Monthly archives: January 2007
The Long Goodbye
I think most of us will agree that the addition of Mr. Minky represents the worst move the Yankees made this off-season. And while I believe that many think the team would be better off without the services of Bernie Williams, other fans don't want to see him go. What to do? Jon Heyman has the latest over at SI.com.
Elsewhere, Mike Mussina tells it like it is; David Pinto links to a story about Melky Cabrera; Steven Goldman compares the Yankee and Red Sox hitting, and according to the AP, the Yankees will host the All-Star Game in 2008.
In other news, Billy Martin's old drinking partner, Art Fowler passed away yesterday. If I get a chance, I'll take a look through my Yankee literature tonight to see if I can find a good Fowler story.
Hell to Come?
Todd Helton might not be the offensive beast he once was, but he ain't chopped liver, either. If he lands in Boston, the Sox will have some kind of formidable line-up, no?
What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most?
There have been great players who never had a great moment; men who went on year after year, running up formidable statistics, but were no more fearsome than anybody else in the few, crucial moments of their careers. They popped up or flied out in key at-bats, or did not even fail that spectacularly. They simply singled when they should have homered, cut the ball off from going into the gap when they should have made the diving, sliding catch. They played on no great teams, took part in no immortal moments, and passed quietly and respectably from the game, vaguely admired by all.
I ran across this passage the other night and it got me to wondering: How many great baseball players can we put into this category? (And I think Baker is talking about great playoff moments, really.) Ernie Banks, Dick Allen, Jeff Bagwell, and Alex Rodriguez come to mind. I might even be wrong about them. What do you guys think? Something to chew-over on a bright, but brutally cold day in The Big Apple.
When the Yankees announced their spring training invitees a little less than two weeks ago (see the list under "Players" on the sidebar), I was struck by the absence of one name: J. Brent Cox. As it turns out, Cox, who is widely regarded as one of the organization's ten-best prospects, has a broken bone in his pitching hand and will thus get a late start to his third professional season. Mystery solved, thanks to super sleuth Peter Abraham.
Peter also provides this link to Michael Kay's Tuesday interview with Bobby Murcer, who plans to return to broadcasting as soon as spring training. Much as hearing Kay's voice (and dreadful theme song) makes my skin crawl, it's great to hear Murcer. In addition to his good spirits and strong voice, his graciousness with Kay's callers is tremendous.
The Yankees will hold a press conference today to announce a new "international venture," which Murray Chase believes will have something to do with Randy Levine, Brian Cashman, and Jean Afterman's upcoming trip to China and Japan.
Jorge Posada made a few comments about Bernie Williams before Tuesday's Baseball Assistance Team (BAT) dinner, unleashing a torrent of articles all of which have used the same quotes. The gist of Jorge's jive: Bernie won't play for another team, Bernie won't sign a minor league deal, Bernie wants to play one more year. Sounds like Bernie's in denial. Tyler Kepner's version of the story suggests that Bernie could take that minor league deal and then retire in a Yankee uniform in spring training like Al Leiter did last year. Jorge suggests that Bernie might take the Roger Clemens rout and stay in shape in the hope of being needed at some point during the season. Again, I think Bernie's setting himself up for disappointment.
Major League Baseball will officially announce on Wednesday January 31 that the 2008 All-Star Game will take place in Yankee Stadium. The announcement is expected to take place at City Hall.
Bob Timmerman over on the Griddle has a link to a story about Aaron Guiel and his decision to play in Japan this year.
Finally, on the topic of erstwhile Yankee first basemen, the Devil Rays appear to be close to inking former Columbus Clipper Carlos Peña to a minor league contract. They'll already have Hee-Seop Choi in camp. Either of those lefties would have been preferable to Stinky Minky.
The big story yesterday was that Robinson Cano has switched his uniform number from 22 to 24 in anticipation of the still entirely speculative arrival of free agent Roger Clemens, who has worn number 22 for the Yankees and Astros since early 1999. The story was broken by the New York Post's Michael Morrissey, who reported that the team asked Cano to make the switch. Subsequent articles on ESPN and MLB.com reported that it was Cano that approached the team with the idea for the switch. An MLB.com radio interview with the writer of the later piece, Bryan Hoch, provided a clue to the most likely scenario. Since rosters are currently being finalized and uniforms tailored, the Yankees likely approached Cano about the possibility of having to switch numbers mid-season, offering to let him switch now instead. Cano likely opted to switch now--no doubt with some gentle nudging from the team looking for some cheap headlines in a slow news cycle and a chance to make an overture to Clemens--and the team subsequently spun the decision as Cano's. For what it's worth, Cano wore number 14 when first called up in May of 2005 and is named after Jackie Robinson, whose number 42 is the inverse of 24 (and is already taken by Mariano Rivera and otherwise retired throughout baseball). Tino Martinez was wearing number 24 during Cano's rookie year when he switched from 14 to 22. Last year 24 was only used briefly by Sidney Ponson.
As for Clemens, he was seen sporting one of his Yankee World Series rings at the Sundance Film Festival over the weekend, which suggests to me that the chances of him returning to the Bronx are excellent. Last season Clemens made public appearances wearing Astros gear prior to resigning with the team. Per Morrissey's article, Clemens's agent, Randy Hendricks, recently said that Roger's decision won't come until after the start of spring training and possibly not until after the start of the regular season. Last year, Clemens didn't sign with the Astros until May 31 and didn't make his first start for them until June 22 (there's that number again). By then the 20-year-old Philip Hughes very well may have eliminated the Yankees' need for the 44-year-old Rocket. Either way, by June the Yankees look to be in a great position regarding the rotation spot vacated by the Randy Johnson trade.
In other non-news, Bernie Williams' retirement is looking increasingly imminent as the Yankees don't appear to be willing to offer him anything beyond a minor league contract and an invite to spring training where he really wouldn't even have a job to fight for.
Finally, Yahoo!'s Tim Brown takes a look at former Yankee prospect and 1998 World Series hero Ricky Ledee who has been through seven organizations in his nine-year career and may very well have run out of employers at the age of 33. Whenever I think of Ledee, who was sent to Cleveland in the David Justice deal in mid-2000, I recall his pre-game interviews with Michael Kay on WABC in which Ricky, fighting Shane Spencer and Chad Curtis for the left field job, repeatedly insisted "I weel heet" in a tone of voice that betrayed his lack of belief in what he was saying. Outside of a few small samples, he never did hit.
Denial Ain't Just A River In Egypt
While I was trapped in a small room and chained to BP07, the Yankees made three moves which directly impact their 25-man roster for the coming season. Among the comments to my previous post were a few requests for me to weigh in on those three moves, which, having been so gently prodded, I intend to do. I need to shake off some rust and get back in fighting shape here, so I'll start with the least significant of the three, the decision to re-sign infielder Miguel Cairo for $750,000 for the coming season.
One can infer my initial reaction from what I wrote about Cairo in my infield post mortem back in November:
The Yankees got something of a career year out of Cairo in 2004, then botched resigning him, leading to the eminently regrettable Tony Womack deal. Cairo fell back to replacement level as a Met in 2005, but Brian Cashman, perhaps overeager to right the previous offseasons's supposed wrong, rather than considering Cairo a bullet dodged, gave him a million-dollar contract for 2006. Cairo rewarded Cashman's good deed by repeating his Met performance almost exactly. Here's hoping the Yankees have learned their lesson.
That lesson, of course, being: Cairo's 2005 was a fluke, move on. Sadly, that lesson has gone unheeded.
Lamenting the state of the Yankee bench in recent years, I took a look at the Yankee reserves over the entire Joe Torre era, which now consists of eleven full seasons. Here are the Yankees' primary middle infield reserves over that period:
Couple, few things
Peter Abraham has a good piece on Brian Cashman in The Journal News:
In the 14 months since he wrestled power away from George Steinbrenner's cabal of advisors in Florida, Cashman has reformatted the Yankees into an organization determined to develop star players rather than pay a premium for them. Along with significant roster changes, Cashman has made a series of personnel moves within the baseball operations department, firing several longtime scouts and coaches and reassigning others.
Meanwhile, there is a lengthy interview with Michael Morrissey over at Was Watching. Morrissey covers the Yankees for The New York Post, and he's written a book about the '06 Bombers: "The Pride and the Pressure: A Season Inside the New York Yankee Fishbowl." Check, check it out.
As fate would have it, my good pal Pat Jordan has a piece in today's Sunday Magazine on his father. It's a good one. Check it out.
Best Laid Plans . . .
USA Today's Bob Nightengale has some interesting notes on Brian Cashman and the Randy Johnson trade. In addition to revealing the degree to which the Johnson deal was influenced by Randy's unhappiness in New York, the article contains some remarks from Cashman confirming the approach that has been evident on the transaction wire. Sez Cash: "I've been very vocal and stated our goals. We want to reduce payroll, improve our farm system, get younger and have more flexibility." Can't get much clearer than that.
Speaking of the Johnson deal, about which I'm surprisingly lukewarm, the Yankees inked Luis Vizcaino, the homer-happy righty setup man they acquired in the deal, to a one-year, $3-million contract on Wednesday, thus settling with their only arbitration-eligible player.
On a personal note, my apologies for my disappearance from this space over the past month. I've just finished editing Baseball Prospectus 2007, a monstrous task, as you may have heard from my cohort Steven Goldman (Steve and Christina Kahrl are BP's editors on the book; starting with this year's edition and for the next two years, I am the publishing house's editor). With that done, I'm back in action as we hurtle toward pitchers and catchers, which is now just 27 days away.
As much as I feel that this is a place for me to share parts of my life with you, I also realize that you guys are primarily coming here to check out all the latest news on our beloved Yanks. I have to say that the words of support that you all have shared over the past several days has been enormously helpful. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.
In the meanwhile, there are some Yankee tidbits--like the upcoming publication of Gary Sheffield's autobiography, which should be good for some sour grapes. More importantly, the 2008 All-Star Game may be held at Yankee Stadium. Wasn't '77 the last time an All-Star Game was hosted in the Bronx? I think it would be fitting for the House that Ruth Built to host another in its final year of existence.
For links to all of this Yankee news, and more, please refer to the great list of Yankee blogs you can find on the right-hand column of this page. If Was Watching, and Yanksfan vs. Soxfan, and Pete Abraham's blog, and the rest of the stellar sites listed here haven't covered it, it probably hasn't happened.
Missing the Old Man
As you can well imagine, yesterday was tough, and today feels even tougher. It feels so strange saying, "I watched my father die two days ago." Here is the Death Notice from today's Times:
Don Zvi Belth, 69, of the Upper West Side in Manhattan, died unexpectedly on Monday, January 15. Son of Helen and Nathan Caro Belth, loving husband of Kathy Neily, father of Alex, Samantha and Ben, father in law of Erin and Emily, grandfather of Lucas, brother of Bernice Belth, brother-in-law of Fred Garbers, nephew of Anita Fried, cousin of Don Fried, Paula Luzzi, Deborah and Mary Wallach, Rosanne Stein, and Stephen and Andrew Belth, uncle of Gordon Gray, Alexandra Pruner and Samantha Garbers. He will be remembered for his encompassing warmth, his humor, his intense loyalty and the vigor of his opinions. For the past 23 years Don has been an active and vital member of the Upper West Side recovery community. His passion for his beliefs and the way in which he shared them has been an ongoing gift to countless people and that voice is his legacy. His signature greeting, "Hello anyone," is sadly now "Good-bye anyone." The family will be receiving visitors at the home of Bernice Belth, 875 West End Avenue, on Wednesday and Thursday evening, from 6:00 to 9:00 PM. A memorial service will be held at a later date. Donations can be made in his name to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Pop wasn't much of a sports fan as an adult, though he did admire the isolated great play if he happened to catch it on TV. He liked baseball best, and followed it casually in the Times. But growing up he was a passionate fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers--even though he was raised in Washington Heights, which was Giants or Yankee country. Dad liked to say that he was "second-to-none" as a fan of Jackie Robinson. He actually got Robinson to sign a copy of an early Jackie autobiography for him when he was a kid (Pop was ten-years old when Robinson broke the color barrier). Dad gave me the book when I was a teenager.
One thing was clear, though: Pop was a classic Yankee-hater. He hated them because the Bombers beat the Dodgers every year. Dad was 18 in '55 when the Brooklyn finally defeated the Yanks in the Serious. That was a highlight for him for sure, but he seemed to have remembered the many defeats more than that one highlight. (He was riding in a car down the West Side highway with my grandparents when Bobby Thompson hit "the shot heard 'round the world.") My grandfather was friends with a man who owned a company that printed the Yankees' programs. This guy had box seats at The Stadium, just behind first base, and so my Dad went to see many of those World Series games in 47, 49, 52, 53, and 56.
Pop took me to see a handful of games as a kid--including an extra-inning affair in the early eighties where Bobby Murcer hit a game-winning dinger in extra innings against the Birds--and claimed to have never seen the Yankees lose in person. He stopped going to games, mostly because he wasn't particularly interested in baseball, truth be told, but also because he felt he was a reverse jinx. If he went, the Yankees would win. And while Dad respected and even liked certain Yankees along the years--Reggie Jackson, Joe Torre, and Mariano Rivera come to mind--he absolutely loathed George Steinbrenner as a bully, and interloper.
One of Pop's favorite Yankee moments when I was a kid involved Reggie. We were at a game where Jackson hit a game-winning bomb. I don't have a clear memory of it, but according to Dad, it must have been in '80, or '81, maybe against the White Sox or the Brewers. Dad liked to tell me he called the shot, and I believe that he did. The following day, Pop was at Tiffany's on Fifth avenue with his friend Jim Thurman. They spotted Jackson, wearing a fur coat, across the room looking at some jewelry. He was the toast of the town on that day. Thurman yelled out, "Hey Reg, good game last night. Who won?" Jackson, according to my dad, got a good laugh out of that, and my dad always laughed, deep and hard, whenever he told the story.
The language of baseball, the history and culture of baseball, is something that Dad and I used to communicate with each other, to remain connected. It was a safe topic when others seemed too uncomfortable or strained. It didn't matter that he hated the Yanks. I could ask him about Cookie "Wookie" Lavagetto, and Pete Reiser over and again, as I would tell him about parts of the game I was writing about. He was proud of the book I wrote on Curt Flood, and we agreed that Marvin Miller was, and is, criminally underappreciated these days. It didn't matter that we never shared great catches when I was a kid, baseball helped keep us together when we were adults. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
My Old Man
My father had a heart attack when he was 39. He continued drinking for about a half-dozen more years and finally quit when he realized that if he kept it up he would die. He still smoked for many years after that but he stopped that too when he had quadruple bypass surgery less than ten years ago. Since then, I have thought a lot about my father's death--how he will die, when he will die, and what I will do when it happens. But I never imagined that he would go as peacefully as he did when he left this world yesterday at 4:20 p.m. surrounded by his family and friends in the CCU at St. Luke's on Amerstam Avenue, two blocks north of the massive (and still unfinished) church, St. John the Divine.
My dad was a generous and loving man, thoughtful and considerate. He was also volatile and angry too. When he laughed, it was not softly, but forcefully and loudly; his entire body would shake, and you could see the red rising up through his face. (When Emily first saw him laugh hard she thought he was going to drop dead right then and there.) Pop led the league in righteous indignation. You want to know how corrupt the alternate side of the street parking rules are? Dad was the expert. One time, when we were walking across 79th street and West End Avenue (with the light), a car suddenly swept in front of us and pop kicked the hubcap off the back tire--while the car was still moving. Dude stops his car and gets out, and he's got my dad beat by at least four, five inches. But after he got nose-to-nose with the old man, he realized this was not a fight he was going to win. (I remained on the sidewalk with that funny combination of fear, mortification, and pride.)
I had a hard time with my dad when I was a kid. He was a troubled guy for many years and he took out a lot of his frustrations on his family (not to mention himself). But I grew up, and so did he in a way. I mean, by the time I reached my twenties, he was no longer a hard ass in the same way he had been earlier. Just before his bypass he called me at work one day and out-of-the-blue apologized for being so tough on me for all those years. I knew he was saying it for himself, but I was still touched. More importantly, over the past few years, I have been able to forgive him. I know in my heart that he never did anything intentionally to hurt me. Like all of us, he was not perfect, and he did his best. He might not have always known how to care for his children very well, but I never had any doubts how much he loved us.
My dad was never shy about telling his kids that he loved them. In that regard, he was the person I always turned to when I needed comfort and affection (he's one of the all-time great huggers); not advice, necessarily, but unqualified empathy. For instance, when my fiancee Emily was in the hospital a few years ago, I came home after seeing her one day and burst-out crying. My dad is the first person I called.
If you were in his family--and I include the many friends he had in this category--he would do virtually anything he could to help you out. Need a cabinet installed? Call Don. Help with your computer? Don is your man. A ride to the airport? Pop is there. In fact, I can't imagine how most of my family is going to get to and from the airport now. He strongly believed in picking people up. It was a small gesture, but one that shows his compassion and his generosity. Former Yankee GM Gabe Paul used to say that the mark of a good general manager was being able to make a phone call at 3:00 and not piss the guy on the other end of the line off. My dad was the guy you could call at 3:00 and ask a favor, and he'd be there, no questions asked.
Pop was proud of my budding career as a writer. Not so long ago, I decided to dedicate a book that I am editing of Pat Jordan's greatest sports writing to him. Jordan is my dad's kind of writer, a storyteller with a direct, clear prose style. I thought it would be a nice surprise for dad to dedicate the book to him, even though the book isn't going to be released until next winter. That's a long time to wait for a surprise, so I just called him up and told him about it over the phone. Why wait? He was thrilled and bragged about it to his friends. I can't tell you how happy I am that I made that call.
Dad was at home on Sunday night with my step-mother. They have had an on-again/off-again relationship for more than twenty years, but they have been on-again for the past few years and it was clear that they were together for good this time. In fact, I don't ever remember my dad being happier than he's been for the past year or so. He fixed his favorite pasta dish--spaghetti with shrimp--and then he and his wife settled-in to continue their "Homocide" marathon (I had given them the entire box set of the show for the holidays). Not long after, he clutched his chest and complained of tightness and then he collapsed, losing consciousness immediately.
My aunt called me at home as Pop was being rushed to the emergency room. I got in the car and picked-up my brother and my sister (who live within forty blocks of me) and we were at St. Luke's in a half-an-hour. We stayed through most of the night and the doctor's made it clear that the situation was grave. Dad's heart was extremely weak and there was a lack of oxygen to his brain for an extended period of time. Even if his heart did recover, we didn't know if his mind would. My sister and I left around 3 am and my brother stayed with our step-mom for the rest of the night. We returned the following morning, along with aunts, uncles and cousins. There was at least a dozen, maybe fifteen of us all told later in the day--some of his close friends, my mother and my step-father.
By the early afternoon, dad's heart-rate and blood pressure continued to drop and we realized he did not have long to live. Eventually, the doctors gave him morphine, we decided to pull the plug. My father died with his family and friends all around him, touching him, talking to him, crying together. It was one of the few times that he had everyone's undivided attention and wasn't talking, my step-mother joked.
It was beautiful in a way. I always thought that my dad would die alone, or that his righteous indignation would finally pick the wrong target, or that he'd get killed in a car accident (I haven't even mentioned the Upper West Side's answer to A.J. Foyt). I never would have thought it would be surrounded by his loved ones. It was like the Woody Allen version of "Wizard of Oz" with everybody there. He was at home, back in Kansas, which, in this case, happens to be the Upper West Side. And he was peaceful. When he finally let go, he looked calm. There isn't anything more I could have ever asked for, and I will always be grateful for how he left this world. All the love and generosity he gave out all these years, was right there with him at the end.
Goodbye, Pop. I love you very much and I know how much you loved me.
Recruiting the Rocket
So how happy do you think it makes Roger Clemens that the Yanks and Red Sox (not to mention the Astros) will fawn all over him once again this year for his services? His head must be ready to explode. Speaking of which, I was thinking about Barry Bonds last night, and what I find fascinating (in a morbid kind of way) about him is that he seems utterly incapable of making the right move. It just keeps getting worse and worse. Meanwhile, Clemens is dipped in pixie-dust, and everything keeps coming up roses and daffodils for him. I still think the Rocket more likely to end up in Boston than New York, but nothing would surprise me. I never thought I'd say this, but I'd be happy to see him back.
The Daily News has a piece on South Bronx native Humberto Sanchez.
Thinking of Bobby
The news is not hopeful for Bobby Murcer. Again, our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.
Goose didn't make the Hall once again, but he's getting closer. Meanwhile, Jim Rice lost votes, as did Bert Blyeleven. Over at The Baseball Analysts, our old bud Sully makes the case that Dwight Evans was better than Rice.
Kei Igawa was introduced to the media yesterday at Yankee Stadium. Here is how GM, Brian Cashman, described the Bombers' new southpaw:
"He's not a blower and he's not a soft-tosser," Cashman said. "He's somewhere in between.
Pitchability. Hey, you could look it up. I don't know where you'd look it up, but you could try all the same.
Let's Get Physical
Randy Johnson and the Diamondbacks agreed to a two-year, $26 million extension yesterday. According to Peter Botte in The Daily News:
The Associated Press reported his new deal as two years for $26 million, with $12 million in signing bonuses spread over the next four years ($3.5 million, $0.5 million, $4 million and $4 million). Johnson also will earn salaries of $4 million this season, half of which will be paid by the Yankees, and $10 million in 2008. Arizona also owes him more than $40 million in deferred payments and interest through 2012 from his previous stay with the D-Backs.
The Big Unit will have a physical today. If everything is copacetic, the trade will be complete.
Also, Miguel Cairo signed a one-year, $750,000 deal this weekend, to return as the Bombers' utility infielder. He needs to pass a physcial before the deal is official. This likely spells the end of Bernie Williams' fine career in pinstripes. While this is not a shock, I am curious to see what how the Yankees handle Bernie. Will he retire? Will he go someplace else for a couple of few years? Which one of these?
The Johnson deal is not done yet, but it should happen. Arizona has until 5 p.m. on Sunday to work out an extension with the Big Unit. If they come to terms, Johnson will then take a physical exam on Monday. The Post and the News have articles on Ross Ohlendorf. Over at Baseball Musings, David Pinto thinks both teams should be happy with the deal.
So it looks like there is a tentative deal in place between the Yankees and Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson. It involves four young players coming to New York, three of them hard-throwing pitchers, and a double A second baseman. Yanks to cough up $1.5-2 million, mere bag of shells. I'm watching Verducci talking about it on YES and they ran a chart showing that the Bombers have now aquired seven young, strong arms this off-season. In an of itself, that is just so cool. They can develop some of them, and dangle the others as trade bait. I don't know how the move will work out but I have to admit that in an understated, un-splashy, un-Yankee (or just un-George) way, it's been an exciting and rewarding winter to be a Yankee fan. Yeah, I know, Minky Dinky Dog, but don't get too greedy now. They aren't going to be flawless and you can't get everything. Cashman and company really are running the show and that's compelling. If the team is run correctly, there is no reason why they shouldn't always be successful, right? I mean, aside from bad luck and injuries and all. Hey, I really liked the '06 team and think that this year's team will be even more appealing. Don't you think?
Minky Dinky Dog
The Yankees and Doug Mientkiewicz are so close to completing a one-year contract that the first baseman was on his way to New York yesterday to take a physical, according to a source. The lefty-hitting former Met likely will play first against righties in a platoon with Josh Phelps or Andy Phillips as Jason Giambi serves as the full-time DH.
This news is certain not to be received well by those sabermetrically-inclined Yankee fans, but it appears as if Alex Rodriguez's high school teammate will be playing in the Bronx this year. Mienkiewicz is a glove man who does not hit much.
The Hot Spot
Pete Abraham started a blog in 2006 and in no time it became vital reading for Yankee fans. Pete truly "gets" blogging and his site is one of the best out there. (I mean, in case you didn't know that already.) Anyhow, Pete has the latest on RJ.
Also, props and vitamin's l-o-v-and-e go to our good pal and new father, Mike Plugh. Eastward Ha!
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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