Monthly archives: February 2003
GAYS ON BROADWAY? SAY
GAYS ON BROADWAY? SAY HEY
Richard Greenberg's play, "Take Me Out," opened on Broadway last night, after having had a succesful run at Joe Papp's Public Theater last fall. Here is an excerpt from Ben Brantely's review today in the Times.
["Take Me Out" is] the story of Darren Lemming (Daniel Sunjata), a god among baseball players and the star of a team called the Empires, who sets off a complicated chain of ultimately tragic events when he publicly announces that he is gay. This allows Mr. Greenberg to consider ！ in language that gives joltingly bombastic dimensions to locker room humor ！ big, big subjects like sexual and racial prejudice, moral responsibility, public versus personal identities and the inability of people to ever truly know one another.
Whew! That's a roster that would have overloaded even Sophocles. And in trying to give theatrical life to each theme, Mr. Greenberg winds up sacrificing fully developed characters and credible plotting to Ideas with a capital I. Despite a vivid ensemble of actors who embody a lively spectrum of bat wielders, "Take Me Out" ultimately fails by the dizzyingly high standards it sets for itself as a metaphysical mystery play.
But the director, Joe Mantello, has sensibly chosen to emphasize the play's less ponderous aspects. These include zippy (if improbably polysyllabic) dialogue; a hypnotic narrative that does much to disguise the potholes in the plot and is appealingly delivered by Neal Huff as a shortstop with the worldview of a novelist; and a host of good-looking guys standing around naked for the show's already notorious shower scenes.
...But ultimately, it's [Denis] O'Hare who owns the evening. A lonely, emotionally constipated gay man whose life takes on meaning when he takes on Darren as a client, Mr. O'Hare's Mason becomes baseball's dream cheerleader. To see him bend and blossom before the mysteries of the game is a bit like watching Cary Grant, in his priggish mode, being thawed out by a madcap Katharine Hepburn in "Bringing Up Baby."
And what an enchanting and enchanted take on baseball Mr. Greenberg has created for Mason, both passionately personal and lyrically analytical. It's a sensibility that is so smart, raw and sincere all at once that you may find tears in your eyes in the first act as Mason describes the raptures of "the home-run trot."
There is also a moment in the second act that turns baseball into something like grand opera. The white light of night games floods the stage as the ensemble members act out an evocative baseball ballet, and Mr. O'Hare waxes into hallelujah-like paeans to the game. "Maybe I've had a ridiculous life," he says, "but this is one of its best nights."
The scene is one of the most stirring on Broadway right now. It's an unconditional, all-American epiphany that, in these days of fretful ambivalence, is something to cherish.
You have to wonder when gay ballplayers will feel comfortable enough to come out. Homosexuality is one of the last great taboos to grip the game (and sporting culture in general), and it would take a man with considerable personality to publicly address the issue. Hopefully, it will be a star player. I wouldn't hold my breath on it happening any time soon, though. Whoever makes the move will have to be a brave individual. It won't be someone as touchy as Robbie Alomar, that's for sure.
THAT'S A WRAP Mike
THAT'S A WRAP
Mike C over at Baseball Rants, has a couple of excellent articles on the Hall of Fame voting process. The first concerns Whitey Herzog's reaction to not being elected earlier this week by the Veteran's Committee, while the second tackles Jayson Stark's latest column.
Hal Bodley weighs in on the Committee's choice not to select anyone for the Hall as well.
Meanwhile, Jay Jaffe, has a funny take on Reggie Jackson's insatiable need for attention. He also comments on Jackson as a Hall of Fame voter. (If you are Whitey Herzog, this doesn't bode well for you.)
Ed Cossette has a good posting today about superstition and the Red Sox.
FIT AS A FIDDLE
Yankee fans, don't miss out on Will Carroll's team health report at Baseball Prospectus. Carroll is as informative and definitive as usual. According to the report, the biggest cause for concern is the respective health of Nick Johnson, Bernie Williams, David Wells and Andy Pettitte.
DEBUTS Godzilla Matsui hit
Godzilla Matsui hit a home run yesterday in his Yankee spring training debut against the Reds, while Jose Contreras got his tits lit, giving up a grand slam to Adam Dunn.
"He hit a rocket," Manager Joe Torre said. "He just hit a bullet."
...Jason Giambi, who was on base, reminded Matsui of his experience last spring. Giambi homered twice in his exhibition debut, then hit no more the rest of camp. "Don't let that be the last one," Giambi told him.
What impressed Giambi most was not the home run but the at-bat that led up to it. Matsui, who walked 114 times while batting .334 last season, saw eight pitches.
"That's part of his game a lot of people don't realize," Giambi said. "He's a great hitter, not just a great home-run hitter."
Contreras was in the dugout for the homer and admired what he saw. "It was a perfect swing," he said.
Of his own performance, Contreras was not as kind. He retired the last five hitters he faced, three with strikeouts. But Contreras was quite disappointed with his first inning, when he needed four mound conferences with catcher Jorge Posada. Contreras and Posada had trouble with the signals. Contreras's splitter was everywhere, his slider was flat. The pounding he took had no precedent.
"That never happened to me in my 10 years of pitching ！ five runs in one inning and a grand slam," Contreras said through an interpreter. "I know it's just baseball, but I have to prepare better. It was my first game here and I wanted to leave a good impression, and I didn't. I know a lot of people were anxious to see me perform, but I wasn't able to give them the results they wanted."
When Contreras gets in trouble, he tends to work more deliberately. Stottlemyre noticed and tried to let him pick up the pace on his own. He finally went to the mound after the homer. "It gives me something to look for the next time," Stottlemyre said. "Next time, maybe I'll try to go out when I see it, before the damage is done."
MORE BOOMER BLASTS
More quotes are spilling out from David Wells' upcoming biography. Shocked?
"As of right now, I'd estimate 25 to 40 percent of all major leaguers are juiced. But that number's fast rising."
..."Down in the minors, where virtually every flat-broke, baloney-sandwich-eating Double-A prospect is chasing after the same, elusive, multi-million-dollar payday, the use of anabolic homer-helpers is flat-out booming," Wells wrote. "At just about 12 bucks per shot, those steroid vials must be seen as a really solid investment."
He writes that amphetamines are so commonplace that "stand in the middle of your clubhouse and walk 10 feet in any direction, chances are you'll find what you need."
"As a pitcher, I won't ever object to a sleepy-eyed middle infielder beaning up to help me win," Wells said. "That may not be the politically correct spin on the practice, but I really couldn't care less."
..."A syringe full of 'roids can make it a whole lot easier for a major leaguer to feel confident about his game," Wells wrote. "They're easy to score. They're easy to use. They really do work."
Steroids, according to Wells, have changed the game.
"The '78 Yankees look like a high school team when compared to today's players," he said.
Wells also takes swipes at teammates Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte, insuring that once again, he won't be winning the "Mr. Personality" award in the Yankee clubhouse. David Cone, who is pals with Boomer, commented on Boomer's book in the Post this morning:
"Chances are I was probably with him," Cone said in a manner that meant he was, indeed, with Wells. "We are both good friends of Lorne Michaels [the executive who created Saturday Night Live]. We have always supported the show together. So, yes, we were probably there."
In explaining his pal, Cone kept using the word "throwback" to describe Wells' penchant for late-night activities, even when they might have come before a game he pitched. But when asked how many times Wells might have pitched in such shape, Cone refused to answer, saying, "I am not going to throw him under the bus."
..."He's a throwback," said Cone, who is trying to make the Mets this spring. "He's always been a loose spirit. He could have pitched in the 1930s and '40s with the Gashouse Gang, who were known for throwing a few back on the nights before they played. His way of doing things has worked for him."
...Of the half-drunk revelation, [former Yankee pitcher, Mike] Stanton joked, "That surprises you? How?"
Will Carroll, from The Baseball Prospectus, has an authoratative piece on the dangers of heatstroke, and co-authors another fine article with Nate Silver on the dynamics of pitching injuries.
Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci has an interesting look at the derth of stellar center fielders in today's game.
"Like a lot of things, it goes in cycles, and we're in a down cycle," [Oakland general manager, Billy] Beane said. "It'll come back."
Where have all the good center fielders gone?
"They're playing shortstop now," Beane said.
KNOW THY ENEMY
You may have noticed that I haven't been covering the Red Sox too tough over the past few weeks. Since spring training started, the old "Us vs. Them" mentality has taken hold. It's not to say that there aren't interesting things happening to Boston's Home Nine, it's just that the thought of the Sox is starting to make me see red.
Partisanship aside, here is a look at how ex-Yank Ramiro Mendoza is coming along.
And here are a couple of good articles on starting pitcher Derek Lowe, who survived a brush with skin cancer this winter, and pitched in the Sox spring training opener yesterday.
REGGIE: ME AND MY
REGGIE: ME AND MY BIG, FAT MOUTH
Predictably, Reggie Jackson didn't stay mad for long. After clearing his pipes to Jack Curry in The New York Times yesterday, Reggie backed off this morning:
"It ruffled some feathers with people I have a good relationship with," Jackson said. "I am treated very well in this organization. I have no negative feelings toward the Yankees. If it weren't for the Yankees, I wouldn't be in baseball. If not for George, I wouldn't have a job in baseball. It's too good here."
SHUT OUT The newly
The newly revamped Veteran's Committee didn't select anyone for the Hall of Fame yesterday. Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva and Ron Santo had the best showings.
Personal favorites, Minnie Minoso and Curt Flood weren't even close. Marvin Miller didn't make it either, but seemed to take the news in stride:
"The way I see it, I received over 75% of the players' vote," Miller said philosophically by phone from New York. "I harken back to when I was first elected as executive director. Although managers, coaches and trainers were all considered management, they voted and, despite that, I won 489-136. I guess I have to conclude after all those gains we made for the players, I've lost ground."
Miller chuckled as he said it, but later admitted his disappointment. "I'm understandably disappointed, but you have to put it in context," he said. "I'd said in the past I thought it was doubtful I'd be elected. It was an honest appraisal, and so it's not disappointing in that I expected it."
Bill Madden reports on the mildly suprising turn of events in the News, and Dave Anderson does the same in the Times.
After all the build up, I was bummed that nobody was elected, but I suppose nobody was better than Gil Hodges, despite tremendous local sentiment for the ex-Brooklyn Dodger.
BOOMER'S BOOK: DOCK ELLIS
BOOMER'S BOOK: DOCK ELLIS AIN'T GOT NUTHIN ON ME
According to his forthcoming book, "Perfect I'm Not. Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches and Baseball," (to be published by William Morrow on April Fool's Day), David Wells pitched his perfect game with a wicked hangover.
The New York Post reports:
Wells writes that he was still drunk from the night before when he mastered the Twins on a brilliant Bronx Sunday.
"As of this writing, 15 men in the history of baseball have ever thrown a perfect game. Only one of those men did it half-drunk, with bloodshot eyes, monster breath and a raging, skull-rattling hangover. That would be me," Wells wrote. "Never in the history of professional sports has a feat so difficult been accomplished by an athlete so thoroughly shot."
Five years later, an older Wells remembers and laughs.
"I don't recommend doing that. It's not healthy," Wells said yesterday of attempting to get big league hitters out while hung over. "It was a phase of my life when I was a party animal. Back then I went out all the time. I could do no wrong that year. I was in a zone all year."
...Joe Torre said he saw no signs that Wells was walking on the proverbial waterbed that day.
"That stuff has been going on forever," Torre said of pitchers working after staying out late. "Don Larsen [another perfect-gamer] did it. You certainly hope your pitcher takes care of himself the day before he pitches, but . . ."
That should sell some books, huh?
Boomer's revelation brings Doc Ellis to mind. Ellis, who once wore haircurlers during a game, and who called George Steinbrenner's pep-talks "high school Charley shit," pitched a no-hitter for the Pirates the morning after he had tripped on LSD. The episode is recounted in Ellis' biography, "In the Country of Baseball," co-written with Donald Hall. Suffice it to say, Boomer Wells isn't the first nut job to perform well while still loaded.
STILL REGGIE, AFTER ALL
STILL REGGIE, AFTER ALL THESE YEARS
Rob Neyer mentioned the other day just how much ink has been spilled on the Bronx Zoo Yankees, and it's true. It's funny that nobody has made a Movie-of-the-week about that team (I'm thinking about the 1977-78 version, featuring George, Billy, Reggie and Thurman). Maybe it won't happen until the principal players are dead. Still, when I was recently reading Ed Linn's "Steinbrenner's Yankees," I wondered: who would serve as a good narrator? Who could play the Cameron Crowe roll in "Almost Famous?"
Who would work? Chambliss, Willie Randolph? Maybe Fran Healy, the seldom-used back up catcher, and one of Jackson's few allies on the team, would make a good fit. The narrator would have to be a minor character, someone on the fringes.
How about Ray Negron?
Let's turn to June 18, 1977, one of the most controversial days in Yankee history. The Yankees were playing the Game of the Week in Boston and getting creamed, when Billy Martin replaced Reggie Jackson in the middle of an inning with Paul Blair. Martin thought Jackson had loafed after a ball. When Reggie returned to the dugout, all hell broke loose.
According to Linn:
The TV Camera in center field had caught it all, and a mobile camera at the end of the dugout had come wheeling in to catch a close-up of the wrestling match. Before the camera could be activated, Ray Negron, who runs the Betamax (closed-circuit camera) for the Yankees, had thrown himself in front of it and was screaming at the cameraman. Negron is a former Yankee bat boy and Pittsburgh Pirate farmhand. He had been hired by Billy Martin at the beginning of spring training, but he had also become so friendly with Reggie Jackson！they shared the same locker area, and they both spoke Spanish---that Reggie had asked him to move into his apartment and become his general factotum. Negron was the one man on the club who had reason to like and be grateful to both Billy and Reggie, and what was happening was so painful to him that he found himself throwing a towel over the mobile camera and threatening to break the radar gun over the cameraman's head. The mobile cameraman recalled afterwards that it was Martin who had shouted to Negron to cover the camera. It was exactly the opposite. The first thing Martin did when Yogi let him up was to pull the still-hysterical Negron away from the cameraman and shove him down on the bench.
It's a thought, no?
Negron went on to work as an advisor and substance-abuse counselor for the Rangers and Indians. Interestingly, he was hired by Robbie Alomar a few days ago to work as the second baseman's personal assistant, a job he previously held when Alomar was with Cleveland.
Back to Reggie. After disaster was averted in the dugout that day in Boston, 1977, Martin almost lost his job. Gabe Paul, who was not a Martin fan, prevented George from canning Billy the Kid, cause it would look like Jackson was running the team if the manager was fired right then and there. Negron made sure Reggie left the locker room before Martin arrived.
Later that night, two reporters came up to Reggie's room to talk----Paul Montgomery of the New York Times, and Phil Pepe of the Daily News.
Here is Linn's account of Reggie in rare form:
As the interview began, Reggie was sitting on the floor, bare-chested except for a gold cross and two gold medallions. A blonde was in the shower, a local girlfriend. Mike Torrez was sitting in a chair alongside Reggie with a bottle of white wine・"If I go too far," he hold Torrez before he began, "stop me."
His memory during the interview was that he hadn't said anything when he came back to the dugout, but had merely held his arms open in that "What did I do wrong?" gesture. "The man took a position today to show me up on national television. Everyone could see that."
・At one point he became so upset that he retreated to the edge of the bed and began to read the Bible. He was a born-again Christian, he told them, and quite often went to the Bible for solace.
Once he had himself back under control, he resumed his position on the floor and went right back to the company line. "I don't know anything about managing, but I'll take the heat for whatever the manger says."
・And then he began to come apart. "If the press keeps messing with me," he sobbed, "I'll hit thirty homers and maybe ninety ribbys and hit .270. If they leave me alone, I'll have forty homers, one hundred and twenty ribbys, and I'll be hitting .300."
For the record, the press didn't leave Reggie alone---he didn't give them a chance to---and he ended up hitting .286, with 32 homers and 110 RBI.
・His eyes filled up, and began speaking with rising emotion about the way he was being treated on the ballclub. "I'm just a black man to them who doesn't know how to be subservient. I'm a black buck with an IQ of 160, and making $700,00 a year. They've never had anyone like me on their team before." Except for Steinbrenner. "I love that man, he treats me like I'm somebody."
His voice broke, and he came rising up on his haunches. "The rest of them treat me like I'm dirt." There were tears running down his cheeks now. "I'm a Christian," he screamed, "and they're fucking with me because I'm a nigger, and they don't like niggers on this team. The Yankee pinstripes are Ruth and Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle. I've got an IQ of 160, they can't mess with me..." He was a man so clearly out of control, a man in such terrible torment, that Mike Torrez stood up and told the writers, "I think you'd better leave."
Jackson's rocky relationship with Steinbrenner and the Yankees was only getting started in June of 1977, but all these years later, Reggie is still around, and just like George, he needs to sound off every once in awhile just to show us that he can. Reggie still needs to know that he matters, that he is important. He found a sympathetic ear in Jack Curry of the New York Times:
"I think, first of all, I'd like to have a meaningful title that would be of value to me and the minority community and separate me in the organization instead of just being a springtime coach," Jackson said. "I want something of value, whether it's baseball ops or something where I work for Brian Cashman or Mark Newman, or I'm a special envoy. Anything."
"Not for me, but for my community and family because I'm more than an adviser to the managing general partner," Jackson said. "If I was the only one, I'd feel as though I'd have more credibility."
Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Don Mattingly and Clyde King are also special advisers to Steinbrenner.
Jackson added that he wanted credibility as a "baseball-content person," and "not as a trophy; not as just fluff."
..."I don't really call myself a coach," Jackson said. "I'm a teacher, a mentor, I'm anything. I'm a big brother, at times, a father, at times, and a messenger, at times. There's no job too menial and, hopefully, they think I'm capable of handling the big jobs."
..."If I remain as I am now for the rest of my days, I'll be grateful," Jackson said. "I got a place to hang my hat. I got a locker that says `Reggie' or `Mr. October.' I appreciate that. I got a plaque in center field. I know who puts the plaques in center field. So I'm on the team. I'm part of his family. For me, I need family, I need friends. I need loved ones. I need to be cared about, which probably makes me pretty damn human."
This is a man who just wants a little love. Is that so wrong?
THE ENVELOPE PLEASE The
THE ENVELOPE PLEASE
The Veteran's Committee will announce their selections for the Hall of Fame later this afternoon. Who is going to make it? The one name I keep reading about is a logical one: Marvin Miller. Alan Schwarz has an excellent two-part interview with the former head of the Player's Union this morning at ESPN.com.
Schwarz asked Miller about Curt Flood, who is also up for selection:
Miller: I'd vote for him. He is the ideal one for this. The statistics stand up, I think. I haven't examined them closely. But for a number of years he was the outstanding center fielder in baseball. It was a period when Willie Mays was admittedly entering his last days as a player. But Curt Flood was clearly the best center fielder in baseball.
And his off-the-field thing ... let me tell you a story when he was deciding about the lawsuit. He's all gung-ho. I felt it was my responsibility to play devil's advocate. It was easy to do because I really felt pessimistic about the whole thing. The court was never going to reverse itself. So I ply him with all the reasons that any sane person would decide not to do this: "I don't think you can play and do this lawsuit. You're 32 years old and I don't think you can take a year off. Furthermore, I don't think (the owners) would let you come back. They have long memories. And it's million-to-one shot -- the Supreme Court almost never reverses itself. Finally, I threw him the final punch -- even if you prevail against the odds and they rule for you, you will not benefit. They won't assess damages retroactively. Curt, as far as they're concerned, you're dead. You're not gonna be a player, you're not gonna be a coach, you're not gonna be a scout."
"I won't get any benefit?"
And he said, "But it would benefit all the other players and the others to come, wouldn't it?"
And he said, "That's good enough for me."
That's why I think Curt Flood belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Rob Neyer, makes his case for Ron Santo, Wes Ferrell, Carl Mays and Minnie Minoso.
Here is the case for Minnie:
Minoso isn't going to get elected, because not enough voters saw him play. But Minoso almost certainly does belong in the Hall of Fame. It's hard to say exactly when he'd have first played regularly in the major leagues if not for the color line, but it stands to reason that it would have happened before he was 28.
But instead, it did happen when he was 28. Minoso spent a couple of seasons in the Negro National League, then graduated to so-called "Organized Baseball" with a couple of fine seasons in the Pacific Coast League. And then in 1951, he finally got his shot, with the White Sox. When he was 28.
Minoso's career "rate stats" are outstanding: .389 OBP, .459 slugging percentage. He was exceedingly durable, especially for a player who led his league in HBP no fewer than 10 times. But he finished his career with "only" 1,963 hits, which of course isn't a lot for a Hall of Fame outfielder who wasn't a big power hitter.
It's fairly safe to assume, though, that if Minoso had grown up in Georgia with pale skin rather than in Cuba with dark skin, he'd have reached the major leagues three or four years before he did. Let's be conservative, and give Minoso four more seasons. He was good for approximately 175 hits per season, and 175 times four is 700 hits. Add 700 to 1,963, and you get 2,663 hits.
There are, to be sure, players with more than 2,663 hits who aren't in the Hall of Fame. But I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anybody with 2,663 hits and Minoso's broad base of skills who hasn't been elected or won't be. Bill James rates Minoso as the 10th-greatest left fielder ever, and I think that's just about right
I'm rooting for Minnie, and Flood, even though I'm not convinced Flood should make it, regardless of the stand he took against the Reserve Clause. I'd put my money on Miller though. Who else? Hodges, Torre, Oliva, Dick Allen? We shall soon find out.
THE NEW POPEYE Joel
THE NEW POPEYE
Joel Sherman doesn't trust the Love-In that is taking place in Mets camp this spring. After taking his shots at the Bronx Zoo for the past few weeks, Sherman takes aim at "Art Howe's House of Boredom:"
Maybe Howe really is the second coming of Joe Torre. Maybe those Mets who embarrassed themselves last year really are on a mission this season. Maybe the introduction of champions Tom Glavine and Mike Stanton really will bring a missing seriousness to the proceedings.
It's just, this is the time of year for delusions, for best-case scenarios. And I have been in Mets camp before and bought the hype, heard this same - is it propaganda or promotion?
This time I am going to have to see it from April on to believe any of it.
To counter Sherman's skepticism, here is a bright and cheery article by John Harper on Al Leiter, the Mouth of the Mets.
If the Howe-Torre comparison makes sense, does that make Don Baylor the new Don Zimmer? They both have dubious mangerial track records, and they are both chubby baseball "lifers." Zim has a steel plate in his head; Baylor holds the all-time record for being hit by a pitch. Last summer Rob Neyer made a convincing arguement that Baylor was a poor manager, and surmised:
Don Baylor is a fine "baseball man," but time has passed him by, leaving too many things that don't work in the 21st century. Let's not feel too sorry for him, though. He's made a good living in the game for three decades, and he'll have a job in baseball for as long as he wants one. "Manager" just shouldn't be that job any more.
Mets GM Steve Phillips, is happy to have Baylor as Art Howe's right-hand man:
"Obviously, having managed a lot of games, when it comes to being Art's righthand man with the game decisions, he's been through just about everything before," Phillips said. "Having been in the National League, and having a knowledge of the players and personnel in the league, will help with Art's learning curve on the bench.
"He also brings just instant credibility with players. One of the things we thought was the connection with Mo (Vaughn) ... and that Don could be an asset trying to help us get the most out of Mo this year - communication, knowing his approach at the plate - obviously working everything through (hitting coach) Denny (Walling). They're similar, big guys. They were similar types of threats at the plate."
Said Howe: "I want to be surrounded by the best people I can be surrounded by. He's certainly one of the best in the game."
Baylor's sagacity can be traced back to his days as a player. In the spring of 1985, he told David Falkner:
You have to learn to forget the bad in this game. The sonner you do, the sooner you'll be able to continue playing. In '73, I made the last out in the playoffs. I saw Billy North jumping straight up in the air. They were going to the World Series, and I was going home to watch. We lost that game in our park, it was a day game in Baltimore. I thought that was the end of the world. I had made the last out and let Oakland go to the World Series. I stayed up most of the night with that, and then the next day, the sun was out and everything was going on a usual; I was still alive and I had my heatlh and I could let myself think for the first time that it was a game and not life and death that I had just been through.
ROB TO THE RESCUE
ROB TO THE RESCUE
Rob Neyer has a fine, even-handed look at Boss George in his lastest column for ESPN. He carefully reminds us that in spite of Steinbrenner's boorish personality, he is the chief reason why the Yankees have been successful since CBS sold the team in 1973:
If you read what's been written about Steinbrenner, you'll have a hard time escaping the conclusion that he's something less than a wonderful person. But if you ignore much of what's been written and instead focus on the facts, you'll also have a hard time escaping the conclusion that the Yankees have won six World Series since 1973 not in spite of their owner, but because of him.
...Yes, he meddles -- and lies, and bullies, and blackmails -- but he also wants to win more than any other owner in baseball, and you can't separate these like the egg yolk from the white. If you want one, you have to accept the other.
George has made foolish trades, just like the next guy, of course. If it wasn't for Gabe Paul, Ron Guidry would have never made it to 1978 as a Yankee. But Steinbrenner has had his shinning moments too (most recently going after Mussina and Giambi). Here is one I didn't know about:
In their book Detroit Tigers Lists and More, co-authors Mark Pattison and David Raglin report (and I've confirmed this with a Detroit baseball writer) that in November of 1997 the Tigers and Yankees worked out a big trade. The Yankees would get pitching prospects Mike Drumright and Roberto Duran, and the Tigers would get Bernie Williams, who was set to make a large sum of money upon gaining free agency at the conclusion of the 1998 season.
Tigers general manager Randy Smith thought the deal was done ... only to be informed by Yankees general manager Bob Watson that the deal was off. Why? Because Boss Steinbrenner nixed the trade. And in 1998, 1) the Yankees won 114 games, 2) the Yankees won the World Series, shortly after which 3) the Yankees signed Williams to a new seven-year, $87.5 million contract
Props go to Aaron Gleeman for pointing out Steve Goldman's stellar column, The Pinstriped Bible, over at the YES Network's website. As Gleeman correctly pointed out, Goldman is no shill, and his column (which appears every Thursday) is insightful and appealing. Check it out.
MAILBOX Here are a
Here are a couple of letters I recieved recently via e-mail:
Thanks for the baseball memories. Spring's not so far away, and it
feels closer than ever with Yanks reporting, and the various media
frenzies in full bloom, and yes Steinbrenner's a bad loser and sometimes
worse than that, but it all finds perspective sometimes, and it can be
the smallest thing, like the bullpen boys calling Chris Hammond's best
pitch 'the Bugs Bunny Change'. Thank god baseball's back. (Tho' in my
day, I thought Bugs called it 'The Slow Ball'.)
Bugs' slow ball resulted in the famous "strike-one, stike-two, strike-three, yer out (x 3)" dismantling of the nefarious Gashouse Gorillas. But nothing was better than the last pitch Bugs threw that day, when he announced:
Watch me paste this pathetic palooka with a
powerful, paralyzing, perfect, packi-dermis, percussion pitch.
This item appeared over the AP wire. Somehow, I missed it but it was brought to my attention this morning:
An elderly man dressed in a a Yankee baseball uniform was taken into custody
today at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Police, answering a call
from museum authorities about a disturbance in the picture galleries, were
forced to arrest the man who, according to gallery goers, was ranting
incoherently about "plumbing" "Tintoretto" and "windowsills." One
eyewitness complained: "You should have heard what he was yelling about
No further details were available.
SCRIBES TO GEORGE: ENOUGH
SCRIBES TO GEORGE: ENOUGH ALREADY
"The great thing about baseball is that there's a crisis every day." Gabe Paul
While Mike Piazza and Jason Giambi unleash hitting clinics in spring training bp, the heavy hitters of the New York print media were out in fine form, getting their licks in, over the weekend too. On Sunday there were articles from New York Times warhorse Murray Chass, the distinguished Times columnist Dave Anderson, and the always pugnacious Mike Lupica in the Daily News. Each expressed a resigned sense of fatigue with the antics of one George M. Steinbrenner. Lupica isn't so much resigned as he is fed-up. They are bored, already, and how can you can't blame them? The same beat all these years.
The truth is, unless you are a Yankee fan, there is less and less that is attractive about George's team. It's like Roger Angell once said: you want to see the Yankees and all you can see is George. He's getting in the way of you and the team.
Here is Chass on the Jeter-George Puff Pastry Strudel:
Jeter has had a charmed career, playing shortstop for the Yankees only during their current championship era. He is too young to have experienced the verbal abuse Steinbrenner heaped upon his predecessors, Reggie Jackson, for example, in 1981, and Dave Winfield throughout his nine years in New York.
・In 2003, this Steinbrenner shtick is old. It should be ignored.
If Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner, saw that his attacks were disappearing into a verbal void, he might abandon them and develop a new act. The problem is, players won't ignore his comments because they gain widespread dissemination.
Of course, what we really learned from this exercise is that Jeter has an ego too. Sure, he could have walked away and taken the high road, but he's proud, and vain and sensitive just like the rest of them. Fine.
The winners in this flimsy scandal will be Yankee fans, Jeter's teammates, and Jeter and Geogre as well. Jeter will likely put forth a terrific effort, like he's done every year since 1996, the numbers will speak for themselves and everyone will be happy. Jeter is never going to be the best player in the league, or maybe even the best player on his team. But he is the leader of his team, and for Yankee fans, that is enough.
Naturally, Jeter will have to confront The Boss again in September if he's had a great year, cause George will be popping off about how it was his motivation that was the key to Jeter's success. And you know he'll be hearing from George if he has a shitty year. Jeter can let his ego can get involved or he can look the the other way. Of course, it's easy to take the high road when you're on top.
Still, I don't think Yankee fans are particularly sweating this Hoo-Ha. We know it's George being George. As distasteful at he is, at the end of the day, we've got everything we want, right? This is tabliod candy. It's Michael Jackson, fer crying out loud.
Not everyone has been overcome by the Steinbrenner-Jeter exchange, hanging on their every word.
"It's crazy," a longtime Yankees fan said. "It's nothing. It's a nonstory."
But plenty of people are still listening
I'm not usually a fan of the veteran Times' columnist, Dave Anderson. He seems to be more distinguished by his endurance rather than his relevance or substance. I'm not familiar with his early work, so perhaps I'm being unfair, but most of the time, his columns leave him glazed over with boredom. But Anderson was precise and sure, like an old country doctor, in his examination of Jeter and George on Sunday:
Steinbrenner is a corporate chameleon. With strangers, he can be charming and charitable, especially if he wants something they've got. But if you're on his payroll, he feels entitled to do or say anything in order to get more production out of you ！ whether you're the Yankee Stadium receptionist or you're the Yankees' best player.
When the Yankees were winning four World Series championships in five years, the principal owner's relative silence had some people thinking he had mellowed.
Those people didn't understand. With all those new World Series rings and profits, Steinbrenner didn't have much to growl about. But ever since the Yankees were rudely eliminated in the first round of last year's American League playoffs by the Anaheim Angels, his bark has been as threatening as his bite.
"He's worse than ever," Yankee front-office people were heard to mumble in recent months. "Worse than the losing years."
Meanwhile, Lupica opines:
・Steinbrenner should know that better than anyone. Money can't buy you love.
Yankee fans know, too. Oh, they show up at Stadium in record numbers. They sure want Yankee games back on Cablevision. But there is something joyless about all of this, going into every season and being told that if their team doesn't win the World Series it has let everybody down and is a loser. This is the sense of entitlement Steinbrenner has bullied into the culture of baseball in New York.
If there is even the hint that the Yankees might not run away with things, Steinbrenner will spend more, bring in more guys, put the uniform on them and make them instant Yankees. He has to do it now that the Yankees have come up short two years in a row, that's what he keeps saying. I'm a bad loser, he says. He's just as bad a winner. And always has been.
I don't buy into the joylessness that Lupica has been writing about lately. I'm going to find continued joy in watching Soriano swing, Bernie Williams play center field, Jeter run the bases, Giambi work a pitcher, and Rivera mow through the ninth, no matter how much noise George makes.
That is what still makes this team different. The team is worth watching. No matter how much George tries to get in the way, it's easier to ignore him these days because the Yankees have so many compelling players. This is Joe Torre's Yankees too.
Still, Lupica reminded me of something Nettles wrote in his book, "Balls:"
George has never learned how to lose. He thinks being a good loser is a sign of weakness. And that's not how life is. You're going to lose sometimes.
Baseball fans understand this inherently. Even spoiled ass Yankee fans, even though they need to be reminded more often. Daily News media columnists, Bob Raissman understands that all Yankee fans who are bound to Cablevision, are all losing, no matter what the Yankees do:
It's really curious that Steinbrenner would go after guys who have brought him four world championships, while he barely flaps his lips at Cablevision. The company's stance against the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network has a far greater adverse impact on Steinbrenner, and Yankee fans, than any off-the-field endeavor Jeter might undertake.
Yet, Steinbrenner has displayed more zeal going after his shortstop and manager than he has when commenting on Cablevision founder Charles Dolan and his son
...No offense to [YES boss, Leo] Hindery, who has worked long and hard trying to get a deal for YES with Cablevision, but if Steinbrenner has a problem with Torre, a manager who has brought him four titles, why does the manager of his YES Network get cut slack? Hey, if Steinbrenner said it's easier winning four championships than securing a deal with Cablevision I wouldn't argue with him.
Still, it's curious that Steinbrenner, who is big on motivation, has failed to take the gloves off and put some verbal heat on the Dolans. Steinbrenner knows how to create pressure and make headlines. Even if his words had no impact on Cablevision suits, they would at least show Steinbrenner is out there battling for Yankee fans.
Perhaps this will dawn on Steinbrenner one hot day in July, when he comes to the realization many loyal Yankee fans still can't watch the games on TV.
Yankee fans need a 110% effort from Steinbrenner on this matter - now.
Lupica couldn't resist adding a parting shot of his own, jabbing at not only George, but all the self-satisfied, entitled Yankee fans too:
It is another reason why the baseball season would be a lot better here, and not just for Mets fans, if the Mets got better fast. No one wants Steinbrenner's angry face to be the face of baseball in New York.This isn't Yankee hating, or Steinbrenner hating, even though that is always the knee-jerk defense of Steinbrenner. It is just sheer exhaustion.
JOHNSON IS YANKS FIRST
JOHNSON IS YANKS FIRST CASUALTY
According to a report on CNN.SI.com, Yankee DH Nick Johnson has stopped taking batting practice due to the lingering effects from an wrist injury that occured last August. Though an MRI was negative, a discouraged Johnson has shut it down for the time being:
"It's a concern because it's something that's lingered," Yankees manager Joe Torre said Friday. "You don't know how quickly he can recover from this. He's shut down until we find out what the best course of action is."
"I'm pretty concerned," Johnson said. "It doesn't feel too good."
"It's too bad," Torre said. "This young kid has had some problems and really hasn't had a chance to get on track. He has a great deal of potential. He's a good kid and wants it badly."
SO GIVE A SHOUT
SO GIVE A SHOUT IF YOU KNOW WHAT I'M TALKIN ABOUT
You'll excuse me if I've been slow in getting to all of the quality baseball blogs and websites out there, but this past week, I came across one of the best: Jay Jaffe's Futility Infielder. It is neatly designed, and the writing is top-notch. I've linked Jay's site with the other regulars on the left-hand column of Bronx Banter. You should make a point of getting there as often as possible. Just this week, Jaffe has excellent posts on Voros McCracken, a baseball writer, and sabermetrician, who was hired by the Red Sox (prior to Bill James, mind you), as well as a link to an long article on Steve Dalkowski, the fire-balling, party animal, who was the source for "Nuke" LaLoosh, Tim Robbins' character in "Bull Durham."
SANDY TO DODGERS: NO
SANDY TO DODGERS: NO FRUIT FOR YOU
According the the L.A. Times, Sandy Koufax has abruptly severed ties with the Los Angeles Dodgers because of a report in that appeared in the New York Post, which suggested that Sandy is a big, ol' fag.
The Post is a subsidiary of News Corp. which also owns the Dodgers:
Koufax, a very private man who established a standard for pitching excellence in four of the most dominant seasons in the game's history from 1963-66, recently informed the Dodgers he would no longer attend spring training here at Dodgertown, visit Dodger Stadium or participate in activities while they are owned by the media conglomerate...
Expressing his feelings to the Dodgers through [senior vice president, Derrick] Hall shortly after learning of the report, Koufax said "it does not make sense for me to promote any" of the companies controlled by News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, adding he would "feel foolish to be associated with or promote one entity if it helps another." Hall said Koufax stressed, "I have no problems with the Dodgers or their current or previous management. It's more so about [News Corp.]."
Contacted Thursday by The Times, Leavy, a former Washington Post reporter, said she assumed the item was about her book. She called it "thoroughly erroneous on all counts. [The item] was blatantly unfair, scandalous and contemptible. It was thoroughly without basis in so far as it had to do with Sandy or any relationship I had with him professionally. It's not the kind of journalism I practice."
Leavy said she had not spoken with Koufax since the item appeared, about his feelings toward the Post, News Corp. or the Dodgers.
"Sandy Koufax is as principled a human being as I have ever met in my life," she said. "If this is a stand he is taking, I certainly understand why he might feel that way and I totally support it."
..."It was irresponsible and inappropriate," Hall said of the Post's report. "It's unfortunate that this happened, but we fully support and understand Sandy's position on this. It's terrible because he's an important part of this organization and its rich history. And most importantly, Sandy has a lot of friends who are hurt by this."
...Koufax has held a variety of minor league pitching positions with the Dodgers. He has been a fixture at spring training since his closest friend on the club, Dave Wallace, returned in 2000, tutoring pitchers during the exhibition season. Wallace, a senior vice president in baseball operations, also recently had dinner with the intensely private Koufax.
"The disappointment I feel can't be expressed enough, and I feel saddest for the players who will miss the benefit of learning from Sandy, who has so much to offer," he said. "To lose the knowledge of a guy of that stature ... I really don't want to say anything else about it."
It sure is nice to see someone stick it to Murdoch. Once again, Koufax couldn't be cast any better.
DOWN IN FRONT: YANKEE
DOWN IN FRONT: YANKEE (FAN) GO HOME
My friend Greg G, is as loyal a Yankee fan as I know. He also represents everything baseball fans all over the country depise about Yankee fans. He's loud, vulgar, and thoroughly obnoxious. G regularly drives me crazy during the course of the season, bragging about how the Yanks will win it all, and laughing when players on rival teams get hurt. Basically, he violates every superstition I hold dear.
Here is a part of a letter I recieved from him the other day. Truthfully, I didn't have the nerve to print the entire thing. If you are feeling queasy, you may just want to skip this and move along with your day:
Greetings from sunny L.A. I am a diehard Yankee fan, (who as luck would have it) moved to Los Angeles in 1993 only to miss most of my beloved Yankees recent renaissance. I visit the big A (now Edison Field), whenever the Yanks are in town. I even had the good fortune to see Don Mattingly's first and last pinch hit homer to put the Yankees over the top of the Angels in the strike-shortened season of '94. My brother's friend, (also a transplanted New Yorker) went down to the fence behind the batting cage and exhorted Mattingly by shouting at him prior to his at bat, "I came all the way from NY Donnie, we need a big hit!" And Don Mattingly looked at him curiously and amusedly, and then Donnie Baseball delivered to the delight of the more than two-thirds of the crowd who turned Anaheim into the Bronx west for the day. Now I get the YES network and last year I watched no less than 145 games. (Much to the dismay of my good friend Al Belth from the Bronx, who is a stones throw from the stadium, and has cablevision holding him hostage.)
I always take solace when we Yankee fans took over Edison Field, and turn it into our personal NY playground, where we can rebut any of the in-bred Angels fan by asking them to show us their 26 World Series rings. Prior to last season the Angels would show nostalgia clips on the jumbotron of when they won the AL west in the 80's. The best player that they could trot out was our beloved Reggie Jackson (who was past his prime by the time he showed up in La La land). The California Angels changed their name to the Anaheim Angels a few years back. Rightly recognizing that they could not in any way represent the California sports contingent since they were only drawing fans twice the size of the attendance of Expos games.
Now the Angels are the defending champs. I bet we see Angel fans coming out of the woodwork just like the Amazin' Mets after '86, when all of a sudden everyone decided that the Mets were where it was at. The Angels increased their payroll by 20 million to bring back the same nobody's who knocked Goliath on his rump last October. The Angels always played the Yanks hard in Anaheim, mostly because they wanted to quiet all the Bronx brood who turned their sanitized park into a looney bin, and actually sounded like a sporting event was taking place not some boring kennel club dog show.
Now we'll have to hear it from the Anaheim A-holes, who have been waiting since the team's existence to be able to brag to anyone, and especially Yankee fans like me, that Team Disney finally got a ring. If David Eckstein, (who's dwarfed by the bat boy, and has a second job as Tinkerbell at the crappiest place on earth), is holding up another trophy this October, I personally swear that I will eat Mo Vaughn.
Ah, Yankee class. You gotta love it.
POSADA'S SON HAS 3RD
POSADA'S SON HAS 3RD OPERATION
Yankee catcher, Jorge Posada has not been in camp this week. His 3-year old son, who was born with craniosynostosis, "a condition where the bones in a baby's skull fuse before the child's brain has stopped growing," had his third major surgery yesterday. Posada is expected to arrive in Tampa shortly.
METS GIVE CLARK A
METS GIVE CLARK A CHANCE
Tony Clark, a former All-Star first baseman, who couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat last season, was signed by the Mets to a minor league deal, and hopes to make the team as Mo Vaughn's back-up.
LOOKING GOOD, AND FEELING
LOOKING GOOD, AND FEELING FINE IN METS CAMP
While there hasn't been a dull moment in Tampa, the Mets are having a virtual Love-In at their training camp in Port. St. Lucie. Two days ago, owner Fred Wilpon inspired his troops with a all-in-together-now speech. John Harper reports that everything is coming up roses and daffodils for the Shea-Hey kids with new skipper Art Howe at the helm.
Wilpon's high school pal, Sandy Koufax was in camp too, talking with Al Leiter. The Post reports that Tom Glavine's professionalism has already made an impact on his teammates:
Glavine said the main ingredient to success is hard work.
"That's all part of building up that winning tradition and respect that you want," Glavine said. "You're not going to get respect from people unless you earn it, and you earn it by carrying yourself the right way as an individual and a team.
"You go out there, you hustle, you do what you're supposed to do, and when you win the game, well, you act like you meant to win the game."
Gary Pettis, the Mets outfield coach, has his hands full with Brett Butler's boy, Roger Cedeno, but remains hopeful:
"I'd like to see our guys a little more comfortable running after fly balls. I want to make sure we get enough work in so we run smooth so the ball doesn't look like it's bouncing. They have to run on their toes. The longer you run, you have to run on your toes and that's the problem with a lot of outfielders. They don't stay on their toes. They start out on their toes, but then they start pounding the ground and the ball appears to move on them because their head is going up and down.
"If you don't work at it," Pettis adds, "that's one of the hardest things to pick up."
THE DIPLOMAT The venerated
The venerated former captain of the Yankees, Don Mattingly, who is making his annual visit to Yankee camp as an instructor, commented on the George/Jeter business:
"It was part of [Yankee culture] 15, 20 years ago, it's part of it today, and it will probably be part of it five or 10 years from now," Mattingly said. "You grow up in it. It's normal.
"I don't have any advice for Derek other than 'be himself.' He's handled himself great so far. He's won championships, he's a great player and he's been a great guy for the team. There's no reason to think that won't keep happening."
..."It's easy for me to laugh, I'm back on a farm in Indiana."
And that's the truth: thhhpppt.
NEVER ENDING STORY Brace
NEVER ENDING STORY
Brace yourself, Jack Curry had a startling scoop in today's Times: George gets the final word. The Boss always has last licks when it comes to newspaper controversy, and he threw the press a couple of bones in regards to the tiresome Jeter flap. As he ducked into an elevator yesterday, the Boss opined:
"I am the way I am," Steinbrenner said soon after the doors to the elevator closed. "I got my message through. If I'm paying a guy $16 million, I want him to listen."
Classic George. Give 'em a tidbit, and leave 'em wanting more.
Steinbrenner reiterated himself this afternoon:
"I was trying to get him completely focused," the New York Yankees' principal owner said Thursday. "I said I need that for this year. For us to prevail, we need him completely focused. He's that important to the team."
..."I think (manager) Joe Torre will get that across to him. I think (Jeter's) going to be fine. He always gives 100 percent. But I need 110 percent."
As far as Jeter is concerned, the story is dead.
"It's done from my point of view," Jeter said Thursday. "When something is over in my mind, it's done.
Of course, we all know: It ain't over 'til the Fatman says it's over.
The Boss wouldn't have it any other way.
(Oy fuggin Vey.)
BOO WHO? Here's a
Here's a laugh. God Squad, Gold Member Brett Butler, who was brought to Met camp specifically to help Roger Cedeno become a competent center fielder, appealed to New Yorkers' kinder side, asking that we not boo ol' Roger when he stinks up the place:
"Roger is one of the sweetest kids you'll ever meet, and he's got one of the greatest hearts in the world," Butler said. "And if somebody boos him, he's going to be hurt.
"If the fans will understand that's how Roger is and support and embrace him, then Roger will be successful. If not - and they bury him, which can happen - it's a double-edged sword that makes it kind of tough."
This is New York Butler is talking about, of course. Hell, booing is simply a New Yorker's misguided attempt at encouragement.
Tell you what. If Butler is willing to stand on the top step of the dugout, whenever Cedeno makes an error, I'll be happy to boo him instead of Roger.
SAY IT AIN'T SO
SAY IT AIN'T SO
Both Mike Lupica and Bob Klapisch have columns on Joe Torre's tenuous job security.
According to Klap:
Torre isn't afraid to oppose Steinbrenner in public, but he's smart enough to keep the rhetoric polite and carefully muted. There's virtually no chance he and The Boss will engage in the type of war that cost Martin his job so many times. If Torre and Steinbrenner ever quarrel, it'll be in private.
...Those who are close to Torre say he has a healthy and realistic approach to his tenure in the Bronx: He knows that, sooner or later, everyone gets fired by The Boss. Everyone. Certainly, Steinbrenner isn't taking direct aim at Torre, but the manager is already armed with the knowledge that, no matter what happens to him, history will regard him kindly.
...The Boss believes it's his money that propelled the Yankees to the top. He can't understand why Torre instead gets so much of the credit. Steinbrenner has had to remain silent on this issue for the better part of seven years, but now that the Yankees have gone two seasons without a championship, he seized the opportunity to travel in his personal time tunnel, all the way back to the '70s and '80s
A more pressing issue for the Yankees could be their lousy team defense. John Perricone, who just surpassed the 40,000-hit mark at Only Baseball Matters, thinks that the Bombers' lack of defense will be lead to their demise in 2003, just as it hurt them against Anahiem in the playoffs last fall.
The New York Times has an article this morning about the Yankees' defensive concerns. Joe Torre, for one, isn't sweating yet:
"I don't think it's a terminal problem," he said
..."Soriano has been learning the position, and Jeter has had little nagging injuries the past couple of springs; they didn't have a chance to get used to each other," [third base coach, Willie] Randolph said. "I look at this spring training as a chance for them to work hard, work together and get accustomed to each other.
"It has to be like clockwork, be automatic. It's like dancing. It's a groove. Like Bucky Dent and I, we knew what each other wanted to do. They haven't arrived at that yet."
..."He can do all the things at second base that you need done," Torre said. "He's not afraid of guys sliding in, he's got real good range to his right, behind the bag, and he's an accurate thrower. He struggled somewhat going to his left because he's getting used to it, but he has the wherewithal to be an outstanding second baseman."
When spring training started, General Manager Brian Cashman called Soriano the one player whose defense could significantly improve. The others, he said, are who they are.
THE SAD STORY OF
THE SAD STORY OF STEVE BECHLER
I haven't been able to bring myself to write about the sudden death of Steve Bechler, the 23-year old Orioles pitcher who died of heatstroke on Monday. I don't know why it's had this effect on me. Perhaps it's because this story brings home just how far atheletes will go to gain a competitive edge. The photograph of Bechler being carted off the field on Sunday is heart-breaking (it's been reprinted adnauseam, once again today on ESPN's website). According to a front-page report in the Times today, it may not ever been known whether the dietrary supplement ephedra was the main cause of Belcher's death:
"But what is clear, experts said yesterday, is that ephedra can be dangerous. They said that no other dietrary supplement on the market had stirred as many warnings and frightening medical histories as ephedra. It has been linked to deaths, to strokes, to heart arrythmias and even psychotic episodes."
IT DON'T MEAN A
IT DON'T MEAN A THING・
Here are some first impressions of Godzilla Matsui's swing:
"He's very compact for a power hitter," Torre said. "Normally, a lefthander has an uppercut. He's level. When you're compact, it's less likely that a pitcher can punch holes in your swing. There's less a pitcher can exploit, less moving parts.
"His approach seems sound. Like Tino (Martinez), he seems to have the ability to hit the ball with authority the other way."
・"His swing is built for all the forkballs they throw over there," [Jason] Giambi said. "He's a great low-ball hitter."
"I told him that standing ovation when he strikes out, that [bleep] is gone," Giambi said. "I told him I got booed for the first month, but it was fun, the ultimate place to play."
Booing a baseball player in Japan isn't common. Yet Matsui understands when he fails to deliver a hit in a key situation he is going to hear it.
"I guess I can't help it if I strike out," Matsui said. "I will look at it as an awakening."
This is how Joel Sherman saw it:
Matsui keeps his feet at about shoulders width and strides very little into the ball. The knob of his bat is held out about a foot from his heart, and his hands drift back a few inches as a pitch is delivered. Between pitches, he begins by staring into the opposite batter's box before shrugging his shoulders and slowing swiveling his head to face the pitcher.
...Hitting coach Rick Down, after eyeballing his new pupil for the first time, said, "There are not very many moving parts. Maintenance will be easy."
Down mentioned the thickness of Matsui's legs and the power he derives from them, and even within the confines of a meaningless batting practice session, Matsui pulled enough balls with authority to hint at his power potential. In fact, Ventura, who played as a Met against Matsui in a 2000 exhibition in Tokyo, said, "People don't realize just how strong he is. This is not a small, thin guy."
IT'S OKAY WITH ME
Don't count on Jason Giambi to stir shit up with The Boss. The Yankees best hitter played choir boy yesterday when asked about the restrictions placed on his personal trainer:
"I don't think it's a punishment," Giambi said. "I know Mr. Steinbrenner loves to win, and when things don't all fall into place, he starts looking for things to make it better. This is just one of those things where we could be more focused. I don't know, but I don't think he's trying to punish me. I just think he wants to win the World Series."
MOVE OVER DJ, YOU'VE
MOVE OVER DJ, YOU'VE GOT COMPANY
Looks like Derek Jeter isn't the only superstar shortstop with an axe to grind this spring. After recieving the first real dose of bad press from the Boston media late last season, Nomar Garciaparra arrived at training camp with a chip square on his shoulder. Dan Shaughnessy broke the story in yesterday's Boston Globe:
''I don't know how to act this year,'' Nomar said yesterday, while sitting in front of his locker after a workout. ''Somebody will write some [expletive] or whatever. Some [expletive] that I was unhappy or I'm this. I don't get it.
''I was unhappy last year when we weren't in the playoffs. I'm happy with my situation, but I can't win, and I don't know how I'm going to act. If I was happy all year and we were losing, then it would be, `Well, he's a little too happy. Obviously he doesn't care.' You know what I mean? If I'm walking around chipper all the time and we're not winning, then it will be like -- `what's Nomar so happy about? He has nothing to be happy about. We're not in the playoffs.'
''So I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't. I'll just ask somebody every day how I'm supposed to be acting. You tell me. You ask my teammates and my coaches. Nobody says I'm unhappy.
''I wish you guys could tell me the best strategy, because I'm in a no-win situation. And then people make [expletive] up to try to make me look bad.''
Asked to specify what was made up, Garciaparra referred to a column by Steve Buckley in the Herald last summer that recommended he leave town if he's so unhappy. The column erroneously stated that he had called the press box to change a scoring decision. Garciaparra is still steamed about the allegation.
''One thing that came out on me was if I don't like it here, get the [expletive] out. Go home. That I'm calling up people [official scorer] and changing errors.
''I don't need to talk to the guy. He asked me if I wanted to talk about it, hey, the damage was done. What was he gonna do, go write that he lied and that he [made a mistake]? Go ahead. Do that. Show me some [expletive]. But I've got more class than that. I never talked to him and never said anything.''
Reached in Boston last night, Buckley said, ''There's a difference between making stuff up and messing up. I messed up, and I told Nomar.''
Buckley was a bit more pointed in his column this morning.
Garciaparra, like Derek Jeter before him, directed most of his anger toward the media:
``I definitely expect myself to be a certain way, but at the same time you're in an environment where you walk on eggshells and can ruin you,'' Garciaparra said yesterday at the Red Sox spring training complex. ``Let's face it, there are things that still get brought up about some guys from six, seven or eight years ago so you have to watch everything. You're constantly stressed. And so if you're not careful, everything gets destroyed that you've worked so hard for.''
KEN BURNS INTERVIEW Part
KEN BURNS INTERVIEW
Bronx Banter: Jackie Robinson was a fitting choice as the hero of the "Baseball" series. Without taking anything away from his greatness, what about Larry Doby? He was the first black player in the American League. I don't mean to single you out on this, but how come Doby has been so over looked, even neglected, by history?
KB: That's one of those situations where when you are not the first, you get forgotten. It's the John Adams syndrome. So maybe it's going to take somebody of David McCollough's caliber to rescue the Larry Doby's of the world. The guys who end up in second.
BB: Nice guys finish last, right?
KB: That doesn't make him any less courageous or any less heroic, it's just that we focused our attention on the heroism and courage of Jackie Robinson, and that's what we endow with all the symbolic importance that Jackie Robinson has for us.
BB: So it was more of an aesthetic choice rather than just saying, ｀Oh, Doby's story just isn't all that interesting.'
KB: It's just a question of first, it's not even a question of aesthetics. It's just Jackie was first, and Jackie also happened to display this incredible courage and heroics and really wore it. And Doby, of course, had to go through much of the same thing, it's just because our attention was on Jackie, we didn't have the time to do Doby as well.
BB: What about Minnie Minoso? He was the first black Latino to play in the majors, and he was a popular player who put together a Hall of Fame career, certainly comparable to Doby's. Bill James, Rob Neyer and Allen Barra all have him high on their list of players most worthy of the Hall of Fame. Considering how dominant Latin players are in the modern game, why hasn't their been more of an outcry about Minoso NOT being in the Hall?
KB: I don't know. Maybe you'll start one. Or perhaps there already is one and you'll be joining in the cause. It just has to do with the wave of people's attentions and concerns. I think the great effort of the last 20 years in the Hall of Fame has been to redress the incredible wrongs done to the Negro Leagues. Now that they have added a number of Negro League players, taking on a little bit of an act of faith their statistical accomplishments, thanks to the work of Buck O'Neill and others. Maybe now is the time to talk about the Latin thing. I mean baseball does mirror the waves of immigration, and now we are talking about Asian superstars, so maybe there will be a time when they are even coming to the Hall of Fame.
BB: Are you still in touch with Buck O'Neill?
KB: Yes, in fact I just wrote him a letter today. He's 92 and never looked better. He is as handsome as ever, and is, you know, one of the greatest human beings that ever walked the earth.
BB: I don't know if there is any player who is more compelling to me than Curt Flood. He was great in the interviews he did for "Baseball." What were your impressions of the man?
KB: I loved him. He and I hit it off in a really intense way. You know, you meet some people, and do a lot of interviews, and you come across a Buck O'Neill and you know you are going to know him for the rest of your life. The same thing happened with Curt, and I'm just so sorry that his life was so short. We did speak many, many times after the series was out, and sort of conspired to do things・I saw him a couple of times afterwards. I found him an incredibly sensitive person. And I don't mean that in a clichZd way. I mean there are some people whose vibrations a little bit finer. I think that was true with Curt Flood. And I think it made it more susceptible to the pain that the world is inevitably going to doll out. Perhaps, it even shortened his life, I don't know. But one sensed an emotional fragility in him that was interesting and attractive, particularly for a ballplayer of such extraordinary importance in the game.
BB: Was he bitter in the last years of his life?
KB: No, I think it was a more complicated emotion than that. You can look at Buck O'Neill and say, ｀There's someone free of all bitterness,' right? And you can look at others who might have a chip on their shoulders, not to name any names. And I think Curt was somewhere inbetween. I don't think that's what animated him. I think that he knew that he came at a particular time. He performed a function. I'm sure he wished that he had been on the other side of the great largess that was bestowed on the players, after his, and Messersmith, and NcNally's contributions. But Flood was really a pioneer, and he is a sacrificial lamb, and I think somewhere along the line he had come to peace with it, although I think it was also eating him as well. And I don't mean that in a negative way. You know Flood paid the price for the time he came along. But he will always be an important person. He was the first one over the top of the fort.
BB: Do you have any idea what Flood did in the last years of his life?
KB: Well, I think he did what a lot of baseball players do. He was an "ex-ballplayer." And that means a variety of things. You should talk to his widow. Judy is an amazing human being, and they raised a family together. I remember meeting a couple of the kids, and they really had their head on straight. And I think that's what he really focused his attention on. I think he had some business interests, and he was doing charitable work, and of was of course, still connected to baseball.
BB: Thanks for taking some time out to talk.
KB: It was my pleasure.
THE CURSE OF PUMPSIE
THE CURSE OF PUMPSIE GREEN
The Red Sox are the winners of the Lifetime Achievement Award when it comes to horseshit race relations. There isn't a town that has had a tougher time accepting black players than Boston, which is strange because of the terrific liberal history the city enjoys. Still, the story of black players on the Red Sox is a sad one, especially considering they have had their share of talents: Reggie Smith, Cecil Cooper, George Scott, Jim Rice of course, as well as Ellis Burks, Oil Can Boyd and Mo Vaughn. Rice had the best career as a Red Sox, but he's remembered as a sour bastard, as well as a super-hitter: admired more than adored. Smith, Cooper and Burks all had their best years after they left Boston, and Mo Vaughn never should have left Boston, plain and simple. He was the first black star who enjoyed being a black star in Boston.
But did you know that according to Howard Bryant, the Red Sox didn't sign a black free agent until they signed Andre Dawson in 1993? That's almost twenty years after the birth of free agency. The Yankees do not posses a good history of race relations themselves, but when it came to free agency, at least George Steinbrenner was color blind.
The Boston Globe reported yesterday that once again the scarcity of black players on Boston's roster is a reminder of a disturbing past:
''I think this is just an unfortunate anomaly,'' [GM, Theo] Epstein said yesterday. ''Obviously, we do not consider a player's race in our evaluation of the player.
''Believe me, I'm very aware of the Red Sox' terrible history of race relations. Our goal as an organization is to reverse that history, to become a trailblazer for diversity.
''This does not always manifest itself on the field because race is not a factor in our player personnel decisions. But there are plenty of other ways to make a difference, and this owership group is off to a great start in those areas.''
Former GM Lou Gorman first initiated a change in the redneck climate, beginning to hire African Americans to front office jobs during the early 1990s. But, according to Howard Byrant in his book on racism and Boston, "Shut Out:"
With so many years of perceived slights, what existed between the club and the city's blacks was nothing short of a cold war.
Gorman, frustrated by the lack of response to his inroads by a bitter black community, threw up his hands in despair, convinced that even his best efforts would be fruitless. For years, the Red Sox were attacked for ignoring the black community. Now, when the club attempted to create a bond in minority neighborhoods, they were rebuffed with distrust. What, Gorman wondered, was he supposed to do? It was one thing to be aware of one's own actions and treat people accordingly, quite another to change the entire culture and perception of a team, which had been in place since the turn of the century.
There were legitimate reasons for this retrenchment. The first was the lack of tangible results. Despite positive talk, little about the Red Sox organization had changed publicly. The second reason was even more severe: The consequence of the team's history finally seemed to have caught up with it. Black players, who because of free agency now could control to a great degree which teams they played for, now did not want to play for the Red Sox. And they were voicing it.
It was one of the great unforeseen consequences of the free agent era. Saddled with the blemishes of the past, the Red Sox now found themselves at a severe competitive disadvantage. The price the Red Sox would pay for Eddie Collins, Joe Cronin, and Pinky Higgens would not completely be paid during that era, but now in the free agency era, in which players could decide not only what teams they wanted to play for but also which ones they did not. Hall of Famer Dave Winfield once said that he would never play for the Red Sox for any amount of money, thanks to an ugly incident during the mid-1980s where a bottle was thrown at him from a moving car while he took a morning jog. Joe Carter, the great outfielder, would always be wary of Boston's reputation. Time Raines, the longtime Montreal Expos great, was bitter toward Boston because of an ugly incident at Logan Airport when police detained he and his wife while connecting through Boston to a vacation in the Bahamas. The authorities said Raines fit the description of a wanted cocaine dealer. To Raines, it was an example of the mistreatment that came with being black.
In addition to free agents choosing to avoid Boston, players with tenured status in the game chose another strategy that indicted the Red Sox: They would include language in their contracts to prevent them from being traded to the Red Sox. Two high-level black stars, Marquis Grissom and David Justice, inserted language into their contracts that prevented them from ever being traded to the Red Sox・.When he was to become a free agent in 200, Peter Gammons・told Ken Griffey, Jr. that he should consider Boston. A play of Griffey's immense talent along with an effervescent playing style would be revered in Boston, Gammons reasoned. Griffey's response was cool and incredulous. He would never consider Boston, the racist city, the place where he could get lynched. "I told him that he would own the city if he came here," Gammons said. "He looked at me like I was nuts. The city still has a racist label. It's very sad."
THE PLUMBING OF PITCHING When
THE PLUMBING OF PITCHING
When I was growing up, my uncle Fred taught me how to draw, paint and most importantly: How to look. He also taught me how to be a Yankee fan. Fred married into the family when I was about three years old, and he made a huge impression on my creative development, as well as my sporting identity. A painter who makes a living as an animator---he's done spots for "Seasame Street" for years---Fred went to Cooper Union during the height of the Abstract Expressionist movement, in the mid to late 50s.
Fred would take me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I was a kid, and excitedly, expertly guide me through various galleries to specific paintings. He always had a lesson plan. The way he navigated his way around the MET made me feel like I was getting a private tour from an expert, which in fact, was exactly what I was getting. Whether we looked at Vermeers, or Carravaggios or Edward Hoppers or later on, Franz Klines or DeKoonings, Fred deconstructed paintings like he was a plumber. Straight, no chaser, no muss, no fuss, you know what I mean?
We looked at how painters work with spacial relationships, with composition, and tension, and color in their work. Essentially, Fred stripped away all subject matter, and was able to show me how painters paint, and how they made the viewers look, regardless if the picture was abstract or representational.
"Every great painter has a drawing or a painting of a sink," he used to tell me. And he's not far off the mark. Put your favorite artist to the test when you get a chance. A sink, after all, is not a glamourous subject, but it is a blunt, and simple one which requires basic discipline and concentration. A sink also stripes away all pretention. What is it? A lousy ol' sink, you say. But, it's a great subject for any artist, young or old. The beauty is in the simplicity, because it's such a throwaway, everyday object.
I've carried this notion of plumbing to other areas of interest as well---writing, music, moviemaking. I love dissecting the creative process, discovering the bare bones of a craft.
Of course, baseball offers both the art of pitching and hitting for us to dig our forks into.
This past weekend, there were several articles on the nuts and bolts of pitching mechanics, preparation and philosophy. So, let's take a break from all the other nonsense for moment and look at the plumbing of pitching...
I saw Tim Kurkjian file a report from Yankee Camp over the weekend, and he said that Jose Contreras looked impressive in his bullpen sessions for the Yankees. According to scouting reports, Contreras apparently uses his slider and his forkball/splitter early in the count to set up his fastball. Curious.
The Post filed a story on the Cuban pitcher this past weekend, detailing his training methods:
"Since I left the [Cuban national] team in Mexico [in October], I took one week of vacation. Since then I have been working out and throwing," Contreras said at his Legends Field locker. "I have pretty much been throwing for three months. I would say that's the reason I might look a little bit ahead of the other guys."
Yesterday was the second bullpen session for Contreras since camp opened and it was impressive. The fastball had life and the splitter danced. And his location, usually off for pitchers at this stage, was razor sharp.
"I am ready right now to start pitching in games," said Contreras, who signed a four-year deal worth $32 million.
"He is very businesslike, very compact and he seems very sure of himself," Torre said of Contreras, who uses multiple arm angles ala Orlando Hernandez when releasing the ball. "There is a lot there and you get a little anxious to see him but it's still not going to be until you see the games that we are going to take note of all the equipment he has."
Two pieces of equipment Contreras uses aren't conventional to most pitches. Prior to throwing in the bullpen, Contreras plays catch with a 12-ounce baseball (a regular baseball is between 5 and 51/4 ounces) and a softball.
"The [baseball] builds strength and the softball helps with the grip, especially the splitter," said Contreras, who was 117-50 during the past seven seasons in Cuban league play.
John Harper, who is as unassuming as he is outstanding, had a terrific feature on Tom Glavine's approach to pitching last Sunday:
Glavine's cutter moves in harder and later on righthanders than I would have guessed. It doesn't have the speed of Mariano Rivera's cutter, or the violent down-and-in action of Al Leiter's, but if it's thrown in the right location, Glavine's cutter has enough on it to tie up righthanded hitters.
"Yeah," he says, "but it's easy to throw that pitch when I don't have to worry about making a mistake with it. It's harder to trust it with a hitter in there. That's what makes pitching away so much easier. If I make a mistake out there, it's usually only a single.
"I've been stubborn over the years about pitching away, but even though hitters know I'm going to work them away, I find that most hitters are not going to allow themselves to hit singles to right field all day. They want to hit home runs and extra-base hits. In the back of their mind they're always waiting for you to hang that one pitch they can smoke, and when you throw the ball down and away where you want to, you get your nice little ground ball or popup."
Glavine then motions for me to slide out farther, so that the middle of my chest is in line with the outside corner. He tells me later he'll ask Mike Piazza to set up the same way on either side of the plate because he uses the catcher's body, not the glove, as his target.
"I can't throw to the glove," he says. "I want the catcher's body splitting the corner. I'm looking at your chest and I want the glove right there in your chest."
..."I don't have a complicated game plan," he says. "I might shake off 10 to 15 pitches a game, but everybody knows what I like to throw. Mainly I want my catchers to get out there a couple of inches off the plate so I can hit that spot and they don't have to move the glove to catch it."
Meanwhile, the Times had a good story on Chris Hammond, who is slated to replace Mike Stanton as the lefty set-up man in Joe Torre's bullpen. (Evidentally, Hammond had a relationship with none other than the Great Joe D himself. On a side note, one of DiMaggio's lawyers has just published an anti-Joe D book. Looks as if that trends here to stay.)
Hammond has a killer changeup.
Hammond has thrown the pitch since he was 10. It got him to the majors with Cincinnati in 1990, and brought him back a decade later.
"Very few pitchers really want to throw the changeup," Hammond said. "I was talking to John Rocker a few years ago about it: `If I were you, I would sit down and that's all I'd do in the off-season, work on my changeup.' And he goes, `I can't. If I'm going to get beat, I don't want to get beat on my changeup.' "
Hammond was incredulous at that logic. For him, the changeup is a devastating weapon, evaluated at a score of 80 ！ the highest possible ！ by the Yankee scouts.
"It has different action on it," Newman said. "He has great arm speed and command of it. The funny term people use for it is the `Bugs Bunny change,' because it's like it stops in midair. It's so good he throws it to left-handers and right-handers."
Hammond held right-handers to a .206 average last year, and left-handers were more helpless, batting .174. He delivers his changeup awkwardly, stomping hard on the mound with his right foot and then releasing it. The harder he stomps, the more he is concentrating.
..."It looks funny," Newman said, "but more importantly, hitters think it looks funny."
The Yankees' bullpen is stuffed with hard throwers ！ Mariano Rivera, Steve Karsay, Antonio Osuna ！ and Hammond gives them a different look. As it is with all newcomers, he must prove he can handle the pressure of being a Yankee. But wherever he is, Hammond said, he will always be nervous.
Joel Sherman has a piece on Andy Pettitte, who is facing a crucial season in his career, and Jonah Keri conducts an outstanding interview with Oakland A's pitching coach, Rick Peterson, at Baseball Prospectus, that is well worth reading.
Finally, Murray Chass wrote a compelling article about the Jesse Orosco and the fountain of youth on Sunday. He also compiled a list of aging veterans who are willing to play for a fraction of what they once made, which once again suggests just how difficult it is for some players to leave the game. (Jim Caple and Aaron Gleeman give their takes on Rickey Henderson, who has not been signed by a team yet.)
Here is Dennis Eckersley, always a straight-shooter, talking to Mike Bryan in spring training 1988, from the book "Baseball Lives:"
People say baseball players should go out and have fun. No way. To me, baseball is pressure. I always feel it. This is work. The fun is afterwards, when you shake hands.
When I was a rookie I'd tear stuff up. Now I keep it in. What good is smashing a light on the way up the tunnel? But I still can't sleep at night if I stink. I've always tried to change that and act like a normal guy when I got home. "Hi, honey, what's happening?" I can't. It's there. It doesn't go away. But maybe that's why I've been successful in my career, because I care. I don't have fun. I pitch scared. That's what makes me go. Nothing wrong with being scared if you can channel it.
I issued to hide behind my cockiness. Don't let the other team know you're scared. I got crazy on the mound. Strike a guy out, throw my fist around---"Yeah!" Not real classy, but I was a raw kid. I didn't care. It wasn't fake. It was me. This wasn't taken very kindly by a lot of people. They couldn't wait to light me up. That's the price you pay.
・I wish I was a little happier in this game. What is so great about this shit? You get the money, and then you're used to the money. You start making half a million a year, next thing you know you need half a million a year. And the heat is on!
Used to be neat to just be a big-league ballplayer, but that wore off. I'm still proud, but I don't want people to bother me about it. I wish my personality with people was better. I find myself becoming short with people. Going to the store. Getting gas.
If you're not happy with when you're doing lousy, then not happy when you're doing well, when the hell are you going to be happy? This game will humble you in a heartbeat. Soon as you starting getting happy・Boom! For the fans---and this is just a guess---they think the money takes out the feeling. I may be wrong but I think they think, "What the hell is he worrying about? He's still getting' paid." There may be a few players who don't give 100 percent, but I always thought if you were good enough to make that kind of money, you'd have enough pride to play like that, wouldn't you think? You don't just turn it on！or off.
This got me thinking about the David Cone situation. While Eck is scathingly honest, in the mold of a Pat Jordan, Cone is far more measured and polished. Still, I think Eck hits on something universal when he said:
I've been very fortunate to pitch for fourteen years in the big leagues. That's a long time for a pitcher. I'm afraid of life after baseball. Petrified. I'm not ashamed of saying it. I'll be all right, but nothing will ever compare with this. I will not stay in baseball. I think about commercial real estate and money！big money!
Or maybe I'll grow up after I get ouf of this fuckin' game.
And that, I believe is at the heart of the matter for all American men, not just aging jocks: The fear of growing up.
Perish the thought.
BOSOX OUTBID BOMBERS The
BOSOX OUTBID BOMBERS
The Red Sox exacted a measure of revenge against the Yankees, when they outbid the Bronx Bombers for the services of the top junior defector from Cuba. According to the Boston Globe:
The Sox signed 18-year-old righthander Gary Galvez for a bonus similar to the amount players selected late in the second round or high in the third round of the amateur draft receive: about $500,000.
''We'll end up signing 20 to 25 kids internationally this year, and we think this will probably be the best guy we sign,'' said Louie Eljaua, the team's director of international scouting. ''This is our first-round pick.''
Galvez, whose fastball has hit 93 and throws an above-average curve, was the ace of Cuba's junior national team before he defected last August. With 23 other refugees, he rode a vessel to an island near Key Largo, where the group was rescued by the US Coast Guard. He spent a month in Miami before he established residency in the Dominican Republic.
Several teams bid on Galvez, with the Sox and Yankees among them. Eljaua said the Sox did not make the top financial offer to Galvez, but prevailed because of the relationship they had built with him and because of his confidence in the team's pitching program.
''Every time you have a high-profile international guy, it's usually going to be the Yankees or us in the end,'' Eljaua said. ''This time, the good guys won.''
...Galvez will report to the Sox once he obtains a visa, which could take several weeks. He is projected to pitch at Single A Augusta.
WHAT'S UP WITH PRINCE P?
In what has been a relatively quiet Red Sox spring thus far, the only potential cause for noise could come from an expected source: the great Pedro Martinez. Dan Shaughnessy stressed that management play hardball with Martinez.
On Saturday, the Globe reported that:
Principal owner John W. Henry and CEO Larry Lucchino met privately with Martinez soon after he arrived Friday at the club's spring training headquarters - a meeting that apparently bred considerable good will.
''I know we're going to work it out,'' Martinez said in a news conference after the first formal workout for pitchers and catchers. ''They're a group of responsible owners. They know what to do. They know their business. I'm sure they're going to work something out. I'd like to finish my career in Boston.''
''If they don't pick it up now, it means they don't trust me,'' he said. ''It's a matter of confidence between them and me, and I'm sure they have the confidence, and I'm fine.''
''The uncertainty of whether I'm going to be in Boston is not easy to handle,'' he said. ''That's why I don't want to be in that position of, where am I going to go? Am I going to stay in Boston or not? That's not a fair position for a player like me.
WHO'S ON FIRST?
While the Sox happily play musical chairs with their first basemen, Kevin Millar finally arrived at camp to throw his hat in the ring.
According to the Globe:
The breakthrough in the Kevin Millar situation...came after Japanese officials were told that if the standoff continued, Major League Baseball might not proceed with plans to send the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A's to Japan to open the 2003 season there next month.
Mike C, over at Baseball Rants thinks all is not kosher in Beantown:
Millar should be a useful member of the Red Sox team this season. But any baseball fan should be rooting as hard as they can for the Yankees to bury the Sox by the break. The whole affair stinks worse than last week's meatloaf. Of course, the Pavlovian fans have been taught that the Yankees are the evil ones because the spend their seemingly inexhaustable funds wisely as opposed to the Red Sox, who appear to get a mulligan once or twice a year and whose owners were fast-tracked into purchasing the team even though better offers were on the table. If that's not evil, I don't know what is.
At least Millar has found himself in a friendly environment:
A friend of Garciaparra, Trot Nixon, Lou Merloni, and Todd Walker, Millar is renowned for trying almost anything to help him hit, including spraying his bat with deer urine last year on Opening Day after his inaugural deer hunting trip. When he went 0 for 3, though, he abandoned the gimmick.
Good thing, or it might have been harder to make even more friends on his new team.
ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
Is there any column that is more complete and thorough on a weekly basis than Gordon Edes' Sunday Notes feature? If so, let me know, cause it's bound to be a treat. Edes examines the hype at Yankee camp this week. So does Tony Massarotti, who like his peers in New York, Joel Sherman and even Bob Klapisch, is clearly a provocateur:
Whatever air of invincibility the Yankees possessed during the five-year span between 1996-2000 is going, going, gone.
``I think if you spend $180 million, I don't think it's just because you have it to spend,'' Red Sox owner John Henry said of the Yankees' current estimated payroll upon arriving at his team's spring training facility on Friday.
``I think it's also because there must be a need.''
...Do the Yankees have talent? Of course they do, though the 2001 Red Sox proved that talent alone is not enough. As much as the Yankees were stocked while winning four World Series titles during the final five years of the last millennium, they were also a unique collection of professionals. No lesser an authority than Seattle Mariners general manager Pat Gillick suggested before last season that the absence of chemistry (Paul O'Neill, Scott Brosius) would adversely affect the Yankees more than anyone believed. It certainly seems Gillick hit the bull's eye.
METS TO ROBBIE: NO
METS TO ROBBIE: NO SOUP FOR YOU
Steve Phillips and the Mets have decided not to to talk contract extension with second baseman Robbie Alomar until the season is over. Alomar, who is famous for being fickle and moody, took the news in stride:
"I wanted to be a Met until the day that I retire. But sometimes you don't know what's going to happen. I'm going to stay real positive. I still have one more year to go. I feel real comfortable about this year, and if the right situation comes, I'll be a Met until I retire."
..."I don't have any thought that Robbie will be affected or impacted by this negatively," [GM] Phillips said. "I think he's professional and he's been in this position before. He's motivated to go out and have a great season."
Alomar said he wasn't offended by the Mets' position.
"Maybe I feel a little sad that I might not be here," Alomar said. "I want to be here. So we'll wait and see what happens."
WHO'S ON THIRD?
The Shea Hillenbrand-to-the-Mets rumor was revived this weekend, with a new twist. Now, there is talk about the Mets trading an assortment of young pitchers to the Red Sox for Hillenbrand, who would then be moved to the Marlins in exchange for Mike Lowell.
Cliff Floyd has nothing but good things to say about both Hillenbrand and Lowell.
My cousin Gabe lamented last week, that when the Yankees aquire former Mets, they do well in the Bronx, but when the Mets pick up ex-Yankees, they are less than inspiring (Al Leiter notwithstanding). That would all change if the Mets are fortunate enough to somehow land Mike Lowell. In fact, I believe that Lowell would be an outstanding replacement for Edgardo Alfonzo--he's solid, reliable, and even-keeled.
Hmmm. I may become a Met fan yet...
STORM BURIES NEW YORK,
STORM BURIES NEW YORK, MISSES TAMPA
For all the hoo-ha surrounding Derek Jeter's Monday morning meeting with the press, the results must be seen as a disappointment. For the papers anyway. Throughout his career Jeter has been knocked for being a stiff interview, the prototypical jock robot. Suddenly, he was expected to add a juicy chapter to Bronx Zoo lore, but I'm happy to report that Jeter was his usual, bland self yesterday.
According to Joel Sherman in the New York Post:
The biggest difference between Derek Jeter's morning press conference and the one Hideki Matsui held in the afternoon was Matsui was boring in two languages.
Jeter did make like the great Joe D however, and bristled at the percieved tarnishing of his image:
"Image is important because that's who I am," Jeter said. "No one wants to have an image they don't care about."
"The problem is the way it's all been painted. That was my primary concern. Now, everywhere I go, people ask if I party too much.
"I didn't want Yankee fans to be thinking that I could care less whether we win or lose."
"Obviously, I know I can do a lot better than what happened last year," he said. "Healthwise, I'm in better shape than I have been.
"Ever since my shoulder injury (2001), I haven't been able to work out as much. This year I could."
What about the Boss?
"I don't think there is an issue of revenge, I don't know how you get back at The Boss," Jeter said. "I don't feel a need to get back at The Boss."
What about George taking all the glory if the Yanks win?
"He should take credit if we win, because he put together the team," Jeter said. "Hopefully, the year will go like that and we can answer the question then."
"If you don't win, what's the point of playing?" Jeter asked. "I am my biggest critic. Nobody gets on me more than I do. I am a perfectionist."
Veteran columnists, Bill Madden and Mike Lupica weighed in with columns and, like Bob Klapisch, suggested Jeter move on, quickly.
According to Madden:
You'd have thought by now, after nearly eight years as a Yankee, that Jeter would have come to realize all of this comes with the territory. There's nary a Yankee superstar, from Reggie Jackson to Don Mattingly, who hasn't at one time or another been touched up by Steinbrenner.
・Instead of grousing about how his image has been tarnished, Jeter should not forget that he had some pretty good company in that Steinbrenner rip job in December.
How do you think Torre felt hearing for the umpteenth time that he was just another run-of-the-mill losing manager until he came to the Yankees, and that he should not forget it's the organization that's been responsible for his four-ring, Hall of Fame success these past six years? How tempting do you think it was for Torre to retort: "If that's the case, will it be the organization who gets the blame if we don't win again this year, or just me and my coaches?"
Lupica echoed Madden's sentiments and couldn't help adding a jab:
Now that Steinbrenner has picked on Torre, Jeter and Jason Giambi in succession, you have to think it's somehow going to be Bernie's turn next.
Even Jeter's dad added his two cents to the proceedings:
"[Steinbrenner's comments] questioned his work ethic, his integrity," Charles Jeter said in a telephone interview. "It bothered him, rightfully so. It annoyed him. It annoyed me, to be honest with you. But I don't want to be part of the equation. My feeling is he took the right approach in what he said. I feel Derek has handled it."
"My main thing with Derek is to keep things between the white lines," Charles Jeter said. "We all work for somebody. I guess what Derek said is, `The boss can say anything that he wants to say.' You just hope the things that are said are about what's between the white lines."
"This too will pass and Derek will go on," Charles Jeter said. "And hopefully the Yankees will go on in their quest for another championship."
Father knows best, right?
NOTE: I accidentally posted a
I accidentally posted a bunch of articles this morning before they were finished and ready for publication. I'm trying to remedy the situation. The articles won't be ready until tomorrow, but if you see that mess that's up there today, please discard it, and tune in again tomorrow.
Perhaps I'll figure out a way to get rid of them so as to avoid any confusion. But if I can't, bear with me.
LET IT SNOW, LET
LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW: SPRING IS HERE
I'm an early bird by nature. New Yorkers usually get fed up with the lingering winter sometime around mid-March, early-April. I hit the boiling point somewhere right after the Super Bowl. At some point, something just snaps inside of me, and no matter how much winter is left, I'll make the mental transition to spring. That way when spring finally does roll around, with the great smells of dirt, and worms, and flowers and baseball, I'm way ahead of the game.
By the time New Yorkers are finally able to shed the layers of old-man winter, and the city becomes a sea of exposed flesh and hormones, I'm be there with a shit-eating grin on my mug, talking bout, "Come on in, the water, she's fine."
The poster-boy for spring.
I made the mental switch this past week, in spite of everything.
No matter how much snow is dumped on us, no matter how brickadocious the temperature becomes, I'm stubbornly sticking to my guns: it's springtime.
It all started about 10 days ago, when we had our last snowfall, before the monster that's currently blanketing a good part of the country. It was the Friday before last, and I was going to meet an old friend for dinner on the Upper West Side. I had some time to kill, so I strolled through the lower part of Central Park.
It was the magic hour, when the sky is still blue, but darkness was descending over the city. There were a good number of people out, but not enough to feel crowded. I love the stillness, the hush that comes over New York when a big snow hits. Everything is slowed down just so.
As I walked past the softball fields at the base of the park, I couldn't help but walk closer. The fields---four in all---were surrounded by a fence for the winter. I stood right next to the fence and looked out at the virgin snow covering the diamonds. To my right, the skyscrapers of Manhattan were lit up against the fading blue skies. When I was a kid, skyscrapers reminded me of the Imperial Star Destroyers from the "Star Wars" movies---majestic, impregnable.
Here they were, standing guard over this patch of ballfields, lending an almost surreal grandeur to the scene.
I closed my eyes and imagined the same scene in July. The heat and humidity of summer, the sounds of games being played at all four diamonds, the smells of hot dogs and dog shit and roasting nuts, and of course, the cast of characters that make up the scene---umpires, vendors, players, goldbrickers, tourists.
There was something comforting about looking at the snow-covered fields, so still, so far removed from all that activity. The snow was keeping the fields safe for yet another lively summer of baseball.
With the professional players reporting to spring training to get loose, it's just a matter of time before the seasons unfold and all the sights and sounds of our game return.
I started clapping and chanting, "Lets-Go-Yan-Kees," just to make sure the ol' pipes worked. A couple of passing tourists eyed me curiously, but I didn't care. I stuck around for a couple of more minutes, taking it all in, and then happily made my way to dinner, thinking: fug the snow, spring is here.
MY FAVORITE THINGS OF
MY FAVORITE THINGS OF 2002: PART V
Baseball Brethren: Jesse Glasberg and Bob Backus
One of the most fascinating aspects of Baseball is the dichotomy between the game's inherent loneliness, its solitude, and the sense of fraternization, and togetherness that it promotes. For every David Cone, there is a Dave Kingman.
This doesn't just apply to the players. Think about how much time the average fan spends absorbing the game alone, whether reading the box scores in the morning paper, or day dreaming about their favorite team as they drift off to sleep at night. For some this is enough, but for most of us, the sense of participating, and sharing our feelings about the game is simply irresistible.
I'm a loquacious bastard by nature, so I use baseball as a way to meet people. It's a safe topic, especially for men. I'm not into cars or carpentry, so if it's not books, painting, or records, I find that sports is the ideal social lubricant.
Like most things I enjoy, baseball has a rich oral tradition. Tom Boswell addressed this phenomenon in his article, "This Ain't a Football Game. We Do This Every Day," from his collection "How Life Imitates the World Series:"
Conversation is the blood of baseball. It flows through the game, an invigorating system of anecdotes・
Ride the bush-league buses with the Reading Phillies or the Spokane Brewers or the Chattanooga Lookouts, and suddenly it is easy to understand why a major league dugout is a place of such addictive conversational pleasures. In the world of the minor leaguer, which is split between short hours of athletic adventure and long hours of idleness, talk becomes a staple of sanity・
This rich verbal tradition！the way the game has taken on the ambiance of the frontier campfire or the farmer's cracker-barrel stove and moved it into the dugout！is what marks baseball so distinctively, not only among our games, but among all our endeavors・
This passion for language and the telling detail is what makes baseball the writer's game.
In his book, "Take Time For Paradise: Americans and Their Games," A. Bartlett Giamatti, describes the insatiable gregariousness baseball fans posses. The scene is the lobby of the Marriott Pavilion Hotel in St. Louis, during the 1987 NL Playoffs between the San Francisco Giants and the Cards:
The sound is a high, constant hum, a vast buzz of a million bees, the sound almost palpable and, for hours, never varying in pitch or intensity as anecdote vies with anecdote or joke or gossip or monologue or rude ribbing, so reminiscent of the clubhouse. It is the sound of tip and critique and prediction and second-guessing, of nasty crack and generous assessment, of memory cutting across memory, supplementing and correcting and coloring the tale, all the crosscutting, overlapping, salty, blunt, nostalgic, sweet conversation about only one subject！Baseball.
Here is the oft-told tale that is the game is told again. It is told always in the present tense, in a paratactic style that reflects the game's seamless, cumulative character, each event linked to the last and creating the context for the next！a style almost Biblical in its continuity and instinct for typology. It is told in a tone at once elegiac, sharply etched, inclusive of all nuance. Baseball people have the keenest eyes for the telling detail I have ever known.
One evening, early last May, I was in the Lincoln Center area on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and had some time to kill. I gravitated to everybody's favorite loitering spot: Barnes and Noble. When I got to the baseball display on the third floor, I noticed an old-timer dressed in a navy blue suit, wearing a navy blue Kangol, leafing through "The Bill James Historical Abstract." He looked a like cross between the great sports writer, Shirley Povich and Uncle Junior from "The Sopranos."
Must be picking up the book for his grandson, I thought. But after a few moments, I figured he was reading it for himself, so I started up a conversation. Much to my surprise, not only was he a bonafide fan, but he liked Bill James to boot.
I licked my chops and peppered him with questions for the better part of half an hour.
He introduced himself as "Jesse" but didn't offer a last name. He must have been in his early 70s. Jesse had been a season ticket holder with the Yankees from 1976 through the early 1990s, "When George jacked up the prices too much for me to bear." He has also been a season ticket holder for the Mets since 1973.
These are some of the observations he shared with me:
Tom Seaver was the toughest pitcher he ever watched, but Koufax, at his height, was the best he ever saw.
Watching Jackie Robinson running the bases was the most memorable part of his baseball upbringing. "It wasn't that he was the fastest, but having been a track star and a football star, he was able to change directions better than anyone I ever saw. He would get out of virtually 50% of the run-downs he got in, he was that strong and quick."
Willie Mays had a powerful arm, but it wasn't as accurate as Clemente's or Furillo's. But overall, Mays was the most complete player he'd ever seen.
Larry Doby was overrated. Minnie Minoso was better.
The DH was a curious, even appealing idea, but it failed, and he prefered the National League game.
Whitey Herzog and Tommy Lasorda were two of the best managers he'd seen, but nobody was better than Jimmy Leyland.
Bobby Valentine is bright, but rash.
"What about Zimmer?" I asked.
"Zimmer is just plain nuts・I'll always give a guy like Torre credit, though. He was a Giants fan who was from Brooklyn. When I was growing up, Giants fans were the older guys. The Giants were the first great New York team, the McGraw teams, Me Ott, you know. So if a kid in the 1940s or 50s was a Giants fan, it was most likely because his father or his uncle had been a Giants fan. To be a Giants fan in Brooklyn? That was saying something. I've always appreciated Torre for that. Just like how I don't appreciate Giuliani for being a Yankee fan. He grew up in Staten Island. Everybody was a Yankee fan. The Yankees were always winning. How hard is that?"
I asked Jesse how the game has changed for him over the years.
"It used to be more fun. There was less player movement. You got to know the guys. Get attached to them, even though there were still plenty of trades. I guess I feel like I know the 1941 Dodgers roster better than the current Mets team, and I go to the games."
Jess chuckled in disbelief. "Can you imagine? A utility man is a millionaire these days."
When I exhausted my queries, the conversation died down a little. As it turned out, Jesse was going the opera, across the street at the Met. We strolled outside together, and swapped Phil Rizzuto-Announcing stories. We were standing in front of the fountains at Lincoln Center when I said goodbye. But something seemed off. It looked as if he wanted to say something.
Finally, he goes, "Well, maybe we should exchange numbers and maybe we'll go to a game sometime."
Three weeks later I got a call from Jesse, and we eventually went to a Mets game.
It was a reasonably cool day, for the middle of the summer. The Twins were in town to play the Mets. Tori Hunter hit a line-drive home run to left center. I remember the crisp sound of the crack; the ball zipped over the fence in a hurry.
Jesse brought his 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers Yearbook to show me. We picked up where we had left off at Barnes and Noble. As fate would have it, the fellow who sat next to us was a season-ticket holder as well, and joined in our meandering conversations. He had just one seat at Shea, but season tickets at Yankee Stadium and Tampa Bay as well.
Here we were, three virtual strangers, brought together by a mutual appreciation for the game. Jesse grew up in the 40s, Bob in the 60s, and I came of age in the 1980s. This is as close to Sandy Koufax and Leo Durocher as I'm ever going to get, so I asked tons of questions, and did a lot of listening.
We had a great time and didn't mind that the Mets got spanked.
By the time the game was over, our new friend, Bob, had offered to send me any tickets he would not be using for the remainder of the season. Would you believe, he ended up sending me tickets for a good half a dozen games?
Bob and I exchanged e-mails during the course of the remainder of the season, which were enlightening and funny.
Let me share just two:
I can't recall if I already told you, but I was a Red Sox fan from 1961-1969, which for me was 5th grade through first year of college. The Yankee team of Mantle and Maris I greatly admired, but I grew up on the CT-MA border and rooted for the Red Sox. From 61 though 66, they were a second division team and they finished wither last or next to last in 66 under the forgettable Billy Herman. The Sox pennant drive in 67 was to me a greater surprise than the Mets of 69 because you knew the Mets were developing an incredible pitching staff. The Sox had one star, Jim Lonborg, and a bunch of journeymen who had the best years of their lives that season. Plus the Mets had to contend with one great team in the Cubs, while the Sox were facing four (Twins-65 pennant winner, Orioles-66 World Champion, Tigers-68 World Champions, and the White Sox, who had the best pitching in the league) that year.
The key to the Red Sox success was the way Dick Williams destroyed the country club atmosphere the Sox had through his tough guy stance. Dick Williams was kind of a cross between Bobby Valentine and Bobby Knight. He had Valentine's way of being sarcastic and also brilliant in terms of lineups and strategy. But he could explode with anger and passion, like Knight. The coaches and managers I most admire have been that type; I respect the people who push to be their best. I guess my all time favorite manager was Gil Hodges and Dick Williams would be second.
Most players [on the Sox] hated Williams, but they played hard and won the pennant. My father lost a three year battle with melanoma in October, 1967 and the Sox pennant drive certainly helped me deal with the last four months, which were pretty awful. Also the Red Sox attendance had fallen to under a million in 66, so this 67 team created a tremendous resurgence of baseball interest in New England that has never gone away since.
Lonborg ruined his career in a skiing accident that winter and the Sox were no longer pennant threats. Crybaby Yaz could not deal with Williams' ways when they were not winning pennants and [owner, Tom] Yawkey could not deal with Yaz being mad at him, so two years after the greatest managing job I had ever seen, Dick was fired. And I swore I would never root for the Red Sox again until Tom Yawkey died. And when he finally died, I still hated him so I kept rooting against them. Dick went on to win pennants with Oakland and San Diego; both teams were bad before he got thee and he taught them how to win. The players on the A's actually liked him because they were pretty tough themselves and totally focused on winning. After they won the 73 World Series, Williams tried to leave the A's to manage the Yankees but Charlie Finley wouldn't let him, so Dick quit and sat out a while. And the Yankees hired Bill Virdon, one of the worst managers in baseball history, but that's another story.
Williams was like Bobby Knight in that people either loved him or hated him. I loved them both. Truthfully my nature is to be somewhat like them. I guess that is why I admired Hodges the most because he could command respect and fear without yelling at or being sarcastic with people.
Thanks for listening. I probably have not though about Dick in 10 years or so. By the way there is a great book called "Red Sox Century" that I skimmed in a bookstore a couple years ago. It really covered that period of Red Sox history well, especially how Yaz was able to manipulate Yawkey into firing Williams. To be replaced by the dullest manager I ever heard of, Eddie Kasko.
Later, I wrote Bob, and told him of my bigotry toward Red Sox fans and New Englanders in general. The tension of the Yankees-Sox summer had me boiling over, but Bob set me straight:
New Englanders are provincial, but many New Yorkers act as though nothing that happens outside of NYC has any importance. That pessimism you spoke of is kind of a game. It is like me to have any hope of avoiding a strike because of some silly Calvinistic idea that it would hurt less if I were expecting the strike. And lets fact it, with 84 years since a world title and the memory of '86 still alive, who can blame them for not being too hopeful. Many sociologists have written papers about different theories on how it will affect NE when the Sox finally win a title. There will be initial euphoria, but then there may be depression. The fans will miss having something to hate as passionately as they do the Yanks. Not too many sports fans get to think of the other team as its fans as the Devil Incarnate.
A couple of other things. You should draw no thoughts about New England from southern Connecticut residents. There is a reason why they call it the Tri-state area. CT from Hartford west and South has no connection to New England mores and values. It sees itself as a suburb of NY and see Mainers as boobs (as do I).
I have spent considerable time in New York, Ohio, Florida and Texas. I would agree we are more racist than New York, but much less so than Florida, Ohio and Texas. But my friend, whether you like it or not, most people in this country agree with John Rocker, they just don't want to admit it.
From one inquiring mind to another,
Lifetime President (and only known member) of the 1918 Club.
All of this, just because I opened my mouth and started talking. I hope to run into both Jesse and Bob this coming season. When I do, I'll let them know you said "hi."
I'll be damned if Baseball isn't the game that keeps giving.
MILLAR'S CROSSING The long
The long and convoluted case of Kevin Millar has finally been settled, and the Red Sox have yet another first baseman. It should be interesting to see if Mr. Millar makes all the effort the Red Sox have gone through to aquire him worth while.
THE MOUTH THAT ROARED
THE MOUTH THAT ROARED
Just how long did you think we were going to have to wait for fat-ass Boomer Wells to open his big, fat, mouth? Wells, one of the few current Yankees who would have been right at home on the Bronx Zoo teams of the late 1970s and early 80s, sounded off yesterday, and was in good form, defending Derek Jeter, and pushing for a contract extension. According to the New York Post:
"Derek is not a party guy, he is not out there every night, trust me," said a chuckling Wells. "He has gone out a couple of times, big deal. [Jeter] has every right to be mad. I try to get him to go out but he goes to dinner, goes to a movie and calls it a night. He didn't have a .300-plus season [last year], but we all have a bad year.
"He has done a lot for this team and carried this team at times, especially in the postseason. For George to jump on him like that was unfair. George tries to light a fire under your [butt]. I think it's the wrong way to do it, in the press instead of going up to the individual. I think that would be a lot better."
OLD MAN RIVER
David Cone was his usual self-depricating, charming self yesterday as he described his comeback as "a long shot." Seeing pictures of Cone next to Leiter and Glavine in the locker room looked more like a college reunion, or a casting call for "That Championship Season" than a legitimate comeback.
The Mets have issued Cone Doc Gooden's old number 16 for good luck. But he'll need more than mojo to make the team.
"I think people understand what's going on here, that this is just an old warhorse who's having a hard time retiring and wants to give it one last shot," Cone said.
You said it mister.
A REAL MENSCH
I was talking to my cousin Gabe yesterday, and he just can't get excited for his Mets yet. Of course it's still early, but it's hard to begrudge any Met fan for being cautiously optimistic at best.
"Maybe it would be different if Fonzie was coming back," he told me.
True indeed. But as Whitestone's finest, Edgardo Alfonzo packs his bags for San Francisco, he's not leaving New York without saying goodbye. Alfonzo has rented ad space on the top of taxi cabs for the next month, where he has an banner that reads: Fonzie Loves New York.
The gesture is a reminder of what Met fans will be missing in Alfonzo: a real mensch.
I don't know if it will make Gabe feel better or worse.
IF YOU WIN, YOU
IF YOU WIN, YOU WIN, IF YOU LOSE, YOU STILL WIN...
Bob Klapisch adds his two cents to the Jeter/George story, and notes that Jeter is playing into Steinbrenner's hand by stating his case to the media:
Make no mistake, Steinbrenner wants Jeter to succeed, because the Yankees need him. But George wants to look good, too, "Abso-[fuggin]-lutely" is what Reggie Jackson said when asked if The Boss is seeking to gain control over Jeter. He's even begun his campaign on Jason Giambi too, denying clubhouse and field-access this summer to Giambi's personal trainer, Bob Alejo.
Steinbrenner and Giambi will meet face to face Tuesday, and we'll learn in just a few days what it took us seven years to discover about Jeter. And that is, even the coolest and hippest sometimes can't resist Steinbrenner's bait.
If Giambi turns out to be as sensitive as Jeter, don't expect Steinbrenner to relent. And if that's the case, the entire Bronx summer has a chance to end up in the toilet.
My, how times have changed.
In his 1984 autobiography, aptly titled "Balls," former Yankee third baseman Craig Nettles had this bit of advice for young players:
Today , my recommendation to a young ballplayer is, "Be controversial. Be as controversial as you can---if you can handle it." A lot of players can't. Reggie wsa one of the guys who could, and the more controversial he was, the better he played. Our kids, [Don] Mattingly and [Steve "Bye Bye"] Balboni, they will never be controversial. All the young kids coming up are quiet. But I tell them, "Being a good soilder is only going to cost you money in the long run."
Ah, the good ol' days...
Nettles was a sardonic, clubhouse wit, who incidentally had a lousy business acumen. He was traded to the Yankees from Cleveland just a month before Steinbrenner bought the team.
During his first season with New York, he played for "The Major," Ralph Houk:
Ralph said to me, "This owner is giving me a lot of trouble so far with all these phones calls, but one thing about him, he isn't afraid to spend some money and buy some players when we need them."...I like that aspect of George, that he wants to win so badly that he'll go out and do whatever he can to make us a winner. And that's all a player can ask for.
But Ralph kept complaining that George was calling him on the phone all the time. He'd call during the game, in the middle of the night. Things he's done to all his managers since...
Despite what Ralph told me about George, I didn't realize the problems were as bad as they were until the final day of the  season. The final game didn't mean anything, and after the game, the guys were getting ready to go home. But the word was, "Stay around until the end of the game. Ralph is going to make an announcement." I didn't know what it was going to be. And at the end of the game, you could hear the fans outside in the stadium, tearing the stadium apart, because it was the last game in Yankee Stadium for two years while they renovated, and with all that noise going on outside, in the clubhouse underneath the stands, here was Ralph Houk telling us that he was leaving.
As we sat around on the stools by our lockers, Ralph cam out and said, "I got to tell you guys something. I've had enough. I'm quitting." And he broke down into tears.
I spoke to him afterward and Ralph said, "I have to quit before I hit the guy." Ralph said, "I don't want to leave the game of baseball by punching an owner. But if he keeps on bothering me like he does, I'll end up hitting him."
Maybe that's the answer. Jeter should just go up to George's office and punch him in the eye ball.
AROUND THE HORN
1. Nate Silver has a good article about the Yankees' 7-man rotation at Baseball
2. Tom Verducci previews the 2003 season, with a couple of questions for each team.
3. Baseball Weekly has a feature on Bill James and the influence he may have on the Red Sox.
4. Last but not least, Jack Curry has a piece on the "cool and coy" new manager of the Texas Rangers, Buck Showalter.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NUTHIN
MUCH ADO ABOUT NUTHIN
There is a lot of hot air coming out of Yankee Land for a change, and not all of it from Tampa, Fla. With another weekend of snow on the horizon for New York, the local papers are keeping us warm with all the "Bronx Zoo" bluster they can conjure up. Joel Sherman and Harvey Araton, two of the more shrill columnists on the beat, pen gloom-and-doom columns today.
As expected, the fall out from Derek Jeter's AP interview, made for a feeding frenzy this morning. While the Jeter v. George story makes for juicy headlines, it isn't really a big deal. What? Jeter got 'Georged?' This is the start of his 8th season as the starting short stop of the New York Yankees, isn't it about time the unflappable superstar finally got decked by Steinbrenner? After all, what makes Jeter so special? That he's a class act, and a wonderful player? When has that stopped George before? Considering what his boyhood favorite Dave Winfield went through in the Bronx, this 'controversy' is a mosquito bite, no matter how hurt Jeter's feelings are.
As usual, Bronx Zoo veteran, Bill Madden hits the nail on the head, sighting the final scene in Roman Polanski's "Chinatown":
Unlike Steinbrenner, Jeter has gone out of his way to shun controversy. And given the sensitivity of his "Turn 2" charity for underprivileged kids, it is understandable why he would feel his image has been unfairly tarnished.
In lieu of a formal apology, all I can say to him is: Forget about it, Derek. It's Chinatown.
Okay, don't laugh now, but a voice of reason emerged in Yankee camp yesterday, and it belonged to none other than the "straw that stirs the drink" himself, Reginald Martinez Jackson. Mr. October, who recieved more abuse from The Boss in one season (1981) than Jeter will in a lifetime, arrived in Tampa and immediately went into counselor-mode:
"Derek is hot and the reason he is hot makes sense," Jackson said. "His character was attacked. This is a very conscientious guy and basically the un-named captain. He is the voice of the club and it's his team.
"If you want to target someone for the team not having a good season last year, he is the guy. He is not an off-the-field party guy. If he were, the media would have been on to it long ago rather than waiting eight or nine years. The Boss is paying big iron and he wants big-time input into the ballclub."
..."Jeter's a tough kid. He went through what he went through with his sister a couple of years ago (when she was sick) and he never let anyone know about it, and that's far more important than this.
"It's hard for me to imagine he could be more motivated than he is."
I'M ALRIGHT, JACK
Although Jason Giambi isn't due in Tampa until later today, any strudel involving his personal trainer Bobby Alejo has seemingly been squashed:
"He will be allowed in the weight room, allowed on the planes and allowed to throw batting practice indoors at home," GM [Brian] Cashman said. "He is not allowed on the field or in the clubhouse."
How that translates into how effective Alejo, who is paid by Giambi and not the Yankees, can be with Giambi remains to be seen.
"We are trying to limit [clubhouse access] as much as possible," Cashman said when asked why Alejo's access was sliced. "We will have a lot more personnel in the clubhouse this year."
...Added Joe Torre: "We've made changes every year. (Roger) Clemens had his guy, (Brian) McNamee, a couple of years ago. Then last year, he didn't have him but was still able to work with him (away from the ballpark). (Jorge) Posada has his own guy, and (Derek) Jeter and Bernie (Williams), and when you let one guy have it, then the other guys resent it and you have a problem.
"It's nothing against the individual. It's just that when you let one guy have it, it opens it up."
Giambi's agent Arn Tellem said, "Everything's fine. We worked it out. There are no issues. We got what we needed and the Yankees did too."
Meanwhile, the biggest news around Red Sox camp is what Prince Pedro may say when he arrives. That, and the already tired topic of the Theo Epstein's age.
Jeremy Giambi, who is expected to have a strong showing for the Sox, addressed rivalries with the Yankees and his brother:
''The Yankees got the names, the Yankees got the big contracts, but you look at our team, throughout the lineup, the guys pitching and our pen, and we match up with them very well,'' said Giambi, who spent eight weeks working out in Arizona this winter in the same demanding program followed by Nomar Garciaparra, Lou Merloni, and another new Sox pickup, Todd Walker . ''I think we're actually a team that can play more consistent because the Yankees are going to have some injuries. I think they know that, too, I think that's why they're holding on to so many pitchers.
''Hopefully, we can play more consistent and if they get a few guys hurt, that's our chance to take advantage of it.''
...''Before things settled down, he was more excited than anything,'' Jeremy Giambi said of his brother's reaction to the trade that brought Jeremy to Boston, ''especially when he heard Theo indicate that I would get everyday at-bats. Jason's my biggest fan, not just my brother. We're part of the biggest rivalry in baseball, maybe the biggest rivalry in sports. There's going to be quite a serious lockup every time. He's thinking things are going to be out of control when they come into Boston or we go into New York. Just adding more fuel to the fire.''
At the very least, the Jeter story succeeded in keeping the return of David Cone off the backpages. Score one for the Boss. John Harper has a thoughtful column on Cone's return in the News:
...You have to wonder about him at age 40. He's not a big, strong guy, and he was never a workout fiend, put it that way.
Nevertheless, most anyone who has known Cone over the years will be rooting hard for him, especially New York sports writers, since he is the all-time stand-up guy in a locker room, always there to answer for himself after the bad days as well as the good days.
I just hope he's not doing this because he's chasing those seven wins he needs to reach 200 victories, or because he's bored. I hope his fastball is telling him he can do this, and not just the fearless competitor in him that won't let him back down from a challenge without a fight, whether it's on the mound or in a pick-up basketball game.
Mike C wrote a terrific analysis of Cone's chances over at Baseball Rants. (Don't miss the 7th installment in Mike's history of relief pitching.)
David Pinto also has a funny take on the signing at Baseball Musings.
Cone has always been a good quote, so I hope he does well, but he was reduced to a virtual mute in 2000 when his game went south. I doubt whether the Mets will stick with him too long if in fact, he is all warshed up.
Travis Nelson, the Boy of Summer, has a thorough and detailed preview of the 2003 Phillies that is well worth perusing, and Aaron Gleeman wrote an interesting series of articles comparing Sandy Koufax with the Big Unit. The results may suprise you.
WHY WAIT 'TIL MONDAY?
WHY WAIT 'TIL MONDAY? JETER SPEAKS OUT
Derek Jeter didn't wait until Monday to address Boss George's critique of his priorities. Jeter spoke with AP columnist, Steve Wilstein this morning. Here is some of what he had to say:
"He's the boss and he's entitled to his opinion, right or wrong, but what he said has been turned into me being this big party animal...He even made a reference to one birthday party. That's been turned into that I'm like Dennis Rodman now.
"I don't think that's fair. I have no problems with people criticizing how I play. But it bothers me when people question my work ethic. That's when you're talking about my integrity. I take a lot of pride in how hard I work. I work extremely hard in the offseason. I work extremely hard during the season to win. My priorities are straight."
..."No way am I trying to get into a verbal match with the boss," Jeter said. "I'm just trying to make it known that I care about one thing and that's winning."
...Jeter's image as a playboy on the town surely has been promoted by New York's gossip columns, where he's been romantically linked to models, singers and actresses.
"I'm not a hermit," Jeter said. "It's not like I'm locked up in my house. But it's amazing the things that are in the gossip pages that aren't true. They've got me dating everyone imaginable. A lot of it I wish I would have."
The real downside of that, he said, is that some fans will say, "there he is again, out partying. He doesn't care."
That's the kind of false image that Jeter worries Steinbrenner is fostering with his complaints and that tabloids are spreading. Last week Jeter was asked if he was going to change his approach to this season after losing in the playoffs.
"My response was, no, not at all," Jeter said. "Next thing you know, the back page of the Daily News had a picture of me saying, 'Party On.' Like I was saying, that I refused to change my ways for the boss or to be the captain of the Yankees.
"If you're a fan looking at that, you'd think I don't care whether they win or lose. That couldn't be farther from the truth."
You go, DJ: don't take no shit off nobody.
JOE, JETER HAVE COMPANY:
JOE, JETER HAVE COMPANY: GIAMBO GETS "GEORGED"
You didn't think we'd heard the last from Boss George now, did you? Just to show he doesn't play favorites, Jason Giambi's cherry has been busted before the second-year Yank has even arrived to camp. The NY Post reports this morning that Giambi's personal trainer, Bobby Alejo, has been canned by Steinbrenner, which may come as a suprise to the beefy first baseman:
"I haven't heard a word about anything," Alejo said. "All I know is that [Giambi] is picking me up Friday and we are flying from California to Tampa. Other than that, this is new to me. I don't know anything about it."
Supposedly, Steinbrenner saw the access Alejo had and was concerned other players who have personal trainers were feeling slighted by not having their guys around. Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Roger Clemens, David Wells and Jeter work with personal trainers.
The move is not without precedent. Following the 2001 World Series, former St. John's catcher Glenn McNamee, Clemens' personal trainer and the man Rocket gives credit to for keeping him throwing hard late in his Hall of Fame career, wasn't asked back. McNamee continues to work with Clemens, but isn't at Yankee Stadium or at ballparks on the road.
For what it's worth, at least the move isn't being disguised as a cost-cutting measure. Alejo's salary was paid by Giambi; only his traveling expenses were picked up by the team.
Steinbrenner has made more disruptive noise this winter than he has in several years. Not since he was busting his buddy Popeye Zimmer's chops in the spring of 1999 (re: the "Fat pus-sy toad" incident) have we seen George in such form. All which should make Friday an interesting Valentine's Day in Yankee Land when Giambi arrives. Not for nothing, but Derek Jeter said that he'll address Steinbrenner's off-season comments about him come Monday.
Strap yourself in, this should be a lively training camp.
Roger Clemens appears to be one of the few Yankees who will avoid the wrath of George this spring. The future Hall of Famer, who is just 7 wins shy of 300 for his career, spoke openly with reporters about just about everything that popped into the big Texan's mind.
Enter at your own risk.
FORMER SOX OWNER, YAWKEY PAL, HAYWOOD SULLIVAN DIES
Haywood Sullivan, who holds a dubious place in Red Sox history, passed away yesterday at the age of 72. Peter Gammons contributed a short article on Jean Yawkey's boy in the Globe this morning:
Sullivan wasn't going to play the big money game that Yawkey had tried. After letting Luis Tiant go after the 1978 season, he decided to dump Fred Lynn, Rick Burleson, and Carlton Fisk in 1980 because of their contracts and their agents' relationship with the team. It was a very unpopular decision, and after being advised by MLB lawyers that he didn't have to send the three players contracts Dec. 20, MLB changed its mind, contracts were sent to Lynn and Fisk Dec. 22, and they went to arbitration to become free agents. The arbitrator ruled that Fisk was a free agent right before a noon hot stove luncheon at Fenway. Sullivan read the announcement, turned and said, ''open the damn bar.'' Bob Lobel caught it, and turned ''open the damn bar'' into an unforgettable gag line.
Sullivan took over the Sox after Jean Yawkey fired Dick O'Connell, widely regarded as the best general manager in Red Sox history.
According to Howard Bryant in his book, "Shut Out":
Under Haywood Sullivan, a southerner who played football for Bear Bryant at Alabama, youth aged without replacement. A succession of drafts no longer brought harvest, but humor; between 1976 and 1980 the Red Sox farm system would produce weak prospects, while Lynn, Fisk, Burleson, and Tiant would all be gone by 1980 and Yaztrzemski would enter his forties. The result was first seen in the standings. The Red Sox of the early 1980s, thought Peter Gammons, were not only the least interesting Red Sox team in more than a decade, but mediocrity following such high expectations threatened to squander the successes that revived the franchise.
The second was Sullivan's natural conservatism. The club became unimaginative in both the construction of the team and men hired to lead it. The success of the home run-hitting clubs of the late 1970s led the Red Sox to romance lead-footed, right-handed sluggers. The [Dick] O'Connell temas were the most balanced in Red Sox history, a challenge to a Red Sox culture that would traditionally sacrifice speed, defense, and pitching for power. Sullivan's would lack chemistry, too, evidenced by the famous "twenty-five players, twenty-five cabs" description of the Red Sox.
NEYER: DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE
Rob Neyer addresses all the fuss that's been made over the Yankees starting pitching and the Red Sox bullpen this off season in his latest column.
As far as the Yankees' largess of starting pitchers is concerned:
Given the Yankees' unlimited "budget" (for lack of a better word), they'd be foolish if they didn't stockpile quality starting pitchers. Because there's going to be plenty of work for all six of them.
Neyer also thinks the Red Sox controversial closer-by-committee plan makes a lot of sense. However, he warns:
...There are some risks here.
The Post-Modern Bullpen requires a manager who is both committed and creative. If he's not committed, he'll revert to convention at the first hint of adversity. If he's not creative, he won't be able to keep his relievers healthy and he won't pick the right pitchers for the right spots often enough.
But as Theo Epstein has observed more than once, it's all about finding the edges where you can. There's no edge in doing things exactly as every other team does them. When you do something different, sometimes you'll get burned. But can anybody reasonably argue that it's not worth a shot?
Are the Mets really serious about signing David Cone? Could he be the second-coming of Satchial Paige? Coney's boys, Al Leiter and Johnny Franco have made their pitch to bring the former-Met back to Shea, but it can only tear the ass out of any self-respecting Met fan that Cone's return may ultimately depend on whether he recieves a "YES" from Pope George III.
The New York Times reports today that the 40-year old Cone was close to signing a minor-league deal with the Mets last night.
What does George make of all of this?
Steinbrenner said in an interview that Cone had not contacted him to discuss his future and seemed miffed that Cone would consider pitching for the Mets. Steinbrenner said Cone should continue broadcasting for the Yankees on the YES network and added, "I don't know why he wouldn't want to be an instructor for us" in spring training.
... Steinbrenner intimated that Cone had an agreement with the YES network to be an analyst this season, making him Steinbrenner's employee. But a spokesman for YES said there had not been a formal deal between Cone and the network.
"My understanding is that he was finished," Steinbrenner said. "He didn't want to pitch anymore. I don't know why he'd want to pitch. He should continue on TV. They all thought he was doing a wonderful job last year."
Before speaking with Cone, Steinbrenner told a reporter he would be troubled with seeing Cone pitching for the Mets, then hedged.
"Sure, I consider him a Yankee," Steinbrenner said. "He pitched a perfect game for us. Not too many guys have done that. I think he'd come back and stay with us."
VALENTINE FEELIN' FINE
Steve Serby has a piece on Bobby V in the Post today.
Giggles are on the house.
Valentine broached a move to first base last year with Mike Piazza. "When he desires, when he feels he would like to, is when it's time. I thought that last year he was getting close to wanting to do that. It's a very difficult thing to deal with, because Mike's desire is what makes him the special player that he is.
"One of the things I was most criticized for by many of the idiot critics - not that all critics are idiots, because I will be a critic - was this idea of lineup changes, and what people didn't understand is that Mike Piazza not being in the lineup 35 times meant that there were gonna be 35 other lineups. And I think that's a real burden on a team, not having your best player in the lineup all that time."
So do you wish Piazza would have played 35 games at first base? "No. 'Cause he wasn't ready to."
But it led to more Valentine-bashing. "We'd sell 'em a Sunday ticket plan and they'd come to the game on Sunday with their kids and Mike wouldn't be in the lineup, 'cause it would be the day game after the night game with Monday being off."
Bobby V will be working as an analyst and commentator for ESPN this season.
Valentine will be the perfect fit for television. "I don't think I'm gonna manage again. I never dated two girls when I dated; I dated one girl. And then either dropped her or married her."
Famous last words...
NEW YORK KID MAKES
NEW YORK KID MAKES GOOD
Exactly one year ago, Major League Baseball hired Omar Minaya as the general manager of the Expos. Murray Chass has a wonderful article on Minaya---the first Latin American GM--in today's New York Times.
If I could write a behind-the-scenes book of any team in the big leagues it would definitely be on the Expos. Who could resist MLB's version of "Slap Shot?" Minaya, an ambitious yet unpretentious native New Yorker, would make for a fine protagonist.
Don't miss Chass' story.
METS RING BELL
The Metsies signed 17-year vet, Jay Bell to a minor league contract yesterday.
Bell will presumably spell Ty Wiggie at third, and perhaps spot start for Robbie at second.
Cousin Gabe summed it up well this morning:
Jay Bell: another studious-looking, boring white guy. I'm so excited I can hardly stand it. Now we can sacrifice bunt the Braves to death.
TORRE TALKS Yankee fans,
Yankee fans, rest assured: the cool, calm and collected Joe Torre is still in charge of his team. Though reporters from the Daily News and the New York Post sensed tension in the subtleties, Torre addressed a host of issues with his usual poise and patience:
Torre disputed the idea that the pitchers - the biggest reason for the defeat - weren't ready. "To put that in the category of not wanting it enough, you can't," he said. "It was just a bad week. I hate to simplify it.
"Am I going to say they were hungrier? I hope not; let's put it that way. It was never a question of focus. I would've been the first one to address that. I would've taken the hit. If we had been lackadaisical, I would've told you (reporters)."
Torre seemed disappointed when the subject of Steinbrenner's shots at Jeter came up.
"He's a young man," Torre said. "Baseball nowadays, by the time you leave the park, it's midnight. Everywhere he goes, someone recognizes him and calls someone or tells a writer.
"His performance is very consistent. We wouldn't be sitting here with the four rings without him.
"He never will match up with the other shortstops (Alex Rodriquez, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada) offensively. But what he brings to the team other than that are more important for us."
..."Who hit a ball harder in the postseason than he did?" Torre asked of Jeter, who hit .500 (8-for-16) with three RBIs in the four-game ALDS loss to the Angels. "The play of the whole division series was Garret Anderson catching that ball down the left-field line, and to this day I don't know how that happened."
With the score tied, 1-1, in the fifth inning of Game 4, the Yankees had runners on second and third with no outs against tiring Jarrod Washburn. Jeter pulled a fly ball down the left-field line that Anderson caught on the run a step away from the fence. It scored Juan Rivera from third for a 2-1 lead, but it kept the Yankees from a big inning as Washburn retired Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams to strand Alfonso Soriano at second. The Angels scored eight runs off David Wells in the home fifth on their way to a 9-5 victory that ended the Yankees' season.
"As many balls as [Jeter] hits to right field, Garret Anderson got a great jump, but that game is out of hand if that ball goes by him," Torre said. "To me that was the play of [the series]. But [Jeter] hit bullets every time up.
"Derek doesn't have to prove anything to me. As long as I make the lineup card out, that's all I care about."
...Torre has occasionally kidded his players in team meetings, mock-urging them to play well to "keep The Boss off my back."
Now, Steinbrenner may have climbed aboard - one of the few times he's challenged Torre like this publicly. But Torre is trying to remain focused.
"I don't feel any different," he said. "Within myself, I'm sure that I know what I'm doing. I'm satisfied with what I've accomplished, but it's not enough. I still like this, I still want to do it."
My cousin Gabe, the Met fan, sent me an e-mail yesterday, and told me that he enjoyed the Ken Burns interview, with one exception:
The last part, the part about it being impossible not to like Jeter or Bernie Williams or to not respect for Joe Torre...well, that's just hooey, of course.
I like Torre for his demeanor quite a bit, and think he does a great job as a clubhouse manager--a kind of publicist and managing director for the team. As a
field manager...well, managing in the AL is sort of a silly business, in my opinion. It's like being good at backgammon or checkers. There are only so many
permutations. If you negatively impact the outcome of the game, it's due to sloppiness; if you positively affect it, you're just doing what you should.
Would you say that a manager's most important in-game decisions almost always concern when to take pitchers out and when to leave them in?
I would say Torre's most important in-game decisions is which side of Zimmer to sit on. But for a more sophisticated response, let me turn to Earl Weaver, who was profiled by Thomas Boswell in an article titled, "The Best Manager There Is." (From "How Life Imitates the World Series.")
"I can sum up managing in one sentence. Everybody knows all the strategies. Nothing's changed in a hundred years. A manager's job," Eaver defined, "is to select the best players for what he wants done."
Weaver beams, knowing the complexity hidden in that thought.
"A manager wins games in December. He tries not to lose them in July. You win pennants in the off-season when you build your team with trades and free agents.
"Smart managing is dumb," says Weaver. "The three-run homers your trade for in the winter will always beat brains.
"The guys who says, 'I love the challenge of managing,' is one step from being out of job. I don't welcome any challenge. I'd rather have nine guys named Robinson." [Is that Frank or Brooks?]
..."People say I'ver never had to manage a bad team...Well, that's the point. If you dig hard enough year-round, you should always be able to find players who can do what you want done. They're not all great players; but they can all do something.
..."The man's a genius at finding situations where an average player--like me--can look like a star because a lot of subtle factors are working in your favor," says John Lowenstein. "He has a passion for finding the perfect player for the perfect spot."
..."Earl gets coaches who are teachers, then he doesn't get in their way," says pitching coach Ray Miller. "He doesn't tell me, 'Why don't you teach Sammy Stewart the window-shade-release slip pitche?' He says, 'Jesus Christ, I'm sick of looking at that horseshit changeup. Get him a new one.'" With his absolute faith in his own baseball eye, and his coaches ability to polish skills, Weaver manages as though victory were an inevitability.
"Patience...patience," he often says. "You must remember that anyone under thirty---especially a ballplayer---is an adolescent. I never got close to being an adult until I was thirty-two. Even though I was married and had a son at twenty, I was a kid at thirty-two, living at home with my parents. Sure, I was a manager then. That doesn't mean you're drown up.
Popeye Zimmer, who is old friends with George Steinbrenner, took the Boss's off-season lashing in stride:
"He is The Boss and he can say what he wants. I am a 72-year-old guy and I can say what I want," Zimmer said yesterday on the way out of Legends Field. "He said it and I laughed at it. Joe called me from Hawaii to feel me out, and I said to Joe, ｀I am going to spring training feeling good.' "
WEAVER IN GOOD SPIRITS
String-bean pitcher Jeff Weaver reported to camp yesterday and said all the right things:
"I don't feel like I am fighting for anything. This is a great spot to be in," Weaver said yesterday when he reported to Legends Field. "Whatever I am told to do I will do, but there is no doubt in my mind I am best suited to being a starter for this team."
"No doubt, starting is where I feel I'm best. Starting is what I'm gearing up for. I think it's understood and everybody realizes where I should be in the future, whenever the future is.
"I can't go crazy or I'll lose juice at the end of the year. I'm not going to change anything because of the competition."
Jean Afterman, the Yankees assistant general manager, who was credited by her boss as being a major player in the Godzilla Matsui deal, was promoted to vice president yesterday.
"We have and continue to rely upon Jean's experience and guidance as we move forward with our international initiative," Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost said. "The globalization of the New York Yankees is, in part, evidenced by her expertise and work ethic which has proven to be an invaluable resource to our baseball operations department."
Looks like Yankee announcer Suzan Waldman Georgie's only girl after all.
JETER ON THE HOT
JETER ON THE HOT SEAT
Mike Lupica has a column today on Derek Jeter. To some, he's the most-overrated player in baseball, and to others, he's the heart and soul of the Yankees. Lupica doesn't shed any new light on DJ's situation, but reiterates the popular notion that #2 needs to play better than he did last year:
The Yankees have benefited tremendously from his presence at shortstop and at the top of the order, his ability to seize the moment, to raise his game in the postseason especially. But at the same time, he has benefited tremendously from being a Yankee, the glow that can give you, as much as any Yankee of modern times, and that includes Don Mattingly. Benefited with that contract, for sure. So he is both lucky and good.
...But Jeter's batting average has dropped three straight years. His lifetime average is still .317, and that is a beauty for a shortstop, but last year his average was .297. Jeter still scored his runs, scored 124 of them, but he hit just 18 home runs and produced just 75 RBI.
Give him all the props for those intangibles, the way you have to see him every day to appreciate what he brings to his team, and the way he moves runners and hits in the clutch. Those were not the numbers of a superstar last season or even close. It is now ridiculous to compare him to A-Rod.
I don't believe the slip has anything to do with any of the things Steinbrenner talked about. Jeter still has to do better, and that includes in the field.
... Pitchers and catchers report to Legends Field in Tampa this week. Jeter is already down there, working out, working harder than anybody around. No one thought he would be this kind of star, even when he was moving up through the system. Plays hard, plays hurt, plays big in the biggest games. Gets the big money, too. He needs to pick it up this season. If he does, Steinbrenner won't care if he stays out later than Mantle did
I would like to see Jeter put up stupid numbers this year too, but if he merely duplicates his 2002 stats, I won't complain either. One thing that is lost in all of the Jeter talk is that he may simply be closer to a .290 hitter than a .320 hitter. There is no crime in that. It just may take some of his most ardent fans a minute to check themselves accordingly. He had a career year in 1999, and his numbers have declined since. He still scores 100+ runs per year, and is still the emotional leader of the team. Is he a great fielder? Recent studies suggest he isn't even a good one.
Considering the size of Jeter's contract, it's likely that he will continue to recieve more criticism over the next couple of years. So long as he keeps playing winning baseball, I don't care how much flack he gets. He may be the Yankees most important player, he's just not their best player.
Jeter isn't the only Yankee who has been working hard. Hideki Matsui arrived in Florida yesterday, and hadn't been in the state for more than two hours before he was working out at Yankee camp.
"He's definitely a Clemens type who likes to work out," [Yankee general manager, Brian] Cashman said. "It's obviously important to him, and that's great to see. His work ethic is strong. He has a deep desire to play the game of baseball and play it right."
Tyler Kepner profiles the Japanese superstar today in the Times, while Roger Rubin examines the marketing impact Godzilla is likely to have for the Yanks.
YES, NO, YES, NO...
Richard Sandomir has an update on the Yes/Cablevision stand-off. Shoot me now.
CLEMENTE'S SPORTS COMPLEX IN TROUBLE
There was a heartbreaking article on Roberto Clemente's decaying sports complex in P.R. last weekend in the Boston Globe. A lack of funding has led to hard times for 304-acre Roberto Clemente Sports City. Local government has failed to offer any financial support. Not suprisingly:
There has been little help from the Latin American players that now make up 20 percent of the major leagues and nothing from team owners who profit by showcasing Latin American players. [Roberto's son] Luis Clemente shrugs. ''We haven't asked,'' he said.
There was a speech that Roberto Clemente made in Pittsburgh in January 1972 after the Pirates won the World Series the previous fall that would have answered those vandals armed with rocks [local kids trashed a school bus that was owned by the Clemente sports center]: ''We hear a great deal about kids today, how bad some are and that our American youth is rapidly deteriorating . . . There is nothing wrong with our homes, our country, that a little more care, a little more concern, a little more love won't cure. We need to show love and to love not only our kids and our families as a whole but our neighbors. We are all brothers and sisters. We must give each other a helping hand when needed.''
Oh, I wanted to send a belated Happy Birthday shout to Jose "Don" Tuma, aka Fat-Ass Al. Let's hope he can stick with his Mets for a full season this time around.
SPRING TRAINING SPECIAL: TAKE
SPRING TRAINING SPECIAL: TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME
An Interview with Ken Burns
The first job I had when I left college in the winter of 1993-94 was working as a post-production assistant on Ken Burns' "Baseball" documentary. I was with the film for the final six months of production, while they mixed the sound in New York. Needless to say, it was a stroke of good luck to break into the film business working on an 18 1/2 hour movie on the history of baseball. Good God. I should have been paying me them to sit around in a state-of-the-art sound studio watching them put the finishing touches on the series.
Nine years later, I'm through with the movies but still head-over-heels for baseball.
I've kept in touch with Ken over the years, and had him on the brain this winter. Maybe it's the historical biographies I've been reading, or maybe it's all of the changes the Red Sox have made, but I thought it would be a good time to check in with Mr. B and have a chat.
I caught up with him last week, as he graciously took a couple of minutes out of his busy schedule to talk a little baseball.
Burns sounded exhausted, and preoccupied. He told me he's traveling 300 days out of the year. Everybody wants a piece of him. Sensing that time is of the essence, we got right down to business.
BB: Did you read the Jane Leavy book on Koufax?
KB: I plan to when I retire...sometime when I'm 93.
BB: Leavy sets the drama of his career around the political and cultural events of the period in a succinct and direct way that reminds me of the style you use in your movies.
KB: Well we certainly didn't invent it, but I think it's knowing in the Blakian sense, that you can find a world in a grain of sand. And in this baseball world, I think we have an American universe.
BB: It's been almost 10 years since "Baseball" was released...
KB: Yeah, I can't believe that.
BB: When was the last time you saw any of it?
KB: I see bits and pieces of it, but I'm sorry to say it's the familiar bits and pieces that are used in promotion. Like the thing on Satchial Paige from episode 5; "The Child of God," about early Curt Flood from episode 7; the opening of the film...you know, things like that. My girlfriend right now is actually not a baseball fan, but in some labor of love is sitting there, and on the nights that I'm not there [sic], is looking through the whole series. And so she'll call me up and say, "What's with Three-Finger Brown?" and "What was Shoeless Joe Jackson thinking?" Really great stuff like that, which reminds me that I got to dive back into it again.
BB: I remember you once said something like the ideal audience for the series was an Eastern European woman who doesn't know anything about baseball.
KB: Yes. That's exactly right. Because I think that what we were making was a film that wasn't just about baseball. That is to say, not just about games won and lost, careers rising and falling. But we saw it as this startlingly revealing mirror of our country. So that it was not just about the arc of baseball, it was the story of immigration and assimilation and about how different waves of immigrant groups felt the pride of citizenship--much more than a piece of paper from the State Department. It's about the exclusion of women, it's about the tensions between labor and management, that is to say, who owns the ball, and the ball field, and who plays the game. It's the story about the growth and decay of cities; it's the story about the World Wars and the devastating Depression. It's the story of heroes and villains and fools, and popular culture, and advertising. Most of all it's the story of race, and the exclusion of a group of people who turned out to be among the best, if not the best, who ever played the game.
BB: Why baseball? How did you come up with it in the first place?
KB: I remember sitting in a bar in Georgetown, Washington D.C. as we were embarking on the "Civil War"...So, that would have been 1985. I was with Mike Hill [coordinating producer]. He had been working on the "Huey Long" film with me and we were sort of looking ahead, beyond the "Civil War", which I think was incredibly brave, cause if any of us had really thought about it, we thought we'd DIE trying to make the "Civil War". We had this nice, pleasant, short thing that would be after the "Civil War" on baseball. A celebration of the history of baseball. And it wasn't until we got into it that we suddenly realized, we aren't doing a short history of baseball, we're doing the sequel to the "Civil War". Because in many ways we got distracted by the idea that our history is merely wars and presidents. And for many people that's all that is: the Signposts of American History. When in fact, all of the themes that I just mentioned that baseball gathers up, are much closer to our day-to-day life than wars and generals and presidents. I began to see, how particularly when you realize that Jackie Robinson was the first real progress in Civil Rights since the Civil War, that "Baseball" was the sequel to that series. During the production of "Baseball," we interviewed Gerald Early who said that when they study our American civilization 2000 years from now the only thing that we'll be known for is The Constitution, Baseball and Jazz. Those are the three most beautiful things that Americans have ever produced. We then realized half way through "Baseball" that we were actually involved in a trilogy that would require us to spend the six and a half years after "Baseball" to complete it by making the history of Jazz.
BB: How long did "Baseball" take to make?
KB: "Baseball" was essentially begun in 1990 in terms of early thinking in design, and it was broadcast in the fall of 1994.
BB: When did you realize it was going to be significantly longer than "Civil War"?
KB: When we talked about it originally we assumed it would be a 'couple of hours' thing. I think by the time we finished "Civil War" we knew it was going to be 9, 1-hour segments. You know, keeping to the idea that each episode would be an inning. Then as we developed the information of those innings, we found that we were telling a much fuller story, and that it was possible to expand it. And then, as in the case with all the films, we let the material itself truly dictate what we were about, and that's where we ended up with the 18 1/2 hours.
BB: How daunted were you at the prospect of making something that expansive? Were you worried about how to keep a pace, a rhythm throughout the movie that would tie it all together?
KB: Well, I think that's always the case. In fact I think a legitimate criticism could be made of the series, and has been of the series, that it is takes itself too seriously at times, that there is a kind of ponderousness that was appropriate to the "Civil War" but not appropriate to the game of baseball. And I think that's a valid criticism, but at the same time I think that because we were dealing with all of these themes outside of the game, it did take on a kind of seriousness. But offsetting that seriousness are plenty of moments of great humor and joy, and sort of speed , and whatever.
BB: How did the making of this series affect the way you appreciate baseball as a baseball fan?
KB: Well, I think it deepened it in many ways. Because here you connected, in more than a superficial way, to these names. I mean Walter Johnson is a name that I had known since childhood. Now I know more about him. And with Grover Cleveland Alexander, Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, Honus Wagner: these people now mean something to me. They're almost members of my family; they're distant cousins. And I think having those ancestors in my family has helped me appreciate the game more than anything else. In fact, I find myself even more positive about the game, particularly to the naysayers, now. I know that the game being played now is better than it ever has been. And we know that from experiencing all the decades of baseball, through our study of it. It's not to take away from any of those previous things, or to be some kind of anti-nostalgia [sic], but it's really important for people who get sucked into the nostalgia of the old game to realize that, you know Barry Bonds might have hit 80 home runs back in 1927.
BB: What do you attribute that to? The fact the game has just gotten better.
KB: I think it has to do with the way people have trained. I think it's the focus. I think that money has provided incentive for performance, in a funny sort of way. I mean I know that's counter-productive to the Myth of Baseball, but it's always been a business. One of the reasons why it's better is that throughout history the quality of pitching has gotten better. If the quality of pitching is better then you have to evaluate the quality of the hitting. And the hitting is so much better.
BB: What kind of fan are you? Are you a casual fan? Do you read the box scores in the paper?
KB: Well, I'm not sure that's a casual fan. If that's a casual fan, then I'm a casual fan. Yeah, I read the box scores every day. If I can I will watch every single Red Sox game. If I have the opportunity. That means if I'm not traveling, I'm home, I'm on the treadmill, whatever it is: I will watch every single game. Or listen to it on the radio if I'm in range. I keep a little thing in the car that tells me the Red Sox stations across New England, and other places. I'm sure in the course of a season, I listen to, or watch 120 games, at least.
BB: Was this true before you made the movie?
KB: Yeah. I mean I love the game; I love it...probably a little bit more now. Getting to watch games just tends to depend on cycles of work. If I'm doing a lot of travel, I don't see as many games. But if I'm home editing, I'll get home from a tough day and the game is starting at 7:30. And you turn it on, and you eat your dinner and you talk to friends and miss a few innings...or you go out to dinner and come home for the last two. I'd say I touch base with a good number of games.
BB: How long have you been a Red Sox fan?
KB: Well, you know I grew up in Delaware, and my father's family was from Baltimore, so I was sort of an Orioles fan. But since I had been born in Brooklyn---never spent any time there---I had this identification with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Then they had the great success [as the Los Angeles Dodgers] in the early 60s, which corresponded with my explosion of love of the game. So I was really a National League guy, and knew more about the National League than anything else. Loved Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, of course. Then we moved to Michigan in 1963 and I sort of became a Tigers fan. In 68 I really became a Tigers fan because they gave me the only local World Series victory I've ever experienced in my life. By that time the war in Vietnam and all the counter-cultural upheaval of the 60s began to take it's toll on my love of baseball. Baseball seemed a representation of the establishment and I moved away. So the Mets victory, which I participated in and celebrated tremendously in 69, was more of a news event, not a sport event. It was the Under Dog Winning. Definitely. And it was a season I hadn't paid any attention to. I really lost 70, 71, 72, 73 while I was in college, and very much rebelling against the establishment. I went to college in Amherst, Massachusetts, and I befriended a professor whose husband was a big baseball fan. He would stay at home and watch the Red Sox games, and he seemed unapologetic about it. To me, baseball was a guilty pleasure. And you didn't let anyone know, cause it wasn't cool to be a baseball fan. And eventually I remember sitting and enjoying a game and it was like rediscovering an old friend. And falling in love, and it turned out to be a great time to do that because it was the magical period of Carlton Fisk coming up, and Jim Rice and Fred Lynn...
BB: The '75 Series against the Big Red Machine.
KB: The 75 Series. I mean, 1974 was when I really got back into the game; 75 brought me right in there, and had the greatest moment of all the World Series, with Fisk's home run in the 6th game of the series. And then you had the epic, titanic struggles with the Yankees, particularly in 78 with the loss of the thing, and Bucky Dent's home run. The loss of the lead. The one-game playoff and Bucky Dent's home run. I firmly believe that you should root for your local team. You can have other favorites, but if you live in a place as I have now, what, I've been in New England sine 1971, you should pull for the home team. And since 1974, the Red Sox have been my team.
BB: You cover the Red Sox a lot in the last two episodes. I remember you once saying something about the distinction between history and journalism. Essentially meaning that the book is still out on the material from 1960 to the present.
KB: I wouldn't say 1960. It's really more around the mid-70s where I get nervous. I think history involves some distance and perspective from the present. I think you need about 25 years. So it wasn't until somewhere like 1970 that we were getting nervous. In many ways we didn't really un-tether our narrative, that is to say, get more abstract, until the 79 Series. We covered things pretty tightly; as well as we had in the other episodes. But we still lacked a certain amount of perspective and since memory is so fresh, you seem to be making more drastic judgments. You know, you can go, "Where is George Brett, for crying out loud?" A favorite of mine, and somebody for whom we had a scene. But in the scheme of things, towards the end, you just have to wait until the 10th inning, when we get a chance to update the series.
BB: Well, would you venture to guess what's happened since "Baseball" first aired in 1994 that might make the cut for extra innings?
KB: We had a scene that I was deliciously in love with. A line in the narration, with regard to Steinbrenner and his attempt throughout the 80s to manipulate everyone, and his firings of Billy Martin, concluded with, "...And he's never won another." Well, that's no longer true. The Yankees have been the dominant team in baseball since the mid-1990's.
BB: In spite of George.
KB: No, I have to give him credit. He's doggedly pursued his vision of a winning team, and in the great Yankee tradition, he's done it. You know even a die-hard Red Sox fan who hates the Yankees as a concept, has to take their hat off to what the Yankees have done, all the way through. So I think the principal focus of the film, if we had to do another episode--and we're always talking about that---would be to focus on the great dominance of the Yankees, just as we focused on it in the 60s, and of course the 50s, the 40s, the 30s and the 20s.
BB: Joe Torre and Bernie Williams are hard not to like, or at least respect. These Yankees are a far cry from the som'bitches of the Bronx Zoo days.
KB: Well, the kind of sneering and arrogance you got from a Goose Gossage or Reggie Jackson or even Mickey Rivers, made it easier to dislike them, despite the presence of the Willie Randolphs and the Craig Nettles. What you have today is a Yankee team that is more professional. So yeah, it's impossible not to like Jeter or Bernie Williams or to not have the utmost respect for Joe Torre.
(Part 2 will be posted early next week...)
EVIL EMPIRE STRIKES AGAIN
EVIL EMPIRE STRIKES AGAIN
The Yankees won the right to negotiate with a young Dominican pitcher, Ramon Ramirez, who played for the Hiroshima Carp in Japan last year. The Yanks bid of $350,000 beat out 13 other teams; they now have 30 days to sign Ramirez to a contract.
I don't know much about the kid other than the fact that he's young and throws gas. The fact that the Yankees beat out the competition for the rights to negotiate with the kid should only serve to add fuel to the already raging, anti-Yankees fire.
MEANWHILE, IN RED SOX NATION...
Gordon Edes, who I think is one of the best beat writers in the country, has an excellent article on Theo Epstein in today's Boston Globe.
In his Sunday column , Edes talked with starting pitcher Derek Lowe, who, like Pedro Martinez before him, expressed skepticism about the Red Sox closer-by-committee plan. Lowe was, however, happy to have our old friend Ramiro "El Bruho" Mendoza on his side.
''I think Mendoza is the biggest pickup of all we made this winter. I can't tell you how many times, facing him over the years, we'd have guys at first and second, one out, he'd come in and get someone to hit into a double play.
''He's a guy who can come into the game in the third inning and throw six shutout innings. I think he could be a fantastic starter; he has the pitches. Mendoza is basically the same as me. When I see him pitch, I see me.
''He throws a lot of strikes, he's 87 to 90 [m.p.h.], he has a good changeup, he throws a breaking ball for strikes, he lives and dies with his sinker. You can't put the guy in a situation that he hasn't already been in. He's pitched in Yankee Stadium, he's pitched in the World Series. Any situation you put him in, he's confident.''
Edes also added some choice information regarding the Kevin Millar situation in his "Notes" section:
This observation on the Kevin Millar situation from reader Kae Lee of Newton: ''I am an avid baseball fan who comes from Japan, and have followed your articles on Kevin Millar with a great interest. One thing I want to point out is the feudalistic way players are treated by Japanese owners, which is best illustrated in the Japanese word, kai-goroshi [keep to kill]. Kai-goroshi is just to retain the player's contract for the purpose of not letting him play for any teams, including his own. The kai-goroshi tactics are very commonly employed by Japanese owners to ruin the baseball careers of players who are not loyal to them, or who may damage their teams if they are allowed to play for other teams. The president of the Chunichi Dragons has expressed repeatedly to the Japanese media his intention to do kai-goroshi on Millar if he does not play for Chunichi. Chunichi does not gain anything by doing kai-goroshi, but the goal is to punish Millar for insulting them by not honoring the contract. The way they treat players in Japan is worse than the way American players were treated before Curt Flood.''
... Another e-mailer, Phil Sinrich, writes: ''I have been puzzled by the enormity of space spent on Kevin Millar. I've never heard of him, and by July he'll either be gone from the Sox or deep on the bench. It's not exactly like we're talking about Barry Bonds coming to the Red Sox.'' He is by no means the only reader - or reporter - who has tired of the Millar saga. But it matters on a number of levels: 1) the Sox believe he will be a vital, complementary piece; 2) it is a case apparently without precedent in the annals of US-Japanese baseball relations; 3) it could have a lasting impact on those relations; 4) it could impact on any future business the Red Sox wish to conduct. But you can trust no one's head is spinning more over this than Millar. He's a villain in Japan without ever having set foot there, and he's created a much bigger fuss in Boston than he ever would have wanted ...
NO JOY IN YANKEEVILLE
NO JOY IN YANKEEVILLE
Mike Lupica joined the chorus of columnists (Peter Gammons and most recently Joel Sherman) who are convinced that there will be no joy in Yankeeville this season. In one of his better columns, Lupica chides Boss Steinbrenner for taking all the fun out of covering the Bronx Bombers:
Nobody wants to talk too much about this, the Yankees being the company in a company town, too many media people too often acting like a part of the company. But as the Yankees keep getting bigger, the way their payroll does, the whole culture of the Yankees becomes this: They are losers if they don't win the World Series. Which means their fans sometimes sound exactly like the owner of the team.
When they win, it is Steinbrenner and his wallet and his love for the fans and his passion to produce a winner that did it.
When they lose, it's somebody else's fault.
This is for all those who actually believe Steinbrenner has changed because the Yankees won four World Series in five years.
...There is even more pressure than the usual suffocating pressure on the Yankees to win it all this year, since the Yankees are the only team in all of sports who are supposed to win every single year, or else. You can see what an atmosphere of great joy this brings to the whole long season that begins any minute with pitchers and catchers.
It is imposible to believe Torre will manage the Yankees in 2004 if he doesn't win in '03; that he can survive going three straight years without a title even with four in the books already.
... All this money spent. All these starting pitchers. More pressure to win than ever. Torre and the rest of them always say they know what the deal is when they come here. Then they go a couple of years without winning it all. Not allowed. What a joy to be rich and a Yankee.
While I sympathize with Lupica's perspective, reading his column made me thankful that I'm a fan. Sure, the Yankees have created a culture where winning is the only thing that matters. That's Steinbrenner's M.O. And of course, there are many so-called Yankee fans that will look at anything less than a World Championship as an unmitigated failure. If that's the way they want to live life, it's a free country.
They're missing out, but I won't let them spoil my fun.
I know that I will find a lot of joy in watching the Yankees this year, because while I hope they put themselves in a position to win another title, my experience won't be ruined if they fail to win it all. Baseball is too screwy to guarantee, no matter how insistent Steinbrenner is. After all, part of being a Yankee fan is being able to block out Steinbrenner and concentrate on Joe Torre and his team between the lines. In fact, part of the Yankees annual struggle is not only against the rest of the league, but against the monster upstairs in the front office too.
I understand why George's bulldozer approach would sap all the fun out of the team for some reporters and even the fans too. In Ken Burns' "Baseball" documentary, the veteran baseball writer Roger Angell commented that when he used to visit Yankee Stadium [in the 1980s] he was troubled because he wanted to see the Yankees, and he felt like all he could see was George Steinbrenner. The Boss had somehow, irrevocably, come between the fan and the players.
In that sense, things haven't changed all that much for some observers. But I think Joe Torre's team has handled the Boss better than any of it's predecessors. But as Lupica suggests, that may all change if they don't capture another World Serious Ring before 2003 is all said and done.
John Harper added a Yankee Preview for the News yesterday as well. Here is an example of how far the Bronx Zoo has come:
There were several clubhouse issues last season, from Posada's fight with Orlando Hernandez to Derek Jeter's purloined glove. Then, while packing up his locker last October, Posada complained that some of his teammates weren't taking the loss to the Angels hard enough, which had some team executives bristling behind the scenes, saying Posada was showing off for Jeter.
You really have to reach to come up with some good dirt these days. Posada's fight with Duque? Please. Anyone who has followed the Yanks know that those two red-asses were in each other's business every time Hernandez pitched. This "incident" falls in the Boys-will-be-Boys category and was utter harmless. Rube Rivera, who vicked Jeter's glove, was sent packing before the tabliods hit the newsstand. And Posada popping off at the end of the playoffs? A lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Haper asked Yankee general manager Brian Cashman about the percieved loss of leadership in the Yankee clubhouse:
"I don't want to belittle leadership, but it goes hand-in-hand with performance. When performance deteriorates, it's like leadership gets the same haircut that Samson did.
"David Cone was a great leader in our clubhouse, but when his performance dropped (in 2000), he didn't carry as big a stick in our clubhouse, mainly because he had to worry about getting himself straightened out."
... "Leadership comes from a lot of places - the manager, the coaches, the players. We still have a lot of leaders. It's hard to replace guys like O'Neill; the leadership he can provide is rare. But we've had leaders come and go - (John) Wetteland, Chili Davis, Tim Raines, Luis Sojo, O'Neill.
"We won championships because we outperformed teams that year. Prior to '98, we had some of the same players. Were they less leaders in 1997 because we lost? Or 2001? No, we just lost to better teams.
"All the stuff on the topic of new guys [not being able to lead] is a bunch of bull."
Cashman was also asked about how the team would handle the massive press coverage Godzilla Matsui will recieve:
"That's life," Cashman said. "Do I think it'll distract? It shouldn't. Our guys are used to being the Beatles when they're on the road, any city we go to. Opposing team's media directors cringe when we come in. Our players are used to it.
"This is a big-stage town and if you're not prepared for the fish bowl, this is the wrong environment. What about when Jeter was dating Mariah Carey? You think there's going to be more requests for Matsui?
"Hey, we made the World Series when there was a media swarm on Hideki Irabu. And we made it with David Wells, where his off-the-field commitment was less than the other players. "It's all a bunch of hooey."
SORI GETS NAILED
If there is one Yankee that manages to convey a sense of joy while playing it's Alfonzo Soriano. But not everyone loves lil Sori after all. In the funniest story that I've read in a minute, former Met Lenny 'Nails' Dykstra had some pretty harsh words for the Yankee second-baseman in a recent Esquire magazine article:
"Everybody's blinded by this guy's offense. But watch him play. He's a hacksaw!"
Dykstra was watching on television when Soriano swung at the first pitch with the Yankees trailing late in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Angels. That was an intolerable sin to Dykstra, who was at Edison Field for Game 3. "When you're down, you don't swing on the first [bleeping] pitch, bro!" Dykstra continued. "You don't take that 30-percent chance of getting a hit or whatever it is and go with it. I can't take watching these guys [bleep] it up. I can't take it."
Contacted by The Post, Dykstra didn't back down from those comments. "Guy taking swings when the count's 2-0 and they're down by two runs with nobody on, that kills me," he said. "I can't believe people don't say anything about it."
As for Soriano, "He's a hacker," Dykstra said. "The thing about it is a lot of his hacks have good results. But he's a hacker."
Never mind that Soriano's wild hacks were more productive than Dykstra's hard-earned, base-on-balls, Lenny plays the bitter, ex-jock well, thank you very much. Is Soriano a hacker? Of course he is. Does he have a lot to learn about the game? He sure does. But he's also got the kind of innate talent that would make a scrapper like Nails blind with envy.
Anyhow, knowing that anything Soriano does right will burn a small hole in Dykstra's gut, will help me enjoy Sori's season all the more.
Nails also had a parting shot for Mike Mussina of all people:
"I know all about guys like him. College boys. Think they're better than everyone else." But he told The Post he really doesn't know much about Mussina other than, "I know he can pitch."
Dykstra is starting to sound like Dennis Quaid's "Mean ol' man Mike," from "Breaking Away."
The Sunday Post ran brief previews for both the Mets and Yanks. Check em out.
ONE LAST THING... My
ONE LAST THING...
My boy Joey La Pep, a die-hard Met fan, sent me the following e-mail this afternoon:
From yesterday's New York City desktop calender:
1921, Feb. 6
"The New York Yankees announce the purchase of 10 acres of land in the west Bronx to build a new stadium. The land, across the Harlem River from the Yankees' current playing field, the Polo Grounds, is purchased from the estate of William Waldorf Astor for $675,000. The Yankees have been sharing the Polo Grounds with the National League's Giants, who own the stadium, but after 8 years this is no longer an option because Yankees attendance in 1920 surpasses that of the Giants, who ask the Yankees to find a new field. Contruction of the new stadium commences May 5, 1922, and is completed by opening day the following year, April 18, 1923."
That's the fact, Jack.
YANKEE HOT STOVE HEATER
YANKEE HOT STOVE HEATER
The 2003 Yankee Scouting Report is featured on ESPN today. If you've been following the Yankees this off-season, it won't tell you much you don't already know. I was somewhat suprised by John Sickel's Minor League Report though. Apparently, the Yankees depleted farm system isn't as bad off as I thought it was. Considering how old the Yankees pitching staff is, it's nice to see that there are some decent pitching prospects in the minors.
WILL HELP SOON:
Danny Borrell, LHP: Posted 9-4 record, 2.31 ERA at Double-A Norwich. Fastball is average, but has very good changeup and curveball. Likely to start the year in Triple-A, but should see the Show at some point.
Julio DePaula, RHP: Like Borrell, ticketed to Columbus, but will get promoted if the Yanks need a pitcher. 90-94 mph fastball, with decent slider and very good changeup. Went 14-6 with 3.45 ERA at Norwich.
Brandon Claussen, LHP: Listed here because people have forgotten about him. Made 15 starts for Columbus before blowing out his elbow and having Tommy John surgery. His recovery is going well, and he should be pitching again by July. Power lefty with a great curve
Bob Klapisch contributes an article on Jose Contreras as well.
Have a great weekend, and see you for pitchers and catchers next week.
SPRING TRAINING: HOW SWEET
SPRING TRAINING: HOW SWEET IT IS
The Boston Globe offers an excerpt from columnist Dan Shaughnessy's new coffee table book, "Spring Training: Baseball's Early Season."
No other professional sport has anything like it. Football, basketball, and hockey have exhibition seasons, tuneups that they insist on calling "preseasons." In truth, these are merely conditioning/attrition boot camps, usually held very near the city where the team plays during the regular season.
...Contrast that with baseball spring training. Hardball's early season is a six-week, laid-back warm-up followed by legions of retirees and vacationers, many of whom wait to inspect Grapefruit and Cactus schedules before they plan their February-March trips. My favorite moment comes after the first full-team meeting, which is usually followed by one lap around the warning track before the ballplayers commence with stretching and drills. That's right - one grueling lap, an appropriate juxtaposition when measured against the preseason drills that go with football, basketball, and hockey.
Legitimate year-round conditioning by most modern baseball players has rendered much of spring training obsolete, of course, but few people are calling for the early season to be shortened. In fact, the baseball boom of the last 20 years (too often interrupted by those nasty work stoppages) has transformed spring training into a cottage industry for franchise owners. In 2002 The Wall Street Journal reported that spring training generated an economic impact of $600 million. Preseason ticket sales were running 20 percent higher than in 2001.
But the surge in spring training popularity is not an entirely positive development. The average spring crowd is only 6,000 fans and the entire spring season draws a little more than 2.5 million fans, but it's become difficult to score tickets in too many spring sites. In places like Tampa (Yankees), Fort Myers (Red Sox), Kissimmee (Braves), and Peoria, Arizona (Mariners and Padres), this loss of the spontaneous ticket purchase has sucked some of the charm from the early season.
Still, spring provides relief from a winter of hardball news focused on labor, arbitration, ballplayer relocation, trade speculation and other forms of player transaction. The hot stove season keeps the fires burning, but too much of it is muddied by money and litigation.
STUCK: THE 9 LIVES OF STICK MICHAEL
There is a humorous account of Gene "Stick" Michael's history with George Steinbrenner and the Yankees in Bill Madden and Moss Klein's book, "Damned Yankees." (1991) Michael first came to Steinbrenner's attention in a dubious manner. In 1973, shortly after Steinbrenner had purchased the Yanks, the new owner attended a game in Texas. As he watched infield practice before the game, Steinbrenner was horrified to see one of the players playfully throw his mitt in the air. A hot dog flew out of his mitt into the air as well.
Steinbrenner had no idea who the player was, but he made a note of the uniform number and told manager Ralph Houk he wanted the player severly discilponed, benched, or evern traded for this blatant act of frivolity. Once he realized the Boss was serious, Houk called Michael, the guilty player, into his office and told him, between laughs, that he was deep onto Steinbrenner's shit list.
Michael was often the victim of pranks such as the hot dog caper because he had a phobia about small crawly, creepy creatures...The hot dog had been placed in Michael's glove by Hal Lanier, who, years later, wound up managing the Houston Astros.
...From that day on, the owner closely monitored the tall, slim shortstop. As times passed, though, Steinbrenner no longer viewed Michael as a hot dog man. Instead, he saw a shrewd, intelligent baseball man with a sharp personality. "A bright, young executive type," is the way Steinbrenner described him.
Thus, when Michael's career ended, Steinbrenner brought him back to the Yankees, first as a "walkie-talkie" scout in the press box in 1976, then as a coach, a minor league manager, and in 1980, as general manager. As general manager, Michael played a vital role. He was the middleman between Steinbrenner and manager Dick Howser. Michael and Howser were close friends, and Michael succeeded in bearing the brunt of Steinbrenner's verbal assaults on his manager before relaying the owner's often illogical suggestions to Howser. But when Steinbrenner decided to fire Howser after the Yankees were swept in in the 1980 playoffs at the hands of the Royals, he turned to Michael, his all-purpose man.
As soon as he became manager, Michael learned the painful lesson: in Steinbrenner's mind, the least-knowledgeable person in the entire organization is the manager. And who's to say say he's not right since so many of them have taken the job, knowing they would have no support from the owner and inevitably be fired.
As Michael once said to Moss Klein, sitting in a bar during one of those stormy periods in 1981, "In every other jjobs I've had with him, he seemed to respect my opinion to some degree. But when you become his manager, it's like your IQ drops by 50 percent. All of a sudden, you don't know anything."
Stick Michael didn't last long as manager during the strike-shortened 1981 season. After winning the first half of the year, he was replaced by Bob Lemon in early September. A few days before he was axed, Michael had some reporters up to his hotel room.
"You know what my ultimate fantasy is?" he said. "Someday I'd like to buy a ball club and hire him as my manager. I think that would be fun."
A week after Michael was fired, he was invited back to the Stadium to meet with Stienbrenner.
The owner, feeling remorse as he always does when he fires a manager, told Michael he still regarded him, "like a son." Accordingly, he asked Michael to take a front office job. But Michael, still smarting over being fired as manager after guiding the Yankees to a strong enough early showing to earn a spot in the postseason playoffs, said he still felt he had been a good manager.
"Sure you are," said Steinbrenner. "But why would you want to stay manager and be second-guessed by me when you can come up into the front office and be one of the second-guessers?"
That is as prescient a comment as Steinbrenner is ever likely to make.
Michael was back the next season however, after Bob Lemon was canned 14 games into the season.
Stick was the manager that late April night when Reggie Jackson first returned to the Stadium as a member of the California Angels. I distinctly remember watching that game on our old 13' sony TV. Reggie hit a bomb in his 3rd at-bat against Ron Guidry (he had previously singled and popped out) and Yankee Stadium erupted in a spontanious chant: "Steinbrenner sucks, Steinbrenner sucks." I gleefully jumped around my apartment, shook my fist, and joined in the chant.
Again, Michael didn't last the season, going 44-42 before he was fired on August 4th (he was replaced by Clyde King).
Ironically, after Steinbrenner had fired Michael the first time, in September of '81, he announced the following December at the winter baseball meetings in Hollywood, Florida, that Michael would return as manager for the '83, '84, and '85 seasons, with Lemon staying on for 1982. That afternoon, Michael, Dick Howser, and Billy Martin were all sitting around the bar at the Diplomat Hotel joking about the Yankee revolving manager's chair.
"You're coming back for '83, '84, and '85?" Howser said to Michael. "Well, then I've got '86, '87, and '88."
"Okay," chimed in Martin, "and I've got '89, '90, and '91!"
"The crazy thing about it all," said Michael, "is that I never got to 1983 because I got hired and fired again in '82!"
EL TITAN DE BRONZE
EL TITAN DE BRONZE
The Yankees held a press conference at Yankee Stadium yesterday introducing Jose Contreras to the press.
George King reports that Contreras won't riff if he's not initially in the starting rotation:
"I am ready to do whatever is necessary," said the 6-foot-4, 230-pound right-hander with enormous hands, introduced at a Stadium press conference yesterday when he filled out a No. 56 jersey. [The Daily News said that Contreras wore #52...let's split the difference and assume he's #54.] "I have always been a starter and I prefer to be a starter but I am ready to do anything the Yankees ask me. I am the last one to arrive so I understand that."
TORRE SHOULDERS BLAME
Manager Joe Torre was in town for the big day, and he addressed several issues, which included defending his coaches.
"My coaching staff works very hard," Torre said after the press conference to introduce pitcher Jose Contreras. "You want to drop blame on someone, here I am. I get paid a lot of money to do what I do. We don't win, start here.
"It's tough to say they don't work when we win 103 games. If we were taking something for granted, we would've slacked off after winning the division and we didn't."
...Torre was asked if he felt any more pressure this season, as he prepares to leave New York for Tampa.
Torre smiled. "I've been doing this a long time," he said. "I expect a lot out of myself and the players. I judge players and teams a little different. I don't look at the bottom line, I look at the effort.
"To see how close we've come, in a couple of the years we won the World Series, to being knocked out, you realize how lucky you are to do it."
Has Torre's relationship with Steinbrenner changed, either because of the early loss or the Boss' cracks?
"No, I don't think so," Torre said. "He's pretty vocal. He knows what he wants. He needs to be on top, which is good for me because I get what I need to win.
"Moods change, like all of us, but nothing's different between us."
Torre also reiterated his plans to give Jeff Weaver a spot in the starting rotation:
"It's going to be difficult," he added. "We'll wait and see. It's going to be tough, but the quality is there."
Torre said "I meant it and I still mean it" when asked about his comments regarding Weaver. "I still feel like Jeff Weaver is going to be an elite starter in this league," Torre added. "At the time I told him (he'd be a starter), I felt it. I still feel going into spring training that he's one of our starters.
"My obligation is to the team first. Second, it's my job to try to make the people who are not in the rotation understand it. Not like it, understand it."
BIG BAD BOMBERS
Not everything came up roses and daffodils in the Bronx yesterday however. Joel Sherman ripped the Yankees, and their bulldozer approach to success in the Post this morning:
When the talent is overt (Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, Contreras, Matsui), they buy it. When the talent is not so obvious and they cannot restrain themselves anyway (Sterling Hitchcock, Steve Karsay, Raul Mondesi, Rondell White), they buy it at prices others would not consider paying.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman was offended by this assertion. I can understand his annoyance, since he still oversees an extremely hard-working, bright staff he insists is merely doing what this organization always has done.
"If you are asking me if the Yankees have an advantage because of money, yes," he said. "But I don't think that is any different than in the past, and I've been here since 1986."
However, I see a difference. It is the difference between using money to augment rather than overwhelm.
... Yes, the Yanks are playing by the rules, they will pay heavily in luxury tax/revenue sharing, and they are plying dollars seen from turnstiles/cable TV back into the product.
It used to be much easier to defend this organization against simply trying to buy titles when they were making more artful moves than simply applying the scouting skill of any Tom, Dick or Rotisserie player with $120 million to sign Giambi, or investing $32 million in a Cuban defector who may not even make their rotation.
Peter Gammons blasted the Yankees along similiar lines earlier this winter. Both writers have a point. It's inherently difficult to root for the rich bully. But sincerely, who cares if it was easier for Sherman to defend the Yankees several years ago? Looks like it will be harder for him to appreciate any success the Yankees enjoy this year---what did you expect, they bought it---but you can bet he'll be first in line to knock them if they sputter. Hey, everyone needs an angle. The Post has got to sell papers after all.
YES ON THE ATTACK
It's snowing in New York this morning. I usually read the Post and the News on the subway on the way to work, then I look at the Times during lunch. Kobe Bryant deservedly made the backpages after torching the Knicks for 46 at the Garden last night (including a frightening reverse dunk at the end of the first half that is on tip of every basketball fan's tongue this morning), but I couldn't help but be impressed with the full page ad the YES network took in the local papers. According to a report in the Daily News:
The Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network said it will submit to a ruling by an "independent arbitrator, mediator, judge or panel" to settle its dispute with Cablevision.
"And we challenge Cablevision to join us at that table," said YES boss Leo Hindery.
Hindery made the challenge in a letter to fans, which appeared today in advertisements running in a variety of local newspapers.
In the past, Cablevision brass has said it will not even address the subject of an independent arbitrator until YES drops its anti-trust lawsuit against their company.
NICK HAPPY TO BE HERE: SORI NOT SERIOUS
The News has a puff piece on Nick Johnson, who is happy to still be in pinstripes. (For what it's worth, I'm happy he's still around too.) Alfonso Soriano has pulled out of a Home Run Contest in Las Vegas due to a sore shouler. Apparently, it is not anything serious.
MILLAR CASE: JUST A MATTER OF TIME
I'm running out of headlines for this storyline. When is Steinbrenner going to jump out of the weeds and attempt to cockblock the Sox again? (Gosh, I hope he can manage to contain himself.) Here is the latest on Kevin Millar, from today's Boston Globe:
''Clearly, Major League Baseball has an interest in how this works out,'' [executive vice president of baseball opertations for MLB, Sandy] Alderson said. ''I'm not sure Major League Baseball ever looked into the issue [of whether the contract was valid]. But it appears the operating assumption for the Florida Marlins, Chunichi Dragons and Millar himself, as evidenced by his rejection [of Boston's unconditional roster claim], is that there was a binding agreement, at least for a good part of the time.'' The Sox claim on a player despite being notified of Florida's intention of selling that player to Chunichi was unprecedented in Alderson's memory. Asked if Chunichi officials had complained of the Red Sox' involvement in the matter, Alderson said, ''Their focus at the time I had conversations with them was their desire to convince Kevin Millar he should play in Japan.''
MILLAR: HELL NO, I
MILLAR: HELL NO, I WON'T GO
The Boston Globe reports that chances of Kevin Millar playing in Japan this season are becoming less and less likely. Tony Massarotti (Boston Herald) adds:
Major League Baseball vice president of baseball operations Sandy Alderson categorized the Millar matter as ``still unresolved'' early yesterday, though he might not have known about the reports from Japan. In any case, Alderson hoped for a resolution that would appease all parties.
``We'd like to see a situation that results in the best interests of the player, the best interests of the Chunichi Dragons and the best interests of the rules,'' he said.
The former general manager of the Oakland A's, Alderson acknowledged that he rarely has seen a case as peculiar as the one involving Millar, who was claimed off waivers by the Red Sox last month.
Alderson said ``the uniqueness of the situation really stems from the claim made by the Red Sox,'' but was careful not to direct blame at Sox officials by stressing that it was within the club's rights to claim Millar.
Major league teams typically have refrained from claiming players bound for Japan as a matter of etiquette, but there is nothing in league rules that prohibits teams from complicating the process.
``Had (the Red Sox) not made the claim, the circumstances would be different,'' Alderson said. ``(But) it's their right to do under the rules. I'm not being critical.''
The Times ran a terrific profile on Jose Contreras yesterday. Like Godzilla Matsui, Contreras has a sense of humility that should make him right at home with the likes of Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams.
"This guy can pitch," said the Cleveland Indians' international scouting director, Rene Gayo, who signed the last prominent Cuban free agent, pitcher Danys Baez, in 1999. "In my opinion, he's a lot like John Smoltz or Curt Schilling. He's got a forkball that's just nasty."
Pat Gillick, the Seattle general manager, thought enough of Contreras to override the Mariners' philosophy against giving contracts of longer than three years. In Nicaragua, Gillick offered $24 million for four years. "This guy's special," Gillick said.
..."I think he's a really good person, excellent, in fact," Gillick said. "It's just the way he handles himself. He's a very humble guy, very sincere, and there's a level of genuineness there. What you see is what you get. I don't think there's any hidden agenda."
..."He had already put a lot of time into learning specific big league hitters, how he would attack them," [Boston GM, Theo] Epstein said. "He had a game plan for how to pitch Barry Bonds, how to pitch Ichiro Suzuki. He knew more about some big league hitters than some major league pitchers I've come across. He was clearly a thoughtful guy."
Like El Duque before him, one of the most interesting aspects of Contreras' initial season in the United States will be how he handles the loneliness of being a stranger in a strange land (his family is still in Cuba). Of course, he'll be paid handsomely. In fact, his staggering salary may only complicate his sense of isolation. After all, this is a man who previously made $50 a month in Cuba.
I ran across a passage from John Updike's famous tribute to Ted Williams ("Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu") that addressed the concept of baseball's inherent lonliness:
...For me, Williams is the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill. Baseball is a game of the long season, of relentless and gradual averaging-out. Irrelevance---since the reference point of most individual games is remote and statistical---always threatens its interest, which can be maintained not by the occasional heroics that sportswriters feed upond but by players who always care; who care, that is to say, about themselves and their art. Insofar as the clutch hitter is not a sportswriter's myth, he is a vulgarity, like a writer who writes only for money. [Consider that Updike wrote this before the days of the designated hitter.] It may be that, compared to managers' dreams, such as Joe DiMaggio and the always helpful Stan Musial, Williams is an icy star. But of all team sports, baseball, with its graceful intermittences of action, its immense and tranquil field sparsely settled with poised men in white, its dispassionate mathematics, seems to me best suited to accommodate, and be ornamented by, a loner. It is essentially a lonely game. No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport's poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy.
Check out Peter Gammons' American League preview over at ESPN.
What does he make of the Yankees' chances?
The fact is that only age, injuries and owner hysteria can keep the Yankees from being really good.
All three of those factors could easily rear their ugly heads this year, but if they don't, it's hard not to agree with Gammons' take.
SHOOT ME NOW
Regardless of how the Yankees do, it looks as if us dopes who are stuck with Cablevision will be screwed once again. I haven't spent much time writing about the depressing state of affairs, because what else is there to say? I try not to think about it, or the fury that is building in the pit of my stomach. And while I'm not holding my breath for a deal to get done before opening day, I must hold out hope, foolish as it may seem.
Another season of Sterling and Steiner is too much to bear.
According to Newsday:
Cablevision subscribers who were shut out of watching 130 Yankees games last year should brace for another dark season. Six days before the Yankees' spring-training camp opens, the 16-month dispute between the YES Network and Cablevision shows no sign of being resolved. In recent weeks, prospects for a settlement have dimmed, and yesterday, the rhetoric between the principals increased.
Yankee right-fielder Raul Mondesi commented on the possibility of being traded by the Yankees yesterday.
"If they trade me to another big league team, there's no problem," Mondesi said Wednesday. "It would be difficult if they traded me to a football or basketball team because I don't know how to play that."
What about Roller Derby, Fat Guy?
BOBBY BITES BACK It
BOBBY BITES BACK
It didn't take long for Bobby V to get his licks in. I thought he might wait until the 14th, which would make for splashy headlines, but according to Ira Berkow in the New York Times, and Joel Sherman in the Post, Valentine was reserved and clipped in his comments two nights ago at the the Thurman Munson Awards Dinner. Valentine isn't the sort to ignore the kind of attacks directed at him by members of the New York Mets, but he also didn't seem particularly interested in starting a tabliod war.
There is an unflattering photograph of Valentine that accompanies the Berkow piece in the Times. Though Bobby V looks fit and dapper, the photo also suggests he's wound tight enough to be the proud owner of a cleft asshole.
"We had a lousy year last year and I did a bad job. That is the easy statement and a truism."
..."I find it almost rather criminal that after putting almost 10 years of my life, 24 hours a day, into an organization and a community that a couple of people who have never worn Met uniforms and one who wore it for one year and did not do much [Vaughn] can say things," Valentine said.
..."I don't know if it was orchestrated or not, but it's all nonsense."
...In regard to Glavine in particular, Valentine said: "His remarks are unfounded. I think I met him once in my life, and we shook hands. Glavine is a union leader and appears to be a very intelligent fellow. You would think he would base his opinions on experience and personal knowledge."
As for the theory that his departure fostered the ability to recruit more alluring players, Valentine said, "I'm not going to comment on that. I don't think it is worthy of comment. I'd like to find a person who really didn't come here because of me. There are 29 other teams out there. Go find that person who was a free agent whom the club wanted that didn't come because I was there, or else I say it is nonsensical to comment on that."
Bob Raissman reports in today's Daily News that Valentine will get his chance to speak his mind this season for ESPN after all. Perhaps Bobby will lie in the weeds and exact measures of revenge against his former team as the season unfolds.
The outspoken former manager will replace Buck Showalter in ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" studio and work a limited number of games for the all-sports cable network.
Two weeks ago, it appeared that talks between Valentine and ESPN had reached an impasse. As part of its three-year contract offer, ESPN had insisted that if Valentine bolted the TV gig for a manager's job, he would have to pay a penalty to the network.
Sources said Valentine initially rejected that stipulation. He obviously changed his mind.
"It's like any negotiation," a source familiar with the situation said. "You go through different phases. That was just one of them."
MOVIE MINUTE: DON'T SLEEP ON GARFIELD FESTIVAL
Bernard Weinraub wrote an interesting article in the New York Times last week on one of Hollywood's most-neglected stars, New Yorker, John Garfield, whose career is being celebrated throughout the month of February on Turner Movie Classics.
Before James Dean and Marlon Brando, before Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, there was John Garfield.
A tough kid who grew up in the 1920's on the streets of the Lower East Side, Brownsville and the Bronx, Garfield (whose original name was Julius Garfinkle) was one of the first dark-haired, working-class ethnic outsiders to turn into a Hollywood star, following the path of actors like James Cagney.
...Garfield's chip-on-the-shoulder style and his rugged looks often cast him as a social outsider on the screen: a boxer, a gangster, a soldier. The persona affected actors from the 1950's onward.
His relatively brief but dazzling career was cut short by a heart condition and the Hollywood blacklist. He was never a Communist, but he refused to name those, including his wife, Roberta, who had been. He died of a heart attack in 1952 at 39, and 10,000 fans gathered outside Riverside Memorial Chapel in Manhattan. At the time it was the largest turnout for a celebrity funeral in New York since Rudolph Valentino's.
My grandfather, who for years worked for the Anti-Defamation League, helped Garfield during the Blacklist Era, though to what extent I'm not sure. I do know that Garfield was one of my father's idols. Pop's adoration was intensified I'm sure, by the fact that he actually met Garfield, who visited my grandfather's apartment on several occasions.
"He's a forgotten star," said David Heeley, one of the producers of "The John Garfield Story," a documentary that will have its premiere on Turner Classic Movies, the cable channel, on Monday, followed by a festival of 25 Garfield films, to be shown on Mondays through February. "He never lived long enough to become an icon like Humphrey Bogart."
His daughter, Julie Garfield, an acting teacher in New York, put it another way. "He was horribly neglected, forgotten, pushed aside," she said. "It was almost as if Hollywood was so ashamed of what was done to him that they almost made him disappear."
...Garfield is most remembered for his role opposite Lana Turner, in Tay Garnett's sexy drama "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946), based on James M. Cain's novel. His other films included "Humoresque" (1947), with Joan Crawford; Robert Rossen's classic "Body and Soul" (1947), in which he works his way up from poverty to become a champion boxer at great personal cost; and Abraham Polonsky's "Force of Evil" (1948), in which Garfield was acclaimed for his role as a greedy lawyer for racketeers. He also played the Jewish friend of Gregory Peck's character in Elia Kazan's "Gentlemen's Agreement" (1947), about anti-Semitism. Garfield was nominated twice for Oscars, as a supporting actor for his first film, "Four Daughters" (1938), and as best actor for "Body and Soul."
"He didn't know what happened to him in the end," Mr. Heeley said. "He didn't understand why they were hounding him. In the end he was scared."
Ms. Garfield, 57, was 6 when her father died. In an interview she spoke about him in a cracked voice: "It killed him, it really killed him. He was under unbelievable stress. Phones were being tapped. He was being followed by the F.B.I. He hadn't worked in 18 months. He was finally supposed to do `Golden Boy' on CBS with Kim Stanley. They did one scene. And then CBS canceled it. He died a day or two later."
Peep Garfield's complete credits, and while you're killing time waiting for the Grapefruit League to get started, check out some of Garfield's impressive film work over at Turner Movie Classics. "Body and Soul," one of my favorites, will give you a knew appreciation of the work Scorsese did years later, in "Raging Bull."
THE YANKEES' $64,000 QUESTION
THE YANKEES' $64,000 QUESTION
Although there hasn't been much ink spilled on the subject this winter, I think the $64,000 question for the 2003 Yankees is simple: How will Mariano Rivera perform?
Mo was on the DL three times last season, and at 33 has likely peaked as a stud reliever. I don't mean to suggest that the Yankees can't win without a dominant Rivera, or even a very good Rivera, but if he manages to return to the form he showed from 1997-2000, the Yankees may just be as good as they appear on paper.
Joel Sherman addressed the Rivera issue today in the Post:
Rivera raised a slight red flag by saying, unlike in previous years, he has yet to throw off a mound. But he added that he stayed in the New York area this offseason to work with Yankee trainer Gene Monahan, is currently long-tossing and vowed not to be behind anyone when camp opens.
"I'm ready," Rivera said. "I haven't thrown [off a mound] because I didn't want to. I'm throwing like nothing happened because, well, nothing [structurally] happened."
Here is what Mo said about the Jeter hub-bub:
"Jeter is my friend," Rivera said last night at the Thurman Munson Awards Dinner in Manhattan. "When he goes to the plate, he's there [mentally]. What he does at night is his business."
So credit Rivera with his first save of the season, coming on to defend a teammate. The Yankees hope there are 40 actual saves to follow
METS FIND RELIGION The
METS FIND RELIGION
The Mets have hired Brett Butler, senior member of the born-again God Squad, as a minor league outfield coach. His primary purpose with the Mets will be to help Roger Cedeno become a competent center fielder. Let me be frank is wishing him, good fuggin luck. Apparently coach Gary Petitis--a terrific center fielder in his day---alone won't enough to help cure Cedeno's woeful approach to the position, so perhaps Butler's presence will bring some divine intervention.
The Post reports:
Butler has a connection with Cedeno, who was his Dodger teammate in 1996-97, the same period Butler went through a well-publicized battle against throat cancer.
In fact, with Butler limited to 81 starts in center field during the 1996 and '97 seasons, Cedeno was one of his primary fill-ins, playing 102 games in center with 72 starts. That was before Cedeno galvanized a reputation as a poor outfielder, a distinction he only enhanced last season with the Mets when he played strictly left field.
It's going to take a whole lot more than the Lord to give Cedeno a clue out there, but then again, a little Jesus never hurt anybody.
WATERMELON MAN Cuban conga
Cuban conga legend Mongo Santamaria passed away last Saturday at the age of 85. For those who are unfamiliar with Mongo, he was a formidable presence in both the Latin and Jazz scenes from the 1950s through the 1970s. Early in his career he played with Latino legends like Perez Prado and Tito Puente, but Santamaria carved out his niche in the Latin Jazz idom with men like vibraphonist, Cal Tjader, and Mr. Willie Bobo, who played the timbales. Mongo also played with Chick Corea, Ray Vega, and Hubert Laws, but he's perhaps most famous for gigging with Herbie Hancock.
According to Ben Ratliff's obit in the New York Times:
...In late 1962 he wandered back toward New York and the jazz side of the fence, convening a band led by a trumpet and two saxophones.
One night when Herbie Hancock substituted for his regular pianist at a Bronx nightclub, the group worked out a Latin groove underneath Mr. Hancock's new composition "Watermelon Man"; Mr. Santamaria quickly took it to the studio, and the song became the only time that Riverside, the distinguished jazz label, had a song on the top-10 pop charts.
That marked the beginning of the Latin-soul sound, popular through the 1960's. Mr. Santamaria signed with Columbia and made 10 records in a similar vein, Latinizing jazz tunes or R & B vocal numbers; when he was signed to Atlantic in 1971, he was so inured to the process that he left the decisions about the songs entirely to his musical director, Marty Sheller.
Here is a decent web site for those of you who are interested in checking out Mongo's music..
"Watermelon Man" (Fantasy) is a great place to start. "Soy Yo" (Concord) is a terrific record too, and "Sabroso" (Fantasy) is probably my favorite. The compositions on "Sabroso" feature the interesting additions of a fiddle and a flute. How anyone can make a flute sound masculine is beyond me, but the Latino's rock it lovely, indeed.
HEY MISTER DJ PLAY
HEY MISTER DJ PLAY THAT SONG
Derek Jeter, who was criticized this off-season by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner for paying too much attention to his extra ciricular activities, at the expense of his baseball responsibilities, has surfaced with a rebuttal. According to a report in today's Daily News:
As [Jeter] left the Yankees minor league complex wearing a black sweatsuit and driving a black SUV yesterday, Jeter was asked if he's going to change anything about his lifestyle.
"I'm not going to change," Jeter said. "Not at all."
...Yesterday, Jeter admitted he was surprised to find himself in The Boss' crosshairs, but shook his head when asked if the words hurt.
"One thing you realize is that The Boss is The Boss," he said. "Everyone who works has a boss they have to deal with. Bosses are entitled to their own opinion."
The two met recently to discuss the issue as well as Steinbrenner's public comments criticizing the All-Star for his defensive play in 2002 and his lack of focus.
..."We met and we talked about it," Jeter said. "It's pretty much over."
Jeter lives in the Tampa area and has been working out regularly for more than a week. Yesterday he took batting practice and fielded 75-100 ground balls. He was joined for his workout by catcher Jorge Posada and infielder Drew Henson. Pitcher David Wells was also at the complex working out.
Jeter is excited about starting a new season and putting last year's playoff loss to the Angels behind him. He is also happy to have cleared the air with The Boss. Still, it is clear he doesn't agree with all his employer has said.
"Bosses can say what they want to say," Jeter said. "Right or wrong, he gets to say what he wants to say."
Jeter's comments are characteristically measured and tame; don't let the inflammatory headlines fool you. It's interesting to note that Jeter actually met with Steinbrenner before he made any public statements. Jeter clearly isn't interested in taking George on in the tabliods. As irked as the future Yankee captain may be over the Boss' comments, one thing is for sure: we've come a long way since the Bronx Zoo, baby.
ONLY THE LONELY
Isolation and lonliness are major components of baseball culture. They are obviously magnified for foreign players coming to the States for the first time. Both Hideki Matsui and Jose Contreras will face the difficulties of lonliness this season, though they will be handsomely paid for their struggles:
"It is a bit lonely leaving my country," the 28-year-old [Matsuir] said [yesterday] before getting on the New York-bound flight from Tokyo's Narita Airport. "There will be a lot for me to learn."
The sense of isolation is irrevocably more complex for Contreras, who unlike Matsui, won't be returning home any time soon:
Al Avila, assistant general manager of the Detroit Tigers, says two reasons many Cuban pitchers fail after their escape are the new, higher level of competition and the homesickness they confront.
The Cuban national team travels the baseball world. Excluding exhibitions like the one with Baltimore three years ago, in which Contreras starred, they are rarely challenged.
"Homesickness might be the biggest obstacle," says Avila, whose father, Ralph, took his family from Castro's Cuba to the USA and became a scout and executive for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Many players, Avila says, must leave a family behind, with no guarantees it will be reunited.
The cultural changes also present hardships. The players, Avila says, are dazzled by the money after leaving an island where giving a can of shaving cream, a hair bush, jeans, CDs or other consumer items makes one a friend for life.
"To get away from a dictatorship and then to have everything, it can be a dangerous transition," Avila says
BRUSHING UP ON THE
BRUSHING UP ON THE BOSOX
Sean McAdam pens the 2003 Scouting Report for the Red Sox over at ESPN today, accompanied by John Sickels Minor League Report as well. The Sox, who are seeking to squeeze every last nickel out of Fenway Park this season by adding seats above the Green Monster, have introduced new batting practice uniforms, and caps, which should keep the "gear-revenue" flowing nicely, thank you very much.
Meanwhile, Kevin Millar is still in the Twilight Zone. According to the Boston Globe:
Major League Baseball will not mediate the dispute between Red Sox aspirant Kevin Millar and the Chunichi Dragons, reiterating its position that Millar has a signed contract with the Japanese team and must honor it.
...MLB is not accepting Millar's contention, Courtney said, that his case parallels that of Japanese third baseman Norihiro Nakamura, who had come to terms on a two-year deal with the Mets but changed his mind, electing to sign with a Japanese team instead. The difference, Courtney said, is that Nakamura never signed a contract, while Millar signed with Chunichi. Millar agreed to a two-year, $6.2 million contract with an option for a third year.
Millar also signed a letter agreement with the Florida Marlins, the team that sold him to Chunichi for $1.2 million, saying that he would reject any waiver claim made by another major league club. The Sox claimed him and Millar rejected that claim, but then Millar attempted to sign a deal with the Sox, claiming he was a free agent, while the Sox proposed to compensate Chunichi both with cash and a player.
The plot thickens...
CHASS: COLLUSION REDUX Murray
CHASS: COLLUSION REDUX
Murray Chass continued to cover the possibilites of owner collusion yesterday in his Sunday column. Who should he bring up, but Jack Morris, whose unsuccessful attempt to become a Yankee in the winter of 1986-87, was a sure sign that all was not Kosher in Denmark:
Morris had won 21 games for the Detroit Tigers the previous season, making him a 20-game winner for the second time in four seasons. (He missed a third by one victory.) The Mets had won the World Series less than two months earlier.
The Yankees had finished in second place behind Boston, but Dennis Rasmussen, with 18 victories, was their only pitcher with double-digit victories. Morris, a 31-year-old free agent, was exactly what the baseball doctor ordered. This is what free agency was all about.
...Yet Morris walked out of Room 600 of the Bay Harbor Inn without a Yankee deal. He was a victim of the second year of the owners' conspiracy against free agents. Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner, was not a victim, but he surely was an unwilling participant, given his penchant for lavishing free agents with money.
The owners' collusive activity of the 80's serves as a backdrop for current events in baseball because the clubs have once again raised suspicion with some of their activities involving free agents...
Mike Lupica detailed the Jack Morris story in his book, "Wait Til Next Year:"
Boss Steinbrenner kept making headlines, but more and more they were mean-spirited. Colorful as a winner, as a loser, he was a whiner. And the Yankees were losers in Steinbrenner's mind, much as he defended his record. He still tried to done out on the return to glory his ownership had brought to Yankee Stadium, and a lot of the fans still gave him that. But they were begining to look at Steinbrenner as a big-time phony.
...If Steinbrenner could go through life thinking second place was garbage, so could they.
Only now that was going to change. George Steinbrenner was going to sign Jack Morris, the most succesful baseball pitcher of the 1980s, the same 1980s during which Steinbrenner's Yankees hadn'te been able to win the World Series.
...Jack Morris wanted a new team. Steinbrenner needed pitching. A meeting was set up for Decenmber 19, at the Bay Harbor Inn in Tampa, Florida, which Steinbrenner owns. Stienbrenner, fittingly enough, would represent Steinbrenner's Yankees. The other two men would be [Jack] Morris and his agent, Richard Moss.
There was obvious collusion going on between the owners othe major league baseball teams in the the winter of 1986. They were ignoring free agents such as Morris, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Lance Parrish, and RIch Gedman, trying to force them back to their original team, drive down players' salaries (an arbitrator, Thomas Roberts, would rule during 1987 that the owners had already been guilty of collusion the year before, during the winter of 1985-86).
But those were the other owners. This was Boss Steinbrenner. The Mets had stolen New York from him in 1986, drawn nearly three million fans, won the World Series, become the sexy team in town. Stienbrenner couls still make news by talking. The Mets made news by wining...Now, Steinbrenner couldn't ignore the Mets anymore. The thing he feared most--other than being ignored in the newspapers--had happened: The monster, freaking Mets were champions of the freaking world.
Stienbrenner had to sign Jack Morris.
This is what Richard Moss told Steinbrenner:
"George, we also have a proposal that we didn't make in Minnesota," he said. "It's a one-year deal, and it's really predicated on a simple fact: We think that if Jack Morris is added to the Yankees, the Yankees can win this season. Then if you don't want to pay Jack after that, no hard feelings, we'll go someplace else. I honestly believe this is an offer you can't turn down."
The deal was simple. Morris would become a Yankee, and the two sides would let an arbitrator decide Morris's value. Steinbrenner would come in with one sum, Moss/Morris another, the arbitrator would decide. Morris would pitch for the Yankees for one seasonl, then be eleigble to become a free agent again at the end of 1987.
...It was the first-ever Jack Morris Sale.
...Steinbrenner: "This is very unusual. Interesting. I'm definitely going to have to think about this one." Then he reminded Moss that two of the Yankees' longtime stars, Ron Guidry and Willie Randolph, were also eligible for free agency, and Steinbrenner was presently negotiating with both of them, and Steinbrenner said he just didn't know for sure if he could afford Guidry and Randolph and Morris.
Moss thought that was funny, collusively speaking. If Jack Morris couldn't find a new team, how could Guidry and Randolph?
And: When had there been a time, at least befoe collusion, when George Steinbrenner couldn't afford somebody he really wanted?
Moss smiled, repeated the offer one last time: "One year, George. Arbitration."
George thanked Moss and Morris and told them that he'd sleep on it.
The next day he turned them down.
"It wouldn't be fair to Guidry and Randolph," Steinbrenner said to Moss.
"George," Moss said, "this doesn't have anything to do with Guidry and Randolph, and you know it."
Steinbrenner stuck to his cover, that he had to settle with Guidry and Randolph before he could even think about signing any free agents.
The Yankees resigned Willie and Louisiana Lighting while Morris resigned with the Tigers, took them to arbitration, and walked away with a one-year deal worth $1.85 million.
NOT SO FAST
While George played ball with his fellow owners in the mid-80's, nothing has stopped him from spending freely this winter. The Daily News reports today that the Yankees once again have the largest payroll in the major leagues, at $164 million. Along with the Mets (who are second at $119 million), the Yanks are the only team that is due to pay a luxury tax.
According to the collective bargaining agreement, any team with a 2003 payroll number exceeding $117 million (this year's "threshold") would pay 17.5% on the excess. A team's luxury tax is based on the average annual value of all the players' contracts, not on its payroll. As of now, the Mets would have to pay about $350,000. For the Bombers, the penalty would be $8 million to $9 million.
"What we see with the Yankees is that there has been no change in priorities," a baseball official said. "Certainly they talked about cutting payroll and ... there's no disputing they made an effort to. It was probably always their plan.
"But they still believe the best way to make money is to put fans in the seats with a winner on the field. There are things in place that would deter most teams from spending, but these guys won't let it compromise their first priority."
STICK THAT STIRS THE DRINK
Bill Madden wrote a fitting tribute to Gene "Stick" Michael in his column yesterday.
Gene Michael, the Yankees' VP of major league scouting, and their acknowledged principal talent evaluator, will be honored tonight when the New York baseball writers hold their 80th annual dinner.
"The Stick" is being given the William J. Slocum Award for long and meritorious service to baseball. In many ways, it's the baseball writers' most prestigious award, as evidenced by some of its previous winners - Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, Judge Landis, John McGraw, Casey Stengel, Branch Rickey and Bill Veeck. And while Michael can be expected to say that all of the Yankees' recent successes were a team effort, make no mistake about this: Other than George Steinbrenner, no one has had more to do with this latest string of Yankee championships and division titles than Michael.
It's nice to see Michael honored after all his years of service to the Yankee organization. He was one of George's most famous whipping boys during the Bronx Zoo years, but he survived the abuse, and ironically helped resurrect the Boss' career.
As a side note, the William J Slocum award is named after my friend Paul's great grandfather. Paul also had an uncle who worked in baseball, Frank Slocum, whose named I recently stumbled upon in an old coffe-table book. I wrote to Paul, who I played baseball with in high school (he was a starting pitcher and played short; I played second), and asked him about his baseball bloodlines.
So you found a baseball book with an article written by my Uncle Frank? They're not easy to find as many of those books went out of print long ago.
My Uncle's involvement in Major League Baseball (MLB) was largely due to my Great Granfather - Bill Slocum - who was a well known sportswriter in NYC circa 1920. Among other things he was Babe Ruth's ghost writer. In fact Ruth once quipped that, "Bill Slocum writes more like me than anyone else I know." To this date, that remains the biggest insult ever levied against the Slocum family name.
My Uncle's first job in MLB was as an assistant to Ford Frick in the Commissioner's Office. I believe his primary responsibility was overseeing the men in blue (settling player/ump disputes, that kind of thing). Later, he worked in the front office for the Brooklyn Dodgers - during the time that Jackie Robinson broke the color-line. After that, the bulk of his involvement with baseball was miscellaneous writing assignments - Game of the Week, Baseball World of Joe Garigiola and dozens of speeches - most
famously Yogi Berra's Hall of Fame acceptance speech.
During my lifetime, I think my Uncle Frank (who is my Great Uncle) had pretty much segued his way out of baseball and made his living writing television shows for NBC. Towards the end of his life, Fay Vincent sought out my Uncle as kind of a general advisor for his new job. I think my Uncle said to Vincent, "Congratulations, you just got a job saying no to millionaires." Later, Vincent named my Uncle as the Executive Director of the Baseball Assistance Team (BATS). This program, initiated by Vincent, was set-up as a releif fund for ex-ballplayers who had fallen on hard times. Most of the ex-players drawing off this fund had some kind of dependence induced malady - drugs, booze, debt. Some of these men spoke at my Uncle's funeral.
Actually, I was watching Jim Abbott's no-no on ESPN Classic a few months ago. Tony Kubek was calling the game and he gave my Uncle a nice tribute during the game. About 90 seconds of air-time. So if you ever see a re-run of that game, prick-up your ears around the 6th inning - with Manny Ramirez at the plate. It tells you all you need to know.
Incidentally, it was none other than Sandy Koufax who made headlines at the award dinner. Koufax, who presented Randy Johnson with his 5th Cy Young, recieved a long standing-ovation. What did Koufax say? As usual, he was wry and succint:
"Two things absolutely jump off the page,'' Koufax said about Johnson. "One, he's very tall. Two, he's very good.''
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.