Monthly archives: May 2003
GOOD NIGHT SWEET PRINCE
GOOD NIGHT SWEET PRINCE
More from Lee:
With John Franco being activated, I guess Cone thought this would be the right time to step away. I'm sure he'll give a hell of a press conference later today---honest and heartfelt.
Roger Angell has another chapter to write. I just wonder if George will take Cone back this year, or if he'll make him wait til' next year.
SHEA HEY Lee Sinins
Lee Sinins thinks that the Red Sox made a great move dealing Mr. Hillenbrand for Mr. Kim. Here is his take:
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
When I'm not watching baseball---or reading about it, or talking about it, I spend most of my leisure time cooking food and buying records (that is, when I'm not chillin with my beautiful goilfriend, Emily). Even when I'm watching a game, I am likely to have my head in a Marcella Hazan cookbook, while listening to the latest release from Stones Throw records. I also am known to listen to the comedy stylings of George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Cos, Albert Brooks, or Steve Martin when I fall asleep at night.
On that random note, the great Jazz critic, Nat Hentoff had a piece on Lenny Bruce yesterday, and there is a fun article on Patti LaBelle in the Cooking section of the Times this week that is also worth reading---not to mention a review of fine Philly cuisine (how is that for diversity?).
Pass the hot sauce, baby.
Let's hope the Yanks can have a little feast of their own in the Motor City over the weekend. I'm excited to see what Jose Contreras will give the Bombers tonight, though I'm not certain that he'll be great, even against the lowly Tigers.
Oh yeah, and not for nuthing, but my favorite blog entry of the week comes from John Bonnes, who wrote a very touching article yesterday. Just goes to show you, the quality of writing that people like John, Ed Cossette, Christian Ruzich, Jon Wiesman, Jay Jaffe and countless others bring to their blogs goes well beyond the game of baseball.
NERDSVILLE Tom Boswell weighs
Dr. Manhattan also wrote a terrific review of the book that is well worth reading.
The New York Times Book Review section last Sunday was devoted to the recent crop of baseball books. Check it out.
SHEA, WE HARDLY KNEW
SHEA, WE HARDLY KNEW YE
After months of speculation, the Red Sox finally traded third baseman Shea Hillenbrand, who simply did not fit into Boston's high-on base percentage offensive philosophy. Hillenbrand goes to the Arizona Diamondbacks for the versatile pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim. While the move won't inspire fear in Yankee fans, we shouldn't be so quick to lick our chops; this is a solid move, as Kim is a proven closer, and a decent starting pitcher as well. He is also only 24 years old. Anytime you can move a decent starting player for a good pitcher, you do it, right?
According to Gordon Edes:
Ed Cossette likes the sound of Mr. Kim too.
BUSTA MOVE According to
GERBIL TO BOSS: WHO
GERBIL TO BOSS: WHO YOU CALLIN A MOUSE?
Somebody was going to throw a fit eventually, and who better to go nutzo than Popeye Zimmer? Yankee bench coach, and manager Joe Torre's right hand man, Don Zimmer blasted his old pal George Steinbrenner yesterday. According to the Post:
Bill Madden, who collaborated on Zimmer's autobiography, reports that the rift between Popeye and Boss George has been brewing since early this year:
Ah, just another day of modern maturity in the Bronx. Still, since Torre isn't about to go after the Boss in such a blunt tirade, it proves that Zim does more for the Yanks than sit on his ass and whisper in the managers' ear. After all, what does he have to lose? He's too old to care. Madden concludes:
NAIL-BITER IN THE BX
NAIL-BITER IN THE BX
Mike Mussina pitched brilliantly for the Yankees for eight innings last night, and entered the ninth with a 5-1 lead. Mussina was economical, and masterly, and while his counterpart Derek Lowe wasn't terrible, the Yankees got to him early, and it appeared as if the Yanks would cruise to their second straight victory over Boston. Mussina came out to pitch the ninth, promptly walked Jason Varitek, and gave up a single to Johnny Damon. Enter Mariano Rivera and pass the Malox. These are the same Red Sox who have made a habit of late-inning comebacks, and they lived up to their reputation. Before you know it, the game was tied, and if not for a broken play---which resulted in Alfonso Soriano throwing out Shea Hillenbrand at home, the Sox would have snagged the lead. Instead the score was now tied at five.
I had a bad feeling after Nomar slapped a single right under Derek Jeter's glove---how did he miss that? It is still May, and this is the time of year when the Red Sox win these kinds of games. I paced around my apartment, and thought of that somewhere Ed Cossette was sharing my pain: the same, but different.
With one out in the bottom the ninth, HI-deki Matsui laced a double to left field off of Brandon Lyon, and he advanced to third on a throwing error by Manny Ramirez. The Sox the intentionally walked Soriano and Jason Giambi to load the bases for Jorgie Posada. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who had a flashback to last July when Posada faced Ugie Urbina in the same situation.
I was sure he would hit into a double play. (Oh, ye of little faith.) The 2-2 pitch from Lyon was called a ball, and the Red Sox were understandably steamed about the call after the game:
It sure looked close enough to be a strike to me. Of course, Posada walked on the next pitch and the Yankees escaped with a 6-5 win. How could I not think back on what Allen Barra said a few days ago:
WATCH OUT NOW I
WATCH OUT NOW
I thought I'd share some of the letters I've received from readers regarding the Allen Barra interview.
Here is what Bronx Banter correspondent Chris DeRosa had to say:
Tom Fratamico, a Red Sox fan, has his own team to worry about:
One of my first readers, Harley, a Yankee fan living in California, agreed:
Here is Brian McMahon's take on the Yankee offense. Dig his take on what should be done with Jetes:
Thanks for all the e-mails, guys. They sure help keep the banter lively. Since I'm certainly no expert, it's great to read and share of all your opinions. Whether I agree with them or not, I can safely say, I'm learning more each day.
JUST WHAT THE OWNER
JUST WHAT THE OWNER ORDERED
Jay Jaffe, The Futility Infielder, invited me to the game last night, and we had a great time as the Yankees beat the Red Sox 11-3. Jay and I were at the last game the Yanks had won at the home---a few weeks back against Aaron Sele and the World Champs. Hey, there is nothing like a streak, even if it is a figment of our grandiosity.
The Yankees got a solid performance from Andy Pettitte, who survived a couple of long foul balls in the middle innings (Shea Hillenbrand, Big Manny), and pitched 7 2/3 innings of effective ball against the Red Sox. The Yankee bats also came alive, led by Robin Zeile and Todd Ventura. Derek Jeter lead off the game with a home run, and Jason Giambi added three hits. What was encouraging about Giambi's performance is that he drove two doubles to left field.
George was in the house and he continued to talk. He's in full military-football mode now, as the Yankee brass will meet over the next two days to address the state of the team. Who will be fired? The easy mark is hitting coach Rick Down, who has been canned by George before. Who will be traded? Who will be shook up? (George wants his boy Contreras to replace Jeff Weaver in the rotation.) Joe Torre is taking it all in stride:
Two days ago, Joe Torre said that somebody was eventually going to take a beating at the hands of his slumbering offense. Welcome to the Major Leagues, Matt White. Making his big league debut, White entered the game in the 8th and allowed six runs on four hits in 2/3rds of an inning.
Nomar Garciaparra's hitting streak was halted at 26 games.
There were some great duels between Sox and Yankee fans in the upper deck during the game. "Let's Go Red Sox," "1918." As we were leaving I heard one Sox fan offer, "Who's in first place?" I told Jay, "Who ain't won shit?" I usually bristle at the nasty chants, but when you are at the game, they somehow seem more playful than mean-spirited (still, I get can't with chanting that anybody sucks).
Oh, not for nothing but Godzilla Matsui gets points for selecting "Get Back," and "Day Tripper" as he theme music.
I want to thank all the readers who sent in e-mails regarding my "two-guys-in-a-bar" bitch session with Allen Barra. A lot of readers felt that we went overboard in bashing the Yanks. You mean we sounded rash, and panicked? Say it ain't so. New Yorkers acting a tad histrionic? Get outta here. I don't think the Yankees were as good as they showed early, or as bad as they've played recently. They haven't faced Baltimore yet, and their schedule gets easier in the second half of the season so they should be alright. But the doubts will continue until the Yankees make the playoffs and play well in the post-season. That's just the nature of the beast.
I try to be as even-handed as possible living in a manic city, following a self-important team, which is covered by a carnivorous press. If I succumb to the Sturm und Drang of the Yankees, well then I guess I'm no different from your average New York Yankee fan. And there is nothing more I'd ever want to be.
BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: ALLEN
BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: ALLEN BARRA
WHA HAPPEN TO THE YANKS?
Allen Barra, the wonderful baseball writer/book-reviewer/social critic, recently joined the sports department over at The New York Times. Over the Holiday weekend, Barra wrote stellar columns about Roger Clemens and the 300 win club. I had a chance to speak with Mr. Barra on Sunday afternoon. Here is our exchange regarding the state of the Yankees.
Bronx Banter: Are you planning to be at the Stadium on Monday for the Clemens game?
BB: Well maybe the Yankees can score a couple of runs for him, God forbid.
BB: You mean why they are getting hit with the bad breaks?
BB: Maybe he lost the Lord somewhere along the way.
BB: The freak.
BB: Or Dave Kingman.
BB: Could it be that this is the end of their run? Is this just the natural cycle of things catching up to them?
BB: You don't see Jeter as that guy?
BB: The Yanks left a zillion guys on base in that game.
BB: Those were the games they used to win regularly.
BB: He's a mental case.
BB: Is this something you think they can turn around?
BB: Mondesi has played well.
BB: He could be more like a poor man's Wade Boggs.
BB: Meanwhile the Red Sox will be down five runs in the eighth and they come back and win the game.
BB: And nobody in the Yankees dugout said Dick.
BB: Posada tried to do that the other night, and got kicked out of the game.
BB: Matsui takes a lot of strikes.
BB: Not really. I keep looking for signs for him to snap out of it. The guy looks like he's starting to put some good at bats together over the past couple of games and then yesterday (Saturday) in the ninth inning, against the Jays closer, he gets a first pitch fastball, dead over the plate and Giambi swings right through it. When he's on, he murdalizes that pitch. I hear people bitch about, ¡®Why doesn't he just lay one down the third base line?' [Giambi tried to do that in the ninth on Sunday afternoon] But I don't think that is the answer.
BB: The fans have been sitting on their hands waiting for something to cheer about, and with the Sox coming into the Stadium tomorrow it doesn't get any easier.
BB: Why? Just because----
RIGHT ON TIME I
RIGHT ON TIME
I shot an e-mail to Rob Neyer before the game yesterday, expressing my concern about the Yanks. Here is his reply:
Jeez Rob, don't you know that George is making promises again?
Unlike the his team, George Steinbrenner didn't go down without a fight after yesterday's loss at the Stadium. It wasn't a full-on explosion, but the fuse has been lit. According to Murray Chass in The New York Times:
Steinbrenner did speak with reporters after the game. Joel Sherman reports in the Post:
Make no mistake about it, George is putting all the pressure on Torre. If the Yanks fail this year, George will feel justified in hammering Uncle Joe. But don't be surprised if Rick Down or Mel Stottlemyre go first.
According to The Daily News:
Godzilla Matsui got the business too:
While the Boss was blustering, Joe Torre was as calm as usual. I caught his post-game press conference on ESPN, and Torre talked about how nobody was going to feel sorry for the Yankees. He said that the only thing that will snap his team out of this slump is for them to continue to show up and work hard. THere are no magic cures. He said that somebody is going to take a beating some day, suggesting his offense will finally wake up and revert to form. But Torre sounded as if he was trying to convince himself. He wasn't defeated, or exasperated, he just seemed at a loss. Derek Jeter commented that this Yankee team hasn't won anything yet:
Where have you gone, Luis Sojo?
GETTING LATE EARLY... The
GETTING LATE EARLY...
The Red Sox mauled Rocket Clemens and he just left after five and two-thirds, down 5-3. Antonio Osuna comes in and before you know it, the score is 8-3. Clemens threw more than 125 pitches, and was ahead of a lot of batters, but the Sox, like the Angels last fall, spoiled a lot of good pitches, and demonstrated why they are scoring more than five runs per game. They had dinky hits, and then had some solid hits too.
Down 5-1, the Yanks put a couple of runs on the board to close it to 5-3. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth, Raul Mondesi was up with one out. He hit into a double play.
In the sixth, Johnny Damon poked a two-out knock through the left side. Jeter put himself out of position by bluffing towards second---with two men out, why I don't know---and Damon's ground ball became an RBI single. Nomar Garciaparra later bounced a single up the middle, right in between Jeter and Soriano. Sori knocked it down, after Jeter waved at it, and held the ball as Matsui ran in from center and yelled for him to throw home. Too late. Another runner scored.
I could practically hear George steaming from my place over on the west side of the Bronx. How would you like to be Brian Cashman right about now?
You can hear "Lets Go Red Sox" chants loud and clear on TV. Think there is any drinking going on at the Stadium right about now?
It's ugly and it's gunna get f-ugly before it's all over.
(Too bad the Yankees don't have some red-ass clown ignorant enough to start a brawl.)
FLIP FLOP Roger Clemens
Roger Clemens just retired the first three batters in the top of the first, and I'm going to do an about face in my approach to the game. Now, I think the Bombers will win today. If any team can help the Yankees when they are down, it's the Red Sox, who are facing more emotional strudel and evil demons than the Yankees are. What's a lousy little losing streak compared with Clemens gunning for 300 and 80 years of history?
So now I think the Yankees will pull one out. I'm flip flopping like a madman here in the Bronx. I'll probably change my mind two or three more times during the course of the game. I've got more nervous energy than I know what to do with. Watching Wakefield float his knuckler passed the over-anxious Yankee hitters should calm me down, right?
LOST WEEKEND The Yanks
The Yanks made like Ray Milland this past weekend and got bombed----swept by the Toronto Blue Jays. Spanked, really. This after the Texas Rangers swept them last weekend in the Bronx. The Bombers have now lost 11 of their last 12 at home, and now trail the first place Red Sox by a game and half. They Jays aren't an arrogant team, but they were smiling broadly by the end of Sunday.
Who stunk up the place? Who didn't (Okay, Contreras and Hitchcock were good in relief)? This isn't just a couple of guys under-achieving, it's team-wide malaise. The pitching has been weak (Andy Pettitte, Jeff Weaver), the defense stinks (Soriano, Derek Jeter), and the offense is completely M.I.A. (the Yankees have not scored more than 1 run in an inning for 49 straight innings). The Yanks haven't played this badly since the end of the 2000 season, and you wonder what has to happen to light a fire under their ass.
Joe Torre talked with the team on Saturday, but what these guys need is Paulie O to take batting practice on a water cooler (Zim would work just fine as a fill-in).
It was rainy and cold in New York over the weekend and about the only baseball fans in town who felt halfway decent are Mets fans. Hey, we aren't the only one's that suck. Hey, misery loves company.
For their part, Yankee fans have not been dealing with their team's struggles well. They've become so pampered and so spoiled, they don't know how to handle losing again. Many fans I spoke with are so pissed at the Yanks, they aren't even watching them. Now, that the Bombers are struggling a bit, some of their faithful fans are treating them like step-children.
I'm not so discouraged by the losing---I realize what goes up must come down, and that eventually the Yankees will go through a period of losing again---but it's how they are losing. For years if they Yanks were down 3, 4, or even 5 runs in the late innings, you always felt they had a chance of winning. And even if they didn't win, they'd make it close, put up a fight.
For the past few weeks, when the Yanks are down 5-2 in the 7th, stick a fork in em. They are done.
You know who charges back when they are down late? The Red Sox.
It's almost 1:00 on Memorial Day, and I was hopeful that today's game would be called on the count of rain. After asking the fans to sit on their hands through the rain all weekend, you'd think George would give us all a break and play the game tomorrow. Don't make the fans sit in this slop, man.
But they are holding out. The game has now put pushed back to a 3:00 start. George will be in the house; Clemens has invited everybody under the sun to the Stadium, it's a national TV game, it's 300. They are going to try to get the game in. But I think it's going to back fire on the Yanks. I don't care if it is the Red Sox---the only team with bad enough Karma to kick the Yankees back to life. They are pushing it. George wants the glory of the big win. It's a set up.
I bet Rocket pitches good enough to lose---let's say 7 innings, giving up 2 or 3 runs, and the Yankee O snoozes again, and the Yanks lose.
That'll give George a chance to make his money, and get good and humiliated enough to finally blow his stack. I mean, that's what is coming, right? A classic George shit fit. Mt. Saint Steinbrenner is going to erupt any minute now, right? I don't know if he'll just pop off, diss his players, his manager, and issue a lot of threats, or if Rick Down or Mel Stott get fired, or what.
I think the Yankees can recover---the season is not over by a long stretch---but the fat man is about ready to sing.
Duck and cover, folks. This season may be just getting started.
BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: ETHAN
BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: ETHAN COEN
The Fan Who Wasn't There
I worked for Joel and Ethan Coen for roughly one calendar year, between the late summer of 1996 through the fall of 1997. I had been working as an apprentice film editor when I went to work for the guys, first as their personal assistant and later as an editing room assistant on their movie, "The Big Lebowski." We were in Manhattan, at their office for the first six weeks; in November we went out to Los Angeles, where "Lebowski" was shot on location. After the film was in the can, Joel and Ethan returned to New York to cut the film.
In October of 1996, when the Yankees won their first title since 1978, we were still in New York, so the Coen brothers are tied up in my baseball memories like it or not. Joel had no interest in the game at all, but Ethan seemed vaguely aware of what was happening. His wife Tricia, who was the co-editor of "Lebowski," as well as the script supervisor, was the sports nut. We stood on line outside of the Yankee clubhouse on 5th avenue to try and get World Serious tickets to no avail.
Ethan Coen's favorite player on the Yankees was Kenny Rogers. Figures, right? "The Gambler" is just like some half-wit out of one of their movies: well meaning, but hapless. The worse Rogers performed for the Yankees, the more shit he got from the fans and the media, the more Ethan liked him. We used to call him "Kenny Everyman" cause Kenny kinda looked like he could be just about anybody. Any dopey, normal guy.
Nowadays, Tricia is in a fantasy league and Ethan likes to play the guitar. (He yodels too; in fact, one of the best parts of hanging out with the two of them is that they turned me onto Jimmie Rogers, Hank Williams, Webb Pierce and George Jones.) I've spoken with Trish several times recently about her league, and she's taken to it like a bee to honey. Ethan and Joel were been busy mixing the sound to their latest movie this spring, a big-budget studio comedy---a romantic comedy---fittingly titled "Intolerable Cruelty." (George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones star, and the film will be released in October.)
I finally caught up with Ethan on the phone last week. But first, Tricia and talked some baseball. She was indignant that Torre had been starting Jason Giambi at the DH when he performs better when he plays in the field. Ethan was picking a guitar in the background, noodling around.
"It's bullshit, man. He's messing up my fantasy league team," Tricia told me.
I tried to reason with her but she wasn't having it, so she passed the phone to her husband, who momentarily stopped playing his axe. Ethan can be a man of few words. It's not that he doesn't like talking; it's just that sometimes he'd rather not be bothered (especially when he's dicking around on the guitar). Although both Joel and Ethan are definitely Jewish, and definitely New Yorkers, they are definitely not Jewish New Yorkers. There are a lot of meaningful silences; a lot of pregnant pauses that I assume are indigenous to the Midwest.
Here is an excerpt of our conversation:
Well, there you have it: Ethan Coen is not a baseball fan. But that doesn't prevent him from making good movies, or giving one hell of an interview.
Hope everyone has a great Memorial Day Holiday.
P.S. Joel and Ethan left for Los Angeles last week to begin their next show--- a remake of the old Alec Guiness comedy "The Lady Killers," which stars Tom Hanks, and according to Joel, "you know, well, a whole lot of other people."
I CAN'T CALL IT
I CAN'T CALL IT
Ed Cossette's piece yesterday about Curt Gowdy reminds you why good announcers are hard to find:
Aaron Gleeman added an excellent critique of ESPN's Baseball Tonight crew, espcially his comments regarding Karl Ravech:
What both writers point out so convincingly is how many modern announcers (or in-studio hosts) feel as if they are more important than the stories they are covering. I have the same beef with Michael Kay over at the YES network. He thinks he has something to do with the Yankees success, and he forces the issue, trying to make every moment melodramatic and important. The results are as campy as they are infuriating.
This is about the cult of personality. Announcers aren't content letting the action unfold, they want to manufacture the action. Worse, they want to be the action.
Fortunately for us, Ken Singleton and Jim Kaat (and especially Paul O'Neill) love to rib Kay. As Kaat said the other day when Kay had the day off, "You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him."
WWJD? Carlos Delgado, and
Carlos Delgado, and Vernon Wells led the League's best offense past Andy Pettitte and the Yankees last night at the Stadium, 8-3. To be honest, they spanked the Yanks, but good. Pettitte has now lost four games in a row---the first time that has happened in his career, prompting me to ask rhetorically: "Hey Andy, what would Jesus do, big fella?"
After learning that they will be without Bernie Williams for a while, it was a somber and soggy night in Yankeeville. Jorge Posada was hit by a pitch twice, the second time in the right foot. He was removed from the game, but appears to be okay.
On a positive note, Roger Clemens appears to be okay, and weather providing, he should start against the Sox on Monday.
Both Jason Giambi and Godzilla Matsui looked better at the plate last night. They each had two hits, and drove the ball well. The Yankees are going to rely on these guys more heavily now that Sweet Pea is gone.
Not for nothing, but I'm happy to see Carlos Delgado playing so well. He's always been such an appealing player, and though his numbers dipped a bit over the past two seasons, he's remained one of the scariest hitters in the league.
BUM BERNIE BUM You
BUM BERNIE BUM
You can add Bernie Williams to the list of the Yankees walking wounded. After struggling mightily for the past few weeks with a balky knee, Williams had an MRI yesterday that revealed that he has torn cartilage in his left knee. Surgery is likely, and it would put the Yankees center fielder on the DL for 4-6 weeks.
I spoke with Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus last night and he said that Williams' injury is not unlike the one suffered by Randy Johnson. He said that Bernie should return, good as new after the All-Star break.
Juan Rivera will be called up from Columbus and most likely platoon in left field with Bubba Trammell as Godzilla Matsui moves into center.
BEST IN THE BUSINESS
Buster Olney has a nice appreciation of the best closer in baseball in today's New York Times. And no, his name isn't Mariano Rivera. It's John Smoltz. Atlanta's erstwhile starter admits that he doesn't want to be a closer for the rest of his career. Smoltz has been compared with Dennis Eckersley, who will most likely make the Hall of Fame in the next few years for his body of work as both a terrific starting pitching as well as a dominating closer, but Smoltz doesn't see himself walking in Eck's footsteps:
While Smoltz would eventually like to return to the starting rotation, what makes him stand-out from his peers is that he doesn't simply rely on one pitch:
Olney notes that Smoltz, like Rivera is an exceptional athlete. Both of them look beautiful shagging fly balls. I wonder how many years Smoltzie would have to put in as a great closer for him to be considered for the Hall. Perhaps Eck's fate will determine how we consider Smoltz's place in history. Or, maybe Smoltz will write his own ticket, if he goes back and has some success as a starting pitcher again, after being a stud closer.
ONE DOWN, ONE TO
ONE DOWN, ONE TO GO
Roger Clemens muscled his way through six innings against the Red Sox last night and earned his 299th career victory. Tim Wakefield offered a nice counter-point as he fluttered knuckleballs passed the Yanks, while Clemens---who didn't have his best stuff---pounded the Sox with the hard stuff. Jason Giambi and Nomar Garciaparra hit first inning dingers, and the score was tied at 2, with two outs in the sixth, when Clemens was hit in the hand with a line drive off the bat of Bill Mueller. Rocket stayed in the game and went right at Doug Mirabelli.
According to the Times:
Clemens was done for the night, but he didn't go queitly. There was a heated exchange in the Yankee clubhouse after the sixth inning.
Gordon Edes reports:
Raul Mondesi drove in Jorge Posada in the top of the seventh, and Robin Ventura added an RBI two-bagger in the 8th. (Ventura also made a nifty play to rob Manny Ramierz of a double in the 8th.) Chris Hammond worked the seventh and Antonio Osuna got the first two men out in the eigth before walking Trot Nixon. Mariano Rivera came on and immediately picked off Damian Jackson, who was pinch-running for Nixon, to end the inning.
Shea Hillenbrand led off the ninth with a fly ball to center field. Bernie Williams, who along with Hideki Matsui is in the midst of a terrible hitting slump, waved off Raul Mondesi with his glove hand and then dropped the ball. It was his first error of the season and Hillenbrand was on second base.
This was about the time that I started pounding my stickball bat into my couch and cursing wildly. (I'm sure Ed Cossette did the same when Jackson was picked off first.)
One out later, Hideki Matsui made a fantastic shoe string catch in left to rob pinch hitter, Jeremy Giambi of a double, the Yankees went on to the victory, and Rocket Clemens had his big win in Boston.
The Yanks remain in first place, now one game up on the Sox. They return home to the Bronx for a four-game set against the increasingly tough Toronto Blue Jays.
While Joe Torre offered words of encouragement for Jose Contreras after the Cuban got knocked around on Tuesday night in Boston, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre wasn't as charitable. Jeff Weaver got an earful too:
FIELD OF STRINGS My
FIELD OF STRINGS
My good friend, mega-mix legend Steinski , forwarded me the following press release this morning:
Kansas? LeRoy Neiman? There is no accounting for taste I suppose. Still, I'm mildly curious to hear Sweet Pea's debut recording when it drops this summer.
A REAL RIVALRY While
A REAL RIVALRY
While the passion of fans in Boston and New York keep the Sox-Yankess rivalry alive and well, two teams that actually don't like each other a whole lot are the Twins and the A's. In their first meeting since the playoffs, Tim Hudson and the A's beat the Twins 4-1, and the benches cleared twice. What's the beef? Well, it all starts with the Twinkies catcher, AJ Pierzynski, baseball's answer to Bill Laimbeer.
According to Oakland outfielder Terrence Long:
True to form, AJ doesn't know what the A's are talking about. It's refreshing to have a cocky wisenhiemer like Pierzynski around. Boy does he ever look the part. After losing last night, he has another chance to prove himself tonight, this time against Barry Zito. Bon chance, my brother.
TOP OF THE HEAP?
TOP OF THE HEAP?
Although the Yankees are still a powerhouse in the American League, it's safe to say that the 2003 version of the Bronx Bombers are not the same team that won World Championships 4 out of 5 years in the late 1990s. As Ed Cossette remarked yesterday:
In Peter Gammons' latest notebook column, Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro said:
The Mariners and the Angels clearly patterned their teams after those great Yankee squads. What's interesting is that the 2002-03 Yanks look more like the Indians of the '90s or the original Gashouse Gorillas themselves, the Texas Rangers, than they do like their old selves or the Angels or M's for that matter.
ON THE MANNY
There was another interesting bit in the Gammons column. This time about Washington Heights' favorite son (who isn't named Rod Carew), Manny Ramirez:
ON THE SHELF Pedro
ON THE SHELF
Pedro Martinez isn't the only player hurting these days. It looks as if Mike Piazza could possibly miss the remainder of the season. He will be out for at least a few months.
The Times reports:
Yankee reliever Steve Karsay had season-ending surgery yesterday. According to the Daily News:
After the horrible outing from Contreras last night, the Yankees should pull the trigger on a deal for a relief pitcher by the time the Sox reach the Stadium next week. Kelvim Escobar anybody?
Speaking of the world's most famous sports doctor, Allen Barra had a good piece on Dr. Andrews in last Sunday's Times that is worth checking out:
As always, don't forget to peep Ed Cossette's take on the last night's game over at Bambino's Curse.
NO PEDRO? NO PROBLEM:
NO PEDRO? NO PROBLEM: SOX POUND YANKS
I received several e-mails just before last night's game from giddy Yankee fans, when it was learned that Pedro Martinez would not start. (Martinez has a mild muscle strain in his lower back, and should be back next week.) Well, those who laugh first, laugh least not last, as the Sox rallied and smashed the Yanks 10-7. I kept expecting to hear Fred Willard show up and say, "Wha happen?"
It didn't look good early on for the Home Nine, as emergency starter Bruce Chen served up a bomb to Alfonso Soriano on the first pitch of the game; fortunately, for Boston, Jeff Weaver couldn't get his act together either. Even better for Boston, they blew the game open against Jose Contreras, the pitcher George snatched away from them last winter. Contreras got out of a jam in the sixth, only to get smacked around in the seventh. (Boston fans know better than to laugh too much at anything, especially this early in the year, and especially with their ace hurting again. That said, it was a sweet night for Sox fans.)
Weaver and Contreras walked seven batters, and they paid the price for it.
According to the Times:
Ramiro Mendoza didn't fair much better in his first appearence against his former team, allowing 4 consecutive singles to start the fifth inning, and giving up 3 runs. Jason Giambi came up with the bases loaded and just missed hitting a grand slam, skying out to right field instead. So it goes when you are slumping.
There was some minor drama in the first when big Manny was hit in the elbow with a Jeff Weaver pitch. Manny, who leans out over the plate as much as Jeter, Soriano, or any other modern slugger, glared at Weaver and had some challenging words for the Yankees string bean starter as well. God forbid his fat ass could be expected to duck out of the way of an inside pitch. Instead of putting his head down and jogging to first, it becomes a school yard stare-off. The funny part is by the time Manny reached second, he was calmly chatting it up with Soriano.
Jorge Posada lead off the next inning and Bruce Chen pulled a Shawn Estes and threw behind him, missing him all together (which considering the size of Jorgie's rump is no small feat). The ump immediately warned both teams, and the inside pitch was effectively erased for the rest of the game. Joe Torre shook his head disapprovingly. Torre talked earlier this year about how modern players have no conception of game awareness when it comes to getting hit. Every time a slugger is plunked it is a personal affront, a diss. Jim Kaat, announcer for the YES network, could feel Torre's pain.
While the Sox-Yankee rivalry is as heated as ever for us fans, these are not the Carlton Fisk-Bill Lee Sox vs. the Bronx Zoo Yanks. The ballplayers are all friends. Win or lose, they all belong to the same club. Does this make for a watered-down game? I don't know. It just makes for a different game. Sometimes you just want to yell at these batters, 'Get over yourself, and jog down to first tough guy.' Either that, or go nuts and start a fight. But the posturing is tiresome and unbecoming, especially for a great player like Manny.
MO MONEY, MO PROBLEMS
MO MONEY, MO PROBLEMS
In his latest column, Rob Neyer answers e-mails regarding Michael Lewis' book "Moneyball."
As good as "Moneyball" is, it is not the only baseball book of the season that is worth reading. Jay Jaffe has a good post today about baseball books, with some essential links for those who are interested.
Jon Weisman, over at Dodger Thoughts, has a thoughtful, and compelling write-up of Michael Shapiro's new book, "The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers, and Their Final Pennant Race Together." (There is no perma-link for the article, so just scroll down.)
Finally, Michiko Kakutani reviews "Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville," a collection of baseball writings by the late Stephen Jay Gould. The Times usually devotes one issue of their Sunday Book Review to the latest in Baseball literature. Perhaps this Sunday will be the day.
WITH A LITTLE BIT
WITH A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK
There is a reason why Red Sox fan Ed Cossette and I get along so well: we are wired the same way. We just happen to root for different teams. Here is an e-mail I received from Ed yesterday afternoon:
Although I'm a lifelong Yankee fan, I've got a good dose of gloom and doom in my blood as well (maybe that's because I root for the Knicks and Jets). I'm cautiously optimistic at best, and never over confident. That is why I have rucchmones with Ed. You can bet that no matter the outcome of these games, we will both be nervous wrecks. Ah, to be young and a baseball fan.
The Yankees had Lady Luck on their side last night in Boston, and before you know it, they put a five spot on the board against Casey Fossum, and went on to win 7-3. Fossum didn't pitch poorly, but in the first, after seeing-eye base hits from Soriano, Giambi, and Matsui---not to mention an impossibly fortunate bloop double by Derek Jeter, Raul Mondesi rocked a 2-2 fastball off the green monster for a bases clearing triple. Fossum settled down after that, but the damage had been done:
Boomer Wells, who turns 40 today, pitched efficiently for the win, and the Yankee bullpen avoided any major drama. (Think Boomer went out drinking last night?) This was a much-needed victory for the Bombers, especially considering that they have to face Prince Pedro tonight.
FATHER KNOWS BEST
GEARING UP With the
With the Yanks and Sox slated to play the first of 19 games against each other tonight in Boston, there has been plenty of ink spilled on the two teams. Here are a couple of articles of note...
2. Joel Sherman wrote a thorough and convincing case for Rocket Clemens not only being the best pitcher of his generation, but the best pitcher of all-time in Sunday's Post. Sherman is one of the few tabliod writers who is open to Sabermetrics and he builds his case on the writings of Bill James and others. Surprisingly in-depth stuff from the Post (not Sherman, who is excellent on TV and on the radio):
It has taken me a while to warm up to Clemens too, but I promised myself during the winter that I would try and enjoy watching him get his 300th victory, no matter how obnoxious the YES coverage becomes. It hasn't been a struggle either. Clemens isn't the nasty, head-hunter he has been in the past---sometimes I miss that---but he has been fun to watch this year. Even in the games he's lost, he hasn't been awful. What I get out of watching Clemens, is just how much work pitching is for him. Forget about his legendary workouts, just watching him on the mound is a testament to the hard work it takes to be a great pitcher, let alone a great 40-year old pitcher. He can seem artless, pounding the ball in, time and time again, but he is impressive.
Who will be the heroes and who will be the goats of the series? Of course, it's too early to tell, but my random picks for unsung heroes go to Bill James' boy, Todd Walker for the Sox, and the seldom-seen Bubba Trammell for the Bombers. It could be a long couple of days for both bullpens.
I will be linking to Ed Cossette's wonderful blog, Bambino's Curse each time the Yanks and Sox match-up this year, but you should go there even when the two rivals aren't playing each other.
C.R.E.A.M. GET THE "MONEY"
C.R.E.A.M. GET THE "MONEY" (DOLLA, DOLLA BILL Y'ALL)
I received the following e-mail from Bronx Banter correspondent Christopher DeRosa over the weekend. Dig his considered and astute take on "MoneyBall:"
DeRosa makes a great point about the starting rotation in the playoffs. I also agree that Lewis' portrait of Bill James is the best I've read to date. And of course, I wish the book was longer too. I don't know that it would be good for the book, but it would be good for us geeks.
There are several great bits with Washington. My favorite is how Oakland's infield coach reacts to the defensively-challenged players he is given to work with:
REALITY CHECK I wasn't
I wasn't steamed about the Yankees yesterday, honest. More than anything, I just felt resigned. Sometimes your team is going to suck, and you have to suck it up. I called my girlfriend Emily late in the day and we commiserated briefly about the game. Emily is a relatively new baseball fan, and she is still getting acclimated to how dramatically the game can influence her boyfriend's mental state. But she had a great observation yesterday that I thought I would share with y'all:
Oh yeah, I did get an e-mail from my old pal Shawn Nuzzo, regarding the Nick Johnson injury. I hate to say I told you so, but he told me so:
Consider me tweeked. Ah, what can you expect from the lead singer of a band called "The Clap?"
BUMMING John Thomson 3-hit
John Thomson 3-hit the Yanks yesterday at the Stadium, as the Rangers swept a series for the first time ever in the Bronx. Thomson was nasty, but the Yankees were lifeless as well. Bernie Williams hit into a first inning double play in all three games, Jason Giambi continues to hear the boo's, and Jorge Posada went 2-17 on the homestand (the Yanks were 1-5 over that span). Plain and simple, the Yankees are mired in a slump. I guess this won't be1998-redux after all. Think Mt. Saint George is about to blow in Tampa?
After the game, GM Brian Cashman didn't mince words:
Here is my question: which Giambi will have a game-winning or game-altering hit first?
FLAT Let's try this
Let's try this again. I'm puppy-sitting at my cousin's place down here in beautiful Greenwich Village this weekend, and unsuccesfully tried a post about the Yankee game this afternoon. It didn't woik. If there is half a message that appears on the page, please excuse my sloppiness. But it fits the mood of the afternoon, as the Yankees dropped another game to Texas, this time by the score of 5-2.
While we are well aware of the Yankees' weakness---the bullpen and the defense, it has been the offense that has let them down of late. Texas retired the last 16 batters of the game, and the Yankees have now lost their third series in a row. After starting the year on fire, at 18-3, the Bombers have gone 9-12.
Hideki Matsui made two errors in left field this afternoon, and Joe Torre said the team is "flat." I'm certain that the Sunday papers will be filled with columns about how lousy the Yanks have played recently. Isn't that something to look forward to? Oy.
The Red Sox failed to take advantage though, as the streaking Angels rallied to knock Boston off 6-2. If you think the New York press will be grim tomorrow, wait til we get a load of what the Boston media rips into Trot Nixon. Nixon, the Red Sox right fielder made a terribly embarrasing mental error late in the game, which will haunt the Dirt Dog for a long while.
With men on second and third and one out in the 8th inning (or was it the 9th?), Nixon caught a fly ball in foul territory and then, thinking it was third out, flipped the ball into the stands.
Maybe the Yanks and Sox will lose again tomorrow just to get good and ready for their three-game set which begins Monday.
FLAT I had to go
I had to go into work this afternoon, so I missed another lame performance from the Yanks, who fell to the Rangers Permalink | No comments.
DOUBLE VISION Jay Jaffe
Jay Jaffe and I were both in attendence at the Yankees-Angels game on Thurday night. Check out his write-up of the game, and if you've got a little extra scratch, consider snagging some of his official "Futility Infielder" gear. Made for goils as well as for the fellas.
WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR
WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR
Steve Keane over at The Eddie Kranepool Society is understandably exasperated with the Mets season.
With Piazza now out, Keane suggests that the Great Mets Fire Sale of 2003 start now. It's hard to disagree.
BUCK TOWN In Buck
In Buck Showalter's emotional return to Yankee Stadium the Rangers clipped the Yankess 8-5 in 12 innings. The game features some nifty defense, including a shoe-string catch by Hideki Matsui in extra innings, and two stellar plays by Texas left-fielder Donnie Sadler. (The Rangers gunned down two Yankee runners trying to score last night.) Hank Blalock had six RBI to lead Texas.
According to the Times:
After trailing 5-1, the Yanks tied the game and had plenty of chances to win the game, but they couldn't get the big hit (both teams left 14 runners on base). Roger Clemens put an end to all the speculation surrounding his chance to notch win number 300 in Boston next week, although he is due to make his next two starts vs. the Sox. Rocket walked a season high 5, but also struck out 10.
It was a night of dumb luck for Raul Mondesi. In the first inning, after Clemens struck out Jurassic Carl Everett and Hank Blalock, he issued a base on balls to Alex Rodriguez, who promptly stole second. Rafael Palmeiro singled to right, and Mondesi had plenty of time to nail A Rod at the plate. Instead, he air-mailed the throw directly into the Rangers dugout.
I thought it was pretty funny. Everett was called out on strikes and he argued the call. Clemens reared back and was throwing gas. So was Mondesi. The inning had a distinct Nuke LaLoosh feel.
Hours later, in the bottom of the 12th, Mondesi hit a home run which just nicked the left-field foul pole. But it was called a foul ball, and nobody on the Yankee bench had a good enough look at it, so there was no arguement.
Just a long, stupid night for Mondesi and the Yanks.
Fortunately for the Bombers, the Angels edged the Red Sox in Boston, 6-5. The Yanks hold their slim lead on the Sox by a game.
OUCH One of my
One of my favorite people that I ever worked with in the film business is a kid named Shawn Nuzzo. I hired Nuzzo as a runner on "The Blair Witch Project II" (don't laugh, that job paid for my turntables), and trained him as an apprentice film editor; the following year, we worked on the equally memorable cinematic gem, "Swimfan," turned out to be my final gig before I chose to leave the business. How can I describe Nuzzo? He doesn't look like Fred Flinstone exactly, but he looks like he grew up in Bedrock (Long Island actually). Besides being a singer in a punk rock band, Nuzzo, now in his mid-20s, is a Yankee fan. He came of age during the dark days of the late '80s, and early '90s---Oscar Azocar (who appears in this week's edition of "The Pinstriped Bible") was one of his favorites.
Anyhow, Nuzzo was great to have around the cutting room, because I had someone to gasbag about the Yankees with. Working late, as we often did, was less painful, when we were able to listen to the Yankee game on the radio. One of the best parts of following the Yanks with Shawn was how often we disagreed about the team we both loved: he loved Sterling and Kay, I did not; I loved Nick Johnson; he did not.
I bought the hype about Johnson before I ever saw him play, and when I did see him, I fell in love with the kid. I just liked his looks. I understood why Torre liked him too. It wasn't just a Pizzan thing (although I'm sure that didn't hurt); like Torre when he was coming up, Johnson looked older than he was because of his doughy features. He could have played the heavy in an old gangster movie. Nickie looked as if he would right at home having played in the 'teens or the 1920s. Nuzzo, on the other hand, disliked Johnson because of the way he looked. No questions asked. He just didn't like his looks. The two of us would go back and forth about him to no avail. I foolishly thought I could change Nuzzo's mind about Johnson: never happened.
I bring this up because just a few days ago I was thinking to myself how nice it's been to see Johnson finally start to develop into the player he was predicted to be. Maybe I should call Nuzzo, and see what he has to say now, I thought. Of course, I thought too soon. When I heard that Johnson will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a hand injury last night before the game, all I could think of was Nuzzo. Nuzzo, shaking his head, rolling his eyes, saying, "I told you so."
According to The New York TImes:
Somewhere, Shawn Nuzzo is not smiling.
Johnson isn't the Yankees only casualty. It looks as if reliever Steve Karsay is done for the season. This isn't entirely surprising, and it may not take the bullpen blowing a couple of games to Boston this coming week for Brian Cashman to swing a deal. According to Lee Sinins:
The news for the Mets was even more dire, as Mike Piazza strained his groin attempting to avoid an inside pitch by Jason Schmidt last night in San Francisco. PIazza had just started to hit too. Although there is no official news yet, Piazza had to be carried off the field and the news is not good:
JUST RATTLE YOUR JEWELRY
JUST RATTLE YOUR JEWELRY
My cousin Scott---an avid Red Sox fan---works on the floor of the Exchange. He hooked me up with choice seats for the Yankee game last night: Section 4, Box 12, Row A! (Hey now.) The seats were just to the left of home plate, three rows back. It is a strange vantage point---you are slightly lower than the playing field---but remarkable all the same. (The phonies sitting around us were annoying---many of them didn't even bother watching the game---but I expected it to be clown town down there, so it was part of the fun.) You get a great look at the hitters, especially when they are on deck. Watching these guys, I was struck at just how big most of them are: Giambi is a moose. Matsui and Mondesi are stacked too: ass and thighs for days. Troy Glaus? Dag. The man is a truck. These guys are simply not Hondu, Boog Powell big, they are all ripped.
You know who surprised me the most? Soriano. The guy doesn't look as thin as he does on television. He's got legs for days. Man, the kid looks like a horse. Soriano has been compared to a young Sammy Sosa, and it has been suggested that he may eventually bulk up like Sosa. Quite frankly, he doesn't need to. He's plenty cut as it is. Watching him take his practice swings in the on-deck circle was the most memorable part of the evening. Soriano coils back and unleashes that quick, vicious swing, as if he had been designed by a video-game programmer or a comic book artist: it's like liquid excitement. It's so flashy, it doesn't seem real. It's like a self-conscious swing that a teenager would concoct looking at himself in the mirror, because it looked cool.
Soriano didn't just look good taking warm-up swings last night either. He opened the game with a homer, later added a triple, and had a couple of deep flyouts, which left the crowd gasping as well. Derek Jeter had three hits, Bernie had two, and the rest of the Yankee congo line was back as the Yankees pounded the Angels 10-4. (The Sox creamolished the Rangers in Boston, and the Yanks remain one game up.)
Jeff Weaver wasn't great, but he pitched well enough (perhaps he was thrown off by all the run support). I like Weaver, I like the fact that he's a red ass, but his delivery, the way he gathers himself, is odd. He just slings the ball up there. He's the inverse of Tim Hudson, or Mariano Rivera. We were treated to an appearance by Rivera in the ninth, and he was beautiful to watch. His motion is fluid and economical, and from where we were sitting, you could see just how much movement his pitches have. Mmmm.
All in all, it was a satisfying night, and we went home happy.
Steve Karsay had a set-back in his rehab yesterday, and The Daily News is reporting that he could be through for the year. Jose Contreras---who apparently came to the States without a four-seam fastball---is on his way back to the big club, just in time for the Boston series. If the pen gets rocked by the Sox, look for George to press the panic button and make a move for a reliever pronto.
ONE FOR THE MONEY...
ONE FOR THE MONEY...
ESPN is running a "Moneyball" blue plate special this afternoon. Catch an excerpt from Michael Lewis' new book, along with related articles from Rob Neyer and Eric Neel. Neyer also has an excellent interview with Lewis that is worth checking out.
There are several compelling exchanges, but my favorite bit was when Neyer asked Lewis:
I don't know that I would have left the Zito thing alone, but that's just me---I love that kind of "North Dallas Forty" bawdy horseshit. Plus, I don't write for ESPN. I would also loved to have read more about Tim Hudson, and the Ricciardi segment sounds terrific too. But I admire Lewis' criticial facilities, because anything that takes away from the story is ultimately superfluous, and must be cut (there goes my editing background rearing its ugly head).
Anyhow, don't miss out on any of the fun.
FREDDY GOT FINGERED After
FREDDY GOT FINGERED
After the Yanks bombed Seattle's erstwhile ace Freddy Garcia last week, I wondered what had gone wrong with him (Garcia was roughed up again last night). Derek Zumsteg wrote an excellent column about Garcia over at Baseball Prospectus earlier this week. It seems that Freddy likes to party, and not only that, he may have playing hurt for some time now:
AND THEN THERE WAS
AND THEN THERE WAS ONE
The Angels handed the Yanks their ass on a platter once again at the Stadium last night. The Bombers have now lost three-straight, and now lead the Sox, who defeated Texas 7-1, by one game. Boomer Wells wasn't terrible, but he lost his first game of the year. Scott Spezio went 4-4, and wishes he could play against the Yankess all the time. (The most interesting play of the night came when Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter almost cut down Spezio at the plate as he tagged from third on a fly ball---Buster Olney has a great recap of the play in the Times.)
Point blank, the Yankee offense is slumping. Giambi still can't see; Lil' Sori---whose father passed away yesterday, isn't hitting jack-boil-scratch, and Bernie has cooled down as well (Bernie kills me, when he slumps he turns into a poor man's Rod Carew). Of course, the biggest concern in the BX, is the Yankees sorry excuse for a bullpen. Filip Bondy reports:
Olney hit the nail on the head when he wrote:
I watched the game with Emily at her place upstate last night, and was smoldering from the 7th inning on (I couldn't even enjoy watchin Benji Molina truckulate his fat ass around the bases, scoring from first on a double in the 8th inning). The worst part of it is that I didn't want to cause a ruckus and yell and curse. Now I got indigestion, but what are you going to do? I'm going to my first Yankee game of the season tonight, so let's hope they can avoid getting swept. Aaron Sele is pitching for the Angels, and if that dipshit shuts the Bombers down, then I'm going on strike.
Today's papers are filled with tributes to former Knick (and former Chicago White Sox), Dave DeBusschere, who died of a heart attack yesterday. I best remember DeBusschere almost jumping out of his skin when the Knicks won the Patrick Ewing sweepstakes in 1985, but he was considered to be the heart and soul of the great Knick teams of the late '60s and early '70s.
On the train ride into the city this morning, I was standing next to two Wall Street suits: a wily veteran, and an eager youngster. The older guy was your classic Goomba, talking shit the whole way, as his young friend listened intently. The Goomba had a thick New York accent, slicked-back hair, and leathery skin. He was all of a piece--straight out of one of Eric Bogosian's monologues.
"Hey, I remember when the subway was 35 cents, my friend. Can you imagine that? Those were the good ol' days."
I decided to bring up DeBusschere. The conversation didn't last too long. My man had to get back to his riff.
He continued: "You wouldn't believe this, but I saw Mickey Mantle play. I don't look old, but it's true. I'm 42, but I don't look it."
"How do you do it?"
"I drink. I fucking drink, man. Lemme tell you something, I work with all these guys who are work-out freaks. Health nuts. Guys in their twenties. They're sick four, five times a year. Me? I'm in the bar five, six nights a week, I smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, and I feel great. Hey: I had three grandparents that lived past 90. When my grandfather finally went, he was 99. Guy says to me, 'What was the cause of death?' I say, 'He was fucking 99, what do you mean 'cause'?" Hey, I haven't spent one cent in a bar or restaurant in New York since Mayor Bloomberg passed that no-smoking law. I'm not kidding. Screw that. And I'll tell you something else: I haven't gone to a movie theater since they banned smoking there either. Hey, I'm single, I feel great, I'm going to drink and I'm going to smoke as long as I like. Right?"
Hey, whatever gets you through the night, brother.
REVENGE OF THE NERDS
REVENGE OF THE NERDS
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
Billy Beane, the charismatic and driven general manager of the Oakland A's, is the central character of Michael Lewis' smart, new book, "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game." There is little doubt that "Moneyball" will be popularly known as "The Billy Beane" book (the other Billy Beane book), but it could easily be called, "Revenge of the Nerds," because this story is, in large part, about how the baseball outsiders finally kicked in the door to professional baseball. While Beane is a provocative protagonist, don't get it twisted: this is not his biography. Beane is just a featured player of a bigger story.
The cast includes the likes of Bill James, the godfather of the sabermetrics movement; Sandy Alderson, former general manager of the Oakland A's, who first tested James' theories on a major league level; Paul DePodesta, Billy Beane's, Harvard-educated right-hand-man-behind-the-curtain; Scott Hatteberg, the A's gregarious first basemen; Chad Bradford, an unorthodox side-arming reliever who was signed by Oakland on the cheap; Jeremy Brown, a slow-footed catching prospect; as well as Beane's invaluable instructors---pitching coach Rick Peterson, and Ron Washington, Oakland's infield coach.
"Moneyball" is remarkable in many ways. First of all, it is compulsively readable. Lewis is an expert at shifting between tenses and moods, and he does it in a simple and direct style. He is, if nothing else, a crack reporter. The book is also striking because it presents a candid look at how a major league baseball team is actually run.
How often do you read anything truly revealing about the professional game these days? "Moneyball" offers a rare glimpse into the inner-workings of a major league baseball team, and Lewis depicts this world with a sharp ear for dialogue and an eye for the telling detail; the storytelling is very cinematic. (Has Michael Mann bought the movie rights yet?) Lewis, a baseball outsider, gets behind the scenes and he conveys what he sees with urgency, and intelligence which makes "Moneyball" a thrilling read.
The draft-day meetings with Paul DePodesta and the Oakland scouts are crackling good entertainment, right out of a David Mamet play (minus the affected cadences). Lewis' proclivity for Wall Street, and Vegas analogies, also help illustrate the new breed of thinking in baseball.
"The chief social consequence," of quantitative analysis over gut instinct, writes Lewis "was to hammer into the minds of a generation of extremely ambitious people a new connection between "inefficiency" and "opportunity," and to re-enforce an older one, between "brains" and "money."
Reading "Moneyball" I had the same feeling I get when I first hear a great album, or see a great movie, and I realize almost immediately that what I'm experiencing is something unusual, something great. Or if not great, then at least very, very good. I don't usually read books twice, but it's been a week since I first read the damn thing, and I'm already psyched to get back into it.
So what is "Moneyball" about? There are a lot of things going on here, but at the core of the book is just how thoroughly organized baseball resists change. Voros McCracken, a young sabermetrician tells Lewis:
The book is about efficiency vs. excess; progressive thinking vs. static tradition; empirical, or quantitative analysis vs. subjective evaluation; outsiders vs. insiders, or more to the point, underdogs vs. over dogs; and process vs. outcome.
As the chapters on the 2002 draft illustrate, Beane's likes spitting in the face of tradition (His lasting achievement may be his insistence on drafting college players over high school kids).
Lewis has written acclaimed books on Wall Street ("Liar's Poker"), Silicon Valley ("The New, New Thing") and the Internet ("Next: The Future Just Happened"). The lifeblood of "Moneyball" is, not surprisingly then, economics, and the shrewd operators like Beane who manipulate the system to their benefit. The rise of sabermetrics in the pro game can be attributed to economic necessity. This is why Rob Neyer wrote that the new school of baseball management could in fact be revolutionary:
Lewis' story begins with sabermetricians like Pete Palmer and Bill James---the outsiders who challenged baseball's traditional belief system.
Lewis writes about Bill James:
The new studies proved that on-base percentage and slugging percentage are a better representation of a player's productivity than the tradition measuring sticks like Batting average and RBI's. Stolen bases are overrated, walks are underrated.
But that isn't all.
The first baseball general manager to utilize James' wisdom was Sandy Alderson. It should come as no surprise that Alderson, a former Marine officer and lawyer, was a baseball outsider. While Tony LaRussa's A's were busy stomping the rest of the league in the late '80s and early '90s, Alderson set about to systematically change the A's organizational philosophy from the bottom up. He didn't have the leverage to tell Tony LaRussa what to do, but he could control the minor leagues. When the A's were sold in 1995, and were no longer willing to spend top dollar on talent, Alderson was able to extend his ideas to the big league club. His protZgZ was Billy Beane, a former first round draft pick, who had been a big league bust.
In 1980, the Mets selected Beane as their second overall pick (Daryl Strawberry was the first). He was a five-tool prospect, a bonafide stud. He was fast, had power, and not only could do no wrong, but did things that other players just didn't do. Raised in Southern California, Beane had the opportunity to attend Stanford on a scholarship, but he ended up signing with the Mets instead. He would live to regret that decision. (When Beane turned down the Red Sox GM position this past winter he said that he had made a decision based on money once, and he wouldn't make the same mistake again.)
Beane had never confronted failure, and when came face to face with it in pro ball he unraveled. The Mets rushed him through the minor leagues, hoping that with his good looks and his five-tool talent, he would be playing in Shea before you knew it. (Lee Maz, eat your heart out.) Strawberry was zipping along nicely, why shouldn't Beane be too? To make matters worse, Beane expression his frustration with the fury of a football player. He was not prepared to suck. Plus, he had the red ass.
The longer Beane played, the more depressed his career became. He hit with fear, he thought too much, he didn't have a baseball mentality. The truth was, he wasn't happy as a baseball player. An early sign that he wasn't cut out for it came when Beane roomed with a young Lenny Dykstra. Dykstra was the antithesis of Billy Beane: a scrub, an over achiever. He wasn't bright, but he had horse sense, and knew he was a ballplayer.
Scott Hatteberg, the A's first baseman, told Lewis:
It taunted Beane too, and he was a much better athlete than Scott Hatteburg. The way the pugnacious Dykstra showed no fear at the prospect of facing the great Steve Carlton said it all to Beane. But Beane soon learned:
If Lewis stumbled onto a story that he loved in the A's, he found the ideal protagonist in Billy Beane; baseball's answer to David O. Selznick. A calculating and charming opportunist, Beane is, from a dramatic point of view, practically irresistible. Beane looks like Kevin Spacey's better-looking, younger brother, but the character that first comes to mind is the Alec Baldwin character in "Glengarry Glen Ross."
The beauty part about Beane is that he's not just an arrogant, narcissistic prick with an inflated opinion of himself. He's complicated too. Beane is at turns warm, playful, intelligent, funny, and most importantly, vulnerable. Lewis does a neat job of exploring Beane's insecurities when the GM contemplated taking the Red Sox gig last winter.
The constant tension with Beane is how he tries to balance his hot temper with his empirical approach to business. When the A's play, Beane is not so different from the average, short-tempered fan.
Of course, despite all of Beane's success with the A's, his team has not thrived in the playoffs.
Beane put it bluntly:
Paul DePodesta, Beane's own personal Mr. Spock, is more philosophical:
After all, you can control the process, but not the results. Even if your name is Billy Beane.
Unfortunately for the A's, we live in a culture that is obsessed with results. I heard several casual fans talking about Beane this week, and they scoffed, "Billy Beane? How many fucking rings does he have?"
Paul DePodesta hopes organized baseball overlooks the A's success too (though after this book is released that may be harder to do):
Not everybody in baseball is going to buy into the A's philosophy of course, and that's okay. Diversity is good. But the Blue Jays and the Red Sox are already on the bandwagon. Hell, the Yankees current run is based, in part, on acquiring high on-base percentage hitters. The real question is how long will Beane and the A's be able to use the sabermetrics-approach to such an advantage? DePodesta isn't going to hang around forever, you know.
It will be interesting to chart the fate of "Moneyball" this summer. It has already caused quite a stir. Beane's fellow GM's aren't particularly pleased about the book (I'm sure he wasn't too thrilled about portions of it himself). Kenny Williams, the general manager of the White Sox, has already had some choice---if not terribly astute---words for Beane. Fomer scouting director Grady Fuson isn't too pleased either. I'm sure others will follow suit. I doubt however, that it will hurt Beane's ability to perform; in fact, I'm sure he'll find a way to use it to his advantage.
Of course, the internet-based media is charged up about "Moneyball", but Lewis is really preaching to the choir there. No, what I want to see is how everyone from the mainstream press, to the casual fan responds to the book. It feels like an important book, but let's see if it really becomes an influential book.
Rob Neyer thinks it will be.
Whether or not he's right, all I know is I'm looking forward to reading it again.
Oh yeah, not for nothing, but according to Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus:
DEJA VU ALL OVER
DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN
If nothing else, last night's Yankee-Angels game was as a painful reminder for Yankee fans as to how soundly Anahiem whooped the Bombers last fall. Mike Mussina was less than sharp, he didn't get the benefit of the doubt from the home plate umpire, and the Angels were just plain pesky, fouling balls off, and working their magic. The Yankees played like a-s-s, and made John Lackey look like Tim Hudson. It made for a less than spectacular return for Derek Jeter, who singled in four times at bat (he popped out three times to the right side).
Personally, I cursed and hollered at the TV throughout the ugly affair ("Sori, try getting your body in front of the ball precious!"). I guess I'm still sore about last year. A friend called during the game and said, "You got to love that scrappy little Eckstein."
I said, "I don't got to love dick. You love that little bastid, I'm too busy being furious."
According to Sherman:
Naturally, the Sox came from behind yet again, this time beating the Rangers. They now trail the Yankees by a scant two games. Given the Sox propensity for late-inning come-backs and the Yankees less than stellar bullpen, you think we're going to see some humdingers come next week?
I think we can count on it.
HERE AND NOW Last
HERE AND NOW
Last week, Rob Neyer told me:
I was thinking about this on Sunday when I saw Baseball Tonight's week-in-review. The Reds won three games in their final at-bat last week, and Mike Piazza hit a homer to win a game on Saturday for the Mets. Piazza, who has been the focus of negative attention in the papers recently, looked like a Little Leaguer as he crossed the plate. It was a sight for sore eyes, indeed. (Yazzie collected three hits in the Mets victory last night in Colorado, though Murray Chass writes that all is not kosher in Sheaville.)
One of the drawbacks of rooting for a succesful team like the Yankees is that they spoil you rotten. Watching highlights of the Reds celebrate last week I thought of how often I scoff at such celebrations: "Act like you've been there," or "Man, you'd think you guys won the World Serious. Settle down, now." But really, I've just become a snob, because those come-from-behind wins are exciting for the Reds and their fans, and why shouldn't they be effusive? A little "Bad News Bears" never hurt anyone. I've got to lighten up a little bit. Not everybody can be the cool, efficient, big city, Yankees. And thank God for that.
HEY MR. DJ PLAY
HEY MR. DJ PLAY THAT SONG
Derek Jeter returns to the Yanks tonight, when they host the World Champs at the Stadium, and though they've played well without him, they haven't been nearly as much fun to watch. Mike Lupica opines:
It's hard to disagree with Lupica, but I don't know of many players who enjoy themselves more than Jeter either. Winning may be the only thing that makes Jeter sleep well at night, and we don't know what kind of loser he really is, because he's never been in a losing situation, but between the lines, the guy is all smiles, all-confidence, all the time. During tense games, I often yell at him on TV, "Dammit Jeter, would you stop having so much fun. This shit is killing my stomach and you're smiling. Throw a bat, smash a water cooler, do something." But Jeter is no Paulie O. His confidence is unflappable, and so is his insistence that competition is supposed to be enjoyed. Looking at Jeter play baseball, it's hard to think there is anything else he'd rather be doing.
He may not be the best player on the team, but he is their biggest star. Lupica continues:
OLD MAN RICKEY When
OLD MAN RICKEY
When Rickey Henderson was on the Mets a few years back, he was thrown out trying to steal second base one afternoon in Pittsburgh. As he trotted off the field the organist played "Old Gray Mare." I started humming along, but it wasn't until about twenty minutes later that I realized what I was humming. Man, an organist with a sense of humor is a beautiful thing. Acclaimed baseball writer Alan Schwarz conducted a brief Q & A with the old gray mare in yesterday's Times magazine. There isn't a great Rickeyism to be found, but still, it is mildly amusing.
JUST WRITING MY NAME
JUST WRITING MY NAME AND GRAFFITI ON THE WALL
In the shadow of Yankee Stadium, you will find the 149th street subway station on the Grand Concourse. "The bench" as it used to be known, was a famous meeting spot for graffiti artists in the late '70s and early '80s. This spot was immortalized in Henry Chalfant and Tony Silver's documentary "Style Wars." You may have caught it on PBS over the years. If you haven't, it has just been released on DVD, with all sorts of extra goodies, and it is well-worth checking out. Not only because it captures a bygone era in New York City history, but because the young kids that are interviewed in the movie are priceless. The movie was filmed in 1982, when Graff writers and B-Boys (and DJs of course) were the most popular arms of the Hip Hop tree. (Nobody thought you could make any money rapping yet.) Unlike the rap game, Graffiti didn't exlude Latinos and white kids from getting down; "Style Wars" features middle-class Jewish kids, Italian kids from Brooklyn, Spanish kids from the Bronx, and black kids from Harlem. For a rich, poignant, and funny (not to mention aesthetically appealing) look at New York in the early 80s, look no further than "Style Wars."
BREAKING EVEN For the past
For the past two weeks the Yankees have played exclusively against the Mariners and A's, two of the best teams in the league. When all was said and done yesterday, they ended up beating the M's 2 out of 3 twice, and losing 2 of 3 to the A's twice: .500 ball. Which is to say, it could have been worse, could have been better.
The Yanks faced Hudson, Zito and Mulder in Oakland over the weekend and they managed to get to Zito on Saturday (my cousin Gabe was at the game, and I hope to get a report from him when he returns home sometime this week), while they were stymied by Hudson on Friday and Mulder yesterday. Fortunately, Pedro and the Sox lost on Friday, and D. Lowe got bombed last night (although the Sox did manage another furious comeback), so the Yanks remain three games up in the AL East.
The Yanks return home for three against the Angels and then host the Rangers over the weekend before they go up to Boston for the begining of the madness. Both Don Zimmer (stomach) and Derek Jeter (shoulder) are expected to rejoin the team tomorrow night at the Stadium. Jose Contreras is on his way back to New York, and Antonio Osuna is expected to come off the DL this weekend.
Jason Giambi is all dinged-up, and he sat out of Saturday and Sunday's games. But he did take Tim Hudson deep on Friday night. It was encouraging that it was hit to left field. Perhaps with a couple of days off, Giambi will start getting more comfortable.
Meanwhile, Nick Johnson continues to impress. According to Ken Rosenthal:
Bronx Banter Interview: Roger Angell
This interview originally appeared at BaseballProspectus.com.
Roger Angell, The New Yorker's celebrated baseball writer, has a new compilation out titled "Game Time", which contains many new pieces along with some previously published ones as well. BP correspondent Alex Belth caught up with Angell last weekend and talked about growing up a New York Giants baseball fan, the present-day Yankees, plus other topics New York baseball-focused and otherwise.
Bronx Banter: How did you get your start as a baseball fan, and as a writer?
Roger Angell: I got my start as a fan in the most traditional way possible: My father was a big baseball fan. My father had grown up in Cleveland, and when I was a kid, we would be going to Giants games here in New York, and Yankees games. As I've written, I think it still works with kids under 10 that their first big obsession is with baseball. They become aware of this gigantic lore. Some of the first players that I saw were people like Babe Ruth, and Carl Hubbell and Lou Gehrig, and I remember when Joe DiMaggio first arrived in my teens. So it goes back a ways.
BB: Where did you grow up?
Angell: I grew up close to where I live now. I grew up on 93rd Street, and on the way to school, my school bus which went up 5th Avenue when 5th Avenue went both ways, sometimes in the morning I would meet Col. (Jacob) Ruppert on his way to his brewery on the east side. He owned the Yankees. By that time I was 10 years old, so I would have a mitt, and I would give the mitt a whack and look at him, and expect him to stop and say: 'Young man, here's my card, take this up to the Stadium for a tryout.' It never happened. My father was a real fan, and he told me what to watch for. He had grown up in Cleveland in the Cy Young, days, and uh, his heart was broken for the rest of his life (laughs).
BB: So did you grow up as a Giants fan or a Yankees fan?
Angell: Both. I think I was more of a Yankee fan at first, but the Yankees were winning so often...that I discovered along the way that I was more a Giants fan than a Yankees fan.
BB: (Did you pull for the Giants) strictly because they were the underdog?
Angell: Cause they were the underdog, sure. And naturally you attach yourself to the underdog. But I think I enjoyed the Polo Grounds more than Yankee Stadium because it was such an eccentric and interesting park.
BB: Were most of the Giants fans of an older generation, because they were the dominant New York team before the Yankees?
Angell: Yeah, it's true. But I think if it had been some other city like Pittsburgh, I would have been a Pirates fan. It was just local. I was not a Dodgers fan, because the Dodgers always meant trouble for the Giants. I didn't actually go to a game at Ebbets Field until I was almost grown up.
BB: When did you want to become a writer?
Angell: My parents were divorced and I was living with my father during the weekdays. My mother was an editor at The New Yorker, was one of the first editors of the New Yorker. So it was sort of a family business. And she was married to E.B. White. So there was a writer close at hand. I think the aspirations came naturally.
BB: Did your mother write herself?
Angell: No, she was a famous fiction editor and early art editor. Famous figure in the family of The New Yorker, Katherine White. She was head of the fiction department, so I wound up in the fiction department myself many years later. But I remember watching E.B. White write, and I was a great admirer of his stuff because it looked so effortless and at the same time I could see how much effort had gone into it. He used to write the Comment Page, in the first page of the New Yorker. Every week. And that day, up in their place in Maine, he would close himself in his office and he would come out for lunch, and not say anything, and then you'd hear the sounds of sporadic typing in there, and then he'd mail it off and the end of the day and say it wasn't good enough. He was always saying that writing is hard, which is true.
BB: So writing was the family business.
Angell: The New Yorker was the family business. There was endless talk about The New Yorker all the time. Harold Ross, and all these people. I knew these people when I was young. Sure, it was an everyday sort of thing. My father was a lawyer, and I saw a lot of him, but he never begrudged me going into writing; in fact he encouraged me. So it was a natural sort of thing, and I grew up thinking I was going to do something in publishing. I had no idea I'd end up at The New Yorker, and I had no idea that I'd end up writing about baseball.
BB: When did you arrive at The New Yorker?
Angell: Well, I graduated from college, went overseas in the Pacific and became the managing editor of a G.I. weekly out there. Air Force. A magazine called "Brief." I had amazing preparation for what I would do later on. After the war, by this time I had begun to publish in The New Yorker, when I was quite young, publishing fiction. I wrote an article about a bomber mission in the Pacific. I didn't want to go to work for The New Yorker because it was the family business and you know you want to do things on your own. I went to work for a magazine called "Holiday," a new monthly started up after the war by Curtis Publishing. It was a famous travel magazine; it was a wonderful magazine that produced great writers, and artists and photographers from around the world. And I had a lot of fun doing that. I went to The New Yorker in the fall of '55. My parents were living in Maine. E.B. White was writing other stuff and my mother had retired by this time. It was a natural thing for me to do since I was a writer and editor and contributor to The New Yorker.
BB: When did you first write about baseball?
Angell: In '62. I had written some sports pieces, I had written a piece about the New York Rangers. I was a hockey fan; I was a sports fan. I did a couple of other things. And I had written a baseball piece for "Holiday," sort of a generic baseball piece. I said if you want I could go down to spring training. I certainly did not have it in mind to write a lot about baseball. The thing was, (my editor) didn't want sentimental writing about sports and he didn't want tough guy writing about sports, which were the choices back then. You were either weepy, or you were tough. The first year I went to spring training I found the newborn Mets in St. Petersburg. This is 40 years ago. I didn't think of myself as a sports writer so I didn't dare go in the clubhouse or sit in the press box. I sat with the fans. And I realized that the stuff that's ignored and never gets reported on is the fans. Nobody ever wrote about the fans. So I wrote about the fans, and I've continued to do so. I've continued to write in a form that allows me to write in the first person. And that allows me to say I am a fan of this team, or react to things as a fan as well as a baseball writer that now knows something about the game. The Mets were just a great fan story when they arrived. They played in the Polo Grounds and they were one of the worst and most entertaining teams that ever played. And that was a terrific story. And New York was used to the Yankees, winning all the time. Somebody said they had become like General Motors. And here was a team that was just terrible, but large numbers of people turned out to cheer them on, and if they won a game there was wild excitement. So I wrote that. They were something like anti-matter to the New York Yankees. I remember sitting there at the Polo Grounds, and there was a guy sitting near me in the stands blowing this mournful horn. TWUUUHH-TRUUUHP. And I wrote that there is more Met than Yankee in all of us, because losing is much more common than winning. When I heard that horn blowing I realized that horn was blowing for me. In some way, I began to settle into the kind of writing that I would do later on. They call me a "baseball essayist," or a "baseball poet laureate," and I hate that. I'm not trying to write baseball essays, and I'm certainly not trying to be poetic. I try to avoid it. I've been able to find myself and baseball a natural fit, and everybody wants to write about himself. That's why we do it (laughs).
BB: When were you aware that this was going to be something you were going to be doing regularly?
Angell: I think what happened was, I went to the World Series every year, again keeping my distance. But what happened in the 60s was that there were three great World Series and pennant races in a row. In '67, there was a four-way race in the American League between the White Sox, Twins, Tigers and the Red Sox. The White Sox went out first, and the Tigers were in it until the last day. The Sox had won and I was in the Red Sox clubhouse when news came that the Tigers had lost, and the Red Sox were in.
BB: The Impossible Dream Team.
Angell: Yeah, there was a great World Series that fall. Carl Yastrzemski was an extraordinary player, carried that team all the way through September. The Red Sox lost of course. And the next year was the Tigers and the Cardinals, and Bob Gibson struck out 17 batters in the first game. Something that never had happened before. And the year after that was the sudden arrival of the Mets: The biggest upset in modern times. These were three great late seasons and post seasons in a row, and by that time I was there writing about this first-hand. I was involved in some way. I felt involved. I learned how to attach myself to teams and I learned how to ask the right questions. It was a lot of fun. And the readers liked it so I went on doing it.
BB: When did you start approaching the locker room and the press box?
Angell: I did that in the sixties. I began to sit in the press box. I remember following the Red Sox around and sitting in the Press Box at Fenway Park, Tiger Stadium. A lot of writers were very good to me, and Cliff Keane one of the old Red Sox writers, famous guy for needling people, would make fun of me for taking so many notes. I'd fill up my notebooks, because I knew I was going to be writing much later, and I didn't know what would be useful at that time. So I would take notes and take notes. Keane would say to me, "How many pages today Rog, 20, 30?" I remember Keane trying to be cynical about Yastrzemski because Yastrzemski was such a great star. There was a game in Tiger Stadium where the Sox were behind a couple of runs, and Yaz came up and he said: 'OK Yaz, prove you're the MVP: Hit a home run.' And he hit a home run (laughs).
BB: What was it like in the locker room during that period?
Angell: Well, it wasn't nearly as crowded as it is now. The masses of TV people weren't there. You didn't have every local television channel in the land trying to represent something in the clubhouse. I think players were a little more accessible. And they were different, they were different. The great example that comes to mind right away is [Bob] Gibson after that 17-strikeout performance. He stood in front of his locker; writers were four and five deep at this point. And all of us had our pencils poised. This was in '68, and racially things were very uptight still. Someone said to Gibson: 'Were you surprised at what you did today?' Gibson looked at him and said: 'I'm never surprised by anything I do.' You could see this going through the writers like: 'What did he say? What did he say?' I hung around, after the crowds had left, and I was talking with Gibson a little bit, and I said: 'Are you always this competitive?' He said: 'Oh, I think so. I got a three-year old daughter, and I've played about 500 games of tic-tac-toe with her and she hasn't beat me yet.' And he meant it. He meant it.
BB: What were your impressions of the Cardinals in the 1960s?
Angell: You have to remember that when Gibson joined the Cardinals, he had played with the Globetrotters, as a second team. Many people forget this. But they played in the South and the black players would have to stay with black families when they went down there. Gibson hated this. Those were tough times.
BB: What was Bill White like in those days?
Angell: I didn't get to know him until later. He was a roommate of Gibby's at one point. He reminded me that when he changed clubs--he went over to the Phillies, I think the first at-bat he had against Gibson, Gibson hit him. He said: 'We're no longer roommates.' And of course that has really changed. This business of knockdown pitches and fighting for the inside part of the play has gone by, and if anybody gets hit now they look deeply insulted. It's too bad, because I really love the inside pitch, and the struggles of the batters to establish themselves.
BB: Those Cardinals were known for being a very racially integrated team. Did you get that impression from them?
Angell: Yeah, I think so, but the team I remember for that was the '79 Pirates. The greatest racial mix that there has ever been. Just unbelievable combinations of people. Suave, inner-city African Americans, and white guys from the South. Phil Garner was the son of a minister from the South. And of course Willie Stargell. You had South Americans, Latinos. The clubhouse was a mass of ethnic energy. All kinds of music going on. At one point I thought they were going to start sacrificing chickens. And rock music. That was the "We Are Family" thing. And everything revolved around Stargell, who was the guy that held it together. And they were so excited by themselves. It was just terrific.
BB: One thing I noticed in your feature about Gibson was that his reputation had diminished when the piece was published in the early '80s. These days Koufax and Gibson are clearly remembered as the outstanding pitchers of the 1960s, while Juan Marichal's reputation has suffered in comparison.
Angell: Well, Marichal was the one whose reputation has faded, you're right. And if you asked players from that era, 'who was the best pitcher?' they always mention Koufax, they always mention Gibson, and they all say the one everyone overlooks is Marichal, who was so tough because he had all those different pitches coming from so many different directions. He really knew how to pitch. Had a very wide range of skills.
BB: What are your impressions of the Yankees during the past 10 years?
Roger Angell: Torre's Yankees have made me a Yankee fan again, because of him. I was not particularly a Yankee fan, because I was not a Steinbrenner fan. I was just interested in other teams. But the way the Yankees played, and the atmosphere that prevailed there, the sense of professionalism and accomplishment....the presence of people like, well particularly Paul O'Neill, and Bernie Williams and David Cone. So many people all working together, who made very little reference to themselves. There were occasional exceptions; players here and there like Wells. But it was the perfect clubhouse atmosphere and it was a new thing for New York to have a Yankee team like that. I didn't enjoy it because it was like the old Yankees; I just liked it for itself. And they became the most interesting team in baseball, which is really amazing with the Yankees because there are so many preconceptions that are attached to the Yankees. So much of that encrusted history and lore. But these were interesting and lively teams that rejuvenated themselves. That post-season in 2001 was a great thing for everybody in a way. The play that Jeter made against the A's, which was like the necessary last ingredient, was really something. Everybody remembers that.
BB: Does Jeter rank with the all-time Yankees yet?
Angell: I don't need to rank anybody, let's wait and see. There is no hurry to rank him. I don't like to rank people unless they've arrived. I mean ranking Barry Bonds is extremely interesting now. But I don't need to rank Jeter yet. Let's see what happens. I remember when Doc Gooden had that great year (in 1985) and everybody was putting him in the Hall of Fame. And only some people said: 'Well, it was a pretty good year, let's see what happens.'
BB: The same can be said of Soriano now.
Angell: Yeah, he's just arriving. It's fun to watch people arrive. I don't have a great interest in the Best Ever. Or the Best this, or the Best that. You can play that out in the winter, but it is overwhelming sports now. We all want to have the sense that we were there at a historic moment, or that we were watching something historic, this next home run, or base hit. It makes you think about this constantly. If you look back in baseball history, I look back at the consecutive game streak, when Lou Gehrig broke the existing record. I've looked back at the newspapers of the time, and it was a little thing at the bottom of a paragraph. That was all. There was not this self-consciousness about records in the old days. What you watched is what mattered.
BB: Are you a fan of baseball writing?
Angell: I'm a fan of baseball books, yeah. I think my favorite baseball book of all time is "The Glory of Their Times," because it was thrilling to find out that some of these early players that we saw in distant, historical terms, were still around, living as old guys here in the country with perfect memories of what it had been like to play country ball. Larry Ritter went around with a tape recorder, while no one else noticed this. Suddenly there was a connection. We knew about baseball being in the past. We knew that baseball was both an old game and a young game. Which is still the case. It was an extraordinary piece of writing and reporting.
BB: Have you followed Bill James' writing career?
Angell: Yeah, I like Bill James. I'm not a sabermetrician, but I got to know Bill James early on, and I liked him a lot. He certainly opened up an entirely different area for us to understand baseball.
BB: Did the first publication of the Baseball Encyclopedia change the way you looked at statistics?
Angell: I wrote a long piece when it came out about what a significant thing it was to have it. I was aware of certain marks before it came out--number of games played, home run records. We are reminded of it every day now. I think that I had already sensed that every player who plays is playing against every other player who has ever played. Certainly if you have the Encyclopedia there, you look back at the lifetime stats of anybody, and of World Series games, it confirmed for you in interesting and exciting detail what you had already sensed. And we all had a few records that we would carry around as our favorites. Now they are all printed out. I remember a record I picked up very early on, that almost nobody is aware of. One of my favorite stats of all time is that from August of 1931 to August of 1933, the Yankees played something like 304 games without being shut out once. An extraordinary team record; nobody has ever come close to that. Just think of that. And there were great pitchers pitching then too.
BB: What was your experience like writing "A Pitchers Story" with David Cone?
Angell: He was just great. We had no written agreement. We had sort of talked about this as a joint venture. He kept wanting me to do it, and then we had a contract. But he wasn't involved in the contract and he could have said at any point when he started to lose, I'm sorry I can't do this. Nine out of 10 players would have gone that way, and all he did was keep apologizing. He said: 'I'm sorry I'm letting you down.' I said: 'You're not letting me down.' And at some point I said: 'This is more interesting that winning.' Which is true: Losing is much more interesting than winning. It was actually thrilling to go through with this and again, instead of looking at it from somebody who is a masterful pitcher, in control of everything, to see him hold onto some vestige of what he had been, to pull off a decent performance now and then.
BB: Was it awkward for you that he pitched so poorly?
Angell: It wasn't awkward, it was painful. It was horrible. It was painful for everybody that knew him, including his teammates. It was tough to see an accomplished and proud and extremely successful guy like that suddenly lose his form entirely, and struggling to find it. Torre, to his credit, stayed with him, and stayed with him. It was an amazing summer all along.
BB: What was your impression of Cone's 2001 season with the Red Sox?
Angell: He pitched well. He had a good season. He had some bad luck. He had some setbacks. The team completely fell apart. They fired the manager (Jimy Williams) mid-season. They had an inappropriate pitching coach who became the manager (Jim Kerrigan), who did not get the backing of the ownership. It was extremely ineffective, horrible. But Cone hung on and pitched well, through difficulties. He pitched a great game in Boston against Mussina, where Mussina came one out away from a perfect game. David was the losing pitcher but pitched nine innings. He had to go chew out Mussina, because he knew what a great game he pitched. Really. That was standard for David. The Sox came back down here and played at the Stadium the following week, and David made it a point of going to see Mussina, and said: "'What you want to remember is that we both pitched in a game that we'll never forget.'
BB: What do you make of Cone's comeback? When we first spoke last week, Cone had just hurt his hip, pitching for the Mets.
Angell: It's a good story. But yeah, I had a bad feeling about it last week. I could see it coming. I can't understand why nobody said anything about it. The writers or the coaches, but I saw Cone limping around, favoring that hip for a while now. I could see this coming.
BB: You've shifted your rooting loyalties over the years. Which teams are you pulling for these days?
Angell: I always change my loyalties because I get interested in the team I'm writing about. If I go and spend two days watching a team, I follow that team for the rest of the year. If I become aware of the people in the lineup and talk to the players a little bit, I'm interested in that team. I'm always interested in the Mets, I'm always interested in the Red Sox, I'm always interested in the Giants, my childhood team. I'm interested in the A's because I was always close with that team. I knew Bill Rigney very well. They were a great story in the '70s, and later when they came back with Tony La Russa, who ran such an admirable outfit. There are a lot of teams. I'm sort of a fan of the Angels now because they played so well in the World Series last fall.
BB: You weren't heartbroken that the Giants lost?
Angell: It almost killed me. It almost killed me. It was horrible. I mean I was there, I saw it happen with Giant fans. It was just appalling. Extremely painful. My God, they are up by five runs in the seventh inning of Game Six and lose? You don't get over that right away.
BB: What players do you follow closely these days?
Angell: Well, there are obvious ones like Pedro, Jeter. I was a great fan of Edgardo Alfonzo. When he arrived with the Mets, he really knew how to play baseball. A few of his coaches said: This guy already knows how to play. He picked it up in South America somehow. He was a complete ballplayer from the moment he arrived. And then there are always players that I haven't noticed before. Nowadays we are all victims of Bud Selig's horrible new schedule, and we are sequestered from seeing teams except in local divisions. I've never seen nearly enough of Garret Anderson for instance, who is a wonderful player. And that happens a lot.
BB: Are you not a fan of interleague play?
Angell: Sure, I think interleague play is fine. I have to say in defense of Bud Selig--I'm not a huge Bud fan for various reasons--but a lot of what he's done has been a success. Interleague play has been a success; the three divisions are working out OK. I don't like the schedule. I'm dead against the new schedule. I mean the new schedule was passed because teams didn't want to spend all that money on traveling, and the writers didn't want to be away from home so long, so far. But if you think about it, the great thing about baseball now is that we have some extraordinary stars, some of the best players who have ever played, but they are scattered all over. And you've got to be alert now. I mean the Giants are going to here (at Shea) for three days in the middle of August. Three days to look at Barry Bonds: That's terrible. Meantime, we get to see the Mets play Montreal, and the Phillies and Florida over and over and over again, which is not my idea of the best outcome for baseball.
BB: How do you like the contemporary game compared with previous generations?
Angell: I don't think in those terms. I don't think: This is the best time. I think that's a way to make yourself not enjoy what's going on. There is no doubt in my mind that we have as talented a bunch of players playing right now that the game has ever known. There is no doubt. These guys are extraordinary athletes. We have a rush of wonderful infielders, and great shortstops. Great shortstops who can hit. So why don't we enjoy what we are seeing? I don't have to say, this is the best time. Why make that choice? People are always ready to give up on baseball and say It wasn't what it was. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, and maybe it's about to be the best it's ever been. It's perfectly possible. I don't think people have any awareness of the contributions Hispanic stars have made to the game. They are the powerful force that has made the game as good as it is right now. They are not nearly appreciated enough.
BB: Is it more difficult to talk with players now?
Angell: It's much harder, because I'm so old. I'm 82. I approach them with my white hair. When they call you "sir," you're in trouble.
BB: Does the same thing go for the likes of Torre, and Zimmer?
Angell: No, the old guys know me, so I can talk to them. We go back a long ways. We look at each other and say, 'still here?' But a lot of my best friends in baseball are gone. Bill Rigney was my best friend in baseball, and he died a couple of years ago.
BB: Underneath his stoic calm, Torre is a tough Italian guy from Brooklyn, huh?
Angell: Torre was a catcher for most of his career. No gentle guys are catchers. Torre has got an immense sense of authority. He's tough enough. He doesn't go around acting tough because that's not his nature. But the players who come to play for him come to realize that he was a hell of a player. He shared an MVP award one year, lead the league in batting. So the next year he lost 64 points off his batting title. And he always points to that. He's also the guy who'll tell you about the day he grounded into four double plays. He's always putting himself down, which is a way he can help his team, because every player has horrible times, and they want to be reminded of that and not how great a player their manager was. But I go back to Bonds, who is one of the most exciting and interesting people to think about that I've encountered in baseball. It's amazing to me what he's done in the past couple of years. And all the old players that I've talked to about it, have said, 'I've never seen a guy locked in like this'--never, ever, ever. It's just astounding. It's really fun to place him in the category of the best who ever played. You have to put him among the top three outfielders of all time. He now belongs there with Ruth and Mays. I had a long exchange with a writer named Charlie Einstein, who is a friend of mine, a retired writer who lives around here. He used to cover the Giants; he went out with the Giants from New York to San Francisco. He's the biographer, and chronicler and closest friend of Willie Mays. And I wrote in my piece, I quoted a local writer out there, Ray Ratto, saying that Bonds is the best outfielder now that's ever played. He's number three. And he's never going to rise above three because the other two were Mays and Ruth. Of course Bonds was pissed off. But Einstein wrote, if I can remember this correctly, this means we have a second outfield of Aaron and Williams and DiMaggio, a third-best outfield of Clemente, Cobb and Mantle. And he said: 'Who is going to tell Stan Musial that he's on the fourth team?' (laughs)
FREDDIE GETS FOXXED Two
FREDDIE GETS FOXXED
Two years ago it looked as if Freddie Garcia was going to be one the star pitchers in the AL for a long time, but he struggled last year, and last night took it on the chin again, as the Yanks pounded him for nine runs in the third inning, on route to a 16-5 win over the Mariners.
According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
The U.S.S. Mariner reports:
Here's hoping the Yanks still have some runs left in their bats, because they are headed for Oakland, and the three-headed monster that is: Hudson, Zito, Mulder.
DOH! The Mets misbegotten
The Mets misbegotten season took another dopey turn yesterday at Shea as the Mets brass bungled the long-awaited Piazza-to-first experiment. Who is driving this rent-a-wreck anyway? It sure isn't GM Steve Phillips anymore. It's simply a matter of time before he's fired. Art Howe? Mmmm, not likely. ("I didn't realize you say something on the radio around here it's all over the place before you even blink," Howe, the Mets' first-year manager, said. "It's a learning process for me." Can he truly be this naive?) That leaves Fred and Jeff Wilpon. Still, it's bewildering that an incident like yesterday can actually happen.
The New York press has been swirling around the Mets all season, and the sharks have gone in for the kill this morning. Joel Sherman, John Harper, Lisa Olson, and George Vecsey all sink their teeth into the Metroplitans.
MOOSE ENDS SKID Mike
MOOSE ENDS SKID
Mike Mussina improved his record to 7-0, Godzilla Matsui hit a homer, and the Yanks rolled over the M's last night, 7-2. Mussina struck out 12 in 8 innings of work and drew raves from the Mariners:
Joe Torre added:
Derek Jeter started his rehab assignment in Trenton, NJ last night and will join the Yanks next week:
CHOCK FULL OF NUTS
CHOCK FULL OF NUTS
A mental patient came on the 1 train at 168th street this morning muttering about Art Howe. I kid you not. The beauty part is that he was a dead-ringer for the Mets skipper.
I attended my first game of the season last night at Shea. My oldest and dearest friend in the world, Lizzie Bottoms, works for a non-for-profit organization that supports disabled people. They had a company outing to the ballgame last night, so I basically watched the game along with 500 retards (insert cruel and insensitive Mets joke here). The 'clients,' as they are called, were great, clearly the most exciting part of the Mets 2-1 loss to L.A. Steve Trachsel pitched against Hideo Nomo, and I was prepared for a drawn-out, tedious affair, but both pitchers worked surprisingly quickly. The two pitchers are a contrast in styles, but they essentially both look like men doing their morning stretches out there on the mound.
Some people call Shea a dump, and I can see their point, but there is something charming about it's scrubbiness. It feels so suburban compared with Yankee Stadium. There is a great ethnic mix of people at Shea, but it's much more about Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island than money-makin Manhattan. When Woody Allen used to crack jokes about guys who wore wool hats and delivered flowers for the florist, he was talking about the kinds of people who frequent Shea. The vendors are worth almost worth the price of admission. "Beeeeah heeeah." My favorite beer guy (one Todd Gomer) looked like the artist R. Crumb. He had a long neck like an ostrich, and tilted his head to the side before he called out, "Beeeah heeeah." Another guy was a dead-ringer for the actor Adrian Brody (also from Queens).
"It's the worst thing that ever happened to me when that guy won the Oscar. They used to say I was John Cusak, now I'm Adrian Brody. Except I'm much better looking, right?"
The other highlight of the evening was spotting Mike Piazza's poppa outside the stadium on our way in.
The lowlight on the night was having the misfortune to be sitting behind your classic obnoxious Yankee fan. As we filled in our All-Star ballots, he voted for nothing but Yankees and then proceeded to make a loud case for why Jeter is better than A-Rod. I couldn't hold back and so I got into it with him, until I realized it was a pointless exercise. Man, no wonder Yankee fans are so loathed.
I haven't talked much about the state of the Mets this week, but they have been all over the papers, most notably Rey Sanchez and his infamous haircut. Today, Bill Madden attempts to set the record straight:
Meanwhile, Mo Vaughn's career is in peril, though he appears to be taking it in stride:
BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: ROB
BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: ROB NEYER
BB: Are you still attached to the Red Sox now that Bill James is working for them?
BB: What are your thoughts about theMichael Lewis book?
BB: Who are some of the other teams in baseball following suit?
BB: I've noticed how condescending the mainstream media has been towards the sabermetric-based philosophies. The YES announcers have been belittling the Red Sox bullpen strategy all year. What's worse is that they don't even seem to understand the principles behind the strategy.
BB: Woody Allen said 'Change equals death.'
BB: Christian Ruzich, Jay Jaffe and Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus are just a few of the writers who have been covering the topic of pitch counts, and recently Christian reminded me that in baseball, change doesn't happen rapidly. You wrote a column about pitch counts last week. What do you make of all of this?
BB: Randy Johnson ruins it for everybody.
BB: What about guys like Doc Gooden, Saberhagen and Orel Hirshiser?
BB: Speaking of the Sox, I wanted to ask you: Has there been a pitcher in history who has been simultaneously as dominant and as physically fragile as Pedro Martinez has? Or does he stand-alone in this regard?
BB: I understand the appeal of the Red Sox. The Sox have a rich history, dubious as it may be. And the same goes for the Cubbies too. They are teams that are famous for being losers. But what about the White Sox? They are just as sad, and nobody thinks they are literate or cute. What's up with that?
BB: I've read a bunch of your columns regarding Minnie Minoso and the Hall of Fame. Considering how prominent Latin stars are in today's game it's surprising to me that nobody has politicked for Minoso.
BB: He was a popular guy, right?
BB: Did Cepeda play the Latin card as well?
BB: Koufax and Gibson are the most venerated pitchers of the 1960s these days. Why has Marichal's reputation faded so dramatically?
BB: You don't think the Johnny Roseboro fight has anything to do with it?
BLAST OFF Here are
LONG NIGHT'S JOURNEY INTO
LONG NIGHT'S JOURNEY INTO ASS
I've become smarter as I've gotten older. I don't watch or listen to any Yankee west-coast games during the work week. No matter what the early score is, I know it will jack me up too much, and then I'll never get a decent night of sleep. I also know how poorly the Yanks have played on the coast since I was a kid (though I'm not sure of the numbers), so the crank always emerges in me and I never expect to wake up to discover the Yanks have won. And if they prove me wrong, it's a nice surprise to start the day.
I can't say I was shocked when I saw the backpage of the tabliods this morning and saw that the Yanks played a sloppy game in Seattle last night, and lost 12-7. Did I say they would be sounding the alarm in Boston yesterday after Nomar made an error that cost the Sox a game? Well, now that the Yanks have dropped three-straight, we'll be conducting duck-and-cover drills in throughout the Tri-State area this morning.
Naturally, the Sox won, and the Yanks lead in the east stands at a scant two and a half games.
On my way to work this morning, I stumbled across two very lost looking tourists standing on the corner of 50th street and 7th avenue. They were a squat, Midwestern couple. When they saw me they asked, "How do we get to the 'Today Show?'" I helped them out and then walked with them for a block. The husband commented on my "Eight Men Out" varsity jacket and figured I couldn't be all bad since I was representing Chicago.
"You a White Sox fan?"
"No, we're Cubs fans."
"Well, hell, what's not to like about the Cubs," I said.
I got around to talking about the Mets and the Yanks and he says, "I don't like George Steinbrenner much."
"Well, I don't like him too tough either, but I do like the team he's provided us."
"What about Arizona? Those Diamondbacks beat you guys in their first year of existence."
I didn't have it in me to lay into this rube, even though I was in less than a cheery mood after reading about last night's game.
"Hell, that was nothing to be ashamed of, especially after they won three in a row."
"Yeah, well, where is the 'Today Show' again?"
BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: ROB
BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: ROB NEYER
Rob Neyer is the most popular sabermetrician not named Bill James. The ESPN analyst has just published his third book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," and has prettied-up his home page to boot. I read Neyer's column regularly and appreciate him for his even-handedness, his self-depricating wit, and his willingness to get to the heart of the matter. I was fortunate enough to talk with Rob last week, and I'm pleased to say he's as genial over the phone as he appears in print. (It's always nice when people you admire don't suck.)
I generally don't like the idea of splitting interviews up into two parts, but after I transcribed my conversation with Rob, I felt it was the best way to go. We spoke for a long while, and when I went back to see what I could edit out, I found that I just liked too much of what he had to say. I don't want to completely blast the reader with too much information all at once, so here is Part One, where Rob talks about his how he became a baseball fan and a baseball writer. Neyer talks about his apprenticeship with Bill James, his adventures as a freelance writer, and the experience of writing a book about Fenway Park that his editor hated. Part Two will follow tomorrow.
This interview was conducted via telephone between the Bronx, NY and Portland, Oregon on Wednesday, April 30, 2003.
Bronx Banter: Where did you grow up?
BB: Did you play sports as a kid?
BB: Were the Kansas City Kings still around when you were a kid?
BB: Tiny Archibald.
BB: Were you interesting in baseball writing when you were young?
BB: How did you then get your start in baseball writing?
BB: Were you already familiar with his work?
BB: Did you entertain fantasies of working for him when you found out he was a local?
BB: You mentioned being intimidated by James when you first sat next to him at a ballgame, what was your impression of him when you interviewed for the job?
BB: What did you do as his assistant?
BB: How long did you work for James before he encouraged you to write?
BB: So you really got your degree at Bill James University. He was your mentor and your editor.
BB: When you were working with James, did you guys go to a lot of ballgames together?
BB: And the manuscripts were due when, in December?
BB: Where did you go after you left?
BB: Did you put the book together, or were you a general editor?
BB: Are you naturally inclined towards math and science?
BB: One of the things I appreciate about your writing is that you make statistical formulas human. You aren't cold or clinical stylistically and that helps me grasp the information much more readily. You also appear to be as interested in the characters who play the game, as you are in the stats themselves.
BB: When did you start working for ESPN?
BB: How many columns are you contracted to write weekly for ESPN?
BB: When you've finished a piece does it go to an editor before it is posted?
BB: Have you been tagged with the label as a Bill James clone?
BB: What was the deal with your second book? The book about Fenway Park?
BB: Was the manuscript something radically different from what they expected?
BB: Were you a Red Sox fan before you went up there?
BB: Were you a Red Sox hater?
BB: Did you find yourself pulling for the Sox that year you watched them up close?
BB: Did you make it down to Yankee Stadium that year?
BB: The 2-1 game.
BB: Yeah, I remember that fuggin game. Nixon, that som'bitch hit the homer off Clemens.
BB: What were your impressions of Yankee Stadium?
BB: It's funny because every place the Yankees play on the road, you'll hear a vocal contingency of Yankee fans. That never happens at Yankee Stadium. Okay it does a little for the Subway Series, but it doesn't happen unless the Red Sox are in town. If the Stadium is sold out, you know to expect 10-15,000 Boston fans to be in the house.
BB: I always take the opposite approach. I worry that the Yankees have won so much, that eventually it will be the Red Sox turn. They have to win it sometime, I worry. Why not now?
BB: I agree.
BB: What drives me crazy about Yankee fans is that the downside of what has transpired over the past decade is the sense of entitlement they have about winning. As if the Yankees have corned the market on winning, which is nonsense.
BB: Hell, you are talking to one of them. It's what makes me focus on appreciating what we've got, every day.
BB: I know I'm going to enjoy the season, regardless of whether they ultimately win it all or not. Sure it would be great if they could win another ring, but if they don't it won't necessary ruin the year for me.
Tomorrow Rob talks about pitch counts, Pedro Martinez, and Michael Lewis' hot new book, "Moneyball." Stay tuned...
YOU GOTS TO CHILL
YOU GOTS TO CHILL
Nick Johnson may have had his walks-streak snapped on Sunday, but the Times saw fit to give him some props today all the same:
The Yanks open a three-game serious in Seattle tonight and then move on for three more in Oakland this weekend. Both teams have played the Bombers well so far. It would be a terrific week if the Yanks can go 4-2 on this trip, but 3-3 is acceptable. Anything less than that would be a discouraging.
Meanwhile, the Royals won their 11th straight at home, and finally beat the Red Sox. Nomie tied the game with a homer late in the game, but then his error lead to the Royals comebackvictory. Once again, Derek Lowe was not effective. Oh how the alarm must be sounding in Boston this morning.
ICED Before Roger Clemens
Before Roger Clemens and Barry Zito faced off on Sunday afternoon, Oakland's Scott Hatteberg--who is featured in Michael Lewis' forthcoming book "Moneyball," said that it was going to be like, "Cy Young vs. Cy Old." He immediately caught himself. He wasn't trying to stir any shit up.
So what does he do, but hit a homer off of Clemens his first time up. It would be enough for the A's, because even though Rocket pitched well---allowing 1 earned run in seven innings of work---Zito was better, and the A's bumped off the Bombers, 2-0, taking the series, the first the Yankees have lost this season.
I don't mind losing to Hudson, but Zito is tougher to swallow. Pedro is about the only guy who is harder to stomach. But man is Zito sharp. Jim Kaat mentioned several times during the broadcast that Zito, and the other Oakland pitchers look like they are simply playing catch with the catcher. Kaat compared Zito with Lefty Carlton, in that Zito is oblivious to the batters, concentrating soley on putting the ball in the catcher's mitt.
Zito also had the Gods with him yesterday. When the Yanks hit the ball hard, they hit them at an Oakland defender. When they got on the bases, they ran (or didn't run) themselves into outs. The only part of the game that frustrated me was that Nick Johnson was brought in to pinch hit with two-out in the ninth and he flew out to center, ending the game and ending his nifty little consecutive-games-with-a-walk streak.
Nuts. But hey, at least the Sox lost, and so things are exactly as they were going into the weekend: Yanks ahead of Boston by three. Red Sox fans must feel like they are right where they want to be. If they were three ahead, they'd be nervous. But three behind is a comfortable place to be.
GIVE AND TAKE I left
GIVE AND TAKE
I left work early on Friday to accompany Emily to a doctor's appointment on the Upper East Side. I had some time to kill so I walked up from midtown, and boy let me tell you, the East Side is as weird and as wack as it's always been. Strange, cadaverous old honkies, poorly-dressed young honkies, and of course, the occasional nut case. On the corner of 68th street and Second Avenue, a toothless chap was standing there handing out business cards of some sort, running an open dialogue with himself.
"No, I'm not happy at all today. I should be in California. The Lakers won, and so did the Celtics. There are three games tonight, and I wish I could be there. Yeah. I don't like that Busch at all. No sir. Did you see him in that outfit? Who does he think he is, Tom Cruise?"
I told him not to worry: The Lakers will win. I moved on. I actually entertained myself with fantasies of running into Jason Giambi. I don't fully understand why it is that many of the jocks that choose to live in Manhattan select the Upper East Side, but I forgive them, because they are not from New York, and so they can't be totally at fault. After all, who said these guys knew anything about taste (watch Cribs lately)?
Still, I was hoping to run into the big lug, so I could tell him to relax, we are behind him and he'll turn it around before you know it. But wouldn't you know it? He never did materialize.
I sat in on Em's appointment ostensibly to take notes; there is so much information to digest, it's easy for her to forget half of it by the time she walks out the door. I introduced myself to the Doctor as her food-taster. Em's medical problems are not over, but we were encouraged, that she still had options. Her Doctor was attentive and reassuring, and how rare is that? When we were done, we jumped on a cross-town bus and went to see "A Mighty Wind," over by Lincoln Center. Brought to you by the same creative team that made "Waiting For Guffman," and "Best in Show," this new movie will appeal to those who enjoyed the first two flicks.
It was exactly what the Doctor ordered. Something light and stupid. After the movie, we strolled up Broadway to the best produce-fine-foods emporium in the city, Fairway, and stocked up for dinner. By the time we were done, a thunderstorm broke out, and we happily got soaked on our way to the subway.
The Yankee game was delayed for over an hour, but they eventually got it in. This is how lucky I am: Not only will my girlfriend tolerate me watching a game; she actually enjoys watching a game herself (I know she enjoys watching me watch a game). Hell, she'll even sit through a rain delay with me.
Ted Lily, looking thinner in the face than he did last year with the Yanks, pitched against Boomer Wells. It was another awful night for Em's boy, J. Giambi, who struck out three times, including once with the bases-loaded.
Emily was plum tuckered out, and napped on and off during the game. At one point she woke up and exclaimed, "I don't know if I was dreaming or not, but I think the Yankees have someone named Bubba playing for them. What the fuck is up with that?" She closed her eyes and went back to sleep.
The Yanks won 5-3, and it was a close, tense game. Robin Ventura drew a bases-loaded walk to break the tie, and Nick Johnson later pinch-hit with the bases-juiced again, and guess what? After taking two big hacks and fouling pitches off, he too drew a walk, which extended his streak of games with a base on balls to sixteen. Hooray!
On Saturday morning, the Gods answered Emily's prayers and we tackled many messy area's in my apartment: the refrigerator got a thorough inspection and scouring, my closest took a beating, with old clothes being tossed, and the remaining one's being folded and put away neatly, and the corner of the room next to my bed, at long last, was straightened-up and organized. Oh, was Ms. Shapiro ever happy. Delicious relations followed all this purging, and then Em was off, and I was left to my own devices for the rest of the afternoon.
It was a cool, but sunny day in the Bronx, and when I was out getting the papers (getting the papers) in the a.m. I thought, Hey Giambi generally strikes me as an optimist. It's a brand new day. Maybe he can come out and relax a bit today.
Tim Hudson went up against Jeff Weaver in what turned out to be a dandy at the Stadium. Weaver pitched well, but let a couple off two-strike pitches get away from him, and left the game trailing 3-1. Hudson was brilliant. While Hudson may not be as dominating as Pedro Martinez (who pitched his first complete game of the year in Boston yesterday afternoon), he is built in his mold: diminutive, composed, and nasty. Roy Oswalt belongs to the club as well too.
Tim Hudson is the leader of the A's pitching staff and you can see why. He looks like the leader. On the mound, he has an icy-calm, and seems to be able to maximize his energy on each delivery. He was in full control yesterday, getting ahead of the Yankee hitters and making them hit the ball on the ground with his efficient sinker.
With his cap pulled down over his eyes, he almost looks like a kid's idea of a badass. Like something out of a comic strip. Hudson has a small mouth that gapes open as he looks to the catcher for the signs, and his scowl reminds me of a young Ray Liotta (though Hudson has a better complexion). He looks like Baby-faced Finster. There is nothing rushed about his demeanor. Calmly, he is in control of the proceedings. He could be a prison guard right out of "Cool Hand Luke," or maybe he could be Luke himself.
When Jorge Posada flew out to end the 7th inning, third base coach Willie Randolph made jogged by Hudson and made a comment that brought a smile to Hudson's face. It was no doubt a compliment.
Trailing 3-1 in the ninth, Oakland's manager gave the Yankees an opportunity by lifting Hudson in favor of closer Keith Foulke. I was preparing a sammich in the kitchen between innings and plotted out the perfect scenario: Nick Johnson leads off with a single; Giambi follows with a homer; Bernie follows that with a homer himself. And if he doesn't, then better yet, Godzilla does! See how easy it is to be a spoiled-ass Yankee fans?
Johnson did his part, by lining an outside fastball into the left field corner for a leadoff double. Of course, he had drawn a base on balls earlier against Hudson, and tied Willie Randolph for the team record of consecutive games with a walk at 17. Next, Giambi did his part, and got off the schnide, when he blasted a fastball off the faZade of the upper deck in right field to tie the game. I had my mouth full of sammich when he hit it, and I didn't know what to do with myself. So I just made a loud "MMMMMMM" chant, like Peter Boyle in "Young Frankenstein." I got up and started stomping around the living room, "MMM-MMM."
I even called Emily, who had been watching on her own. Needless to say, she was very happy for her boy.
But Bernie and Godzilla must have missed my cosmic memo, and the game went into extra innings. Juan Acevado coughed up the lead when Eric Chavez absolutely creamolished a fastball into the bleachers for a two-run homer. It was enough to give Oakland the "W," 4-2.
The Red Sox bullpen blew Friday night's game to drop the Home Nine four behind the Yanks, but they made it up on Saturday and again trail by only three.
The funniest moment in the Yankee game came in the top of the fourth. Eric Chavez popped out to Ventura in foul territory to start the inning. The winds were swirling yesterday and every pop fly became a miniature adventure. Ventura broke back to his right for the ball, and just at the last moment pivoted his shoulders back to the left to make the catch. Ventura slows the game down, and yet always seems in complete control. He had the ball the entire way. The only problem was that Erick Almonte was chasing the pop fly as well. There was no communication between the two, and right as Ventura squeezed the ball into his glove, he bumped into Almonte and the two fell over each other.
Almonte looked like an over-anxious puppy at the dog run. Ventura was nice not to scold him, let alone bite him. After Tejada reached on a single, Durazo sent a pop up to short left field. Ventura and Almonte went after the ball again, and this time Ventura clearly called him off. Almonte still was probably too close to Ventura, but that's only because puppies always like to hang around the older dogs.
DEAD MAN WALKING I've
DEAD MAN WALKING
I've never been a fan of the Mets GM Steve Phillips, but there is nothing that is entertaining about the Phillips death-watch across town with the Mets. The Mets lost in extra-innings to the Cards yesterday (their fifth straight L), and it feels as if Phillips will not make it through the weekend. Jay Jaffe, the futility infielder, one of the best, if not the best baseball writer in the blogging universe, weighs in with take on the situation. Mike Lupica killed Phillips in the News yesterday, and today Joel Sherman lays some of the blame at the feet of the Wilpons.
According to the Daily News today:
If they are going to can him, I say do it and do it now. Don't draw this out any longer than you have to, fer cryin' out loud.
Somewhere, Bobby Valentine is enjoying a good laugh.
LE JOIE DE FREAK
LE JOIE DE FREAK
Alfonso Soriano continues to confound and amaze. Derek Zumsteg of Baseball Prospectus admits he doesn't know how he would approach pitching our favorite Martian:
Filip Bondy has a nice little puff piece on him in the Daily News today. When Soriano connected off of Seattle's impressive right-hander Joel Pinero in the sixth:
The kid hasn't let success go to his head. As Kevin Kernan reports in the Post today:
EVERY DOG HAS HIS
EVERY DOG HAS HIS DAY
Every fan has one player on the team he roots for that for one reason or another, serves as your own personal whipping boy. Mine is Jorge Posada, he of the weak chin, big ears and red ass. Whenever I need to vent some frustration, Jorgie is the one who gets it. I can accept all of Bernie Williams' flaws, his lousy baseball instincts, his flakiness, but it's just the opposite with Posada. Even when he's doing okay, I'm usually cursing his ass out. This isn't rational, but it's the way it is. Maybe it's because Posada is such a spaz, maybe it's just his looks, I don't know.
Well, I have to give it up for him today, because he played as good a game as I came remember him playing. Especially on the defensive side of things. Posada made three sterling plays---nailing Ichio at second on a bunt attempt by Randy Winn, and then later throwing out both Winn and Ichiro trying to steal second. Jorgie threw Winn out in the sixth with a picture-perfect throw that had some mustard on it; he rushed his throw to get Ichiro later on, but it was on-line and shortstop Enrique Wilson made a nice pick to record the out.
Joe Torre told reporters:
Posada was hampered by shoulder problems last year, but he seems to have recovered nicely. Back-up catcher Joe Flaherty added:
Posada also added a solo home run in the Yankees taut 2-1 victory over the Mariners last night. Mike Mussina improved to 6-0, striking out nine in eight innings of work (he has K'd at least eight batters in each one of his starts); Mariano Rivera looked much sharper than he did the night before, and retired the M's in order in the ninth for his first save of the season.
Jason Giambi's slump continues, and he looks tense and constipated. Meanwhile Nick Johnson drew another walk, and now has drawn a base-on-balls in fifteen consecutive games. Oh, by the way, Lil' Sori hit a towering homer to left which proved to be the game winner.
AND THE BAND PLAYED
AND THE BAND PLAYED ON
Here is some feedback I received yesterday on the subject of queers in baseball. First up, is Steve Keane from The Eddie Kranepool Society:
Jones has not been disciplined yet (and I don't think he should be either), but he did issue an apology yesterday.
Here is what my cousin Gabe Fried had to say:
I had the opportunity to speak with ESPN's Rob Neyer---who wrote a column on the Jones situation yesterday, and we got around to talking about homosexuality in baseball. Actually, it came up as we were discussing Curt Flood:
The complete interview with Rob will be posted early next week. Stay tuned...
RETURN OF THE SANDMAN
RETURN OF THE SANDMAN
Jamie Moyer was hit was some dumb luck in the first inning, when his fielders couldn't quite hold onto a couple of shots off Yankee bats (including a grand slam to Raul Mondesi), but he settled down and was his usual vexing self through seven innings. But the Yankees had a 5-0 lead, and received a strong outing from Andy Pettitte, and outlasted the M's for a 8-5 win. Juan Acevado and Chris Hammond got roughed up in the eight, and the Mariners drew closer, 5-4. (There was a lot of cursing in my crib at this point.) But the Bombers were able to add three insurance runs in bottom of the inning, which gave Mariano Rivera ample wiggle room in his first appearance of the season.
Understandably, Mo looked a bit tentative. You could even see it in his face. The icy calm wasn't there. He didn't look nervous, simply atrophied. Randy Winn battled him to start the inning, and it took 10 pitches for Rivera to retire him. Mo tapped his front foot before each pitch as if he was trying to gain his footing, or calm himself down, or both. He struck out Winn on a tailing fastball that I thought was a two-seamer, but has been called a sinker as too. That pitch was something new from Rivera. Brett Boone followed with a walk, and after falling behind 3-0 to Edgar Martinez, Mel Stottlemyre came out to talk with his closer. Mo then retired Edgar---who absolutely owns him---on three straight fastballs. Mike Cameron followed with a RBI double off the center field wall, before John Mabry popped out to Godzilla Matsui to end the game.
Nick Johnson walked again (which makes it fourteen games in a row), but he's hitting as well. The same cannot be said for J. Giambi, who heard the boo's from the ever-understanding and patient Yankee faithful.
FATTY My brother Benny
My brother Benny Eggs used to frequent the 2nd Avenue Deli regularly with my old man. This is before pop had quadruple bypass surgery a couple of years ago. Although the old man still indulges in the occasional steak--sometimes it's not so occasional--his eating habits certainly don't approach the unbridled excess of the old days. One night Eggs and the old man were sitting in a booth at the 2nd Avenue Deli, waiting to order. My dad was furiously stuffing down the complimentary cole slaw when the waiter arrived, so my brother order two pastrami sammiches. Just then pop started choking on the cole slaw. He slammed down a glass of water and held up a hand for the waiter to stay. Before he could fully recover, let alone draw a breath---his eyes now bloodshot, and tearing, he simply reminded the waiter: "Fatty."
I was reminded of this story on my train ride home yesterday evening. The Times had a great article on Pastrami on the front page of the Dining In section. Here is a classic New York scene:
These kind of stories are dangerous to read with an empty stomach, and I got so worked up that I had to stop by Loeser's Deli on 231rst street and pick up a couple of dogs and a knish (as well as a couple of half-sour pickels and yes, a container of cole-slaw to boot). Okay, it wasn't a fat-ass Pastrami sammich, but they are foods that go well with mustard all the same. And it was delish, and terrif. About the only drawback is the awful bellyache I's got this morning. Hell, it was worth it.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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