 6th, Almonte K'd on a full count pitch. He pulled his head out, and looked as if he was trying to hit a 12-run home run. If he had simply tried to hit the ball where it was pitched, a ground-out to second base would have scored a run. Instead, Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson followed with strikeouts themselves, and the Yankees didn't score.
Sori slugged a solo shot off to lead off the 9th, and the Yanks put runners on the corners with 2 outs, but Jorge Posada whiffed to end the game.
LATIN LINGO I'm sorry
I'm sorry that I missed out on the Mets-Expos series in Puerto Rico last weekend, so here are a few related, if belated articles. As cool as it seems for MLB to host games in P.R., baseball is not the sport there it once was:
In an effort to energize the country's lagging baseball interest, former major league pitcher Edwin Correa, has started a baseball academy, which has recieved partial funding from MLB:
Finally, here a terrific article by Nick Peters on Felipe Alou , which appeared in the Sac Bee earlier this week. Peters covers Alou's early days in baseball:
BEAT STREET, KING OF
BEAT STREET, KING OF THE BEAT, COLD ROCKIN' THAT BEAT FROM ACROSS THE STREET
My lady, Emily and I spent some time in the town of Burlington, Vermont last Saturday. It was the first sunny day they had seen up there in a quite a while, and Emily was thankful to get out of the house, and move around a bit. We met Em's sister, and her boyfriend for lunch, and popped into a couple of used bookstores as well.
I came away with a hardcover copy of Roger Angell's "Late Innings" (doubles), "Great Time Coming," David Falkner's book about Jackie Robinson, "Our Game," a single-volume history of the game by Charles Alexander, "Oddballs," a dopey book about great baseball personalities, by former Rolling Stone journalist, Bruce Shlain, and "The Worst Team Money Can Buy," a book about the 1992 Mets by veteran New York beat writers Bob Klapisch and John Harper. (Don't joke, I know this year's edition of the Mets could be in the running for the worst team money can buy, but at least they are a heck of a lot nicer than the '92 squad.)
I had started reading Jim Brosnan's classic "The Long Season," on the train ride up north, but when I poked my nose through the new books before I returned home on Sunday, "The Worst Team Money Can Buy," jumped out at me, so I put tales of Solly Hemus and Frank Robinson aside for the moment, in favor of the antics of David Cone, Greg Jefferies and Doc K.
I read two-thirds of it on the way home, and finished the last 50 pages before I got out of bed the next morning.
So you want to be a sportswriter? You may want to reconsider after reading this book.
Harper and Klapisch are blunt, but entertaining in describing the life of the tabloid beat writer. Klapisch worked for the Daily News at the time [he's now with the Bergan Record and ESPN], while Harper was at the Post [he's now at the Daily News]. I remember how cut-throat those papers were in the late 80s and early 90s. There was always talk of one, or both of them coming dangerously to folding, and closing shop; the pressure to get the big scoop was amplified.
Many beat writers are former jocks themselves: Klapisch pitched for Columbia (his claim to fame being that he once fanned Ron Darling, when he played forYale), and Harper was an infielder, who once played on a championship fast-pitch team.
Klapisch and Harper may have written the book out of spite, or at least a great deal of frustration, but the tone doesn't come across as mean-spirited. They are self-effacing and sincere, and the pace of the book is quick and lively. I love the vulgarity, the pulpy details of jock writing like this, but I have to admit: the story they had to tell left me feeling completely depressed. It was like seeing a car-wreck; I couldn't look away (I grew up with the Bronx Zoo Yanks after all), but it wasn't much fun. The 1992 Mets were just a sour bunch, and the story of how the Mets failed to take full advantage of a great team in the 80s, left me enervated, though fully engaged. Actually, it made me appreciate the current Yankees run even more.
When Klapisch and Harper were writing about the decline of the 80s Mets, there was no sign of what would transpire in the Bronx over the next 10 years. The 92 Mets, run by Al Harazin, attempted to clean up the bad boy image of the 80s teams, by acquiring safe, proven, professionals like Eddie Murray, and Willie Randolph, while paying a King's ransom for Bobby Bonilla. Jeff Torborg replaced the hapless Buddy Harrelson and tried to run a straight-laced ship. The results were disastrous, and it seemed like no team could win in New York in the free agency era without being a group of red-ass bastards:
The Yankee teams of 1996-2001 weren't sons of bitches, but they were tough, and had tons of resolve. The Mets of the 80s were assholes, just like the old Yankee teams. Of course, the bit that made me laugh the most in the book involved the old Yanks (who at least were funnier than the Mets):
Yup, you have to have pretty thick skin to be a reporter, or a jock for that matter. "The Worst Team Money Can Buy," paints a vivid portrait of the uneasy relationship professional writers share with the athletes they write about. It should be required reading for any young writer who has aspirations to be a baseball beat writer.
When I was through with the book, I gained a new appreciation for how difficult it would be for Robbie Alomar, or any other gay ballplayer to come out. The players and writers may seem like grown men, but they operate in a world of heightened adolescence. Although Klap and Harper don't talk much about women reporters in the locker room, their book reminded me of the terrific 1979 Roger Angell piece about female sports journalists, "Sharing the Beat." Angell interviewed several young women reporters, as well as veteran old school dudes like Jerome Holtzman, and Maury Allen.
The most illuminating and poignant observations came from Jane Gross, and I think they are still relevant today:
MIGHTY MOOSE: YANKS SHUT
MIGHTY MOOSE: YANKS SHUT OUT TORONTO
Mike Mussina pitched a gem at the Stadium last night, as the Yankees blanked the Jays, 5-0. The Bombers are 11-2, which is the best start in team history. Mussina allowed 3 hits over 8 innings, and was nothing short of dominating, as he out-pitched Tornto ace, Roy Halladay in front of 33,833 in the Bronx. The game was just the tonic the Yanks needed after Monday's turgid affair (the game last two and a half hours intsead over four plus hours). According to the Daily News:
As usual, Williams is balanced and even-keeled about his sucess:
AROUND THE HORN Jay
AROUND THE HORN
Jay Jaffe, the Futility Infielder, celebrated the two-year anniversary of his site last week. A generous congradulations to you, Jay. You have paved the way for the rest of us, and I'd like to extend a Laurel and Hardy high five to you, brother.
Ed Cossette, the best nemesis a Yankee fan could wish for, has a good post on my favorite Red Sox, Tim Wakefield, over at his stellar site, Bambino's Curse.
Mike C, from Mike's Baseball Rants, has a nice post today on Alfonso Soriano that is worth checking out as well.
These men are the cream of the crop as far as I can tell.
MUSICAL INTERLUDE I don't
I don't know how many readers are familiar with the late rock'n'roller, Jeff Buckley, but my frined Nyla has been busy making a documentary on him for the past 3 years, and now has a website, promoting the film. I had never heard of Buckley before I heard his "Grace" album over Easter weekend in 1994. I wasn't checking for Rock records at the time, but my uncle Herve had a copy of the album and was a big fan. My grandfather had died the week before Easter, and my mother flew my brother, sister and me to Brussels to attend his funeral (oh, my mom is a Frenchie---Belgain, that is). It was a sad affair, but I was happy to be there with my family. I stayed at Herve's house and Jeff Buckley's record served as theme music for the weekend. We must have heard it twenty times.
It is an incredibly emotional record, and since I experienced it during a heightened emotional time, the record has particular resonance for me. But though my circumstance was extraordinary, Buckley's music seems to have had a potent impact on a lot of people (I know the album was far more succesful abroad than here in the States). Hence, Nyla's documentary.
Check out the site at: www.amazinggracejeffbuckley.com.
WALK ON BY, AND
WALK ON BY, AND WAKE ME UP WHEN IT'S OVER
The Yankees outlasted the Blue Jays 9-8 last night, in an agonizingly drawn-out game at the Stadium, which last four hours and eight minutes. Combined, the two teams featured 12 pitchers, who issued 20 base-on-balls. Looking for a cure for ansomnia? Here was the game for you.
Jose Contreras was credited with his first Major League win, but was far from impressive. Contreras looked swollen, instead of muscular. Maybe he's taken to the Livan Hernandez diet. He pitched deliberately, and without much confidence, nibbling around the corners, throwing more breaking pitches than fastballs. I feel badly for the guy. He's in an uncomfortable position. Joel Sherman suggests that perhaps he would be better suited pitching regularly in the minors. It could bolster his confidence, instead of settling for being a right-handed version of Sterling Hitchcock: Mop Up Man.
Fortunately, the Yankees other international man of mystery, Hideki Matsui, continued his solid play, contributing a long, 3-run home run which put the Yankees ahead for good.
While the Blue Jays bullpen leaves much to be desired, they have an attractive young offensive team. (Incidentally, their pitching coach bears, Gil Patterson, bears an uncanny likeness to former Yankee pitcher, Jim Bouton, as Ken Singleton noted during the YES broadcast last night.) Carlos Tosca was profiled by Gordon Edes in Sunday's Boston Globe, and there is much to like about the way is he running things in Toronto.
The Blue Jays ace, Roy Halladay faces off against Mike Mussina tonight. Let's hope they can pitch well enough to spare us from another evening of Base-on-Balls Bonanza.
IT'S GETTING DARK EARLY
IT'S GETTING DARK EARLY FOR THE METS
Armando Benitez blew his third save in a week, and Mike Stanton gave up a home run in extra innings as the Mets lost to the Expos for the third consectutive day in San Juan. The Mets have played 12 games (4-8), and have dropped 5 straight. Art Howe called the second team meeting in a week. Cause for alarm? Just ask the Mets. According to Adam Rubin in The Daily News:
When it's "gut-check time" after two weeks, you can't help but smell smoke. Think it's going to be another long, hot summer out at Shea? I wouldn't bet against it, man.
Here is a message my friend Joey La P left on my answering machine over the weekend. Joey is a die-hard Mets fan, with a hardcore Long Island accent:
Meanwhile in the Bronx, the Yankees lost 2-1 to the D-Rays. Clemens wasn't sharp, but he was efficient. According to Harold Reynolds of Baseball Tonight, J. Giambi started to swing the bat better over the weekend, though it didn't result in a lot of hits. The Red Sox beat the O's 2-0, the Giants beat the Dodgers in extra innings last night to improve to 11-1, and the Royals finally lost a game.
ROUGH HOME OPENER FOR
ROUGH HOME OPENER FOR PEDRO, SOX; METS CONTINUE TO STRUGGLE
Since I'm up here in Vermont this weekend, I haven't been able to watch the Mets play the Expos in P.R. I did catch the highlights on ESPN last night and saw Vlad Guerrero uncork a couple of hilarious throws from right field, but the Mets looked awful, and it doesn't look like I've missed much. Mike Piazza doesn't have a homer or an RBI to his name yet this season, and Cliff Floyd left the game with an ankle injury.
In a game where Timo Perez and Rey Sanchez were also hurt, about the only good news for the Mets is that Roberto Alomar scored run No. 1,417 of his career, passing Roberto Clemente for the most by a Puerto Rican-born player in the majors.
I called my cousin Gabe in New York this morning and he told me that he's going to have to take some time away from the Mets. That seems to be happening earlier and earlier each year. Yeeesh.
I was able to watch the Red Sox home opener against the Orioles. Pedro Martinez didn't have command of either his fastball or his change-up, and he sufffered the worst outing of his career. In a bizzare turn of events, Mike Cubbage, Boston's third base coach collapsed on the field in a diabetic seizure. While the new seating above the Green Monster looked great, there was not much to cheer about in Red Sox Nation last night.
According to Bob Hohler in The Boston Globe:
Hard to imagine that Pedro getting jeered at home, but Boston, like New York, operates on the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately principal of sportsmanship.
Dan Shaughnessy, always ready to stir shit up, reports that Martinez wasn't fazed by his reception:
Pedro gettin rocked in the home opener is about as likely as Greg Maddux getting torched in his first three starts, or Randy Johnson and Curt Shilling being held without a win after their first three starts as well, the Royals jumping out to a 9-0 start (somewhere in Kansas City, Buck O'Neil is smiling).
Mike Piazza hit the nail on the head when he said:
YANKS BEAT RAYS ON
YANKS BEAT RAYS ON GODZILLA'S RBI SINGLE
The Yankees are off to their best start since 1988 (oh, what a year that was). After grounding into a double play with the bases loaded in the 7th inning, Hideki Matsui smacked a 1-out single through the left side with the bases juiced in the bottom of the 9th to win the game for the Bombers.
I didn't get to see the game, but how impressive is D-Rays rookie Rocco Baldelli? Rocco went 3-4 this afternoon, and extended his hitting streak to 11 games.
Here is what Rob Neyer wrote about Baldelli in his "Quick Hits" column:
Peter Gammons added:
FRUITY NUM-NUM I don't
I don't want to make a federal case out of this, but it's always seemed apparent to me that Roberto Alomar is gay---even before he came to the Mets. It's an observation that is based completely on my own gut instinct, nothing more. I'm not bringing it up because I want to seem sensationalistic or because I have a moral judgement about it one way or the other. But when I read Rafael Hermoso's article on Alomar's mother in Friday's New York Times, the amatuer psychologist in me just couldn't resist bringing this up once again.
Robbie, the baby of the Alomar family, and is uncommonly close to his mother. Does that make him Gay? I suppose not, but it's a good place to start. Witness:
I dont' think Alomar has the kind of personality to be the first star ballplayer to come out of the closet. That's fine. I sure don't think any less of him cause I think he's Queer either (actually it kind of makes me like him more, especially since I hear Rickey Riccardo's voice every time I see him play). That kind of thing doesn't matter much to me, and certainly not how I regard a specific player. The question of sexuality does however remain a huge bug-a-boo in professional sports. But I'm still surprised that Michael Piazza was the only member of the Amazins clubhouse last year who was targeted as "The Gay Met." I felt like saying, "Am I crazy, or does Robbie have something on the entire New York media which is preventing them from breaking this story?"
Maybe it's a story that isn't ready to be broken yet. Perhaps the taboo of one's sexual orientation is the last place sports writers care to venture. Still, part of me can't help but wonder if there are just too many boys in a place like New York to keep Robbie's focus completely on the field.
Maybe we should ask him mother.
HEY NOW Joel Sherman
Joel Sherman had a column in Friday's Post comparing the current Yankee team with the '98 squad. Sherman is the most reliable voice at the Post, though I find him to be an unspectacular writer. He tends to conform to the shrill sensibilities of his paper (fair enough), and brings the Shakespeare line, "Me thinks thou dost protest too much," to mind often, whether he's writing a positive or negative piece. Curiously, Sherman comes across as an aimiable and more even-handed on his stints on television (he is a guest analyst on MSG from time to time).
It's a bit premature to compare the 8-1 Yanks to the '98 version, but that's what Sherman gets paid for. Still, without getting ahead of ourselves, he does make some decent points:
ALL'S WELLS THAT ENDS WELLS
David Wells pitched a 3-hit, complete game shutout on Thursday afternoon to give the Bombers their ninth consecutive victory over the Twins. Johan Santana pitched 4 innings of middle relief for Minnie and struck out 8 of the 12 batters he faced, living up to the advanced billing he recieved during the winter.
Wells, who loves pitching in cold, crappy weather was terrific, and displayed yet again why the Yankees have kept him around in spite of all his mishegoss: dude can pitch. However, Wells told Michael Kay on ESPN radio yesterday that he was close to quitting the team and leaving baseball this spring after his book controversy set Yankee camp on its ear.
According to Jack Curry in the Times:
LONG GONE The Hall
The Hall of Fame canceled a screening of what many people consider the most satisfying baseball movie to date, "Bull Durham," on the count of the leftist politics two of the films stars, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. I think Robbins is a talented actor on the screen, and an arrogant putz in real life, however, whether I agree with his opinons or not, I certainly agree with his right to express them. I'm not sure what the Hall was trying to accomplish here, but boy, have they generated reams of bad press over the incident, which is a wet dream for liberal editorialists.
For full and comprehensive coverage, look no further than Jay Jaffe's Futility Infielder. I had the pleasure of spending some time with Jaffe last weekend, and I'm pleased to report he is as good a guy as he is a writer (plus, he bears an uncommon resemblance to Robin Ventura, which can't be bad now can it?).
For some reason I wasn't able to link the specific articles, but they are the last two he's posted. So get going, Meat, and get yourself schooled.
YES, WE HAVE NO
YES, WE HAVE NO BRONX BANTER
I'm taking a few days off to be up north in Vermont with my girl Emily, who is recovering from her surgery slowly but surely at her folks place (it's hard to believe the operation took place a month ago). Sorry that I didn't mention that before I took off. My bad. Fortunately, they've got a computer up here, so let me take this time to catch up a bit...
YANKS WIN ON COOL
YANKS WIN ON COOL NIGHT IN THE BRONX
The announced crowd at Yankee Stadium last night was 31,898, but it felt more like 1257. It reminded me of the Bombers recent past--93-97, before the throngs started jamming the Stadium, and attendence was thin. You had to be a brave soul to sit through last night's game, though at 2 hours and 25 minutes, it was mercifully quick affair. I like it when the crowd is small enough to hear individual chants and hecklers. You could hear the bleacher creatures roll call in the top of the first, like they were sitting just under the broadcast booth.
In a brisk, well-played game, the Yankees beat the Twins 2-1, on the strength of two solo home runs (Jorge Posada and Raul Mondesi) and 8 strong innings from Mike Mussina. Kyle Lohse, Minnesota's young right-hander, was efficient and effective for 7 innings, pitching quickly and staying ahead of the Yankee batters. He made a mistake to Posada---the first batter he had fallen behind all night, and got burned, as Jorgito popped a line drive into the right field seats. Two batters later, Mondesi yanked a pretty good slider into the left field stands for the go-ahead run. Mondesi, who looked foolish in his first at-bat, is holding his hands further away from his body, and lower than usual. He holds the bat straight-up in the air, and looks like a right-handed Reggie Jackson.
The most exciting play of the game came in the 4th inning. Soriano led off with an infield single to short, the Yankees first hit of the game. Torre put on the hit-and-run and Nick Johnson smacked a ball to the left side, which was snared by the Twins third baseman Corey Koskie. Koskie dove to his left to make the play. He threw to first to get Johnson, and then had to scramble back to third as Soriano charged passed second and into third. The throw from first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz was low and wide, and Koskie made another nice play, blocking the throw and saving a run. It is interesting to note that Sori slid into third feet first. Looks like someone's paying attention.
Mike Mussina was almost as nasty as Lohse, he lasted longer, and pitched out of trouble when he needed to:
SCRIPTED Have the Yankees
Have the Yankees hired Robert Towne or William Goldman as Hideki Matsui's interpreter? It sure sounded like that in Jack Curry's column yesterday in the Times:
Matsui hasn't been flashy, or spectacular, he's been sound, and grounded instead. Both Robin Ventura and Don Zimmer had nothing but raves for Matsui in today's Daily News. According to Ventura:
MEETING OF THE MINDS
MEETING OF THE MINDS
How am I supposed to hate the Sox when they become more competent and likable with each passing day? Oh, I'm sure I'll find a way...
SLAM-SUI: GODZILLA'S BLAST LEADS
A six-game hitting streak to start the season was sure to make Godzilla Matsui's debut in the Bronx a welcome one, but he exceeded expectations by hitting a grand-slam in the 5th inning of the Yankees 7-3 win over the Twins yesterday at a frigid Yankee Stadium (considering how ugly the weather was on Monday, it's remarkable that the grounds crew had the field in playing condition). Nick Johnson, and Jason Giambi hit 1-out singles, and then Bernie Williams was intentionally walked to load the bases for Matsui, who hit a 3-2 pitch from Twins starter Joe Mays, into the right field bleachers.
According to Bill Madden in today's Daily News:
Matsui looked perfectly at home sitting on the bench between veterans Todd Zeile and Robin Ventura. The humble Japanese star tipped his cap and gave a small wave to the crowd as he walked off the field at the end of the game. Godzilla, who looks like Shemp from "The 3 Stooges," has a body like an ape. He could be a bouncer or a goon. He's bigger than Yogi Berra, but has the same kind of goofy build. Matsui's parents were at the Stadium yesterday, in what turned out to be a happy day for the Yankee fans who braved the 35 degree weather.
Andy Pettitte pitched well enough to earn the win, and Robin Ventura added a home run of his own. Alfonso Soriano was limited to just one hit, after collecting 2 or more in his first 6 games. Send him down, already.
HE'S A KEEPER The
HE'S A KEEPER
The Red Sox have picked up Pedro Martinez's $17.5 million option for 2004, which ends a good deal of speculation regarding Prince P's future in Boston. At least until November. Dan Shaughnessy reports that the new Red Sox owners are in the business of people-pleasing, and you'd be hard pressed to find a Red Sox fan who wasn't thrilled and delighted to have Pedro back for at least one more season:
These are not Tom Yawkey's Red Sox.
DAT QUIET GUY Each
DAT QUIET GUY
I came along this passage recently, and one sentence particularly struck me as a fitting description of Bernie Williams: "A player who loves his craft and has the patient determination to do the best job he can creates a personal efficiency that is as much a pleasure to watch as it is a help in winning ball games." Bernie does love his craft I think, even though I've always gotten the sense from him that there is something he does even better than playing baseball. Baseball is just how he happens to make a living. The game doesn't seem natural for him, and that's part of what has made his career rewarding to follow. He's become a terrific player, though his baseball instincts have never been much to write home about, through his dedication to improvement, and an impressive work ethic.
I think Bernie is a musician by nature. Watching him do just about anything on the ballfield, from swinging a bat, to tracking a ball down, to hitting the cut-off man, is like watching a musician, let's say a guitarist in this case, practicing his scales. Discipline is very important to Williams' game. My cousin and I were talking about this over the weekend and he said, "Bernie always looks like he's practicing. Which isn't to say he isn't trying hard, or competing."
I agree. But there is a rhythm to his movements, a gracefulness, that has always been aesthetically pleasing, but I never lose sight of the fact that baseball looks like hard work for him. Watch Williams in an at-bat. Watch how he follows through on a pitch. He goes through the same routine no matter what the results are. The long-follow through, skipping back out of the box, with a comic gesture. I'm always aware of the game-within-the-game with Williams. There is always something going on upstairs with him, the wheels are always turning, even though Bernie usally appears placid and emotionless. If you watch him throughout an entire season, you can witness the small pleasures he seems to take when he makes a nifty slide into second. There is an extra flourish, almost like something out of a Buster Keaton movie, that distinguishes Bernie from his teammates. It is his stillness, I think. I also think Bernie likes running as much as anything else in baseball. Again, his intincts aren't the greatest, but you can see that loves stretching those legs and turning it on (he was a track star as a kid).
It may not show up in the boxscore, but if you look closely enough, you too can share the enjoyment of Bernie's private ballet.
Williams' has achieved far more in his career than I ever expected he would when he came up in the early '90s. It is great to hear that he hasn't stopped busting his ass. Peter Gammons reports in his latest column:
FRANK-LEE SPEAKING Lee Sinns,
Lee Sinns, the man behind the sabermetric encyclopedia, and the free daily ATM reports, is interviewed at length by the good people at NetShrine. Everything you always wanted to know about one of the internet's baseball stars, and more.
THE KID IS ALRIGHT
THE KID IS ALRIGHT
Derek Jeter and the Yankees got the answers they were looking for from Dr. James Andrews, the noted orthopedic surgeon, yesterday. Andrews agreed with the diagnosis Yankee doctors gave Jeter last week: he will not need surgery. Jeter will likely need a minimum of six weeks of rehabilitation before he can return to the team. So let's conservatively say that Jeter returns in at some point in June. That's about as good as anyone could have expected.
According to the Times:
ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS
ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS
It was fun to watch Tampa Bay's young rookies Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli play agains the Yanks this past weekend. Baldelli is a very tall kid, and has exceptional speed for a right-handed hitter. He actually looks a bit like a giant version of Chris "Maddog" Russo, the manic-New York-radio personality (the fact that his name is Rocco only makes the comparison more fitting). Baldelli looked good in the field, and at the plate, if you discount his four-strikeout performance vs. Rocket Clemens yesterday (he did come back with an RBI single in his 5th at-bat).
Way t'go, Rocco.
ANOTHER ONE BITES THE
Derek Jeter and now Junior Griffey. Damn. Last night on "Baseball Tonight," Bobby Valentine warned that bad things happen in 3's, and gave fair warning to the rest of players in the Majors. Griffey dislocated his right shoulder attempting to make a diving catch against the Cubs over the weekend, and is out for at least a few months. Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus has a linkable column for all of you who do not subscribe to the Premium package. See what you've been missing.
Jeter is scheduled to recieve a second opinion on his status from Dr. James Andrews today. On Friday, Yankee doctors determined that Jeter would not need surgery and could return in 4-6 weeks. Carroll thinks that is overly optimistic but could see Jeter returning before the All-Star game.
MASHIN' The Yankees bullpen
The Yankees bullpen blew a 5-3 lead on Saturday evening, which resulted in the Bombers first loss of the season, but the team regrouped yesterday and continued mashing just about everything in sight. Jeff Weaver wasn't particularly sharp on Saturday night, but he pitched good enough to win. Yesterday, Roger Clemens earned career win #295.
Alfonso Soriano should officially have his named changed to Superfreak. The Yankees lead-off hitter has had two or more hits in the first six games of the year. On Saturday, the kid actually Cadillac'ed his way into a triple. If the fat bastard had been hustling out of the box it would have been an inside-the-park homer, easily.
Raul Mondesi has been as hot as Johnny Blaze. On Saturday the two outs he made were hit as hard as his two hits (a double and a spectacular triple). What's been impressive is that Mondesi has been patient, taking a strike and working deep into the count. Mondesi was held hitless yesterday, until late in the game. He fouled a ball off of his foot and after hobbling around for a few moments, rocketed a double into the left field corner.
Hideki Matsui has been interesting to watch. Godzilla has a six game hitting streak to start the season, which should put him in good graces with the Opening Day crowd at the Stadium tomorrow (the Opener, originally scheduled for this afternoon was post-poned due to a freakin' snow storm that is supposed to hit later today). He reminds me a bit of Wade Boggs at the plate. He is poised and patient, and though he has hit the ball on the nose several times, it looks as if he's simply going with the pitch, trying to put it in play. He doesn't look like a home run hitter. Matsui also made a couple of good plays in the field. He has played the ball well off the wall, and he makes a quick, accurate relay throw.
Bernie Williams and Nick Johnson are also swinging good sticks right now (Bernie made a say-hey, over-the-shoulder catch on Saturday night too). About the only Yankee who isn't locked in is Jason Giambi, who continues to draw walks all the same, and oh by the way, does have 3 home runs.
We'll see if the Yankees offense stays this hot when they return to the cold weather up north (they have played their first six games indoors).
CHUTZPAH Chutzpah. That's what
Chutzpah. That's what New York fans were treated to on Friday night by two old buddies, David Cone and Boomer Wells. Cone started against the Expos out at Shea. My boss offered me two tickets at the end of the day on Friday. "You want to go to the Mets game?"
I looked at him incredulously and said, "Talk to me in the middle of May, thank you very much."
It was a cold, rainy and generally miserable night for baseball in Queens. Boomer Wells was pitching in Tampa Bay, in a domed stadium, if that's what you want to call it. It looks like a glorified indoor stickball court. I assume the temperature in a place like that is 75 and comfy. Cone was the story of the night, but since I'm a Yankee fan, I flipped back and forth between the two games.
Wells looked like ass in the first inning, but escaped only allowing 1 run home. But I mean he literally looked like a man's ass out there. Cold and clamy. I was watching the game with my brother Benny Eggs, who turned to me and said, "Hey, how come Wells gets to have a mustache?"
7 innings later, when Wells left the game with a 12-1 cushion, we had our answer. Cause that bum can pitch. He's funny to watch because he throws strikes, so guys put the ball in play. Especially a young, aggresive team like Tampa Bay. But these guys are popping up to right all night.
Wells looks like he should be getting rocked and all of a sudden it's the 7th inning and hardly anyone has scored.
Meanwhile, Cone was his old dramatic self at Shea. Cone struck out Vlad Guerrero on a splitter in the dirt in the first inning, and then faced the Expos slugger again with the bases loaded in the third. Cone had walked Jose VIdro to get to Vlad, and it was as if Cone said, 'Let's make this really interesting.' Guerrero, taking enormous hacks, worked the cout to 2-2, when Cone dropped a breaking ball right passed him. Vlad swung and missed and my brother and I both jumped up from our seats. Onions!
THE GOOD BOOK Here
THE GOOD BOOK
There are several goodies relating to Jeter's injury as well, but why spoil it? Best to get your ass over to what is undoubtedly the best weekly Yankee column available.
PATIENCE... The Yankees won't
The Yankees won't know the results of Derek Jeter's MRI until later this afternoon, and even then, they will likely consult another opinion before they decide how to proceed. There are rumblings this morning that Jete will not need surgery, but that could just be wishful thinking. All we can do is sit tight and wait.
THE MAN WHO WASN'T
THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE
Lee Sinns is the man behind the sabermetric baseball encyclopedia. Sinns also distributes a daily news e-mail that is remarkable on two counts: 1) for it's wealth of information, and 2) for it's price---it's free! Any serious baseball fan should not waste another moment before signing up for Sinns' ATM report here.
Two nights ago, Bernie Williams collected the 1000th RBI of his career. Sinns paid tribute to my most favorite Yankee in yesterday's ATM Report:
If Bernie can manage to stay healthy, he has a shot to beat out Yogi, and break into the top 5. Pretty good company, wouldn't you say?
SPORTIN' WOOD There was
There was an interesting feature in the Times the other day, titled "Going Against the Grain," by Bill Pennington, which chronicled the efforts of the Massachusetts high school system to banish metal bats in favor of wood bats. Opinion is split, and the debates are heated, but I like the concept behind the move. I grew up playing with metal bats, and I appreciated how they were easier on the hands, and how they gave me an inflated sense of myself as a hitter.
Some high school coaches are complaining that using wood bats will ruin the chances of their kids to compete for scholarships. While this may be true, anyone who is worth their salt is eventually going to have to use a wood bat if they make the minor leagues, let alone the majors, anyway. Why not get 'em started early?
Besides, who prefers the ping of a metal bat over the crack of an old fashioned wooden one?
LIFE LESSONS Last month
Last month Barry Bonds was talking about how much he picked up watching David Eckstein play when they toured Japan together last fall. Today, Peter Gammons has a column on the story:
Like Buck O'Neil recently told Bronx Banter: "When you stop learning, you're through."
And they say Barry Bonds isn't a role model.
BOW DOWN TO A
BOW DOWN TO A PLAYER THAT'S GREATER THAN YOU...
Alex Rodriguez became the youngest man to hit 300 home runs yesterday, crushing the mark set by Jimmie Foxx. Lordy.
Don't throw rocks at the throne, man.
Meanwhile, old man winter threw a gust of wind at Sammy Sosa in the 6th inning of the Mets 4-1 win over the Cubs last night at Shea, and knocked down what looked like was going to be Slammin' Sammy's 500th career home run. Sammy thought it was gone, and so did Al Leiter. In August, that ball easily reaches the bullpen. The blast would have tied the game. Instead it was a long out. But you should have heard the buzz at Shea after the ball landed safely in Cliff Floyd's glove. Anybody would can generate that kind of excitement when he makes an out is a player to remember.
A real superstar.
CHARMED It has often
It has often been said---and rightfully so, that Derek Jeter has led a charmed baseball career. Even though Jeter's famous luck ran out on opening day in a collision with Toronto catcher Ken Huckaby, the Yankees future captain must have sprinkled his last batch of gold dust on rookie Erick Almonte, who had a spalshy debut last night, with 2 hits, including a home run in the Yankees 9-7 victory over the Blue Jays.
The game itself was a bloated, tedious affair. The Yankees jumped out to a 9-1 lead, and then watched the Jays slowly chip their way back into the game. No lead is safe these days. Mike Mussina was not sharp, and Jose Contreras was awful in relief. But Chris Hammond came in and recorded a big strike out, before Juan Acevedo closed the door in the 9th and helped the Yankees gain their first sweep of a series on the road to start a season since the World War II.
Todd Ziele started at third base, batted in the 2-hole, and collected 3 hits including a homer in his first at bat. Hideki Matsui narrowly missed his first home run on American soil, and wound up with 2 hits, and an RBI.
Derek Jeter was on the Yankee bench during the game, arm in a sling, smile on his face. Jeter goofed around in his usual sunny manner, which must have come as a welcome sight for Yankee fans. At a time when he should be at his lowest, Jeter put on a good face, and brought his optimism and good cheer to his teammates.
Jeter's disposition may have alleviated any undue pressure Almonte may have put on himself. Almonte is a big kid, and gasp, may even be prettier than Jeter. Lil' Sexy was welcomed by his Yankee teammates, especially by fellow countryman Enrique Wilson, who will share duties at short for the time being with Almonte. Wilson, who looks more like a Dominican Hobbit, took Almonte out to lunch and bought him a pair of shoes earlier in the day, taking care of the rookie just like Manny Ramirez had once looked out for the young Wilson when he came up with the Indians:
Joel Sherman reported in the Post:
As for Jeter, we should know something by the end of the day, or early tomorrow about his immediate future. Reports around New York have been overly optimistic I think, but then again, I always dwell on the worst-case scenerio.
Travis Nelson, over at Boy of Summer, makes a convincing case for Mike Bordick as a possible replacement at short.
And Jay Jaffe, The Futility Infielder, has an excellent write-up on the entire Jeter story too.
Check 'em out.
JUST WHERE DO YOU
JUST WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING?
According to Lee Sinn's ATM report today:
YANKS ROLL; BOSOX BEAT
YANKS ROLL; BOSOX BEAT D-RAYS IN 16
Led by Jason Giambi's 2 homers, and a decent outing from Andy Pettitte, the Yankees rolled over the Blue Jays 10-1 last night in Toronto. Each Yankee regular had at least one hit. Erick Almonte, who joined the team prior to the game will get his first start tonight.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox survived a late home run from Rey Ordonez, got some good pitching from their bullpen and eventually beat Tampa, 9-8 in 16 innings.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO NEYER
Rob Neyer is probably the most famous popular sabermetrican not named Bill James. Although I value his insights as much as the next guy, what I enjoy most about Neyer is his unpretentious and self-depricating writing style. Neyer has a trio of columns this week that are worth checking out: one, one the fate of the Yanks now that DJ is down, another on the next revolution in baseball, and finally Rob's prediction that the Red Sox will win the World Serious this fall.
Here is Neyer's take on the Yankees' shortstop situation:
Why the Sox? And why now? Does this have anything to do with the fact that Neyer's old boss, Mr. James now works for Boston?
And what of the next revolution in baseball? Neyer thinks it concerns the new generation of general managers coming into the game:
In case you missed it, don't forget to check out Michael Lewis' lengthy profile on Billy Beane, adapted from ''Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,'' which will be published in May.
FRESH, FOR APRIL FOOL'S,
FRESH, FOR APRIL FOOL'S, YOU SUCKAS!
Looks like the story about Miguel Tejada signing an extension with the A's was a practical joke from the good folks over at Baseball Prospectus. This is how you get got, huh? Thank goodness I'm not an Oakland fan. And here I was worried about phoney reports concerning Jeter yesterday.
At least I wasn't the only chump out there. John Perricone, who after a month of technical difficulties, has returned with full force to his terrific site, "Only Baseball Matters," was duped too.
If a sucker is born every minute, then I guess I'm only tree-an-a-half-years-old.
NOW, THAT'S WHAT I'M
NOW, THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKIN BOUT
During the course of the afternoon today, I came to grips with the fact that the Yankees will likely play the entire season without the services of one Derek Jeter. Erick Almonte and Enrique Wilson are all good and fine in a pinch, but this is George Steinbrenner's universe, and they are not the type of players who start for a long stretch of time---like a full season, for this kind of Yankee team. This is not Horace Clarke's Yankees.
Who is out there? Freakin' Rey Sanchez is playing in Queens for cryin out loud. Mike Bordick? Gulp. Melvin Mora? It would be the end for my cousin Gabe. Nah, fuck all that shit, what about Omar Vizquel? He's the last man standing in Cleveland, and his contract is up next year.
Wouldn't Vizquel be the perfect fit?
I called my cousin Gabe and told him what I was thinking.
"You Yankee fans have to learn how to control your id somehow," he said.
But that's the thing about being a Yankee fan. We do live in a universe where we know the owner to going to spend the money and grab the 'name' player; it's only natural when our fantasies are greedy too. We know they can come true. You can't help being greedy. (You just have to balance it out with humility and respect.)
So why not Vizquel?
I wasn't the only guy thinking about the Tribe's most controversial author/player today either. I wrote to Aaron Gleeman, and asked him if he had John Sickels' scouting report on Erick Almonte. I also asked him what he made of Almonte.
Here is Gleeman's repsonse:
If the Yankees improve defensively at short with Jeter out---which is entirely likely, they will be hard pressed to duplicate Jeter's offense. The man from Cleveland is as good a fit as you can imagine. The Yankees need a defensive short stop more than they need an offensive one. The Yankees offense can take the hit. But Omar has a little bit of O and a whole lot of D...
Boy, Jeter is going to drive himself mad rehabing all summer. He's never had to deal with anything remotely like this before. In a couple of days, when he knows for sure what's going to happen, some of his fear will subside and then that kid is going to start getting pissed. And he's going to be pissed all summer too. Yeeeesh.
MIGGY SIGNS EXTENSION WITH
MIGGY SIGNS EXTENSION WITH A'S
According to Baseball Prospectus, the Oakland A's have reportedly signed short stop Miguel Tejada to a 5-year extension worth $58.5 million.
WHAT'S UP DOC? Will
WHAT'S UP DOC?
Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus weighs in on the Jeter injury in his "Under the Knife" column today. The prognosis doesn't look good for Jeter or the Yanks:
Expect Cash to hit the phones and hit 'em hard.
TOUGH OPENER FOR METS,
TOUGH OPENER FOR METS, BOSOX
Tom Glavine was roughed up in his debut for the Mets, who took it on the chin, losing the home opener to the Cubs 15-3.
The Red Sox got a good outing from Pedro Martinez, but their bullpen lost the lead in the 9th, as Carl Crawford hit a dramatic, game-ending 3-run homer off Chad Fox to win Lou Pinella's first game as manager of the Devil Rays.
Ed Cossette, who runs Bambino's Curse, didn't panic either, though I'm sure his digestion took a hit last night.
NO FOOLIN: YES-CABLEVISION REACH
NO FOOLIN: YES-CABLEVISION REACH DEAL; YANKS WIN OPENER; JETER HURT
The Yankees and Cablevision agreed to a one-year deal minutes before game time last night. For those of you who believe in karma, the Yanks were punished for screwing with their fans for so long, as the Bombers suffered an unexpected and startling injury. The Yanks defeated the host Blue Jays, 8-4. led by Roger Clemens, and Alfonso Soriano, but lost Derek Jeter in the top of the 3rd inning. Jeter dislocated his left-shoulder in a collision with catcher Ken Huckaby. It was the kind of heads-up hustle play that we've come to expect from Jeter:
I saw the play live, and it was immediately clear that Jeter was seriously hurt. It was a clean play by Huckaby, but a violent one all the same, just the kind to bring your blood to a boil if you are a Yankee fan. Especially when the catcher seemed to lay on top of Jeter for an extra second. But as Jeter continued to lay on the ground, the second-year catcher was clearly rattled:
According to the Post, Jeter is likely to miss 2-4 months:
All considering, if the Yankees can get Jeter back for the second half of the season, healthy for the stretch run, they should consider themselves fortunate. They could lose him for the entire year. I sent an e-mail to Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus, the injury-guru, and asked him what we can expect. When I hear back from him, I'll post his response asap.
In the meantime, it looks as if Erick Almonte will be called up to play short. Almonte was once a highly regarded prospect. Apparently he can hit, but isn't much of a fielder. Ralph Wiley thinks he's the Yankees secret weapon. I'm not so sure.
It will be interesting to see how the Yankees recover without their team leader. They have enough fire-power to play well without Jeter, but they will certainly miss him.
David Pinto considered what Joe Torre will do with his line-up before the game was over last night.
Aaron Gleeman was sad to see Jeter go down, however:
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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