Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Help
Gorilla My Dreamz
2005-11-23 05:25
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

With the Red Sox and Mets grabbing the local headlines this week, and the Yankees chillin on the back burner, I've been thinking about books devoted to the Bronx Zoo Era for the past two days. One of the better, yet lesser known ones is, "Pinstripe Pandemonium" a slim record of the 1983 season written by Village Voice reporter Geoffrey Stokes. That season had plenty of infamous Yankee turmoil, but Stokes' book stands out for it's thoughtful passages on Don Baylor, Steve Kemp, and Goose Gossage. Here is the Goose talking about the nature of his job:

"Sometimes, after a bad loss, I'm amazed that I can go out there the next day and do anything at all. But fortunately," he grinened, "there's this gorilla in me that just takes over.

"Of course," he added, returning to the subject of rhythm, "when it does, somebody's gotta keep it on a leash. I don't care how fast you throw; if you throw nothing but fastballs, there are hitters in this league that are gonna catch up to you. Somone's gotta slow me down.

"But that's hard for a cather to do. If I'm gonna get beat, I want to get beat on my best pitch, not on some off-speed thing that's just supposed to set the fastball up. But what happens is, I get out there, and I throw a ball at ninety-five miles an hour easy, so I just gather up my strength and try humming the sombitch at a hundred. I'm out there, and I feel that with just a little more effort, I could throw the sucker right through the catcher--and maybe halfway through the umpire, too.

This got me to thinking about the possibility of the Yankees aquiring Kyle Farnsworth to set up Mariano Rivera, a move I'm dead set against. The truth is, nothing upset me more in the 2005 playoffs than watching Farnsworth pitch to Luke Scott in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the NLDS (and I didn't have any particular rooting interest in the game). Staked to a five run lead, the hard-throwing Farnsworth worked to Scott with two men on and one out. He blazed a fastball past Scott for strike one, then missed outside with a breaking pitch. I don't recall if it is a slider or a splitter that Farnsworth throws; regardless, it is a wicked pitch but not nearly as effective as his 95 mph+ heater. Especially to the inexperienced Scott, who was late on the next pitch, another fastball. There was no way Scott was going to catch up to the gas.

So what does Farnsworth do? With a five run lead he throws three consecutive breaking balls to the outside part of the plate, in an attempt to be cute. Trying to posterize Scott I suppose. Again, his breaking pitch is very good, but it's his number two pitch. When the count went 2-2 a feeling of dread and loathing overcame me. This clown is going to keep going to his second best pitch, isn't he? After Scott walked to load the bases, Lance Berkman sliced a fastball over the left field fence for a grand slam. I thought I was watching "Bull Durham" the big league version. Farnsworth got the next man out, freezing Morgan Ensberg with a breaking ball. But the damage had been done. In refusing to go with his best pitch against a weak hitter, Farnsworth got burned and cost his team dearly. He also displayed the difference between a great competitor like Goose and a mentally weak one.

Gossage continued to Stokes about the trouble with trying to overthrow:

"The thing is, it doesn't go as fast, 'cause my asshole's tight. It's pretty hard to throw a ball with one hand around your throat. And when that happens, even before everybody's turning around to watch the fuckin' home run, it affects the team. It's like your kids; when they see fear in your face, they get afraid too, even if they don't know why. In the clubhouse of at the hotel, everbody's got his own personality. But when I'm out there with runners on second and third, one out, and a one-run lead, I'm responsible for the whole team."

..."The only thing about [closing] is you can't take it home with you. It's not like I'm a starter and I have to think about it for five days, have to spend my time saying 'Damn, that was a stupid pitch.' Except for the playoffs or the Series, there's always tomorrow. You know, it's like hunting. 'Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you.'"

While we're at it, here's a bit on how the other half lives. Again, from Stokes' book, here is Sweet Lou:

In this league at least, the really successful hitters guess a lot. I know that once I've seen a pitcher three or four times--certainly once I've seen him for three or four games--I have a pretty good idea what he's going to do in certain situations. That's why a batter loves to see the count at two-and-oh or three-and-one. You know the guy out there's gotta throw it over the plate, so you zone the ball. You decide ahead of time where he's gonna put it--low, high, inside, outside--and what kind of pitch he's going to throw, and you narrow your strike zone to that pitch. If it's somewhere else, let it go by; he's still gotta give you one or two more chances to hit the ball. But if it's there, you're ready for it. That's when you get your extra-base hits, and that's when you get pitchers in trouble, because once you're on base, he's got to pitch a little differently. He doesn't want the big inning, so he's going to pitch a little more cautiously. What you've done is you've taken some options away, made him a little more predictable, and if he gets behind the next batter, then he's really in trouble.

There are a lot of good pitchers in the league--there aren't any bad ones, that's for sure--but there's only a handful of great ones. Those are the guys who can either challenge you and get away with it--put it right in your zone and dare you to hit it--or the ones who consisntenly outguess you, who always have you lookin' at the three-and-one strike. But even with them, you've gotta make your own guess and get ready for a ball in your zone, because once or twice a game, even those guys are gonna lose their rhythm or try to do too much with a ball, and if you're not ready, that's a real lost opportunity. The only real difference between the good pitchers and the great ones is that the great ones don't yield to the situation around them. They're kind of self-contained, and they're gonna make you hit their pitch, not yours.

The book is a worthy addition to the Yankee bookshelf, especially for those of you who are interested in those messy years of the early Eighties.

Comments
2005-11-23 06:47:26
1.   Ben
Yo A, I thought it was Gorilla My Love? Either way, I'm laughing thinking of that cartoon.

Goose was the man. You gotta love that country poet thing that he has down pat. It reminds me of watching Smokey and the Bandit which was on just a few days ago. There was a sensibility to that movie, a letting it fly, that is so enchanting. Even Sally Fields is good in it, and that's saying something. There's this scene when Reynolds is making fun of her fat ankles, but there's no malice and no offense to it. It's all flirtation. Just thinking of Goose doing his whirly-bird barooomph delivery, concentrating the while time on keeping his asshole loose is great. Sumpthin to be Thankful for, to be sure.

2005-11-23 06:53:34
2.   Max
Great find, Alex...Stokes was always one of my favorite writers for the Voice in those days. If you do a web search, excerpts from many of his music reviews in the late '70s/'80s can be found as well.

I'm going to have pickup the book now, and I see it can be had for $1 to $3 (10 bucks for a first edition) at most places. Awesome.

2005-11-23 06:57:17
3.   Alex Belth
Ben, Yeah the Bugs cartoon was called "Gorilla My Dreams." Here's a good WB trivia question: what was the song Bugs was singing as he was floating in a barrell on the high seas at the begining of the cartoon?

Yeah, the Stokes book isn't great--but it's a good genre book, in the following a sinlge season mode. It's really slim too. Only 170 someodd pages. I knew that Bill Madden and Murray Chass were on the Yankee beat back then, but did you know that Bob Klapisch was too? Must have been one of Klap's first years in baseball.

2005-11-23 07:15:31
4.   Murray
My favorite book of the era is Graig Nettles's "Balls." A laugh riot from cover to cover. And sometimes even intentionally!
2005-11-23 07:46:37
5.   ChuckM
Nettles' book is great and so is Sparky Lyle's...
2005-11-23 09:24:53
6.   Ben
ESPN is reporting that Delgado to the Mets is as good as done.

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2234421

As a partial Mets fan let me be the first to say a very cautious, yipee. Put that yipee in as small a font as possible.

2005-11-23 09:52:50
7.   YankeeInMichigan
Hmmm. Farnsworth's season stats are pretty impressive, especially is SLG-against of .232 in Detroit and .344 in Atlanta. Except for July, when he walked 9 in 10 innings, his controll was stellar as well (18 walks in 60 innnings). And you can't argue with K/9s of 11.60 (Detroit) and 10.54 (Atlanta).

Did Farnsworth shake off the fastball sign? If not, he cannot be completely blamed for "playing it cute." In fact, doesn't Leo Mazzone call the pitches from the bench?

2005-11-23 11:09:30
8.   Derek J
Funny thing, now that YinMI mentions it, is that reading your description of that NLDS sequence with Farnsworth reminded me of another Atlanta pitching meltdown, Wohlers against Leyritz in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series. Like Farnsworth, Wohlers insisted on throwing his second-best pitch to a batter who couldn't catch up to his fastball.

Seeing how that team was also coached by Mazzone, it's possible that Leo has a blind spot for these situations. Even though Farnsworth has a longstanding rep as a knucklehead, he might not be guilty of that particular offense.

Nonetheless, I don't want Kyle in pinstripes. The bad reputation, and the Yanks' bad track record with Mazzone-coached pitchers makes me think they should take a pass, unless Farnsworth comes at a bargain price.

2005-11-23 11:54:25
9.   wsporter
Um D.J. ? Bad track record with Mazzone coached pitchers? Wow? Do you mean to imply that somehow Mazzone produces a taint that attaches to these guys that ruins them for New York or Yankee Stadium? Is that taint so severe and deeply seated that even an exposure of several months would render those so exposed useless to us, for example Farnsworth? I had no idea. How did that happen? Stanton seemed to be OK. I don't think you can blame Wohlers on Mazzone. Neagle? Was half a year enough to know Mazzone ruined him for us? Embree was done long before he got here. When Jaret Wright wasn't hurt or recovering from the odd beanning he actually pitched pretty well, 2nd half at least. I'm wondering if you have anyone else in mind. I think what Stanton provided us from 97 - 2002 reflects fairly positively on the "Mazonne taint". In fact I hope we can get a Pen full of guys suffering from the same problem. Its just a thought, I don't mean to go into attack mode, that statement seemed a little broad. Farnsworth is a bit of a flake but I'm not sure who we have that compares favorably and I think we could do a whole lot worse.
2005-11-23 13:00:41
10.   debris
Wsporter,

This has nothing to do with the Yankees. There is a long history of pitchers with poor track records going to Atlanta, flourishing under Mazzone, then going elsewhere, be it NY or Chicago, or Detroit, and regressing.

2005-11-23 13:44:33
11.   wsporter
Yes that may be true. But that point speaks well of Mazzone. The point in DJ's post that got my attention seemed to be specifically directed at the NYY. I had a hard time buying the fact that we didn't want Farnsworth because he had been coached by Mazzone. I don't believe our history with Mazzone coached pitchers that arrived here in one piece, ala Stanton, is all that bad. Its hard to believe that exposure to Mazzone ruins a pitcher for NY. Also if you look around at the pitchers who have left Atlanta and divide them into starter and reliever categories I think you find that the starters may have pitched much better then relievers across the board. Maddox, Glavine and Millwood have performed about as you would expect given their ages and the fact they left a great team for lesser teams. The relievers have not fared as well. Yet if you consider why relievers are not brought back by a team it is usually because they are at the end of their effective life or are overpaid relative to an in-house substitute, or aren't affordable. Kerry Ligtenberg went from Atlanta to Baltimore, and pitched pretty well. He didn't disgrace himself until he got to Toronto. Did Mark Wiley ruin him? Atlanta let him go because he was about to be overpaid relative to what he was worth to them. Yeah a lot of guys have left Atlanta and washed out. I think that was because they were ready to wash out not because they left. A lot of guys have left everywhere and washed out. If they had stayed they may have been just as bad where they were. Steve Avery is a perfect example of this point. Danny Kolb is pretty good example of a guy who had the wheels fall off after he got to Atlanta. These guys are high strung and a little flaky, who knows what makes go sometimes. It may be a crap shoot. Your boys have had a tough time bringing closers in recently. Who knows why? I just don't think its fair to label Mazzone that way. Especially during the holidays. Happy Thanksgiving. Sorry for the novel.
2005-11-23 15:08:14
12.   debris
Sporter,

It's not that Mazzone ruins pitchers for elsewhere. It's that they flourish under his watchful eye. Once they're no longer in his care, they drift back to where they were before he got them straightened out.

2005-11-23 15:21:11
13.   wsporter
Debris:

I got the point I just don't buy the fact that pitchers develop amnesia as soon as they leave Hank Aaron Drive. The guy is a great pitching coach. We agree on that clearly. I didn't think that was the implication of DJ's statement. At least it wasn't the inference I drew. That was really the basis of my objection. As to the other stuff, well, as I said I think there are other more relevant explanations concerning why some of those pitchers have declined when they left.
Looks like were the last ones in the office.

2005-11-23 15:53:03
14.   randym77
Maybe the Yankees can make some headway with Giles, now that the Padres are out of the mix?

There was an odd story about Giles and the Yankees on ESPN last night. I didn't catch it all, but it was something about Giles once saying that he liked seeing a naked Jason Kendall get a massage from the trainer. Then they started speculating about whether Derek Jeter and the other Yanks would show any skin in the locker room if Giles was around. Must've been a slow news day.

2005-11-23 17:09:30
15.   Yankee Fan in Chicago
Derek J was just wondering who calls the pitches in Atlanta, and if it is Leo M, based upon a couple of playoff atbats, then mayb he's to blame for Farnsworth et al getting cutsy with their pitches in October.

If Leo does call the pitches, then that's a big-time failing. In that case, he's clearly not a war-time consigliare (sp?).

2005-11-23 17:10:51
16.   Yankee Fan in Chicago
BTW: Thome for Rowand just now. Looks like Rowand won't be patrolling center at the Stadium in 06.
2005-11-23 19:56:26
17.   Ravenscar
Alex -

I'm not feeling it on this guess, but I'm seeing in my mind's eyes Bugs singing "Swanee". Or am I thinking of another Bugs cartoon?

I think Rowand would have been good filler for you guys in CF, but, really, not an "answer" per se. Of course, it doens't seem like there are a lot of capital A answers out there anywhoo.

Our Omar seems to be going batshit at the moment. The feeling on our fan blogs across the sub-ether is to get Wagner and then call it an off-season, but on the breaks before we get a little crazy. The thought of Soriano for Milledge has us collectively freaking out.

2005-11-23 21:41:17
18.   joejoejoe
I say in for a penny, in for a pound. If the Yanks are going to take a chance on headcase Farnsworth why not take a chance on uberheadcase Milton Bradley?

Is there any chance of using Chacon as a setup man in Gordon's place? Chacon seems to thrive in NY pressure and the starter market isn't as out of control as the reliever market. I'd rather settle for a second tier 5th starter and slot Chacon in bullpen.

2005-11-23 23:52:20
19.   brockdc
JoeJoeJoe,

Interesting idea. I assume you're also aware that your scenario could never happen due to the fact that it requires a modicum of both creativity and flexibility.

2005-11-23 23:54:44
20.   brockdc
I really like Rowand and I think he's gotten short shrift around here. I'm still a proponent of giving Bubba a real chance to nail it down, but Rowand is basically everything the Yanks need at the moment.
2005-11-24 04:14:43
21.   randym77
I think the reason Rowand got short shrift is because it didn't seem likely the Yankees could land him. Chicago made it clear early on that we didn't have anything they want.

Are you thinking we can get him from the Phillies, now that he's been dealt?

2005-11-24 05:53:20
22.   Alex Belth
Shoot, you know I may have the title wrong, but the song Bugs was singing was "Somebody's rocking my dream boat." I've heard the Inkspots, or maybe it was the Mills Brothers (or both!) sing it before. Bugs sang a lot of songs that those guys made popular. I love both of those harmony groups. Worth checking out for sure. And if you want a gospel variation check out The Golden Gate Quartet, also from the same period--1930s-1940s.

Comment status: comments have been closed. Baseball Toaster is now out of business.