Monthly archives: January 2008
Oooh, You Dirty Rat
In getting to know Ray Negron, nothing surprised me more than his portrait of Billy Martin as a loyal, big-hearted friend. As much as I admire Martin's talents as a manager, I've generally subscribed to John Schulian's classic description of Martin as a rat studying to be a mouse. Schulian has been a newspaper man in Chicago and Baltimore and Washington D.C., a magazine writer for S.I. and GQ, a script writer for "L.A. Law," and is the creator of "Xena: Warrior Princess," the pop Lesbian icon. Recently, I came across his review of Peter Golenbock's second Martin book (Golenbock ghosted Martin's best-selling autobiography, "Number 1"), "Wild, High and Tight." He doesn't mince words:
One reads of the mess Billy Martin called his life and wonders how he ever found time for baseball. He was a relentless boozer, a sucker puncher and a chippy chaser, and the sum of his personal ugliness overwhelmed whatever good he did for the New York Yankees.
Which brings me to my favorite Martin story from "Number One," about how his mother threw his father out of the house when she was pregnant because she found out that he was fooling around with a 15-year old girl.
"To this day, and she's older than eighty, she hasn't forgiven him. She told me, 'I'm going to outlive that son of a bitch, and when they bury him, I'm going to the funeral, and in front of all his friends and relatives, I'm going to pull up my dress and piss on his grave."
That's no lady...that's me muddah.
A few years ago, I was part of a three-man panel at the Y on the upper west side. The topic was blogging and the sports world. Matt Cerrone, whose Metsblog was picked up by SNY last year, and Will Leitch, the founder of Deadspin, and I spoke in front of a modest crowd. Allen Barra was the moderator. Will was charismatic, funny and exceedingly bright, and while I'm only an occasional reader of Deadspin, I'll not soon forget the impression he made on him that evening. (Here I was thinking that I was going to be the charismatic, charming one!) Mostly what I remember about Will is his stance regarding the traditional media. Essentially, Will said that in the modern age of the Internet and satalitte TV, the role of the traditional beat writer has become marginalized to the extent that fans don't really care what those reporters provide. While I wasn't completely sold on Will's theory, I sure found him convincing.
Leitch expands on his thinking in his new book, God Save the Fan: How Preening Sportscasters, Athletes Who Speak in the Third Person, and the Occasional Convicted Quarterback Have Taken the Fun Out of Sports. There is a serious-minded political agenda in this breezy volume which takes the mickey out of just about everyone, particularly the folks at the Worldwide Leader, ESPN. But the writing is not pedantic or boring because Leitch is too busy being funny--another tough trick to pull off for a couple of hundred pages. Somehow, he manages to find just the right tone, and the book is a gas. I found myself laughing out loud often--something that rarely happens to me--and was left with a similiar feeling than the one I had when I met Will at the Y--that of being duly impressed.
Worth checking out.
From what I've read, critics believe that the Mets made a terrific deal in nabbing Johan Santana, offering a less attractive package than the ones the Yankees and Red Sox had reportedly offered.
ESPN analyst Keith Law loves the deal from a Mets perspective:
The Mets get Johan Santana without giving up Fernando Martinez, their best prospect, or Mike Pelfrey, their best young pitcher. They also immediately make themselves the favorites to win their division and have a good argument that they're the best team in the National League. It's hard to see this deal as anything other than a win for New York, and given how many people claimed (erroneously) that the Mets didn't have the prospects to get Santana, it must be doubly sweet for Omar Minaya right now.
Aaron Gleeman, a Twins fan-turned analyst, championed Santana from the start. He writes:
In a perfect world Santana would christen the new ballpark with an Opening Day start in 2010 and wear a Twins cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, but for whatever reason his remaining in Minnesota never seemed to be a legitimate option once the trade rumors began swirling. Swapping him for packages led by Hughes or Ellsbury would have put the Twins in a better position for both short- and long-term success, so if either of those deals were passed on then Smith made a major mistake.
Let's Go Mets
Our boys cross town have put an end to the Johan Santana saga. Mr. Santana won't be pitching for the Yanks or the Red Sox (thank goodness) but for the Mets. Here is the breaking story.
C'MMMMMOONNNNN (That's a Terrible Call)
The Pat Jordan pick of the week is a profile he did on the ol' red-headed Deadhead for the New York Times Magazine back in 2001. Here's Bill Walton's Inside Game:
Back at the house, Walton goes to practice his piano while his sons go outside to play one of their fierce two-on-two basketball games. Nate and Bruk Vandeweghe, who has lived with the family for 20 years, team up against Chris and a friend. Luke, limping from an ankle sprain he suffered in one of the boys' recent games, sits in a chair and mimics his father broadcasting the game that is filled with rough play and profanity.
Not everybody loved Jordan's story. Here is a letter the Times published on November 25, 2001:
In the 20 years since I wrote about the Portland Trail Blazers in an earlier book, Bill Walton and I have become good friends, and I have spent a good deal of time with him and with his sons (Pat Jordan, Oct. 28). The relationship between father and sons has always struck me as loving, supportive and mutually generous; I think it is not unimportant that in a home where the father let all of his sons follow their own stars, all four wanted to play basketball. More important, what Pat Jordan missed was the story right in front of him: the rarest kind of courage and exuberance on the part of an athlete, once gifted, whose ability to maximize the uses of his body is so critical to his psyche but is now so seriously jeopardized by the cruelest kind of injuries to both feet.
Clearly, Pat never read How to Wins Friends and Influence People.
Yankee Panky # 40: The Dead Zone
LAS VEGAS – Greetings from The Strip, where it’s only slightly warmer than New York and baseball is only a figment of people’s imaginations.
My apologies for the radio silence. I was away for a few days. Be back in the swing of things shortly. Meanwhile, I'm behind on all the news....
Hey, looks like Robbie Cano will be in pinstripes for some time to come, huh? That's cool. It also appears as if David Cone is set to join the YES broadcast booth. I thought Coney would have jumped directly from his uniform to the booth but it's taken a few years (the Boss wasn't too wild about Cone playing for the Mets again either). Be interesting to see how he does.
Observations From Cooperstown--What Do The Yankees Need?
If I never hear the name Johan Santana between now and Opening Day, I will be a satisfied baseball fan. The endless rumors surrounding the premier left-hander have basically ruined this Hot Stove League season, holding several other potential blockbuster trades hostage. It’s almost enough to get me to kick the rumor habit—but not quite. The Santana rumors have so dominated Yankee hot stove headlines over the last two months that some members of the media have forgotten that this team has other concerns. Be it first base, the bench, the bullpen, or the back end of the starting rotation, there are plenty of questions to be answered by the time that the Bombers open up their final season at Yankee Stadium.
Yes, Brian Cashman has done well in playing defense this winter, bringing back critical free agents like Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, and Mariano Rivera, re-signing an important complementary piece in Bobby Abreu, and holding on to all of his prized pitching prospects. (Did you know that the Yankees have 25 pitchers on their 40-man roster? That must be some sort of record.) On the other hand, he has done virtually nothing to augment the face of the team’s roster—a roster that produced another first-round exit in the postseason. Outside of LaTroy Hawkins (who will definitely make the team) and Jonathan Albaladejo and Jason Lane (who might not), the Yankees are counting exclusively on internal improvements to address the problems of pitching, first base, and right-handed power (or the lack thereof). Is that the right approach? Conservative baseball thinkers who prefer the reliance on one’s own farm system will likely say yes, while the wheelers and dealers among us will put forth a wholly different response.
With that debate providing a backdrop, let’s take a look at each positional need and what might be done between now and spring training, or at the very least, what needs to happen for the Yankees to avoid the first-half disaster that nearly drowned the team, along with the playoff performance that actually did sink the season.
As he did last winter, Cashman has taken a lackadaisical approach to upgrading the Yankees’ weakest position. Resisting the temptation to trade for a big-time hitter like a Nick Swisher, Cashman seems content to shop at the discount aisle. He cut ties with noodle bats Andy Phillips and Doug Mientkiewicz only to import the Swiss cheese swing of Jason Lane. Frankly, the Yankees would have been better off with Nathan Lane, who can, at the very least, sing and dance. Jason Lane has been simply awful the past two seasons, after slugging .499 for the Astros in 2005. He’s not that young either, a 31-year-old veteran who is well on his way to a journeyman entry in Total Baseball. The signing of Lane tells me that the Yankees are worried that Shelley "Slam" Duncan might not be completely ready for spring training after suffering shoulder blood clots in November. They’re also legitimately concerned about the lack of outfield depth, what with only four real outfielders on the 40-man roster. Lane can play all three outfield positions, will learn first base in the spring, and has the kind of right-handed pop, when his swing is right, that the Yankees crave.
If Lane makes the team as the 13th and final position player, he might platoon with Wilson Betemit. While I’m no great fan of Lane, I’m a huge supporter of Betemit. If the Yankees let him play first base against all right-handers, he’ll hit 20 home runs, reach base 35 per cent of the time, and play the position with range and finesse. That kind of a package would represent a huge improvement over the 2007 trio of Phillips, Mientkiewicz, and Miguel Cairo. Then again, the Yankees might do something stupid and delude themselves into believing that Jason Giambi can play first base every day. Not a good idea. Giambi is the worst defensive first baseman I’ve ever seen; that illustrious group of stone hands includes Richie Sexson, Mo Vaughn, Don Baylor, Jack Clark, and Dave Kingman. (Keep in mind that I never saw Dick "Dr. Strangeglove" Stuart or Zeke Bonura play, but they could both be thrown into this barrel, too.) Giambi is a huge defensive liability the Yankees simply cannot afford to carry, especially with the presence of ground ball pitchers like Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte.
One other possibility is Brad Wilkerson, a free agent who has received some inquiries from the Yankees. He’s a left-handed version of Lane—he can play the three outfield spots and first base—but has loads more talent and a better pedigree. Even in an off year, Wilkerson hit 20 home runs. He has a history of drawing walks, having drawn 106 free passes in 2004, a trait that has been noted by the Red Sox, as well. (At last report, the Red Sox have offered Wilkerson a one-year deal worth $2 million.)
This area already received an upgrade during the second half of 2007 with the call-up of Duncan and the acquisitions of Betemit and Jose Molina. Betemit can fill two roles—platoon first baseman and utility infielder—which is extremely valuable in an era when so many roster spots are soaked up by marginal pitchers. There’s simply no good reason that Betemit can’t fill both roles, backing up Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, and A-Rod on days when he isn’t needed to play first base. Frankly, this is a method that teams like the Yankees need to embrace in order to become more creative, so that they can cover more positions with fewer bench players. As for the backup catcher, Molina probably won’t hit .318 again, but he’s light years better than Wil Nieves defensively. If Giambi is reduced to a reserve role, the bench becomes even stronger. The biggest question is the lack of right-handed sock, which would be abetted by a healthy Duncan but becomes problematic if Lane makes the club and continues to flail at the plate. Given Lane’s recent history, the lack of legitimate outfield depth behind the front four remains a concern, too.
Along those lines, recent trade rumors involve the outfield. There has been talk of Hideki Matsui being traded to the Padres for prospects, with those prospects then being forwarded to the Twins as part of a package for Santana. If that were to happen, the Yankees would be left with three fulltime outfielders and no legitimate backup. Ultimately, the Yankees would have to acquire another outfielder, be it Wilkerson, Corey Patterson, or some other flychaser to be named later.
At one point, I thought the Yankees might pursue a veteran innings eater like Noah Lowry (via trade) or Jon Lieber (free agency), but Cashman seems willing to roll the dice on the three prized right-handers (Chamberlain, Hughes, and Kennedy). Lieber has already signed with the Cubs, while the trade talks involving Lowry cooled off quickly in late December. Realistically, the Yankees need one of the big three to emerge if they expect to contend with the Red Sox, and at least two of the three to thrive if they want to overtake the Sox. Mike Mussina projects as a sometime starter and long reliever, and that’s the kind of secondary role he should play at this late stage of his career. But I have doubts about him successfully becoming the Ramiro Mendoza/Dick Tidrow of the 2008 staff. "Mr. Inflexible" needs 96 hours notice to start, doesn’t like the idea of relieving, and hates anything that breaks his routine. Those aren’t exactly the character traits of someone who can capably fill the swingman role. If not Mussina, the Yankees will likely have to rely on another kid, someone like Alan Horne or Ross Ohlendorf.
Raise your hand if you’re confident that Kyle Farnsworth can handle the eighth inning. With no hands visible, Joe Girardi seems to be the last man on Earth who believes in Farnsworth. Let’s hope that Girardi can convince Farnsworth to throw a sinking fastball for strikes; if not, the Yankees are in trouble. Hawkins is no more than a sixth or seventh-inning setup option; the smaller his role the better. Ohlendorf and Jose Veras each looked good in September, but their resumes remain questionable. The best hope might be the massive Albaladejo, who’s built like Tim Stoddard and throws like Brian Fisher. He’s the kind of guy that Joe Torre used to ignore but might be receive a longer look from Girardi. From the left side, the options are less appealing. Sean Henn and Kei Igawa were both horrid in 2007, a fact that leaves the Yankees searching yet again for a lefty specialist. In terms of in-house answers, the best solution might be non-roster invite Heath Phillips, who has posted good minor league numbers and has an effective assortment of breaking pitches. There’s been talk of bringing back Ron Villone for a third go-round, but he’s not the answer. Damaso Marte remains available via trade, assuming that Cashman will relent on giving up one B-level prospect in return.
Clearly, the Yankees are crossing their fingers that they can find some gems amidst the rockpile. Realistically, they need one of the unproven right-handers to step up and fill a key late-inning role, and will likely have to find a lefty reliever from the trade market or the scrap heap.
So where does all of this leave the Yankees? The nucleus of the team is set, for better or worse, with a strong reliance on aging hitters to carry the offense and on young pitchers to fill out the starting rotation. But there is still some fine-tuning to be done, especially with regard to the bench and the bullpen. Those areas will need to be closely monitored—and ultimately addressed—during the six-week marathon that is spring training.
Finally, I’d like to extend get-well wishes to Yankee blogger Steven Goldman, who is recovering from recent thyroid surgery. While I don’t always agree with Goldman, I find his writing style entertaining and his knowledge of history impressive. The talented Goldman’s writing makes www.yesnetwork.com a good stopping point for Yankee fans.
Bruce Markusen, the author of seven books on baseball, writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com.
Plant A Tree
Entering the new year, the Yankees had four arbitration-eligible players on their 40-man roster. Of the four, the two who will see the largest increase in salary this year are second baseman Robinson Cano and starter Chien-Ming Wang. Even if they are awarded the salaries they requested ($4.55 million and $4.6 million, respectively) Cano and Wang will continue to be bargains considering their contributions on the field.
Reliever Brian Bruney requested just $845,000 while the Yankees offered $640,000, a $205,000 difference that, in the big picture of the Yankees' team payroll, is little more than petty cash. The Yankees should be thinking seriously about signing Cano and Wang to long-term contracts to control their salaries over the ensuing two years of arbitration and to delay their arrival on the free agent market (reportedly both players are interested in making long-term commitments to the team). Bruney, however, is dangerously close to pricing himself off the team, not because he's so terribly expensive, but because his primary value over the past two seasons was that he was a player earning the league minimum who was obtained at no cost to the team. Bruney has pitched well for the Yankees at times, but entering his age-26 season, and with the team essentially holding open auditions for what will now be less expensive relievers, he'll have to step up his game this year or the very thing that made him valuable in the first place--the fungibility of relief performance and the ability of teams to obtain solid relief contributions from replacement-level acquisitions--will make him expendable, possibly even before the year is out.
The Yankees most compelling arbitration case, however, is that of infielder Wilson Betemit. Betemit and the Yankees have already settled their case, with Betemit signing a one-year deal for $1.165 million, but what makes Betemit's case so interesting is that unlike the team's other three arb-eligible players, Betemit's future is much more difficult to discern. Cano and Wang are already stars and are headed for eight-figure paydays be they in the Bronx or elsewhere. Bruney is a marginal reliever who will either establish himself as a go-to journeyman or fade from the major league scene. Betemit, however, is a former top prospect locked into a reserve role, but who still retains some promise of emerging as a starter. The problem is that Cano, Wang, and Bruney could all fulfill their potential in pinstripes, but Betemit can't.
Betemit is blocked at third base, his natural position, by the largest contract in baseball history, at his original position, shortstop, by the immovable icon that is Derek Jeter (whose lifespan at short is a whole other issue, but one that seems unlikely to be addressed by the team in time to help Betemit), and at the keystone by fellow arbitration case Cano. He'll get his chances this year at first base, but limiting a player like Betemit who can play all around the infield to first base is a considerable misallocation of resources, as it both reduces the player's value while simultaneously increasing the offensive standard against which his value is measured.
The irony is that if Betemit were to serve as little more than a utility infielder this year, he'd be hard pressed to get much more of a raise when arbitration rolls around again a year from now and thus would still be a good value given his price, power bat, and versatility. However, if he fulfills the Yankees' best hopes for him this year by earning a share of the starts at first base while experiencing a spike in production because he's properly used as a lefty-hitting platoon player (a switch-hitter his career marks are .268/.347/.464 batting left and .232/.281/.353 batting right), when arbitration comes around next year he could price himself off the team, particularly if the Yankees block him at first base by signing Mark Teixeira or Adam Dunn, as they should.
What's strange is that the latter scenario, in which Betemit plays his way off the team by proving too valuable to keep, would be the best for Betemit, who at age 26 still has time to establish himself as starting third baseman in the major leagues (though one gets the sense that he's likely to be the sort of player who would start for a second-division team but ride pine for a contender), but it would likely send the Yanks back to the good-field/no-hit barrel, where their current best hope for a 2009 replacement for Betemit is former Diamondback prospect Alberto Gonzalez, a career .278/.329/.383 hitter in the minor leagues. It's something of a lose-lose situation for the Yankees, which is an odd way to look at the best reserve infielder they've had in recent memory.
A Piercing Eye on the Hawk
As frustrating as it might be to have my life overtaken every winter by Baseball Prospectus annual (I just edited what will be the largest and should be the earliest edition ever), I can't say I was terribly upset to be otherwise occupied while Johan Santana trade rumors and Mitchell Report fallout were repeated and rehashed ad nauseam by media large and small. As far as I'm concerned, the only significant Yankee news I missed over the past month and a half was the LaTroy Hawkins signing, the departure of a few enduring (and fewer endearing) Quad-A staples, the announcement of a roster's worth of non-roster invitees (whom I'll address in my annual Yankee campers post when pitchers and catchers report in just over three weeks), and the early stages of the team's arbitration negotiations. Here's my take on the first of those:
The Hawkins singing seems rather pointless, but also relatively harmless. One could argue that the Yankees should have re-signed Luis Vizcaino instead, but with Kyle Farnsworth in the final year of his deal, there's something reassuring about the fact that the Yankees refused to make a multi-year commitment to the overworked Viz, instead affecting what amounted to a cost-cutting trade that saw Vizcaino sign a two-year deal with the Rockies for $7.5 million with a club option for 2010, and ex-Rocky Hawkins sign with the Yanks for a single year at $3.75 million. Given that exchange, here's a full list of Yankee pitchers who are under contract for 2009:
Mariano Rivera (2009-2010: $30 million)
That's it. Carl Pavano's 2009 option will be bought out for $1.95 million. Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Kyle Farnsworth, and LaTroy Hawkins will be free agents at the end of the season. Everyone else remains under team control with only Chien-Ming Wang and Brian Bruney (if he lasts that long) having reached arbitration. Looking at things that way, the Hawkins deal allows the Yankees to build an entirely new pitching staff for 2009 around the young starters and relievers who are expected to emerge this season.
Knock 'Em out the Box (Something to Think About)
I think that the Patriots will wipe the floor with the Giants in the Super Bowl in spite of the fact that New York has a shot to make it a real contest. But it would sure be something if the Giants ended the Patriots' epic season, wouldn't it? And I'm not a Giants fan, just a New Yorker. I mean, dag, even the Celtics are more than just a fluke.
Truth is, I never disliked the Pats or Celtics as a kid, even though I've always loathed the Red Sox. (Same fans pretty much, just different time of year. Makes a lot of sense, huh?) Morgan, Grogan,James, Tippett (the "other" 56)--all favorites. The 80s Celtics too. Liked 'em better than Showtime. Nate Archibald was my first favorite player (mostly because I was short and his name was Tiny). Bird, McHale, the Big Chief. And now, I find it difficult to hate Tom Brady or Kevin Garnett, who has always been terrific, one of the very best things about the NBA.
Speaking of the Celts, have you ever read Bill Russell's memoir "Second Wind: Memoirs of an Opinonated Man," written with the historian Taylor Branch? Russell grew up in West Oakland, and I came across this book when I was writing Stepping Up, a biography of Curt Flood--who, incidentally, would have turned 70 last week. Rusell was four years older than Flood but played high school basketball with Frank Robinson. Anyhow, it is a good read, emotionally direct and tender--worth snatching up if you ever find it in a used bookshop.
One of my favorite stories is about Russell's grandfather and his mule, Kate. Russell's family was from Monroe, Louisiana and he actually lived down there until he was about ten. He called his father's father, The Old Man. When Russell was four or five (1938-9), he followed his grandfather and Kate around one day:
I could tell that Kate and the Old Man understood each other. One day I was walking along with them when Kate decided to go off and stand in a ditch. Being an honest mule, she had a stubborn, mulish personality, and she stood there with this determined look on her face. It was as if Kate were saying, Okay, I got you now. We're going to do this my way." The Old Man did everything he could to get Kate back up on the road. I watched him talk to her, and push, pull, shove and kicka tough job, because there must have been nine hundred pounds of mule there. The Old Man would get Kate's front up on the raod and be cooing into her ear, but when he walked around to pull up her taile end, the front would sidle back into the ditch againso he'd take a deep breath and start over. I was taking all this in, and I couldn't believe that the Old Man didn't lose his temper.
Eat your heart out, Mongo.
Yankee Panky #39: Decline Press
Before getting into this week’s blog topic, the Yankees made a wise signing this past week, inking Wilson Betemit to a one-year deal to be this year’s version of the perennially-ready utility infielder. He will have to do better than a .333 OPS and a .229 batting average to make the signing worthwhile.
Also, Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang are both seeking raises that would increase their respective salaries to more than $4.5 million from $490,800 and $489,500, respectively. The requests are more than 40 percent higher than what the Yankees are offering. The arbitration situations of Cano and Wang remind me of the 2003-04 offseason, when Alfonso Soriano was arbitration-eligible and asked for a mid-seven-figure deal after a 30-30 season but a vanishing act in the playoffs. The Yankees were down on his attitude and lack of plate discipline, and did not want to agree to pay him upwards of $5 million, when they had just paid him $800,000. The rift and the lack of interest in going to arbitration led to Soriano’s inclusion in the A-Rod trade. Upon his arrival in Texas, Soriano received the raise he sought, getting a salary bump $5.4 million.
The Yankees are higher on Cano and Wang than they were on Soriano, and it can certainly be said that those two players have been more responsible for the Yankees’ success the last two years than Soriano was at any point during his time in NY. If the Yankees are serious about committing to the future and building from within, they’ll make an effort to compromise with both players.
Who else wants to hear, see and read more about that development than jokes about Roger Clemens' butt?
* * * * *
This winter, more than any other in recent memory, has been all about the personal downfall and the media’s hastiness to find a soapbox and claim moral superiority. It’s not just relegated to baseball, but for the purposes of this blog and keeping the focus on the diamond, I’d like to focus on two former Yankees and the ways their foibles (one alleged and one actual) are being portrayed.
Since the Mitchell Report was released the press is staking out certain players, most notably Roger Clemens, ready to pounce on his character and discredit him when the opportunity arises. His former trainer, Brian McNamee, may be credible, based on a NY Daily News story printed in Sunday’s editions. Various reports have sought to discredit McNamee over the past month, also, but the focus has largely been on Clemens, McNamee and which of the two telling the truth. Clemens, Chuck Knoblauch and others will tell their versions – because let’s be honest, no one knows the whole truth – in front of Congress on Feb. 13, shortly before pitchers and catchers are set to report to camp. To date, as has been pointed out in this space, Clemens has been treated with a “guilty until proven innocent” line. His statements to date have not been tantamount to contrition.
Contrast that with the story of Jim Leyritz, who has gone from World Series hero to criminal. He faces a Jan. 30 arraignment on two counts of DUI-related vehicular manslaughter. If convicted, he could be jailed for 15 years or more.
The reporting that’s surfaced in Leyritz’s case is investigative journalism intended not only to unearth facts of the case, but to reveal details of the real Jim Leyritz. Records obtained by the Daily News a couple of weeks ago presented what’s become the archetypal fall of the professional athlete: financial problems due to bad advice, excessive partying, drinking and reveling in their status.
I met Leyritz several times in my years covering the team, and in one of those meetings, at Spring Training, we got to talking for a bit, just off the cuff. I asked how he was doing, if he was enjoying retirement and his work with MLB.com. He mentioned how he was living in Florida and volunteered that he was going through a vicious divorce and custody battle; all he wanted to do was take care of his children. While I thought it awkward that he’d volunteer that information to a stranger, I found it respectable that he was working so hard to be a role model for his kids. I don’t believe I misjudged Jim when I met him. He was a likeable, engaging guy. But I instantly flashed back to that meeting in the clubhouse in Tampa when he recounted the story of driving down to pick up his kids and thinking, “What changed?” Not for a second did I think that Leyritz being “Too Much Information Guy” could have been a signal for some deeper issues.
I recall this story and note the differences in coverage between Clemens and Leyritz because there are two different philosophies based on the player’s status both in the game, and to the fans. Clemens has been a love-him-or-hate-him type player for 25 years. Because he hasn’t done anything to endear himself, the media, for the most part, are jumping at the chance to convict him in the court of public opinion. There’s no need for the media to facilitate judgment or influence opinion in this case. Each fact as it is being introduced is mounting evidence against Leyritz, making his conviction almost certain.
ODDS AND ENDS
Until next week …
The Young and the Reckless
Will Carroll pinch-hits over at Lo-Hud. Check it out.
The Frozen Tundra of...
While the saga of Roger 'n' Andy continues, there is football to be had today. It's b-r-i-c-k in New York and gunna be even colder in Green Bay and New England. I'm not much of a football fan these days, but I'm looking forward to the second game, which looks like a good match-up. The first game isn't as appealing because I just don't see how the Chargers can even hang with the Pats. To be honest, I figure everyone is playing for second place anyhow, with how dominant New England is. Still, it'd be cool to see Brett Favre back in the big game, and it'd even be nice to see Eli Manning make it.
Here's to staying warm, enjoying some good food, and hopefully, a couple of good games today.
When it comes down to it, if I ever had to chose, I'd give up chocolate way before I ever gave up pork. And I like chocolate just fine (hard not to when you are born into a Belgian family that brings bars of Cote D'Or each time they come to the States to visit). But a life without prosciutto or pancetta or bacon? Nah, man, just wouldn't be the same.
One of my favorite dishes--something I make a couple of times a month---is pasta all'amatriciana. The dish is from Amatrice, which is just outside of Rome. The dish is very simple and very delicious--olive oil, onion, pork (in this country, pancetta or bacon), red pepper and tomatoes. You don't cook it long, the sauce can be prepared in the time it takes to boil the water and cook your pasta.
In Rome, the dish is most often served with bucatini, the spaghetti with the hole in the middle, and with pecorino cheese. And though Italians are usually very strict about their recipes, this one has variations, of course. Some people use vegetable oil and butter instead of olive oil (like Marcella Hazen), some add garlic, others add white wine.
In Amatrice, they don't use onions or oil. Just cured pork, tomatoes, and cheese. The one thing that all Italians agree on is the kind of pork that should be used: guanciale cured, unsmoked pig jowl. I bought a pound of guanciale last summer. When my wife, Emily, saw me slicing this lusciously fatty piece of pork she almost had a heart attack. She made me promise I wouldn't eat all of it. I promised, but silently cursed myself for letting her see what I was doing. No matter. I rendered the fat from the stuff I wasn't going to use and saved it for later use (without telling her, of course). Anyhow, the guanciale did give the sauce a different, more intense, flavor.
I've tried the the amatriciana sauce every which way, and you know what? It's all good. The Times ran an excellent piece on the dish earlier this week. Worth checking out. And for those of you that enjoy cooking, it's worth trying guanciale just once. Little pork fat never hurt nobody, now did she?
Card Corner--Jose Cardenal
Under his highly acclaimed statistical system, noted writer and Sabermetrician Bill James fails to give out win shares to coaches. That’s perfectly understandable—after all, what tangible impact do most coaches really have?—but if James somehow managed to include the manager’s trusted lieutenants, he’d have to give at least a half-share to former Yankee first base coach Jose Cardenal for a brilliant piece of advice he provided during the 1996 World Series.
With the Yankees holding onto a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning of Game Five, the Atlanta Braves threatened to tie the score—and possibly win the game. As Chipper Jones led off third base and Ryan Klesko took his lead at first base, Luis Polonia stepped into the batter’s box against Yankee closer John Wetteland. Moments before the at-bat, Cardenal noticed that Paul O’Neill was out of position in right field. From his perch in the dugout, Cardenal waved frantically at O’Neill, motioning him to move several steps toward right-center field. Surely enough, Polonia then swatted a Wetteland delivery toward the right-field alley, high and far, but short of home run distance. Racing toward the wall, O’Neill finally caught up with the drive, barely snaring it in the webbing of his glove before slapping his hands against the padded wall at Fulton County Stadium.
If Cardenal had not moved O’Neill several feet toward the gap, Polonia’s drive would have eluded him. At the very least, Jones would have scored, tying the game. Although it’s not a certainty, Klesko very possibly would have scored from first, giving the Braves a dramatic come-from-back victory. And who knows how the Yankees would have reacted in Game Six, now down three games to two and emotionally devastated by a ninth-inning loss on the road. So who knows if the Yankees even win the 1996 World Series without the strategic re-positioning performed by Cardenal.
So that’s how most Yankee fans will remember Cardenal. Still, his days as one of Joe Torre’s lieutenants tells only a fraction of his fascinating journeys throughout baseball. It’s been a wild ride, aided and abetted in part by some of Jose’s unusual personality quirks.
A journeyman outfielder who broke into the big leagues in the 1960s, Cardenal came up through the San Francisco Giants’ system as a coveted prospect with five-tool talents. Scouts loved Cardenal’s speed, arm strength, and developing power. Sadly, the Giants did a poor job in evaluating their young players and prospects and didn’t always handle their Latino players fairly at the time; along those lines, they traded Cardenal to the Angels for fringe back-up catcher Jack Hiatt. The trade to the American League gave Cardenal a chance to play games head-to-head against his cousin, Kansas City A’s shortstop Bert "Campy" Campaneris. (In a rather remarkable coincidence, Cardenal became the first batter to step in against his cousin when Campy moved to the mound as part of Charlie Finley’s nine-positions-in-a-day stunt in 1965.) Showing promise in his first two seasons with the Angels, Cardenal then flopped in his third year, prompting a trade to the Cleveland Indians for utilityman Chuck Hinton. Cardenal played two seasons by the lake before packing his bags again; this time, the Indians traded him back to the National League, more specifically to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Inside Man: A Bronx Tale (Part Four)
It is a cold, gray December morning. Ray Negron pulls up in front of Yankee Stadium in a white GMC, a leased car he uses when he's in New York. He is fifteen minutes late. The car is messy—Reggie Jackson would not approve.
With him is Aris Sakellaridis, a stocky, square-jawed retired corrections officer in his mid-forties. He is originally from Washington Heights. "I'm a ghetto Greek," he says with a laugh. Aris is wearing a gold Georgia Tech baseball cap and a white jump suit with a thick navy blue strip with gold trim down the side. Around his waist is a black fanny pack. Sakellaridis lives on a pension; he wrote Retired Yankee Numbers, a glossy picture book illustrated by the caricaturist, John Pennisi. Sakellaridis hands me his card, which features an illustration of himself by Pennisi. Sakellaridis is smiling broadly wearing a baseball uniform with the number 69.
Negron is on his way to speak at a community center and has agreed to make a slight detour to show me his old neighborhood in Hunt's Point but he's not sure exactly how to get there. "Outside of Yankee Stadium I don't know shit about the Bronx," he says. Negron tells me that a niece that he's never met—the daughter of one of his estranged half-brothers—had recently contacted him through the Internet. He talks about future book projects and how he approaches his work with humility and sincerity, and he is annoyed that there is a perception that his intentions aren't always genuine.
"You know what worries me honestly," says Aris cocking his head to the side. "Steinbrenner, he ain't in as good a health today from what you read. What happens when he goes? They going to get rid of Ray? But hey, Ray lives, man," Aris continues. "He'll be alright. Ha-ha-ha."
Inside Man: A Bronx Tale (Part Three)
When Reggie Jackson left New York, Ray Negron's glory days came to an end. Now, he had to adjust to a more mundane reality, and a greater challenge—how to advocate for himself. Negron had defined himself by what he could provide to other, more famous men.
"Growing up is hard," says Negron. "In baseball, you are a kid forever. When I left the Yankees, I didn't have the players to protect me anymore." Negron married his longtime girlfriend Barbara Wood in 1981; they got an apartment in Far Rockaway, had a son four years later, and were divorced before the end of the decade. "It was hard to give my heart and soul to a situation when I didn't really want to be there," he says.
While he was with the Yankees, Negron gradually lost touch with his half-brothers who were caught up in the street life, junkies while they were still teenagers. "It wasn't until the eighties that we got back together again," says Negron. "To them, I was wealthy. When they reached out it would be out of desperation or need. Then my brothers started having kids all over the place, and I couldn't handle it, I couldn't handle it." Negron is shy when talking about them because he doesn't want to embarrass them. "They think that I think that I'm bigger than them. I mean, it becomes very tough because they are still your blood, you understand?"
Negron's two cousins who had been with him the day he first met Steinbrenner, Edwin and Christopher Perez, died within a year of each other during the mid-eighties; Edwin, in what Negron calls "a gang-related incident," and Christopher, from AIDS, which he got through a dirty syringe. Negron was with Christopher the night Edwin was murdered in Brooklyn. They drove to the Perez home in Brooklyn and were greeted outside of the house by Christopher's father, and a group of cousins and neighborhood friends.
"My uncle had a cardboard box in his arms filled with guns. He said, 'Take one, let's go.' That wasn't my style, so I stayed at the house with my aunt. 'She's going to need somebody to be with her,' I said. I wasn't going to get caught up in that. That wasn't me. I loved Billy the Kid," he says remembering Martin, "but I wasn't that Billy the Kid."
Inside Man: A Bronx Tale (Part Two)
Prince of the City
Ray Negron was only supposed to work a couple of games to re-pay his debt, but then one of the regular bat boys got sick, and in no time, Negron had himself a steady job. He moved on the field with the languid movements of a professional, his uniform fitting tightly, his stirrups pulled up just so. At 145 lbs, Negron was too skinny to be confused with a big leaguer though the players occasionally tried to pass him off as one of them when he was on the road with them, to get him laid. "You said it, not me," Negron squeals with delight, remembering today.
When the Yankees took batting practice, Negron was busy with the daily clubhouse chores, but he would sneak in a couple of swings in the batting cage or hang around at shortstop and take ground balls while the visiting team came to hit. One day, the Texas Rangers were in town and Negron was playing short against live bp when he made a couple of good fielding plays. Billy Martin, the Rangers manager, a man rarely without a fungo bat in his hand, was standing on the third base side of home plate. He turned his attention to the boy, motioned with his hand and then tossed a ball up and cracked a hard groundball at him.
"Billy noticed that I could play," Negron recalls. "Later, he introduced me to two of his middle infielders, Lenny Randle and Davey Nelson. Every time Texas came to town, I would ball boy down the right field line so I could hang with them. They taught me and to this day, I can honestly say that I'm still friends with both of them."
"I was impressed by his etiquette and his manners," recalls Lenny Randle today. "A lot of kids are annoying at that age, they just want stuff from you. But Ray wasn't pushy, he was honest and had an innocence and genuine enthusiasm about him. He was the kind of little brother you wanted to have. Hey, when he was a teenager he was booking us to speak at the Y, at local Little Leagues for a couple of hundred bucks here and there. He had moxie."
Inside Man: A Bronx Tale
A Four-Part Bronx Banter Exclusive
[Author's Note: This story was written last summer. It covers Ray Negron's life from the spring of 2006 through the spring of '07. Some of the basic facts stated in the piece have changed: Joe Torre is no longer the manager of the Yankees; Hank and Hal Steinbrenner have taken control of the team; Negron has just completed his seventh children's book for Harper Collins. But, despite these events, the essence of Ray's story remains true. I hope you enjoy.]
"Let me show you the Boss's suite," says Ray Negron. It is a cool evening in early May, 2006, and Negron's boss, George Steinbrenner, the principal owner of the New York Yankees, is out of town. Several hours before game time, Negron, 51, is walking down the outer corridor of the loge section at Yankee Stadium, his head cocked like an upper classman with the run of the school. He exudes an insouciant confidence, the kind of man who is used to keeping his cool in hot situations. Negron has short black hair and skin the color of café au lait. His large, liquid brown eyes and long eyelashes are almost feminine; his cheeks sag--the sign of a thin man growing older—and lend a sense of gravity to an otherwise boyish countenance. As usual, Negron looks crisp. He is wearing a gray, patterned suit and slim brown shoes. On his right ring finger is a massive gold World Series ring from the 1996 Yankees.
"I can't wait for the new Stadium," Negron says. "Maybe I'll get an office."
"The ubiquitous Ray Negron," a veteran New York sportswriter calls him. Negron is a gypsy, constantly on the move, from the executive suites through the press box down to the locker room. He does not even have his own desk; instead, he totes everything he needs in a leather-bound book with a Spaulding logo embossed on the cover: Negron serves as a director of community relations for the sporting goods company, one of his many jobs. The book is filled with notes scribbled in different colored inks--reminders, phone numbers and addresses.
Negron knows everybody and stops to say hello to security guards and executives, retired sportswriters, scouts, and current players. Negron works for the Yankees as a special advisor to Steinbrenner and is primarily employed as an all-purpose utility man. He represents the club at the Kip's Bay Boys and Girls club, the Hackensack University Medical Center, and grass roots community centers in the Bronx. Like a greeter in a casino, he escorts business men and their children through the corridors of the Stadium, giving his own private tour, and he schmoozes with celebrity visitors, like Patti Labelle, Regis Philbin and Richard Gere, making sure they are comfortable in their seats. Negron, of Puerto Rican and Cuban ancestry, is an avuncular figure to the team's young Latin players like Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera. This summer, Negron will enlist the two, along with other Yankee players, to visit classrooms, hospitals and boys and girls clubs around the tristate area, as he promotes his first children's book, The Boy of Steel, a story about a young boy with cancer who becomes bat boy for the Yankees for a day.
Few people know Yankee Stadium as well as Negron and few people have been around Steinbrenner's Yankees longer. And it all happened by chance. In 1973, Steinbrenner's first year as team owner, the Boss caught Negron, a skinny kid with an afro, spray painting an "NY" logo on the outside of Yankee Stadium. But instead of handing him over to the police, Steinbrenner made Negron a bat boy, issuing the kind of punishment that is the stuff of a boy's wildest fantasies. So began a career in baseball that has lasted more than thirty years. Negron has done everything from shine the players' shoes and collect their dirty jockstraps, to bring them food from their favorite restaurants and park their cars. He has been an agent, an actor, an advisor, and a liaison; a confidant, a sounding board and a whipping boy to some of the biggest egos in the game. He is whatever he needs to be.
Negron has founded a career off his serendipitous meeting with Steinbrenner and everything that has happened next—from Billy and Reggie to Doc and Darryl. "The Boss essentially saved my life and I'll never forget that," says Negron, touching my arm. He likes physical contact, and occasionally touches his listener in a jocular, reassuring way to make sure you're listening. He speaks in a measured, cautious manner, his raspy voice tinged with an unmistakable Brooklyn accent. Ray speaks so often in public that in private his conversation sometimes feels rehearsed, like he's an actor repeating the same lines over and over in a play. Yet he is so sincere that it feels as if he's telling you something for the first time, even if it's a variation of something he's said countless times before.
Negron pauses and then adds, "Not saved, really, he gave me a life."
It's funny the way things work sometimes. On this date last year my father died. January 15th also happens to be my brother Ben's birthday. He turns 34 today, which also happens to be the day that his wife, Erin, is going to deliver their second child. Talk about the life cycle. They couldn't have planned it to work out like this. I'm so happy for my brother, and I'm thinking about my pop. So, here's raising a toast to the birth of my niece, and while I'm at it, I'll spill a little iced coffee on the floor for the old man.
Yankee Panky #38: Roger Radar
I typically don’t like to use this space as a ranting pad, but I’ve been observing a lot of things in the past 10 days that have bothered me, and I need to get them off my chest. First, though, allow me to rewind to my last post. I appreciate all the compliments, critiques, criticisms and suggestions for this year’s installments of the Banter. I apologize up front for the sporadic nature of the posts. Starting this week, I’m resolving to make Mondays the regular Yankee Panky day, barring a crowded schedule on my part, or my esteemed colleagues Alex and Cliff pre-empting the column for Breaking News alerts.
As for this week’s post, though I’m a bit hopped up about the media finding little else to talk about except “Days of our Lidocaines,” starring Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee, I’ll be sure to keep it brief and free of vitriol.
On to the blog …
Goose Gossage finally received his due last week, having been elected to the Hall of Fame with 85.8 percent of the vote. I was a big Goose fan; he was the first true “stopper.” His legacy is that future managers sought pitchers like him for their teams to ensure victories both in the regular season and the postseason. That impact on the game makes him a Hall of Famer, in my opinion.
But Gossage’s induction stunk of something right away. It was as if the voting members of the Baseball Writers of Association of America cut him a break to continue their crusade to “uphold the game’s integrity” by not voting for alleged performance-enhancing drug users. I’m happy Gossage is in, but I’m sure there’s a faction of writers who got into Goose’s Flying V this year, conveniently forgetting that he should have gone in jointly with Bruce Sutter two years ago. As for Jim Rice, I actually agree with the vote and consider him to be equal to Don Mattingly; great career, not long enough of a period of dominance. Hall of Very Good, not Hall of Fame. That’s what’s great about this game, though, is that you can debate this stuff until you get laryngitis. The BBWAA does exactly what we do, except they can mark a ballot that leads to a player receiving a plaque and on it, looking like Han Solo frozen in carbonite.
Many of you wrote me asking about minor league bits and team news. It occurred to me that I’d like to see some of that from the beat writers right about now, since pitchers and catchers report in four weeks. The occasional “Yankees still eyeing Santana” headline was sprinkled in, but the baseball universe wants to see this Roger Clemens situation resolved. Like the run to Super Tuesday, this may be a daily grind until the Rocket appears before Congress.
The “60 Minutes” appearance was laughable. Mike Wallace went from esteemed reporter emeritus to giddy baseball fan in 60 seconds. Edge of Sports’s Dave Zirin has a solid recap of the interview here. Wally Matthews took some jabs at Clemens also. Say what you want about Matthews, but in last Thursday's column I think he accurately stated what most of us believe.
There’s a duality of stupid going on. On “Real Time with Bill Maher” Friday night, Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi, who’s on the campaign trail, was asked about the media’s role in creating the candidates’ perceptions. His response, “You can send any s--- up a flagpole and these people (the media) will f---ing salute.” He's right. It’s a matter of media members presenting information without full facts. And we’re never going to know the full and complete truth, because there’s too much up for interpretation. The media are buying their subject's garbage, and the majority of the public, it seems, fall in line like we live in some twisted version of Hamlin.
Reports have surfaced saying that other trainers disliked McNamee and didn’t consider him to be one of “their own.” Do we believe that? Should we? Brian McNamee knows exactly what went on between him and Clemens. So does the 354-game winner. When Clemens said, “Somebody’s got to tell the truth,” he was right. An erroneous report is released in the LA Times a year ago and we’re expected to exonerate Clemens. A tape of a vague, angry phone conversation between Clemens and McNamee is played and we’re supposed to choose sides.
Clemens hasn’t done anything to improve his standing in this case, or to sway public opinion to prove his innocence. The one thing the media has done well here is to allow the public to draw its own conclusions based on the reporting.
The only conclusion I’ve come to is that I want to read about baseball, not put Roger Clemens’ career into historical context because of the allegations against him.
Welcome to the 2008 season.
The Gambler's Son
Not so long ago, a good friend of mine encouraged me to feel comfortable promoting myself. While it doesn't come naturally for me, I figured, what the hell, I can talk about Pat Jordan's writing all day long. The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan is coming out just before Opening Day. Each week until then, I'm going to pick one of Pat's stories that can be found on-line and feature it in a post. Leading off is a fun piece he did a few years ago for the New York Times magazine on Daniel Negreanu, the all-star poker player (the story was featured in The Best American Sports Writing 2006, edited by Michael Lewis).
Card Stud (Originally published, May, 2005.)
Negreanu claims not to have much interest in money, except as a means of keeping score. After he won that $1.8 million at the Bellagio, he bought six videos and put the rest of the money in poker chips in a lockbox at the casino as if it were a bus-station locker. The chips are still there. The $1.1 million Negreanu won in Atlantic City was converted into $300,000 in cash and an $800,000 check. Back home in Las Vegas, he discovered that he left the check in his hotel room; the maid threw it out, and Negreanu had to fly back for another check. "I don't believe much in banks," he says. "Although I do have one bank account with not much in it, just a couple hundred thousand." He also doesn't believe in credit cards, or buying anything he can't afford to pay cash for, which is why he always travels with a wad of $100 bills held together with an elastic band.
Roger and Albert
All the News that's Fit to Link
ESPN has become the Super Friends for established sports writers. When ESPN comes calling, it's virtually impossible for a writer to turn them down. There's just too many greenbacks at stake, let alone creative freedom. T.J. Quinn, along with Howard Bryant and Rick Riley to name just a few, is now with the Worldwide Leader. Quinn has reported extensively about PEDs for the Daily News for years. This morning, he has a long Q&A up with Roger Clemens' lawyer Rusty Hardin (the interview is a transcript for "Outside the Lines," due to air this morning). I was first alerted to the piece by Repoz, one of the most trusted and reliable source of information links on the 'Net, over at Baseball Think Factory. Repoz included an excerpt from the interview, a portion of which does not exist on-line any longer, prompting Tangotiger to wonder if ESPN alters their transcripts.
All Goose All The Time
Having grown up with baseball in the 1970s, I have a strong appreciation for what a great relief ace can do when his talents are pushed to the limit. We call them "closers" today, but back in the day, "relief aces" or "firemen" often came into games in the seventh or eighth inning, and often with runners on base. They weren’t protected—or babied—the way that most closers are in the contemporary game. From 1978 to 1983, I was privileged to watch Goose Gossage up close and personal, as he simply dominated games for the Yankees from the seventh inning until their conclusion. Given how difficult it can be to register those final nine outs, the importance of Gossage to two different World Series teams became readily apparent. Furthermore, the inclusion of such relief aces in a place like the Hall of Fame became a necessity, as the burgeoning responsibility of relievers evolved throughout the 1970s and eighties. How can great relief aces, who play such a determining role over the final two to three innings of so many one and two-run games, possibly be excluded from representation in Cooperstown?
So it is with more than some small degree of satisfaction that I heard Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey announce on Tuesday afternoon that The Goose had finally earned election to the Hall—after eight failed attempts. I expected Gossage would finally receive the Cooperstown call in his ninth year of eligibility; the announcement that he had earned nearly 86 per cent of the vote nearly floored me. That represented a 14 per cent jump from last year’s tally, an almost unheard-of increase for a player in the year that he finally wins approval from the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Simply put, the Hall of Fame is a stronger place with a pitcher like Gossage. Then there are the peripherals. Harold Reynolds, a contemporary of The Goose, has already praised Gossage as being the kind of player eager to make minority teammates feel welcome in the clubhouse. Some white athletes remain aloof to black and Latino teammates, showing neither acceptance nor rejection of their presence in the game. That was not the case with Gossage, who was a well-liked teammate throughout his career. And then there is Goose’s colorful personality. Quick to the temper but always with a sense of humor about things, The Goose will state clearly how he feels. He’ll champion the causes of other Hall of Fame candidates he feels are worthy. Anything but corporate, Gossage will bring some homespun honesty and old-fashioned flair to the Hall’s membership. And that’s a good thing.
So with The Goose’s place in Cooperstown firmly reserved for the final weekend in July (that’s when his induction will take place), let’s examine an eclectic set of hallmarks from Gossage's well-traveled 22-year career.
*Gossage made his first leap to the major leagues in 1972—all the way from Class-A ball. Pitching for Appleton as a starter in 1971, went 18-2 with a 1.83 ERA Convinced that he had big league stuff and readiness, White Sox manager Chuck Tanner persuaded his bosses to call up the burly young right-hander in 1972. Gossage pitched well as a 20-year-old rookie, then experienced two minor league demotions and endured a move to the starting rotation (the brainchild of Paul Richards) before eventually emerging as a star reliever for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1977.
*Contrary to what I had assumed for many years, Gossage’s nickname was not a play on his last name. During his early major league days with the White Sox, roommate Tom Bradley took note of Gossage’s unusual delivery and mechanics. "You look like a goose when you throw," said Bradley, whose own distinctive look was trademarked by ever-present sunglasses that he wore on the mound. The Chicago media latched on to Bradley’s observation, quickly tagging Gossage "Goose." The name caught on with a flourish. By the late 1970s, more people were calling him Goose than Rich. It certainly didn’t hurt that the name Goose Gossage had a lyrical flow to it.
*With the election of Gossage, there are now two "Gooses," or shall we say "Geese," in the Hall of Fame. The other is Goose Goslin, a hard-hitting lefty-swinging outfielder for the old Washington Senators.
*A number of articles written about Gossage since his election have claimed that he threw only one pitch—the fastball. That’s not exactly true. While the fastball became his primary modus operandi, Gossage did tinker with off-speed and breaking pitches. With the White Sox, Gossage learned to throw a change-up from pitching guru Johnny Sain. Later in his Yankee career, after his fastball had lost a mile or two, Gossage added a slider, which he threw occasionally as a way of giving opposing hitters a different wrinkle.
*When Gossage first joined the Yankees in 1978, he did not initially feature what would become his trademark Fu Manchu mustache. He later grew the mustache as a way of spiting George Steinbrenner, who hated his players to wear facial hair—at least anything beyond a normal mustache. The Goose and "The Boss" would develop a hate-hate relationship during Gossage’s six-year tenure in the Bronx. In one of the most famous recorded rants of all time, Gossage railed against Steinbrenner, repeatedly calling him "The Fat Man." Embarrassed by the publicity, Steinbrenner defended himself by saying that he was trying to lose weight. By the end of the 1983 season, the Gossage-Steinbrenner relationship had become exceedingly contentious. The Goose became so tired of Steinbrenner’s frequent criticisms of players that he left the Yankees as a free agent, citing The Boss as one of the primary reasons behind his departure for San Diego.
*During the course of his regular season career, Gossage saved 52 games in which he had to record at least seven outs. In other words, excluding any extra-inning games, Gossage compiled all of those saves by entering games in the seventh inning. (And that includes the famed 1978 tiebreaking game featuring one Bucky Dent.) By contrast, Trevor Hoffman has posted two saves of seven outs or more in his regular season career. Mariano Rivera has only one. Yes, the game has changed a little since the early 1980s.
*The Goose now has a mascot. During his Hall of Fame press conference on Tuesday, Gossage unveiled a ridiculous plastic goose wearing a Yankee helmet and a miniature Hall of Fame jersey. And that, folks, may be a case of "too much information" about The Goose, the latest entrant to Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, none on Goose Gossage. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, none on Goose Gossage. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What's Up, Chuck?
Former Yankee Chuck Knoblauch was tracked down by Thayer Evans in The New York Times:
"I have nothing to defend," Knoblauch said. "I have nothing to hide at the same time."
Funny to think that when he was first traded to New York, Knoblauch looked as if he might have a Hall of Fame career.
Offseason Movie Review: Safe at Home
Movie: Safe At Home (1962)
Plot: Nine-year-old Hutch tries to impress his little league teammates by claiming he and his father are friends with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, then runs away to Spring Training to try and convince the Yankee superstars to attend his team's awards banquet. Hijinx ensue, sort of.
The Future is Now
The IRT was all busted this morning so I took the express bus into Manhattan instead. Along the way, we passed by the two Yankee Stadiums on the Major Deegan. The night work lights were still on in the new park, though the sky behind it was already bright, the sun reflecting off the red and yellow cranes that stick up into the sky. I've always gotten a rush passing the Stadium on the Major D. The park practically sticks out onto the highway, like a big, round jaw. The new stadium receeds into the background, and isn't nearly as dramatic. Still, it's coming along, like it or not. Pretty soon, the final year at the old location will begin, and before you know it, it will be but a memory.
The guys over at River Ave. Blues have been diligently charting the progress of the new stadium. If you are interested, I suggest you stop by and pay them a visit.
Meanwhile, Hank Steinbrenner appears to be cooling on the idea of trading for Johan Santana. According to Peter Botte in the News:
"We went into this with me making the final baseball decisions and Hal more addressing the financial aspects of the company, but we both do everything," Steinbrenner said yesterday in a phone interview. "We're equal partners, but at this point, to tell you the truth, I'm leaning away from it anyway, so it doesn't matter. Same thing with Brian, he's another integral part of it, obviously, being the general manager, and one day he's leaning to do it and the next day he's not sure.
Aaron Gleeman would rather the Twins get Phillip Hughes over Jacoby Ellsbury.
Yeah, Yeah, Now Check the Method
"You have to understand, back in 1972 you didn't want to be part of the bullpen...It was looked upon as a junk pile of starters who could no longer start. But I feel fortunate to have been part of the entire evolution and the pioneering of relief pitching. Going to the bullpen was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I can't even fathom having a career as a starter as I did as a reliever. For one thing, I didn't like the four days off (between starts) and I loved the opportunity to come to the ballpark to pitch every night."
I was talking about the relationship between art and science in sports the other day with a friend of mine, a dynamic, or tension, that I find fascinating. For instance, I understand why the role of the closer is over-stated. On the other hand, I firmly believe that some pitchers have the emotional and psychological temperament to close games while others don't. Or, that some pitchers are better suited as starters.
The debate between traditional scouting methods and a more emperical approach was sparked by Michael Lewis' book, Moneyball a few years ago. While the distance between the two is said to be exaggerated, the pull between the old and new has existed for a long time in the game.
Jim McLaughlin, the first scouting director for the Baltimore Orioles (he later ran the scouting operations for the Cincinnati Reds), believed in a scientific approach to scouting way back in the '50s. McLaughlin devised a chart called "The Whole Ball Player." The chart consisted of a cirlce that was split in two. The top half of the chart reads:
Can Be Seen with Eye
The bottom of the chart reads:
Can Not Be Seen with Eye
How Do You Spell Relief?
Our man Goose got the nod.
Get Goose on the Horn, We're Going to Hall-Con One
Even in defeat, Goose Gossage was fearsome. When Gossage gave up that long home run to George Brett in the 1980 playoffs, it wasn't so much that he threw a horrible pitch, it was that Brett, coming off his .390 season, was great enough to turn on it and blast it into the upper deck.
The Art of Fiction is Dead
All due respect to Red Smith, of course. It's hard to be shocked these days, so I won't say that I was shocked exactly listening to the audio of a 17-minute conversation between Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee recorded last Friday night, but my mouth was agape, I'll tell you that. You can't make this stuff up. And it's all out in the open for everyone to hear and see. David Mamet, eat your heart out. Man, this is pathetic. McNamee sounds like a broken man and Clemens sounds positively deluded. Me think thou doest protest too much, Roger.
(shaking my head)...whoa...
In other news, here's hoping our man Goose Gossage gets the call tomorrow.
Finally, Baseball America lists the Yankees top ten prospects.
Goose Loves Dick
Goose Gossage on Dick Allen:
I had the priviledge of playing with so many great players, but Dick Allen was the best player I ever played with.
For what it is worth, I think Allen was a better hitter than Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, Dave Parker or Jim Rice.
And the Winner Is...
Here's my latest piece for Variety. It's about genre films and the Oscars:
So what genres play best when it comes to Oscar?
Friends (How Many of us Have Them?)
The ones you can depend on.
Pat Jordan has a column on friendship, Mike Wallace, Roger Clemens, Brain McNamee, Tom Seaver, and, of course, himself, over at The Baseball Analysts today:
I had a chance to become friends with Mr. Clemens in 2001, when I interviewed him for a profile in the New York Times Sunday magazine. But, alas, our friendship did not take. Despite the fact that I, like Mr. Wallace, felt I too had been objective in my profile, Mr. Clemens did not concur. In fact, he called me up after the story appeared and berated me over the telephone. When I asked him what he didn't like about the story, he said, "I didn't read it." I responded, "Then how do you know you don't like it?" He said he was told by his "friend," and the co-author of one of Mr. Clemens' books, Peter Gammons, the ESPN-TV analyst, that he should hate it. In fact, Mr. Clemens hated my profile so fervently that he had me banned from the Yankees' clubhouse during the years he remained with the team.
Jordan's New York Times magazine piece on Clemens, "Roger Clemens Refuses to Grow Up" is featured in The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan. The Mike Wallace-Clemens interview will appear tonight on "60 Minutes."
Are the Yankees really interested in making a deal for Johan Santana? According to the New York Post:
"I'm still leaning towards doing it," Hank Steinbrenner told the Associated Press.
Tyler Kepner had a good piece on the power structure of the organization in the Times yesterday:
Hank's brother, Hal Steinbrenner, is just as powerful as a successor to their father, the principal owner George Steinbrenner, who is essentially retired. Hal Steinbrenner's primary responsibility is to oversee the Yankees' finances, and he is reluctant to add another huge contract.
Meanwhile, in super serious business, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Chuck Knoblauch have all been asked to testify in front of a congressional committee on January 16th. This renders tomorrow's 60 Minutes Wallace-Clemens interview virtually meaningless. The stage is now set for the big boys. And, behind-the-scenes, this must be a real pickle for pals Clemens and Pettitte. It's one thing for Clemens to stick to his story, even in front of congress, but under oath, after having sworn on a bible, will Pettitte tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
Yeesh. Is it hot in here or is it just me?
Goose Gossage, Hall of Famer? Yes!
I sometimes refer to the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) as "masters of the obvious" when it comes to the Hall of Fame elections. Last year, the BBWAA voted in automatic, slam-dunk selections like Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn, even with misguided writers submitting blank ballots for self-righteous reasons. Yet, when it comes to subtler selections, players who weren’t iconic figures but were still dominant stars for extended periods of time, the Baseball Writers haven’t shown a similar aptitude.
The writers have a chance to rectify that situation this Tuesday, when the results of the 2008 election will be announced in New York City. (Alex Belth and Cliff Corcoran, will you be attending the press conference at the Waldorf-Astoria?) The litmus test will be provided by Rich "Goose" Gossage (as seen in this odd 1978 Topps card), who has been on the ballot for eight years and has never received more than the 71 per cent of the vote he picked up in 2007. The Goose was the most egregious omission on the 2007 ballot—an omission that serves as a black mark against the writers’ voting patterns in recent years. To me, it’s patently obvious that Gossage, who led the league in saves three times and finished second two other times, belongs in the Hall of Fame. Here are a few reasons why:
*For nine straight years, Gossage posted ERA’s of 2.90 or less. That’s right, from 1977 to 1985, Gossage didn’t have even one season with an ERA as high as 3.00. That’s a pretty long level of peak performances, without any bleak seasons to break up the string. Some of his ERAs were eye-popping during that stretch: 1.62, 2.01, and an unfathomable 0.77 in the strike year of 1981. And it’s not like he did that pitching as a situational reliever or in a one-inning, ninth inning, comfort role; he logged large numbers of innings during that time, far more than typical closers do in the current-day game.
*In recent years, Sabermetric research has shown the value of pitchers who can strike out large numbers of batters, thereby putting less pressure on the fielders behind them, reducing the element of bad luck base hits, and preventing baserunners from coming home on sacrifice flies. Well, Gossage was a Sabermetric dream in this respect, reaching 100-strikeout totals five different times as a reliever and matching Rollie Fingers’ career total. Bruce Sutter achieved that only three times. When it came to the pure power of the fastball, no relief ace of the 1970s could match The Goose.
*Gossage was an absolute workhorse. Unlike the fashionable pitching trends of today, which require one inning per night from a closer, Gossage often pitched the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings in recording saves. Four times in his career, he accumulated 100 or more innings while pitching out of the bullpen. Pitching for the 1978 World Champion Yankees, Gossage pitched more innings than either Jim "Catfish" Hunter or Jim Beattie, the team’s fourth and fifth starters. How many closers in today’s game log more innings than their teams’ No. 4 starters?
*Except for his legendary tangles with George Brett, Gossage was a superior reliever in the postseason. He generally excelled with the Yankees, but did struggle in his lone postseason showing with San Diego. Still, even with the problems he had facing Kirk Gibson, Goose put up terrific October numbers. Over a span of eight postseason series, he posted a 2.87 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 31 innings. He did his best postseason pitching in the World Series, with an ERA of 2.63 in 13 innings.
*One could make an argument that Gossage was the best reliever of the 1970s. Only Hall of Famers Fingers and Sutter can really take their rightful places in that argument. Is there not room in the Hall for a third reliever from the decade that introduced a spectacular level of relief pitching, a decade that included standouts like Bill Campbell, Gene Garber, John Hiller, Dave LaRoche, Sparky Lyle, Mike Marshall, Tug McGraw, and Kent Tekulve?
In my mind, Gossage was at least the second-best reliever of that era, just behind Fingers and perhaps the equal of Fingers. Gossage enjoyed a longer peak than Sutter, and also had the longer career. It’s still not clear to me why Sutter is in the Hall of Fame—and Gossage is not.
Hopefully the writers will rectify this inconsistency in 2008. History favors Gossage; any player who has received as much as 71 per cent of the vote from the writers has eventually breached the 75 per cent barrier. It will be very close, with Gossage likely to finish somewhere in the 73 to 77 per cent range, but I have a feeling that it will happen this time around. And the Hall will be a better place with The Goose nesting in Cooperstown during the final weekend in July.
Bruce Markusen is the author of "Cooperstown Confidential" at MLB.com and has written seven books on baseball.
I'm Ready for my Close Up
Been enjoying poking my nose through my baseball library and selecting some cherce quotes, so here's another one for ya. This one if from Foul Ball: Five Years in the American League, by Alison Gordon, who covered the Blue Jays from 1979-83. Gordon describes herself as "a socialist, feminist, hedonist with roots in the sixties, a woman who had marched against the bomb, done drugs, and never, ever even wanted to date the head jock at school, had nothing in common with these children of Ozzie and Harriet, locked in a fifties timewarp." Some combination, huh? I enjoyed her take on Mr. October:
Undeniably a star with an extraordinary sense of the moment, Jackson was one of the most fascinating, but unpleasant, characters I encountered in baseball. It's only a fluke I feel that way. There were some reporters I respect whom he liked and who assured me that Jackson was a sensitive and intelligent man, unfairly at the mercy of the sharks that surrounded him. It could be. I wouldn't know because he thought I had a fin on my back, too. He was a bit like Billy Martin in that way. If you encountered either one on a good day you came away thinking he was a prince. On a bad day there were jerks. I never hit a good day with either one.
Yankee Panky # 37: Onward Into 2008
The year has turned, and that means in six weeks, pitchers and catchers report and all will be right in the world again, as long as no MLBers are using needles or ingesting growth hormones to pad their stats and subsequently, their bank accounts.
For this entry, I'd like to take a break from the negativity that has pervaded coverage this offseason and turn this blog over to you, since this column is as much yours as it is mine. I also appreciate the feedback and want to give you, the readers, what you want.
In looking at ideas for tweaking this year's installment, I ask you, what changes, if any, would you like me to make? One thing I'd like to do is be more consistent with the Yankees vs. Mets backpage counter during the season. I'll also try to incorporate more links when applicable.
There's a lot of ground to cover both in traditional and non-traditional media when it comes to covering the Yankees. Who gets it right? Who does it best or worst? Who does the best job of providing both pertinent information that you can't get anywhere else, and also serving as the eyes and ears of the fan? What can the traditional types learn from the bloggers and vice versa? Read the Dick Young piece that Alex Belth referenced further down on the page. Do we want our media to have that much influence on affecting the way teams do business? Is that right? With big corporations owning the outlets, is there an alternative? (It can't be a "Rollerball" environment already). These are the questions I try to answer on a weekly basis; you all were a tremendous help — even when you were ripping me — in 2007. I'm continually impressed at the intelligent commentary that this and every other column spawns on the Banter.
As many of you know, I covered the Yankees from 2002-2006 for YESNetwork.com. The site and the network are not off-limits, but because I still have ties and many colleagues there, I need to be sensitive to any and all YES references. And as I said in my introduction last year, I will not bash my former colleagues on the beat, but I will be critical. To me, that means not automatically accepting what's put in front of me as truth. I ask questions, analyze and look at the broader scope.
So now it's your turn. Thank you for making me feel welcome here in 2007, and keep the suggestions coming in '08.
Until next week ...
Young at Heart
Red Smith is often considered the greatest sports columnist of them all. He came to New York after the second World War to work for Stanley Woodward at the Herald Tribune. Later, he moved to the Times. Unlike Dick Young, Smith found himself becoming less reactionary as he grew older, which is notable when you consider their respective takes of the changing nature of the game during the Marvin Miller Era. Here is Smith, from a 1972 interview in Jerome Holtzman's classic oral history, No Cheering from the Press Box:
Unlike the normal pattern, I know I have grown more liberal as I've grown older. I have become more convinced that there is room for improvement in the world. I seem to be finding this a much less pretty world than it seemed when I was younger, and I feel things should be done about it and sports are part of this world. Maybe I'm sounding too damn profound or maybe I'm taking bows when I shouldn't. I truly don't know. But I do know I am more liberal and probably one of the reasons is that I married not only Phyllis, who is younger and more of today than I was, but I married five stepchildren who are very much of the current generation. They are very good friends and very articulate, and I think that this association has helped me to have a younger and fresher view.
I chose this quote not because I think being liberal makes a person morally superior, but as a counterpoint to Young's attitudes. Now, here is another meaty quote, and something that is still relevant today:
I won't deny that the heavy majority of sportswriters, myself included, have been and still are guilty of puffing up the people they write about. I remember one time when Stanley Woodward, my beloved leader, was on the point of sending me a wire during spring training, saying, "Will you stop Godding up those ball players?" I didn't realize what I had been doing. I thought I had been writing pleasant little spring training columns about ball players.
I know I "God up" ball players. It's hard not to when you are a fan (see Roger Angell). It seems as if the sporting press--who are not, first and foremost, fans--puff the jocks up, only to delight in tearing them down. But that holds true for our entire celebrity culture, not just the sports department. What Smith talked about is just accelerated, heightened now.
Mouth or Mouse?
On cue, here is the latest from Hank Steinbrenner re: Johan Santana:
"I think the Twins realize our offer is the best one," Steinbrenner said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "I feel confident they're not going to trade him before checking with us one last time and I think they think we've already made the best offer."
Big talk. Enough to make you wince. But you know the old line. Don't let your mouth write a check...
The Awful Truth
So far, it seems as if there is nothing affordable about the new Yankee Stadium. Juan Gonzalez has the latest in the Daily News.
In 2008, Hank Steinbrenner emerged as new voice of the Yankees. He's good for a quote, though he's got some big shoes to fill. Speaking of Old Lions, dig this quote from Darryl F Zanuck, "The Last Movie Tycoon:"
"We had a great preview up to the last ten minutes. Then the bottom dropped out. It ended on a laugh and it was no comedy. The preview cards were average, mostly marked fair, but gave us no clues to the ending. (God, how I hate audiences.) Suddenly, that non-existent, invisible bug whispered in my ear, as it had done all my life. I had the answer. I started to talk. Before I was half through the first sentence, the director Michael Curtiz yelled 'Wonderful! Darryl! Yes! Yes!'
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01