Monthly archives: January 2003
LETS GO METS ESPN
LETS GO METS
ESPN has been running a series called "Hot Stove Heaters" this winter, previewing each and every team. Today, Bob Klapisch pens the 2003 scouting report for your New York Mets. He also adds a column about Ty Wigginton; so too, for that matter, does The New York Times.
Perhaps the best news for Mets fans is their promising farm system, which was analyzed by minor-league guru, John Sickels:
Although the acquisitions of Tom Glavine, Cliff Floyd, and Mike Stanton get the headlines, it is the farm system that gives the best hope for the future. The Mets farm system is in better condition than it has been in for some time, and several youngsters are ready or nearly ready to help.
This comes as good news indeed, especially after the Mets lost the one, long-standing player who came up through their system, Edgardo Alfonzo, to free agency this winter.
AIN'T A DAMN THING CHANGED
Rob Neyer has an article on the AL East today that taught me something new. Did you know that since the D-Rays entered the league in 1998, the standings in the AL East have remained the same each year? Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Devil Rays: it's the same ol' song. Curious. Not suprising, but what are the chances?
Here is Neyer's take on the Yanks-Sox fighting it out for first place:
We could spend a week analyzing the Yankees and Red Sox, but today is Friday so let's just spend a paragraph or two.
The Sox finished 10.5 games behind the Yanks last season, but the teams' run differentials were essentially equivalent, so that 10.5 means something closer to 0.5 if you're looking ahead rather than behind.
The Red Sox have improved themselves at DH, at first base, at second base, and probably third base. The Yankees have improved themselves in right field, and at one slot in their pitching rotation. I think first place might boil down to which starters decline more: Boston's one-year wonders (Lowe and Wakefield), or New York's ancient armsmen (Clemens and Wells)? The difference is that if something happens to Clemens or Wells, manager Joe Torre can turn to Jeff Weaver, a No. 6 starter who'd be the No. 1 starter for most teams in the majors. If the Red Sox run into trouble, manager Grady Little can turn to Frank Castillo, a No. 6 starter who'd be a No. 4 starter for most teams.
IS THAT COLLUSION I SMELL?
Murray Chass has a long article concerning the collusion in today's New York Times.
Mike Carminati weighed in with his take earlier in the week.
NYC BASEBALL MOMENT Last
NYC BASEBALL MOMENT
Last night, I was on the uptown side of the 50th street station on the 7th avenue line during rush hour. As I moved to my usual spot on the platform, I heard a street musician across the tracks on the downtown platform, strumming an accoustic guitar, singing the Simon and Garfunkel classic, "Mrs. Robinson." Dude had a pleasent, high-pitched voice, and since there were no trains rumbling through the station, I could hear him fairly well.
I sung along with him until something strange happened. When he got to the "Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?" part, he didn't say Joe Dimaggio. I had reached my usual waiting place at the platform, and bent my ear to hear better. Sure enough, he replaced Joe Dimaggio with "Jackie Robinson."
"He just said, Jackie Robinson," I said out loud to no one in particular. A woman who was leaning against the wall, turned her head to me and smiled. When he sung Jackie's name again, we both reflexively looked at each other. That was the extent of our exchange before the uptown local rushed into the station.
MILLAR SAYS HE WON'T GO
This is the story that just won't end. The Boston Globe has the latest on the Kevin Millar charade:
Kevin Millar, breaking his silence regarding his stalemate with a Japanese team that may require the intercession of Major League Baseball to end, confirmed last night that he will not report to the Chunichi Dragons and has told the team he will not play in Japan. The first baseman/outfielder also reiterated his hope that a resolution can be reached that will allow him to play for the Red Sox
Millar wants to have his cake and eat it too, and it looks as if the Sox may get their man yet. But haven't I said that before?
THE BENOVOLENCE OF KING GEORGE
Hal Bodley caught George Steinbrenner in one of his more benevolent moods in this article for Baseball Weekly:
On Joe Torre:
"Joe has done a great job, but he and his staff will have their hands full this year because they have a lot of important decisions to make," says Steinbrenner.
..."We want Joe to have a good team, and he will," says Steinbrenner. "He's a good manager ！ the best I've ever had."
On the Yanks:
"You've got to pay ！ we're not the only ones, but we're the No. 1 guy," says Steinbrenner of the new tax. "It's aimed at the Yankees; it always has been ！ since the 1920s. I read the other night an article about Clark Griffith, the original owner of the Washington Senators. He said then 'we've got to do something about the Yankees winning every year.' He led a movement, and it wasn't successful then.
"If we do our work properly ... New York is a great place to play, and your fans support you. This team belongs to the people. They support it with their hard-earned money, and I mean that truly. They pay to see them play and deserve to have their team be a good one." Steinbrenner refuses to take credit for the recasting, although he had to approve the expenditures. He says it was a team effort, a culmination of hours of work by his baseball advisers. "I'm very proud of my people; it wasn't just one guy's effort."
..."It's going to be fun watching some of these fellows, how they fit in. It's not like going to the card game with the same deck of cards you had the last couple of years. We're going to have a lot of people in new roles. I can't guarantee we're going to be a better team, but I think we've done a pretty good job. Just getting to the finals, getting to the World Series is something. It's so difficult."
MEET THE METS: PUFF, PUFF PASS
Here are a couple of puff pieces from today's Daily News. One on Michael Piazza, who is refreshed after spending time in Europe this winter, and another on Maurice Vaughn, who is ready to rock and roll after gearing up with the Ohio State Football team.
ON THE LOW
Rob Neyer has a good article about how Sandy Alderson has surreptitiously taken control of the All-Star Game:
Neyer on Sandy Alderson
Is having Alderson serve as a sort of "All-Star Czar" the perfect solution? No, it's probably not. But the fact is that whoever's in charge is going to be criticized, and if anybody can take the heat without flinching, it's Sandy Alderson. It's also worth noting that the Commissioner's Office or the American and National League offices have always technically had jurisdiction over the rosters. It's just that they've generally preferred to pass the buck.
Alderson might not be the new Harry Truman. But you're not likely to catch him passing a buck.
Hmmm. We are sure to hear more about this as the season unfolds.
NICE NAME, KID
While perusing Aaron Gleeman's Top 50 Prospects (Mets 3, Yanks 0) article at Baseball Primer, I was laid out when I read that Boof Bonser, a right-handed pitcher in the San Francisco organization, made the list. Not that I'd ever heard of Boof Bonser before, but I know that I'm likely to forget him anytime soon.
What a great baseball name. Cecil Fielder's son, Prince Fielder, a young home-run-hitting hunk-of-love, has a pretty good name too, but Boof Bonser is my cherce for the prospect with the coolest sounding name..
Incidentally, here is some of Gleeman's analysis of Bonser:
Besides having a really strange name, Bonser is a massive human being that throws very hard, striking out a lot of guys and walking his fair share too.
The Giants decided to start Bonser at Double-A last year and it turned out to be a mistake. He struggled with his control and gave up 3 homers in 24 innings before he and his 5.55 ERA were demoted back to Single-A. Once back in Single-A, he did very well, striking out nearly 10 batters a game and limiting opponents to a sub-.200 batting average. There was some cause for concern even though he was pitching very well, because his velocity was down slightly from past years. His fastball was still clocking in above 90, but not at the usual 94+ that he was capable of in the past.
Bonser did a lot of good work with his curveball and change up last season, possibly because he was less able to just blow people away with his fastball. The loss in velocity is still a concern, as is the drop in his K rate.
After striking out 11.2/9 in 2000 and 12.0/9 in 2001, Bonser's K rate dropped quite a bit in 2002, as he struck out 9.8/9 in Single-A and 8.6/9 in Double-A. Drops in K rate as a player progresses through the minors is often to be expected and Bonser is still striking out a ton of batters. He did not improve his control in 2002 and he walks too many batters right now.
Bonser has a ton of potential, but the Giants have lots of good arms in the system and he'll have to cut down on the free passes at some point and work on finding that extra zip on his fastball again.
The braintrust over at Baseball Prospectus also has an informative piece on this year's crop of prospects that is worth checking out.
Speaking of names, earlier this week I was dicking around the Baseball Encyclopedia and found the baseball name this side of Orval Overall. None other than Creepy Crespi. You could look it up.
Jerome Holtzman has a piece on former major-league hurler, John Curtis, who once carried a perfect game into the 8th inning, and is currently working on a book about perfect games, along with another former pitcher, Mark Grant, who is now an announcer for the San Diego Padres.
According to James Buckley, Jr. of Santa Barbara, Calif., perfect games occur once every seven to eight seasons. Buckley's "PERFECT," published by Triumph Books last year, is an analysis of the 16 perfectos and also includes perfect games broken up with two outs in the ninth.
Buckley estimates that since the birth of the National League in 1876 there have been about 180,000 games. A perfecto surfaces once in approximately 22,000 games, or .00005 percent.
Here are a few notable reactions Curtis and Grant have recieved for their project:
Greg Maddux: "My definition of a perfect game would be throwing every pitch where you want to throw it. And, you know what? So what if you give up a hit or a run or two."
Mike Krukow: "When I first came up, Rick Reuschel was sitting in the clubhouse with me and he said, 'One game I want to throw before I quit, is a 14-hit shutout where I get lit up, and I just figure a way to get out of it. And here's the rest of the scenario. You have nothing that day. Nothing. Not only that but the umpire's strike zone is miniscule.'
"That's the way it was in 1987 in the fourth game of the playoffs against the Cardinals. We were down two games to one and we had to absolutely win this game. Every inning was a puzzle. My only mistake was an 0-2 pitch to pitcher Danny Cox. We won 4-2. And because of the pressure in that game, what it meant to our organization, what it meant to me as a player, and how I got through nine innings with nothing, that was my idea of a perfect game. It wasn't a 14-hit shutout but it was getting it done with nothing."
And finally from Roger Craig, former big league pitcher, pitching coach and manager:
"I've gone into a game with the bases loaded, thrown a bad pitch, and the batter hits into a double play. And you come into the dugout and everybody pats you and says 'Nice going! Great pitching!' But it was a bad pitch. I knew it. The catcher knew it and the umpire knew it."
ED LINN, ANYONE?
I mentioned earlier in the week, that I'm reading one of Ed Linn's books on the Bronx Bombers, "Steinbrenner's Yankees." For all the Yankee and Red Sox fans out there, Don Malcolm has an article about Linn's book "The Great Rivalry" at Baseball Primer. I snooped around Big Bad Baseball.com and found several more articles on Linn by Mr. Malcolm, including a nice obituary, and excerpts from "Steinbrenner's Yankees," "Hitter," (with Ted Williams) and "The Hustler's Handbook," (with Bill Veeck). Click away and enjoy.
Last but not least, there are two good articles by Alan Schwarz that are worth a peek at. The first profiles Dodger manager Jim Tracy, and compares him with the low-key legend, Walter Alston.
The second, which was published yesterday, covers a true baseball lifer, Tony Siegle, who has worked for 22 general managers in a 38-year career in the front offices of the major leagues.
[Siegle] has negotiated the waiver jungle as one of the best rules men in the business. Recent years have brought a new revenue-sharing luxury-tax lexicon that he knows as well as English, which it does not resemble. Siegle never has been a general manager, probably never will, but he sure has some stories to tell, having worked in the trenches for 22 of them over the years.
I would have liked to know why exactly Siegle will never become a gm, but he certainly has worked for some interesting people, including: Paul Richards, Frank Lane, Harry Dalton, Al Rosen (twice), Jack McKeon, Brian Sabean, Ed Wade, and Omar Minaya
Here is portion of Siegle's expertise in rating the men he's worked for:
Most Innovative: Omar Minaya (Expos)
"Look at what he's had to do with this team, whether it's building the organization or budgets or the Puerto Rico thing. He's handled it all really well in a very tough position. People have no idea what goes on around here."
Least Waiver Knowledge: Al Rosen (Astros and Giants)
"Al was worse than Omar -- just kidding. (Laughs.)
Worst Waiver Snafu: Frank Lane (Brewers)
"I just get the paperwork from Frank Lane after he trades someone for Bobby Pfeil. Now Lane's a living legend, I'm just starting out. I go to Shirley, the secretary, and say, 'We can't make this deal. We don't have waivers.' She says, 'You better go tell Mr. Lane.' Yeah -- easy for her to say.
"I tell Lane that this is an interleague trade and we don't have waivers. He says, 'Young man, you have just saved this organization a lot of embarrassment. Shirley, call Philadelphia, tell them we can't make the deal -- and tell them who told us we couldn't.'
"I had just come over from the Phillies. It was one of my proudest moments in the game. Ever since, I've been known as a rules guy."
DRAMA QUEENS No matter
No matter what Bobby V eventually says, it will pale in comparison with the histrionics that characterized the Yankee teams of the late 1970's. The Bronx Zoo Yankees would make for a great movie. It may be redundant to make a fictionalize version of a team that was so theatrical in it's own right, but that's okay. If they can make full-length features out of Scooby Doo and Josie and the Pussycats, they can make one on the 70's Yankees too.
I doubt it would ever happen in George's lifetime, but it's a cinch for a comedy classic. Too bad that 70's Retro is now passZ. I picture the Bronx Zoo movie to be a cross between "Slap Shot" and "Boogie Nights"; "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "The Turning Point."
The costumes and soundtrack alone would be worth the price of admission. Get a group of terrific spaz method actors, and you're set.
Ed Linn's book "Steinbrenner's Yankees" details the Billy, George, Reggie years expertly, and provides excellent fodder for a script. Here is an example that caught my funny bone the other day.
It is spring training, 1977. Reggie has just brought his star with him to Yankee camp, after the Big Red Machine had swept the Yankees the year before. Already, the camp was fraught with tension. But Reggie doesn't appear in this scene...
Cast of Characters:
George: Michael Gambon? No, Mark Holton who played Francis in "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" is more like it.
Gabe Paul: Think William Holden in "Network"
Billy Martin: Harry Dean Stanton
Ed Linn sets the scene:
Billy Martin was fired for the first time a week before the end of spring training, after the Mets had shut out the Yankees 6-0 in St. Petersburg, in a game that was telecast back to New York.
...George had been screaming all along that the team wasn't prepared to open the season. And not without reason. Billy had always run a loose training camp, but this camp had been, [in the words of the immortal Mick the Quick] well-uh, rid-i-cu-lous. And for a great deal of laxness, George had only himself to blame.
Billy Martin's marriage had broken up, and he was living a bachelor life several miles away in Boca Raton with his buddy Mickey Mantle. So he would drive to the practice field every morning, not always on time and not always without a lady companion. Gabe Paul had told him at the beginning that the team couldn't stand that kind of thing, had in fact instructed him to move back into Fort Lauderdale and stay with the team and ride on the team bus. Whereupon Billy went over Gabe's head to Steinbrenner, and George, being the great guy that he is, told Billy that it was perfectly okay, boys will be boys, enjoy.
With the team going so rotten, George was no longer in a mood to be so indulgent...Most of all, George wanted Billy on the practice field on time, and he wanted him on the team bus with the players.
Well, it was no great issue. The team was living in Tampa now, and Billy was living with them. But, still, he liked to drive back and forth from the ballpark with his coaches, so he could talk things over whiles the coaches made notes.
When George came striding toward the clubhouse after the Mets game, he was ripping mad. The Yankees had not only lost, they had been shut out. Instead of starting Reggie, as Billy had promised to, he had sent him in late in the game as a pinch hitter. Instead of playing the starting lineup all the way, as George had instructed him to, he had finished with a team of substitutes.
But if you want to know what George was really furious about, it was that he had discovered during the game that Billy had driven to the ballpark in a rental car.
Let's imagine the following confrontation as a scene from The Bronx Zoo movie.
PARKING LOT EXT. BALL PARK. FLORIDA
The Yankee players slowly make their way to the team bus. About half of the team has dragged ass out to the parking lot.
INT. STADIUM HALLWAY
The hallway is empty, but we hear oncoming footsteps.
George (off-screen): I don't give a fuck. This shit has got to stop right now. Do you hear me, Gabe? I've got to stop it right now!
INT. LOCKER ROOM DOORS
George bursts in, followed by Gabe Paul. There are a few players still lingering, the clubhouse man and a few reporters remain as well. Billy is standing in the doorway of the manager's office.
George: I want to talk to you right now. You lied to me!
Billy: I don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear that shit anymore.
George: You heard what I said! That thing is going to stop right now!
Billy: You fat bastard, I don't give a shit what you say. I'm going to do it my way.
George: You lied to me! You told me you were going to ride on the bus.
uck you, I'm not riding on any fucking buses. Get the fuck out of here.
Gabe: Hey...hey, watch yourself Billy.
Gabe steps toward Billy. George stands ten feet away, incredulous with fury.
George: (softly, to himself) What did you say? What did you say?
Gabe: Billy, don't talk to him like that.
Billy: Then YOU can tell that fat bastard to go fuck himself. Hear me? He can go fuck himself!
George: (Moving in) You don't talk to me like that, goddammit! You don't ever talk to me like that.
Billy: I'll talk to anybody like that.
Billy turns and strides into the trainer's room. George steams after him, Gabe by his side. We wait a beat and several players in towels, along with a couple of trainers, exit the trainer's room. But they do not go far; the remaining men in the locker room sit still and enjoy the fireworks.
George: (os) You lied to me, and not only about the bus. You promised to play the starting team all the way today, and you fucking lied about that too.
INTERIOR: TRAINER'S ROOM
George and Billy stand at opposite sides of the trainer's table in the middle of the room. Paul is behind George.
Billy: Don't tell me how to manage my ball team, you lying sonofabitch. I'm the manager, and I'll manage how I want to manage. It was an EXHIBITION game! An ex-hib-i-tion game. This is not a game where you leave your blood and guts on the field to win...There are things I gotta find out now!
George: Well, you should have already figured them out. That is what I've been telling you all along! The season begins in a week and you don't have this goddamn team ready.
Billy: For christsakes George, you don't prepare for a 162-game season the way you prepare for a 10-game football season.
Billy slams his fist in a bucket of ice water. The ice cubes splash up, and George gets soaked.
George: I ought to fire you! I should fire your ass right now.
George wipes his face and frantically digs ice cubes out of his jacket pockets.
Billy: You want to fire me, fire me! But leave me the fuck alone.
INT: LOCKER ROOM
Gabe Paul exits the trainer's room and motions to one of the coaches.
INT. TRAINER'S ROOM
Billy and George are standing at opposite sides of the room. Billy is coiled; George fumes. Gabe walks in with Yogi.
George: (to Yogi) You're the manager.
Yogi: Now take it easy, George.
George: You want to be the manager? You're the manager.
Yogi: Billy's a good manager. You don't want to go doing anything because you're mad now.
George: The job is yours!
The Next morning.
INT. HOTEL HALLWAY.
We see George; brisk and manicured, walking down the empty hallway. He checks is watch, and knocks on Gabe Paul's door.
Gabe lets George in, and Steinbrenner barrels straight passed him.
INT. HOTEL HALLWAY
Billy Martin, pale and disheveled, walks down the same hallway. When he knocks on Gabe's door, Billy looks around nervously.
CLOSE UP: Gabe putting the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door.
INTERIOR: YANKEE TEAM BUS
Billy Martin sits in the front seat of the crowded team bus. Art Fowler and Yogi Berra sit behind him.
According to Linn:
From then on, Billy rode the bus. And he never yelled at George in public again. But whenever Billy expected to be fired during the season, he would tell the writers that from the moment those ice cubes hit George's face, he knew that his days as the manager of the New York Yankees were numbered.
Be that as it may, it was Gabe Paul who wanted to fire him the next time around and George Steinbrenner who saved him.
Cue: Organ Music.
Tune in again next time for more of the Bronx Zoo Chronicles.
TOP OF THE WORLD,
TOP OF THE WORLD, MA: DOWN IN FRONT
The Red Sox are going ahead with their plan to add 280 barstool seats on top of the Green Monster in left field. Both Dan Shaughnessy and Tony Massarotti give their take on the Red Sox's money-making ploy to significantly alter one of the most famous monuments in all pro sports.
NOT SO FAST
According to the Associated Press, the Red Sox may be willing to bend their policy of not negotiating with players during the season, for ace hurler Prince Pedro Martinez. Is anyone suprised?
"We have a policy of trying to avoid negotiations during the season,'' Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said Wednesday, "but if you're talking about our exceptional players, they call for exceptional treatment.''
DOG PILE ON THE RABBIT
Apparently Mo Vaughn skipped the Mets Caravan two days ago because he wanted to avoid questions about his weight. But the hefty slugger did have lunch with Fred Wilpon at Gallagher's Steak House yesterday and briefly spoke with the press. He joined his teammates (new and old) in jumping all over the Mets' former skipper, Bobby Valentine.
According to the Daily News:
Mo Vaughn targeted the former manager yesterday, suggesting that Valentine may have been responsible for several offseason reports that the Mets were considering voiding Vaughn's contract if the burly slugger didn't lose significant weight before the 2003 season.
"That never happened. Everybody knows you can't void a contract, anyway," Vaughn said at Gallagher's Steak House in midtown. "To be honest with you, I think that was Bobby Valentine with all that."
Team owner Fred Wilpon was the one who told Vaughn to lose weight during the Mets' postseason meetings, and team executives closely monitored Vaughn's training program over the winter, visiting him at his Columbus, Ohio, home on multiple occasions. But Vaughn was adamant that his contract wasn't a topic of conversation at any time.
Vaughn didn't want to pin all the blame on Valentine for last year's last-place finish, but he did say that there were concerns in the Mets clubhouse about Valentine's dealing with the media - and how much he told them about the inner workings of the team.
"We were miffed all season about how certain things got out," Vaughn said. "Where did those things come from? ... Process of elimination is what I'm going through."
Seems like killing Bobby V is even easier than abusing Vaughn for his girth these days. Fortunately, Bobby V won't remain silent forever. He'll wait for just the right moment, and pow: the beat writers will be in 7th heaven.
After all, Hell hath no fury like a Piazzan scorned.
CORRECTION I recieved an
I recieved an e-mail from Yankee fan Jeff Lindy, correcting my final tally for the Yanks-Sox series last season.
I ended yesterday's article with:
The Sox were then 9-5 against the Yankees for the season, but New York went on to win 4 of the last 5 meetings. Excuse me if it felt like like
Deja Vu all over again.
Jeff, set the record straight:
...The Yanks won the season series against the Sox, 10-9.
Fri. 12 at Boston L 3-2 7-4 Oliver (1-0) Hernandez (1-1) Urbina (4)
Sat. 13 at Boston L 7-6 7-5 Arrojo (1-0) Rivera (0-1) Urbina (5)
Sun. 14 at Boston W 6-2 8-5 Mussina (3-0) Wakefield (1-1) Rivera (5)
Mon. 15 at Boston L 4-3 8-6 Lowe (2-1) Pettitte (1-1) Urbina (6)
Thu. 23 at Boston L 3-1 31-17 Martinez (7-0) Lilly (1-4) Urbina (15)
Fri. 24 at Boston L 9-8 31-18 Arrojo (3-1) Karsay (1-2)
Sat. 25 at Boston W 3-2 32-18 Mendoza (2-2) Lowe (7-2) Rivera (15)
Sun. 26 at Boston W 14-5 33-18 Mussina (7-2) Oliver (4-4)
Fri. 31 Boston L 5-2 36-19 Lowe (8-2) Wells (6-2) 52,941
Sat. 1 Boston W 10-2 37-19 Mussina (8-2) Oliver (4-5)
Sun. 2 Boston L 7-1 37-20 Castillo (4-5) Lilly (2-5)
Fri. 19 Boston L 4-2 60-36 Martinez (12-2) Mussina (12-4) Urbina (24)
Sat. 20 Boston W 9-8 61-36 Karsay (5-4) Gomes (1-2)
Sun. 21 Boston W 9-8 62-36 Stanton (4-1) Urbina (0-5)
Tue. 27 at Boston W 6-0 82-48 Wells (15-6) Fossum (2-3)
Wed. 28 at Boston W 7-0 83-48 Mussina (16-7) Martinez (17-4)
Mon. 2 Boston L 8-4 84-52 Fossum (3-3) Mussina (16-8)
Tue. 3 Boston W 4-2 85-52 Clemens (12-5) Castillo (5-13) Stanton (3)
Wed. 4 Boston W 3-1 86-52 Pettitte (9-5) Lowe (18-7) Karsay (9)
Good looking out Jeff. Thanks for picking it up.
My Favorite Things of
My Favorite Things of 2002
IV. Eggs Gets Hitched
The most memorable weekend of baseball in 2002 came in late July when my brother Benny Eggs got married, and the Yanks hosted the Red Sox at the Stadium. Eggs married a Mets fan of all things. Actually his wife isn't too committed either way, but her family is hardcore, Long Island, shot-and-a-beer, You Gotta Believe, Mets fans. It all makes sense because Ben, who is two and a half years younger than me (he turned 29 on January 15th), rooted for the Mets when we were growing up.
Our father was and is a defacto Mets fan, if he remains much of a fan at all. Benny Eggs followed suit. Maybe he just liked the way their uniforms looked and the way the player's names sounded. I don't know why he chose to be a Mets fan. I do remember that Joel Youngblood was one of his early favorites, notable because they shared a similar smooth, baby-faced complexion.
Ben didn't remain a Mets fan, or develop as a sports fanatic per se---not at least until the current Yankees run (or the Knicks run that preceded it in the early to mid '90's). He was immersed in the sporting culture growing up, but he wasn't a card collector, or a stat head, or a baseball junkie. He was distracted with other things, deeper things.
Ben was an introvert, a bright kid who appreciated the game, and enjoyed playing it. Plain and simple, Benny Eggs was a gifted, graceful athlete, a natural. He also has a gift as a natural comic and mimic. Bone-thin, and small, with big round brown eyes, and sandy-brown hair, Ben was quick and agile. Plus he usually had lady luck on his side. Whether we played football or Go Fish, Ben Eggs got the breaks.
When we got grown, Eggs and I actually lived together for a while, way out in Brooklyn. This was a few years ago, when we were both in our twenties. From 1996-2001---I left Brooklyn and moved to the Bronx just in time for the Subway Serious in 2001---we must have watched 70-80% of the Yankee games that were televised. Fuggin Ball-game-watching-bachelors. Two fat bastids. Ben had come back to the game, as naturally as he strayed away from it, but this time he chose the Yankees as his team, as naturally as he once pulled for the Mets.
There is a scene in "Stand By Me" where the lead, played by Will Wheaton, is sitting on the train tracks early in the morning by himself, while the other boys are still sleeping. Previously, the night ended on a down note as River Phoenix bawled his eyes out cause he had it rotten all over. Wheaton looks almost exactly like Benny Eggs did at that age.
Anyhow, Wheaton is sitting quietly on the tracks when a deer crosses the tracks about 10 yards away. The deer stops and looks at Wheaton, who looks back and smiles gently back at the deer. The deer slips off and the moment is suddenly, irrevocably lost, but the connection was made, and Wheaton soaks it in quietly.
This is what I'd call a Benny Eggs moment. Eggs is one of those guys that kids and animals are irresistibly drawn to. Is it any surprise that his favorite player is none other than ol' Sweet Pea Sensitivity himself, Yankee center fielder Bernie Williams? I thought of the scene from "Stand By Me" a couple of years ago when Bernie did something incredulous, or flakey during the middle of a game, and it struck me how beautiful it was that he shared a kinship with my younger brother. The two of them are right out of the Buster Keaton School of subtle deadpan physical humor. James Agee once wrote that Keaton seemed to posses a "mulish imperturbability under the wildest of circumstances." This applies nicely to both Bernie and my brother.
Are we naturally attracted to players that look like us? Or at least those who we think act like us. It makes sense right? After all, people tend to choose dogs that look like themselves. (That's a classic street-watching New York pastime in and of itself.) I know I have an inherent attraction to Shawn Green, and Mariano Rivera cause they're Cool, Calm and Collected Flaco Super Stars. Ben Eggs has Bernie, though they don't look alike at all. What they share is a disposition, a sensibility. Eggs loves other players as well---Mussina and El Duque come to mind, but he has rucchmones with Bernabee.
Eggs asked me to be his best man at his wedding and I proudly accepted. It was the first time I ever had that job so I won't lie: I was stressed. Not uncomfortable or unsure, just anxious. The Red Sox were in town to face the Yanks, which didn't help matters. I mean I had known that the Yanks were going to host the Sox for months, so I knew I would be feelin it. Why couldn't they have played the dopey Indians or something? Something less...involved.
But no, it had to be the Sox, ripe for me to weave into indelibly into the memory of my brother's wedding weekend. Oy fuggin Vey.
It was the fourth series between Boston and New York, with the Sox holding an 8-3 lead. Many of the games had been tense and entertaining; Shea Hillenbrand won a game at Fenway early in the season hitting a bomb off a disbelieving Mo Rivera. What I remember most is the little smile that Rivera wore, like, "I can't believe that little shit beat me. First Game 7 in Arizona, now this? New fucking obstacle everyday, huh Lord?"
Going into the series on the weekend of July19-21, the Yanks held a slim two game lead on the Sox.
The wedding took place at my mother's house in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. It's actually my stepfather's place, and this was the fourth wedding it would host. The first was when he married my mother in the mid 80's; next came my twin sister in the early 90's, and then in successive summers, my step sister, and Benny Eggs.
My stepsister Maile was married in the middle of July as well, and had uncommonly good luck with the weather. Cool and low humidity in the middle of July? Stop. But she got it.
So it couldn't happen again, right? Eggs was going to have to take an L in that category, right?
It sure looked that way to start.
I'm not going to argue with anybody about this, but there is no rivalry in the great wide world of sports to compare with the Yankees versus the Red Sox. It's the gracious expanse of Yankee Stadium verses the looming Green Monster of Fenway Park. The Power and the Glory of the New York Yankees versus the never-ending Challenge of the Boston Red Sox. There are ghosts on the field when these teams meet, a history that speaks of great deeds and sleeping heroes. And don't think it doesn't communicate itself to the players on the field. The field is crisper, the hitting is firmer, the ball comes shooting off the bat with the fresh, clean poing of another opening day. Baseball becomes again what baseball is supposed to be, a game of shifting fortunes within a series of steadily rising climaxes--an excitement, an entertainment, an event.
Ed Linn, from "Steinbrenner's Yankees"
All of my mom's siblings (2 aunts and an uncle with various lil cousin off springs) came to the States from Belgium to represent Eggs. It was the first time the lot of them was here in the States at the same time. The fact that Benny Eggs' wedding is what brought them here, lets you know a lil something about the Thin Man. He's got a lot of Belgian in him. My British friend Mike Fox used to call Eggs, "Benny, The Blonde Jew."
They were all up at the house when I arrived on Friday night. All the Frenchies. It had just started to rain. Muggy and rainy. Mussina v. Pedro at The Stadium, and my old man is taking both families out for dinner at a restaurant by the Hudson over in Verplank---the same place that is catering the wedding the next day. The game was delayed by the rain. When we got to the restaurant a heavy fog lay over the Hudson, and it was actually quite beautiful.
This place had a couple of dinning, banquet rooms, and a big bar with a panoramic view of the river. They had TV's but I didn't care if the game was called. I wasn't going to watch it anyhow.
After dinner, the bride's family got involved with the Karaoke portion of the restaurant and my family reluctantly followed. You never saw fish out of water like my Belgian Mersplucah, naturally rigid, contained, in a middlebrow bar watching Karaoke. The bride sang a song to Ben Eggs, and the only thing that marred her gorgeous performance was a neurotic need to apologize for how lousy she thought she sounded.
I took it all in while keeping an eye on the T.V. The game had finally started after being delayed for more than an hour. Mussina was pitching in the second inning.
I wound up driving back to the city that night with my old man---we left straight from the restaurant. As fate would have it, we hit a traffic jam just north of Yonkers. The rain had stopped, and it was hot. At least I didn't have to suffer through the tension of the game. We were stuck on stupid for so long in that traffic I figured the game would be over by the time I walked in the door.
No such luck. Not only was the game---one of the precious few that CBS carried---still on, but there was a raging party taking place three flights up. I knew that because Salsa music from somewhere was causing my furniture to reverberate. Not the ideal environment to unwind and prepare for the big day.
Pedro was still pitching. There were two outs in the 8th inning and Boston lead, 3-2. Fug. That can't be good. Dominicans Revenge! They're killing me all over.
With a man on, Bernie laces a double off the mighty Prince P; Boston skipper Grady Little yanks Martinez from the game. In comes Ugie Urbina, who had been killing the Yankees all year. The same Ugie Urbina that could have easily been wearing the pinstripes himself. Ugi: the anti-Rivera.
Full of fist-pumping, leg-splitting theatrics. So distasteful to the spoiled taste of most Yankee fans.
Fat ass Jorgito Posada comes up for the fourth time of the night with the go-ahead run on second. As usual, Martinez had dispatched Posada swiftly, and viciously; at the end of the night Posada was 4-34 lifetime against Pedro. After facing Martinez, Posada can be in a funk for day's even weeks. It's not just that Posada is embarrassed by Martinez, he's undressed and emotionally and mentally violated by him too.
Posada had whiffed all three times he faced Pedro and he whiffed against Ugie too. The Sox added a run in the 9th and Urbina set the Yankees down in order, with the usual array of horseshit gestures and exclamations. The Sox were now 9-3 against the Yanks and Urbina had earned his 5th save against New York.
I didn't fall asleep for a while after that. Sure, I was keyed up about the wedding, giving a speech, making sure everything ran smoothly, but I was also cursing that som'bitch bastid Ugie fuggin Urbina and his cocky ways. 'He's gunna get his,' is all I could come up with. When in doubt, be spiteful, just like the Red Sox fans, right?
Fox carried the game the next afternoon, a 1 pm start. El Duque, probably Eggs' favorite starter was pitching. The wedding started later in the afternoon, around 4:30-5:00. The weather cooperated. If it wasn't as brilliant as it had been for Maile's wedding, it sure wasn't raining and it wasn't too sticky either.
I did my best to steer clear of the game; it wasn't that hard with all the business swirling through the house. The first time I checked the score, the game was in the bottom of the 4th. Johnny Damon had just jumped against the left center field wall and snagged a Shane Spencer blast that was destined for Homersville; but as he bounced off the wall, the ball popped out of his glove and fell back in play safely. Yanks 5, Sox 2.
Later, I caught the Sox making a comeback against Our Man From Havana. I turned it off. The next time I checked in I saw Posada miss a tag at the plate, which gave the Sox a 6-5 lead. How many times does Posada botch plays at the plate (re: Roger Cedeno stealing home when the Mets played at the Stadium earlier in the year)? I gotta concentrate on my speech, and this fuggin guy is killing me.
I bit a small hole in my lip, turned the damned thing off, and went to get dressed. From there on out, I only tuned in on the radio from my sister's room where the groom and his men were sweating it out.
Mariano was in and then just as quickly he was pulled. An injury? Nu?
The first guests arrived. In comes Mendoza. I couldn't take it anymore.
When my uncle Fred, the Yankee fan, and his son-in-law Scott, the Red Sox fan walked up the driveway, they anxiously asked what the score was. I told them to get bent: the Yanks were down and I was done for the day if I was going to keep my wits about me.
They informed me that Soriano had tied the game with an RBI single in the 8th. (I later read that Dustin Hermanson had thrown the kid a fastball on a 0-2 count; hey, I know he'd just been activated from the DL, but had he been paying attention at all?)
I popped upstairs during the cocktail hour a few more times, only to find that the game was still going on. They were now in extra innings.
When the ceremony began, the game was still undecided, and my attention was on more pressing matters than the game. The ceremony was lovely, the sun was shinning, and as my mom later said in her toast, "Ben's famous luck served him well once again."
The Yanks won in the 11th on Robin Ventura's infield single. Soriano scored the winning run and the Stadium celebrated at the same time that we celebrated Benny Eggs's marriage.
I was more exhausted that I had anticipated being the following day. Emily and I slept in.
The Times headline put it best: "Soriano Delivers On An Afternoon Filled With Tension."
I figured we could expect more of the same in the finale, and I was in no mood to put up with Sterling and Steiner for another 4-hour marathon.
We made lunch, read the paper and zoned out to horseshit Sunday TV. When I finally checked the score it was 8-7 Boston in the 8th. Another nail-biter.
As it turned out, the Yanks started the game off with a bang against Boston pitcher, John "Old Man" Burkett. In the first, Soriano, behind 0-2, reached out and lined a single to center off a waste pitch. When he attempted to swipe second, Jeter smacked a ground ball into left for a single, Soriano hustled to third. The throw came too late to get Sori, was wild, and the kid scored. Giambi creamolished the next pitch into the right-centerfield bleachers, and the pitch after that was hit even deeper into the bleachers by Bernie Williams.
But Boston had chipped away, with Nomar and Manny hitting two homers apiece. Jeff Weaver, still new to the Yanks, had another rough outing; even Tony Clark hit a 3-run bomb off of him. It was the first time a Yankee pitcher had ever given up five homers at The Stadium.
By the bottom of the 9th, I was worked up into a fever pitch. Emily sat on the couch in my living while I paced back and forth with a stickball bat in my hands. Ugie Urbina came in to close it out for the Sox. I told her all about what a putz he was, how one day he was gunna get his.
He had to go through the heart of the Yankee order. Giambi lead off, and swung and missed at Urbina's first two offerings. He took the next two pitches and then fouled off a nasty slider that was in on his hands. The at-bat started at 4:13 pm and lasted until 4:20. The count went full, Giambi fouling off pitches, staying alive. On the 11th pitch of the at-bat, Giambi tried to foul another ball off, but instead he tapped a slow roller toward third. The Sox had the shift on against Giambi, with only one fielder on the left side of the infield; it took a great hustle play by third baseman Shea Hillenbrand to keep Giambi from reaching second.
Enrique Wilson came in to run for Giambi. Up comes Bernie Williams. Once again, Urbina gets ahead 0-2, this time with off-speed stuff in the dirt. Ugie tries to spot an 0-2 fastball on the outside corner, but it's up in the zone and Bernie laces it into right for a single. Trot Nixon, the right fielder, with his eye on Wilson going to third, missed the ball, which snaked under his glove, past him into deep right field. Wilson wobbled taking a huge turn around third---Weeble Woobles but they don't fall down---and scored easily. Bernie to third.
The game is tied, still no one out. So the Sox walk the bases loaded and take their chances facing Posada, who still hadn't recovered from Pedro on Friday night, and was 0-13 in the series. Grady Little yanked Nixon from right, and replaced him with infielder Lou Merloni, who became the third infielder on the right side. Manny Ramirez moved from left field right behind second base, in shallow center, and Johnny Damon played nickel back in right center.
Urbina was in a tight spot. The count went full, and wouldn't you know it, but the som'bitch bastard walked fat ass Jorge to end the game. Sweet Justice.
The Yanks ended the weekend four games ahead of the Sox, a lead they wouldn't relinquish. The Sox were then 9-5 against the Yankees for the season, but New York went on to win 4 of the last 5 meetings. Excuse me if it felt like like Deja Vu all over again.
411 For the skinny
For the skinny of the Jose Cruz Jr. signing, look no further than John Perricone's Only Baseball Matters. Nuff' said.
MEET THE METS
The Mets held their annual winter caravan yesterday, which included the unvieling of their new, bright orange BP jerseys.
Though Mo Vaughn was conspicuously absent, Cliff Floyd, Al Leiter, Tom Glavine, Mike Piazza, and of course, team mascot and number one goombats John Franco, were all in attendance. Too bad Ian Strombringer aka Tank Pratt isn't around any more.
For the first time since the end of last season, Piazza spoke about the team's new manager, and indirectly, their old one as well:
"Art has a very even-keeled disposition," [Piazza] said. "Hopefully it's going to be a little more consistent all the way around, from everybody, the players, the front office, the coaching staff.
"We want consistency. We want to stay off that roller-coaster, whether it's on the field or off the field. We want to play good baseball, be professional, and play the way we're capable."
When asked if that was any sort of commentary on Valentine's more mercurial personality, Piazza bristled at any notion that he was being critical of his former manager.
"I'm just saying ... it was everybody last year," he said. "The manager didn't lose the games. The players lose the games. We didn't play well. But you can't fire all the players.
"They wanted to make the change. You can debate it. I'm sure everybody was a little surprised, but as professionals, you have to go out there. ... I'm very encouraged with Art and his staff. We'll see. I don't know how else to put it."
Tom Verducci has a good column about the historical significance of Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez playing in the same division.
The Daily News ran an article today about Al Leiter, who spoke eagerly about the prospects of working with Tom Glavine (a topic I touched on yesterday):
"I'm going to get a feel as to what his routine and his program is," Leiter said yesterday at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, as the Mets kicked off a week of appearances to promote the 2003 season. "I'm not going to blow mine up just to be like him. But I like to know that here's a guy who has been successful in the league for a long time, and does it with not the greatest stuff - I mean, not the raw stuff of a guy who is going to throw 95 mph.
"Like you look at Randy Johnson, he doesn't help me much. I don't throw like that. Very few guys can just throw a couple of fastballs and dump a little slider in the dirt. So to watch Tom, he's got to pitch. He's got to know the psyche of the hitter. He's got to know what a hitter is trying to do. That you can absolutely look at."
..."His style of pitching is night and day from mine. He lives away. He throws his two-seamer away. He pounds the outside corner. He expands the outside corner. He plays off the frustration of a hitter. He changes speeds much better than me. I'm a guy who powers the ball on the inside part of the plate. They complement, where I'm successful and where he's successful."
Does Glavine's presence help in that it alleviates the pressure to be a "No. 1"? No, said Leiter.
"To think about the strength and weakness of a hitter and execute a quality pitch, that's all that matters," Leiter said. "What happens is, when you bring in a good pitcher, you're better as a staff. And when you're better as a staff, you have better people around you. And when you have better people around you, you have better ideas to throw around.
"Good pitchers give you good advice. Good staffs are contagious. Bad staffs are contagious."
Finally, Newsday has a puff piece on my man Cliff Floyd, for those of you who are interested.
YANKS INK ACEVADO The
YANKS INK ACEVADO
The Yankees continued to strengthen their bullpen yesterday, signing right-hander Juan Acevedo--- a product of the Mets farm system---to a minor-league contract. Ostensibly, Acevado, who served as the Detriot Tigers closer for most of 2002, would compete for set-up role in the Yankee bullpen. There is a chance he won't make the opening day roster, but as the saying goes, "You can never have enough pitching." According to espn:
Acevedo is guaranteed $150,000 and would get a $900,000, one-year contract if he's added to the Yankees' major league roster. If he's added to the roster, New York also would get a $3 million option for 2004 with a $50,000 buyout.
Mike C from Baseball Rants thinks this is another good pick up for the Bombers.
WEAVER MAY GET SHOT
Joel Sherman reports today that the Yankees are leaning toward using Jeff Weaver in the starting rotation and putting Jose Contreras in the pen to start the season. I know there are a lot of things that can happen between now and opening day, but this sounds like a sensible plan to me.
"It is Weaver's [rotation] job to lose," [one] source said.
In fact, the source said, the Yanks are intrigued about what Contreras' 95-mph fastball would look like setting up Mariano Rivera if the rotation were blocked to him initially
・ And now it looks as if Weaver will start because: a) the Yanks recognize Contreras might need an adjustment to the majors and could even begin in the minors and b) that asking him for 30 starts/200 innings in his first season could be unwise. They also know that with age issues involving Clemens and Wells, plus Pettitte coming off elbow woes that there should be many chances for a sixth starter in 2003.
"They will not force Contreras into the rotation just because of the contract," the source said. "They are looking at the big picture."
Travis Nelson, who runs Boy of Summer, has a good link to one of the Yankees few viable pitching prospects, youngster Julio DePaula.
I am currently reading Ed Linn's book, "Steinbrenner's Yankees" which I owned as kid, but lost at some point along the way. It just arrived from Barnes and Noble.com and I'm eating it up accordingly. Linn, who is most famous for co-writing "Veeck as in Wreck," "Hitter" (with Ted Williams), and "Nice Guys Finish Last" (with Leo the Lip), covers the Bronx Zoo Yankees in a brisk, readable manner. The more I refresh my memories of those turbulent days, the tamer George's recent outbursts seem in comparison (the Mark Newman situation notwithstanding).
Bob Klapisch contributed another piece on the Madness of King George this past Sunday:
We know why Steinbrenner is occupying all the space in the Yankee universe: he hasn't quite digested the early exit from last October's AL Division Series, and the high-fiving that's gone on in Bud Selig's office ever since. But The Boss' need for revenge already cost him one of his most trusted advisers and is threatening to soil his relationship with Torre, as well as Derek Jeter.
Interesting, wasn't it, that Torre wouldn't respond to Steinbrenner's recent jabs about the club's underachievement last year. Smart man, Torre. He knows there's no winning a public war with The Boss. Torre also knows that when Steinbrenner wants to take down his manager, he starts with the coaches - a tactic he perfected in the Billy Martin era. That's why it was so revealing to hear Steinbrenner say Torre's coaches, "have to do more than just be friends with Joe."
We're still waiting to hear from Jeter, who, according to Steinbrenner, partied too much in 2002, hence his first sub.-300 average since 1997. If Jeter is as smart as Torre, he won't utter a word in response. If history has taught the Yankees anything about a Steinbrenner tempest, it's this: Make like the matador handling the enraged bull. Use the cape, avoid the frontal assaults, wait until the beast exhausts itself.
The strange story of Kevin Millar continues to unfold, and evidently, it's not out of the question that he may wind up in Boston after all. According to the Boston Globe:
Now, Millar is not due to report to Japan until Saturday, when spring training begins. But even the Chunichi Dragons, the team that signed Millar to a three-year, $6.2 million contract after purchasing him from the Florida Marlins, yesterday expressed uncertainty about whether Millar will show up.
Major league sources, meanwhile, said yesterday that Millar will not report, has informed the Dragons of his intentions, and is attempting to have his contract voided so he can play for the Red Sox. One source said Millar's agents plan to cite as precedent the case of Japanese third baseman Norihiro Nakamura, who earlier this month backed out of a two-year deal with the Mets to sign a $6.5 million contract with Kintetsu, becoming the highest-paid player in Japan.
In the past year, Red Sox Nation have dealt with the passing of several men who were vital to their beloved team in fashion or another: Ted Williams, greatest hitter ever; Dick O'Connell, arguably their best GM ever, and Ned Martin, who for 31 years worked as the television and radio voice of the Home Nine. This weekend, Jack Rogers, longtime traveling secretary of the Sox, who has charted pitches in the press box for the Sox since he retired in 1994 died. Dan Shaughnessy paid tribute in his most recent column.
DAUBACH CHANGES SOX
Former Red Sox super-scrub Brian Daubach has been invited to spring training with the Chicago White Sox.
Here is how Mike C from Baseball Rants views the move:
Daubach isn't the next coming of Gehrig, but he has hit 20 home runs a season for the past four and has had an OPS at least 16% better than the adjusted league average in three of those seasons. His .812 OPS last year beat out a lot of other first basemen: former MVP Mo Vaughn, Angel and Tim McCarver hero Scott Spiezio, super-rookie Carlos Pena, playoff-bound Tino Martinez, Scott Hatteberg, Doug Mientkiewicz, Julio Franco, Mark Grace, J.T. Snow, and Nick Johnson (DH-1B), and teammate Tony Clark, among others.
This is a guy that could be a useful part of a contender or a useful starter on a pretender. Now, he will have to be a bench player on a team that now has three first basemen better than the starter on its main competitor, the Twins. Though I hate to endorse any Jerry Reisdorf team, the ChiSox could be the closest thing to a lock in MLB. I fully expect the world to be shocked if or when they win their division.
Both Gordon Edes (Boston Globe) and Bill Madden (Daily News) criticized the Florida Marlins for giving Pudge Rodriguez a one-year, $10 million contract, over the weekend in their Sunday columns.
According to Edes:
Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez, a 10-time All-Star who last week signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Florida Marlins, said he was depressed that teams showed so little interest in him this winter. But Rodriguez has missed an average of 59 games the last three seasons, and with the rare exception, like a Carlton Fisk, few catchers avoid a decline in production after a decade behind the plate.
・The notion that Rodriguez is going to cause a rush at the box office is laughable, especially since he is so obviously a short-timer. For a team that supposedly has no chance of making a go of it without a new stadium, the Marlins are making some curious choices about how to allocate their resources. They're already committed to paying $23 million for Mike Hampton to pitch for division rival Atlanta, part of a complicated three-way deal with the Rockies. And with $7 million of Rodriguez's contract deferred, chances are strong that Florida will be paying I-Rod while he's playing for someone else next season.
As one scout said: "The four at-bats per game did not compare to the 120 decisions Rodriguez had to make with pitchers." From Rodgriguez's standpoint, he turned down a three-year $22 million offer from the Orioles - purportedly because his agent, Jeffrey Moorad, had promised to get him $10 mil per year. But according to industry sources, the Marlins are deferring $7 million of the $10 million, meaning the value of the contract will be reassessed at around $8 mil. Meanwhile, Rodriguez has consigned himself to a new league, with no DH to give him valuable extra at-bats, and in one of the worst hitter's parks in baseball. And for $8 mil he almost certainly could have stayed in Texas to showcase his wares for one season.
In case you missed them, make sure to check out Rob Neyer's two (frick and frack) very funny and convincing columns regarding the future of the Astros' old second baseman/newest center fielder, Craig Biggio.
LAST WORD ON LIEBER:
LAST WORD ON LIEBER: JOE G GIVES HIS BLESSING
When former Yankee catcher, Joe Girardi speaks, Yankee fans should listen. Joel Sherman reports that Joe G thinks the Bombers did the right thing in signing Jon Lieber, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery:
Girardi, a Yankee from 1996-99 and Lieber's catcher as a Cub the past three seasons, told a pitcher who had spent his career in the Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Cub organizations that he "would love every minute of it because of the drive to be the best."
Lieber accepted the counsel, signing a two-year, $3.3 million free-agent contract that could escalate to $16.55 million over three years if the righty earns every incentive.
But Girardi predicted Lieber would be with the Yanks by July 1, saying "George [Steinbrenner] always uses the word warrior and he got a warrior in Jon Lieber. He's going to come back quicker than most people."
Girardi likened Lieber to Wells, explaining, "You don't think he is going to be ready. But he is almost a freak like Wells with that kind of strong back and broad shoulders, and there he is on the mound ahead of everyone else."
Also like Wells, Lieber throws strikes and, Girardi said, "is a joy to play behind because he works so quickly and goes after hitters."
Unlike Wells, Girardi calls Lieber, "incredibly humble. He hates talking about himself. If he pitches a great game, he credits the catcher, and if he pitches poorly he blames himself. He was a great teammate. He has the makeup to be a great Yankee."
"This is not a big monetary commitment for a pitcher with a potential high ceiling, especially when you consider the very high success rate now with this kind of surgery," Cashman said.
SALIERI'S NEXT MOVEMENT?
One day, there will be books written about the current Yankee Dynasty; there will be books that cover the Mets, and their relationship to the Yankee team, too. Perhaps the 1995-2002 run won't inspire the volume of writing that the Bronx Zoo Era, and the Amazin Mets of the 80's did, but we can expect the exploits of Bernie, and Fonzie, Piazza, Jeter and Paul O'Neill to be given their just due some day. The recent crop of Yankee players may not be as wild, irreverent or quotable, as the som'bitches of yesteryear, but they've been more successful on the field.
Since the middle of 1997, the Yankees and Mets rivalry has been comically represented by the various fortunes of the two Italian guys from the Tri-State Area: Joe Torre and Bobby Valentine. Now, with Bobby V fired, and Art Howe taking his place, the Mets are sure to experience a drastic change in personality.
But back to Valentine for a moment. His time in New York constitutes a memorable chapter in the history of the Mets and the Yanks. For every good break Torre received, Valentine seemingly got a bad one. I can't tell you how many times over the years I turned away from a Mets game when something awful went wrong (uh-hum, Armando), just to tune in to the Yankee game just in time for some late-inning horseshit magic.
Torre, sure of himself, settled, reserved, has been the antithesis of Valentine, who is combative, and bold----alternatively unctuous and charming. I always had the feeling that Valentine still thought of himself as the super-prospect whose career was derailed, unjustly, horribly, by the leg injury in California. He never seemed to be over the fact that he never made it as a player. Or maybe he was but he managed with vindictive, almost paranoid energy. A young man's energy. Known as a top-step manager, I always got the feeling that Valentine was cock-blocking his players.
The STATS Inc. 2002 Scouting Book report on Valentine put it bluntly:
Little changed regarding Bobby Valentine and his massive ego. Although his confrontations with others were minimal last season, he remains perhaps the most disliked skipper in the game. Nevertheless, Valentine played a crucial role in his team's comeback during the final six weeks, despite going to battle with a popgun offense that ranked 15th in batting average in the National League.
Compare that with their assessment of Saint Joe:
Torre relies on his players more than his scouting report or stats. He often lamented last year about the information overload that exists when some players try to use technology instead of common sense. Torre has as much sense as any manager in the game, and will continue to manage well as long as the Boss provides him with the horses.
Watching the Mets lose in spite of his best efforts, while the Yankees did everything but fall ass-backwards into victory, I couldn't help but think of Bobby Valentine cast as Salieri to Joe Torre's Amadeus. Only Mozart isn't a genius boy wonder, and it's not his peerless talent that set him apart. Joe Torre's Mozart would be played by Abe Vigoda or maybe Paul Sorvino: The Lifer, The Sage, A Real Brooklyn Joe. It was Torre's peerless good fortune, mixed with competence and patience that have made him a success.
But Bobby V was the young stud, who had excelled in so many things so earlier---he was an outstanding football player, a terrific dancer, and also once won a pancake-eating contest. Valentine has been compared with other strategists like Gene Mauch, Tony LaRussa and Buck Showalter. He's Mozart and Salieri all wrapped up in one. With a hint of Billy Martin thrown in for flavor.
I noticed the similarities between Valentine and Salieri in Pauline Kael's review of Milos Forman's 1985 film:
Salieri, who has worked hard at his music, been a servile courtier, and achieved fame and high position, is envious of Mozart's incredible talent...At first, its quite funny when the slimy-smooth Salieri complains that his exertions--his always doing the proper thing, studying, going to church---he seems to expect God to give him exact value for every prayer he has ever delivered. (He's like a kid saying to Mommy, "I was always a good boy and ate my spinach and did my homework, but you love my brother more than you love me--and he uses dirty words and chases girls.") Salieri thinks that because he suffers so much he should be a genius.
As written for the screen, the big, showy role of Salieri seems to be an impossible one (he has too many schemes)...But Abraham's intensity has a theatrical charge to it in the glances that tell us what's going on under Salieri's polite smiles...Abraham is a wizard at eager, manic, full-of-life roles, and he gives Salieri a cartoon animal's obsession with Mozart---he's Wile E. Coyote.
Valentine was back in the news this weekend, having turned down a analyst job at ESPN. According to Bob Raissman in Sunday's Daily News:
The gang from Bristol, interested in hiring Bobby V to replace Buck Showalter in its "Baseball Tonight" studio, offered him a three-year contract. Included in the offer was a stipulation that probably was the first of its kind by a network looking to sign a former manager or player.
If Valentine decided to bolt for a manager's job at some point during the life of the proposed contract, he'd have to pay a monetary penalty to ESPN.
Whether this unusual clause prevented Valentine and ESPN from reaching an agreement is unclear. Valentine told friends at last weeks' Baseball Assistance Team dinner he wasn't sure what he will be doing this coming baseball season.
"It might just be I'll have my first summer off in 33 years," Valentine said.
There were a couple of articles on the Mets' super-prospect Jose Reyes over the weekend in the local papers. On Saturday, the Times reported:
Jose Reyes was the first player Fred Wilpon sought out today when the Mets' bus finally arrived at their complex here
[in the Dominican Republic]. Wilpon would address a group of players the Mets are training here, but Reyes was the one Mets executives were here to see.
...Reyes, 19, realizes the Mets have set up their shortstop job to be his before the end of the season, and meeting him was among the objectives of the delegation of team executives that spent 24 hours bouncing across dusty roads in the southern part of this country.
Team executives also visited closer Armando Benitez's ranch and baseball stadium Wednesday, met for four hours that night at a beach resort to discuss improving player development and building a facility here, and spent most of today on a bus between tours of a local baseball academy and a university that has proposed starting an education program for Mets players. Then they visited the team's current field for its Dominican program.
A photograph accompanies the article, which shows Reyes, in shorts---sunglasses resting on the bill on his cap---taking batting practice. A switch hitter, the photo captures Reyes from the left side; at first glance, the following through, the form doesn't look unlike Junior Griffey. There are four Mets executives in the background, casually dressed, monitoring the session.
It took me a few moments to recognize that Art Howe was one of the blurred figures in the background. He is standing a few feet away from the other execs---which included Steve Phillips---hands clasped behind his back, shoulders drooped slightly. He looks strong in his passivity; reflective, observant. The papers in New York have already made the comparisons between Howe's hands-off approach and the laid-back success Joe Torre has enjoyed. It is an easy analogy, but a fitting one. What stuck me about the photograph isn't how much Howe looked like Torre but how much he didn't look like Bobby Valentine.
He doesn't have to be Joe Torre to have a Joe Torre effect.
On Sunday, Michael Morrissey filed an article on Reyes too:
"He's a young, hungry kid with a very captivating smile that just embraces you," former Double-A Binghamton manager Howie Freiling said.
...Scouts still believe Reyes will grow into his frame - if he hasn't stopped growing yet. He's added an inch or two since September. Offensively, he still needs to improve his on-base percentage and become a more lethal bunter. Defensively, he must cut down on his occasionally erratic throws.
But can he help the Mets in 2003?
"There's the million-dollar question," Freiling said. "Let me say this right off the bat: I'm dodging it.
"But clearly, irrefutably, he has both the physical and mental tools to be a major league ballplayer soon. Do they want to rush the kid and watch his growing pains?
"Sure, he can play there next year. Would it be better for Jose to start at Triple-A and develop and get more seasoning? That's the question."
ALL TOGETHER NOW
The Mets have invoked the spirit of the Yankees quite convincingly this off-season, not to mention some of their ex-players. Whether it's intentional or not---and I can't believe it's pure coincidence, it's there. Joining Mike Stanton, David Weathers, Rey Sanchez, Al Lieter, and even bench-coach Don Baylor, is former Yankee reliever, Graeme Llyod., who was signed to a minor league contract by the Mets Friday.
According to Newsday:
Graeme Lloyd joined the Mets Friday as a kindred spirit. He feels like a New Yorker, having enjoyed his time with the Yankees. He is close friends with some of the Mets' relievers. Most of all, like most of the Mets, he believes he has nowhere to go but up.
"I'm at a loss as to why the Mets played as they did last year," the 35-year-old lefthanded reliever said. "But this year is a new year. As a player who hasn't done well, I certainly feel I've got a lot left, and I want to redeem myself."
He said his body has "recovered from a hectic last two years, you might say." It was a passing reference to his rough road since the Yankees sent him to the Toronto Blue Jays in the February 1999 deal for Roger Clemens. Lloyd missed the 2000 season because of rotator cuff surgery - at the same time he was mourning the death of his wife, Cindy, 27, to Crohn's disease.
In an interview during spring training in 2001, he said it helped that he could concentrate on his work: "Whatever you've got, you've just got to give."
The Mets, in announcing the signing, mentioned his 0.00 career postseason ERA (13 games, eight innings). They hope it does not become an irrelevant statistic.
FRED, SANDY, TOM GLAVINE, AND AL
I sure hope that Al Leiter and Tom Glavine can remain healthy this year because they would be one of the more appealing 1-2 combos---or book-ends of a top three---New York has seen in a few seasons. Certainly the most quotable. With Glavine, living on the outside part of the plate, and then Leiter busting you in on the hands with the hard, heavy stuff, they'd compliment each other nicely. Leiter and Glavine are like a two-headed incarnation of David Cone. Leiter is demonstrative, and emotional---all schoolyard---on the mound; affable and easy with the media. Glavine is the calm, poised professional, and a big union man to boot. Put them together and you get a riff on our old friend Coney.
Leiter makes a brief appearance in Jane Leavy's new book, "Sandy Koufax:"
Now, [Koufax] mentors informally--showing up at the Mets spring training camp in Port St. Lucie to help Wilpon's team, and of course, at Dodgertown, eschewing face-time for distant mounds where he works with young pitchers. In this way, Koufax is not unlike Milt Gold, Milt Laurie, and Milt "Pop" Secol, Brooklyn men, coaches, who volunteered their time to help other men's sons realize their potential. This is where he can be a baseball player again...and a teacher. "You should be better," he told Al Leiter one day after observing him in spring training. "I know," Leiter replied.
A couple of days later, Wilpon passed on Koufax's telephone number and a message: "Call anytime." Leiter was honored and astonished, unsure what he had done to merit the attention. Unlike so many self-satisfied players, Leiter wanted to get better. As Koufax likes to say, When a pupil is ready, a teacher will come.
One night, not long after, Leiter returned home after pitching eight shutout innings to find a message from Koufax on his answering machine: "Way to go. Great job. But when you've got him set up for the outside corner, you gotta nail it." And then he hung up.
Although Tom Glavine doesn't throw nearly as hard as Koufax did, he has made his reputation living on the outside corner, and he will one day join Koufax in Cooperstown. Here is more from Leavy:
No matter what the scouting reports said, Koufax would pitch his game. He believed in cultivating his fastball, working it the way a farmer works the land. Little by little, he would expand the strike zone, training the umpire to see its dimensions his way. By game's end, he'd get that strike call on the outside corner. He told Torborg, "Sit in the middle of the plate and if I starting hitting your glove, then we'll move to the corners.
...Koufax believed in the outside corner of the plate the way some people believe in reincarnation. It was a tenet of his faith that anyone who can put a fastball on the outside corner of the plate 85 percent of the time can win fifteen games in the major leagues. He never believed in just getting a pitcher over, everyone one had a purpose. Throwing strikes? Overrated dogma. Challenging a power hitter inside? Macho posturing. His job was to train the home plate umpire to define the strike zone as he saw it, expanding it inch by inch, inning by inning, cajoling him into giving a little more, and then a little more. When finally, he had a batter where he wanted him, leaning out over the plate, he'd come inside--and then go outside again. "You pitch outside, you throw inside," he liked to say.
THE OTHER GIAMBI: BREAK
THE OTHER GIAMBI: BREAK OUT OR BUST?
Nate Silver has an sharp analysis of Peter Gammons' candidates to have a breakout season in 2003. While Silver admits that "lists like these are little more than a grownup's version of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey," he has fun giving Gammons' choices the once over using something called The PECOTA system:
As it happens, however, we're unrolling a new forecasting system at BP this year--one that is also preoccupied with the question of breakout candidates. The PECOTA system--short for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm--seeks to identify potential breakouts by comparing a player against a database of his historical peers. In so doing, it comes up with an objective estimate of the probability that a player will display marked improvement in the upcoming season (defined as an increase of at least 20% in his Equivalent Runs per plate appearance, or a decrease of at least 20% in his PERA, relative to a weighted average of his previous three years of performance).
There is a link to the complete PECOTA glossary in the article as well. Here is what Silver writes about Jeremy Giambi, whom many people feel will have a productive season for the Boston Red Sox:
I was expecting Little G to fall into the same category as Durazo: a stathead favorite who might be somewhat misplaced on this list by virtue of the likelihood of his picking up more playing time. Instead, PECOTA renders a very strong judgment against Giambi; his Breakout rate (5%) is the lowest of any player on Gammons' list, and his Collapse rate (33%) is the highest of any hitter.
The notion has been tossed around that Giambi is a breakout candidate because he's shown a growth curve similar to his older brother. Giambi the Elder does appear on his little brother's comparables list--he's Jeremy's 77th best comp, well behind such notables as Sixto Lezcano, Kevin Maas, and Mike Epstein. Sure, bloodlines might count for something, but that obscures the fact that the two Giambis aren't tremendously similar players. Jason is two or three inches taller, depending on who is doing the measuring, and he played much more regularly than his brother did early in his career, which is normally a positive developmental sign.
More importantly, though, there are important differences in their approach at the plate:
Age BB rate K rate BB rate K rate
25 12.3% 20.2% 8.5% 15.9%
26 17.0% 18.7% 9.4% 15.1%
27 19.9% 23.7% 12.3% 15.5%
Jason, while always a patient hitter, did not walk nearly as often as Jeremy did early in his career, nor did he strike out nearly as often. For a player in mid-career, Jeremy's patience borders on the absurd. He saw, on the average, 4.5 pitches per plate appearance last season; no regular player topped 4.3. About 44% of Jeremy's PAs last season ended with a strikeout or a walk, a figure that almost exactly matches Rob Deer's career average. Giambi has "old player's skills" to an extreme, and the PECOTA program thinks that players with that sort of profile don't age very well.
Why is that?
Giambi doesn't put very many balls into play, and when he does, he's one of the slowest runners in baseball. Poor speed and a high strikeout rate are both drags on batting average, and generally a combination to be avoided. Certainly, there are exceptions; some of the greatest sluggers in recent memory have put together spectacular careers with just that collection of skills.
But those hitters had substantially more power than Giambi, and provided greater disincentives for pitchers to challenge them. The worry is that Giambi's approach will cease to be effective if pitchers simply resolve to throw him more strikes. He hasn't displayed enough power, or a consistent enough ability to make contact, to suggest that he'd be able to compensate fully for a decline in his walk rate by improving his contribution in other areas.
It may not be a coincidence that Giambi's tenure in Philadelphia was the most successful period of his career to date; he was in a new league, and by virtue of Larry Bowa's infatuation with Travis Lee, his exposure to pitchers was irregular. The PECOTA system insinuates that, given repeated trials against the same set of pitchers, the weaknesses in Giambi's approach will be exploited. He'll provide the Red Sox with a multifold improvement over the most recent vintage of Tony Clark, but it's almost certain that Giambi's rate of production will be well off from last year's level.
ALL THE KINGS MEN
ALL THE KINGS MEN
The suits at the Yankee Command Center are playing musical chairs, as VP of Baseball Operations, Mark Newman was replaced by Gordon Blakely, formerly VP of International and Professional Scouting. According to the Daily News, Newman's request for a lesser role:
...Lands him in the post of Vice President for Player Development and Scouting. Newman's often acrimonious relationship with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner appeared to bubble over Tuesday when the two exchanged words and, according to sources, the argument ended with Newman telling The Boss he would resign his position. A source said Newman even said some farewells before leaving work that day, but he and Steinbrenner appear to have somewhat mended things.
Bob Klapisch reports that the old Bronx Zoo George is back, and barking louder than ever:
One club insider said Newman's decision surprised "no one" and another said such quarreling has become commonplace within the Yankee hierarchy this winter.
"There isn't one person (in the front office) who hasn't had some kind of blow-up with George lately," the source said. Indeed, Steinbrenner has, after years of assuming a background-posture, single-handedly taken control of the organization -- a role-reversal that's evolved steadily since the Yankees were beaten by the Angels in the American League Division Series.
Ostensibly, Newman will be replaced by Gordon Blakeley, who has served as the club's VP of international and professional scouting. But there's no doubt Steinbrenner will remain at the epicenter of the Yankees' universe, as he's pushed even GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Torre further away from the decision-making process.
The return of the old George is not a welcome sight for veteran Yankee fans, but it should be greeted with open arms by the rest of the league. If history tells us anything, the more meddlesome Steinbrenner becomes, the more trouble his team will encounter. If the Yankees can't be beaten on paper, then maybe they will implode from the pressure cooker coming out of Tampa. You think Joe Torre is going to earn his keep this year? Oy. Pass the pepto.
MORE ON LIEBER
Mike C, over at Baseball Rants has posted the latest installment in his history of relief pitching, an excellent and thorough chapter which covers the 1970s. (There is another good article on relievers at Futility Infielder.)
I recieved an e-mail from Mike yesterday giving me his take on the Yankees newest starter, Jon Lieber:
...The best way to sum [Lieber] up is that he is a typical Pirate pitrcher. He's about average, maybe a little better. It seems that the Pirates organization has generated thousands of number-three pitches, guys with ERAS slightly over 4.00 who win 12 games a year (Esteban Loaiza, Steve Parris, Jason Schmidt via Atlanta, Steve Cooke, Francisco Cordova, Kris Benson, Todd Ritchie, Jimmy Anderson, Josh Fogg and Kip Wells--both via the ChiSox. I guess the best of the lot is Denny Neagle and he came from the Twins).
He was pretty good in 2001 but not great and it looks like a career year. Given the injury, his return is dicey at best. I don't know much about the injury. Somehow though I think it's not a bad move. If he can return, he's cheap by Yankees'standards and has a higher ceiling than Hitchcock, say.
He has odd numbers. His strikeouts fell from around 8 per game in 1999 to around 5.5 in 2001, but he improved (?). He still manages to strikeout about 3.5 as many guys as he walks, and even though he gives up more than a hit per inning, he has a good WHIP (1.27 for his career, under 1.2 the last two years) because he doesn't give up many walks. He's a control type that will drive you crazy some days, but if the planets align he could have a season like Paul Byrd's last year (who also recovered from an injury just prior to 2002).
It seems that it cost theYankees one of their braintrust to sign him, so that'll hurt. At least he's interesting.
Keven Kernan writes another insipid tribute to local hero Gil Hodges in today's Post. I don't doubt that Hodges was a wonderful player, a good manager and a fine man, but I'm sorry to say that alone doesn't qualify him as a Hall of Famer. New Yorkers, in their inimitable, grandiose fashion, may feel that their love for him is enough. It's not. Here is a typically unconvincing argument offered up by Mets long-time radio voice, Mr. Schlitz himself, Bob Murphy:
"I've studied the record and he is definitely deserving. He was the leader on a wonderful baseball team, that sent what, four, five guys to the Hall, not only that, but his stats substantiate him being in the Hall. And Tom Seaver has said that Gil was the best manager who ever lived."
Gil Hodges was much more than all that, though.
"I've been making a living out of sports for 50 years," Murphy explained, "and there are two people who I would put at the top of the list of the finest people I've ever met, Gil Hodges and the basketball coach Henry Iba."
I question that Hodges' statistics merit his being elected to the Hall, even though he did lose vital years to the War. And that Tom Seaver thinks he was the best manager who ever lived, means 100% Dick to me. I'm not down on Gil Hodges so much as the weak, sentimental case that has been made on his behalf.
WINDY CITY RIVALRY
I've never been to Chicago, and know precious little about the rivalry between the North Side Cubbies and the White Sox of the South Side. I've always pulled for the Cubs in a distant, sympathetic way. The White Sox? I never had much of an opinion either way. But last year I began wondering why the White Sox and their losing legacy has been so over-looked. The Cubs and Red Sox are famous because of their suffering? What about the White Sox has regulated them to misfortune's stepchild? I asked the Cub Reporter, Christian Ruzich for his thoughts on the White Sox-Cubs rivalry.
He sent me an e-mail yesterday:
Well, now, I would never say that White Sox fans are dopes. After all, my mom is White Sox fan.
Let's just say this -- remember that shirtless father and son duo that ran out onto the field and attacked Tom Gamboa? I don't think there were too many Cubs fans who were surprised that it happened at Comiskey Park.
In general, Cubs fans would say that White Sox fans are mullet-wearing, Camaro-driving drinkers from the south suburbs, while White Sox fans would say Cubs fans are ex-fratboy stockbrokers who only care about the scene at Wrigley instead of watching the game.
Like all stereotypes, they both have a kernel of truth to them -- Comiskey is very blue-collar stadium in a working-class, mostly black neighborhood, and the fans tend to be people who've followed the White Sox for a long time, through thick and (mostly) thin. I used to love going to Old Comiskey, but the new one is soulless, plus when I was 21 I almost got in a fight with a guy who wouldn't stop smoking right behind us during a playoff game so I have a bad attitude about the place.
Meanwhile, Wrigley is in the middle of an affluent, mostly white neighborhood, and the people at the stadium (I hesitate to call them fans) tend to be people using the company's season tickets, or frat-boys who've paid 50 bucks for a bleacher seat and are walking around with a stack or 11 or 12 empty Old Style cups. It got bad after the Cubs won the division in '84 and TribCo decided not to hold back any bleacher seats for day-of-game purchase. Still, I'm a Cubs fan and I cherish the memories of the two years I lived close enough to the park that I could sit on my stoop and hear the crowd signing along with Harry Caray.
Anyway, that's probably more than you wanted to know, but there is a definite White Sox vs. Cubs split among Chicago fans, mostly from the White Sox side (check out http://www.whitesoxinteractive.com/rwas/index.php?category=3&id=953 to see what I mean).
...There are a few other White Sox legacies, like the South Side Hit Men of '77, or Winning Ugly in '83. And of course the Bill Veeck Era (Disco Demolition, the exploding scoreboard, the shower in the bleachers, etc.). But yeah, the White Sox really haven't captured the imagination of people outside the South Side.
My Favorite Things of
My Favorite Things of 2002
I started reading baseball books seriously again after the Yankees beat the Mets in the Subway Serious in 2000. I felt compelled to try and put the Yankees run into some sort of perspective, and that led me back to the bookshelf. For the past few years I've enjoyed digging into the subculture of baseball literature, and last year was no different. Perhaps the most significant discovery I made was when I acquired my cousin Gabe's collection of Bill James Abstracts. His mother was selling the house he grew up in, and when he went to clear his things out, I told him to give me any and all of his baseball books if he was going to throw them out. Well Gabe came back with a treasure chest, complete with Bill James' Baseball Abstracts 1984-88, and The Bill James Baseball Book: 1990-92.
I was familiar with James in name and reputation only, but had never sit down and read any of his work. Needless to say, perusing the Abstracts has been a rewarding experience. I'm not a science of math guy by nature, but I found it hard to resist James' irreverent and authoratative prose. I especially liked the biograhical information, and James' even-handed, emperical approach to statistics. I also loved revisiting the 1980's, and reading about the teams and players I grew up with from an adult perspective.
I don't think I actually read any of the James books from soup to nuts, but I picked them up and put them down often. Collections of essays are often my favorite books to read, and re-read. I can only assume the Abstracts will be as well used, and invaluable in the coming years as the Roger Angell and Tom Boswell compilations have been and continue to be.
While discovering Bill James was paramount to my baseball education last season, I didn't stop there. Here is a list of the other baseball books I read:
The Way It Is by Curt Flood and Richard Carter
Inside The Yankees: The Championship Year by Ed Linn
The Curse of the Bambino by Dan Shaugnessy
Beyond the 6th Game by Peter Gammons
Baseball Dynasties by Eddie Epstein and Rob Neyer
The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers by Bill James
The Curse of Rocky Colavito by Terry Pluto
Clearing the Bases by Allen Barra
No Cheering in the Press Box by Jerome Holtzman
Why Time Begins on Opening Day by Tom Boswell
What Ever Happened to the Hall of Fame? by Bill James
Baseball's Great Experiment by Jules Tygiel
Wait Til Next Year by William Goldman and Mike Lupica
Collision at Home Plate by James Reston, Jr
A Whole Different Ballgame by Marvin Miller
The Short Season by David Falkner
Poorly Written But Informative:
Shut Out by Howard Bryant
Talking Baseball: An Oral History of Baseball in the 1970s by Phil Pepe
Baseball, Chicago Style by Jerome Holtman and George Vass
I recently finished Jane Leavy's acclaimed new biography on Sandy Koufax, and hope to post a review in the coming weeks. I hardly have enough time to keep up with all the promising books I've got waiting in the wings. A good problem to have, for sure.
Nice Guys Finish Last by Leo Durocher and Ed Linn
The New Thinking Fan's Guide to Baseball by Leonard Kopett
1947: When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball by Red Barber
October, 1964 by David Halberstam
Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert Creamer
LIEBER AND PUDGE SIGNED
LIEBER AND PUDGE SIGNED
The Yankees completed a two-year, $3.5 million deal with right-handed pitcher Jon Lieber yesterday according to a report to espn.
The deal, which the Yankees have not yet announced, calls for a signing bonus and the minimum $300,000 salary this year. New York gets an $8 million club option for 2005.
There was noise about the Yankees screwing the Red Sox again, which proved to be exaggerated. According to Joel Sherman in the Post:
As with luring Jose Contreras and steering Bartolo Colon to the White Sox, the Yanks thwarted a Red Sox effort to land a pitcher. But a Boston official said the Red Sox had made no offer to Liever and were not willing to make a serious investmnet in a plyer with considerable health issues. Also, Lieber's agent, Rex Gary, while acknowledging Boston's interest, said, "it would be wrong to make this a Yankee vs.Red Sox thing. The Yankees got to the forefront and stayed there weeks ago. This was not a situation in which we were going back and forth between the Yankees and the Red Sox."
I asked some National League friends what they made of Lieber. Christian Ruzich, who runs The Cub Reporter said:
Lieber is a very good pitcher. Average stuff, yeah, but great control. Great K/BB ratio, sucks up a lot of innings. He's coming back from surgery, but he'll only be 33 this year, so it could be a nice pickup for the Yankees. I had really hoped that the Cubs would find a way to bring him back. He's been one of my favorites, and not only because he's almost exactly my age (4 days younger).
I also asked my cousin Gabe, the Mets fan, if Lieber was a better version of Steve Traschel, and he replied that Trashcan never won twenty games pitching in Wrigley Field.
I'd say Lieber's more like Bob Ojeda than Steve Trachsel. He's a great fourth or fifth starter, and even a decent three guy if you play in a weak division.
As for Pudge Rodriguez, he turned down a 3-year deal from the Orioles and signed a 1-year, $10 million contract to play for the Florida Marlins in his home town, Miami.
According to espn:
Jim Beattie, Baltimore's executive vice president of baseball operations, had been trying to sign Rodriguez. "I thought Ivan was a very good fit for us, playing in the AL, where he could be a designated hitter when he wasn't catching," Beattie said. "But he lives in Miami, and I'm sure those were among his considerations. We spent most of the day talking about a three-year deal, but I guess he wanted to go with more money and a shorter term. I would have been discouraged if we paid more money than we were comfortable with. The offer we made was what we thought was an appropriate amount of money."
Dave Hyde, columnist for the Miami Sun-Sentinel gives his take on the signing here.
For what it's worth, the NL East now sports a nifty group of recievers in Pudge, Piazza, Mike Lieberthal, Michael Barrett, and uh-hum, Maddog's boy, Javey Lopez.
SPOILED JOCKS BETTER THAN LOUSY WRITERS
Michiko Kakutani reviewed Norman Mailer's new book on writing, "The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing" yesterday in the New York Times. Next time you hear someone killing celebrity jocks, consider the emis* according to Stormin' Norman:
People are always complaining in sports about how much money these athletes get. At least those athletes can answer, 'I'm getting that money because I'm the best in my field.' In literature it's exactly the oppostie. It's the mediocrities who make the mega-sums. That was always true to a degree, but it's intensified considerably.
Yeah, just ask Mike Hampton.
* Emis is the Yiddish word for "the truth."
LOOKING AHEAD Much has
Much has been made this winter about the Yankees' surplus of starting pitching, but only Jeff Weaver, Jose Contreras and Mike Mussina are signed passed this season. Tyler Kepner reports in today's New York Times that "the Yankees are close to adding another starter to the mix."
According to a baseball official, the Yankees are in serious discussions with Jon Lieber, a former 20-game winner who might not pitch this season but is expected to be ready for 2004.
Lieber, a right-hander who turns 33 in April, went 20-6 for the Chicago Cubs in 2001 but had Tommy John surgery on his elbow last August. The surgery typically requires 12 to 18 months of rest and rehabilitation.
The official said the sides were working on a two-year deal with an option. The deal would be heavily based on incentives similar to the one [David] Wells signed last winter, when he was a healthy risk because of back surgery...
Liebeer, who was 6-8 in 21 starts last season, made the National League All-Star team in 2001, his fifth season as a regular starter. Over five years with Pittsburgh and our with the Cubs, he has established himself as a control specialist, typically striking out at least 100 more hitters than he walks each season.
"You look at his stuff, and his stuff's O.K.," one National League advance scout said. "But then when you see him, you go, 'Wait, he keeps getting people out.' He's a very good competitor with the heart of a lion. When he's on, he'll give you a good, solid six or seven innings, at least. Getting him for '04 makes a lot of sense."
...If the Yankees complete their deal with Lieber, he will have a job, leaving them with only one slot to fill in the rotation. The start of the 2004 season is more than a year away, but in the Yankees' world, spots are going fast.
Maybe they can get Don Gullet to fill the fifth slot.
Speaking of ex-Yankee hurlers, Jim Beattie co-GM of the Balitmore Orioles is busy these days. There is a report on mlb.com which suggests that the Orioles may be close to signing former Blue Jays outfielder Jose Cruz, Jr. and free-agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez to one-year deals. That would keep things lively in what should be a much improved AL East this year. Stay tuned...
MO' MINNIE MINOSO Last
MO' MINNIE MINOSO
Last week I wrote to Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated's top baseball man, and asked what he made of the curious case of Minnie Minoso. Here is his response:
I grew up when Minoso was doing his play-in-a-fifth decade thing as a lark, so I admit I never took him seriously enough. While on the Vets screening committee, though, the more research I did on him the more I appreciated his career. Great player. I don't know why the previous Vets committee didn't look at him more. I'm pretty sure he's one of the five best players on that Vets list. Whether he gets in or not, though, is another matter. I really don't know what to expect out of that vote. It all depends on whether the living Famers use all 10 spots on their ballot or just pick one or two. Tom
I searched around the net for the skinny on Minoso and found several articles of note.
The Baseball Library has a good overview of Minnie's career, complete with important dates, and career achievements. The Black World Today offers a look at Minoso as a Latin pioneer, Andy Trenkle makes a case for his selection to the Hall of Fame, and Jules Rothstein writes about what an all-around mench he is.
Finally, here is a tidbit from Sam Plummer, a long-suffering Cubs fan, and close family friend, who I've known since before I knew how to walk. I saw Sam over Christmas and mentioned my interest in Minoso. He started singing what I mistakenly remembered as a piece of classical music, only he replaced the lyrics with the names of the Go-Go White Sox from the 1950's. I was set straight in an e-mail I recieved from Sam this afternoon:
It's not classical music, it's a Christmas carol, and the initial effect depends on the similarity of "Orestes" to "Adeste", then on the resemblance of Spanish names to Latin words. Later you sort of bellow "Sherman Lollar" before sort of chanting "Paul Richards, Nelson Fox...."
Venite, venite ad Bethlehem.
Natum videte, regem angelorum;
Venite adoremus dominum.
Or in English:
O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.
Saul Rogovin, Billy Pierce, and Omar Lown.
Sherman Lollar, Luis Aparicio,
Paul Richards, Nelson Fox,
Paul Richards, Nelson Fox,
Paul Richards, Nelson Fox, and Early Wynn.
BOSTON BANTER While the
While the Yankees will have a busy even challenging year with the additional media attention Hideki Matsui brings with him from Japan, the Red Sox are second to nobody when it comes to media frenzy. In fact, although the Sox are comprised mainly of reserved stars like Nomar Garciaparra (who felt the heat late last summer in the local papers), and Manny (puff-puff-pass) Ramirez, not to mention stand-up-guys like Trot Nixon, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek, they have shown more signs of being like the old Bronx Zoo over the past few seasons than their counterparts in New York.
Superduperstar pitcher Pedro Martinez, never one to keep his feelings to himself, started the ball rolling last week.
About the only thing that is diminutive about Martinez is his body. Pedro's talent, and his mouth will never be mistaken for being small. Prince P ripped his club in an interview with El Diario from his home in the Dominican. Bill Burt from the Eagle Tribune offered a translation:
On his contract status with the Red Sox:
"If the Red Sox don't sign me to a contract before the end of spring training, I will become a free agent ... They've had a lot of time. After (spring training), I will not sign a contract with the Red Sox."
Translation for the Red Sox: "I know that you know that I know there's a team option in there that means I can't go anywhere until 2005, but I like scaring my fans for their support."
On watching pitcher Bartolo Colon go to the White Sox instead of Boston: "I don't like that. I wanted him in Boston. If we want to win, we need another big-time pitcher and Bartolo would have given us the push we need."
Translation for Red Sox: "Fossum can't carry Colon's jockstrap."
On losing Ugueth Urbina to free agency:
"We need a closer. Derek Lowe needs a closer. We both trusted in Urbina and I can't trust someone else to do the job in the future ... Urbina was the right man for the job."
Translation for Red Sox: "This closer-by-committee stuff is for the birds. Get a closer, now!"
The Dominican press also reported that Pedro has fired his agent and will do his own negotiating.
"I was very uncomfortable with the way they handled my business so I have fired them," said Pedro, whose old agent's firm was bought by another sports marketing company. "They didn't tell me they were going to sell (the firm) ... I am prepared to sit down and negotiate with any team and to sign my next contract."
Martinez also said, "It is not my intention to be the highest paid player in baseball. I just want to be recognized for what I've done in the business."
Let's just say, it's going to be interesting when Pedro arrives in Fort Myers for pitchers and catchers workouts in mid-February. Stay tuned.
MORE ON MILLAR
The saga of Kevin Millar continues to unfold and it now appears highly unlikely that the Red Sox will be able to pry the former Marlins first baseman from Chunichi Dragons. According to Gordon Edes:
The convoluted matter is out of the Red Sox' hands. Major League Baseball interceded and ruled that the Red Sox could not cut a deal with the Japanese team, which signed the righthanded hitter to a two-year, $6 million contract after purchasing him from the Florida Marlins. The Marlins placed him on major league waivers, a prerequisite to completing the deal, and typically a mere formality. But breaking with protocol, the Sox claimed Millar. When he rejected the claim, he became a free agent. The Sox hoped to compensate Chunichi for the $1.2 million they had paid the Marlins, then sign Millar to a Boston contract.
The player enthusiastically embraced that idea, but MLB informed the Red Sox that Millar had to honor his contract with Chunichi. For Millar to play for the Sox under those circumstances, he would have to ''post'' for free agency, much like Ichiro Suzuki did before signing with the Seattle Mariners. Teams then would submit sealed bids to Chunichi for the right to negotiate with Millar, giving all clubs the same access to Millar as the Sox, at a price likely to be higher than the Sox are willing to pay.
The only way Millar can circumvent that process is if he can demonstrate that he does not have a valid contract with Chunichi, an avenue his agents were pursuing, according to one source familiar with the proceedings. The Red Sox are not involved in that process.
Ed Cosstte, over at Bambino's Curse noted:
This doesn't come as much surprise, really. While I joined in the chorus calling Epstein's moves to get Millar "shrewd," in the back of my mind it did sound like some dirty dealing, like they weren't really treating the Japanese team as a business equal. On the other hand, MLB doesn't particularly stand out in my mind as a group who puts business ethics high on its list of priorities. The way they've managed the Expos since taking over the owner's role seems pretty shady to me. Indeed, they should begin to tilt the E in Expos to more resemble the crooked E in the Enron logo.
In addition, the Red Sox are close to signing former Twins first baseman David Ortiz, according to the Boston Globe:
Ortiz...passed a physical in Boston Saturday and has agreed to a one-year deal for a sum in the vicinity of $1 million. Ortiz, a lefthanded hitter, batted .272 with 32 doubles, 20 home runs, and 75 RBIs last season for the Twins, numbers comparable to those posted by Daubach. But with Daubach arbitration-eligible, the Sox elected to sign the 27-year-old Ortiz, who was released by the Twins in December.
For more on the Sox, check out Tom Verducci's analysis of their bullpen-by-committe strategy, and Peter Gammons' take on Theo Epstein's rocky winter.
YOU DON'T SEND ME FLOWERS...
Sean McDonough, son of the late Will McDonough wrote a tribute to his father and his supporters, in the Globe over the weekend.
In his Sunday Notes column, Gordon Edes noted:
At the memorial for Globe columnist Will McDonough at the FleetCenter last week, a floral arrangement from Steinbrenner occupied a position of prominence in front of the casket, with another from the Yankees nearby. The Red Sox also sent two arrangements, from Lucchino and Henry, that weren't positioned quite so near. Leave it to McDonough, who had sharply criticized Lucchino in his [second to] last column, to find a way to make a final editorial comment ...
THE GIANT FROM SOUTHIE
THE GIANT FROM SOUTHIE
I primarily remember Will McDonough working the sidelines for CBS on football Sundays, when I was a kid. Aside from his distinctive Boston accent, pock-marked skin, and goofy ears, he never stood out to me; just another fugly, old guy talking head. But I became a bit more familiar with him over the years, periodically reading his column in the Boston Globe, and recognized his status as one of the top insiders covering the NFL.
Howard Bryant offered a revealing portrait of McDonough, and his relationship with longtime rival at the Globe, Peter Gammons in his informative, yet maddingly uneven book, "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston:"
The rise and influence of the Boston Globe were illustrated no better than in the rivalry of its two greatest writing stars, Will McDonough and Peter Gammons. Each in his own way reflected the city's strengths and weaknesses through his copy and approach to the job・
For its long-term effects on a city and its signature sports franchise, there would be no more lingering, important story in Boston baseball history than race, and more than any two reporters in the city's history, Gammons and McDonough would shape the parameters of the discussion. They would do this not only by what they wrote, but also by what they did not. In the truest testament to the power of both, McDonough and Gammons would spawn a generation of reporters that would emulate the two giants in both style and personality.
Both moved the market in their own way. McDonough did not believe the Red Sox were a racist franchise and thus would pay no future penalty for past decisions. He would not cover the story of race and the Red Sox as a story at all, but more as a fabrication created by people intent on damaging the legacy of Tom Yawkey and Joe Cronin, of whom McDonough was especially fond. More than any other reporter in the city, it would be McDonough who would deny the existence of race as a legitimate factor in assessing the club・
Will McDonough was different. He was every bit as ambitious as Gammons, and his zeal to be an insider was equal to that of Gammons. No sports department would ever boast a baseball and football writer that were more wired into their subjects than Will McDonough and Peter Gammons. Where the two differed was not so much in the end results, but in their personalities. Class would be a central issue. Not only had Gammons attended the Groton School, on the elite prep schools in the nation, but his father served on the school's faculty.
McDonough was a tough Irish kid from South Boston. He was from the streets. He was an Irish Catholic in a city where being so was only a benefit because of hard struggle. Being tough mattered, especially being from Southie, where no one gave anyone anything. In fact, it was the opposite. Everyone in Southie saw the anchors of life they coveted being taken away. He attended Northeastern University and joined the Globe in 1959 at the bottom rung, as a copy boy. If Gammons climbed at the Globe from being deigned a star and taking full advantage of a great opportunity by outworking the competition, McDonough saw his own rise through nothing except grit, tireless sourcing, and connections・
As a football writer, Will McDonough would grow to be a giant. He knew the game's power players and like Gammons, was as powerful a player in his coverage of the Patriots and the NFL as there was in the league. McDonough preferred the old school ways, when reporters and their subjects stood much closer. He enjoyed the insider's position, when the game was simple and a handshake could be trusted. There were no agents, no complications.
McDonough had his quirks. Over the years, McDonough would almost boast of his retentive abilities. He would write whole stories, with quotes, without having taken a single note. He was quick to ally himself with people in power; over the years three would be few journalists, if any, who would call an owner at home as readily and easily as Will McDonough.
He was combative. The most famous instance of his temper came when he grew tired of the media needling from Patriots cornerback Raymond Clayborn in 1977. When their argument heated, Clayborn inadvertently poked McDonough in the eye, and McDonough responded by sending Clayborn to the floor with the right cross. It would be one of the most famous moments in Boston sports journalism, the day a reporter knocked a player on to the canvas. Pugnacity didn't stop there. McDonough made enemies, and as his position as a reporting giant grew, he was not the person to cross. He could be cruel, using his column to protect his allies and destroy his enemies, no small hammer. To disagree with McDonough was to risk the wrath of a powerful and well-connected reporter who had a column each week that reached hundreds of thousands. Clark Booth marveled at how complete McDonough's enmity could be. "When he circled the wagons on you, you were finished. I never saw someone who could be so unforgiving of a person. And he was a giant, so you didn't want to get on the wrong side of him."
・In one sense, Will McDonough and Peter Gammons were alike. In their daily reporting, neither held the Red Sox very accountable in its culture and climate for minority players. Yet like the other areas of their relationship, it was for wholly disparate reasons. Peter Gammons did not seem to own much of a personal or moral passion for the race question, while McDonough simply did not believe that race in Boston was a story at all.
・Part of the reason Gammons shied from racial issues, though Glenn Stout, was the same reason the entire Boston journalism community did: He could・Boston journalism avoided race issues was [sic] because Boston and its surrounding regions were overwhelmingly white. There was not much clamor for sticky racial issues that, if uncovered, would spoil the fun of following the Red Sox. There was in the 1970s and '80s enough backlash from busing that it was a risky gambit to harp on the Red Sox and their race record.
But the biggest reason Peter Gammons avoided writing about race was his personality itself. He was an insider, not a moral crusader. Race aside, he would not be the type of reporter---after he became a giant name in the business---to take unpopular stances or choose to dissect complicated, messy issues that deviated from the game's power structure. He could be brilliant at it, as he was in his underrated 195 book "Beyond the Sixth Game," a brief but entertaining and informative book on the dramatic way baseball---and the Red Sox in particular---had been affected by the advent of free agency. Gammons also chose to be a baseball insider, and to be a true insider it is unwise to take too many unpopular stances, lest sources view you with unwanted suspicion. There is no question that his journalistic legacy suffered from this choice, but his import and influence in the game rose tenfold・
Meanwhile, Will McDonough was not a social engineer, and did not see his position as responsible for cultural accommodation. He tended to view the world in simple, rhetorical terms. Life was what it was. It was not perfect, and you played with the hand life dealt you. His view of race relations was conservative, and like many a Boston Irish Catholic, he still saw himself at times as a hounded minority, although it had been nearly a century since the Irish in Boston won a political and popular majority. He was exasperated by the racial question in Boston, unable to empathize with the notion that it was a difficult, uneven city for blacks. For McDonough, because life was imperfect, you had to adapt to the culture; the culture didn't adapt to you. Thus, he grew short with social alchemies such as bussing or black players pressing for rights. He preferred players who came to Boston, kept their heads down, and kept their mouths shut. This was especially true of black players, the more vocal ones having traditionally the more trouble in Boston. Once, he received a letter from Mo Vaughn's father. Vaughn was involved in a bitter contract struggle and McDonough was slamming him mercilessly in his column. "I responded to his letter, father to father," McDonough said. "And I told him, 'I'm going to give you some advice for your kid. Tell him to be quiet and play ball. That's how you do it around here.'" It was a typical McDonough response: unapologetic, pointed, and impolitic.
The result was a conservative, angry voice that was reactionary in the face of a new generation of player, black and Latino, with different cultures and belief systems・
McDonough saw race in Boston in clear and linear terms, but he also was looking from the lens of a great and powerful Boston majority, the Irish Catholics. He was part of the in crowd in Boston, the political power brokers in the city. McDonough privately enjoyed that a Southie kid like himself could himself [sic] become a power player in the city. William Bulger, a Southie son who would rise to be state's senate president, once hired McDonough as his first campaign manager. He grew impatient with talk of institutional and cultural racism, the type of insidious belief structures that permeate an entire organization but have no single culprit. To believe that the Red Sox could have developed a racist culture over a half-century, he wanted the guilty unmasked. "Everyone keeps talking about the Red Sox being a racist ball club. Well, who was it? Was it Tom Yawkey? Was it Joe Cronin? Was it Dick O'Connell? Who?" McDonough's temper was easily inflamed by race, an illustration of impatience with a difficult topic that belied his Boston roots. He wanted the smoking gun. To Will McDonough, if the cross wasn't burning on the lawn, racism didn't exist. Bud Collins, who considered himself a longtime admirer of McDonough as a journalist, separated with his old colleague in the area of race. "It was one of the many areas where Will and I disagree," Collins said. "But it might be the most important."
"Will McDonough," though Tom Mulvoy, "is the most elemental guy I know. He always believes he's right. Nuance isn't Willie McDonough. He makes his call and that's it. You're not going to get philosophical treatise from him."
Just as a note, my copy of "Shut Out" is an advanced uncorrected proof, which should explain the few grammatical errors.
CURSES Dan Shaughnessy returned
Dan Shaughnessy returned to the baseball beat on Friday with a column evaluating Theo Epstein's off season thus far. Shaughnessy noted that while the rookie GM has taken the high road as far as the rivalry with the dastardly Bronx Bombers are concerned, some of the Red Sox players feel a bit differently:
''I kind of like it,'' said Lou Merloni. ''I see our owners doing everything they can to beat those guys and that's not a bad thing. Hopefully, the Yankees will get caught up trying to beat us off the field and forget about what really matters. Maybe they're worried about us. That's a good thing.''
Johnny Damon added, ''It goes back to 1919. Steinbrenner is willing to win at all costs. They have deeper pockets, but they fear us and that's why they are making these moves. And the year we win the World Series it's going to get back at all 26 they've won.''
Are they the Evil Empire?
''I wouldn't say that,'' said manager Grady Little. ''The last guy that said that had to hear too much about it.''
Epstein knows there's growing impatience in the Nation.
''It's not our job to have our finger on the pulse of exactly what Red Sox fans feel, but I know it's the nature of fans to want it all and want it now and want big names,'' he said. ''But the nature of running a ball club is to take the broad view and put the best team on the field and keep the best interests of the organization.
''We will only make a trade when what we receive is better than what we're giving up. If you don't have the discipline, patience, and confidence to walk away, you're not going to make a good deal (read: Shea Hillenbrand and Casey Fossum was too much for Colon). I remember. I was a fan and the only thing they care about is who's going to be wearing the uniform. There will be a time when we go above and beyond for a player, but it will be the right player with no questions about it.''
Tough days for the guitar-slinging Boy Wonder. Never outhustled, he's been outspent and outfoxed by the hated Yankees and his boss has made life tougher by insulting the Boss.
That's why they call it the blues."
Ed Cossette, who pens the excellent Bambino's Curse blog, loved Johnny Damon's pluck (or nerve or chutzpah), and as a Red Sox fan I suppose it's nice to hear some of the old fire from a player. As good a player as Damon is---why the Yanks signed Ro White without even making an offer to him last season, I'll never know---and as soothing, and reassuring as his needling may feel to Red Sox Nation (give him credit for giving the people what they want), didn't we hear a lot of this kind of tough talk out of him last season?
Red Sox fans love to tweek ever-sensitive Yankee fans (present company included), and Damon is happy to play the part of designated shit talker. Quite frankly, he doesn't have anything to lose by throwing rocks at the throne; instead he simply enhances his popularity within Red Sox Nation. That's good for him, but Johnny: come back to me. Talk to us when you've won...anything.
SPIDEY SENSE IS TINGLING; POCKETS, JINGLING BABY
The Twins signed their lovable, and huggable center-fielder Torii Hunter to a four-year deal on Friday according to espn.
Torii Hunter and the Minnesota Twins agreed Friday to a $32 million, four-year contract, just days after the All-Star outfielder said he wouldn't get a multiyear deal.
"Yesterday it happened so fast, I was like, 'We're going to get this deal done,''' Hunter said. "They came to where I felt it was fair for both sides. I commend them for getting there. Thank you!''
・"What it's about is helping my family out,'' Hunter said. "At the same time, to be at home with the Minnesota Twins, the team I love, you can't ask for much more.''
His first big purchase will be a house for his mother, Hunter said.
"My mom's in a two-bedroom apartment in the 'hood,'' Hunter said. "My brothers, we slept with the rats and the roaches. We all came up together. ... That's what I came here to do: Work hard, play this game hard so I can be able to help my family.''
The good fellas at Twins Geek weighed in on the move, as did Mike over at Baseball Rants.
Last fall, Rob Neyer wrote a sensible column about why it would behoove the Twins to consider moving players like Hunter:
In the outfield, it's assumed that the Twins need to lock up Torii Hunter with a long-term contract. But do they? Granted, Hunter's a fine player. But Jacque Jones could shift to center field and the Twins wouldn't lose a lot defensively, and they've got plenty of guys who could then replace Jones in left field.
See, the Twins are loaded with outfielders. They've got so many outfielders, they don't have room for them all. In addition to Hunter and Jones, the Twins also have Bobby Kielty, Dustan Mohr, Michael Cuddyer and Michael Restovich.
You know how the story's supposed to go. Plucky franchise puts together a solid team, consisting mostly of home-grown players, despite limited budget. Team wins 94 games. Team gets torn apart because of budget woes, and soon sinks back to whence it came. And so Bud Selig was right. Our plucky little franchise was nothing but an aberration.
The players certainly buy into this paradigm. As Pierzynski recently said, "We have to keep this team together. If we do that, hopefully we can make it two steps further next year. Hopefully, Mr. Pohlad will step up to the plate and get it done."
And if Pohlad doesn't "step up to the plate"? Right, the Twins plummet right down to third place (or even fourth, if Tigers owner Mike Illitch ever "steps up to the plate").
But it doesn't have to work that way. What if a franchise put together a solid roster, consisting mostly of home-grown players, and then continued to develop good players, who replaced the first group of home-grown players as they became more expensive?
Were the Twins moved to sign Hunter, an enormously popular player, after the White Sox traded for Barolo Colon this week? I'm can't say. But they didn't over pay him. I don't know if Hunter will continue to improve as an offensive player, though there is no reason to expect he'll fall off defensively for several years. Regardless if the deal makes the best baseball sense or not, it's good to see the Twins fork over the dough for one of the game's most irresistible, and personable young stars. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
QUICK TAKES Terry Pluto
Terry Pluto writes about the Bartolo Colon trade from Cleveland's perspective, and Bob Hohler reports how Casey Fossum is one Red Sox who is happy about the deal that kept him in Boston.
Bob Klapisch also filed an article on the Godzilla Matsui press conference for espn.
INCORRIGIBLE YANKS FOIL BOSOX
INCORRIGIBLE YANKS FOIL BOSOX AGAIN; DUQUE TO EXPOS
The Yankees traded El Duque Hernandez to the Expos yesterday, in a three-team trade which featured Bartolo Colon moving to the White Sox. In addition, Expos recieved another pitcher, Rocky Biddle, outfielder Jeff Liefer and cash from theYankees, who in turn picked up right-handed reliever Antonio Osuna, and minor leaguer, Delvis Lantigua. The White Sox also got $2 million from the Yanks.
Most importantly, the Yankees prevented Colon from landing in Boston. Here's the skinny from the papers in Boston and New York...
The Globe reports:
Call it what you will, Red Sox fans: a crushing defeat, a squandered opportunity, or the natural byproduct of prudent management. In New York, they viewed the three-way deal that sent Bartolo Colon yesterday from the Montreal Expos to the Chicago White Sox as a joyous coincidence.
In the final act of a bargaining drama that dwarfed all others in significance this winter, the Yankees indirectly thwarted Epstein by sending righthander Orlando Hernandez and $2 million to Chicago, which in turn traded Hernandez, righthander Rocky Biddle, outfielder/first baseman Jeff Liefer, and more than $2 million to Montreal for Colon and minor league infielder Jorge Nunez. The Yankees received righthanded setup man Antonio Osuna, minor league pitcher Delvis Lantigua - and the pleasure of depriving the Sox of a star who could have shifted the balance of power in the American League East.
...Epstein ranked among Minaya's most aggressive suitors, offering him countless proposals involving Sox players before he launched a national search for a third party to complete the deal. Before it was over, Epstein tried to recruit at least 10 teams to help meet Minaya's often-divergent demands.
''It was close a couple of times,'' Minaya said. ''Two days ago, we were trying to find a third player, from a third team. We discussed guys who might have gotten it done, and some would have possibly gotten it done.''
But none did, though Minaya went out of his way to praise Epstein for his persistence and creativity.
...Beyond derailing the Sox in the Colon chase, the Yankees met one of their greatest needs by acquiring Osuna to help fill the void created by the departures of setup men Ramiro Mendoza and Mike Stanton. Osuna appeared in 59 games last season for the White Sox, going 8-2 with 11 saves and a 3.86 ERA. A hard thrower, he struck out 66 in 67 2/3 innings.
Minaya also met his goals, though he may have settled for less than he could have received from the Yankees when they offered Hernandez, first baseman Nick Johnson, and outfielder Juan Rivera last month before the deal hit a snag when Minaya sought more cash than New York cared to invest for Colon.
''I think it's fair to say that I started out hoping to end up with a package of players that had higher ceilings,'' Minaya said. ''I didn't get what I originally hoped to get, but the market this year has been different.''
Minaya said his effort to move Colon was aggravated by several factors, including Contreras becoming a free agent and the Braves trading Kevin Millwood to the Phillies, eliminating Philadelphia's interest in the Montreal ace.
''The past month and a half, I don't wish on any GM, especially a first-year GM,'' Minaya said. ''It got a little scary there for me.''
Imagine how it felt for Epstein.
Here is how Bill Madden called it in today's Daily News:
The Red Sox could have had Colon had Theo been willing to give up their prize young lefty starter, Casey Fossum. Once Epstein balked, it gave the Yankees another opening to orchestrate the Colon sweepstakes.
Fossum may blossom ！ even into a No. 1-2 starter for the Red Sox. But when he does, where will Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez be? Boston's two franchise players are both free agents after the 2004 season, and with nearly $100 million tied up in Manny Ramirez alone through 2008, the financially strapped Red Sox almost certainly won't be able to keep them both.
As one baseball person, neutral to the Yankee-Red Sox war, observed yesterday: "Other than the Yankees, who are always in a win-now mode, no other team in baseball needs to win in 2003 as badly as the Red Sox. Their future is definitely now.
And yet, they let Casey Fossum stand in the way of getting Colon, who along with Pedro, would have given them the most formidable 1-2 pitching punch this side of Randy (Johnson) and (Curt) Schilling. Can you imagine Steinbrenner doing that?"
Actually, at one point Steinbrenner was willing to give up still-promising lefty slugger Nick Johnson and El Duque to get Colon for himself. That was, of course, before he outbid the Red Sox for Contreras. Now it would seem he's gotten everything he could have hoped for this winter without having to sacrifice Johnson.
To which a resigned Red Sox Nation would only say: What else is new?
Tony Massarotti, adds a "cry-me-a-river" opinon piece in the Boston Herald:
You have to wonder sometimes if Red Sox fans ever will get it, if they ever will realize that they are nothing more than an unwanted speck of lint on those dapper, deep blue baseball caps in the depths of the Bronx. Rivalry? What rivalry? In New York they must see it for what it is, an inferiority complex of the highest magnitude. Think Empire State Building and you're starting to get the idea. Yes, size does matter.
If the Red Sox really wanted to, they could have had the blocky Colon, who is built like a mailbox (what a melon, eh?) and has the force of a mail truck. The man was there for the taking. The Sox could have given up Shea Hillenbrand and Casey Fossum and maybe thrown in some cash, and they could have entered the season with The Big Three of Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Colon at the front of their starting rotation.
The Sox chose not to.
So what exactly does that have to do with the Yankees?
It has all become a convenient excuse now, a way for the Red Sox to explain decades of frustration in their traumatized little minds. WHERE WOULD WE BE IF NOT FOR THE YANKEES? HOW MANY TITLES WOULD WE HAVE WON? WHY HAS FATE DEALT US SUCH A CRUEL SENTENCE? In the eternal, piercing words of Nancy Kerrigan, WHY ME?
Sometimes, when the anxiety level reaches its apex, you can't help but think that Red Sox officials have succeeded only in perpetuating this madness. If Sox oligarchs John Henry and Larry Lucchino did not understand the psychological damage the Yankees have inflicted over the years, they surely do now. Longtime Furious George adversary Lucchino made the mistake of referring to the Yankees as the ``Evil Empire'' after the Yankees undercut the Red Sox in the Contreras Affair last month. In the same aftermath, the sincere Henry lamented the plight of competing with The Money Store.
Like it or not, that is the reality of owning the Red Sox or supporting them. It just is. Baseball has made attempts in recent years to restore competitive balance to a game that has indisputably gone awry, but those changes will not help the Red Sox as much as they will hurt. The Oakland A's and Minnesota Twins each won more games than the Sox last season, and they did so with combined payrolls equaling less than the number spent by the Red Sox. Both of those clubs would love to have the money that we throw around in Boston, unless, of course, you happen to be Billy Beane.
But please. Stop whining. Stop blaming the Yankees for everything that goes wrong.
For goodness sake, try to have just a little self-respect.
To add insult to injury, the Sox have also apparently lost former Marlin Kevin Millar to Japan after all, according to report in Baseball Weekly.
Over at espn, Jason Stark has a good piece on the method to King George's Madness. Here is an excerpt:
"[George] treats his employees the same all the time," [a] baseball man said. "He doesn't just treat them that way when they don't win. He treats them that way when they win, too. His schizophrenic behavior with his employees is legendary. But his commitment to winning is also legendary."
That's a great thing if you're a Yankees fan. But after a winter in which Steinbrenner added digs at Joe Torre and Derek Jeter to his standard rants and raves, our buddy Peter Gammons suggested the Boss has gotten so insatiable, he has actually taken the fun out of winning for his troops and his fans. There's some truth in that.
But Steinbrenner's supporters say that even if that's true for some people, it beats the alternative.
"Hey, he's involved in a sport," says one friend of Steinbrenner. "Sports is about winning. George puts winning at a premium. So what? How is that wrong? That's why you get into the business. Why did George get into this business? He wanted to win, and he wanted to make money. And he's been very, very successful at both."
"You know, you need seven starters to win a championship these days," said one GM the other day. "Just usually, you keep a couple of them in Triple-A."
"I don't even worry about it," said another AL East general manager, Toronto's J.P. Ricciardi. "I knew coming into this job that they would be like this, so it's not surprising. You always know the Yankees are there. It's like playing football in the Big East. You know you have to play Miami sometime. So when you compete with them, you just work on trying to beat them. We don't get caught up in worrying about how they do it. We just worry about our own house."
Mark Shapiro, Cleveland's GM, says: "I don't look at the Yankees with envy. I don't look at the Yankees with jealousy. I don't look at the Yankees with resentment. I look at them as an organization that makes good decisions with their money and plays the game the right way. There's a lot more to like about the Yankees than to dislike, even as a competitor. If you're another organization trying to compete with them, you need to frame what you need to do internally, not judge yourself against someone else."
"They've got a right to do what they do," one NL club executive said of the Yankees. "As we've all learned, just because you spend a lot of money doesn't mean you're going to win a lot of games. They've got the resources to do what they do, and they do it well.
"So they signed a guy like Contreras. Yeah, it gave them a surplus. But that surplus also allowed them to keep certain players (like Contreras and Colon) away from other teams. If you've got the resources, who cares if Contreras makes 15 starts and spends the rest of the year in the bullpen? If he's in Boston, he might make 30 starts and win 15. It means they have to pay more luxury tax, but to them, it's all relative. Whatever they have to pay in tax isn't as bothersome as Contreras pitching in a Red Sox uniform."
But just because the Yankees kept upping the ante (and the payroll) this winter doesn't mean they aren't paying attention to the labor deal.
They're well aware of how much tax they'll have to pay if they can't move Mondesi, Sterling Hitchcock or Rondell White. But they're also well aware that in a year, the contracts of Clemens, Mondesi, White, Hitchcock, Andy Pettitte, Robin Ventura and David Wells all expire. That's more than $50 million off the books. So they're in the midst of a long-term retooling, not a succession of one-year quick fixes.
They also needed to take only one look at the throng that showed up for Matsui's press conference this week -- a throng bigger than your average Devil Rays crowd -- to look at his signing as a business deal as much as a baseball deal.
So there's a method to their madness. But does that mean it isn't sometimes madness all the same? Well, no. It's just classic Steinbrenner madness.
For the Chicago angle on the trade, here are two articles from today's Chicago Sun Times (one, and two), as well as Rob Neyer's take on how Colon changes the shape of the AL Central.
DUQUE: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY
El Duque was one of my favorites. It's hard to resist a guy with such an enigmatic past, not to mention a beautiful pitching delivery, especially when he was m-o-n-e-y in most every big game he pitched for the Bombers. When he arrived midway through the 1998 season, who knew what to make of him? Hideki "Boo Boo" Irabu was already proving to be a major disappointment, even though I always thought he was funnier than hell (with all the straight-shooters on the Yankees boasted, they needed at least one screw up). But if Irabu looked like a combination of Ralph Kramden and a second-rate Elvis impersonator, El Duque came across like Yul Brenner. There was something inherently serious and grave about Hernandez, while Irabu proved to be nothing more than a tempermental clown.
El Duque has quite a temper too, and it's another reason I've enjoyed watching him so much. Knowing that Jorge Posada had spent most of the day instigating Hernandez into a competitive fury, and then watching the two red asses have it out during the course of a game, was a sincere delight.
There is an excellent account of Hernandez's life and career in Cuba titled, "Duke of Havana: Baseball, Cuba, and the Search for the American Dream," by veteran newspaper men, Steve Fainaru, and Ray Sanchez. The book reads more like a Graham Greene novel of political intrigue than the average baseball biography, but it's very well written and offers a compelling portrait of Hernandez as a complicated, even haunted man (the relationship Duque had with his older brother is especially revealing).
George Willis has a the first of what I hope are several appreciations of Duque in today's New York Post.
BASEBALL HASN'T BEEN BERY,
BASEBALL HASN'T BEEN BERY, BERY GOOD TO MINNIE
"What more could I ask of life? I came from nowhere. I worked in the sugar fields as a boy. It was a tough life. I had one pair of shoes and one pair of pants. But I always had a smile on my face. My mother and father...taught me to be a good citizen, a good human being, and to love life." Minnie Minoso (from "Diamond Greats", by Rich Wescott---appropriated from the New Historical Abstract
I didn't know much about Minnie Minoso, so I dipped into my 'lil baseball library to see what I could find. I also ran Minoso through Google.com and discovered not only are there books on Minoso's career, but two that are written by Minoso himself (with some help of course): "Extra Innings: My Life in Baseball," and "Just Call me Minnie: My Six Decades in Baseball." That's good news. I have some book hunting to do, which gives me at least one more thing to look forward to this coming baseball summer.
Here is what I dug up from my selection of books:
Sooner or later, whenever we talk about hitting, someone will ask me if there will be another .400 hitter in the major leagues. Of all the so-called "sluggers" in the big time today, the only one I can think of who really qualifies in all respects is Minnie Minoso.
Ted Williams, as told to Paul Gardner, Baseball Stars of 1955 (also appropriated from The New Historical Abstract by Bill James).
Bill James makes an argument for Minoso as a Hall of Famer in his book, "What Ever Happened to the Hall of Fame":
My off-the-wall Hall of Fame favorite, if I have one, is Minnie Minoso. Minnie doesn't seem to draw much support, but I'm not sure why. He's a .300 hitter, give or take a couple of points, plus he had speed (led the league in stolen bases three times, triples three times), and some power (drove in a hundred runs four times; was one of oldest men to ever drive in a hundred runs). He was a good defensive player who played with tremendous enthusiasm, and was very popular while active.
What many people don't recognize about Minoso is that although he has substantial Hall of Fame credentials as is, he is missing probably his best years due to his race. Minnie came along while the color line was still crumbling. His career inside organized ball started in the 1948 season; he was already 25. He hit .525 in eleven games at Dayton, which earned him a major league look at the start of the '49 season, but when he went 3-for-16 they had no real track record by which to evaluate him, and sent him out. He had to go beat up the Pacific Coast League for two years to get back to the majors, by which time he was 28.
Most players' best years are behind them by the age of 28. If you compare Minoso's record from age 28 on to the records of the Hall of Fame left fielders from age 28 on, you realize how good Minnie was...
James then shows a chart ranking the 16 Hall of Fame left fielders in both Hits and RBI from the age 28 on. Only Musial, Yaz, Lou Brock and "Orator" Jim O'Rourke had more hits than Minoso, who is ahead of Ted Williams and Billy Williams and Pops Stargell and Goose Goslin. And only Musial, Yaz, Pops, and Teddy fuggin Ballgame had more RBI.
Very few of the Hall of Fame left fielders can match what Minoso did in the same time frame...If Minoso had been white, he might well have gotten started early enough to get 3,000 hits. He needed 1,040 hits by age 27--fewer than Goslin or Manush or Medwick had collected.
James made some of the same points in the second edition of the Historical Abstract. Excuse the repetition:
Much of the argument that has been applied to Enos Slaughter, and with merit, could also be applied to Minnie Minoso. But for a very brief trail, he didn't play in the major leagues until the age of twenty-eight, in large part because of his color---yet, since he played in the major leagues so long, few people think about the fact that his best years may have been behind him before he ever got a chance, and that his entire career was spent in what is ordinarily a player's decline phase. His highest batting average, .326, was in his rookie year in 1951.
As a player, he was tightly similar to Slaughter, a fast, hustling, line-drive hitter with medium-range power. They were about the same size, both very popular players. Their batting and slugging averages are virtually identical (batting averages are .300 and .298, edge to Slaughter; slugging averages are .459 and .453 edge to Minoso. Carl Furillo is in the same group, at .299 and .458). Like Slaughter, Minoso played until he was well past forty, as a hustling, aggressive player of this quality often will. Then he went and played in the Mexican League for another ten years.
I ran an experiment with Minoso, reversing the Brock2 system to try to project what his career stats might have been had he been called up earlier. The Brock2 system is a complex method that attempts to project a player's final career career statistics, given his performance up to a certain point in time. What I did in the case of Minoso was to try to plug into the formula a combination of accomplishments at an earlier age which would create the projection that the player would later do exactly what Minoso later did...The method estimates that, if he had come up at the age of twenty-two, Minnie Minoso's career statistics would be those shown below:
Games R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB AVG.
2863 1970 3079 534 168 318 1429 1272 .309
If James made a case for Minoso as a Hall of Famer, Allen Barra asked, then why is he so ignored?
From his insightful but all too brief article, "Minnie Minoso: The New Latin Dynasty":
The first dark-skinned Latin player, I was told by the hall of Fame, was Cuban-born Saturnino Orestes Arrieta Minoso, "The Cuban Comet," better known to fans as Minnie. Minnie Minoso made his debut in 1949, two years after Jackie Robinson, playing for Bill Veeck's Cleveland Indians. Larry Doby, who also made his debut in 1947, shortly after Jackie, is recognized as the AL's first black players, but what about Minoso? What must it have been like for him, to be both black and Hispanic? There have been shelves full of material on Jackie Robinson, and in recent years baseball historians have started to catch up to Larry Doby, but who knows about Minnie Minoso? We rightfully mourn Jackie Robinson's lost years, but Minnie Minoso was a year older than Jackie Robinson [Barra contends Minoso was 29, contrary to what James asserted].
How tough was it for Minoso? According to Jules Tygiel, in "Baseball's Great Experiment":
In 1950, Luke Easter's first full season in the majors, pitchers hit him ten times, tying him for the league lead with Al Rosen, one of the few Jewish players in the majors. The following year rookie Minnie Minoso surpassed both Easter and Rosen. With less than a third of the season gone, Minoso had been struck ten times, and many were "deliberate beanballs." At the season's end he totaled sixteen, one less than the rookie record. At one point Minoso suggested that he could end the barrage with "a bucket of white paint." Later in the season he complained, as depicted in a dialect by a Sporting News writer [before political correctness was a gleam in your mutha's eye], "You get it so bad, I theenk I wear a headguard even in bed. Maybe somebody throw at me when I sleep too. I don't know whatta kind of baseball this is. Yes, you try to get the man out. You brush back. But you not try to keel him." During his first four seasons, pitchers hit Minoso 65 times, 8 in the head.
Here is Minnie Minoso himself from Danny Peary's, "We Played the Game":
In those first few years in the majors, some teams would call me names. Jimmy Dykes, the manager of Philadelphia, used to call me every name in the book---"you black nigger so-and-so." One or two of his players would go along with him. After the game he'd come up to the hotel and say, "Hell, Mr. Minoso." I was wondering how he could now be so polite.... No one on the New York Yankees ever called me a name, so I admired and respected everyone. Even Casey Stengel, who was a comedian, was a great sportsman. I was prepared for the racial insults from opposing players and fans in towns we visited. They went through one ear and out the other. Learned from my parents. The only way I'd answer is with a smile. They'd say "You black..." and I'd flash an insincere grin. Sometimes I'd insult them back in Spanish, warning them, "I can tell you worse things than you said to me, and I can tell you without you knowing what I said."
"Minnie Minoso was one the funniest guys I was ever around," Les Moss told Danny Peary, "When he thought an umpire made a bad call, he'd argue in half English and half Spanish and you wouldn't know what the heck he was saying."
In this regard, maybe Minoso had an emotional outlet that the American-born black players didn't.
Allen Barra continues:
And what of that Rookie of the Year Award? Gil McDougald was a fine player, but in 1951 he hit .263 with 14 home runs and 63 RBI and 72 runs in 131 games; Minoso hit .326 with 10 home runs, 76 RBI, and 112 runs. He led the league in stolen bases with 31 (McDougald had 14) and triples with 14 (Gil had 4). His on-base [percentage] was .422 and his slugging average, .500; McDougald was, respectively, .396 and .488. Gil McDougald was a fine rookie; Minnie Minoso was an outstanding one. His 1951 season taught a lesson to Latin players for the next forty-odd years: you will have to do better than the non-Latin player just to be noticed, and far better to win an award.
James compares Minoso favorably against Enos Slaughter---apparently the ideal partner, and Larry Doby.
...Minnie Minoso never had a prime. At the same age when Minoso got a chance to play full time, twenty-nine, Larry Doby had only seven seasons left to play and would lead the league in just two important batting categories, home runs and RBI, both in 1954. At age twenty-nine, Enos Slaughter still had fourteen years of big league ball left but would never lead the league in an category but triples (1949). From age twenty-nine on, Minnie Minoso led the league in hits once, triples three times, total bases once, and stolen bases three times. From age twenty-nine on, Larry Doby never hit .300; from age twenty-nine on, Enos Slaughter hit .300 six times; and from age twenty-nine on, Minnie Minoso hit over .300 eight times.
If Larry Doby and Enos Slaughter deserve to be in Cooperstown, doesn't Minne Minoso also deserve to be? And if Enos Slaughter was cut a little slack for his military service, and Larry Doby for the immense burden of being the league's first black player, who about cutting Minnie Minoso a little for beginning his career at a point when most players are at the halfway mark?
[Minoso] remains the Invisible Hall of Famer, and in this respect his career set a pattern for Latin stars that have followed. Latin ballplayers, white, black, or of mixed parentage, are still baseball's invisible men. Of the twenty players chosen to start the 2001 All Star game, eight were Latinos. If Pedro Martinez wasn't injured, that would have been nine of twenty...If pressed to pick the single biggest difference between the game before 1950 and the game as it is played now, I'd have to cite the dominance of Latin players.
"Minnie is to Latin players what Jackie Robinson is to black players. He was the first Latin player to become what in today's language is a 'superstar,'" said Orlando Cepeda.
Now that the former players have something to say about the vote, you would hope that Cepeda, and Ted Williams were not alone in their acknowledgement of Minoso's significance.
Personally, I can't wait to read more about him. I'll keep you posted when I do.
MEANWHILE, AT THE HALL
MEANWHILE, AT THE HALL OF JUSTICE
There are several good articles on the Veterans Committee which have been published recently that are worth investigating.
The first, "A Brief History of the Veterans Committee," written by Neal Traven for Baseball Prospectus, is a concise overview, and a great place to start, especially for those who aren't one hundred percent sure what the Veterans Committee is all about.
Tom Verducci from SI, also wrote an insightful piece, delineating the newly revamped Veterans Committee's selection process:
Give the Hall of Fame credit. Its purpose for re-engineering the Veterans Committee was noble. It wanted to end the back-room cronyism and bring more voices into play. Now 84 members will vote: 58 Hall of Famers, 13 Frick Award winners (those in the broadcasters' wing of the Hall), 11 Spink Award winners (from the writers' wing) and two members of the old committee whose terms have not yet expired. A player must be named on at least 75 percent of the ballots to gain enshrinement. Great. But creating the ballot for the new committee proved troublesome.
First, the Hall, with help from Elias Sports Bureau, identified the more than 1,400 players who played at least 10 years in the big leagues, up to and including the 1981 season. A 10-person committee of writers and historians whittled that list to 200.
Next, a screening committee of 60 writers (two from each major league city with one team and four from those with two) was individually charged with voting for 25 players from that list of 200. I served on that committee, and it was the most difficult assignment I had all year...
Remember that cheesy promotion last season when fans were asked to vote for the 10 greatest moments in baseball history? The voting populace, many of whom used the Internet to cast their ballot, had no sense of history. Basically, if they didn't see it on SportsCenter, people didn't vote for it. That's why Kirk Gibson's home run made the top 10 and Bobby Thomson's didn't, among other short-sighted mistakes.
That same lack of perspective -- or worse, was it laziness? -- poisoned the screening committee results. Hey, with 200 names, the 25-slice pie could have been cut many ways. There is no "right'' outcome. But we do know more historical balance was needed. To virtually disregard the first three-quarters of a century of baseball is wrong, if not shameful.
Moreover, the Hall of Fame asked six of its former players to serve as another sort of screening committee. They were charged with picking five players from the list of 200. Four of the five players they selected were on the writers' ballot. Their fifth choice, while not identified, was added to the other 25, putting the ballot at 26.
And that's how just about everybody who retired before 1950 got hosed. Of the 26 who made the final cut:
， none retired prior to 1929.
， only four played their entire careers before World War II.
， 19 played in the 1960s.
・Now, falling through another crack, are those old-timers who don't show up on the radar of the screening committee. And after this well-intentioned process, the fear is that they are gone for good.
・Sadly, there aren't many true veterans on either ballot for the Veterans Committee to consider. The Veterans Committee has been revamped all right. They ought to call it the Baby Boomer Committee now.
Marc Hugunin applied Bill James' Kelter List to the group of twenty-six players up for consideration by the Veterans Committee over at Baseball Primer. For general reference, those questions are as follows:
1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
2. Was he the best player on his team?
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?
6. Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?
8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
OK, those are the questions, here is Hugunin's conclusion:
It has been suggested that questions #1 and 6 are the only ones that really matter in HoF voting. In the case of the veteran's ballot, a clear "yes" cannot be said of any player in answer to these questions. So the hair-splitting of the rest of the Keltner List becomes more helpful here than with the BBWAA ballot.
So, taking all of the questions and answers into account, it seems clear that Santo, Allen, Minoso, Gordon, Boyer, Oliva, Pinson, Flood and Bonds are the best candidates on the veteran's ballot. Each of these players can appeal to eight or more of the above to make their case, with Santo able to appeal to the most areas of analysis！ten.
On WS, Santo was arguably the best player in MLB in '66 and '67, at which time he was also the best player on his team and at his position. He played more than 2000 games and may be the best eligible player not in the HoF, overall and at his position. He had several MVP-type and many All-Star caliber seasons. If he was the best player on his team, it could at least contend for a pennant.
No other player on the veteran's ballot can put quite so many items on the plus side of his case, though if you set aside Allen's demerits on the so-called character issue he might even rank ahead of Santo. I don't wish to debate the merits of the demerits, only to point out that they have surely hurt Allen's historical ranking and may hurt him on this ballot. But if you set that aside, he is probably the top-rated player on the ballot on questions #2, 6 and 10.
Minoso probably benefits even more than Allen from this analysis, in the sense that everybody knows about Allen's positives and negatives and has made up his mind. Minoso's accomplishments have, in contrast, been somewhat forgotten. His late start diminishes his career numbers and the shadow of Ted Williams diminishes his peak. But he benefits the most from consideration of question #9, and scores highly on his MVP-type and All-Star type seasons and comps.
Gordon, having retired 50 years ago, also benefits from the close scrutiny of the Keltner List. He scores highly among second basemen, for his pennant race and post-season performances, and for his MVP season. Boyer scores well for his longtime leadership of the Cardinals team, including a team that won a World Championship. Oliva has the best comps and a good record in MVP voting.
Pinson's comps are better than most, Flood stands out on defense and for his stand against the reserve clause, and Bonds at his position and for his then unusual power/speed combo.
Torre, Wills, Colavito, Lolich and Reynolds can make claims against several of the categories but lack a real high point to hang their hat on. Hodges ranks highly on certain elements but perhaps not enough of them.
On the other side of the coin, one could argue that the BBWAA has done its job correctly in determining that none of these 26 players is a HoFer. It is shocking how few of them were ever even the best player on his own team, and how few of them led his team to a pennant. Few of them could play beyond his prime, and their comps, as a whole, stink.
But I would hope that some combination of Santo, Allen, Minoso and Gordon is selected.
I have no problem with Santo or Dick Allen going in, and I love Joe Gordon, so I've got no beef there either. I expect Marvin Miller, who is on the composite ballot, to be respected properly while he's still around to experience it. The man seems bitter enough; let him enjoy his just due. No matter how much I'm fascinated by Curt Flood, I don't know that I'd put him. Believe me if they ever did, I'd never be happier with a selection that I may have reservations about; even though he's dead, Flood deserves all the public tribute and recognition that he can get.
But the more I've thought about it over the past couple of weeks, the more convinced I am that Minnie Minoso is a Hall of Famer. I had read Allen Barra's profile on Minoso last summer in his collection, "Clearing the Bases," and was duly impressed, both with Minoso's talents as a player, and his importance as the first dark-skinned Latino to play in the major leagues. Barra asked a pertinent question: why is Minoso, the Jackie Robinson of Latin ballplayers not in the Hall of Fame? Especially when his numbers are comparable to say, Larry Doby.
My father has wondered out loud for years why Larry Doby has been so overlooked in comparison with Robinson? This is coming from a man who modestly asserts that he's "second-to-none as a Jackie fan." The point is not to take anything away from Robinson, but to note just how neglected Doby is in comparison. Being the first black player in the American League has to amount to something, no? But if Doby has been shortchanged in some way by coming in second to Robinson, then Minoso doesn't place at all.
It just seems odd. Especially considering the socially-sensitive culture we live in. Where are the Latin protest groups? How come no one is fighting the good fight for Minnie Minoso? This seems particularly alarming when you consider how popular he was during his heyday in the 1950's in Chicago with the Go-Go White Sox.
"There is a reason they call it the second city," opined my old man.
Casting all aspersions aside, it's a pretty big deal when the first black player in Chicago, an effusive, and personable star, has a remarkable career in many ways, only to be summarily dissed by the baseball establishment. I can't figure why the media hasn't picked up on it. The only thing I can guess is that perhaps Minoso is seen in retrospect as something of a clown. The old dude who kept coming back for a couple of at bats. Or maybe he's not keen right now because he isn't hard enough. There is no edge. And if no one is going to come out and straight up say Minoso was an Uncle Tom, maybe that's what they are thinking. How cool is that? How tough is that. It's a similar brand of scorn and neglect that greeted in some quarters as Louis Armstrong throughout his old age. I may be completely off, but I'm at a loss as to why there isn't more support in the media and amongst baseball fans for Minoso.
GRAND OPENING The Yankees
The Yankees held what is being called the biggest press conference in team history yesterday, to introduce their new left-fielder, who coincidentally is the most popular player in Japan, Hideki Matsui. John Harper writes today in the Daily News that the "press conference was...big...flowery," and "reeking of self-congratulation." Nothing suprising there.
Bob Raissman adds another piece in the News about the effects the Japanese media will have on the Yankees this season. He quotes Lou Pinella, who has had plenty of experience managing a Japanese phenom: "Let me put it this way, Joe's going to earn his money this year," Piniella said. "He's going to have to spend more time dealing with the media."
Joe Torre interrupted his vacation in Hawaii to attend the affair, and bristled at the recent criticisms Boss George laid on him, and his staff (Harper is one of the first local columnists to predict that Bronx Zoo-like craziness could be in store for Torre and his team this year; Jack Curry hinted as much in the Times yeserday too):
"My coaches work hard," Torre snapped. "We're all disappointed; I was disappointed. I was worried about Anaheim. We all knew they were good, that they could cause you problems because they don't strike out.
"Even though when you're wearing this uniform, you understand you're expected to get to the World Series. But we won 103 games. If we were going to slack off, we'd have done it when we clinched the division. We just got beat.
"We didn't stop working. Sure, I'm disappointed, but I don't look back and say I'd have done something different."
"My job is to put things together best I can," Torresaid. "The eight starters ！ sure it's nice to say use five of them and put three in the bullpen ！ but you're not dealing with playing cards in the basement. You're dealing with people."
"I told (Weaver) last year when I put him in the bullpen that he was one of the future guys on this ballclub and that he's going to be a starter," Torre said. "But again, everybody can't start."
Hey Joe, never let em see ya sweat, babe.
COLON BLOCK PARTY
The Yankees may still have something to say about Montreal starter, Bartolo Colon after all. Here is an excerpt from the backpage cover story in today's Daily News:
Sources told The Daily News yesterday that general manager Brian Cashman spent much of the day trying to negotiate a three-way deal with the Expos and either the Marlins or White Sox that would involve 20-game winner Bartolo Colon.
The primary motivation for the Yankees to make a deal is to keep Colon away from the Red Sox, who have been trying to make a deal for the Expos righthander.
In the deals under consideration, Colon would not end up in pinstripes but with the third team, Florida or Chicago, which would send the Yankees a top prospect. The Expos would get the Yanks' Orlando Hernandez, but would have to pay only a portion of the $4 million-$5 million salary he is expected to be awarded in arbitration.
The Boston Globe confirmed the story, adding:
Meanwhile, the Sox' hopes of landing a starting pitcher from Montreal - they were working on a multiteam deal that would have landed them Javier Vazquez - were dashed as Montreal was on the verge of sending ace Bartolo Colon to the White Sox in a three-team deal involving the Yankees. The Expos would also receive first baseman Jeff Liefer from the White Sox. Expos GM Omar Minaya did not return a phone call late last night seeking confirmation.
The Yankees planned to send righthander Orlando Hernandez to the Expos - and pay most, if not all, of his salary (he made $3.2 million last season and is arbitration eligible) - while receiving righthanded reliever Antonio Osuna from the White Sox, for whom he was 8-2 with a 3.86 ERA in 59 games. The White Sox apparently needed to move Osuna's $2.4 million salary in order to clear enough payroll space to take on Colon's $8.25 million salary. Ostensibly, Osuna would replace Ramiro Mendoza, who signed with the Sox as a free agent.
CLOSE BUT NO MILLAR? WHAT GIVES?
There are conflicting reports this morning regarding the Red Sox possible aquisition of former Florida Marlins first baseman, Kevin Millar.
According to the AP:
Former Marlins outfielder Kevin Millar intends to reject a waiver claim Tuesday by the Boston Red Sox, saying he will go through with plans to play in Japan this year.
Millar agreed last week to a $6.2 million, two-year contract with Chunichi of the Central League, a deal with a player option for 2005 that could make the agreement worth more than $10 million.
Florida put Millar on waivers to get him off the Marlins' 40-man roster. Boston claimed him, but as a veteran player Millar had the right to reject the claim.
The Marlins issued a statement saying Millar's agent, Sam Levinson, had informed them he was rejecting the claim and his client would play in Japan.
Levinson, reached late Tuesday night, confirmed Millar has an agreement with the Dragons and said he expects Boston's claim to be rejected by the end of Wednesday
But in today's Boston Globe, Bob Hohler and Gordon Edes are praising rookie GM Theo Epstein for pulling off "one of the shrewdest acquisitions in recent Red Sox lore":
Theo Epstein yesterday defied tradition by claiming Kevin Millar off waivers from the Florida Marlins as a prelude to extricating him from his contract with Japan's Chunichi Dragons and signing him to play first base at Fenway Park.
Millar, a career .296 hitter whom the Sox have long coveted, planned to reject the waiver claim, according to a source close to him. By doing that, Millar would become a free agent, severing his ties to the Marlins and leaving him encumbered only by the two-year, $6.2 million deal he signed last week with the Dragons after the Japanese team paid the Marlins $1.2 million for the right to negotiate with him.
The Sox would then compensate the Dragons to release Millar, according to a source familiar with how the scenario is expected to unfold. That would free Millar to sign with the Sox, which both sides expect to occur.
''We're confident we can reach a resolution of this matter that will make all sides happy and leave everybody whole,'' said Epstein, who declined to discuss details of the multilayered endeavor.
By claiming Millar off waivers after the Marlins sought his unconditional release, the Sox broke an informal code by which one team generally does not interfere with another club's transaction with an overseas organization such as the Dragons. The Marlins were formerly owned by Sox principal owner John W. Henry.
''They broke a gentleman's agreement,'' a Marlins source said. ''This is [b.s]. Yeah, we're [peeved].''
Epstein expressed a smidgeon of contrition.
''It was not our intention to violate any unwritten rule,'' he said. ''We were simply putting our best foot forward.''
Officially, the Marlins released a statement that said they had conferred with Millar's agent, Sam Levinson.
''Levinson has told the Marlins that Kevin Millar will reject the Red Sox claim and play for the Chunichi Dragons in 2003,'' the Marlins said.
The statement was half-right, anyway, since Millar would reject the claim. But he made clear after he signed with the Dragons that he would have stayed in the major leagues for less money if he were given the opportunity. He lost that chance when the Marlins effectively sold him to Chunichi, of the Japanese Central League, clearing the way for the Dragons to sign him to the richest contract in the team's history.
Millar, 31, earned $1.05 million from Florida last season, when he hit .306 with 16 homers and 57 RBIs. He was eligible for arbitration, in which he could have doubled his salary. But the Marlins, who used Millar mostly in the outfield, opted to acquire Todd Hollandsworth and Gerald Williams, making Millar expendable.
''If some major league team had offered me $1.5 million and told me I could play every day, I probably would have taken it,'' he was quoted as saying after he signed with Chunichi in a deal that also included a $3 million option for a third season. ''But to walk away from that much money on the table in Japan, I don't think it would have been responsible for my family.''
Enter the Sox, who tried in vain several times over the last year to obtain Millar in a trade. While the Sox seemed to have little hope in recent days of overcoming the thicket of major league rules and international legal entanglements to land the righthanded hitter, they quietly laid the groundwork for the surprise move by exploring the possibilities and apparently satisfying themselves that the Dragons and Millar would be open to their initiative.
''It's something we haven't done lightly,'' Epstein said. ''We researched it so we could proceed without infringing on the rights of the Marlins, the Chunichi Dragons, or Kevin Millar. We were comfortable making the claim when we were confident there were several possible resolutions of this move and all of them would involve the teams being made whole and not ending up with less than what they started with.''
The Marlins, despite their anger over Epstein's methods, ultimately should have no complaint over the financial fallout because they would not forfeit their payment from the Dragons. And the Sox could compensate the Dragons by giving them outfielder/first baseman Benny Agbayani, whose production is similar to Millar's and who is popular in Japan both because of his Hawaiian roots and his appearance with the Mets in the 2000 World Series. The Dragons also would receive cash from the Sox, presumably at least the amount Chunichi paid the Marlins.
The Globe usually gets things right, so I assume Millar is in fact going to Beantown. I'll update the story as it unfolds...
ROBBIE REDUX Bob Klapisch
Bob Klapisch updated the piece he wrote on Robbie Alomar for the Bergan Record last week for espn today. It is essentially the same article, but worth looking at if you missed it the first time round. Alomar predicts, "I'm going to have a great year," and I tend to agree with him.
"I've done a lot of thinking, and I know I'm ready for New York now," Alomar said the other day. "I know what to expect now with the fans, the media, just New York in general. I'm not just going to have a good year, I'm ready to have a great year."
For this to happen, Alomar makes only one on-field request of new manager Art Howe. He wants to bat in the same spot in the batting order every day -- a complete break with former manager Bobby Valentine's philosophy that a fluid lineup produces better offensive results.
Alomar wouldn't mind batting second ahead of, say, Cliff Floyd, but it remains to be seen who GM Steve Phillips will find to play third base. Alomar was mildly critical of the Mets' decision to let Edgardo Alfonzo leave as a free agent, and says, "whoever we get to play third has to be able to hit in the middle of the lineup. We need another right-handed bat."
Alomar is the first to admit he was practically invisible as a right-handed hitter last summer, batting just .204 with only nine extra-base hits in 162 at-bats. Much of the problem, he admits, was self-induced, or as he put it, "putting too much pressure on myself.
"I know what I'm capable of and I tried to do more than that," he said. "I was never able to totally relax."
His anxiety contributed to an overall sense of unease in the Met clubhouse, one the club is finally addressing. Not only did the Mets sign stand-up professionals like Tom Glavine and Mike Stanton this winter, but they traded Rey Ordonez to the Devil Rays -- his fate sealed when the shortstop called Mets fans "stupid" at the end of the 2002 season.
Silly me. I thought the root of Alomar's problems was the fact he, not Mike Piazza, was the gay Met. Just a horseshit hunch, but if the shoe fits...
MY FAVORITE THINGS・OF 2002
MY FAVORITE THINGS・OF 2002
II. The Best Game I Sorta Seen
I was as happy as any Yankee fan could be when Boss George brought Jason Giambi to the Yankees after the 2001 campaign. Although I understood the sentimental attachment fans had for Tino Martinez, I felt Tino's career as a Yankee was a perfect bridge between superstars Mattingly and Giambi, and therefore didn't feel overly emotional about his leaving.
I attended the first home series of the 2002 season at the Stadium and strained to hold my tongue in the face of the boo's that cascaded down on the Yankees' new slugger. Let them have their say, I reasoned with myself, while I was secretly stewing. They miss Tino, and are entitled to have their say. Whatever. I really wanted to lash out and call the boo birds a bunch of ignorant slobs, but why fight nature's cycle? It was only a matter of time before they would be showering Giambo with cheers.
Later in the spring, I developed a case of dizziness as a result of a stomach virus. It was a minor version of what native New Yorker, Jamal Mashburn, power-forward for the erstwhile Charlotte Hornets, contracted during the playoffs. New York is a tough town for dizziness. Everything is in motion. Needless to say, the subways and crowds of pedestrians became a temporary challenge.
This was the condition I found myself in when I went to see the latest "Star Wars" installment during it's opening week in late May. I had plans with some of my closest friends to catch an afternoon showing at the Zeigfield and then catch the Yankee-Minnesota game later that night (my girl caught up with us for the second leg of the tour at the Stadium). Well, standing on line for the movie on 5th avenue was unsettling in and of itself, but when the movie started, I knew I was in for a long day. The entire first reel of the movie was not meant for those with vertigo, however mild my case may have been. I closed my eyes a lot, and breathed deeply. The deep breathing proved problematic, as there was a toddler next to me with enough flatulence to knock a buzzard of a shit wagon.
When we made it to the Bronx, it was already raining lightly. Our seats were in the upper tier section out in left field, which didn't help my stomach settle down any. Or the dizziness. But as uncomfortable as I was, part of me was fascinated by the strange sensation of being so unnerved by the open space, and sitting so high up. I'd catch the flight of a bird sail past, and feel like I was going to fall over. I'm not one to leave a game until the final out is recorded, but I resigned myself to leave when I couldn't take it any longer.
The Yanks fell behind early, but came storming back, handing Mike Mussina a cushy 8-3 lead, which he promptly pissed away. After six full, I had had enough (of the vertigo, not the Yanks), so Em and I left our gang, and headed home with the Yanks now trailing, 9-8.
The score remained the same when we got back to my place. Emily and I were embroiled in some deep emotional strudel at that time, so I blew off the end of the game in favor of hashing things out with her. Just as we were falling asleep the phone rang. My friend Liz, who was still at the Stadium, reported that Bernie had just hit a solo shot to tie the game at 9 in the bottom of the ninth. It wasn't the time to get overly excited, so I gave her specific instructions not to call again unless she had good news to report.
She didn't call back.
I checked my answering machine in the morning. Nothing. That was that, I thought.
Emily and I picked up where we had left off the night before in the Land of Total Heaviosity, talking for hours, exhausting us silly. Eventually I stepped out to get the papers, get the papers. It was still raining.
As fate would have it, when I turned the tabloids over to check the back pages, I discovered that Jason Giambi had hit a grand slam in the bottom of the 14th to win the damn thing for the Yanks. Holy fuggin sheet. I was way too excited for Giambi to feel badly for having missed it myself. Later, when I saw the replays I imagined Joe Torre greeting Giambi like Paul Sorvino welcoming the young Henry Hill outside the courthouse after his first bust in "Good Fellas": "Hey, you broke your cherry!"
Cue: "Rags to Riches."
I was only sorry that I wasn't there to give the big fella his props in person. But then, he didn't have to deal with too many boo bird after that night, did he?
ON AND ON・
Travis Mutchell, who covers the Yankees with a sharp eye, and an even sharper wit, has reached the 5,000-hit milestone at his site, Boy of Summer. I want to take the time to not only give him a shout of hearty congradulations, but to recommend his page to anyone with even a remote interest in the Bronx Bombers. Even if you hate the Yanks, check it out. It's good and good for you.
DAMNED YANKEE Newsday reported
Newsday reported last week that despite the persistent rumors, super-prospect Drew Henson has no intentions of leaving baseball for a career in football. That's too bad because right now Henson doesn't look like much more than one of George's boffo busts.
In his latest chat rap, espn minor-league analyst John Sickels commented, "I have several questions here about Henson. I'm very concerned about him...he's shown no growth as a prospect at all, and in some ways has gone backward. If he doesn't turn it around this year, I don't think he will."
THAT'S A WRAP
According to the AP, "The Venezuelan Winter League canceled the rest of its season Monday because it can't guarantee security, supplies and media coverage during an anti-government strike."
David Pinto has a great link to instapundit, for anyone who is interested in reading more about the tumult in Venezuela.
Pinto also tracked down a lengthy article on baseball in Latin America from the Star-Tribune yesterday that is well worth checking out.
TELL ME SOMETHING I DON'T KNOW
There is a piece in today's Boston Globe suggesting that the Red Sox have more interest in Javier Vazquez than in Bartolo Colon. Duh. The Boston Herald chims in too.
LOOKING AHEAD Here are
Here are two articles that look forward to the 2003 season: one by Peter Gammons of espn, the other by Tom Singer of mlb.com. We'll check back in October to see what to make of it all.
VETERAN UMP PASSES AWAY
VETERAN UMP PASSES AWAY
Durwood Merrill, an American League umpire for 23 years, died Saturday at the age of 64. Jerome Holtzman contributes an obituary for mlb.com.
This story is a keeper, if you haven't heard it already:
A 6-foot, 200-pounder, Merrill had a thick neck and a barrel chest and seemed intimidating behind the plate. But he always had a good sense of humor. Once at Fenway Park, a little old lady leaned over the rail and yelled, "If you were my husband, I'd feed you poison."
Merrill shouted back, "Lady, if I were married to you, I'd eat it."
JOSE, CAN YOU READ?
JOSE, CAN YOU READ?
Alan Schwarz has a nice appreciation of Jim Brosnan's seminal book "The Long Season" (1960) in light of Jose Canseco's pending tell-all biography. Schwarz notes that Bronsan's book opened the door that Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" would kick down nearly a decade later:
When "The Long Season" came out in 1960, a young pitcher named Jim Bouton was pitching for the Yankees' Carolina League team in Greensboro, N.C. He bought it, read it, and decided to carry some of Brosnan's sensibilities to the big leagues.
"I really enjoyed it tremendously," Bouton told me of "The Long Season" several years ago. "I remember when I was reading the book, the parts that excited me the most were whenever he would quote any of the players or coaches ... It was fascinating to me what the ballplayers actually said to each other during games, in the bullpens, or after games. It really revealed them as personalities. What were these guys like? How did they think? What do they talk about? What's going on in their heads, you know?"
BILL JAMES, YANKS IN FULL EFFECT
Bill James' fingerprints are all over the Red Sox bullpen reconfiguration this winter. Theo Epstein didn't need to be convinced by the sabertmetrics guru either, reports Gordon Edes in his Sunday column in the Globe.
In a seperate item, Edes offers a look at the Yankees financial muscle. "Baseball historian Glenn Stout, who collaborated with Richard A. Johnson, curator of the Sports Museum of New England, on the definitive history of the Red Sox, "Red Sox Century," last year did the same for "Yankees Century," another seminal work. Stout addressed the subject of the Yankees' purported financial advantage over their rivals in an essay titled 'YANKEE$' Here's an excerpt:
''Of course it's the money. But it's not only the money. And that distinction makes all the difference.
''Since 1903 the New York Yankees have been among the wealthiest teams in baseball, but it is incorrect to attribute all of their success to the size of their bank account. In fact, for most of their tenure atop the baseball world one or more other teams have had just as much if not more money than the Yankees. But no other team has spent it as wisely and as well.
''Under Jacob Ruppert, the Yankees were probably the wealthiest team in baseball. But the personal resources of Tom Yawkey, who purchased the Red Sox in 1933, far outstripped those of the Yankees. For much of the next 45 years, Boston's payroll was larger than that of the Yankees. The Milwaukee Braves of the 1950s, Walter O'Malley's Dodgers in the 1960s, and the Cardinals of August Busch were all similarly capable of outspending the Yankees.
''In recent years, under George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' financial advantage - much of it due to a series of lucrative television contracts - has in general been more pronounced. At any given time during Steinbrenner's reign, however, there have been as many as a half-dozen other teams with similar resources - Ewing Kaufman's Kansas City Royals, Gene Autry's California Angels, and Ted Turner's Atlanta Braves, for example. It is interesting to note that from 1982 to 1993, despite the abundance of their resources, the Yankees won nothing.
''In 2001 the Dodgers and the Red Sox both had payrolls virtually identical to New York's. The difference in wins and losses, however, was dramatic. The truth is that the Yankees have done more with their money than other clubs. Consider this: Since 1923 the Yankees have spent close to a billion dollars on salaries, making the average cost of each of their 26 world championships around $40 million. Their cost per world championship has been less than any other team in baseball.''
SHINJO'S BACK: GODZILLA'S IN TOWN
While Yankee fans eagerly await the unvieling of Hideki Matsui at the Stadium tomorrow, the Mets signed outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo to a one-year deal worth $600,000 over the weekend (he can earn another $400,000 in performance bonuses based on plate appearances). My cousin Gabe and I are both very pleased to see the androgynous (re: girl) Shinjo back with the Mets.
Here is a take on the deal from a Phillies fan's perspective, courtesy of Mike's Baseball Rants:
The AP says that [Shinjo] was signed as insurance in case the projected regular center fielder, Roger Cedeno fails. This is a tremendous vote of confidence for Cedeno and also a poor plan. Should Cedeno fail, are the Mets prepared to eat the remaining three years and $14.5 M on his contract? They have been rumored to be shopping him around, but it is extremely doubtful that anyone would be willing to take on his salary.
I'm confused. Wasn't Timo Perez basically the Mets starting center fielder last year after they traded Jay Payton to the Rockies while Cedeno only played leftfield last year? Wasn't Perez also the best outfielder on the Mets' roster last year? And isn't Perez 27 and still improving while Shinjo is 30 and declining. (Cedeno is 27 as well but has been through 5 organizations and has seen his OPS drop each of the last four years). If all this is true, why are they considering anyone other than Perez for centerfield? Two words！Steve Phillips.
By the way, adding Shinjo in no way clears the way for a Burntiz and/or Cedeno trade. The Mets have been shopping the two disappointing players！and their salaries！without much luck this entire offseason. If I were Phillips, I would stick Perez in the center field slot next to Cliff Floyd in left. After that, it seems the best option is the apparently untradeable Jeromy Burnitz in right. Burnitz is a decent bet to turn things around in 2003. He had 6 straight seasons prior to last year with an OPS at least 7% better than average. He will be 34 next season, however, and it's possible that he is no longer capable of being a productive player. He had been declining slightly in the last two years before signing with the Mets. Of course, the foolishness in signing these players to such lucrative contract to begin with is what no has them in this mess (especially Cedeno, who was supposed to be their leadoff hitter last year but had just come off a year with a .337 on-base percentage).
Ostensibly, Perez is now the fifth outfielder behind the three designated starters (Cedeno, Cliff Floyd, and Jeromy Burnitz) and Shinjo. Shinjo can play all three outfield positions well and was brought in potentially to replace Cedeno, so I assume he becomes the #4 outfielder. So where does that leave Perez? Apparently, he will be fighting Brady Clark and Joe McEwing for the last one or two spots available in the outfield.
That would be great, just great. Perhaps McEwing will be retained because of his versatility and Clark for flashes of talent after being acquired form the Reds last year (including a 3-for-3 game). It would make sense because two starters (Burnitz and Floyd) bat left-handed and the third is a switch-hitter. The Mets would probably prefer to retain the two right-handed bats over Perez' lefty one. That would mean the Perez would be traded, demoted, or released. Perhaps the Phillies can pick him up. He would be a superior to Ricky Ledee as a sub for Marlon Byrd. Whatever happens, it is highly probable that Perez will no longer be an integral part of the team in 2003 and he is probably the least deserving of such an honor of all the Mets' disappointing outfielders.
One last item related to Perez, he made $205K last year as a third-year veteran. That's only $5K over the major-league minimum. Perez would also be the cheapest of all of the players concerned (except perhaps for Clark). So the apparent rejection of him makes little sense based on performance or on salary. That's a twin killing for GM extraordinaire Steve Phillips. How does he do it?
The [Saturday] Times also reports that the search for a Mets third baseman continues. However, they have ruled out a trade for KC's Joe Randa. They are at an impasse with free agent Jose Hernandez (who's mostly a shortstop any way). And they got shot down by Houston in trying to acquire Geoff Blum. It looks like the only viable candidate is free agent Tyler Houston, who the Mets had been talking to prior to the failed attempt to acquire Boston's Shea Hillenbrand in a three-way trade.
This is a team that is supposed to compete in the NL East next year? They did improve their staff by picking up Tom Glavine and the offense by picking up Cliff Floyd (oh, and the avuncular John Franco may return), but with huge holes in right and third and now a self-made one in center, they could have a repeat of 2002. I think what this aging team needs is a babysitter to make sure that they don't get into trouble. Heck who needs a third baseman anyway? They're just overrated. I hope Philips has set up a seach agent on Hot Jobs.
THE CHICAGO WAY A
THE CHICAGO WAY
A Movie Review
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the movie musical, like slapstick comedy, is a virtually lost art form. "Chicago", the filmed adaptation of Bob Fosse's revue, has opened to rave reviews from the critics, suggesting their still may be life in the musical idiom after all. (That Sean Penn's pratfall in "I am Sam" stands as the best pratfall in recent memory doesn't bode well for the return of slapstick anytime soon.)
I saw "Chicago" this past weekend in Greenwich, CT, which is a story in itself. My girl and I took in a late afternoon show with the local geriatrics, and we had the grave misfortune to be seated behind Quasimoto in a cardigan with a swollen prostate, an itchy scalp, and a twitchy neck to boot. I've never seen a respectable member of an upstanding community fidget so damn much during a movie. Emily and I took turns sitting behind the knuckle-dragger so he wouldn't ruin the entire movie for either one of us.
"Chicago" is an evocative and well-crafted musical, which feels like a movie, not simply an adaptation of a stage play. It is nowhere near as frenetic as "Moulin Rouge", for which I was thankful. The director Rob Marshall offers some stunning visuals, but the editing is still too rapid, too cutty for my liking. It's as if either the director, a) doesn't trust the images---or the audience's attention span---enough to linger on a single shot for too long, or b) the hyper-activity of the editing is intended to make up for the short-comings of the actors. Perhaps, the brisk cutting was a conscious choice of style and pacing, but it distracted me from the performances.
"Chicago" moves at a brisk, lively pace. Renee Zellweger, an actress I don't have much affection for, is more than game, and she delivers a winning performance, overcoming her limitations as a musical/theater actress by the sheer force of her willingness to enjoy herself and please the audience. Catherine Zeta-Jones, on the other hand, is so intent on blowing everyone away, that she comes across as wooden, mechanical. It's not that she isn't trying. If anything, she's trying too hard. She can sing, and dance, but it feels like work; Cyd Charisse, she's not. Even her dramatic scenes feel hollow (something she does have in common with Charisse). She's a bitch, without the bite.
Richard Gere has developed into a polished actor; the gray suits him. (I think his role, as the corrupt cop in "Internal Affairs" was a turning point.) Gere's first number is a bit shaky---I half-covered my eyes for fear of being embarrassed on his behalf, but he recovers nicely and handles the role with aplomb, and humor. It was nice to see Queen Latifah in the supporting role as Mama Morton, though she isn't really a singer or an actress, and John C. Riley, expertly cast, is once again, on the mark with a sympathetic, and earnest performance as the nice guy who finishes last.
Musicals never really die off completely. They keep coming back because even if they aren't well made, there is an audience for them. They are a truly great American invention after all. "Chicago" is likely to satiate old-time musical lovers and attract younger audiences as well.
DOBY AND THE TITTY
DOBY AND THE TITTY PITCH
I was perusing Danny Peary's oversized, oral history, "We Played the Game: 65 Players Remember Baseball's Greatest Era--1947-1964" (1994} this weekend, looking for the lowdown on Minnie Minoso. I happened to run across an entry from Mudcat Grant, a player I recently encountered in Terry Pluto's "The Curse of Rocky Colavito", and I wanted to share this entry because it sheds some light on Larry Doby, president of the Nice-Guys-Finish-Second Club, and offers a good Satcial Paige anecdote. (Aren't they all good?)
Next to Grant's entry, is a photo of a young Mudcat in 1958. Resting his hand against his cheek, Grant's wide face is open and curious. There is a restraint there, but it barely conceals a sense of pride, and accomplishment.
The caption reads: A personalbe, outspoken right-hander from Lacoochee, Florida, Jim "Mudcat" Grant reached the Cleveland Indians in 1958 and would become the American League's first black starting pitcher.
In my rookie season, I was inserted into a good rotation with Cal McLish, Gary Bell, and Ray Narleski. I pitched over 200 innnings, won 10 games and never returned to the minores. I preferred beginning my major league career with Cleveland rather than the Yankees or the Red Sox because the Indians and Dodgers had been the ringleaders in signing black players. As a young boy, Jackie Robinson had been my main hero until the Indians signed Larry Doby. I liked that name! [which proves that it takes one to know one] Thos guys inspired me to want to be a major league ballplayer. Now the Indians made me the only black starting pitcher in the American League. The only other black starters were Don Newcombe and Brooks Lawrence of the Reds and one of my heroes, the Cardinals' Sad Sam Jones. On the Cubs, Sam became the first black to pitche a no-hitter after staying out all night.
I got to play with my greatest hero, Larry Doby. The most I ever learned about the game was from him. He taught me everything I know from how to dress and mix colors to how to become part of the community. Larry made sure he went out into his community and spoke to people. He knew people by name from everyhwere from Kansas City to Washington D.C. Larry would say we're going to some barbershop in Cleveland or restaurant in Chicago or some friend's apartment in Detriot. When I first went to Washington D.C., he introudced me to Adam Clyton Powell. He introudced me to Sarah Vaughn, Miles Davis, Count Basie, and Billie Holiday. I had listened to their music on 78s and here was Larry casually introducing me to them. We'd sit down and talk about everything under the sun---all day long. Larry was quiet to people who didn't know him and never said too much or ventured an opinion. But he'd open up to those he knew well. I knew of his disappointments because I'd ask him...
Of course, Larry couldn't really teach me much about pitching. But I already knew something about that. You know who gave me the best advice? Satcial Paige. I met him in about 1955, when we both were in the minors, and had some great conversations with him. I asked him what he thought was the most important thing about being a pitcher. He told me, "Young man, you gotta have a titty pitch. If you don't have a titty pitch, you can't win." I asked, "What is a titty pitch?" I thought he was putting me on, getting ready to say something about sex. He ran his hand across his chest and said, "A titty pitch is right here." Of course, he was right about the need to pitch inside to win the big leagues. He just had a different way of putting it.
TOO HOT TO TROT
The political unrest is Venezuela may impact it's native players from returning to the States for the upcoming season. After Houston outfielder Richard Hidalgo was attacked earlier this winter, slick-fielding short stop legend, Chico Carrasquel was car jacked last week and roughed up some too.
"I didn't resist. The car really wasn't important to me. My biggest worry was that they threatened to kill one of my sisters, a cousin who is pregnant and my 3-year-old granddaughter,'' Carrasquel said.
"Thank God they didn't do any permanent injury. But unfortunately what happened to me happens every day here. We Venezuelans live in a state of permanent anxiety.''
[Carrasquel] said Thursday he's decided to travel to a home he owns in the United States.
"I'll return to Chicago after my birthday (Jan. 23). But I'm leaving sad and scared,'' he said
Here is an excerpt from a column in Saturday's New York Times delineating the turmoil in Venezuela:
Venezuela has for decades been one of the most dependable sources of petroleum for the United States, where industry analysts say the strike has already hurt some refineries and driven up the retail price of gasoline by at least a dime a gallon.
Those shortages will only worsen, and prices continue to rise, if the United States attacks Iraq, they prediceted. That means that war in the Persian Gulf could prove more costly to the American economy than had been projected if the Venezuelan standoff is not ended soon...
"This is an incredibly important moment in Venezuelan history," a senior State Department offical said. "Things are happening now that are going to affact Venezuela for decades: its energy relationship with the United States, the structure of PDVSA, the integrity and credibility of its democratic instituions---all of these things are at stake."
But many Latin American experts say the administration's efforts have been too little, too late. They contend that the Bush Administration, distracted by Iraq, allowed Venezuela's problems to fester.
...The State Department's Latin America desk has been leaderless through much of the strike. The last assistant secretary of state for Western Hemispher affairs, Ott J. Reich, was reassinged in November after his temporary appointment expired...
"There is no one at the wheel here, "asserted Moises Naim, the Venezuelan who is the editor of Forgein Policy magazine."
The impact of the Venezuelan crisss has been widely underestimated by officials and consumers, oild experts said. Venezuela once exported 2.7 million barrels a day, 1.5 million barrels of that going to United States, or about 14 percent of America's curde oil imports.
Now, Venezuela says it is producing about 600,000 barrels a day, though outside experts estimate the volume at less than 400,000 barrels.
That means that more than two million barrels a day of Venezuelan brude have been removed from the gobal market, making this the worst disruption in supply since the Persian Gulf war of 1991, experts said.
・LUCKIEST MAN ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH・
Lou Gehrig ain't got nuthin on me. I received the following e-mail from my girlfriend, Emily, in response to a brief article I posted last week, in which I basically gushed about our baseball-friendly relationship:
・Yes you are right, I am excited for the season to begin - an opportunity for me to learn more about the game, as well as another 6 months to watch you perform your rendition of a Mexican jumping bean・ And hey, how 'bout eating ice cream and having sex all afternoon, WHILE watching baseball? Your mind and body are likely to explode with all that stimulation. Well, at least your body. Mmmmmm.
And you can't beat that with a baseball bat.
ROBBIE'S RETURN As dispiriting
As dispiriting as Robbie Alomar's 2002 season was for the Mets, it wasn't a complete suprise, considering Alomar is considered an overly-sensitive player, and he played on a rutterless team. However, it is just as likely that Alomar will return to form this season, in spite of playing at Shea Stadium. Alomar has traditionally bounced back from his off-years. On top of that, he will be playing for a contract this season. How much more motivation could a Met fan ask for?
Alomar was one of my favorite Yankee-antagonists during the 90's, and I sure hope to watch him regain his Hall of Fame form this coming season.
Bob Klapisch profiled Alomar in his column yesterday for the Bergan Record:
"I've done a lot of thinking, and I know I'm ready for New York now. I know what to expect now with the fans, the media, just New York in general."
He pauses just long enough for emphasis, then says, "I'm not just going to have a good year. I'm going to have a great year."
...Alomar will now be paired with Jose Reyes, the 19-year-old prospect who, despite never having played higher than Class AA, will be given the chance to win the shortstop job in spring training. It will be Alomar's responsibility to mentor the rookie, a task he welcomes. But he says the Mets have to help Reyes assimilate as well.
It's still a shock to Alomar that the Mets don't employ a Spanish-speaking coach or have any Spanish-speaking executives. The gap between the club and its Latin players is so wide, Alomar says, "There are players on this team, like Timo [Perez] and [Armando] Benitez, that no one knows about. Those guys are afraid to speak because of the language problems, and that's not right."
Alomar is pushing heavily for the Mets to hire his friend, Ray Negron, as the club's liaison to its Latin players. The Puerto Rican-born Negron once worked for the Yankees, helping Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry battle their drug addictions, and after working with the Indians, where he became friends with Alomar, is now employed by the Rangers.
The Mets are interviewing Negron on Jan. 15, according to Alomar, who says, "This is a guy who can help our clubhouse."
"We don't have a bad clubhouse, because we have great guys. But there were some little problems that we had," Alomar said. "We need to come together, be closer. Ray can help the Spanish guys, because they have no one to speak for them."
Alomar won't lie about his self-interest in this matter: Negron was at his side in Cleveland during his best year, 1999, when Alomar batted .323 with 24 home runs and 120 RBI.
Think the Mets aren't craving such production from Alomar in 2003? If all it takes is hiring a spiritual guru ... well, put it this way: when Jason Giambi insisted the Yankees hire his personal trainer, Bob Alejo, last year, the club made him a "batting practice pitcher" in a matter of days.
Of course, Alomar alone can't rescue the Mets. He hints the club made a mistake allowing Edgardo Alfonzo to leave, and, despite the impressive additions of Glavine and Floyd, says, "We still need another right-handed hitter. Whoever we get at third base has to be able to hit in the middle of our lineup."
Still, Alomar has every reason to look forward to 2003. As he put it, "All the little things that went wrong, I think that's in the past now. We're going to be a good team."
He says. He hopes. And just for emphasis, he crosses his fingers ever so tightly.
CHOCK FULL OF SPIKE
Here is an item that appeared in the current L.A. Weekly:
Legends: Spike Lee's Jackie Robinson Moment
It was still a clear and sparkling Sunday at Dodger Stadium, the grass more emerald and the sky more sapphire in the aftermath of a fierce, early winter rain than it could ever hope to be in July. I emerged from the dugout ！l the dugout! ！l into all this splendor and breathed deep. I barely took three steps before I heard it.
I froze. The exasperated yell, brief but unmistakably Brooklyn, echoed off the tens of thousands of empty seats. Spike Lee was filming a commercial, and I had stepped into a live frame.
I was here to observe, but thanks to the oversight of a chatty production assistant and my own distracted reminiscing ！l I've been a blue-bleeding Dodger fan since the late '70s ！l I had become inconveniently conspicuous. "This is gonna cost me 10 bucks," the assistant muttered somewhat cryptically. I was mortified.
But soon I was immersed in watching Lee interview Ralph Branca, one of the very few Brooklyn Dodgers still around who played in 1947, the year Jackie Robinson integrated big-league baseball. That was a famously tough season for Robinson, a season that hit a nadir during a late-summer game in Cincinnati in which the fans, who might have been geographically Midwestern but acted culturally Southern, hurled every epithet imaginable at the second baseman ！l before the game started. During the pre-game practice Dodger captain Pee Wee Reese, born and raised in Kentucky just across the Ohio River, stopped the proceedings and walked across the field to where Robinson was warming up. Without saying a word, Reese put his arm around Robinson in full view of the hostile crowd. The stadium went silent. It was a hush heard round the world.
This was the moment that Lee was re-creating for his commercial, one in a series of eight for ESPN called "Without Sports. . ." All the spots have played the issue for laughs, with contemporary fans in mind, except this one. "This was a real watershed moment in history," said the network's marketing director, Spence Kramer. "It was deeply poignant and affecting. It wasn't funny at all."
Lee, a prodigious sports fan with a particular interest in Jackie Robinson, proved a relentless interviewer of Branca, who remains as affable as Lee is intense, though both are direct and economical with words. How did Branca feel about Reese's gesture that day in Cincinnati? "I thought it was a courageous act," Branca said. "Pee Wee did it out of friendship and respect. It said 'Dodgers' on his uniform. That's his teammate. That was Pee Wee saying 'screw you' to everybody."
Down on the field I met Lou Johnson, who played for the Dodgers in the '60s with Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, and now works in the front office. Johnson is graying but lean and fit, dapper in a black wool baseball jacket and knife-creased slacks. He played a season with the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs in 1955 before the integration led by Robinson killed those leagues off for good.
"I didn't play with Jackie, but I certainly profited from his act," said Johnson. "By the '60s the atmosphere in baseball hadn't changed that much." He deplores the decline of baseball as a sport of choice among black youth today; he's part of an organization called RBI ！l Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities ！l that was instrumental in helping to get a South-Central Little League off the ground some years back. "Kids need to know what we had to endure to get to the top," said Johnson. "Jackie integrated not only baseball, but other sports as well."
Lee, relaxing ever so slightly on a lunch break, concurred. He was wearing a knit cap, a bleary look and light beard stubble. "His contribution is much bigger than baseball," he said in his trademark Brooklynese, talking about Robinson. "He changed the American landscape. You can never underestimate the pressure he was under, of having the weight of the race on you." He paused to think. "The only comparable thing would be Joe Louis versus Max Schmeling, democracy versus the Nazis. Baseball in particular was so American, which is why Negroes weren't allowed to play for so long. That's why the moment in this commercial is so pivotal."
Dodger Stadium in December may sound about as forsaken a place as this city can imagine, but it lives in my affections as a dazzling proxy for a thoroughly inhospitable place where sports history was made. It is odd but logical, just as the Dodgers' move from east to west turned out to be. As Johnson drove me off the field in a groundskeeper's cart beneath the bright sun, I silently thanked Robinson for being in some way responsible for this private, pivotal, baseball moment of my own.
！lErin Aubry Kaplan
BETTER PLAY LIKE MICHAEL JACKSON CAUSE THAT SHIT IS OFF THE WALL
Bob Ryan, offers a characteristically spirited take on the proposed addition of seating on top of the Green Monster. Here are some excerpts from his article in today's Globe:
Larry Lucchino swears the Red Sox have nothing but good intentions. (History majors: Insert the ''Road to Hell'' reference you know so well.)
''Our little joke over here is that when the subject is the ballpark, you have to take a sort of Hippocratic oath,'' explains the Sox CEO. ''And that oath is `Do no harm.' Anything we do to Fenway will not tamper with its magic and charm.''
We shall see. All I know is that when someone hits a baseball over The Wall this year there is a good chance a paying customer will catch it. Am I the only one not happy about that?
''I can understand your skepticism,'' Lucchino says. ''But I would argue that what we are planning will not change the look and feel of Fenway.''
Damn right, I'm skeptical. The Boston Red Sox really are putting seats atop the left-field wall!
They're trying to paint it as an appropriate response to some perceived fan demand, but it's all about M-O-N-E-Y and their desperate attempt to squeeze every available dollar out of their lyric little bandbox of a ballpark, which will celebrate its 91st birthday April 20. Are the Red Sox that desperate for money? Isn't this John W. Henry guy supposed to be a billionaire, with a ''B''?
The truth is the brass really doesn't want to talk about The Wall. They'd much rather talk about what's happening at the other end of the field, and as much as they deserve censure for messing around with the most famous landmark in baseball, that's how much credit they deserve for their other major offseason building project.
What they're doing is in keeping with the John W. Henry campaign promise to explore a complete renovation of Fenway Park. ''If this works,'' Lucchino says, ''it would tell us that further renovation can work. But we are thinking about both the short term and the long term. Right now our goal is to open up space and give us some walking and breathing room.''
The best thing about this project is that it affects the average fan. This isn't another high-roller deal like the 600 (excuse me, .406) Club, where all the rich people stand at the bar and clank their jewelry as a ballgame unfolds below. This is for the once-a-year guy and his family, and when's the last time anyone thought about him?
It takes truly creative thinking to maximize the potential of Fenway Park, which has an architectural ''footprint'' of about 750,000 square feet. All new parks have far more space to work with, and that includes San Francisco's Pac Bell Park, which doesn't look as big as most of the others, but which checks in at more than a million square feet. That's where it helps to have someone such as Janet Marie Smith on hand. Her official title is the Red Sox vice president of planning and development, but she is otherwise known as the First Lady of Ballpark Construction and/or Renovation. She was the guiding genius behind the building of Camden Yards, the model for all baseball parks built in the past dozen years.
She is a preservationist at heart, never having seen an exposed brick wall she didn't love. So she has certainly come to the right place.
Larry Cancro thinks we can trust her, and the Red Sox vice president of sales and marketing considers himself a hard marker. He has been with the team for 18 years, and probably knows the ballpark as well as anyone. He believes the new regime is very respectful of Fenway. ''I think we can make it much more livable and less confining,'' he maintains. ''But it won't be like Yankee Stadium, which was not the same park at all after it was renovated. What we most want is for people to walk in here and feel it's still Fenway Park.''
That brings us back to those foolish ''Green Monster Seats'' they'll be installing on top of The Wall. Lucchino insists that extensive fan surveys show there is a tremendous demand for them, that people would just kill to be able to say they watched a game from the top of The Wall. Shows you what I know. I would have assumed the Fenway diehards would not want to mess with the look of The Wall, period.
''It won't be a dramatic change,'' insists Lucchino. The plan is for three rows of seats, plus standing room, stretching from the left-field foul pole to the center-field bleachers.
''It won't be intrusive,'' Smith says. ''It's not a huge section of seats. You'll just see a few little bobbing heads out there.''
They will be group seats, by the way, and God knows what they'll charge. I'm sure it will add up to a nice hunk of change, but please don't tell me it won't de-Fenway the place to some degree.
The good news is that Lucchino says it is not yet a drop-dead, completely done deal, that all the I's haven't been dotted and T's crossed. He says there is a meeting scheduled for Tuesday with a fan group to get their input.
Maybe he needs to hear from people who like The Wall just the way it is. Where are all those weepy Fenway Forever types when we need them?
COMINGS AND GOINGS I
COMINGS AND GOINGS
I may not have Shane Spencer to kick around anymore, but if everything falls into place, my girl may just be able to have her favorite girl back in a Mets uniform by opening day.
ESPN has an article on another utility player of note in the New York area, none other than Randy Velarde. I've always had a soft spot for Velarde, who came up through the Yankee organization, only to be moved just as they began their championship run. If the Mets sign him to play third, next to my man Rey Sanchez, I just may have to become an official Met fan.
[Velarde] played for the Yankees the first nine years of his career, from 1987 to 1995, and the year after he left them, the Yankees went on a string in which they won four of the next five series.
The string stopped when Velarde rejoined the Yankees midway through the 2001 season.
"I said all along that if we won that year, I would have retired," he said. "Sometimes it seems like I'm chasing a rainbow that doesn't have a pot of gold at the end of it."
"I'll keep the door open and see if the perfect situation comes up," he said. "If not, I had a great enough career to hang my hat on, and I'll know that a world championship just wasn't in the cards. And I'll know that I've put out every ounce of ability this body could put out."
For those of you who like to read the obits, Baseball Primer pays tribute to all of the baseball people who passed away in 2002. There were some big names on that list of course, like Ted Williams, Enos Slaughter, Hoyt Wilhelm, Dave McNally, Dick O'Connell, and Jack Buck. But there were some lesser players of note too, including Darryl Kile, Joe Black, Darrell Porter, Johnny Roseboro, Dick "Dr. Strangeglove" Stuart, and Jim Spencer.
On another somber note, Boston Globe columnist, and Boston-native, Wil McDonough passed away last night at the age of 67.
FIRST A FORFEIT, NOW
FIRST A FORFEIT, NOW THIS
ESPN reports today that "Commissioner Bud Selig will probably brief owners next week on his plan to have the league that wins the All-Star game gain home-field advantage in the World Series."
David Pinto offers an excellent critique of yet another dud from Bud:
I don't buy it. I don't know that there is any great league pride in the World Series. I bet most Red Sox fans root against the Yankees when the Yankees are in the fall classic. Can you imagine Red Sox fans saying, "Go out and play your butt off Nomar so the Yankees can have home field in October!" Plus, what does the All-Star Game have to do with anything? It's a bit of fun in the middle of summer. You will have injustices like a team winning 103 games having to play on the road to a Wild Card team that won 85 games. If you think home field is important to the series, then make home field based on season record. If you want to invigorate the All-Star Game, pay a huge bonus to the players on the team that wins. (Winner gets $200,000 for each player, loser gets nothing.) Then you'll see some competition, and you won't see many all-stars opting out.
A FEW OF MY
A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS...
At the end of every year, journalists often put together various "Best-of" lists for the year. Instead of compiling a top 10 for the year 2002, I thought I'd write about my 5 favorite moments. But then I recalled how thoroughly MLB dicked up their greatest moments last season, and noticed that my favorite moments weren't necessarily moments at all. They are more like stories.
Regardless, over the next week or so, I will post my top-five favorite baseball stories of 2002.
My Lil' Friend
The best thing that happened to me last year was the relationship I developed with my girlfriend, Emily. We started going out last January, and are roughly the same age (I'm 31, she just turned 30). By the time baseball season crept around, Emily was well aware of my interest in the game (it's hard not to notice; subtle, I ain't). Quite Frankly, she thought I was touched-in-the-head, crazy. Especially when I was kept up by a Yankee loss for the first time.
She thought I was putting her on. I wasn't. She wasn't pissed, as much as she was perplexed.
Then the most pleasant surprise occurred. Not only did Em tolerate my obsession with baseball, but she also showed a genuine curiosity in learning more about the game. This was totally unexpected. I have learned to regard sports and relationships much like the division of church and state. I don't anticipate the woman I'm involved with to give two shits about sports---in this case, baseball, and I don't try to inflict it on them, or attempt to convert them either. The same way I wouldn't expect them to teach me how to knit and watch the Lifetime network on a Sunday afternoon.
So long as I'm able to carve some space for myself, I'm happy to keep my games to myself. Or have them as part of my Guy time (though I do have plenty of female baseball buddies too). Fortunately, the baseball season is long enough to create few scheduling conflicts. Let's face it, if I blow off my girl in the middle of June to watch the Yankees play the Royals on a Friday night, the relationship is what Woody Allen once declared, "a dead shark".
Initially, Emily was more amused watching me watch the game, than the game itself. I am not a passive fan. I pace around the apartment, usually with a stickball bat, or a mitt, or a ball in my hands, talking shit to the players, bellyaching about the announcers, cheering the home team, and goading the opposition. What she responded to was my enthusiasm. I suppose it didn't matter what the source of it was---Em was attracted to the fact that I had something to be so passionate about.
But after a while, she began to ask questions, and became more interested in the complexities of the sport itself. I couldn't believe my luck. There were afternoons last year when Emily turned to me and said, "Can we watch the game?" I don't know, can we eat ice cream and have sex all afternoon? Good Lord, Woman, Hell yes we can watch the game.
We attended several games during the season (including the famous Giambi extra-inning grand slam affair against the Twinkies...more on that later). Emily's presence softened the blows of not being able to get the YES network on cablevision for an entire year, and the Yankees first round playoff loss. She now has her favorites---Giambo and Bernie, and even has the chutzpah to chide other guys too: "Shinji," she proclaimed one day, mispronouncing Tsuyoshi Shinjio's name: "He's a girl."
When the Yanks landed Godzilla, her response was, "Is he a friggin girl too?"
We are currently enjoying our first Hot Stove League, and having a nice winter. Emily continues to put up with me. I think she's looking forward to going to the Stadium again too.
Not for nothing, but I have been known to spend portions of my weekend laying around on the couch catching up with the latest horrors the Lifetime Network has to offer. But I haven't learn to knit・yet.
GIVE THE KID HIS DUE
There weren't many players that made my skin crawl more than Gary Carter did when I was growing up, as a Yankee fan in the ｀80s. I still think Carter is an ingratiating putz, but I have no problem with him being a Hall of Famer. I flipped through some of the old Bill James Abstracts last night and found some interesting comments on Carter in his prime years:
Has been the # 1 catcher since I started the player ratings and comments section five years ago. And to my mind, it's still an easy choice. Pena is terrific, but he's never had a year when he drove in as many runs as Carter or scored as many runs as Carter, and the Pirates don't cut off the running game quite as well as the Expos do (there were 115 stolen bases in 203 attempts against the Expos last year, 124 in 201 against the Pirates)...[Lance] Parrish is close offensively and close defensively, but not quite there either way...
Before the free-agent era, I don't think there is any way that a player as valuable as Carter would have been worked as hard as he was word from 1977 to 1982. The Expos a) are paying Gary Carter a great amount of money, and b) do not own his future. In those circumstances, they are inclined to take more chances with Carter's future than they otherwise might. They are risking a future that doesn't belong to them anyway to get their $2 million a year's worth. For this reason and for others, the long-term career implications of baseball's economic restructuring are very, very different than the short-term implications, which are all that we have seen yet.
Every year I completely change the rating system, and every year Carter comes out number one. He probably had his best season in '84, hitting a career-high .294 and driving in a career-high and league-leading 106 runs. His estimated winning percentage, .831, was not only the highest at the position but the highest in the league at any position...I think it is accurate to say that Carter is only the second great catcher in baseball history who has been consistent at this level from year to year. The other was Berra. Most outstanding catchers like Bench, Campanella and Carlton Fisk, have mixed together some good years with some years where they chipped a thumb or ruptured the fourth metatarsal coagulating muscle in the heeby-jeebys, and hit .230; Carter and Berra are the only ones who have ever been able to go out and give the team 145 or more productive games a year.
Did you ever notice how much Carter's batting style is like Don Baylor's? The whole thing---stance, swing, follow-though, and results. Baylor's stance is a little more closed and of course he crowds the plate more, but they're real similar. Carter also is hit by pitches quite a bit, six times every year.
Carter's teams have had better ERAs when Carter was catching than when he wasn't every year since I started figuring that in 1982. I started rating players in 1980. Johnny Bench was the No. 1 catcher, with Carter second. From 1981 through 1987 he was rated first every year.
Historical Abstract (2001 edition):
Essentially interchangeable with Fisk, Bench, Hartnett, or Campanella--a right-handed power hitter and a Gold Glove catcher, ran OK, threw great, and knew what he was doing behind the mask. He won three Gold Gloves, and in all honesty should have won more than that. Eric Gregg, longtime National League umpire, chose an All-Star team of the best players he had ever worked with in his 1990 book "Working the Plate" (William Morrow). "My catcher," he said, "is not Johnny Bench, but Gary Carter. He's the best I've ever seen, and believe me, we get to work very close to all the catchers."
PLOP, PLOP, FIZZ, FIZZ:
PLOP, PLOP, FIZZ, FIZZ: OH, WHAT A RELIEVER AIN'T
Goose (Gossage) and Bruce (Sutter) came up short once again in their bid for the Hall of Fame, but the case for the closers should heat up next year when Dennis Eckersley becomes eligible for consideration. Here is Tom Verducci's take, in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated:
In traditionally closing the door to the relievers who specialize in closing the door, the Baseball Hall of Fame is no different from the Football Hall of Fame or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Most specialists get in only with a ticket...
Two relief pitchers [have] already made it into the Hall: Hoyt Wilhelm, an all-purpose reliever who might pitch for one inning or six, and Rollie Fingers, the fireman-type, who pitched in times of trouble. But no closer---that is, one who only pitches late and with a lead---[has] ever been enshrined in Cooperstown.
The closer evolved in 1979 with Sutter, and since then he, Goose Gossage, Jeff Reardon, Tom Henke and the rest of the genus have recieved tepid Hall support. Considering the heavier lifting done by starting pitchers and position players, that's only right. [Lee] Smith, for instance, typically napped for the first half of games and in 1994 had 33 saves in less than 39 innings of labor. (Kickers are the closers of football, enjoying stretches of tedium and disuse interrupted by the occasional emergency. No suprise, then, that no pure punter and only one pure placekicker, Jan Stenerud, can be found in Canton.)
Specialists should be held to a much higher standard than other players when it comes to Hall membership, but some have met that standard and deserve enshrinement. In that category is Dennis Eckersley, who'll be on next year's ballot. In 1988 Eckersley further refined the Sutter role, typically entering at the start of the ninth with a slim lead. Over the next decade Eckersley's ratio of innings-to-saves was 1.71, about half that of Sutter's 3.5 and not close to Fingers's 5.0. Yet no closer has ever been so dominant. In 1990 Eckersley actually had more saves (48) than base runners allowed (45). Eckersley was also effective over the long haul---from '88 to '97 he averaged 37 saves per year. It's true that with 149 career wins as a starter, he may bear more resemblance to quarterback-kicker Hall of Famer George Blanda than to Stenerud, but it's Eckersley's work as a specialist that makes him, well, special enough for the Hall.
For those who are interested, there is a wonderfully thorough series of articles on the history of relief pitching over at Mike's Baseball Rants, which are written with skill and care. Well worth purusing.
My cousin Gabe gave his take on this subject in a letter I printed earlier in the week.
I'M SO GLAD WE'VE HAD THIS TIME TOGETHER...
Here are Rob Neyer's pick of the top 10 players not in the Hall of Fame:
1. Ryne Sandberg
2. Ron Santo
3. Bert Blyleven
4. Goose Gossage
5. Minnie Minoso
6. Ted Simmons
7. Alan Trammell
8. Dale Murphy
9. Darrell Evans
10. Bobby Grich
Minnie Minoso is a player who isn't talked about much, which is a disappointment considering his achievements, and the fact that he was the first black Latino to play in the Majors. Allen Barra wrote an appreciation of Minoso in his book "Clearing the Bases". I've loaned my copy out, but when I get it back, I will post excerpts of the article.
There are a few more Hall of Fame-related articles of interest: Jim Caple writes a sympathy card for Ryne Sandburg; Jason Stark throws in his two-cents, and mlb.com reports that it's only going to get tougher to get into the Hall for the Dave Parker's of the world.
Here is a belated, breakdown of Roger Clemens' new contract with the Yankees. Rob Neyer addressed Rocket's staus with the Yankees in his latest column:
There's no doubt that Clemens can still get people out. Last year, during a season in which he turned 40, Clemens went 13-6 and struck out 192 hitters in 180 innings. Last season, Pedro Martinez (10.8) led the American League in strikeouts per nine innings, he was followed by Clemens (9.6) ... and then way behind Clemens were a bunch of other guys.
As you probably know, strikeout rate is a good indicator of both current and future success, so there's good reason to think that Clemens still has plenty left.
When he can actually pitch, that is. And considering how many niggling injuries Clemens discovered in 2002, doesn't it seem likely that in 2003 he'll be in and out of the rotation? Everyone seems to be wondering why the Yankees would want eight starters, but isn't the answer fairly obvious?
One of those eight starters is Sterling Hitchcock, who pitched poorly in 39 innings last season. Another is Orlando Hernandez, who's God-knows-how-old and has started only 38 games over the last two seasons. And two others are 40-year-old Clemens and 39-year-old David Wells.
Yes, having eight starters is a luxury. It's also a luxury the Yankees can afford -- they can afford anything -- and while they might not need eight starting pitchers, I'll bet they wind up using nearly all of them.
BLUFFIN FOR BARTOLO? Theo
BLUFFIN FOR BARTOLO?
Theo Epstein's Great Arm Chase has apparently hit a snag, according to an article in today's Boston Globe. But I won't be convinced Boston is out of the running for Colon, or Javier Vazquez until they are traded to team not called the Red Sox.
''There's been no progress with Montreal and I don't expect there to be,'' Epstein said. ''I don't see light at the end of the tunnel. This is as pessimistic as I've been in a long time.''
Though he vowed not to abandon the talks, Epstein indicated the Expos have steadfastly insisted on acquiring two Sox regulars - commonly known to be third baseman Shea Hillenbrand and lefthander Casey Fossum - in exchange for Colon. And unless Montreal modifies its proposal, Epstein suggested, there was little left to discuss since the Sox will not part with the two players and none of the third-party proposals have proven satisfactory.
The Sox GM acknowledged the stalemate after speaking twice yesterday to his Expos counterpart, Omar Minaya, in the latest of several dozen calls between them since their negotiations began last month at the winter meetings in Nashville.
''The proposal from Montreal really hasn't changed much in the sense that what we have to give up is not only two big pieces of our major league club for this year but two big pieces of our future,'' Epstein said. ''We just can't do a deal that's shortsighted. We can't do a deal that sells out the future of this club.''
''It's discouraging in the sense that I'd like an opportunity to improve this club every day, but that's not happening right now,'' Epstein said. ''It may happen with this particular club, but it's not there yet.''
Minaya indicated he was not surprised by Epstein's comments, given ''the good days and bad days'' that occur in lengthy negotiations. But he appeared uncertain about how the talks would be affected by Epstein's pessimism.
''After Theo said those things, I guess there's less of a chance [of completing a deal], but we're not giving up on it,'' Minaya said on WEEI. ''I hope we continue to make progress, but if it's not with the Boston Red Sox, there are some other teams I'm speaking to.''
Epstein could be posturing, trying to ratchet up the pressure on Minaya, who is under an edict from Major League Baseball, which owns the Expos, to cut his payroll to $40 million by Opening Day. Epstein emphasized, for instance, that he would be more than comfortable opening the season with his current rotation of Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield, John Burkett, and Fossum.
''I think we have one of the top five rotations in baseball as it is,'' Epstein said.
The Yankees have not ruled out taking a run at Colon. The Mariners and several other teams may also take advantage of the stalemate between the Sox and Expos to make a bid for the Montreal ace, who is scheduled to earn $8.25 million next season.
RED ASS REDUX
Orlando Hernandez is not the only member of his extended family with a volatile temper. According to a report from espn:
Giants pitcher Livan Hernandez was arrested Wednesday for allegedly trying to hit an elderly man with a couple of golf clubs during a street fight, police said.
Hernandez, 27, was charged with felony aggravated assault after he got into a "violent" scuffle Wednesday with a man, who recieved a minor cut on the back of his head, according to a witness account cited in a police statement.
The pitcher, who won the 1997 World Series MVP with the Marlins, then went into his car's trunk and pulled out a golf club...
Maybe the old man was a Pro-Castro Cubano. Either way, some things are funny enough without needing to comment on them too tough. I thought watching Livan leg out a triple late last summer against the Braves---complete with a crash-landing, half-slide, was as good as it got.
I stand corrected.
STEADY EDDIE: COOL, CALM
STEADY EDDIE: COOL, CALM AND COLLECTED
Eddie Murray was not available to address the media yesterday when he was elected to the Hall of Fame. He was attending the funeral of his sister Tanja, 38, who died last Thursday after a long battle with kidney disease. He did released a statement that read in part, "The elation I feel by being recognized for my achievements on the field is overshadowed by the anguish of losing someone so dear to me."
There is little doubt that Murray is a deserving Hall of Famer, regardless of his cold relationship with the press throughout the years. That much was proven yesterday. But it is ironic that Murray was unable to bask in the glow of his own success, because of the emotional welfare of his family. Murray always put family and team first, and himself a distant second.
Tom Boswell contributed a column on Murray today in The Washington Post, aptly titled, "A Silence that Speaks Volumes." Here is what Boswell wrote about Murray in an 1983 article on the Orioles Championship season, "Bred to a Harder Thing Than Triumph" (from the collection, "Why Time Begins On Opening Day",1984):
Murray regards notoriety as poison and ducks the limelight as religiously as Reggie Jackson courts it. Murray firmly believes what old Lee May told him as a rookie: if you have talent, fame can't help you, but it's an even bet to ruin you. To hawk his personality like some public commodity is, he suspects, a perfect way to be robbed of his sense of self. Murray's weakness is that, like Hank Aaron, he's a leader only by example; little fire, only efficiency. He lacks the charisma of the last Oriole leader, Frank Robinson. The Birds accept Murray for what he is. Just your run-of-the-mill future Hall of Famer.
David Falkner caught up with Murray in spring training of 1985, and wrote an revealing profile on the slugger in his book, "The Short Season." (1986):
What is・harder to figure out than Murray's statistical steadiness is why the powerful and almost mystical hold he has on his teammates has not carried over to the general public---and the media・Over the years, Murray has shied away from the press, to the point where he may have seen him as intimidating, uncooperative, and downright hostile. He was, in reality, done little to change anyone's opinion.
Murray does look angry---and intimidating. He is a large, barrel-chested man whose modified Afro, mutton-chop whiskers, and glowering looks lend to the coal blackness of his face an appearance of such menace that it comes as a shock to hear a voice escape from his body that is benignly soft and evenly modulated. This too is misleading. Murray's outward manner masks a personality that is original, commanding, and complex. In the end, he is exactly what you see on the field. His game happens to be who he is. The surprise is that the public facade he maintains is generated neither by meanness nor deviousness. It is a covering for a largeness of spirit...
Murray had the "team" concept instilled in him from an early age. He was one of 12 brothers and sisters.
"I wouldn't have traded it for the world," said Murray. "It was great. Maybe that's where a lot of the 'us' comes into it. You sit there and it was never ｀me' or ｀I'...I tell you this, it got to the point where you really didn't need any other friends--oh, I had ｀em all right---but it was just all of us together could take care of our own needs. Even baseball. The girls played baseball too, and believe me, we had a few of them who were good.
"None of us ever had to worry about school," Murray said. "We all did our work and there was no such thing as bring home Cs. When we came home, we had to clean the yard, empty the trash, do the dishes--and then do the homework. All of it. And it had to be done right. If you rushed through it just to get it to school in time to get your grades back, you'd be in double trouble. So it got to be a thing to do it right before we were allowed to go out and play. And that was everything. Because we loved to go out and play with each other."
Murray also gives large credit to his mother for his distinctive playing style, a style marked by this dual quality of full intensity coupled with thoughtful restraint, which he calls "low-keying." Even when he was a rookie, taking the field before a full crowd at Memorial Stadium on his very first day, this ability to "low-key" gave him an advantage far beyond his years.
"I just wasn't that excited," Murray said recalling the day. "I think it took so long for my mother to train me that way it had become second nature of something. It's definitely been to my advantage that she finally succeeded, because the payoff has been there in so many ways, like that first day. I went out there and I looked around and I looked up...and there was Memorial Stadium, packed. Sure it was special, but it was like it wasn't."
Murray's older brother Charles signed with the Astros organization, and after his rookie year formed a pickup team of professionals during the off-season---including Dock Ellis, Bobby Tolan and Bob Watson. Murray was the batboy.
"So many of these guys were in the major leagues, and I was rubbing shoulders with them every day," Murray said, "I just didn't pay attention to that part of it. It seemed natural. I learned from watching them. All of them seemed to be very cool about playing the game of baseball---and it was like I just patterned myself after them. I figured that there had to be something to it. All of these guys were good, and none of them overreacted to anything out there on the field. I was an eight-, nine-year-old kid, and I had a font-row view of just watching those guys play, and so I grew up wanting to play that way myself."
[Murray] had a sense of himself as a 9-year-old that many professional players never have. With all his dreams of one day playing in the major leagues, he never saw himself apart from his team. "At the time," he said, "I didn't think I was all that great because I figured our whole team was that good. And playing with my younger and older brothers growing up, I just never considered myself that much better than anybody. It was just that that was something I loved and happened to pick out in life that I wanted to do...Of course, I had pride in what I did even when I was eight. I've always had it. We lost ballgames, and I knew how to lose---I mean, I knew the world wasn't going to end. It was tough as kids because as kids we didn't know very much. But it was a winning something...out there. Sometimes it might have come from breaking up a double play, sometimes it took getting hit by a pitch or pitching that last inning when your arm was hurting. It was something like...you just didn't want to put things on anyone else's shoulders."
"We all loved the Dodgers as kids," Murray remembered, "even though we couldn't go to see them much. We really didn't want to, because we were out there playing...and you know there were days when my parents...just took care of everywhere we wanted to go...I mean they just took care of us. They saw this was something we were interested in, so they really took part in it. We could see that in them. It was never having to take the boys to play, it was always their going to watch a good ballgame...We used to draw a lot of people to see us, to see the three boys---they never knew our names---but they found out we were brothers and they came out to see us. And one of us would wing up pitching while the other one was catching...it was something."
For the longest time, Murray has been sobered by the thought that he, not any of his brothers, became an established major-league ballplayers. This was, Murray remains convinced, not a question of talent so much as opportunity. He was in the right place at the right time, but his brothers were not. His brother Rich...had, at one time, been touted as Willie McCovey's successor. But a serious injury aborted his major-league career before it ever really began. And Charles, Eddie said, was probably better than any of them. "There are people today, especially who grew up around the L.A. area, who knew all five of us, who still tell me that Charles definitely was the best. They'll say, ｀Listen, you know you weren't the best.' And I'll say I know that. The way I look at it, I really got a break."
Murray's childhood experiences brought a strong sense of humility to his talent. Tom Boswell continued:
Murray finds it natural to live by the motto on his necklace: "Just Regular." Three of his older brothers played pro ball; none made the majors. Murray grew up hearing hard-boiled stories about the realities of big-time sport.
"We had a lot of downfalls," says Eddie's brother Leon. "Eddie avoided them."
"Some people just got to get hurt. You can see it. They either run into walls on the field, or they run into ｀em off it," says Murray as his brother listens. "The easy way is the only way. Avoid problems. I might be the weakest of the five brothers, but I didn't run into the problems they did. You gotta push things away in the game that bother you and upset you and keep you from your goal. It almost happened to me, I think. I got mad the year I wasn't sent up to triple A when I thought I should. It was hard to swallow, ｀cause it's your pride. But sometimes you got to swallow. Otherwise you'll get on the club's bad foot. And that's the beginning of the end."
In Kevin Kerrane's book on scouting, "Dollar Sign on the Muscle", an Oriole official explained how the team landed Eddie Murray:
"All the scouting reports I'd seen on Murray stereotyped him as a big, lazy power hitter. I think most scouts, when they judge makeup, tend to value kids who remind them of themselves when they were players---and that's why you run into problems when white scouts look at black prospects. Here was Eddie Murray, younger than most of his classmates, and extremely composed, cool---to the point where scouts called him 'lackadaisical.' But when I read his motivational profile, which said his drive was well above professional average and his emotional control was off the charts. And it hit me that the emotional control was masking the drive."
Murray played for Cal Ripken Sr. in the Orioles minor league system, was mentored by Lee May when he reached the big club, taught himself to become a switch-hitter, and later became a role model for the younger players like Cal Ripken Jr. He told David Falkner:
"What I try to tell the younger players," Murray said, "is that I'm jumping on you because I'm trying to make you better and by making you better I'm making us better. That's just the way it is. I know definitely I can't win a pennant by myself...
"Baseball is something where you can't go out with a half-step. When you're out there, you've got to have everything together, I think. If you go out there and you're lackadaisical, there's a good chance you'll wind up injuring yourself---and I do try to avoid that...[somewhere Tom Boswell is chuckling] I talk to myself. You have to talk to yourself about knowing what you want to do out there."
Cal Ripken, Jr. said, "Eddie is what I suppose you'd call a team player. Except that that is a clichZ. Everyone is a team player, or says he is. But then there are players, very few of them, that other players try to emulate. For me, that player has always been Eddie Murray."
Murray's single-season numbers are not as spectacular as several players who aren't in the Hall of Fame, notably Jim Rice, Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly. But he plugged away, steadily, surely, and ended up with the magic milestones of 3,000 hits and 500 homers. The popular perception of Murray is that of an aloof, surly superstar. But on second look, he was one of the more valuable clubhouse superstars of his era. Just don't expect him to waste too much time boasting about it. Unlike Gary Carter, a media darling of sorts, Murray was content let his actions do all the talking, regardless of what was written about him. That alone makes him exceptional, even in the rarified air of Cooperstown.
"ALL THEY DO IS
"ALL THEY DO IS GIVE OUT AWARDS..."
Boss George was in town yesterday accepting an award from The Sporting News as "The Most Powerful Man in Sports."
"It may seem like I'm Simon Legree," Steinbrenner said referring to the fictional slave driver in "Uncle Tom's Cabin", "but I'm not."
You've got to be not afraid to win. There are too many owners in sports today who are businessmen that don't drive to win. This money is what my fans pay to see their team. You reward your fans. You don't take it and put it your pocket like 90% of the rest of the owners do.
I feel we're very heavily loaded with revenue sharing, but I'm not going to argue against it.... We're going to live by it, but we're also going to keep putting money back in the team to do the important things for our fans. We'll find ways.
Of course, George couldn't resist taking another shot at Larry Lucchino's "evil empire" quip.
It was a poor comment, just a very poor comment," Steinbrenner said. "I like Boston. I love Boston . . . Great fans, great people. You have to remember that Lucchino just came there, so I'll be patient. I'll give him time. I just got a little upset when they called New York an evil empire. Would you like it? It was just a bad choice of words on his part." Then Steinbrenner, twisting the knife, added, "I know he was after that pitcher (Jose Contreras)," Steinbrenner said. "I'll just attribute it to a bad choice of words. They've been using those words ever since Babe Ruth.
Steinbrenner also intimated that future Hall of Famer, Rocket Clemens was being wooed by the Sox, but "Roger wanted to stay with the Yankees," Steinbrenner said. "Here's a guy that sacrificed an awful lot of money and a lot of things he could have had somewhere else like north of here - he didn't like the snow - but he's coming back."
KID CARTER PUMPED
Gary Carter doesn't have to whine any longer. Like Sally Field he can finally say, "You like me, you really like me!" According to the Daily News:
[Carter] played golf in Florida yesterday to try and kep his mind off the wait, and considered his birdie on the 8th hole an omen--since he wore No. 8 during his career.
Finally, when he got word via a phone call as he was coming off the 18th green, Carter celebrated in the exuberant manner Mets' fans came to love.
"I got overly excited," he said. "I pumped my fist in the air, I screamed. There were no parties planned this year, but now we can do a little celebrating tonight as a family."
Carter also told Bill Madden:
"Even though it was six years in waiting, it seemed they really shortened it with the phone call today," Carter said. "All those other years have now kind of blended together into one. I was never impatient, but I will say last year (when he missed election by 11 votes), I was disappointed because my wife Sandy had arranged for a big party. And I guess my second year, when there were all those big names on the ballot for the first time, George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount and Carlton Fisk, and I lost votes, that was when I was most discouraged."
Carter couldn't resist bitching just a little. It has always been part of his game, so why change now?
Bob Klapisch has a good column today regarding his Hall of Fame ballot, "Impossible to figure who's in, who's out."
Klap makes a case for the Goose, as does Kevin Kernan in the Post.
The Envelope Please There
The Envelope Please
There will be cocktails at the Carter residence after all. As expected, Kid Carter and Eddie Murray were elected to the Hall of Fame this afternoon: Carter was on 78% of the ballots, Murray topped that with 85.3%.
This is how the best of the rest faired:
Bruce Sutter 53.6%
Jim Rice 52.2%
Andre Dawson 50.0%
Ryne Sandburg 49.2%
Lee Smith 42.3%
Rich Gossage 42.1%
Bert Blyleven 29.2%
I was a little bit suprised at Ryno's poor showing. So was Rob Neyer in his on-line chat today:
"I figured [Sanburg] he might get in, but if he didn't he'd certainly come close.
But he didn't come close at all. Which is something of a shock if you were a fan in the 1980s, because then everybody thought Sandberg was a lock. I think that Sandberg, like Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell suffers from comparison to the bloated hitting stats of the last decade...
I've been doing this long enough that the actual arguments for the players don't interest me as much as the bizarre arguments. Today alone, I've now had somebody tell me that Sandberg is the greatest second baseman ever, and somebody else tell me that if Sandberg had played for the Mariners, he'd already be completely forgotten.
The truth is somewhere between, of course. He is one of the ten or twelve greatest second basemen ever, and so I guess now he joins Ron Santo as a Cubs infielder who the BBWAA screwed."
Neyer also commented on the voters' ambiguity towards relief pitchers, Sutter, Goose, and Lee Smith:
"It's funny, the "closer" has been around for approximately 25 years now, and yet we're still trying to figure out if they're really worth anything. Everybody says they're hugely important, but the Hall of Fame voters apparently haven't yet been convinced. To answer your question, though ... I don't believe Sutter was great for long enough, and I don't believe Smith was great enough at all. I can understand the arguments for both of them, but to me Gossage is more deserving."
DOWN TO THE WIRE
COUNTDOWN TO ECSTACY Murray,
COUNTDOWN TO ECSTACY
Murray, Carter...and Ryno? The first two appear to be locks to make it to the Hall of Fame later today, and it wouldn't come as a shock if Sandburg made it too. Here are the ballots from two more writers: Kevin Kernan of the New York Post, and Jayson Stark of ESPN. The Kernan piece is an especially good reason why baseball writers may not be the best choice to vote players into the Hall. Dale Murphy and Donnie Baseball get the nod over Bert Blyleven (?), who is profiled by Jim Caple . Kernan's case for his picks doesn't exactly leave the reader with confidence in the voting process.
BARTOLO CLOSER TO BEANTOWN?
The Red Sox have reached an agreement in principal with free agent third baseman Bill Mueller, according to the Boston Globe. "Muller's deal, believed to be worth about $4.5 million over two years, is significant because the Sox would be unlikely to make such an investment on a backup infielder." Which means the Hillenbrand-for-Colon talks are hot once again.
"'I think today we're finally making some progess,' said a source close to the negotiations. 'I think both sides want to get this done. But where it leads, who knows?'"
In another interesting comesmetic development, the Globe noted:
"...Preliminary work is under way for construction of seating atop the Green Monster at Fenway Park. The team's request for a permit to built 312 seats of a deck above the storied Wall is pending with the city, which is expected to isse a ruling this month. Until then, the Sox said, they have been cleared to begin an early phase of the project. 'We have been authorized to do further preliminary work, and that is all that is going on at this stage,' team spokesman Kevin Shea said."
HE ALMOST HAD IT
HE ALMOST HAD IT MADE
A Look at Curt Flood
Looking at the list of players up for election by the Veterans Committee, no one interests me more than Curt Flood. Minnie Minoso is appealing for reasons greater than his game as well. Minoso was the first dark-skinned Latino to play in the majors, the first black ballplayer to play for either Chicago team. Further, Minoso was 28 before he got regular time in the bigs. Think about if Vladimir Guerrero or Alex Rodriguez hadn't even played a full season yet.
While Minoso had a warm and gregarious personality, Curt Flood was a more striking, sardonic figure. "Curt Flood, [is] the brooding Othello his sport," wrote Tom Boswell. Flood's baseball accomplishments may not merit his selection, but his act of defiance against the owners and the reserve clause, have put him in the running. If not the Hall of Fame, then at least, the Hall of Chutzpah.
"Very few guys have ever had an appreciation for who he was," said Frank Robinson. "A guy with a whole load of guts."
Flood may not be a Hall of Famer, but he may be one of the most fascinating characters it has seen in the last 50 years. His importance can't be denied, yet it has also been misconstrued. Flood has been immortalized by some, but more often ignored, and officially unrecognized.
Rob Neyer addressed the Flood issue last week:
"Flood is on the Veterans Committee ballot this year ... and as a player Flood doesn't have much of a case.
"In his New Historical Baseball Abstract Bill James rates Flood the 36th-greatest center fielder of all time. And Bill is a big Curt Flood fan. Curt Flood was about as good as Andy Van Slyke, and Clyde Milan, and Kenny Lofton.
"Yes, I know that Flood challenged the reserve clause, and he certainly deserves credit, along with a large measure of fame, for taking that risk (a risk that essentially killed his career). But it seems to me that Flood has gotten the credit and the fame that he deserves. If you don't know who Curt Flood was now, you're not going to know who he was even if he's in the Hall.
"Curt Flood was one hell of a ballplayer, and one hell of a courageous man. But I wouldn't put him in the Hall of Fame."
For another opinion on Flood, here is what Bill James wrote about him in the updated "Historical Abstract":
"By the Win Shares method, Flood rates as the best defensive outfielder in baseball history, per innings played. This claim comes with several caveats. Andruw Jones rates as far better than Flood, but that's just on a few years worth of data, and he'll look different with time...
"Flood, of course, rates higher than he probably ought to because he skipped the decline phase of his career. There are other guys who rate even with him in his prime years, like [Greg] Maddox and [Paul] Blair and the DiMaggios, but as they aged, their per-inning productivity naturally dropped. Flood was a great defensive outfielder; I don't know that I would especially want to argue that he was the best who ever played.
"Did Curt Flood sacrifice his career to enable today's baseball players to make millions of dollars a season? Read literally, absolutely not. A lot of people seem to forget: Curt Flood's case ended, for the players, in a solid defeat. Curt Flood carried the banner for baseball players as they marched down the hallway to a doorway that never opened. In a literal sense, all Flood gave to baseball players was the certain knowledge that that door wouldn't open.
"Of course, all nations honor patriots whose death do not lead directly to victory, and it is traditional for unions to honor the sacrifices of those who fight the good fight, regardless of their won-lost record. I just always notice this, that a lot of people actually seem to think that the Curt Flood case led directly to free agency. It's a confusion of history, vaguely equivalent to thinking that Frederick Douglass wrote the Emancipation Proclamation or that the Axis Sally bombed Pearl Harbor."
I'm not exactly sure why James is such a hard-ass Reactionary here. It's not exactly Flood he's objecting to but the perception of The Flood legacy; still, I think James' objections are over-stated. Literally speaking, Flood's case against baseball did not lead to free agency. Marvin Miller wrote, "Curt Flood didn't actually change the game, though he was a positive force and an example for others who did." But James is pissed that there is a popular notion that Flood did initiate free agency. He's angry at the public's need for manufactured (Liberal) heroes, at the expense of the facts.
I can appreciate that, but isn't it more compelling to look at Flood as one of the more complicated and fascinating cases of the modern era?
James says that Flood carried the banner for ball players down a hallway that never opened, but what does that mean? That literally speaking the reserve clause was not overturned on the grounds that Flood argued?
Marvin Miller, in his caustic, and often bitter autobiography, "A Whole Different Ballgame" describes the reaction of Flood v. Kuhn.
"I must also point out that Justice Thurgood Marshall, in a separate dissenting opinion, correctly pointed out that if the Supreme Court had decided to overrule the 1922 and Toolson decisions (and thus subject baseball to antitrust regulation), that wouldn't automatically mean that Flood would win his case. Flood was suing on the basis that his treatment by baseball was a violation of antitrust laws, so first he had to establish that baseball was covered by antitrust laws, and only then would it become necessary to establish how baseball violated those laws. To show that what baseball did to Flood was in violation of the law would have been the easy part."
Neyer contends that James is a big fan of Flood's, so maybe he doth protest too much because Flood is one of his favorites; we always rip the ones we love. Ultimately of course, the reserve system was eradicated, though it had much more to do with Miller's ability to win binding arbitration with Major League Baseball, than with Flood's court case. The players achieved free agency, even if it didn't co-inside with a victory for Curt Flood.
Flood's defeat wasn't as black and white as James suggests. The Supreme Court ruled against Flood 5-3 on June 6, 1972. But, according to Marvin Miller:
"Chief Justice Warren Burger recognized the error of baseball's exemption, but wrote that the lives of too many people would be affected by a reversal of the error. I don't think I've ever read such criticism of a majority decision of the court by the very justices who formed the majority. The majority described their decision as an 'aberration' and an 'anomaly.' Their criticism was correct, but their decision was, unfortunately wrong...The Washington Post described the decision aptly when it noted that 'tradition had once more won out over logic.'
"I think it is worth taking a look at the dissenters on that Supreme Court. Two of the justices, William O. Douglas and William Brennan, felt that baseball's judicial exemption from antitrust laws was wrong. In perhaps the most strongly worded statement connected with the case, they wrote, 'Were we considering the question of baseball for the first time on a "clean slate," we would hold it to be subject to federal antitrust regulations....' They added that the 'unbroken silence of Congress should not prevent us from correcting our own mistakes.'
"The efforts of Curt Flood and the Players Association were not wholly lost. First of all, we presented a good case in the trial court. The arguments against the reserve clause had never before been made so lucidly or so forcefully. Much more important---what Flood v. Kuhn really accomplished---was, in the much-used phrase of the 1960's, raising the consciousness of everyone involved with baseball: the writers, the fans, the players---and perhaps even some of the owners...
"Many outside of the immediate power structure of baseball did begin to understand that the reserve system was wrong and that baseball as we know it might not vanish if it were abolished or drastically reformed...
"What did we do wrong? For one thing, the players themselves could have taken a more visible and active part in the trail...It was foolish to overlook the media appeal of big-name athletes. They could have been seen attending the trail, going in and out of the courthouse. That, I think, would have given the Players Association more of a human look to the public and shown that ballplayers were capable of demonstrating courage and solidarity off the field as well as on."
"If I had 600 players behind me there would be no reserve clause," Flood told the Associated Press in 1973.
Miller continued, "Why didn't I encourage it? Well, for one thing the trail was held during the season, and I was reluctant to urge players to do anything that would distract them their jobs. For another, it was in the back of my mind that a great many marginal players might be the targets of owner revenge if Flood lost: A utility infielder who was active in the union and made a public show of support for Flood might find himself losing a job to a utility infielder who wasn't active in the union. Union reps had a tough time as it was; they tended to be traded more often than players who were less active in the union.
"But there was little element of risk to the major stars, and they were the ones we needed most. To my knowledge, not one of them attended a single session of the trail. This was as much my fault as the players'...To be honest, I wasn't as certain of the unity and solidarity of the Association then as I became a few years later. By the time Flood v. Kuhn came to trail in 1970 I had been executive director only four years, and we had not been tested by our first strike. We had been unified to an extent by the players' refusal to sign contracts in the winter of 1968-69, and the players had remained firm through successful negotiations on both the pension plan and the first collective bargaining agreement. But we were still feeling our way as an organization; for instance, I think it would have been different in 1973, after the players had stuck together during the 1972 strike.
"That was undoubtedly a failure of leadership---my leadership. And it was yet another example demonstrating that players, like other people without leadership, always seem to fail to act in their own best interests. Fear aside, it must be remembered that players are profoundly affected by the press, and one can't minimize the impact of the media working in conjunction with the owners, hammering away on the theme that without the reserve clause, baseball will fall. Flood's suit was painted as an attempt to undermine the entire sport.
"It was also true that many players simply didn't care. They may have wanted Flood to win, but they felt that they had their careers to be concerned with, and that was that."
Tom Boswell offered a poignant look at Flood in an article he wrote about the 1971 Washington Senators (from "How Life Imitates the World Series"):
"For Curt Flood, nothing is more painful than thinking back to April 1971. It is like asking the survivor of a shipwreck to recount his weeks adrift in a lifeboat.
'Pressure,' he said softly. 'Pressure and tension...that's what I remember. It was tough. I had been out of the game for over a year because of my lawsuit against baseball and the reserve clause. That spring was a big year for me, the first chance I'd had to play.
'I knew all along that those few weeks were the time that was going to decide whatever was going to happen to me right down to this moment, actually,' said Flood.
"Flood, dressed in black that spring, was a solitary Hamlet-like figure--one slender, rusty, center fielder standing against a century of baseball tradition. Not one other player in baseball took his side. Like a leper, he was not vilified, simply avoided.
"Flood only returned to baseball from Denmark because owner Robert Short's contract offer of $110,000---half of it in advance--offered some hope of keeping his head above water financially.
"But, two weeks after that Opening Day, Flood had given up hope. His court case had suffered another defeat and would have to be appealed to the Supreme Court--more expense. His wife was seeking support for their five children---an expense he could no longer meet. And his batting average had sunk below .200. His spirits were far lower.
"Flood fled to Madrid, later tended bar for more than a year on the island of Majorca.
'After I went back to Europe, I had plenty of time over the years to think about whether I gave up on my comeback too soon, ' Flood says now. 'I'm sure I was right. Those young kids were running all over me.'
"Now, Flood, born in 1938, looks older than his years. He is frequently on the defensive, as though questioners were trying to catch him in some innocent mistake to make him look like a fool.
"During the 1979 season, he returned to the baseball scene briefly as a radio color announcer for the Oakland A's---a bizarre connection since Charlie Finely is the No. 1 victim of the free-agent system that Flood helped create.
'You seldom see a man's basic character change, especially a strong character like Flood, a genuinely thoughtful rebel,' said [Mike] Epstein. 'But when you see Curt Flood today, you see a man who has been tied to the mast and has taken one lash too many.'
"That is as close to a candid comment on Flood as anyone on the baseball scene is likely to make. His continued financial precariousness, in an age of free-agent millionaires, is a bitter irony that cuts several ways.
"Despite all his suffering for his convictions, Flood at least has the solace of seeing that his ideal of justice triumphed--although he speaks very softly on that subject, too.
'I believe that free agents have helped the game,' he said. 'It was the only equitable thing, that everyone get a fair share. Someplace along the line in baseball history, the people on the field, the actual entertainers, had to be included in the picture on a fair basis.'"
The lawsuit against the baseball is the pinnacle of Flood's career and his life, but it isn't the only thing that contributed to Flood being a tortured soul. To view him as a mere victim would be shallow, and belittling. He had a dark, messy complicated life. Flood was a husband with 5 children, but a playboy, jock too. In his autobiography, "The Way It Is" (written with Dick Carter) Flood gives much more lip service to the playboy lifestyle than his wife or his experience as a father. I can only imagine he paid a price for that. He was a ladies man, smoked, drank and lived life hard; he eventually lost his marriage and family.
But he was also thoughtful, intelligent, creative, and willful. The youngest of six kids, Flood was raised in the tough section of Oakland during the post war years. "We were not poor, but we had nothing," Flood wrote. "That is, we ate at regular intervals, but not much. We were not ragged. Both parents lived at home. In the conventially squalid West Oakland ghetto where I grew up, most other households seemed worse off.
"To achieve these triumphs of stability, my parents held no fewer than four underpaid jobs at a time," continued Flood. "By day, my father was a hospital menial. At night, he moonlighted at the same employment. My mother was also a full-time hospital worker. In the evenings she attended to her own cooking and sewing and cleaning and frugal shopping, and tried to make sense of her children's conflicting reports about the accomplishments, accidents, broken promises, arguments and threats of the day."
The Flood children all showed an aptitude for drawing. Flood explained that his father "spent more on sketchpads than on Christmas trees. All the kids could draw. Carl and I even seemed to have the makings of artists. It rewarded the parents in their comings and goings, their interminable labors, to see three or four of us sprawled on the living room floor, engrossed in a pastime so remote from the meanness of the streets."
If Curt's talent set him apart, his age worked against him. Sometimes the baby of the family is pampered and gets all the love, and other times they are ignored and have to fight extra hard to get noticed at all.
"Because we were without direct parental supervision most of the time, our affairs were governed by a pecking order in which size and seniority ruled. As undisputed occupant of the lowest position on the totem pole, I amassed a huge inventory of grievances at an early age.
Everybody else came first. Not only that, but they seemed to get more. Fury availed me nothing. I was les than convinced that anyone loved me...I am a young thirty-two," wrote Flood in 1971, "but I was an old, old eight."
The young Flood also proved to be a gifted athlete. "When I was nine, I became the catcher for Junior's Sweet Shop, in a police-sponsored midget league. Carl was the pitcher. The coach was George Powles, a white man who later became famous for having developed a phenomenal number of outstanding athletes, most of them black. Among the major-league baseball players coached and encouraged by George at McCylymonds High School or on his various sandlot and semiprofessional teams were Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Billy Martin, Joe Morgan...He also helped the basketball super star Bill Russell...
"If I now see whites as human beings of variable worth rather than as stereotypes, it is because of a process than began with George Powles...The beauty of George was that you did not have to adulterate your blackness to win his confidence and approval. He neither preached nor patronized. He emitted none of the smog of the do-gooder embarked on a salvage operation. After the games, he would bring the whole gang of ragamuffins to his pleasant home (a palace!) to plunder his wife's refrigerator. He recently expressed astonishment when somebody told him that I remembered those visits as high points of my childhood. He protested that I had just been one of a crowd of kids and that there had been nothing extraordinary about the doings and that no fuss had been made over me because of my special talents. On reflection, he allowed that ice cream, cookies and comfortable furniture might have made an impression of me. But this had not been noticeable at the time. I was a cool cat."
But nothing Flood experienced growing up in the relatively benign racial climate of Northern California* prepared him for the humiliation and degradation he was to experience playing in the South. Flood's minor league experience in the mid 1950's was atypical: brutal, unforgiving, and lonely.
Frank Robinson told Mark Kram last summer, "You really had to endure and overcome. What I remember is that it was a hard, hard grind, and you had to have the strength to handle it or you would not survive. I know it was prepared Flood to stand up for himself because I know how it prepared me."
Flood wrote, "What had started as a chance to test my baseball ability in a professional setting had become an obligation to measure myself as a man. As such, it was a matter of life and death. These brutes were trying to destroy me. If they could make me collapse and quit, it would verify their preconceptions. And it would wreck my life.
During the early weeks of the season, I used to break into tears as soon as I reached the safety of my room. I felt too young for the ordeal. I wanted to be home. I wanted to talk to someone. I wanted to be free of these animals whose fifty-cent bleacher ticket was a license to curse my color and deny my humanity. I wanted to be free of the imbeciles on the ball team...
My teammates despised and rejected me as subhuman. I gladly would have sent them all to hell. More than once during that horrible season (1956, North Carolina), I was tempted to strike out so that our cracker pitcher would lose another game. More than once, I almost threw the ball away or dropped a fly ball for the same vengeful purpose.
If I did not sabotage the team (and I never did), it was only because I had been playing baseball too long and too well to discredit myself. And I was too black. Pride was my resource. I solved my problem by playing my guts out. I ran myself down to less than 135 pounds in the blistering heat. I completely wiped out that peckerwood league. I led it in everything but home runs---although I hit 29...The better I did, the tougher I got. I no longer wept in my room.
Toward midseason, when I had established myself as a star, I attended to another matter of importance. During the pregame practice one evening, a little black kid jumped onto the field, grabbed a loose ball, and climbed back into the stands. One of our lint-head pitchers screamed, 'Hey you black nigger, come back with that ball!' Then he jumped into the stands, took the ball from the child and returned to the field, flushed with triumph. I was waiting for him
'Don't use that word around me,' I said. 'You owe me more respect than that. White kids steal baseballs all the time without interference, you wool-hat son-of-a-bitch. If you ever come near me again you'll be sorry.'
Flood was sharp and cool. He embodied the sense of cool that is associated with Miles Davis, and the jazz musicians of an earlier generation. Expressing his rage and contempt through a detached, calculated cool. Flood was part of the 60's generation, and as his success grew, so did his willingness to speak his mind. He was not alone of course, playing alongside Bill White, and Bob Gibson and Lou Brock on the great Cardinal teams of that era. I don't think he was especially political until the decade drew to a close, and well, it would have been tough for an introspective and aware guy like Flood to resist becoming politicized.
Flood was greatly influenced by an older white couple he was introduced to by his high school art teacher in 1962. Jim and Marian Jorgensen were warmly disposed, dusty-old radicals who took had an instant rapport with the young ballplayer.
Flood wrote, "I was a cool customer of twenty-four, mentally quick, passably articulate, culturally and politically underdeveloped, veneered with a brittle gloss of big-league savvy. My attitudes inclined to the gutter-tough and the dugout-cynical. An inner confidence had propelled me over many obstacles to a highly perishable success. I had no idea where this confidence might take me next, or even whether it would remain serviceable. I had begun to realize that it derived from a delicately balanced, ruthlessly controlled arrangement of raw nerves, the vulnerability of which was becoming more evident under the stress of a discordant marriage. That the Jorgensen's found me likable moved me, as it should have. I needed them more than I knew. I needed new dimensions more than I knew. On that evening, these needs may have expressed themselves as an open-minded, open-hearted eagerness. Marian remembers eagerness as part of it.
"John Jorgensen was thirty-five years older than I," and had the "directness of a man who had discovered years earlier that he could face the world without fear and, therefore, without guile," wrote Flood. "Johnny Jorgensen was a master craftsman, owner of an industrial engraving plant. He was an indifferent businessman, unwilling to waste energy on the techniques of management. And acknowledged genius in the painstaking art of designing and engraving industrial stamping dies, he made an ample living that way and then rushed home to Marian, where the meaning was."
Flood would eventually go into business with Jorgensen; he learned how to make engravings himself. "Johnny and Marian and I were closer than friends, freer and easier than family...My mother and father and sisters and brothers often joined us there and so did numerous ballplayers. The place was a sanctuary of warm fellowship, a joy and comfort beyond description."
In late 1966, Jorgensen was horrifically murdered in his plant one night. Flood, in Los Angeles at the time, was briefly considered a suspect. "After bugging our phones and following us around for two weeks, the police finally caught the murderer. He was a black adolescent who had gone on a psychotic rampage after being dismissed from a job. He had never seen Johnny until the moment he stumbled into the plant and lashed out in mindless fury. Then sent him to an institution for the criminally insane."
Flood, who had lived with the Jorgensen's when he left his marriage fell apart, persuaded Marion to move to St. Louis with him, and she became his defacto secretary, business manager, care-taker.
Though Flood doesn't discuss his wife and children much at all, he does write about his older brother, Carl. Carl, a more talented artist, and a better jock, than his younger brother, had taken the wrong path in life. He couldn't resist the street life, hanging with thugs, or falling prey to the clutches of heroin. Carl ended up in prison for armed robbery.
Carl Flood is the ideal coulda-been-a-contender character. In prison he taught himself 4 languages, won chess tournaments, and awards for his abstract painting. Marion Jorgensen didn't have enough of challenge taking care of Curt Flood, so she became Carl Flood's guardian angel too, devoting tireless energy to reducing his sentence, trying to save him too.
What makes Flood appealing to Romantics and Liberals alike is the simple fact that he fought the Law and the Law won. Sometimes, we can look back over the events of a man's life and project or fantasize that everything led to one crucial event. This is easy with Flood, and his fight against the reserve clause, regardless of whether he did it consciously or not.
Flood was the right man at the right time. Or the right man at the wrong time, whichever you'd prefer. In Ken Burns' "Baseball", Flood said, "I am a child of the sixties." Flood was aware that by taking on MLB his career was all but over. I also think he understood that he was the most prominent baseball player to ever challenge the reserve system, and that it was his duty to act accordingly.
The themes of anger and isolation are conveyed so powerfully with Flood. Having to live with consequences of his righteous stand, and dealing with the anger the results must have stoked is ripe with dramatic potential. No wonder he evokes allusions to Shakespeare.
In an excellent profile in the Philadelphia Daily News last August, Mark Kram interviewed Flood's second-wife, Judy Pace-Flood, who said he did not die a bitter man.
"'This is not Greek tragedy,' she says. 'Although some people would like to portray it as such. He had a giving heart.'
"Europe was a place where Flood always found a certain degree of tranquility. He had gone to Denmark instead of playing for the Phillies in 1970. When he was done with the Senators, he settled down on the Spanish island of Majorca in the sunny Mediterranean. There, Flood worked at his easel, played classical guitar and began writing a second part of his autobiography. [He apparently never finished it, either.]
According to Pace-Flood, 'He loved it in Europe because it was so far removed from the problems that existed for a black man then in America. He was at peace there."
I don't know that Curt Flood truly belongs in the Hall of Fame, even though his decision to sacrifice an all-star career for a collective good is one of the Hall of Fame acts in baseball history. It is a true shame that Flood is virtually ignored by the Players Union, and too-often misconstrued, or flat-out ignored by the general public.
I do feel strongly about this: Curt Flood is one of the few ballplayers who is more compelling off the field than on it. His life would make a great movie.
"We saw few whites. None was a bearer of joy. The landlord, storekeeper, cop, teacher, meter reader and the various bill collectors were all enforcers. We accepted their presence, much as a Seminole accepts alligators. They were hazards too familiar for urgent comment. We were so accustomed to things as they were that we seldom speculated about how things out to have been. When a teacher announced from his remote eminence that the United States was the champion of liberty and the benefactor world mankind, we scarcely reacted. Such prattle was simply part of the usual distant done.
"Politically sophisticated blacks were trying during the late forties and early fifties to organize the ghetto's paralyzed indignation, but their activities did not penetrate to our level. That sort of thing came much later. I recall little discussion and no excitement in 1954, when the Supreme Court supposedly outlawed the segregation of schools. By then I was sixteen. I think that I would have been aware of local reaction, had there been much. Just as the ghetto warps its victims, it also insulates and lulls them."
Curt Flood, from "The Way It Is"
STILL STANDING Murray Chass
Murray Chass wrote about how George Steinbrenner almost bought the Cleveland Indians from the Stouffer family in early 1972, in his Sunday column in the New York Times, "The Best Deal Never Made":
"No one knows what the outcome of a Steinbrenner ownership of the Inidans would have been. What we do know is that a year later Steinbrenner and partners bought the Yankees, and 30 years later, 30 years from last Friday, to be exact [which was also the anniversary of the Yankees signing Babe Ruth in 1920], Steinbrenner holds a unique place in Major League Baseball.
"Respect him of detest him, the 72 year-old Steinbrenner is the only owner from 1973 still on the job. The other teams have had a total of 71 owners or ownership groups, and the Yankees have had none. Put another way, in 30 years the other 29 teams, including six post-1973 expansion teams, have had a combined 94 ownership groups, and the Yankees have had one...
"Steinbrenner has enjoyed...rewards in two different periods of his ownership, when he initially restored the Yankees to championship status in the 70's and in the current period of World Series success, four championships in seven years.
"However smart the decisions and judgements of the owner and his baseball people have been in those periods, they have been fueled by the revenue that was available to the Yankees but would not have been to the Indians. No cable-television outlet in Cleveland has ever given the Indians $493.5 million over 12 years, as the Yankees have earned. That money was especially critical in the 90's."
Gordon Edes wasn't as kind to Boss George, and took Steinbrenner to task in his Sunday column in the Boston Globe, while painting a sympathetic portrait of Larry Lucchino. Will McDonough , in turn, wasn't nearly as generous with the Red Sox president.
Peter Gammons jumped in the mix with a relatively scathing take on the Boss:
"OK. OK. OK. They Yankees have a great team. They are going to win. George has bought the championship and they'd better damn well win. He assumes it, and so does everyone in New York.
"All of which brings it down to this: what happens if their pitchers pitch in October as they did last October, when the Angels hit the New York pitching so brutally that if you took Anaheim's series OPS, it meant that every batter they sent up in that series was turned into the statistical equivalent of Jason Giambi by the Yankees pitchers? Every win is something that will be assumed, expected...
"This Yankee team should be very good, but we don't know how private people like Jeter and Bernie Williams will take to the 50 member media entourage that will be following Hideki Matsui. We don't know that Mariano Rivera, Steve Karsay(coming off back surgery) and Chris Hammond are what Rivera/Mike Stanton/Ramiro Mendoza were two years ago. We don't know what kind of cross-culturalization support Contreras will have in what will be a very difficult lifestyle change.
"As good as they've been, the Yankees could easily have been knocked out in the first round of the postseason three straight years. In fact, in the first round over the last three years the Yanks are 7-7 against the A's (2000 and 2001) and Angels (2002).
"Oakland could win it all this fall with their Big Three, or if Boston ever got in, they could as well if Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe are at full throttle ... and that's without thinking about Bartolo Colon, whom Expos GM Omar Minaya says "would make the Red Sox better than the Yankees on paper right now" because Boston arguably would have three of the AL East's four best starters, with Toronto's Roy Halladay being the fourth.
"If Torre and Yankees GM Brian Cashman and senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman are allowed to do their work, the Yankees will be fine; they won four world championships on talent, character, logic and good management, not a madcap spending pattern that puts them 50 percent above the next highest spender. But now this is the '80s George, sending representatives to Nicaragua and suggesting their jobs were on the line if they didn't bring back Contreras, firing scouts and office staff to save money, cutting back on health benefits ... then throwing around $166 million (they're over $100 million in salary commitments in 2004 and 2005) so someone will write that he's a great man because he wants to win at any cost, in this case for the little people.
"What Steinbrenner has bought is no room for error. If the Yankees win, fine. George Steinbrenner will have bought New York a championship. That was expected and demanded.
"If the Yankees don't win, he will fire a lot more little people and plant stories about Torre and Jeter and Cashman and Mike Mussina. But in the end, if the Yankees don't win, it will be Steinbrenner who will be the laughingstock of the baseball world. What a shame. What a way to live. Or win...
"Few teams ever enjoyed winning more than the 2002 Angels. Even if the Yankees sweep the 2003 World Series in four games, they or their fans will never experience what the Angels experienced."
John Perricone, from Only Baseball Matters, took exception with Gammons' conclusion, though he claimed the article was [fairly] well-written and accurate:
"Let me tell you something. The Yankees went 16 years between championships as I was growing up. Their last title prior to this run was in 1981. Now, I know if you are my dad's age you've seen enough championships to last a lifetime, but I came to baseball late. For the most part, all I knew as a Yankee fan was Don Mattingly watching the playoffs on TV just like me. Then in 1996, Jeter and O'Neill and Williams and Cone and Leyritz and the rest of these guys put together a season of magic, a postseason of miracles, and a World Series for the ages. So don't tell me that Yankee fans can't feel what the Angels just felt. That's horseshit.
Now Steinbrenner is wrong for trying to hang on to it for as long as he can? He knows it won't last forever. Spend now, because when his core of championship players, with drive and character and heart is gone, he'll be starting over just like everyone else, and money can't buy character. You can use it to surround character with talent, and that's what he's doing."
SIMPLY A MATTER OF TIME...
Reports circulated this weekend regarding a possible 3-way deal between the Mets, Red Sox and Expos, that would bring either Bartolo Colon or Javier Vazquez to the Sox and ship third-baseman Shea Hillenbrand to New York. The Times first reported the story on Saturday, but The Boston Herald indicated it still has a way to go.
Regardless, I fully expect Theo Epstein and his bosses to work out a deal for one of Montreal's two stud pitchers some time in the near future. (My guess is that they'll snag the less expensive Vazquez.) There is talk that the White Sox have what it takes to land a Colon---their owner has been known to make big moves in the past, but the Red Sox are clearly a team one a mission. If you pay attention to Larry Lucchino, it is a Holy, Righteous and Just, mission, but a mission all the same.
David Pinto (Baseball Musings) had this to add about the proposed deal:
"Hillenbrand is exactly the kind of player the Mets are looking for at third: he hits right-handed, is only 27 years old, makes less than $500,000 and is coming off an All-Star season. To get him, though, the Mets would have to satisfy Montreal General Manager Omar Minaya's asking price for ColZn or Vazquez.
I think there are a lot of questions as to whether Hillenbrand is really an all-star. He does have some interesting characteristics:
He's a right-handed batter who doesn't hit lefties very well (career OPS: .640 vs. LHP, .775 vs. RHP).
He's a Fenway player who hits better on the road (career OPS .650 home, .838 away).
He's shown very litte selectivity at the plate. Among players with at least 1000 AB over the last two years, Hillenbrand is tied with Christian Guzman for the fewest walks in the majors, 38.
He's an okay third baseman. He ranks tied for 10th in defensive win shares at third base among players with 100 games at the position last year, but more than once I've seen him make poor plays at the position.
So the Mets would get a cheap third baseman who may or may not be very good. If the Red Sox can pull off this trade and get Vazquez, they'll have a 1-2-3 punch in their rotation equal to or better than Oakland. It's not clear what the Expos will get, but it looks to me like a big win for the Red Sox and not such a great deal for the Mets."
MORE HALL OF FAME CHATTER
The latest Hall of Fame profile from Baseball Primer is on the hotly-debated career of Jim Rice.
Bill Madden detailed his Hall of Fame ballot in his Sunday column in the Daily News.
Madden wrote that there are six active players he would vote for induction if their careers ended today: Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Sammy Sosa and Tom Glavine. He added that Mike Piazza, Rafael Palmeiro and Robbie Alomar are not far behind.
I'm not sure if Madden assumes that Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines are practically retired, but it's curious he didn't mention either player. As for Pudge, Junior and the Big Hurt:
"A few weeks ago in this space it was discussed how Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas have had their routes to Cooperstown detoured by injuries and decline. This is why the Baseball Writers Association and the Hall of Fame have made 10 years the minimum requirement for election consideration. That brings us to Mariano Rivera, who is still nearly three years away from being eligible. Incredibly if something should happen to end his career prematurely, Rivera would not be eligible for the Hall of Fame despite all of his postseason brilliance. By the way, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez have a few years to go, as well."
David Pinto, had an interesting posting regarding local favorite, Gil Hodges:
"Hodges for Hall? Jed Roberts pointed out this article on OpinionJournal.com, touting the late Gil Hodges for the Hall of Fame:
'They're looking at the wrong man.
'The Hall of Fame, that is. While the entire baseball world fixates on the ban on Pete Rose, a true injustice goes almost unheralded: the exclusion of Gil Hodges from baseball's Hall of Fame. The good news is that when members of the newly revamped Veterans Committee cast their ballots this month, they will have the perfect moment to right this wrong.
'Over 18 seasons, the Dodger first baseman hit 370 home runs, had seven straight seasons where he drove in more than 100 RBIs, won the National League's first three Golden Gloves for his position and was an eight-time All-Star. He played in seven World Series, where he twice hit game-winning home runs. As a manager, moreover, Hodges led the 1969 Miracle Mets to their first World Championship.
But the Hall of Fame isn't supposed to be just about numbers. Rule No. 5 states that voting should be based not only on the player's stats but on "integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.'
"Yes, that's what rule 5 says, but I believe it's a moderating condition. So if you have someone on the bubble, maybe his character pushes him over the edge. Of maybe you have someone like Rose, who would otherwise get in, but his poor character keeps him out (as a warning to others).
"So it seems to me, the question should be, 'Is Hodges on the bubble?' Gil was a regular for the Dodgers from 1948 through 1961. Let's look at the most win shares over that time:
1948-1961 Win Shares
Mickey Mantle 401
Stan Musial 398
Yogi Berra 347
Duke Snider 327
Eddie Mathews 319
Warren Spahn 318
Richie Ashburn 317
Ted Williams 312
Willie Mays 309
Minnie Minoso 277
Robin Roberts 277
Larry Doby 268
Nellie Fox 262
Gil Hodges 260
Eddie Yost 256
Hank Aaron 247
Jackie Robinson 236
"Given this list, it's hard to believe that Hodges was on the bubble. Look at Snider. They were teammates all during this time, and Snider put up 60 more win shares. Robinson was out of baseball by 1957, and Hodges barely beats him out. Mantle, Mathews, Mays and Williams beat him handily with fewer seasons played during the time period.
"Gil Hodges was a good ballplayer and a great man. If he had lived and was able to establish a dynasty with the Mets, I think he'd have a better chance of getting in as a manager. But I just don't see him as qualifying as a Hall of Famer based on his playing days. It's a nice sentiment, and it's good that someone remembers him well. The veterans committee has certainly made worse picks. But I just don't think he belongs."
Closers Getting Closer?
Rollie Fingers and Hoyt Wilhelm are the only two relievers currently in the Hall of Fame. I don't know how much better you need to be than Goose Gossage; perhaps things will begin to change next year when Dennis Eckeresly enters the equation. I've always felt that Sutter and the Goose deserve the nod. But it brings up the ambiguity that surrounds evaluating closers.
My cousin Gabe, for one, has always felt that closers are over-rated. Not that they aren't important, but that the notion of a star closer is often hyped way out of proportion. (Look at the bullpen by committee that the Red Sox have assembled this winter: Mendoza, Fox, Timlin, Rupe, Howry, Banks and Embree. When asked this weekend if he was comfortable with the absence of a traditional closer, Larry Lucchino said, "Bill James has been one who has argued there are other ways of using a bullpen, and I'm pleased with the guys we've taken.")
Here is yet another thought-provoking letter from Gabe:
"I wasn't planning on devoting time this morning to
baseball thoughts, but there's an article on espn.com
by Tracy Ringolsby asking why more closers aren't
elected to the Hall of Fame. How can I not respond?
Yet all I really want to say is 'thpptttt'.
The article speculates about the impermanency of the
position, how closers tend to change teams, play long
beyond their prime, and how the role has only really
existed for thirty years. These strike me as minor
factors, ones that might affect a borderline case at
any position but would not keep anyone out who truly
deserved to be in.
Lee Smith, the all-time save leader who is on the
ballot for the first time, is quoted: 'I don't
understand that. In the last 15, 20 years, no team has
won anything without a good closer. If they don't have
one, they don't win.'
I'm not sure what defines a good closer,
statistically, but upon reflection, I'm inclined to
agree with Big Lee on one count: namely, that teams
that have won the Series (with the exception of the
Diamondbacks) have had good closers. It is true that
Troy Percival, Mariano Rivera, Robb Nenn, Duane Ward
(underrated), Rick Aguilera (overrated), Dennis
Eckersley, and Randy Myers--the closers on
championship teams since 1990--were all good (or in
some cases great) relievers. But teams that win the
Series tend to be solid all around. Sure, they have
good closers, but they probably also have good set-up
men, good long relievers, good pinch hitters, good
defensive replacements, and good coaches--or, at
least, are strong in a number of these categories.
As always, to me the question is not why good closers
are not in the Hall of Fame, but how impressive is it
to be a good closer. In the mid-1980s, Davey Johnson
(who, incidentally, used two closers) played Kevin
Mitchell or Howard Johnson at shortstop, routinely
pulling them for Rafael Santana or Kevin Elster once
the Mets had a lead in the late innings.
Santana/Elster rarely, if ever, entered the game when
the Mets were traliing. Their purpose was to help
hold a lead and, as strong defensive players, I can
only assume they did that very well. How many times
they made plays HoJo or Mitchell wouldn't have or
would have flubbed, I don't know, but it could have
been a couple. Or look at Rusty Staub or John
Vanderwal or Lenny Harris, pinch hitters who are
typically saved until late in the game, when they have
a chance to tie a game or give their team a win. It's
more exciting than the defensive replacements, but I
think we generally agree that it's a similar,
complimentary role. What would a pinch hitter have to
do to be considered for all-star consideration, let
alone an mvp, let alone the Hall of Fame? A defensive
sub? Forget it.
Sometimes I wish I were a more mathematical person,
because I am sure that with the right tools I could
show that the position of closer is, for the most
part, closer to these secondary roles than it is to
anything resembling a Hall of Famer.
The smaller your sample, the less impressive it is to
stand out from the reset of the pack. If, as a
reserve player, you go 15 for 60, that's .250; but if
you go 18 for 60, that's .300; and 20 for 60 is
.333--a great batting average, if you translate it
into a full season of at bats. This is simple stuff.
We see it every April, when players start off hot or
cold. But the season doesn't end in April. It goes
five more whole months. We wouldn't let a regular
player go into the Hall of Fame with such a small
sampling, and I don't see why we would let a pitcher
in, either. Sure it's tense to pitch the ninth
inning. But is it tenser than pinch hitting in a key
spot? Is it tenser than pitching seven or eight
innings? Is it tenser than holding a lead in the
eighth, or entering tie game in the sixth with the
bases loaded? Or pitching the top of the ninth of an
important game, down by a run?
How the role of closer has assumed such mythic
proportions, I'm not sure, but I think agents probably
have something to do with it. If I'm Lee Smith, I
might be bummed that I missed huge salaries for
closers by five years. But the Hall of Fame argument,
as always, is a weak one, in my opinion."
Jack O'Connell, contributes to the conversation in his Hall of Fame piece for the Hartford Courant:
"I continue to support Gossage, one of the most intimidating relievers in the game's history, and Sutter, who perfected and popularized the split-finger fastball to the degree that he was the first reliever who shortened the game for opposing managers. One look at Sutter warming up in the bullpen, and the manager in the other dugout felt he was headed for the ninth inning, even though the game might still have been in the sixth.
Smith has the glaring statistic of 478 career saves, most in history, and is the career leader in saves for two franchises, the Cubs and the Cardinals. Just as Gossage, intimidation was part of Smith's game while, again like Gossage, underneath he was a teddy bear. Smith's 71-92 record is a blemish, but he spent many years on mediocre teams. He also holds the bogus record of most consecutive errorless games by a pitcher (546), which is ludicrous because for many of those "games" he was around for only an inning or two.
That alone might be why relievers get short shrift from the writers. There are really no stats that accurately measure a reliever's value. Won-lost record and ERA are unsatisfactory gauges because inherited runners who score are not charged to a reliever's record, and the closer is most often faced with a save-or-lose scenario. While I admit that Smith was exceptional at what he did, I cannot vote for him in front of Gossage or Sutter. If they have to wait, so should he."
Hall of Fame selections will be announed at 2 pm tomorrow.
I hope Kid Carter's wife hasn't planned too big of a "suprise party" for him this year, because it might be too much for him to have to cancel it again. All kidding aside, I think he should finally make it in this time round.
TRAIN CHAT Last night,
Last night, I was taking the 1 train home to the Bronx, passing the time engrossed in Dick Lally's "Pinstriped Summers". I couldn't resist picking the book up the day before when I saw it at the Strand, because Lally covers the CBS, and Steinbrenner years (though 1982). Knowing precious little about the Mike Burke, Horace Clarke Era, I thought it was about time to do some investigating.
At 59th street, a heavy-set man in his 50's sat next to me, and pulled out the Daily News. The Yankees first-round playoff loss was voted by the News as the most disappointing sports story of the year. Putting my book down, and looking over this guy's shoulder at the story, I couldn't help adding my two-cents.
"103 wins, and that's a disappointing season?" I said. "Even the damn papers are spoiled around here."
Turns out the guy is a Yankee fan, and lives in the Bronx as well. So we spent the next half an hour talking shop. I peppered him with questions about the CBS Yankee team. It was my good fortune that I was able to get a seasoned fan's perspective, to help add balance and shape to my impressions of players like Fritz Peterson, Joe Pepitone, Danny Cater and Tommy Tresh.
Eventually, we got around to talking about the Hall of Fame. I asked him who he thought should make it via the Veterans Committee: Santo, Dick Allen, Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Joe Torre, or Minnie Minoso.
He smiled warmly and the first thing he says is, "Hodges." Having read Rob Neyer's recent response to the Hodges debate, I'm fairly convinced that Hodges is a sentimental favorite more than the most deserving candidate (though Tom Verducci noted that Hodges' slugging and on-base percentages were better than Eddie Murray's). Neyer compared Hodges career with that of Joe Carter, and Rocky Colavito: very good, but not truly great. (Another friend who is just shy of 50 told me yesterday that Colavito was much more of a star, a feared-slugger, than Hodges ever was.)
My fantasy is that if he can put together another couple of solid seasons, Tino Martinez may find similar sympathy twenty-five years down the line.
I asked my friend, "Why Hodges?" And before he recited Gil's accomplishments, his smile grew warmer. "Cause he's a Brooklyn boy."
Which is as good an explaination as any as to why New Yorkers of a certain vintage would like Hodges to be in the Hall, it's just not enough, in and of itself to merit the selection.
Last night, for no reason at all, I sat down and wrote out a list of current players who would be Hall of Famers if their career ended today. I came up with it off the top of my head, and I'm sure that there are a few other players who are close (Biggio, Larkin, Sheffield to name a few), or too young (Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez) that I didn't mention. Still, I was amazed by just how many future Hall of Famers we have in our midst.
Ken Griffey Jr.
Just About There:
I'm sure I've ommitted some deserving names, but the point is, we're watching some great players. If this isn't a Golden Age, it is at least a great age for Stars. When was the last time so many future Hall of Famers were active at the same time?
Most of the players mentioned above are in the declining years of their career, even those who are still productive like Palmerio, McGriff, Maddux and Clemens. Piazza, Alomar, Frank Thomas and Bagwell had sub-par years last season, by their own lofty standards (Alomar was mediocre by anyone's standards), but still may have a few terrific years left in them.
Junior Griffey and Pudge Rodriguez may be the most intriguing names on this list because they are still comparitavely young. For the past few seasons, baseball fans have been waiting for these two to regain their status amongst the game's elite. Injuries have tortured them. Barry Bonds and Randy Johnson are great examples of modern ball players who have improved with age, so the carrot is on the stick. If they can do it, why can't Junior and Pudge?
Eric Neel wrote an interesting piece on Griffey a few weeks back called "Hoping for the return of the spectacular". Neel neatly described the young Junior, and what he's become:
"He wasn't solid or profesional, he was spectacular. [I couldn't help but think of this description watching Michael Vick play this season.] He was arguably the best player in the game. It was more than that: The game, the whole sweet spirit of it, seemed wrapped up in his brilliant, easy style. (Yeah, that's a bit much, but that's the way his game was; it made you want to say too much, made you wish you could find the words---make up new words if you had to---to say too much and then some.)...
All of a sudden, you're thinking about him in the past tense, and the poetry of his swing seems forever lost. It's a strange, vertiginous feeling. The shift from something effortless and great to something labored and common, even when it's played out in small acts over a few years, is steep. There are two pictures of Griffey in your mind now, one laid over the other, with almost no overlap...
Hitting a baseball is different than hitting a punching bag, or George Foreman's chin, and you're enough of a student of Bill James to know that 33 isn't exactly the peak age of offensive performance, and declines are usually just what they look like: declines.
So, romance aside, you know there is a chance it won't get better from here, and it might get worse. Maybe greatness is just that: burning hot, withering fast...you know, fleeting...Maybe we're drawn to it because we have an unspoken sense of how rare it is. Maybe the pangs you feel watching him swinging and missing these last couple of years, or thinking that he might be done now or soon, are the true measurement of how great he was."
Neel is on to something when he says, "Maybe greatness is just that: burning hot, withering fast." Perhaps "Brilliance" is a better word, because there is something to said about longevity being the mark of greatness as well. Though Griffey's style may have been more lucid, couldn't the same be said for Dick Allen, Bobby Bonds or even Darryl Strawberry?
I've never been a Junior Griffey fan, and his inability to mature personally has made him difficult to pull for. There is a lingering sense of entitlement with Griffey, as if he's still carrying around an adolescent chip on his shoulder. Maybe the game got harder when his body started to age some, and suddenly the game wasn't "effortless" any longer. Maybe we are judging Griffey too harshly, because as we all know, baseball is anything but easy.
Since I have it handy, here is another bit from Dick Lally:
"It is baseball's great illusion that is it not a difficult game to play. When a player repeatedly fails to perform well, it destroys that facade of ease. It makes it painfully clear that the game of our youth, like normal life, is a hard and difficult business. Ther are too many daily reminders of that sort of thing. Booing implies many things, including: 'Don't screw around with my dreams; don't take away my escape.'"
I don't know if Griffey's body has broken down due to poor work habits. I can only speculate. I do know that if he adopts the kind of single-minded focus, and dedication Barry Bonds has displayed throughout his 30's, we just may be talking about him catching Aaron again sometime soon. Bond has achieved a level of superiority that is virtually unrivalled in the history of the game, but I never get the sense that it comes easy to him. If anything, his genius is combining tremendous natural talent with an obsessive work ethic.
Personality aside, I find it increasingly difficult to root against greatness (though I'm still having issues with Frank Thomas). I think I'd appreciate Junior even more if the game was more of a grind for him. It's been nothing short of depressing to see one of the game's bright stars fall so far, so fast.
For more on the Hall, peep Don Malcom's site Big Bad Baseball for a lengthy article on Mattingly and Mex Hernandez, "Donnie, Keith, Steve and a Mystery Guest (the R rated version)".
Also, check out the return of Tom Verducci, with his piece on the Hall of Fame ballot (Eddie Murray: yes, Ryno: no go.)
My friend Mindy is an avid Yankee nutjob has been gorging herself on Yankee history this winter. She especially loves Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle. We've been swaping stories for weeks now, and I recently suggested that she may want to check out the Museum of Television and Radio as a place to do some more learnin'.
I recieved an e-mail this morning:
Here is my report on the Museum:
Okay, first let me say that it is a good thing I didn't go to this museum before because between watching the films and all of the baseball reading, I would have never gotten any work done and would have been out on the street weeks ago.
So, I started light and looked up an old interview that Whitey and Mickey did on the Ed Sullivan show. There, of course, is a story behind the interview. It was during the 1955 World Series against the Dodgers, and the Yankees were down 2 games to 3. It was the night of the 5th game and Whitey was scheduled to pitch the next day. So Sullivan asks him who is pitching tomorrow and Whitey replies, "I am, and then Tommy Byrne will be pitching the next day." This reply sparked such an outcry because of Whitey's arrogance in assuming he would win the game and that there would even be a game 7. Of course, Whitey did win the next day's game, and as we know, the Dodgers went on to win game 7.
The interview was kind of disappointing, though, because it lasted all of 45 seconds. Whitey said maybe two sentences and Mickey said, at most, one sentence. That's alright.
The next two clips I got were the 50s and 60s from the Ken Burn's Baseball Series. Very exciting. It was great to see the interviews and clips on Mickey and Ted Williams. Stuff on Joe D. and Yogi. Jackie Robinson had a nice portion and so did Willie Mays. The home run race of 61, obviously, and then all of the crazy changes in the 60s. You know the shtick since you already saw it. I liked it very much.
The final clip I saw was game 7 of the 1952 World Series against the Dodgers. I got to see a Mickey Mantle home run, a Jackie Robinson triple, and all three starting pitchers, Lopat, Reynolds, and Raschi. It was so cool to see all of these guys that I have been reading about！little Scooter and Yogi and Billy the Kid (who hit a couple of singles). I'll have to find another game where Whitey's playing (he was in the Korean War in ｀51 and ｀52).
The game I wanted to see most, though, was the 1961 All Star game. I couldn't find it. Aside from all of the amazing players in this game, there is just one moment that occurred that I know would give me a giggle. The day before the game was to be played in San Francisco, Mickey and Whitey flew out a day early to get in a day of golf. They didn't have anything with them so the Giant's owner, Horace Stoneham let them go to his club and buy whatever they needed to play and put it on his tab. They each ran up a $200 bill. So later that night, Whitey went over to Stoneham to give him the money and he decided to have some fun and make a bet with Whitey. Wrong move. He told Whitey that if he got out Willie Mays in tomorrow's game then the bill would be cleared. However, if Willie got a run off of him, they would owe double (making it $800). Of course Whitey could never pass up a challenge, which scared Mantle to death because Mays used to KILL Whitey. So, the next day Whitey starts the game, Willie steps up, Mantle is in center field. First pitch, foul, second pitch, just barely foul, third pitch！Strike. Mantle's response: he started leaping up and down, yelling and yahooing, and twirling all over the field like he had just won the world series. The writers became suspicious because this was around the time of the big competition "who is better！Mantle, Mays or Snider." Mantle and Mays were actually good friends, so when Willie looked at Whitey, like "what the fuck is that crazy ass doing?" they finally told him the story and Willie started laughing hysterically.
Anyway, I just wanted to see the clip for Mantle's reaction to Whitey striking out Willie Mays.
I just have to add that the two moments where I smiled the most and that really touched me during the Ken Burns clips, were: 1) Bobby Thompson's home run and the reaction of the Giants (players and fans) and 2) Seeing clips of Ted Williams play his last game with his infamous home run. Isn't that funny? Neither included the Yankees. Huh.
I may go back tomorrow. I have a feeling I am going to be very wild.
IT WAS 30 YEARS AGO TODAY...
Today marks the 30th anniversary of George Steinbrenner buying the Yankees. To think that he did it for less than he's currently paying Raul Mondesi, Ro White and Sterling Hitchcock is staggering. The Post has an article commemorating the sale today. At the end of the piece, George, now 72, said he wouldn't be running the team forever. "This year has taken a toll. Ive been very tired, but I still get the steam up when I have to."
Yeah, just ask Jeter.
BILL JAMES WATCH
I have to admit that I'm fascinated that Bill James is working for the Yankees arch-rival. I will be keeping tabs on him throughout the year. The first interview I've encountered since he's been in Boston was posted on mlb.com this week.
ROCKY REDUX: DON'T KNOCK
ROCKY REDUX: DON'T KNOCK THE ROCK
In the footnote for a review I recently posted on Terry Pluto's "Curse of Rocky Colavito", I wondered whether or not Pluto would need to revise his view of the Indians as lovable losers in light of the organization's recent success. If I had done just a little bit of fact-checking I would have discovered that since the publication of "The Curse of Rocky Colavito", Pluto has written two more volumes on the Indians: "Burying the Curse: How the Indians Became the Best Team in Baseball" (1995), and "Our Tribe: A Baseball Memoir" (1999).
Speaking of Rocky Colavito, the former Tribe slugger is one of 26 players up for HoF consideration by the newly revamped Veterans Committee. I doubt whether he will be elected, still I did run across another story involving Rocky, which may be of interest.
Colavito, in the final year of his career (1968), was released early in the season by the L.A. Dodgers, and picked up by the Yankees on June 15th. This was the CBS Yankees, in the midst of their decline. But the Yankees in 1968 weren't so awful, and they played above their heads, grasping for respectability. In late August, they hosted a 5-game series against the Detriot Tigers. The Yankees won the first three games, but had to face Pat Dobson and Mickey Lolich in a double-header to end the series on Sunday. Due to an unfortunate quirk in the schedule, it would be the first of three straight double-headers. Three days, six games. Oy.
According to Dick Lally's book, "Pinstriped Summers: Memories of Yankee Seasons Past" (1985),
"The team was about to suffer a severe case of the pitching shorts...Colavito was gifted with one of the great right arms in baseball history, a rally cippler. On balls hit to him in right field, enemy base runners realized that any thoughts of taking an extra base put them in a no-man's land. Invariably they either stayed put or were thrown out. It was this majestic cannon that Houk turned to that Sunday afternoon, and its pitching performance provided the team with a lift that would last the season.
The Tigers took three and one-third innings to dispose of left-hander Steve Barber in the first game, scoring five runs on seven hits and three walks. When Houk strode in from the dugout to lift his battered starter, the stage had been set for Rocky's Moment: runners on first and second, one man out, and the Yankees on the wrong end of a 5-0 score. Not another Tiger crossed the plate. Throwing nothing but overhand heat, Colavito pitched two and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief, giving up only one hit: a double by Al Kaline. He walked two and struck out one. The Yankees, meanwhile, obvioulsy inspired by the sheer audacity and success of the gamble, cut and slashed their way to six runs and the ball game, Rocky getting the win. It was only the beginnning. In the second game, with his team trailing 3-2, Colavito, now safely positioned back in right field, hit a game-tying home run off Mickey Lolich. Pandemonium. The shot left New York with no other options but to win that game, too, and sweep the doubleheader.
They finished that day at .500, but that was unimportant. What was important was the way they reached that mark: using a storybook performance to beat a powerful Tiger team. It was the sort of day what would rekindle the self-confidence that this club had once taken for granted. It gave them the motor to make their late-season charge, a run that would at one point have them as high as third place. Finally, as if the very effort of this push had exhausted all their reserves, they faded in the final two weeks of the season. They finished in fifth place with a record of 83-79. No one of the team could remember when so little had meant so much."
Here is a good idol-worship page on Rocky, for anyone who is interested. It gives those of us who are too young to have seen Colavito play, a good visual sense of what he meant to all those kids like Pluto.
The good people at Baseball Primer have been running a series of engaging articles on the Hall of Fame. Using a series of questions devised by Bill James ("The Keltner List"), Eddie Murray, Dale Murphy, Dave Paker, and Tommy John and Kim Kaat, are all given the once-over by Baseball Primer's competent staff of contributors.
Rob Neyer has two very good columns that focus on the candidates for the Hall as well.
The Hall of Fame will announce it's newest members next Tuesday; the Veterans Committee make their choice known on February 26th.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.