Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Monthly archives: April 2003


2003-04-30 16:28
by Alex Belth


Jose Contreras had an impressive start yesterday for the Columbus Clippers, throwing five scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out eight. Apparently, the big Cuban's heater was clocked at 98mph, a far cry from what we saw from him when he was with the Yankees. To be fair, Contreras is a starter, and was regulated to the bullpen in New York.

Mariano Rivera is ready to go for the Yanks, and Derek Jeter was back with the team last night, shit-eating-grin and all. Jeter was goofing around on the bench, certainly a sight for sore eyes for us Yankee fans. He expects to be activated in a couple of weeks.

With a base on balls last night, Nick Johnson has now walked in thirteen consecutive games. He leads the AL in that category too.

Not for nothing, but I'm glad that Suzyn Waldman is not calling the games for YES any longer. He strength is doing the pre and post game shows, and I think she does that fine (although she's better suited for the radio, and I used to like her coverage of the Knicks as well as the Yanks). But I've noticed that she has become so breathy, that I'm going to start calling her ol' Iron Lungs. Each breath she draws sounds dramatically like it will be her last. Not only that, but she's looking more and more like Karl Malden with each passing day.

The Yanks face ol' man Moyer in the Bronx tonight. Moyer has an even better Bugs Bunny change than Chris Hammond. I don't know what his numbers are against the Yankees, but I always feel like he kills us. And it's a slow, painful death at that. I practically feel like jumping out of my shoes at home. My cousin Gabe said it would be good for baseball if the Yanks lost tonight (making it three in a row). "Then they can win 44 straight of whatever."

2003-04-30 12:38
by Alex Belth


The subject of homosexuality in baseball is a touchy one indeed. After all, who really wants to talk about it? We're not Gay. Well, Christian Ruzich, The Cub Reporter, and I do, and we've exchanged e-mails on the topic, and I thought I would share them with you. First, here is what New York Times reporter Buster Olney had to say about it when we spoke several weeks ago:

BB: Do you think baseball is ready for a gay player to come out?

Buster: No. It's interesting cause when I covered the Padres Billy Bean was on the that team [that's Billy Bean, the gay ballplayer, who came out publicly a few years ago, not Billy Beane the Oakland GM]. I really believe that if any team would have been able to handle that situation, it would have been that team. Because the best player, Tony Gwynn, is a very tolerant person, he's very broad-minded. It was a very young team, that had stripped it down and they had all these young players, and Billy was very well liked. Some of the other leaders on the team like [Brad] Ausmus, were very bright guys. Trevor Hoffman, very accepting personality. If it was going to work, it would've worked on that team. But there is no doubt veteran teams like the Yankees I covered, or the Mets now: no chance. There is no chance.

BB: Because of the hoopla that would surround it?

Buster: Well, not only that, but the anticipation of it would prevent the front office from even making the move. Saying that, if the greatest pitcher in the game came out and said he was gay, they'd probably bend the rules. But it would have to be a great player. If you think about how they did it with Jackie Robinson, part of the reason why it worked was because he was a great player.

BB: And they chose him for his personality as much as his ability as a ballplayer.

Buster: Exactly. Billy Bean said that it's basically unworkable, and I agree with him. It would have to be a player who is established. A player who won three Cy Young awards and then came out. Right. And even at that point, he would never be accepted by half of the players. No matter what he did or what he said.

Here is the first letter I received from Christian:

I'm interested to know what you think about what he has to say about a gay player coming out. Do you think it's as impossible as he does? I go back and forth -- on the one hand it seems like a baseball clubhouse is probably one of the most homophobic places on Earth, but on the other hand I imagine if a player came out while playing in a more liberal city (San Francisco jumps to mind, but Chicago or Minneapolis are other possibilities) he might be accepted, or even embraced, by the city. Of course it would matter quite a bit who the player was, if he was already beloved, etc. I mean, if Kirby Puckett had come out, I don't think it would have been a big deal, but Carl Everett might have run into some problems.

Whaddya think? Also, was Buster's reference to a "three-time Cy Young award winner" purely hypothetical?

To which I responded:

I'm sorry to say that I do think it would be pretty tough for a player to come out of the closet in the pro game today. It's not that he wouldn't be excepted, or even lauded by some fans in certain cities, but I'm not sure if his supporters would out-number his detractors.
Think about the constant taunting the player would receive. Not only would some unruly fans call him a faggot when he's batting, but the ump could be thinking the same thing, and so could the catcher, and even the guy on deck.
I think his problem would lie in the locker room. It's like Olney was saying about women in the locker rooms: there is a sizable percentage of the players that would never accept them.
Yes, I think Olney was being hypothetical when he said that player would have to win 3 Cy Young awards to get away with it, but his point is well-taken. It would probably take a player who is an established star to get away with something so bold as coming out of the closet.
I think that for a queer player to come out publicly, he would have to be a man of tremendous character, strength and confidence. The Jackie Robinson analogy applies here, especially in that the player in question would have to be a stronger man than he is a player.
Of course there are gay ballplayers out there. Perhaps they are comfortable being private about their sexual orientation. I don't know. What I mean is that even if there was a triumphent example of a gay ballplayer coming out, I don't know that it would lead to others following suit. I could be wrong.
The question is: What does a gay ballplayer have to gain by coming out? We certainly know he'd have a lot to lose. Do I think this is a sad commentary on our culture as well as our favorite game? You bet. But what are you going to do?

Here is Christian's reply:

I think it's a damn shame that there isn't an out major league player. I love sports, but I hate the macho bullshit that often comes along with it. For so many people, sports is wrapped up in some weird belief system where success in sports equates with success as a man, and too often an adjunct of that is homophobia. Athletes talk about how trust is one of the most important factors in making a team, and how they could "never trust" someone who was gay, and it just makes me mad. And then I read Todd Jones go off on this very subject, and it just makes me madder:
I suppose it's just a reflection of the beliefs of the majority of America, and living in San Francisco and Oakland for the last six years has skewed my concept of what "everyone" thinks, but basically I can't wait for someone to be brave/stupid enough to come out while still active. It'll be a shitstorm to rival what Jackie Robinson went through, but I think (most) people will get over it relatively quickly and ultimately it will be good for baseball and America as a whole. We'll see, I guess.

Todd Jones is quoted in an article by Denver Post theater critic, John Moore, on Richard Greenberg's play "Take Me Out." The piece is an indepth and insightful examination of the deep-rooted homophobia that exists in pro sports. Greeenberg told Moore:

The only incentive for doing it anyway, he said, "is if the player just can't stand it anymore. When living the lie becomes impossible."

Colorado pitcher Todd Jones probably speaks for the majority of ballplayers when he said:

"I wouldn't want a gay guy being around me," Jones said. "It's got nothing to do with me being scared. That's the problem: All these people say he's got all these rights. Yeah, he's got rights or whatever, but he shouldn't walk around proud. It's like he's rubbing it in our face. 'See me, hear me roar.' We're not trying to be close-minded, but then again, why be confrontational when you don't really have to be?"

That kind of attitude "speaks volumes about America," said actor Daniel Sunjata, a Jeter lookalike who plays Lemming in "Take Me Out." "Sports are the last bastion of sanctioned homophobia in this country. The fact that something like sexual preference can so adversely affect your career and your income is depressing. If I were a pro baseball player, and I was gay, I might not come out, either, for those exact reasons."

All-around good guy, Mark Grace had a more enlightened take:

"I've played for 16 years, and I'm sure I've had homosexual teammates that I didn't know about," he said. "If one out of six or seven men are homosexual - do the math."

"I think the perception in the clubhouse would be one of, for lack of a better word - fear," Grace said. "Fear that they'd be stared at or (that a gay player might fall) in love with them. But I think if you're intelligent at all, you'd understand that homosexuals are just like us. They don't think everybody's attractive. Just because this guy's homosexual doesn't mean he's attracted to me."

I'd like to think that there are more guys like Mark Grace than Todd Jones out there, but I'd also like for money to grow on trees. Still, I think this is a fascinating subject and I'll continue to write about it as long as there is something to add to the discussion. Anyone with thoughts or comments, please send them in. I'm curious to know what the readers are thinking. Are you saying, "Enough already with the Fruits, let's get back to boxscores and pitch-count?" Let me know.

2003-04-30 10:40
by Alex Belth


Seattle right hander Gil Meche overshadowed Roger Clemens and the hoopla surrounding Ichiro and Godzilla at the Stadium last night, as the Mariners shut out the Bombers, 6-0. Meche, winner of the Audie Murphy award, looks like he just jumped out of an old WWII movie; he has the innocent good looks of the boy next door. ("He's attractive," my girlfriend Emily remarked, "but he could use a hair cut." For what it's worth so could Matsui. "Godzilla needs to get his ass to Barbazon.") He pitched quickly, and had the Yankee batters out of synch all evening.

After the game, Meche told reporters:

"Probably the biggest night of my baseball career," said Meche, who scattered six singles and walked two. "How could it not be? Beating a Hall of Famer and this lineup? It's unbelievable."

Clemens wasn't terrible (he did strike out eight), but he did give up 3 dingers (Boone, Davis and Edgar).

I was reminded just how much strong the rivalry with the M's has been over the past few years last night. Damn, I hate losing to those guys. But honestly, with the exception of Brett Boone, there is hardly anyone to dislike on Seattle. I don't even hate Boone, it's just that his cockines is easy to root against. Sheeet, what's not to love about Olerud, Edgar and Ichiro? And Bob Melvin appears to be a good guy as well.

No, the worst part about last night was that the Sox just keep coming and coming.

But fug it, I shouldn't be riffing. The Yankees will probably not be shut-out too many times this year. It could be worse,after all: I could be a Mets fan.

Speaking of which, my cousin Gabe called me in the middle of the Card-Mets game last night. I had caught Ty Wiggenton's at-bat with the bases-loaded in the first. He battled Matt Morris to a full-count and then smacked a grounder deep in the hole at short, which Edgar Renteria fielded and then threw a seed to first to record the out. Typical Mets I thought. About 20 minutes later, I saw on the ticker that the Cardinals had scored three in their half of the first. Ugh.

Gabe, who is anything but an alarmist, calls and says, "I'm not trying to be pessimistic, but this could be the season right here. They could be done. And I don't mean that as a judgement, but as an observation."

That just may be the case. Hey Steve Phillips, remember what ol' Satch said: "Don't look back, something may be gaining on you."

2003-04-29 07:56
by Alex Belth


By Guest Columnist: Chris DeRosa

Hello, Bronx Banterers. Alex asked me to come off the bench with a Yankee-related feature, so I thought I would take substitution as my theme and discuss Yankee benches: the best benches the team has had in the past and those of the current dynasty.

Yankee fans of a sabermetric bent tend to ignore the slew of coffee table books about the team, and therefore may have missed the fact that Bill James wrote three parts of the latest entry in the genre, The New York Yankees: One Hundred Years, The Official Retrospective. He writes short essays on each of the 25 greatest Yankees as selected by a group of sportswriters, five of the most famous Yankee teams, and six of the club's greatest managers. It is a pricey book, but it is fun to have James's always intriguing perspective and to have him take on greatest- (NY)-team-ever debate, even in abbreviated form. Besides, what other coffee table book is going to diss the '61 club and poke fun at Bobby Meacham?

Anyway, one thing James mentions in talking about Casey Stengel was how frequently his teams led in "Bench Value Percentage," a measure of the percentage the non-starters contribute to a team's success. Stengel's Yankees led three times, 1949, 1951, and 1954. I looked them up. Not surprisingly, these three also had the three highest win shares totals that any of Stengel's Yankee benches amassed. Might one of those clubs, I wondered, be identified as the best bench in team history?

Choosing one is harder than I thought. First of all, who should count as being a bench player?

If someone is acquired in the last third of the season to be part of the starting lineup, is his contribution really "off the bench"?

If a bench player plays himself into the starting lineup halfway through, score one for the bench? Or count him as a regular?

If you're half of a strict platoon, are you a semi-regular, or riding the pines?

Chili Davis is supposed to be your regular DH, but he gets hurt. Darryl Strawberry steps in and leads the team in homers much of the way. Strawberry gets sick and Davis makes it back late in the year. Strength in depth for sure, but which one counts for the bench?

The easiest thing to do is to define the bench as the contributions of everybody beyond the eight (or nine with DH) players who got the most playing time. Even then, you've got to make some common sense adjustments. Joe DiMaggio shouldn't count as a bench player for the 1949 Yankees even if he got less playing time than Cliff Mapes. Clearly, what matters in discussing the bench is the contribution of Mapes and other players who stepped in when DiMaggio was injured.

The question of injuries raises a further complication. The 1949 team was famously riddled with injuries. Is a reserve squad that is called on more often for this reason better than another that is equally ready and able, but kept on the bench by a healthy lineup? Maybe not better, but probably "greater." It's like when they rank the presidents. You have overcome a major crisis or two in order to rate with the greatest ever. Here are the total win shares claimed by some of the most active Yankee benches and their top not-ready-for-full-time-players:

1949 59 Mapes 12, Johnson 9, Lindell 6, Silvera 6, Stirnweiss 6, Keller 5, Kryhoski 4, Phillips 4
1951 51 Brown 13, Mantle 13, Collins 11, Jensen 9, Hopp 2, Johnson 2, Silvera 2
1954 48 Skowron 13, Coleman 6, Robinson 5, Slaughter 5, Miranda 4, Woodling, Cerv 3
1955 44 Howard 11, Collins 9, Robinson 7, Rizzuto 6, Cerv 5, Martin 2
1980 46 Gamble 11, Murcer 9, Piniella 7, Spencer 7, Lefebvre 4, Werth 3
1997 47 Curtis 11, Boggs 10, Posada 6, Sanchez 5, Whiten 5, Stanley 4, Duncan 3, Kelly 2

Another reason the total doesn't tell the whole story is that it is difficult to measure the crucial bench quality of versatility. The variety of problems a team can solve off the bench is important along with the overarching measure of their contribution offered by win shares.
Comments on Some Great Yankee Benches

All of which goes to say that it may be too hard to identify the one best bench in team history. Here are some of the excellent ones, though. The bench didn't figure much until Casey Stengel came along, and he always had a deep and talented roster. There is an extensive literature on Stengel's use of reserves, so I won't rehash all that here. In 1949, he did most of his rotating in the outfield and at first base. I think it was his 103-win 1954 club that best exemplified his concept of the roster as 16 players who were all worthy, with the batter-by-batter circumstances dictating which eight were playing and which were licking their chops.

1954: Only Mantle and Berra, the two best players in the league, batted 500 times on this team. The rest of the team was like a giant awesome bench. Charlie Silvera hit well in a handful of at bats backing up Berra, as he always did. At first base was Joe Collins (343 ab), Moose Skowron (215), and Eddie Robinson (142) combining for 22 homers and 89 walks. In the infield were Andy Carey (411), Gil McDougal (394), Phil Rizzuto (307), Jerry Coleman (300), and Willie Miranda (116). The outfielders after Mantle in descending order of playing time were Irv Noren (426), Hank Bauer (377), and Gene Woodling (304), Enos Slaughter (125) and Bob Cerv (100). All these players, with the arguable exception of Miranda, were important contributors to the Yankee dynasty, although not all played well in 1954. James's Guide to the Baseball Managers reports the 1954 Yanks set a record for pinch hitters, 262, who hit .292 and set a record with 7 dingers.

1977: An example of a fine bench that didn't get to strut its stuff the way Stengel's did is that of the 1977 World Champions. Billy Martin got over 500 at bats for seven regulars, but he had in reserve plenty of offensive punch and a couple of glove men who didn't hurt the team at the plate. Despite the signing of Reggie Jackson, Lou Piniella managed to get over 300 at bats again in a platoon outfielder-DH role, and he hit the snot out of the ball: .330 and slugging .510. Cliff Johnson hit .296 and slugged .606 in 142 at bats, in 56 games at 1B, DH, and catcher. Infielder Fred Stanley (.261) and outfielder Paul Blair (.262) came bearing gloves. George Zeber and Dell Alston both hit .320 in limited trials, and subsequently appeared on those four-head-shot Topps rookie cards in 1978. Klutts' also had Alan Trammell and Paul Molitor, so that turned out to be a pretty good card.

1980: Like 1954, a 103-win team that didn't go all the way and had few regulars. Only Reggie, Randolph, and Rick Cerone batted 500 times, Cerone actually led the team with 147 games. The bench was deep in bats. Switch-hitting outfielder Bobby Brown got a big break in center when Ruppert Jones got hurt and played pretty well, hitting 14 homers and swiping 27 bases in 137 games. From the right, Lou Piniella again had a good 300+ at bats, hitting .287 and slugging .462. When Graig Nettles went down, Semi-regular DH Eric Soderholm hit .287, slugged .462, and subbed at the hot corner when Nettles got hurt (though they later added Aurelio Rodriquez to play third and he didn't do much ¡© wrong A-Rod). From the left, back-up first baseman Jim Spencer smacked 13 homers in 259 at bats, outfielder Bobby Murcer hit 13 in 297 at bats. Best of all, Oscar Gamble, a great 200 at bat player, popped 14 dingers in 194 at bats. At the bottom of the bench, Joe Lefebvre kicked in 8 homers and 27 walks in 150 at bats and Dennis Werth hit .308 with 12 walks and slugged .492 in 65 at bats. However, the infield and catching subs didn't play much or well.
1993: This was at a point when Buck Showalter still had more in common with Casey Stengel than Joe Torre did. The Yanks had not one but two mini-McDougals: Mike Gallego had a career year as a super-sub, hitting .283 with 10 homers and 50 walks in 55 games at short, 52 games at second, and 27 games at third. Randy Velarde played short, third, and outfield, hitting .301 and slugging .469 in 226 at bats. Jim Leyritz had his best season, getting 259 at bats as a 1B-C-OF-DH, and hitting .309/.410/.525. From the left side, Matt Nokes poled 10 homers in 217 at bats platooning with and then backing up right-hitting catcher Mike Stanley, who had an unexpected breakout year as a slugger. Outfielder Dion James hit .332 and slugged .466 in 343 at bats, wedging himself into the starting lineup in the second half. This bench had super hitting left and right and great position coverage. Because James and Gallego played themselves into full-time jobs, the bottom of this roster, in the end, kicked in less than those of Stengel's teams. However, looking only at the players who began the season in reserve roles, the 1993 crew had a season that is tough to beat for the distinction of the best pinstriped scrubeenies.

Comments on Torre's Benches:

Each of Joe Torre's benches made key contributions to the championship run. The 1996 bench had a couple of good players in Jim Leyritz and Darryl Strawberry (slugged .490), Gerald Williams hitting .270, and Ruben Rivera's best 88 major league at bats (.284, .443 slug). But that was just the first half bench. For the stretch drive, New York adding Cecil Fielder (13 homers in 200 at bats as a mostly-regular), Mike Aldrede and Charlie Hayes (both slugged .456), and Luis Sojo (.275 with defense). Fielder, Hayes, and Sojo (the best lousy player I've ever seen) all helped the Yankees win postseason games.

The team in Joe Torre's tenure that got the most help from the lower half of the roster was not any of the champions, but the 1997 wild card team. This was a bench built on the run. In June the Yankees added text-book fourth-outfielder Chad Curtis (.291/.362/.475) to supplement reserve outfielder H.H.M. Whiten. In August they grabbed ex-Showalter stalwart Mike Stanley (.287/.392/.483) and acquired slick-fielding Rey Sanchez (.312) to supplant second baseman Pat Kelly. At third they used a straight platoon of Charlie Hayes and Wade Boggs, but in the ALDS it was Hayes in four of five games, so Boggs rounded out the playoff bench as a .292 hitter from the left side.

For me, Game 4 of the 1997 Division series against Cleveland kind of prevents this bench from numbering among the team's greats. In the 9th inning, after Sandy Alomar homered off Rivera to tie the score 2-2, Mike Jackson was on the hill to face the bottom of the Yankee order. Torre let Charlie Hayes (.330 obp) lead off with Wade Boggs (.380 obp and the platoon advantage) on the bench. Chad Curtis also would have been a better leadoff option, but Torre wasted him earlier in the game as a pinch runner. Assenmacher was out of the game, so if Hargrove wanted a lefty, he'd have to go to Alvin Mormon (5.89 era). And you just knew Boggs would have given us a good at bat and that Hayes was just going up there to hack, which he did, easy out. Then Torre let Girardi hit for himself with Mike Stanley on the bench. Girardi is the kind of hitter who is down 0-2 coming out of the on-deck circle. Another easy out. Sanchez made the third out.

Come on, if you couldn't use Boggs to lead off against a right-hander in the ninth inning when you only needed one run, why even have him on the roster? Easy moves: the kind where the guy played the same position as the guy for whom he should have hit. So for all the previous contributions of the 1997 reserves, in October we'd have been better off with a bench in which the manager had more confidence. Okay, back to the benches:
The bench of the great 1998 club had Strawberry leading the club in homers most of the way, and switch-hitting consummate pros Tim Raines and Chili Davis, depending on which two you want to call the bench players. Girardi backed up Posada and hit .276, while Luis Sojo filled in around the infield. Fifth outfielder Ricky Ledee did not have a good season but he did knock Kevin Brown around in the World Series. The Yanks also got hot cuts of coffee from speedy infielder Homer Bush (hit .380 and slugged .465 in 71 at bats), and immortally, from outfielder Shane Spencer (hit .373 and belted 10 homers in 67 at bats).

The 1999 bench wasn't as impressive, but Curtis (195 ab), Spencer (205), and Ledee (250) shared left field and each offered something: Ledee hit .276 with 9 homers, Spencer hit 8, and Curtis hit .262 with 43 walks. He also went Reggie in a series game and blew off Jim Gray. Luis Sojo and Joe Girardi again provided the glovework. Darryl Strawberry batted only 49 times, but he came back just as the Yankee attack was flagging a little bit and he was briefly the most feared hitter in the line-up, hitting .327/.500/.612. In fact, I've never seen Strawberry more locked in than he was in that little 1999 stint, not even in his glory days. Facing a world champion lineup with Bernie, Jeter, and O'Neill, people were pitching around a troubled 37-year-old recuperating cancer patient who had just come back to the majors.

The last title team had a weak bench in the first half, consisting of a large dose of Clay Bellinger, too-old outfielders like Lance Johnson and Roberto Kelly, and no-good back-up catcher Chris Turner. But the 2000 stretch-drive/playoff bench was a different beast. They added two right-handed bats, Jose Canseco (by then an unobtrusive vet who hit 6 homers and drew 23 walks in 111 at bats), and Glen Hill, who hit .333 and slugged .735, blasting 16 homers in 132 at bats. His spurt was almost twice as long as Shane Spencer's in ¡®98, and this time the Yankees really needed it. They also imported not one but two solid all-infield fielders, Jose Vizcaino and trusty Luis Sojo. Torre may do it by the seat of his pants, rather than by any Weaver-esque logic, but he picked spots for these guys and they won us the World Series again. Sojo, of course, had an extremely high Mookie Factor (the aura which causes game-turning events to occur in one's immediate vicinity).

How will Flaherty, Trammel, Zeile and company hold up against the benches of the past? Three trends are notable. First, since Posada became the regular catcher, Torre has relied on good-field/no-hit back-ups in the mold of his favorite, Joe Girardi, and shied away from boppers like Mike Stanley, the man Girardi replaced. He passed over Todd Greene and Bobby Estrelella last year to retain Alberto Castillo, and going into 2003, one senses that Chris Widger may have accidentally hit himself out of a job with his .297 average last year. The preference is most curious when you consider that as a player Torre was a slugging backstop himself.

Second, it appears that Enrique Wilson is going to keep pinch running. On April 13th against the Devil Rays, Wilson ran for Erik Almonte (to get "veteran presence" on the bases, said the broadcaster), got caught stealing to end the inning, then struck out in the 9th inning of a one-run loss. This performance recalled a series of costly pinch running appearances Wilson made in 2002. Here are the highlights:

9 August, Oak @ NY: Wilson ran for Jason Giambi in a tight game, got thrown out at the plate, then went 0 for 3 and made an error. The Yankees lost 3-2 in 16 innings.

14 August, NY @ KC : Wilson ran for Ventura, didn't score, and then went 0 for 2 in a game NY won 3-2 in 14 innings.

11 September, Bal @ NY: Wilson ran for Giambi and didn't score in a game NY won 5-4 in 11 innings. Coomer went in to play first base and went 0 for 1.

On the plus side of the ledger, on 21 July, Wilson pinch ran for Giambi and scored on a ball Giambi might not have to edge Boston 9-8 (the game in which Weaver gave up five bombs). I guess Yankee fans raised on sabermetrics are kind of like Eisenhower Democrats as far as Joe Torre is concerned. We know he's the right man for the job, but every once in a while there's a stinging reminder that we're not from the same party. I just hate losing those Giambi at bats to pinch running gambles! Generally, for a pinch running move to pay off, somebody needs to hit the ball, and then the hit has to be the exact right kind for the baserunning to make a difference. If you're taking out superior bats, then you're stuck with inferior production in these tied extra innings games. The hidden cost to the run Wilson scored against Boston is pinch running moves is his 0-6 on the three dates mentioned.

The third trend, on a less nitpicking note, is the aggressive rebuilding of the bench. If the current pine-riders should flag at all, the Yankees will not hesitate to overhaul the bottom of the roster in midseason. They've done it under both Bob Watson (1996 and 1997) and Brian Cashman (2000 especially), which may indicate that Torre himself has a substantial hand in retooling his benches for the playoffs, where few skippers have pushed buttons better.

Chris DeRosa is a historian living in Long Branch, NJ, who writes an annual newsletter for all his baseball friends. You can reach him at:

2003-04-29 07:55
by Alex Belth


On this day in 1986, Roger Clemens struck out 20 Seattle Mariners. Tonight, he is gunning for career victory number 298.

2003-04-29 07:52
by Alex Belth


While Alfonso Soriano continues to defy the laws of probability with his battery-operated bat, he has steadily improved with the glove as well. But his mentor, third base coach, Willie Randolph isn't blowing smoke up lil' Sori's ass:

"I still think he's got a ways to go," Randolph said. "Being an All-Star is a nice thing, but an All-Star to me is doing it offensively and defensively. When you start talking about the whole package, that's when you see the confidence get to a new level. That's when you start saying: 'I enjoy doing this. I can be an All-Star hitter and an All-Star second baseman, too.' "

...From third base, Robin Ventura has noticed the footwork. That is a change from last season, when Soriano led major league second basemen with 23 errors. Ventura said Soriano used to wait for balls to come to him, but now he moves toward them to receive better hops.

"From where I'm at, I see the ball bouncing at him and what kind of hop he's going to get," Ventura said. "Last year you could see it happen before it got there. It was like watching a car wreck, watching the hops come at him. He was making it tougher on himself, but he's got it now. You can tell his confidence just by watching him."

2003-04-29 07:37
by Alex Belth


Big happenings in the Bronx tonight as the Mariners come into town for a three-game series, which features Seattle's star Ichiro, and the Yankees' left fielder Godzilla.

Mariano Rivera will join the team for the first time this year, and Yankee fans will hold their collective breath until we see him pitch.

There should be a terrific crowd buzzing at the Stadium tonight, and I have a feeling the next week will provide a tense, playoff-like atmosphere in the House that Ruth Built.

Check out this scouting report on the Yankees from Seattle native Shane O'Neill.

Also, don't sleep on U.S.S. Mariner, for comprehensive blog coverage of the series.

2003-04-29 07:24
by Alex Belth


Buster Olney has an article that appeared on the front page of The New York Times this morning about the state of the Mets. As well all know, it isn't a pretty picture.

They are a bad defensive team. Among the league's best defensive teams a few years ago, the Mets are tied for second in the major leagues in errors. They strike out constantly, ranking fifth in that category, while compiling one of the major leagues' lowest on-base percentages.

...A general manager for another team said: "I can't believe a team that spends that much money is that bad. There's nobody who really scares you when you look at their lineup, on paper. The only starter who might scare you is Al Leiter. They don't look real good."

Mike Lupica, the King of the tabliod columnists in New York, weighs in on the ugliness that is the Mets, and characteristically doesn't pull any punches:

The Mets have to make some kind of move over the next month or so, or get ready to make some moves, and big ones, moves that even might involve Mike Piazza. If that is the way things work out, if they are falling out of another race and out of another season in June, the first move has to be with Steve Phillips, the general manager. Who can't be allowed to make any more moves himself at that point.

2003-04-28 12:57
by Alex Belth


The Yankees return home to New York today, where it is a clear, sunny and brilliant spring day. It's the perfect day to talk a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. The Bombers start a six-game homestand tomorrow, and will face the Mariners and the A's. (Meanwhile the Red Sox will host the Royals and the Twins at the Fens.) Next week they fly out west to play in Seattle and Oakland. The next two weeks will be a good test of how the Yankees stack up against two of the best teams in the league.

Heavyweight Tom Boswell gives his take on the always-interesting/never-boring New York Yankees in The Washington Post:

They may be truly great this year, but, if you look closely, they're also old and flawed. They're admirable individually yet unpalatable collectively. They're off to the best start in their history. Which just sets 'em up for a big fall. Yes, right now, the Yanks have all their classic themes roiling at once.

...Never have George Steinbrenner's men been so brazenly greedy relative to the rest of the money-strapped sport. The Boss, luxury tax be damned, has topped all past buying frenzies. So his team has never been easier to hate. Feel the injustice of that $164 million payroll, a dozen times Tampa Bay's size. Let it burn. Doesn't it feel good? If your heart has a stitch or a seam in it, and you've never lived within the five boroughs, you have to root against them.

Yet, in this era, the Yankees define conflicted emotions. They're the team that's so exemplary they drag you, kicking, into their camp.

Gordon Edes reports on the Yankees early-season success in The Boston Globe, while Anthony McCarron delineates the power structure of the Yankees front office.

Lastly,John Sickels, ESPN's minor-league guru, has this to say about Derek Jeter's temporary replacement, Erick Almonte:

His strikeout rates are high, while his walk rates are all over the place, low at times but not so bad at other times. He is 25 years old, so he doesn't have a lot of development time left and is close to being as good now as he'll ever be.

Looking at the minor-league numbers, Almonte projects to hit between .230 and .260 in the major leagues, with touches of power and an erratic on-base percentage. What he's doing now is about what he should be expected to do, maybe a little better. He has no star potential that I can see, but certainly does enough to be useful as a middle infield reserve.

2003-04-28 12:04
by Alex Belth


The hot baseball book of the spring is clearly "Moneyball, The Art of Winning an Unfair Game," Michael Lewis' study of Billy Beane and the Oakland A's. Christian Ruzich, The Cub Reporter and Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus received reviewer's copies and are enjoying the book immensely, and quite frankly, I can't wait to get my hands on it too. The New York Times Magazine published an excerpt from the book last month, and Billy Beane comes across as a charming, slick, and danergous operator---like a shark from a David Mamet play. (Kevin Spacey should play him in the movie version).

Joel Sherman has a column on the book today in the New York Post. Needless to say, former Oakland skipper, and current Mets manager Art Howe, who was famously at odds with Beane, is not portrayed in a favorable light. Howe refused to comment on the book, but as Sherman reports:

Yesterday before his team was swept by Arizona while setting a double-header record with 27 strikeouts and committing an error at every position except third base, Howe described this discouraging first month of boos and boots as a "piece of cake compared to what I've been through in the past." When asked later if that meant his time under Beane, Howe would only say, "I had my moments."

As depicted in "Moneyball," the A's would not have been all that different if managed by a cardboard cutout of Howe. Unlike other GMs, Beane dictated (among other things) lineups, bullpen usage and strategy - specifically no steals or sacrifices. Howe would confirm with players who stole on their own that it was indeed their decision, so Beane would be furious with them and not him. Most unflattering of all was that Beane even ordered where and how Howe stood in the dugout - on the top step with his chin raised to project leadership to his players below, though Howe preferred to sit on the bench.

Considering the way the Mets played yesterday, Howe could have used cardboard cutouts of his players which may have at least cut down on all the errors.

TEXAS 2-STEP I'm happy
2003-04-28 07:09
by Alex Belth


I'm happy to report that my girlfriend Emily returned from her recovery-hiatus in the hills of Vermont this past weekend. She was down at my place in the Boogie Down Bronx on Saturday, and it was nothing short of great to be with her again. Em was even excited to watch the Yankee game on Saturday night, even though she was so beat by the time the game started, she didn't make it past the third inning. She was awake long enough to see her boy Giambi hit a first-inning home run. I had told her that Giambi---her favorite Bronx Bomber, had been slumping, so not to expect much. So naturally he hits a homer.

"Now that I'm back, he's going to be fine," said Emily.

David Wells didn't pitch particularly well, but he did go eight innings. The game irritated the hell out of me, for some reason. You know how there are some games that just drive you nuts? This was one of them. I figured the Yankees were going to be blown out. Boomer whiffed A Rod in his first two at-bats, but then Rodriguez jumped all over a 2-0 fastball his next time up, and tied the game with a solo shot to center. I turned in with the ol' girl during the seventh inning stretch figuring I had better things to do than dick around watching the game.

But I couldn't get to sleep, so against my better instincts, I got up to check the score about 45 mintues later, just in time to watch Juan Acevado K A Rod on three pitches (all looking), in the 10th inning to give the Yanks a 7-5 win. The Freak Soriano had 3 hits and collected the game-winning RBI off of Ugie Urbina.

Rodriguez, and The Rangers exacted a measure of revenge on Sunday, pounding the Yanks 10-6 to avoid being swept. A Rod went 5-5 and had 6 RBI, including a bases-loaded double that had Joe Torre second-guessing his decision to leave lefty Randy Choate in to face the King of Swing.

Sunday's game was the ugliest game of the series, but I didn't mind so much. Sometimes you gotta get spanked, right? Jeff Weaver didn't have much and when Joe Torre came to get him, he looked like he was trying to suppress a smile. Hey skip, I sucked pretty bad today, huh? The Yanks ended their longest road trip of the year at 8-2, so what's not to like about that?

I flipped back and forth between the game, and the Hoopskaball playoffs. As badly as the Yankees played, Jason Giambi pinch-hit in the ninth and represented the tying run. Even though the Yanks got smacked around, they still had a chance to win the game.

The Yanks are now 20-5, and the only drag is that the Red Sox are only 4 games back. Boston pulled out a 14-inning win over the Angels last night in Anahiem (incredibly, the Cardinals beat the Marlins in a 20-inning game yesterday too). Naturally, Pedro Martinez didn't get the win, although he looked fine, striking out ten in seven innings of work and leaving with a 4-2 lead.

I was talking with Ed Cossette of Bambino's Curse yesterday, and he expressed to me the constant anxiety Red Sox fans live with regarding Pedro's health. I was thinking about it later, and I have a question for the reader: Who was the last great pitcher who was as vunerable while he was in his prime as Martinez? I don't think the Koufax analogy works, because according to Jane Leavy's book, Koufax knew going into the 1965 season that his days were numbered. I don't get that sense with Pedro at all. Has there ever been as dominant a pitcher who was as frail as Pedro Martinez seems to be?

Inquiring minds want to know. (Like me.)

2003-04-25 22:07
by Alex Belth


The Yankees won the opening game of a three-game series in Arlington last night, beating the Rangers 3-2. Mike Mussina improved to 5-0, struck out nine, and allowed one run in eight innings of work. Mussina seemed to get better, working quickly, as the game went on. After striking out the side in the eighth inning, I was a disapointed that he didn't return for the ninth. Not only was Mussina spotting his fastball, and using his over-the-top knuckle-cuve effectively, but he added a three-quarter-arm breaking ball which had the mighty Texas bats stumped all night.

Juan Acevado pitched the ninth instead and made things interesting. With one out, Juan Gonzalez swung at a shoulder-high fastball and lofted the ball towards the seats down the third-base line. Robin Ventura followed the high pop fly, and carefully stepped onto the tarp, stood up, leaned over slightly and recorded the second out of the inning, before he fell gently over into the stands. Almost everything about Ventura appears laconic, and this play was no different. It was a sure-footed play, but it seemed as if it was happening in slow motion. YES broadcaster, Ken Singleton commented that Ventura, "Looks like one of those loggers, doesn't he?"

Carl Everett then reached on what looked like Alfonso Soriano's first error of the season (a difficult grounder to his left that he booted), and scored on Ruben Seirra's double to right (Raul Mondesi, showing off his powerful arm, almost nabbed Sierra at second to end the game). The second baseman, Michael Young was next, and he smacked Acevado's first pitch off the glove of first baseman Nick Johnson. The ball bounced to his right, and lil' Sori scooped it up and flipped it under-hand to Acevado to end the game. It was a long way to toss a ball under-hand, and Acevado practically snow-coned it in his glove, and they narrowly beat the streaking Young by a half-a-step, to seal the win.

Boy, the Rangers are a strange team. They are a motely crew of muscle-headed sluggers, managed by one straight-laced strategist in Buck Showalter. This is the first time Buck has managed against the Yankees since he left the Bronx in the October of 1995. Orel Hirshiser is his pitching coach, and the two of them look prim and studious.

Showalter and Orel each have their own, sleek little table-stand in the dugout. Hirshiser dilligently charted each pitch thrown by his staff. He has just the kind of business-like efficiency that makes him a perfect fit with Buck.

YES broadcaster Michael Kay said that he had asked A Rod before the game how he liked Showalter, and A Rod looked at him in the eye and said, "I love him. You know wanna know why? Because I crave discipline and he provides it."

It's not often that you hear your superstar saying he craves more order, and structure and accountability. Kay reported that Showalter compared Rodriguez with Mattingly, in terms of his love for the game and his work ethic. According to Kay, that is not a comparison Buck throws around lightly.

But the Rangers roster isn't just weird, it feels perverse. They have some youth of course, even though Mark Teixeira didn't play. The kid Hank Blalock did, and boy is he milk-fed, bro. "Good-looking ballplayer," as Buck O'Neil would say. He looks like a ballplayer. Or he looks like a jock, California-style, ala Shane Spencer. I would find it hard not to call him "meat." Mussina duped him into grounding into a weak ground out his first time out by throwing him an offspeed pitch on a full count; the next time up, he wacked a hanging curve ball up the middle for an RBI single; the last two times up, Mussina set him down on three pitches.

It was good to see Mr. Universe himself, Alex Rodriguez, and although I've never cared for him too tough, it was nice to see the smooth fielding, sweet-swinging future Hall-of-Famer Rafie Palmero too. But in the second inning, when Mussina faced Juan Gonzalez, Carl Everett and Ruben Seirra, I felt like I was watching a bad reality-TV show where they get a group of former celebrities and force them to live together. Or some ill espisode of the Rikki Lake show.

What a collection of Bone-heads, man.

My favorite Martian, Alfonso Soriano had a mutliple hit game again. As Steve Goldman noted in his Pinstriped Bible column this week, Nick Johnson is serving as a terrific counter-point to Sori. He is as patient as Sori is aggresive. Johnson collected a base on balls for the tenth consectuctive game. He flew out deep to left in his first at-bat, and hit a two-run homer to left in the sixth.

Jason Giambi put together a solid at-bat in the third, and drove a full count pitch up the middle to drive in the Yankees first run. Colby Lewis started for Texas, and he pitched well, mixing a good curve ball in with mid-90s gas.

2003-04-25 12:57
by Alex Belth


I'm not the only one calling Alfonso Soriano "The Freak," these days. Aaron Gleeman simply prefers "Freak of Nature," which is the same difference, really (Initially, I started calling Sori "Superfreak," but he's still too young for that title, which I think fits Vlad Guerrero better at this stage of the game). Gleeman, who has a real gift for statistical analysis, covers lil' Sori, and his freaky-ass self in his column today:

I will admit to being one of the people who thought that there was just no way Soriano could continue to hit like he did last season while never walking and striking out in bunches. And while I will gladly admit I am wrong, I do so while still in complete and utter disbelief of what he is doing.

...Since Soriano will basically swing at and hit anything that is thrown close to the strike zone (and by "close" I mean within 5 feet on either side and from the tops of his shoes to his helmet), many people have wondered "why pitchers ever throw him strikes." I have also wondered this, particularly after seeing this stat last season...

Alfonso Soriano putting the first pitch of an at bat in play in 2002:
97 at bats
45 hits
.464 batting average
.825 slugging %
6 homers
15 doubles

Those are just about the freakiest freak numbers that ever freaked the earth.

Freakin A, bro.

2003-04-25 12:06
by Alex Belth


Here are the last two installments of Steve Goldman's excellent Pinstriped Bible column over the YES website (I'm sorry I forgot to link last week's piece). Goldman offers objective analysis of the current Yankee team, while providing a thorough, and detailed historical context to measure their accomplishments by. It makes his weekly column a must-read for all Yankee fans.

This week, Goldman compares the 2003 Yanks with four other Yankee teams who got off to similar starts (1928, '39, '49, and '58---yeah, all those teams went on to win the World Serious).

Here is what Goldman has to say about Nick "Godzookie" Johnson, since Joe Torre moved him to the 2-hole in the batting order:

Nick Johnson is now displaying the great eye at the plate that made him such a prized prospect. Credit Johnson and the Yankees brain trust for mental flexibility: Johnson's minor league success came from crowding the plate within an inch of its life. He tried it last year, and other than earning him 12 free bases/bruises on HBPs, it didn't work. This season Johnson has backed off -- he hasn't been hit once -- and he's found that not only can he still control the strike zone, but he can control it better. The mechanical issue resolved, the man's natural ability has taken over. At this writing, Johnson is carrying a .982 OPS and there's every reason to expect more of the same.

When Jeter returns, Torre is going to face a tough decision as to how to reorder his lineup. Respect for Jeter's previous accomplishments dictates a return to the top of the order, but Johnson is doing things in the two-hole that aren't in Jeter's bag of tricks -- Johnson is likely to draw twice as many walks as Jeter takes in a typical year. Jeter does many things well, and he could bat anywhere, and should be encouraged to do so. Johnson's confident, he's hot, and should be a fixture at the top of the order from now on.

2003-04-25 11:51
by Alex Belth


Just how good are the 2003 Yankees? Jayson Stark has a column at ESPN that says, well, they are damn good, perhaps great. Of course, it is way too early to be talking about great anything (the mere suggestion makes my Spidey Sense tingle), but considering that they've been without Rivera and Jeter (and a productive Jason Giambi), the Bronx Bombers have done a good job of living up to their moniker, for sure:

"Sometimes in baseball," [Elias historian and analyst Steve] Hirdt said, "you'll see something so overwhelming that you regard it as a special measure of a special talent. Like Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game. Nobody has a game that good unless they're something special. And these Yankees have had 3¨ö weeks like that.

"It's one thing to have hot streaks. But to maintain it for 3¨ö weeks -- and not just against Tampa Bay, but by going 9-0 against Minnesota and Anaheim -- is kind of a signal. You begin moving away from saying this is an isolated case to where you say, 'This is significant.' "

..."They're like Tyrannosaurus Rex," Torii Hunter said the other day after the Yankees had finished wiping out the Twins for the seventh straight game by a combined score of 49-13. "Get them out of here. I'll get them a cab."

2003-04-25 08:24
by Alex Belth


Steve Keane, sole owner and proprietor of The Eddie Kranepool Society, writes:


Great work as usual on the Olney interview. I was struck by a few things Buster said.

About Tom Lasorda, My wife and I were going to the theater about two winters ago when we ducked into the Marriot Marquis on Time Square to warm up. There was a sportswriters dinner going on and I happened to see Lasorda standing near by. I went over to say hello and the guy looked at me like I asked him for a loan. What a phony bastard.

I go to Cape Cod every summer for vacation. Peter Gammons is a year round resident of the Cape and I got to know him a few years back seeing him at Cape Cod baseball games. He is a true gentleman. Not only is he baseball guru but his knowledge of rock n roll music is unmatched.

You would think just by accident some player would ask a beat writer about his family or where he went to school or any kind of personal small talk. I mean you see these guys the whole season. I guess the players are as self centered as we believe they are.

As a whole, I think athletes are self-centered, but not any more so than your run-of-the-mill actor, musician, or artiste. As a side note, Steve mentions today that it may be time for the ancient mariner of the Mets radio broadcast booth, Bob Murphy to step down. Personally, the less coherent Murphy becomes, the more I enjoy listening to him. His voice, garbled, and slurred, sounds like Schlitz Beer, if Schlitz Beer could talk.

"Eeeeeee Strugg 'im out."

BOMBED I got an
2003-04-25 07:41
by Alex Belth


I got an e-mail from Ed Cossette yesterday as the Sox were getting their tits lit in Texas, and he told me, "I guess I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue." Derek Lowe continues to be inconsistent, and manager Grady Little told the Boston Globe:

''Right now,'' he said, ''the biggest thing I'm looking forward to is getting the hell out of Texas.''

Trouble is already brewing between the Sox and the Boston press, according to the Boston Globe. Pedro Martinez is not talking to reporters, and now Grady Little has issued a mandate that his players only talk to the media about baseball related issues, after a definite-type-of-situation went down earlier this week.

For what it's worth, I'm sure Ed will feel just a wee-bit better when he wakes up this morning and finds out that the Yankees finally lost a game. Andy Pettitte didn't have much of anything last night, and the Angels jumped on him for six runs; the Yankee bats for once, were unable to rally, and the Yanks are no longer the best team in baseball. The best team would be your Kansas City Royals, baby. Don't throw rocks at the throne, playa.

Not for nothing, but I caught the tail end of Mike Lupica's diatribe against the Bronx Bombers last night on ESPN's the Sports Reporters II. Ostensibly, Lupica echoed what my friend John alluded to yesterday, and that is that watching the Royals win is much sweeter than the watching U.S. Steel win. I understand his point. If you are an average fan, what's not to love about the Royals winning? It's a great story. But the Yankee fan in me says, "Speak for yourself, papi." Lupica finds the Yankees to be obnoxious and joyless, which is fair enough. But that's not going to stop me from enjoying their success, no matter how high their payroll climbs. (Do I ever feel guilty about it? Sure. But it's all part of being a Yankee fan.) If you can't find any joy in watching Soriano or Bernie hit, then it's your loss, not mine. But hell, Lupica has to sell papers, I just get to root for my team.

2003-04-25 07:34
by Alex Belth


Things may not look promising for the Mets this year, but at least they are only 3 games out of first place. This doesn't feel like a team that go out and win 20 of 25 games, but at least Cliff Floyd and Robbie Alomar are starting to get hot. Floyd has been pounding the ball this week, and cursing the ill winds at Shea too, as he has had several balls knocked down short of the wall, and land safely in the gloves of the opposing team. Alomar had two doubles last night and now has nine on the season (he had 24 last year). What's more impressive is that he's driving the ball in the gaps like the Robbie of old.

Last night, Pedro Astacio made him first start of the year and Mets beat the Astros, 7-4.

2003-04-25 07:24
by Alex Belth


David Pinto has a nice exchange with Steve Bonner regarding the Yankees defense over at Baseball Musings. Pinto opines:

Yes, the defense and bullpen is weak. But the offense and starting pitching is so strong, those weaknesses are easily covered up. Sure, they can hurt them in the post-season; in a short series weaknesses can be easily magnified. But I would expect the Yankees to address the bullpen if it continues to be an issue, and I think the offense is good enough (especially if Jeter returns and Giambi starts to hit) to cover the weak defense.

2003-04-24 12:47
by Alex Belth


The Mets placed David Cone on the DL yesterday, and though nobody said it, his career could be over.

According to the New York Times:

Cone seemed surprised when asked if he would pitch again.

"I would hope so," he said yesterday. "I'm not willing to give up at this point. I'm also very much a realist. I also understand physically I need to be able to go out there and give more than I've shown so far, be more reliable and show I can hold up every five days and pitch more than five innings."

At the same time, Cone admitted:

"I've had a long, very good career," Cone said. "At this point, it'd be in bad taste to complain about anything. I've had so much good fortune in my career. This was kind of an experiment at first. It turned into a pretty darned good story and now it's questionable. I understand that.

"I knew that coming in that this would be tough, that there was going be a chance I couldn't do this physically. I still haven't conceded anything at this point."

2003-04-24 10:25
by Alex Belth


Here is an e-mail I got this morning from an old friend of mine, John Burdick, one of my creative writing professors when I was in college, who also happens to be a long-time Yankee fan:


From the AP:

"New York has outhomered opponents 43-5 -- hitting the most in the major leagues and allowing the fewest. The Yankees have as many homers as Detroit has runs."
Detroit is the new or posterboy for revenue sharing, now that KC is winning games and Montreal is not so bad at all.

In last night's romp, the Yankees left 27 men on base!

Now, you know I have my reservations about all of this. My team, right or wrong, of course, but I just don't enjoy it as much when they're payroll is 30M higher than the next closest, and when the only acceptable outcome is a championship, and even that is more a cause for relief than jubilation. Honestly, I wish I were a Royals fan right now. That would be fun. So I take to following individuals more than the team. Soriano looks to be rectifying the problem that kept him from winning the MVP last year, which is to say he didn't lead the league in *every* major offensive category. He looks a little bulkier to me this year, just a little.

Now, if you subtract the salaries of Jeter, Rivera, and Karsay, maybe their payroll looks more like the Mets'. Aw hell, subtract Giambi's too, as he's hardly been better than Rey Sanchez thus far. So no doubt, they are hot, *globally* hot, and it's not just money. But be still. It's a long season. Starters will slump and go down with injuries. The bullpen is suspect, but that doesn't show when the starters are going late and the offense is simply blowing everyone away.

The luxury is that just about the time Ventura, Posada, Matsui, and Mondesi start to decline, Giambi will be himself again and Jeter will be back. Bernie and Sori are the only others who need to be themselves all year all the time.

And correct me if I'm wrong, Alex, but isn't Bernie a traditionally slow starter, like a terribly slow starter? If so, damn, maybe this is HIS MVP year. Truthfully, I always thought he had an MVP in him, if he could stay healthy and play 145+ games.

BTW, I suppose you saw that my Orangemen won the national title? Nothing, no Yankee collapse or Laker triumph, can take the smile off my face this year. This was the most unlikely and most pleasant surprise of this fan's life.

Here is another e-mail I received today; this one is from reader, Steve Bonner:

Alex, First of all thanks for the great site and keep up the good work. I think the below quote, attributed to Rick Reed in Jim Caple's column this morning, sums up the Yankees perfectly:

"I'd like to give you my glove and and you go out there and try to pitch to that lineup,'' Reed told reporters after the game. "I'm thanking God we're in the Central and not the East. That's unbelievable. Un-be-lieveable.''


I want to thank all the readers who have sent me comments on the Buster Olney interview, and I especially want to thank my fellow bloggers (and Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus) for all the plugs and kind words. All of your support is more than somewhat appreciated.

ESPN has several good pieces on the Yankees today. Darren Rovell writes about the marketing of Godzilla Matsui, and Bob Klapisch reports on the Bombers hot start.

Jason Giambi, one of the few Yankees who is not on fire these days, told Klap:

"I can't even count how many times I've taken a walk with runners on first and second, just to load up the bases for Bernie," Giambi said. "To me, being disciplined at the plate, getting on base, scoring a lot of runs, it's the most important thing."

..."As soon as some of the other guys get cold, I'm going to get hot. And then Jeter is going to be back," Giambi said. "That's what a machine does -- it never stops. That's us. This could go on all year."

2003-04-24 07:12
by Alex Belth


"The Freak," Alfonso Soriano has hit a home run to lead off a game three times this year---all in support of Roger Clemens, who earned his 297th career victory last night in the Yankees 9-2 win over the defending World Champs. Raul Mondesi added a homer of his own, and Bernie Williams had a couple of hits and a couple of RBI (he now leads the team with 22). At the rate lil' Sori and the Yankees offense is going, how long will it be before the Yankees get in their first brawl? If they don't slow down soon, it's hard to believe that the rest of the league is going to sit back and watch them roll over everyone without getting a bit nasty with them.

Soriano's brilliance is unsettling in this regard: just how long can he keep this up? Both John Sickels and Rob Neyer confirmed his status as a freak of nature last year. So the question remains: Is Soriano a great player, or the next Juan Samuel? The great Sandy Koufax spoke with Joe Torre before yesterday's game and told the Yankee manager:

"I don't think I've ever seen anybody with quicker hands than Soriano."

There is something about Soriano's blinding talent that makes me question whether it will last over five, ten years. Still, it won't stop me from appreciating every moment that little freak gives us in the meantime.

The Bombers dominating offense and sterling starting pitching has masked the team's mediocre bullpen, which is starting to look like a M*A*S*H unit. Antonio Osuna joined Mariano Rivera and Steve Karsay on the DL yesterday with a strained groin. In his place, the Yankees have called up right-hander Al Reyes, who they picked up after the Pirates released him this spring. According to the Daily News:

Reyes, a 33-year-old righty, has eight years of experience in the major leagues. His career record is 15-8 with three saves and a 4.12 ERA. In eight relief appearances at Columbus, Reyes had one save and a 1.04 ERA. He struck out 10 in 8-2/3 innings.

The young Jason Anderson now moves into Osuna's set-up role, and the Yankees better pray that their bats keep clicking with Seattle, Oakland, and Boston on the horizon.

Rivera, who was supposed to throw yesterday, pushed his outing back one day due to some general soreness and will pitch this afternoon instead. He will likely join the team next week in New York when the Yankees face Seattle and then Oakland.

Meanwhile, Billy Conners is busy working on fundamentals and mechanics with Jose Contreras in Tampa:

"This guy has very good stuff, but he's a little messed up here," said Connors, the club's minor league instructor, motioning toward his head. "He has too much pressure to perform. What everyone is hoping is that we can get him to relax a little, get some success and self-confidence and quickly get him back with the team."

Contreras is scheduled to pitch for Triple A Columbus next Tuesday.

HURTIN' This morning I
2003-04-23 12:40
by Alex Belth


This morning I sent Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus an e-mail asking him what we should make of the Steve Karsay situation. Yesterday, the Times reported that he would likely miss the remainder of the season, but after his visit with Dr. James Andrews, the reports today are that he'll be okay....when we don't know. I'm not the swiftest cat on the block when it comes to sports medicine so I asked Will why Karsay would need two cortisone shots.

He replied:

[Karsay] needed relief in two distinct areas. NEVER a good sign and one that they're already thinking he's at significant risk. Still, it's just inflammation and not something surgical so there's still a chance he'll come back. Give him a week's rest and he can pick up his rehab again. Chance of recurrence? 100%.

Meanwhile, things are sure looking bleak over at Shea these days. David Cone left last night's game vs. the Astros after two innings with a gimpy hip, and to make matters worse, Jeromy Burnitz suffered a broken hand late in the game when he was nailed by a 97mph Billy Wagner pitch. Naturally, Burnitz had been the hottest hitter on the team.

I caught some of the game on TV last night, and after Cone was yanked, Mex Hernandez was talking about how it's probably time for Cone to hang it up. The announcers didn't know why Cone had been pulled from the game at that point, so I don't know if Mex changed his tune when he learned that Cone had been hurt. But I would doubt it.

Cone, one of the all-time stand-up guys, spoke with the media following the game:

"I don't think I can answer all the questions tonight," Cone said in reference to inquiries about a possible trip to the disabled list. "All I can say is I'm not ready to give up. It certainly was disappointing tonight. I know everybody is wondering if I can go on - or what I have left. Those are all legitimate questions. I certainly think about those things myself. But I showed enough in spring training, threw the ball well in my first start. And I know something is still there. I still believe I can help the team. I still believe I can win games. But tonight was a big setback. It's something I'm going to have to think long and hard about."

The Wilpons (Jeff and his father Fred) are going to have to think long and hard about the future of their team. I thought that Steve Phillips should have been kicked to curb along with Bobby V last year, and if anything good comes out of another misbegotten season at Shea, it will be the firing of the GM. Steve Keane, who runs The Eddie Kranpool Society, has been harping about Phillips for weeks now. For the skinny on the sorry sons of bitches from Queens, be sure and check out Steve's blog, pronto.

2003-04-23 08:00
by Alex Belth


Yeah, my heart skipped a beat too, when I recieved an e-mail carrying this subject-heading yesterday. I should have known better when I saw that it was from my ol' pal, Greg G, winner of the most obnoxious Yankee fan west of the Mississippi contest (and that's saying something). Fortunately for the Anahiem faithful, Greg G will not be attending the Yankee-Angels series this week.

After I was finished cursing him out for fooling me with his phoney headline, I must say, his e-mail made me smile:

AFTERMATH Jose Contreras had
2003-04-23 07:37
by Alex Belth


Jose Contreras had a bullpen session for the Yankee brass in Tampa yesterday and is scheduled to pitch a simulated game on Thursday. If all goes well, Contreras will start next Tuesday night for the Columbus Clippers. While George Steinbrenner has remained mum about the subject, Joe Torre has put his beef with George behind him:

"That's as far as this is going," he said. "Yesterday was our farewell swan song for that."

Mike Lupica spoke with former Yankee manager Dallas Green, who clashed plenty with George during his stint at the helm of the Bombers in 1989. Here is Green's take on the Torre-George affair:

I feel as if I know JoeTorre pretty well, and it must have taken a hell of a lot for him to take whatever beef he has with Steinbrenner this far. Particularly because he's been the one guy in all of history who's been able to work hand in hand with George, or at least the job George wants done with the Yankees."

"One more thing," Dallas Green, now a senior adviser with the Phillies, says. "Joe Torre is not an easygoing guy, even if he comes across that way. He is a tough guy. A tough, quiet, tough guy. If he thinks he's right and you're wrong, he's not going to let go. It's why I believe that eventually he'll have a face-to-face with George and get this straightened out, at least for the time being. After the season? I don't know.

"I keep hearing he won't ever walk away from his contract. I have a feeling Joe's got enough by now. And after this season, he might have reached the point where he feels as if he's done enough. And as if he's had enough."

We will be hearing that this is Joe's last year for the next six months, so we had better get used to it. Still, Green hit the nail on the head when he said:

..."Maybe it was as simple as him sending a message to his players at the same time he was sending one to George," Green says. "There's always the understanding, in every single clubhouse, that the clubhouse is for or against the manager. I'd assume that clubhouse is stronger than ever now for Mr. Torre."

At 17-3: mission accomplished, thus far.

2003-04-23 07:28
by Alex Belth


Since I get up at six a.m. during the week, there is no way I'm going to catch any of the Yankees-Angels series. I can't just catch the first few innings, because no matter what's happening, I'll get too worked up to fall asleep. Traditionally, west coast swings have been murder for the Bronx Bombers, so I have no qualms about holding out until the morning, and discovering the results on the backpage of the tabloids on my way to the subway.

Having said that, you can imagine the spring in my step this morning when I read that the Yanks rolled over the World Champs, 8-3 last night in California. Last week, a reporter asked Joe Torre if he looked at this series as a rematch of last year's playoffs. Torre said, "Let me ask you a question: If we sweep them, do we get their World Series rings?"

Still, the Yankees manager admitted:

"It's not just another series," Torre said. "You're playing the world champions. These guys manhandled us."

Bernie Williams had two hits and two RBI, "the freak" Soriano had two hits again (and so did Giambi), and Jorge Posada added a home run to keep the conga-line moving along. Jeff Weaver wasn't sharp, but he pitched well enough to earn the victory. Yankee starters are now 15-0.

Antonio Osuna left the game in the 8th inning with a leg injury. The morning papers didn't know the seriousness of the injury. In related news, the Times reports:

Reliever Steve Karsay, who cut short a bullpen session on Monday, saw Dr. James Andrews on Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala., and received two cortisone shots in his right shoulder. Andrews found no damage to the rotator cuff, and Karsay will resume his throwing program after resting for five days. "You couldn't ask for better news, considering how long we've gone with this thing," Manager Joe Torre said. "It was worrisome."

I will put in a call to the injury guru Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus and see what he makes of the latest news on Karsay.

BUSTING OUT Buster Olney
2003-04-22 08:02
by Alex Belth


Buster Olney and Mike Freeman have an front page article in The New York Times today on the state of drugs in Major League Baseball. The piece is lengthy and well-researched, though it ostensibly tells us what we already know: that athletes will do just about anything in their power to give themselves a competitive edge. What the article does shed some light on, is just how unsettled the players are about how to address the issue of drugs and drug testing. Olney and Freeman cover everything from steriods to amphetamines:

"Sooner or later, it's going to get out that there's a greenie problem, and it's a huge one," said [fomer player, Tony] Gwynn, who became the baseball coach at San Diego State after completing a 20-year career in 2001.

"Guys feel like they need an edge. It didn't seem like there was a lot of it earlier in my career, but I know that coming down to the end of my career, it was rampant on my club. I would just laugh at the guys. I'd be like: `You're 23 years old. What the heck, look at me, I'm in my late 30's, and I'm taking two aspirin and saying, let's go.' "

Union rep, Tom Glavine, disagreed:

"I have a problem with all these guys that aren't playing anymore now coming out and saying that all these problems exist," Glavine said. "If the problems were there and they were so prevalent, how come nobody said anything when they were playing?

"Is there stuff going on? Sure. Is it 50 percent? I don't think so.

As Malcom Gladwell told Rob Neyer last summer, most players have probably moved beyond steriods and are now experimenting with Human Growth Hormone, which is much harder to detect:

An aggressive drug-testing program would cut down on certain abuses, but its never going to catch everyone -- or even close to everyone. The drug-user is by definition always one step ahead of the drug-tester, since you can't develop a test for a drug until people start using it.

Does that mean we should give up? Probably. But there are two issues worth considering. The first is -- is it really true that drugs destroy the integrity of the game? Sure, everyone is hitting 40 home runs right now, but I suspect that's because hitters were quicker to pick up on the value of performance-enhancing drugs than pitchers. There's a chance that pitchers will "catch up" and bring the game back into balance.


I had the opportunity to meet up with Buster Olney on Easter morning at Shea Stadium to talk about the life of a baseball beat writer. Olney covered the Yankees for the Times from 1998 through 2001, and currently writes about the New York football Giants. We spoke for about 40 minutes in the chilly Shea Stadium parking lot, and I found him to be an engaging and bright guy.

I hope you enjoy our conversation.

The following interview was conducted on April 20, 2003.

Bronx Banter: Could you tell us how you became a beat writer?

Buster: When I was fifteen years old, Red Smith, who worked at the New York Times, came to the high school where I was and spoke there. Some of the English teachers knew that I was a sports nerd, so they kinda set it up so that I would sit next to him [Smith] at this dinner. And so we talked. That was about the age when I was starting to come to grips with the idea that I'm not going to play second base for the Dodgers. Or play right field. Or play for the Lakers.

BB: Where did you grow up?

Buster: In Vermont.

BB: So what's with the Lakers and Dodgers?

Buster: I read a book on Sandy Koufax when I was six and I became an L.A. fan. So anyway after I talked to Red Smith, it just kinda like popped into my head. I'd like to write [about sports]. You know, I was terrible.

BB: Terrible at sports?

Buster: Terrible at writing. But I loved sports. I was completely into it and it seemed like a natural thing for me to do, so I started working at my high school paper a couple of months later. And it's just what I wanted to do. Growing up I wanted to work at either the New York Times or the Boston Globe, and cover Major League Baseball, because that was always my love.

BB: How long did it take you before you reached the Times?

Buster: Aaah shoot, let me think here. I got there when I was 33 years old. So it was 17 years. I went to college at Vanderbilt; I worked at the Nashville Banner. My first regular, professional job. And then I worked four-and-a-half years for the San Diego Union, which merged into the Union-Tribune. I covered triple A baseball in '89 and '90 for the Nashville Banner. Keith Lockhart and Chris Hammond were two of the guys on that team that year. Then I covered the Padres in '93 and '94 for San Diego; covered the Orioles in '95 and '96.

BB: The Alomar years.

Buster: The whole spitting incident, yeah. And Ripken breaking the [consecutive games played] record in '95. It was an interesting two years, although they were by far the least favorite team of all the teams I've covered.

BB: Were there just too many sour personalities?

Buster: The sour personalities weren't as problematic for me as the number of guys who dogged it. There were players on the team that on a daily basis dogged it. And it was awful to watch. You know, people always figure since you cover the Yankees it's great because the team wins. I don't really care if the team wins, I care about writing interesting stories and there has to be an essential integrity to what you're watching on a daily basis. When I covered the Padres in '93, this was a team that lost 101 games, but the players made you care some. I mean here were these young guys that didn't know what they were doing, but they were great to watch. And obviously the Yankees were great to watch. I covered the Mets in '97 for the Times and then from '98 to 2001, I covered the Yankees.

BB: But you didn't grow up as a Yankee fan.

Buster: No, I hated them.

BB: Did that affect you when you covered them?

Buster: Well, the fan had gotten beat out of me¡¦well, not beaten out of me, that sounds too dramatic. It's just that you're training is to try and look objectively at things. Ah, when I met Tommy Lasorda when I was in Nashville in 1988 that pretty much took away my fan experience. You know I was a Dodgers fan, and he wasn't what anyone would have imagined. He was rather crass. That reinforced the notion that these guys¡¦You come to look at athletes as people you have to work with.

BB: How adversarial is your relationship with the players?

Buster: I think it's a lot different than people¡¦You know people by and large think baseball players are jerks. I think they are like any other group of 25 people, in any job: You like fifteen of them, don't have an opinion of eight of them, and can't stand two of them. That's the way it was for me. I found that players 95% of the time were very easy to deal with. I didn't run into too many difficult players over the years. You know Bip Roberts was difficult at times; Cal was difficult, when I was covering the Orioles. There were situations that would come up that would make a player more difficult, not necessarily the player itself, but like Knoblauch, on a daily basis would have to talk about his throwing problem. It became a little tough to deal with him, but you know, I don't really blame him. That's tough [not being able to throw]. I think that's one thing. People have to remember that these are guys, going to do their jobs on a daily basis, and I know that I have difficult days, and I can be moody. If some guy was a jerk on a given day, I just brushed it off and went on to the next day.

BB: What is the relationship like between you and the other beat writers?

Buster: Adversarial. My theory is that writers spend too much time talking to each other. My philosophy was to always be polite to everybody, I would never try to prevent anyone else from doing their jobs, I wouldn't like talk to other players about writers, or try to plant seeds, or try and do anything underhanded.

BB: I just read Bob Klapisch and John Harper's book about the 1992 Mets, "The Worst Team Money Can Buy," and they painted a tense portrait of the working relationship between that Mets team and the media. Was that your experience as well working the beat in New York, or was it just about that particular team?

Buster: I think so. Every team is going to have its guys that are difficult to cover, but that was a unique team. The worst thing to cover is a bad, veteran team, because the players are so cynical, the writers are cynical. Usually, the players are not playing that hard, because they are not excited. They probably recognize much earlier than a younger player would, how bad they are. Reading that book, and knowing some of the personalities¡¦You know Eddie Murray. At that time Brett Saberhagen [was] definitely immature. After a while, you can see the difference between you and the players. There's no question that in a sense it's a young man's business. When I was covering the Padres a lot of the players were my age. Now some of these guys you have in the clubhouse---

BB: Like Soriano.

Buster: Yeah, Soriano. When I started covering baseball he was like twelve, thirteen years old. I've had the experience of going through a number of different situations in seeing how players handle things. Let me give you an example. Randy Keisler was pitching for the Yankees [This was in 2001] and he had a bad game, and he was very emotional, and he basically ripped Stottlemyre and Torre saying, ¡®They didn't have faith in me.' It's my job as a reporter to ask the player his opinion. It's not my job to protect him from his own opinion. I remember sitting there, listening to this and thinking, oh you dumb schmuck. {ItaliCS}. But, hey, you know, you are supposed to report what the player is feeling. And there are times, as I get older, you definitely develop an instinct for, this is what you should say, this is what would probably be best, but you can't inject yourself that way.

BB: That kind of outburst was rare on the David Cone Yankees.

Buster: I think that Cone clearly was a guy who always knew how to deal with the press. Think of the players involved. Jeter is very savvy. He's intentionally boring, I think. He tones down his opinions because he knows how dangerous is can be for a player like him to go too far out on a limb. He's careful. O'Neil was great if the team played bad, because he would just indict himself. But if they played well, he would he would run away from you because he was superstitious and thought if he said anything, he'd blow it.

BB: What about Bernie?

Buster: Bernie doesn't like dealing with the media that much. I mean, he kinda runs, and when you get him, he's gracious. But there were definitely times when he would run out of the clubhouse. I think Cone provided a lot of cover for those guys because he would come out and make himself completely available. If he wasn't a pitcher he'd probably be the Whitehouse spokesman. I mean the guy could spin, and he was a talent, and Joe [Torre] could do the same thing. I think there was a tremendous amount of mutual respect for the players, and because Joe never blew up an issue. You know when Steinbrenner would say something inflammatory---he'd rip a player, rather than roll his eyes, or give a response that would escalate the situation, Joe would just it in place: Mr. Steinbrenner is the boss, and blah, blah, blah. One thing that is really important to players now is they want to hear from the manager first, rather than reporters, what an impending move, or their standing [is] and Joe uniformly, talked to the players before they talked to us. And that wasn't always great for us, I mean we wanted to get the information, but it was a tremendous way for Joe to maintain respect among the players.

BB: You know there was a lot of talk about how the clubhouse was different last year after losing Martinez, and Paulie O, and Brosius, even Knobolauch. But the other night I was watching Matsui sitting on the bench next to Todd Zeile and Robin Ventura, and I think they pick up where the old guys left off, in terms of providing a steady, veteran professionalism.

Buster: I think Matsui would have definitely fit in on that old Yankee team. Last year they got away from it, and lost their soul.

BB: Can you pinpoint what it was that was tangibly different?

Buster: Mondesi came in, and has a reputation as a guy who is very active off the field. And that's pretty different from what they had. You know his approach to hitting was you know¡¦.

BB: Dude is a hacker.

Buster: The thing that I remember about last year is the way Joe dealt with Giambi was very different than what I had been around.

BB: With kit gloves?

Buster: A little bit. Joe is always focusing on ways of winning, so in other words if he thought Cecil Fielder gave the Yankees a better chance to win than Tino Martinez in the '96 Series, he would put Cecil Fielder in the game. Strawberry would start one game; Raines would start another. And the players accepted it. With Giambi last year, I don't think there is a question that they are better team defensively with Nick Johnson at first base. It was interesting to see Joe, rather then at some point go to Giambi and say, 'We're a better team with you as a designated hitter,' and Nick Johnson as a first baseman. He never really did that. Giambi had good hands and no range. And he's not a very good defensive first baseman. And I'm curious to see if that takes place at some point. But that was a different type of thing from what I had seen with the Yankees.

BB: How much of a difference was there between the Mets and Yankees clubhouses?

Buster: The culture was definitely different. It's night and day. Joe, I think has a lot of players that he doesn't like. It's not players he doesn't like. For instance: Wells. I don't think he's going to be going out to dinner with Wells when he retires, but Joe realizes how to deal with a situation in a professional manner. With Bobby, I always thought he was superior to Joe in terms of in-game preparation. But in terms of managing people, he didn't do it as well. And that filtered over into the clubhouse. And I really believe this. I don't think the Mets have had good leadership in their clubhouse. They don't have leadership personalities.

BB: What's the deal with Mo? He was always known as a clubhouse guy in Boston. Is it all about having to produce?

Buster: Yes. He's a terrible player for the Mets. And because he is a terrible player, if he says anything, it kinda bounces off hollow walls.

BB: Isn't that what happened with Cone during his disastrous 2001 season?

Buster: I think so. Well, he felt that way; I don't think the other players felt that way. But he understood it because he had been around long enough. At the end of that year he had really toned it down in terms of talking [to the media] because he felt like he didn't have the credibility. And that's an important part of it.

BB: Do you think Bobby V's arrogance can be attributed to the fact that he's younger than Torre?

Buster: No. Joe suppresses a lot. I've heard about meetings between him and Steinbrenner where he basically picks and chooses his spots. Bobby is a guy who if he was a solider, would be in the front lines, always involved, always engaged. Joe is much more calculated. Bobby is quicker to react.

BB: Do you think Torre's years as a television broadcaster helped him understand the media angle better?

Buster: He says it did. But from my understanding of Joe, that's how he always was. Where as when you think about Bobby's history, you see that he was class president, ballroom dancing champion---

BB: Pancake-eating champ.

Buster: Yeah, he's out front on everything. 9-11, he was out there, all the time, trying to do things. He likes to be right out front. When he managed in the American League with the Rangers the other managers referred to him as ¡®Top Step,' because he was always on the top step of the dugout. Now, you could look at it and say he's only in it for his own ego, but after being around him, I think that's just the way he is. He likes to be out front.

BB: He's perfect for TV.

Buster: Yes.

BB: He's got the charm and the ego for it.

Buster: Ego, not so much. You could argue it's ego, but Bobby doesn't mind having his opinions known, and I think Joe picks and chooses his spots.

BB: Is Michael Piazza an easy guy to work with?

Buster: The beat writers like him a lot. This year, there is the perception that he isn't enjoying himself as much has in the past. But I know the beat writers think he's a terrific guy.

BB: You mentioned earlier that the relationship between beat writers is basically adversarial, was it the same way between writers at the Times, or were you guys all allies?

Buster: Definitely allies. I loved working with those guys. For instance when I covered the Yankees, Jack Curry and I would talk all the time, go through ideas, do a lot of sharing. The columns, the same way. If I heard something I'd tell Tyler [Kepner, now the main Yankee beat writer for the Times].

BB: How much did you learn from Murray Chass?

Buster: A ton.

BB: He's the Yankee Don, right?

Buster: I think there are two essential pioneers in our business. One of them is Murray, who was the first to really delve into the financial side of baseball. Think about how much is written on contracts and negotiations and stuff. I think that all started with Murray. And then you have Peter Gammons. He was the first to do a Sunday notebook. Which has now become a staple. Think about being a baseball fan, being excited, waking up Sunday morning, reading the baseball notes. Peter essentially invented that, and I think that the thing I've always admired about Peter is that he likes people. I know this, because I fell into this trap---and we all do---but Peter managed to stay out of it. He understands that you have to give people some space. You have to give players some space. And he hasn't gotten into the trap, even though he's almost 60 years old, of saying all ballplayers are jerks. He basically treats them as individuals and gives them the benefit of the doubt.

BB: Is Gammons widely admired amongst the baseball writers?

Buster: I think that most people that know him have enormous respect for him, yeah.

BB: How well did you work with the other guys at the paper?

Buster: Our paper was great. You hear stories. And that can come and go. Like when I worked in Baltimore, with Kenny Rosenthal. I loved working with Kenny. He had enormous energy: he could compliment what I did, I could compliment what he did. He could feed me stuff, I could feed him stuff, and it was totally wide open. Where you run into problems---and I never had this at the Times---is when the beat writer keeps stuff, hoards stuff away from the columnists. At the same time, if the columnist is not open to the beat writer, it's the same thing. And I never understood that because a beat writer is going to help the columnist, and vice versa. It seems silly to me when I've heard stories about that, but that happens.

BB: Do you enjoy baseball more now that you are not covering the beat anymore? Now that you do weekend-fill-in stints.

Buster: I always enjoyed it. I never lost---I love to come to the park, and I love to watch the games. And that never waned. The only thing that became extremely difficult was being away from home. Going away for ten days, two weeks, coming back, and your child is a different person than when you left. [Olney has a three-and-a-half year old daughter] But in terms of coming to the park, sitting down, starting up the pitch chart that I would keep, I loved doing that. I love watching sequences of pitches, seeing what the pitchers are trying to do. I'm probably watching more baseball now than I ever have.

BB: You got the dish?

Buster: Oh, yeah. Direct TV. Flip back and forth between games. Let's see what Brad Radke's doing. You know it's neat being able to see the Kansas City Royals. Because let's face it, where I grew up we didn't have a television. Everything I got was on radio. And if I saw a baseball highlight it was like a UFO sighting. And now, you can sit there and click through all these different games, and it's pretty neat.
BB: Did growing up with baseball on the radio force you as a writer to pay greater attention to detail?

Buster: I would guess that is true. Ned Martin and Jim Woods were the Red Sox radio broadcasters. And I never got more excited---you ask me about being a fan, and there are times I walk up to players like Reggie Jackson, who I rooted against as a kid, it's a benign experience to me now. But when I saw Ned Martin, I almost tackled him; I was so excited to see him. I think I scared him. Thank you Mr. Martin, so much, I learned so much about baseball from you . We used to have a silver radio that we would carry around---I grew up on a dairy farm, and we had a silver radio, about four inches by six inches. And I would just take that with me, through hay fields, on the tractor, shoveling manure, stacking wood. That's what I would do all day. At nights, I would listen to WDEV in Waterbury, Vermont and the signal would go dim at eight o'clock. So I would try to pick up games from other cities. CAU in Philadelphia. I heard some Expos games on the French stations. I don't understand a word of French, but I got to know the scores, and I learned the numbers so I could pick up the scores. It was funny I had a hard time picking up Yankee games, but I could pick up the Phillies, Orioles. I remember one game, it must have been a weird atmospheric thing, I actually got a Mariners game. And I don't know why. But for about an hour I got the bounce, all the way across the country.

BB: You grew up in Red Sox country. Do you root for the Sox?

Buster: No, I was actually a huge Dodgers fan. Psycho Dodgers fan. I followed the Red Sox because that's the team I could listen to on the radio. And you know, I wanted them to win the '75 World Series; made bets with my teachers. Going to Fenway Park¡¦you know, that my Mecca. Going to games. But I didn't quite catch that sickness. And that's quite a relief. I can imagine going through my whole life thinking, there's no way one of my teams is going to win a World Series.

BB: Well, what are they going to do with themselves when they do win a World Series?

Buster: They won't.

BB: They won't?

Buster: No. (Laughs)

BB: Will a Chicago team win the World Series before the Sox do?

Buster: Before the Red Sox, yeah. No, I'm kidding. No, they obviously have a good team this season. But it's part of the culture that they won't [win a Championship]. It's part of the culture that they'll fail. In some ways it's reassuring. I've met Chicago Cub fans, whose team does badly, and they seem relish that a little bit. Oh, yeah the Cubs stink . Where as the Red Sox fans are like, every year: This is the year! . It's reassuring that have it there. It's like a prisoner with like a life sentence or a death sentence, waking up in the morning thinking: I'm going to get out! I'm going to get out!

BB: It seems to me that the baseball life can be and extremely lonely one. The constant travel. It must affect the writers just as it does the players. Did you have some sort of empathy with what players go through in this regard, or them with you, for that matter?

Buster: No. In the years that I covered the team I think I had two players ask me about my family, or knew something about my family, period. I mean it's a totally one-way relationship. It didn't bother me too much, and I think the reason why is because I grew up in such a small town. I would basically be alone on the farm for three months at a time. It doesn't bother me to be alone. But I do think it does--and I don't know what it is, and I haven't been able to define it--but it does something to your personality that makes most of the relationships you are in, totally one-way. I think what covering baseball does actually, is it takes away your own empathy. Because when you walk up to a player, it's so much about them, it's all about them, it's all about them. Some days they are a little bit annoyed that you are asking questions about them. And I found myself toward the end of my being a beat writer, feeling that way toward people in my life.

BB: They are always interviewing you.

Buster: They're asking about me, and I was so busy, that I would be like: You know, I'm really busy . I don't know exactly how to define it, but I know that now that I've been off the beat, I can see how the life can skew your personality if you do it for too long. There is something unhealthy about living your whole life where everybody in your life, you focus on them, and they aren't interested in you. Not that they should be.

BB: You get about as much love as an unsolicited shrink.

Buster: Yeah, right. Exactly. I'm not complaining about it. It's not like it bothered me that players didn't ask me. But it's part of the dynamics and it's odd. It's odd. It's not normal. If I worked with you in an office and I got to know you, I would know if one of your kids was born, even if we weren't good friends. I would still know that; send a card, wish you Merry Christmas and that type of thing. And it just didn't exist that way. If you think about it, you deal with these guys and you know so much about them. You know their personal lives, you know how much they are making, their moods, their mood swings, and they don't know anything about you.

BB: Nor do they care.

Buster: No.

BB: Even Torre and these guys? The coaches.

Buster: I mean they may know you from your writing. But you know I had a child when I was on the beat, and nobody asked me about it or said anything. It's not a complaint, it's just the way it is.

BB: How do you find football players to be different from baseball players?

Buster: Well, there is definitely a harder line of us against them [in football]. I think baseball players generally view the writers as colleagues. It's like Hey, howya doing . You walk up to Mike Stanton, How you doing tonight? Yeah, tough game. With football players, it's like climbing over the wall to see their personality. The access you have in baseball is great. You have three-and-a-half hours before the game, lots of time after the game. In football, it's 45 minutes. You are rushing around, you don't have any time to say to a player, How you doing? And I've probably felt that type of connection with Tikki Barber, Strahan a little bit. A couple of the guys: Jason Garrett, who is the back-up quarterback. But it's much more difficult to get that in football. I understand why the NFL does it, because they want to keep that hard line. But I think people don't understand the personalities like we do in baseball and I think that is a detriment. Think about how much we learned about someone like Clemens, or Cone, or Brosius or O'Neill, because of the time that writers got to be able to know these guys.

BB: Are you going to stay with football for the foreseeable future?

Buster: You know the dynamics of it, where you cover the same players and only have sixteen games to write about? I don't see myself doing it for the rest of my life, that's for sure. I can see two or three years.

BB: Would you like to go back to baseball as a columnist?

Buster: I think that's Times choice. I love covering baseball, but I really love covering the NFL. I love the strategy, I love trying dissect that. There was a lot of stuff that happened in the games that was fun to explore like baseball was fun to explore. I loved covering the Giants last year, I just can't see doing it for a long time.

BB: Could the paper just up and put you on the NBA beat if they wanted to?

Buster: It's the same thing as baseball. The travel. In theory I would love to cover the NBA. I covered a ton of college basketball, the southeastern conference. So I love basketball, but the travel is brutal.

BB: Who was the best baseball player you covered while working on the beat?

Buster: The best player that I ever saw was Robbie Alomar in the first half of the '96 season. Every day the guy invented ways to win games. He was incredible. Then he broke he was thumb midway through that year, but for those three months, he was the best player I have ever seen. Deon Sanders is the fastest player I ever saw. There is no doubt that the most winning player was Jeter. I mean he just had an enormous prescence.

BB: When did the Yankee team look at Jeter like OK, he's the one?

Buster: See I don't know, cause I wasn't doing the Yankees until '98. I don't know if it was there right away.

BB: Was it there in '98?

Buster: Oh yeah. He had established himself as being a guy who cared a lot, but they could see that in '94, '95 when they saw him in spring training.

BB: We know Jeter's defensive numbers don't stack up. And there are several guys at his position who are superior offensively. So you try and rate him, and he may be the forth or fifth best shortstop in the game, but he may be his team's most valuable player, in spite of how well the Yankees have played without him.

Buster: Except for Rivera. I think a lot of the players on the other teams believe that Rivera is essentially the difference between the Yankees winning two championships and winning four or five. Because the Yankees had what other teams didn't have: a closer who would not lose in the ninth inning. He has this very calm demeanor but he is unbeliebably competitive. The purest confidence I ever saw in any player I was around came from Rivera and Jeter. I mean it wasn't even close. The classic thing about Rivera is when he gave up the homer to [Sandy] Alomar ['97 playoffs], the next year, you had the stereotypical story for every writer: Was this thing that was going to devastate Rivera? Would he have a Donnie Moore moment and never come back? So we watched him answer all theses questions, over and again as all the different writers came into the city, and he was very genteel about it. He always answered all the questions. And I said, ¡®It really doesn't bother you, does it?' Then he explained to me what he believed in his heart, or what he'd convinced himself, is that Sandy Alomar was lucky that he was pitching. Against any other pitcher, he never would have hit a home run. Because Rivera throws so hard, and throws it out over the plate, Alomar sticks his bat out, gets it off the middle of the bat, it flies into the stands. So Rivera thinks that even though he lost the game, he was in control of the situation. That's pretty rare. And he and Jeter are the only two players I saw that were like that. And actually, Jeremy Shockey, the Giants tight end has some of those same traits. You can see it right away; he thought he could control situations. O'Neill was a great player, and Cone was a great player, and so was Clemens, but they don't they didn't have that same level of confidence.

BB: Did Reggie Jackson have it?

Buster: I don't know. No, I don't think he did. There were times when he would struggle for two or three months at a time. I would guess not, but I can't really answer that.

BB: You mentioned that Robbie Alomar at one point was the greatest player you ever saw. When you see him know is it just a totally different guy?

Buster: Totally. Completely different. He can be a very moody player. I think that the Hirschbeck incident took a lot of his energy out of the game. I know he hated being booed, he hated the way people felt about him. You know he was public enemy number 1 for a couple of years. Every park that the Orioles went to, he got booed.

BB: What exactly did Hirshbeck say to him?

Buster: The situation was, it was late in the year, and the Orioles needed to win the game. It was a very tense game. In an important moment, Robbie complained about a call, went back to the dugout, and Robbie said, ¡®Just pay attention to the game.' Then Hirschbeck threw him out. He came on the field, Robbie's going nuts. [Baltimore manager] Davey Johnson asks Hirshbeck, ¡®Why did you throw my best player out of the game?' And he said, ¡®I don't care about that motherfucker, he's outta here.' Robbie was right there. Now subsequently people said that Hirshbeck used a racial slur, or that he was gay, or whatever it was, but that night, what everyone involved said, was, I don't care about that motherfucker . I think the other stuff is revisionist history.

BB: Do you think baseball is ready for a gay player to come out?

Buster: No. It's interesting cause when I covered the Padres Billy Bean was on the that team [that's Billy Bean, the gay ballplayer, who came out publicly a few years ago, not Billy Beane the Oakland GM]. I really believe that if any team would have been able to handle that situation, it would have been that team. Because the best player, Tony Gwynn, is a very tolerant person, he's very broad-minded. It was a very young team, that had stripped it down and they had all these young players, and Billy was very well liked. Some of the other leaders on the team like [Brad] Ausmus, were very bright guys. Trevor Hoffman, very accepting personality. If it was going to work, it would've worked on that team. But there is no doubt veteran teams like the Yankees I covered, or the Mets now: no chance. There is no chance.

BB: Because of the hoopla that would surround it?

Buster: Well, not only that, but the anticipation of it would prevent the front office from even making the move. Saying that, if the greatest pitcher in the game came out and said he was gay, they'd probably bend the rules. But it would have to be a great player. If you think about how they did it with Jackie Robinson, part of the reason why it worked was because he was a great player.

BB: And they chose him for his personality as much as his ability as a ballplayer.

Buster: Exactly. Billy Bean said that it's basically unworkable, and I agree with him. It would have to be a player who is established. A player who won three Cy Young awards and then came out. Right. And even at that point, he would never be accepted by half of the players. No matter what he did or what he said.

BB: How are women reporters treated in Major League clubhouses now? Are they more or less accepted?

Buster: By and large they are expected. But I can honestly say there have been times when players have come up to me and said, ¡®Why does she have to be here?' Some of them are leery, and suspect¡¦

BB: That they are pecker checkers.

Buster: That they are leering at the players, yeah. But I think most of the players dealt with it professionally. Are they all comfortable? No. But they dealt with it professionally.

BB: Are the male sportswriters uncomfortable with women reporters?

Buster: No. I never heard a word from another male reporter about it. I always thought it was extremely difficult for women to cover baseball. More so than in football because of the access you have in baseball. You have an incredible amount of access in baseball. A lot of beat reporting is based on relationships you have with the players. A woman can come in there and be the best reporter in the history of the sport, be the greatest writer, and at least a third of the players, if not half, would never accept her. Just because that's just the way of the world I guess. It's not right, but that's the way it is. As a male writer in baseball, I could exploit the tremendous amount of access that I had. There is a comfort level they are going to have with me that they would never have with a woman.

BB: How much of a barrier existed between you guys and the Latin players?

Buster: None. Sojo was one of the nicest guys I ever covered and Duque was one was one of the most difficult guys I ever covered. The language thing could be frustrating and I was glad that I had taken some Spanish in high school.

BB: What about my boy Hurricane Hideki Irabu?

Buster: I thought him to be one of the saddest players I ever covered. He so had so little self-confidence. I don't know him, and I can't document it, but I just thought he was like the kid who got picked on in high school, and was just very defensive. There was something about his background; you could just see he had no self-confidence.

BB: Do you get the same impression from Jose Contreras, or have you not been around enough to see him?

Buster: I don't know him. The times I've seen him, the body language, you can tell he doesn't have much confidence right now. Whether or not he can build that up, I can't say. But there is no doubt watching him pitch, that he doesn't have any confidence.

BB: When you go into the Stadium this morning have you already thought of an angle for today's story?

Buster: No, I'm actually working on the book I'm doing.

BB: What's the book about?

Buster: It's about the Yankees championship run.

BB: Oh cool. It's about time. Hey, this is something I wanted to ask about the transition years in the early 1990s: how much influence did Brain Sabean have in developing some of the farm talents?

Buster: I think Stick [Michael] and Showalter were the two main guys. Sabean learned a lot, but Stick definitely changed the culture and changed what they were looking for: more left-handed hitting, on-base percentage guys, and quality personality guys. Getting rid of guys like Mel Hall, and bringing in guys like Mike Gallego. Even though he wasn't a great player, there was a culture a respect that clearly developed in the early ¡®90s.

BB: I always felt like when they won it in '96, somebody should have held up a glass to Don Mattingly in the locker room after the game.

Buster: He started that. There are strands of his DNA all through the championships. Jeter told this great story about him. The two of them were on a backfield during spring training. And they were by themselves. The team was off playing a team in another town somewhere, and those guys were just working out. This was '95. And Mattingly turns to Jeter in an empty stadium and says, ¡®You never know who is watching. We'd better run it in.' So these two guys run it in, cause that's the right way to do it. And a lot of the players from O'Neill to Bernie, talked about Mattingly's respect for his teammates, and how well he treated his teammates. That continued all through the championship years. And that, by and large is still present today. The players have an enormous amount of tolerance for each other. Irabu tested it, Wells tests it. But if you go in their clubhouse it's a lot more tolerant than the Mets clubhouse let's say. There is a perception that some of the Mets under-cut Bobby. Some of the players don't like Benitez, the ownership. It's just a very different culture than the one you find at Yankee stadium.

2003-04-22 07:09
by Alex Belth


Even as the Yankees mushed the Twins yesterday 15-1, completing the season sweep, and improving their overall record to 16-3, all was not well in Yankee land. The latest controversy between Joe Torre and George Steinbrenner is far from over, and according to the New York Times, the Yankees will likely be without the services of set-up reliever Steve Karsay for the remainder of the season (speaking of injuries, Rafael Hermoso reports that Cliff Floyd's gimpy achillies may be a long-term problem for the Mets this year):

Asked if he could count on having Karsay this season, Manager Joe Torre said no.

"We're starting from scratch here," Torre said. "I'm sure there's going to be a period of time when he's not going to do anything. You're looking down the road farther than we can see."

Steinbrenner has yet to respond to Torre's public criticisms of the Yankee owner, but yesterday the skipper said:

"I'm over it," Torre said. "But I can't pretend it never happened."

..."Everybody knows when you work for the Yankees, you pretty much have to be ready for anything," Torre said. "I've always been loyal to the people I work for, and to me, I feel good about that part. But I'd like to believe loyalty's a two-way street, too."

Joel Sherman joined Mike Lupica in suggesting that this may be Torre's final season with the Yankees:

Steinbrenner has created an unacceptable paradigm for himself. He will do anything to win, but the more the Yanks win the more credit Torre gets and Steinbrenner hates how much credit Torre gets. Thus, even winning can no longer be a shield for Torre.

So I fully expect - championship parade or not - that Torre will step away after this season with a year and around $5 million due him. Torre loves his money, but he could always get more of that on TV, the lecture circuit or writing books on leadership. He only has one reputation and the post-career opportunities will diminish if Steinbrenner muddies him too badly.

No one talked to yesterday who knows Torre and Steinbrenner expects Torre to resign during the season or The Boss to fire him. They feel Torre is too committed to his players to pull a Roy Williams and walk away. But they figured with Torre's buddies, bench coach Don Zimmer and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, likely to go after this year, he will simply follow.

David Pinto thinks that George will come to his senses and move past this mess, but I'm not convinced. At the very least, this incident should serve as a reminder to Yankee fans that we should be appreciating and savoring every moment of every game this year. Because when Joe joes, who will stop George from ruining the Yankees all over again?

The Twins must be happy they don't have to face the Yankees again. Boomer Wells pitched his second complete game of the season yesterday,"the Freak" Soriano, belted a grand slam, Bernie Williams added a homer, while Nick Johnson hit two of his own to lead the Yankees conga line past Minnie. The Gashouse Gorillas head to Anahiem tonight to face the World Champion Angels in a 3-game series, before ending their longest road-trip of the season with a weekend series in Arlington against the Rangers.

2003-04-21 08:25
by Alex Belth


Things have been going too well for the Yankees. They've been playing terrific ball, despite missing their two biggest stars, Jeter and Rivera. And in spite of the fact that the Red Sox are keeping pace with them in the AL East. Maybe George Steinbrenner is bored. He reared his ugly head again this weekend.

In an uncharacteristic display of emotion, Joe Torre publicly criticized Yankee owner George Steinbrenner before he won his 700th game as manager of the Bombers, over the organizations decision to send struggling pitcher Jose Contreras to see George's pitching guru in Tampa (Billy Conners), after Torre had told Contreras that he would be headed for Triple A Columbus. It is the angriest Torre has been in his eight years as Yankee skipper.

According to the New York Times:

"I know my place and I know my job," Torre said today. "But don't ask me to make a decision and tell me it's my decision and not have it be that way."

..."If he wanted to send me a message, he could have told me on the phone the other day," Torre said. "He certainly doesn't have to send me a message that he's the Boss. We all know that."

..."I suggested we want Billy to come up here," said Torre, who is not close to Connors and could have been speaking sarcastically. "This way we could all benefit from his knowledge."

I was out at Shea Stadium early yesterday morning to conduct an interview with New York Times writer Buster Olney. Olney covered the Mets in 1997, and then worked the Yankee beat from '98 through 2001 (he now covers the New York football Giants, and is currently writing a book about the Yanks). We spoke for about 40 minutes in the chilly Shea Stadium parking lot before he went to work---Olney spells the regular beat writers on the weekend (I hope to transcribe the interview and have it posted later in the week). We had no idea about the impending Contreras/Torre controversy, but here is how Olney characterized the Yankees' manager:

Joe never blew up an issue. You know when Steinbrenner would say something inflammatory---he'd rip a player, [and] rather than roll his eyes, or give a response that would escalate the situation, Joe would just put it in place: Mr. Steinbrenner is the boss, and blah, blah, blah. One thing that is really important to players now is they want to hear from the manager first, rather than reporters, what an impending move, or their standing [is] and Joe uniformly, talked to the players before they talked to us. And that wasn't always great for us, I mean we wanted to get the information, but it was a tremendous way for Joe to maintain respect among the players.

...Joe suppresses a lot. I've heard about meetings between him and Steinbrenner where he basically picks and chooses his spots.

Yesterday, Torre picked his spot:

"I sat in my room yesterday with the young man and told him where he was going, and it turns out that I'm the liar here," Torre said. "That's the sad part. I always pride myself to be as honest as I can possibly be. When that gets questioned, especially when you're dealing with a communication problem, then I have a problem."

Mike Lupica opines:

Everything that has happened since the start of spring training makes me believe this is Torre's last season, one way or the other.

...Is this a calamity? It is not. The Yankees are too rich and too good. They put all controversies behind them the way they put all the bad teams in the American League East behind them, and will eventually put the Red Sox behind them.

...Torre and Steinbrenner will get past this, the Yankees will get past this. Neither man will forget, whatever they say from here. This is a big deal, even when the Yankees keep winning. The manager made it a big deal.

Expect George to fire back. Torre accomplished what he set out to do: maintain his authority and respect level in the clubhouse, with his players. He's willing to take the hit with Steinbrenner in the papers in order for his players to know where they stand with him. Maybe Lupica is right. What if Torre walks away, regardless if the Yanks win the championship or not? What will George have to say for himself then?

2003-04-19 08:46
by Alex Belth


The Yankee machine kept rolling along over the weekend against the Twins. The Bombers won all three games and extended their winning streak to 12 over Minnie. About the only bump in the road came on Sunday, when Joe Torre blasted George Steinbrenner, but I'll get to that in a moment.

Roger Clemens was not sharp on Friday night, but he was his usual plodding, domineering self, and he powered the Yankees to a 11-4 win, aided by homers from Ventura (who hit two), Mondesi and Soriano.

The funniest play of the game was when Clemens covered first on a slow roller to Jason Giambi. It looked like two offensive lineman doing an egg-toss drill. Clemens caught Giambi's lip and slid/crashed into first base to record the out.

Anderson, Contreras and Osuna followed Clemens to close the Twins out. Contreras allowed a double and a base on balls and was swiftly yanked. He stood out even further because of his flacid mechanics. The other Yankee pitchers worked quickly, with confidence, while Contreras continued to look lost. He wasn't using the lower-half of his body, his legs, at all. It's even more glaring because he's such a big, powerfully-built guy.

Jason Giambi continued to struggle, swinging through fastballs. The Yankee bullpen was a bit shaky again, and Giambi angrily scooped a throw in the dirt late in the game, that was pretty funny. Torre whispered something in the slugger's ear as he came off the field.

Saturday's game was closer, but the Yanks still managed to come out on top, 4-2. Andy Pettitte pitched a nice game, and Chris Hammond and Juan Acivedo closed the game out with some flair. In the sixth inning, Tori Hunter made a sensational catch, robbing Nick Johnson of a homer. Two batter later, Hunter almost pulled off the feat again, but Bernie Williams' shot was caught by a fan in the first row, and Hunter slammed his mitt into the wall in frustration. (It was the second magic trick Bernie had pulled off in two nights; on Friday he somehow was called safe on a steal of second.) It has just been going that way for the Twins.

Sunday's game held some promise for Minnie, with their young gun Kyle Lohse taking the hill, but after giving up lead-off singles to Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson to start the game, Jason Giambi tee'd off, and creamolished a fastball to straight-away center to give the Yanks a 3-0 lead. Giambi, who had been 0-8 since Friday, ended the day with two hits, and he also blistered a line-drive that was turned into a double-play. Giambi may be stirring from his slump, and is certainly the most dangerous .194 hitter in the league. With Mike Mussina pitching for New York, the Twins were in trouble, and the Yanks cruised to an 8-2 win. Ron Gardenhire protesting home-plate umpire, Joe Brinkman's stingy strike zone, got himself run early, but it didn't help his team too tough. Bernie Williams hit another homer.

Alfonso Soriano had at least two hits in all three games. A few weeks ago I was looking for a word that best describes Soriano. "Freak" was the most apt word I could come up with. Then I thought maybe we should call him "Superfreak." But after thinking about it for a while, I think Vladimir Guerrero is "Superfreak," and Lil' Sori is just "The Freak." Still, there is no other way to explain him. He's just a freak of nature.

For full coverage on the Twins, check out Aaron Gleeman and John Bonnes' excellent Twins Geek blog as well.

2003-04-18 07:24
by Alex Belth


On a cold and blustery afternoon in the Bronx, Jeff Weaver allowed three hits over 7 2/3 innings, and earned his first win of the season as the Yankees shut-out the Blue Jays, 4-0, to improve to 12-3. Weaver threw a lot of breaking pitches, as he was without his good fastball. John Flaherty, who started in place of Jorge Posada behind the plate told the Times:

"A sign of a good pitcher," Flaherty said, "is a guy who doesn't have it and can still go out and get a quality start. Maybe you're seeing him grow up."

Raul Mondesi continued his hot hitting, collecting two more hits, including a solo homer. Manager Joe Torre told the Post:

"I like the start he's had because of his average. Last year took him out of the way he should be hitting," Joe Torre said. "With two strikes he was an easy mark. Now he's grinding better, hitting back up the middle. It allows him to be productive without the home run."

Mondesi credited Reggie Jackson, who worked with the slugger throughout the spring, for his improved patience and offensive production:

"I try to be around him as much as I can," Jackson said, "just to boost his confidence until he can fly again on his own. He's not a No.8 hitter, that's for sure, and I'm certain you're gonna see him moving up in the lineup before long. They told me last winter that Raul just needs to be liked. So did I."

Lil' Sori added a solo shot of his own, and who else but Godzilla Matsui delivered a bases-loaded double to give the Yankees all the runs they would need.

The heavyweights of the New York press were out in full form this morning praising the Yankees for their fast start: Mike Lupica, Bill Madden and George Vecsey.

Lupica spoke with Toronto Manager Carlos Tosca (who looks like a combination of Larry Bowa and W.C. Fields), who is more than somewhat impressed by this year's Yankees:

"They're like the cavalry. They just keep coming over the hill. And after awhile, you think to yourself, 'Well, the Third Division can't be as strong as the First.' But it is. Believe me when I tell you. They don't stop coming, and they don't quit."

..."No matter what the score in the game," Tosca said, "you never have the sense that they think they have enough runs. In that way, they really don't ever go away. You watch other teams and they score a certain amount, and you can see them backing off. The Yankees don't do that. They are the best I've ever seen at add-on runs."

Meanwhile in Boston last night, Pedro Martinez bounced back from the worst performance of his career, to blank the D-Rays, 6-0 in Boston last night. As we all know, an angry Pedro, is a scary Pedro:

''Cold weather and Pedro,'' Tampa Bay first baseman Aubrey Huff would say afterward. ''It wasn't a very good mix.''

No kidding, bro.

2003-04-18 07:20
by Alex Belth


Here is a letter I recieved this morning from Harley, a loyal reader of Bronx Banter, responding to my column yesterday about the Yankees' suspect defense:

ALEX: I understand why one might suspect that 'shoddy defense' will bring the Yankees back to earth in the near or sorta near future. But then again: this assumes Soriano is incapable of improvement (something the first month of the season belies), that Posada will never figure out how to block the plate (okay, that's probably a lock), that Matsui will falter in left (haven't seen it so far), that Bernie will continue to decline (who cares! he's hitting the cover off the ball!!), and so on. Or look at it this way, because nothing really matters unless it is examined in the context of the Red Sox. The Yankees have superior gloves at two of three outfield positions (I'm giving Damon the nod, but not by as much as you think). It's a wash at third, but you could give it to Ventura because Shea's got hands of stone. Okay, Nomar, but he's made more errors in the playoffs per game than Derek ever did. The difference at second is insignificant because Soriano's athleticism will carry the day. And the Giambi/Johnson hybrid is just fine by me. The latter is not a detailed sabermetric analysis, but then again, the Numbers Boys are to baseball as Milton Friedman is to economics. It all
looks great in the abstract. But in the real world? Governments collapse, the Red Sox fall.

Cheers. HARLEY.

PS Just mortgaged the house to pick up two second row seats behind the Yankee dugout in Anaheim. God help me -- and them -- if those morons are still bashing plastic tubes together.

I should put Harley in touch with my boy Greg G, a native New Yorker now living in Venice, who has made a cottage industry out of terrozing the Southern California locals at Angels games. You take the lout out of the Bronx, but you can't take the Bronx out of the lout. Ya heard?

2003-04-17 13:46
by Alex Belth


I know baseball season has officially begun when I start grinding my teeth whenever the Red Sox win a game. I have tried to be fair in my coverage of Boston's Home Nine, but now that the games count, I find that I've reverted back to the maturity level of a 5th grader. Cursing them, hating them, instinctively and irrationally. Still, in spite of my limitations, it's been great to enjoy a good rapport with Ed Cossette, who runs the excellent Red Sox blog, Bambino's Curse.

Pedro Martinez will pitch tonight against the Devil Rays after experiencing the worst outing of his career. I was e-mailing with Ed the other day, and here was his reaction to Pedro's performance in the Sox home opener:

Sad to see/hear Pedro get booed. I know it's a tough town, but sometimes I think people take that too far. Indeed, I suspect it's the fans who really don't have much self-esteem about their own baseball knowledge, or who really don't love the game and instead hide behind that mob mentality. Obviously, it's the same group who won't give up on the "Yankees Suck" thing, despite how ridiculous it is.

I remember talking to a Yankee fan a couple of years ago about the "Yankees Suck," chant. "The worst part about it," I said, "is that it just isn't true. I could almost deal with it if they Yanks did suck. I mean I'm not interested in going to the Stadium and yelling, '1918,' or 'Red Sox suck.'"

"Yeah, the only difference is the fuggin Red Sox do suck."

Oy veh. There isn't much difference between Yankee fans and Red Sox fans after all. We both think we are superior. And we are both wrong.

2003-04-17 12:45
by Alex Belth


John Perricone, whose Only Baseball Matters, is an essential daily read, had an article yesterday about defensive efficiency. Though it is still early, we know the Yankees are not a good defensive team. And while their D hasn't hurt the Yanks yet, according to John, it will sooner or later.

..Even though their defense is looking a bit suspect, their pitchers have been stingy, so stingy that they are carrying the defensive load, although with a EQA of .310, (best in baseball, by a good margin) they can win giving up 6 runs per game or more right now. That's not likely to continue, nor are they likely to go through the season allowing just 40 home runs either...The Yankees will come back to the pack over the next month or so, and they may even slip more than that.

With shoddy defense and a suspect bullpen, the Yankee bats are going to have to keep booming, and the starting pitching is going to have to stay sharp, for the Bombers to fend off the Red Sox over the next six weeks.

2003-04-17 12:33
by Alex Belth


There is a Mariners-based baseball blog, called the U.S.S. Mariner, written by Jason Michael Barker, David Cameron, and Derek Milhous Zumsteg that is worth checking out. Here is what Derek Zumsteg recently wrote about Alex Rodriguez:

Can we get over this booing thing with Alex Rodriguez? Alex gave us the best five shortstop-seasons this club ever saw, he was a consumate gentleman, he gave generously to Seattle of his pre-free-agency salary and his time...I would ask everyone who boos Alex what decision they would make in his position -- except that it doesn't matter. He's a symbol now, a symbol of the greed people see in baseball players, and booing him allows fans to feel self-righteous and bonded against that greed.

Never mind the kid hasn't missed a game since Christ was a Cowboy, and has done nothing but put up two of the best seasons ever by a shortstop in the process.

2003-04-17 07:29
by Alex Belth


The Yankees rallied, down 5-0, to tied the score against the Blue Jays last night, but Sterling Hitchcock and the bullpen could not hold the lead and Toronto beat the Bombers for the first time this season, 7-6. The temperature dropped over 25 degrees from the opening pitch to the 9th inning, and the winds were swirling wildly. David Wells started and was not sharp. The fatal blow came when he hung a breaking ball to Carlos Delgado, who smacked a 3-run dinger with practically one arm. (Yikes, that man is stong.)

Just how bad is the Yankees bullpen, and how much should Yankee fans be worried about it? It's piss poor, and with a tough schedule ahead, I would say it's time to start getting a bit nervous. After today's game, the Yanks go out west, and play four against the Twins, followed by 3 against the World Champs, and then 3 in Texas. They return home to host Seattle and Oakland, before going back out west to play the same two teams again. After that, Anahiem comes to the Bronx, followed by Texas. Then the Bombers travel to Beantown for 3, and finally, return home for 4 games against the Jays and then 3 vs. the Sox. All in all, it is the roughest stretch of the year for them. Mariano Rivera will likely be ready by the time the Yanks face Seattle, and believe me, they are going to need him:

Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus, opined:

Osuna, Hitchcock, Acevedo, Anderson, Contreras and Hammond; there may not be a bullpen of less accomplishment than that anywhere in baseball. Yes, some of those guys had random good years in 2002, but the ones who did are old--the caliber of reliever that regularly floats from good run to bad run, 70 innings at a time. The absolute talent level in the Yankee bullpen is about as low as there is in the game, and if you took these guys out of pinstripes and put them in Brewer blue or D-Ray green, they'd be just another punchline.

The pressure is going to be on the starting pitching and the offense to break even or better during this stretch. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees fair against the league's elite teams with their patch-work bullpen. But I fear it could get ugly.

On a lighter note, Jason Giambi put together an impressive at-bat against his boyhood pal, Corey Lidle, smacking a 2-RBI double on a full-count pitch, as the Yankees rallied to tie the game. Giambi, who has more walks (14) than hits (11), has clearly struggled at the plate; he looked uptight and irritated with himself on the bench last night:

"The interesting thing is, I've never seen a hitter like him walk like he does," Manager Joe Torre said. "A lot of power hitters, when they get to two strikes, end up striking out a lot. He gets to two strikes and walks a lot. That's a credit to him; he's not changing his approach."

..."I'm not punching out," Giambi said, referring to his strikeout total. "I'm taking my walks. That's what you've got to do until everything comes into place. The most important thing is we're winning ballgames. I'm hitting the ball, I'm just not getting a lot of hits."

Just like last year, perhaps Giambi will get into a groove once the Yanks hit the road.

Raul Mondesi continues to impress offensively, taking pitches, and driving the ball with authority. Erick Almonte deftly bunted for a base-hit during the big Yankee rally, but struck out wildly in his next two at-bats. With men on 2nd and 3rd and no out in the 6th, Almonte K'd on a full count pitch. He pulled his head out, and looked as if he was trying to hit a 12-run home run. If he had simply tried to hit the ball where it was pitched, a ground-out to second base would have scored a run. Instead, Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson followed with strikeouts themselves, and the Yankees didn't score.

Sori slugged a solo shot off to lead off the 9th, and the Yanks put runners on the corners with 2 outs, but Jorge Posada whiffed to end the game.

2003-04-16 16:45
by Alex Belth


I'm sorry that I missed out on the Mets-Expos series in Puerto Rico last weekend, so here are a few related, if belated articles. As cool as it seems for MLB to host games in P.R., baseball is not the sport there it once was:

And here's a myth that could get exposed during the 22 games the Expos will be playing in San Juan this season: Baseball is not revered with unbridled passion any longer on this island. Contrary to popular opinion, Puerto Rico is not a baseball-crazed nation.

...Listen to the explanation that winter league president Enrique Cruz gave the Puerto Rican Herald this winter about the lack of interest in the game in Puerto Rico, compared to the passion for the game in the rival Dominican Republic.
"Baseball is part of their culture there," Cruz said. "They have more big leaguers than we do, they have all these baseball schools and the people live baseball in a way that we don't. In Puerto Rico there is so much entertainment competing for the baseball fan's attention. You have the movies, [amusement parks], the Internet."

In an effort to energize the country's lagging baseball interest, former major league pitcher Edwin Correa, has started a baseball academy, which has recieved partial funding from MLB:

Here, in a one-story building 30 minutes south of San Juan, Correa is trying to salvage Puerto Rican baseball, which has sent fewer players to the major leagues in recent years.

This season, 38 major league players on opening-day rosters came from Puerto Rico, compared with 79 from the Dominican Republic. The amateur draft's numbers are even more remarkable. Fifty-five Puerto Ricans were taken in 1989, the first year they were subject to the draft; 37 were drafted the next year and 23 last June.

..."I think the kids in Puerto Rico have a lot of comforts," said Vazquez, one of the handful of Puerto Rican stars to come out of the draft. "They have computers, PlayStations, all types of things like that. A kid has a life outside of sports."

..."There's probably always a little skepticism when it comes to this type of program, whether it's Puerto Rico or anywhere else," [MLB executive, Sandy] Alderson said by telephone. "Besides the logistics, what are the motivations of the individual involved? Are they as honest and altruistic as they say? I think in Edwin's case, it's been borne out."
Correa recognized that children in the Dominican Republic "have that hunger to play, that desire to leave their country or to have a better future."

"One thing we want to instill in our players is desire,'' Correa said. "To want to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and be at school, that takes discipline."

The academy's $5,500 tuition sounds steep, but players have help. Vazquez, Delgado, Gonzalez and other Puerto Rican major leaguers have lectured and donated scholarships. Sixty-six students receive some form of financial aid, the administrator Lucy Batista said.

Finally, here a terrific article by Nick Peters on Felipe Alou , which appeared in the Sac Bee earlier this week. Peters covers Alou's early days in baseball:

"We had it worse than the blacks," he recalled. "At Lake Charles, the blacks would buy food for me at the bus stop, at a line for 'colored only.' I couldn't go in a white restaurant, although I was light-skinned -- my mother is Spanish.

"Two blacks on the team and I were put up with a nice white family. They cooked breakfast and lunch for us, but dinner was not part of the agreement. And the blacks had a social life. They didn't want me with them when they were with girlfriends.

..."There was no other communication with anyone."

It was more comfortable when he reached the Giants to stay in 1958, their first year in San Francisco. Spanish-speaking teammates included Ruben GZmez, Ramon Monzant, Valmy Thomas and Cepeda. Jose Pagan came in 1959, Marichal in 1960.

Although there was strength in numbers, the Latino players often were treated like second-class citizens -- by frugal management that didn't pay them commensurate with their worth, and by the pervasive climate of discrimination.

..."I was more diplomatic than others. I was older and a little wiser, and I had gone to college. Most of the other Latins signed when they were very young. I tried to be a buffer between management and the Latin players."

2003-04-16 12:52
by Alex Belth


My lady, Emily and I spent some time in the town of Burlington, Vermont last Saturday. It was the first sunny day they had seen up there in a quite a while, and Emily was thankful to get out of the house, and move around a bit. We met Em's sister, and her boyfriend for lunch, and popped into a couple of used bookstores as well.

I came away with a hardcover copy of Roger Angell's "Late Innings" (doubles), "Great Time Coming," David Falkner's book about Jackie Robinson, "Our Game," a single-volume history of the game by Charles Alexander, "Oddballs," a dopey book about great baseball personalities, by former Rolling Stone journalist, Bruce Shlain, and "The Worst Team Money Can Buy," a book about the 1992 Mets by veteran New York beat writers Bob Klapisch and John Harper. (Don't joke, I know this year's edition of the Mets could be in the running for the worst team money can buy, but at least they are a heck of a lot nicer than the '92 squad.)

I had started reading Jim Brosnan's classic "The Long Season," on the train ride up north, but when I poked my nose through the new books before I returned home on Sunday, "The Worst Team Money Can Buy," jumped out at me, so I put tales of Solly Hemus and Frank Robinson aside for the moment, in favor of the antics of David Cone, Greg Jefferies and Doc K.

I read two-thirds of it on the way home, and finished the last 50 pages before I got out of bed the next morning.

So you want to be a sportswriter? You may want to reconsider after reading this book.

Fans always seem to think reporters are the luckiest people on earth because they get to wander around the locker room, but in truth it's uncomfortable under the best of circumstances. You're on opposition turf---there's no avoiding the antagonistic nature of the job---and the majority of players don't want you there---it's as simple as that.

¡¦Truth is, baseball writers know the sport is lent to agony: In no other pastime does failure become such an integral and public element. The best hitters in the game fail at least twice as often as they succeed, and that ensures a more adversarial relationship between players and writers¡ªmuch more so than in basketball or football. Always, it seems, there are crucial at-bats that become pop-ups, ones that demand interrogation in day-to-day coverage. Is it any wonder that writers are chummier with pitchers than with hitters? Sooner or later, though, players of every position have to absorb in-print or on-air criticism, and in the case of the hypersensitive, under-achieving Mets, that led to tense postgame questioning.

Harper and Klapisch are blunt, but entertaining in describing the life of the tabloid beat writer. Klapisch worked for the Daily News at the time [he's now with the Bergan Record and ESPN], while Harper was at the Post [he's now at the Daily News]. I remember how cut-throat those papers were in the late 80s and early 90s. There was always talk of one, or both of them coming dangerously to folding, and closing shop; the pressure to get the big scoop was amplified.

Many beat writers are former jocks themselves: Klapisch pitched for Columbia (his claim to fame being that he once fanned Ron Darling, when he played forYale), and Harper was an infielder, who once played on a championship fast-pitch team.

Why are we doing this book? It's not for the joy of working together, put it that way¡¦Friends, sometimes, but neither of us would turn his back on the other. It's the nature of the job, the paranoia that comes with the territory, always wondering if the guy two seats down in the press box is working on a story that is going to blow the lid off the beat. On the road you travel together, eat together, play pickup basketball together, then put up the professional wall while working the clubhouse. More and more, however, the [1992] Mets have become the common opponent, a great clubhouse turned cold and miserable.

Klapisch and Harper may have written the book out of spite, or at least a great deal of frustration, but the tone doesn't come across as mean-spirited. They are self-effacing and sincere, and the pace of the book is quick and lively. I love the vulgarity, the pulpy details of jock writing like this, but I have to admit: the story they had to tell left me feeling completely depressed. It was like seeing a car-wreck; I couldn't look away (I grew up with the Bronx Zoo Yanks after all), but it wasn't much fun. The 1992 Mets were just a sour bunch, and the story of how the Mets failed to take full advantage of a great team in the 80s, left me enervated, though fully engaged. Actually, it made me appreciate the current Yankees run even more.

When Klapisch and Harper were writing about the decline of the 80s Mets, there was no sign of what would transpire in the Bronx over the next 10 years. The 92 Mets, run by Al Harazin, attempted to clean up the bad boy image of the 80s teams, by acquiring safe, proven, professionals like Eddie Murray, and Willie Randolph, while paying a King's ransom for Bobby Bonilla. Jeff Torborg replaced the hapless Buddy Harrelson and tried to run a straight-laced ship. The results were disastrous, and it seemed like no team could win in New York in the free agency era without being a group of red-ass bastards:

More than ever, teams need some sass in the clubhouse---players who aren't consumed with their public personas. Is it coincidence that the only teams that have won in New York since free agency came along is the hard-ass Yankees of Munson and Nettles and Reggie and Billy, and the fuck-you Mets of Backman and Dykstra and Hernandez and Carter? In some ways that's all chemistry is, having enough players with the balls to say, Fuck you, I don't care what they think or you think, I don't care what's in the papers, I don't care if this guy throws at my head, I'm going to kick their ass and yours too if you're not right there with me. That's why the Mets missed about Knight and Mitchell and Backman and the others who were dismissed too quickly. It's an attitude no amount of earnestness can buy, a toughness you can feel around certain teams and certain players that isn't defined in numbers or character references¡¦.The Mets had it, and management didn't appreciate it--that was the sad part.

The Yankee teams of 1996-2001 weren't sons of bitches, but they were tough, and had tons of resolve. The Mets of the 80s were assholes, just like the old Yankee teams. Of course, the bit that made me laugh the most in the book involved the old Yanks (who at least were funnier than the Mets):

Little by little, the Mets were becoming the old Yankees, the original press haters. Billy Martin had been the leader, a virtual dictator, even after he'd been humbled so many times by George Steinbrenner. Norman MacLean, then of the United Press International, once walked into Matin's office and asked him for a few minutes' time.

"Get lost, Norman," Billy said pleasantly.

"Just a quick couple of sentences," MacLean persisted.

"Norman, get the fuck out of here," Billy said, his face darkening.

"Look, all I need is three sentences," MacLean said, panicking.

Softening, Martin smiled and said, "Okay. You want three sentences? Turn on your tape recorder." When MacLean obliged, Martin leaned into the microphone and said, "Fuck you. You're an asshole. Get out of here." Billy leaned back in his chair and said, "How's that Norman?"

Yup, you have to have pretty thick skin to be a reporter, or a jock for that matter. "The Worst Team Money Can Buy," paints a vivid portrait of the uneasy relationship professional writers share with the athletes they write about. It should be required reading for any young writer who has aspirations to be a baseball beat writer.

When I was through with the book, I gained a new appreciation for how difficult it would be for Robbie Alomar, or any other gay ballplayer to come out. The players and writers may seem like grown men, but they operate in a world of heightened adolescence. Although Klap and Harper don't talk much about women reporters in the locker room, their book reminded me of the terrific 1979 Roger Angell piece about female sports journalists, "Sharing the Beat." Angell interviewed several young women reporters, as well as veteran old school dudes like Jerome Holtzman, and Maury Allen.

The most illuminating and poignant observations came from Jane Gross, and I think they are still relevant today:

I think women reporters have a lot of advantages, starting with the advantage of the player's natural chivalry. We women are interested in different things from the men writers, so we ask different questions. When Bob McAdoo gets traded from the Knicks, my first thought is, How is his wife, Brenda, going to finish law school this year? And that may be what's most on his mind.

¡¦The other advantage of being a woman is that you're perpetually forced to be an outsider. As a rule, you're not invited to come along to dinner with a half-dozen of the players, or to go drinking with them, when maybe they're going to chase girls. This means a lot, because I believe that all reporters should keep a great distance between themselves and the players. It always ought to be an adversary relationship, basically. That's a difficult space to maintain when you're on the road through a long season.

¡¦My presence doesn't change the way the players act or talk. I've begun to see that the pleasure men take in being with each other---playing cards together, being in a bar together¡ªisn't actively anti-female. It isn't against women; it just has nothing to do with them. It seems to come from some point in their lives before they were aware there were women. They have so much fun together. I really have become much more sympathetic to men because of my job.

¡¦I'm sure the black players treat me differently from the way they treat male writers. They don't think I'm a honky¡ªI'm another oppressed minority. They may not have thought this all the way through, but it's there. Male sportswriters all seem to think that the athletes are going to take a shot at us on the road, but it hardly ever happens. In fact, that comes much more from the sportswriters than from the players, and you can tell them I said so.

2003-04-16 12:27
by Alex Belth


Mike Mussina pitched a gem at the Stadium last night, as the Yankees blanked the Jays, 5-0. The Bombers are 11-2, which is the best start in team history. Mussina allowed 3 hits over 8 innings, and was nothing short of dominating, as he out-pitched Tornto ace, Roy Halladay in front of 33,833 in the Bronx. The game was just the tonic the Yanks needed after Monday's turgid affair (the game last two and a half hours intsead over four plus hours). According to the Daily News:

"When we left the park (Monday) night, I think we both knew, (Toronto starter Roy) Halladay and myself, getting deep in the game was a big thing," Mussina said. "This was a fun one to play in after that one."

Mussina had an extra day of rest because of the Yanks' rainout on Friday and he said it was "probably the entire reason I was able to pitch like that. I've been relatively successful with an extra day."

Jason Giambi continues to struggle with the bat, but my man Bernie Williams has been quietly consistent.

"In a lot of ways," Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi said, "he's among the most underrated guys in the sport."

"Bernie bores you with his consistency," manager Joe Torre said. "He can carry you for a week or 10 days because he can light it up. Otherwise, he goes out there and plays every day and he can stay under the radar.

"Just because he's a constant more so than the guys who spike a lot, he doesn't attract a lot of attention."

"We know how he can light it up when he does get hot," Torre said. "Right now he isn't hitting the long ball, but he's getting a lot of big base hits. That's where the .400 average comes in. He uses the whole field.

"He gets that blood rushing. We still haven't discovered what causes that, but he can carry you."

As usual, Williams is balanced and even-keeled about his sucess:

"I look at what happened to Derek after he prepared so well for the season, and I recognize you can't predict health," Williams said. "But, yes, I am very encouraged by this start. It is something I dream about, putting it all together one season."

..."I always take it in perspective," he said. "I've been playing this game a long time, knowing we can go down as quick as we can go up. I am just trying to stay consistent and enjoy this good time."

..."My goals are simple, to have fun and play here every day," he said. "I've been so blessed to play center field for this great team at this great time. I don't know a lot of jobs that top that. As I get older, I feel even more fortunate."

2003-04-15 12:51
by Alex Belth


Jay Jaffe, the Futility Infielder, celebrated the two-year anniversary of his site last week. A generous congradulations to you, Jay. You have paved the way for the rest of us, and I'd like to extend a Laurel and Hardy high five to you, brother.

Ed Cossette, the best nemesis a Yankee fan could wish for, has a good post on my favorite Red Sox, Tim Wakefield, over at his stellar site, Bambino's Curse.

Mike C, from Mike's Baseball Rants, has a nice post today on Alfonso Soriano that is worth checking out as well.

Don't miss out on the heavyweights of the baseball blog universe either: John Perricone, Aaron Gleeman, Christian Ruzich, and David Pinto.

These men are the cream of the crop as far as I can tell.

2003-04-15 12:43
by Alex Belth


I don't know how many readers are familiar with the late rock'n'roller, Jeff Buckley, but my frined Nyla has been busy making a documentary on him for the past 3 years, and now has a website, promoting the film. I had never heard of Buckley before I heard his "Grace" album over Easter weekend in 1994. I wasn't checking for Rock records at the time, but my uncle Herve had a copy of the album and was a big fan. My grandfather had died the week before Easter, and my mother flew my brother, sister and me to Brussels to attend his funeral (oh, my mom is a Frenchie---Belgain, that is). It was a sad affair, but I was happy to be there with my family. I stayed at Herve's house and Jeff Buckley's record served as theme music for the weekend. We must have heard it twenty times.

It is an incredibly emotional record, and since I experienced it during a heightened emotional time, the record has particular resonance for me. But though my circumstance was extraordinary, Buckley's music seems to have had a potent impact on a lot of people (I know the album was far more succesful abroad than here in the States). Hence, Nyla's documentary.

Check out the site at:

2003-04-15 07:12
by Alex Belth


The Yankees outlasted the Blue Jays 9-8 last night, in an agonizingly drawn-out game at the Stadium, which last four hours and eight minutes. Combined, the two teams featured 12 pitchers, who issued 20 base-on-balls. Looking for a cure for ansomnia? Here was the game for you.

Jose Contreras was credited with his first Major League win, but was far from impressive. Contreras looked swollen, instead of muscular. Maybe he's taken to the Livan Hernandez diet. He pitched deliberately, and without much confidence, nibbling around the corners, throwing more breaking pitches than fastballs. I feel badly for the guy. He's in an uncomfortable position. Joel Sherman suggests that perhaps he would be better suited pitching regularly in the minors. It could bolster his confidence, instead of settling for being a right-handed version of Sterling Hitchcock: Mop Up Man.

"Physically, I'm in perfect condition," Contreras said after coming from the weightroom following the Yankees' 10-9 triumph. "My arm feels great. I need my control. My control has always been my strength."

Fortunately, the Yankees other international man of mystery, Hideki Matsui, continued his solid play, contributing a long, 3-run home run which put the Yankees ahead for good.

While the Blue Jays bullpen leaves much to be desired, they have an attractive young offensive team. (Incidentally, their pitching coach bears, Gil Patterson, bears an uncanny likeness to former Yankee pitcher, Jim Bouton, as Ken Singleton noted during the YES broadcast last night.) Carlos Tosca was profiled by Gordon Edes in Sunday's Boston Globe, and there is much to like about the way is he running things in Toronto.

''It was about more than just wins and losses. We talked about preparation and playing the game the right way. We wanted other clubs to know we meant business for nine innings, whether we won or lost. And to their credit, this team basically reinvented itself.''

...''We have a mantra around here: Approach, results, response,'' said Tosca. ''You can control your approach. You can't control the results, but you can control your response. What we are looking for is mental toughness which knows how to react to results. We're about getting it right. Instead of excuses being made, we are trying to hold ourselves accountable.''

...''Anything's possible,'' he said. ''The experience, you can't rush, and we still have guys who are inexperienced. Depth-wise, we are stronger here and in Triple A, but we're not in the same situation as other clubs. If we have a major injury, we can't just go out and purchase a player.

The Blue Jays ace, Roy Halladay faces off against Mike Mussina tonight. Let's hope they can pitch well enough to spare us from another evening of Base-on-Balls Bonanza.

2003-04-14 15:28
by Alex Belth


Armando Benitez blew his third save in a week, and Mike Stanton gave up a home run in extra innings as the Mets lost to the Expos for the third consectutive day in San Juan. The Mets have played 12 games (4-8), and have dropped 5 straight. Art Howe called the second team meeting in a week. Cause for alarm? Just ask the Mets. According to Adam Rubin in The Daily News:

Roberto Alomar: "It can't got on any longer. If this goes longer, then we're going to go nowhere."

Al Leiter: "I think we're being tested right now. Certainly we're a lot better than what we've shown."

Mike Stanton: "This is gut-check time."

Art Howe: "These are the guys that are going to to take us to where we want to go. It's not like you have a ton of alternatives. This is our ballclub."

When it's "gut-check time" after two weeks, you can't help but smell smoke. Think it's going to be another long, hot summer out at Shea? I wouldn't bet against it, man.

Here is a message my friend Joey La P left on my answering machine over the weekend. Joey is a die-hard Mets fan, with a hardcore Long Island accent:

"You know, I don't care what you say about the stats on Benitez, he's got to go. He already need a lot of therapy. Come on man, and fucking Cedeno? I don't care how much money we're paying that fat bastid, sit him on the goddamn bench and fucking platoon Shinjio and Timo; they are so much better than him. Man, I'm just a ball of frustration. It ain't easy being a Met fan. I tell you, it ain't easy."

Meanwhile in the Bronx, the Yankees lost 2-1 to the D-Rays. Clemens wasn't sharp, but he was efficient. According to Harold Reynolds of Baseball Tonight, J. Giambi started to swing the bat better over the weekend, though it didn't result in a lot of hits. The Red Sox beat the O's 2-0, the Giants beat the Dodgers in extra innings last night to improve to 11-1, and the Royals finally lost a game.

2003-04-13 11:13
by Alex Belth


Since I'm up here in Vermont this weekend, I haven't been able to watch the Mets play the Expos in P.R. I did catch the highlights on ESPN last night and saw Vlad Guerrero uncork a couple of hilarious throws from right field, but the Mets looked awful, and it doesn't look like I've missed much. Mike Piazza doesn't have a homer or an RBI to his name yet this season, and Cliff Floyd left the game with an ankle injury.

In a game where Timo Perez and Rey Sanchez were also hurt, about the only good news for the Mets is that Roberto Alomar scored run No. 1,417 of his career, passing Roberto Clemente for the most by a Puerto Rican-born player in the majors.

I called my cousin Gabe in New York this morning and he told me that he's going to have to take some time away from the Mets. That seems to be happening earlier and earlier each year. Yeeesh.

I was able to watch the Red Sox home opener against the Orioles. Pedro Martinez didn't have command of either his fastball or his change-up, and he sufffered the worst outing of his career. In a bizzare turn of events, Mike Cubbage, Boston's third base coach collapsed on the field in a diabetic seizure. While the new seating above the Green Monster looked great, there was not much to cheer about in Red Sox Nation last night.

According to Bob Hohler in The Boston Globe:

The stunned crowd hardly had processed the unfathomable - Martinez leaving to a cascade of boos after surrendering a career-high 10 runs over 4 1/3 innings - before third base coach Mike Cubbage collapsed in a diabetic seizure near the coach's box. Cubbage, who had absorbed too much insulin, was taken from the field on a stretcher and treated intravenously with sugar before he was transported to the emergency room at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, awake and alert. He was held overnight for observation.

Not long before Cubbage was wheeled off the field, plate umpire Jerry Layne left the park on a stretcher after he took a pitch off his mask in the fourth inning.

Hard to imagine that Pedro getting jeered at home, but Boston, like New York, operates on the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately principal of sportsmanship.

Dan Shaughnessy, always ready to stir shit up, reports that Martinez wasn't fazed by his reception:

''No, it doesn't surprise me,'' [Martinez] said calmly. ''I'm in Boston now and I know how people are. The first thing I heard when I got to the dugout was how much I got extended to [$17.5 million for 2004]. That's not anything new. I heard that in '98 when I was here for the first time . . . I just wanted to take a really close look at the person who said that and keep that in my mind.''

...''I deserved boos,'' he said. ''I have to take it as a bad game. I didn't do my job. I never felt in a groove the whole game . . . Physically, everything felt good . . . All the things that happened. It was just a weird day. Only here at Fenway.''

Pedro gettin rocked in the home opener is about as likely as Greg Maddux getting torched in his first three starts, or Randy Johnson and Curt Shilling being held without a win after their first three starts as well, the Royals jumping out to a 9-0 start (somewhere in Kansas City, Buck O'Neil is smiling).

Mike Piazza hit the nail on the head when he said:

"You've just got to suck it up," a despondent Piazza said. "It's just an unforgiving game."

2003-04-12 18:13
by Alex Belth


The Yankees are off to their best start since 1988 (oh, what a year that was). After grounding into a double play with the bases loaded in the 7th inning, Hideki Matsui smacked a 1-out single through the left side with the bases juiced in the bottom of the 9th to win the game for the Bombers.

"I put the team in a bad spot,'' said Matsui, who hit into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the seventh. "I was relieved to get that hit at the very end.''

..."I'm happy to come up in situations where there's a lot of pressure to make something happen,'' Matsui said through an interpreter. "Maybe if I didn't get that hit I wouldn't have come back alive. I might have been bombarded by the fans.''

..."We're certainly giving him a lot of opportunities to be dramatic,'' New York's Todd Zeile said. "The true sign of a professional is that after the first time with the bases loaded when he tried to do too much and hit into a double play, he didn't let the same mistake happen.''

I didn't get to see the game, but how impressive is D-Rays rookie Rocco Baldelli? Rocco went 3-4 this afternoon, and extended his hitting streak to 11 games.

Here is what Rob Neyer wrote about Baldelli in his "Quick Hits" column:

It's not hard to see what people see in Rocco Baldelli.

He can run. Baldelli gets out of the box as quickly as any right-handed hitter I've seen since Bo Jackson.

He can throw. In the 15th inning last night, Baldelli prevented what looked like a sure go-ahead run with a perfect throw to nail Trot Nixon at the plate.

And he looks like a ballplayer. He's big and he's strong and he's got "the good face" (as old scouts like to say).

But can he field? Monday, he turned a line-drive single into something worse.

And can he hit? Tuesday, he collected three base hits ... none of which left the infield.

As you might have heard, Baldelli played 23 games at the Triple-A level last summer and drew the grand total of zero walks, which suggests that he's still got a few things to learn. And that's OK, because he's still just a baby of only 21 years.

So no, Rocco Baldelli isn't Joe DiMaggio yet. But it should be fun watching him try to get there.

Peter Gammons added:

Red Sox coach Mike Cubbage got Devil Rays rookie Rocco Baldelli at 3.8 (seconds) from home plate to first base, the best mark in the league. There have been few right-handed batters over the years who could top that. In the last 30 years, Alex Johnson, Ron LeFlore and Bobby Valentine come to mind going down the line under 3.8. Scouts got Cincinnati's Wily Mo Pena at 3.9 in spring training.

2003-04-12 09:42
by Alex Belth


I don't want to make a federal case out of this, but it's always seemed apparent to me that Roberto Alomar is gay---even before he came to the Mets. It's an observation that is based completely on my own gut instinct, nothing more. I'm not bringing it up because I want to seem sensationalistic or because I have a moral judgement about it one way or the other. But when I read Rafael Hermoso's article on Alomar's mother in Friday's New York Times, the amatuer psychologist in me just couldn't resist bringing this up once again.

Robbie, the baby of the Alomar family, and is uncommonly close to his mother. Does that make him Gay? I suppose not, but it's a good place to start. Witness:

"I had a bad season because you didn't cook for me," [Alomar's mother,] Velasquez recalled him saying. She laughed and then stopped. "I know it hurt him last year that I wasn't there for him,'' she said. "He relaxes me, and I relax him. He's single. Sandy is married and has someone to talk to."

...Velasquez says she thinks her son was a bit lonely last season, living in a Long Island City apartment. His girlfriend then, the tennis player Mary Pierce, was traveling and treating a sports injury. He has since been linked romantically with the Puerto Rican singer Gisselle, and Velasquez said they were good friends.

...Alomar, the youngest of the three children, is private and guarded and discusses little of his personal life, but he spoke unabashedly of his mother in an interview at Shea on Sunday. Roberto and his mother call each other best friends and speak nearly every day.

"She's the one reason I'm doing what I'm doing," Alomar said. "People ask me about Mother's Day. Mother's Day is every day for me."

...Velasquez has grown to love baseball, although it has kept her family separated. Sandy Jr. pursued motocross, surfing and tae kwon do. Roberto cared only about baseball. He stubbornly told his mother he could go to college after his playing career and shrugged off his parents' warnings about the hard life of a player.

"I know when he's sad," Velasquez said. "I know when he's happy, when something's bothering him inside and we talk. I never tell him what to do, because he knows what to do. He asked for help. 'Mami, I need your support.' He's always been like that since he was a child."

I dont' think Alomar has the kind of personality to be the first star ballplayer to come out of the closet. That's fine. I sure don't think any less of him cause I think he's Queer either (actually it kind of makes me like him more, especially since I hear Rickey Riccardo's voice every time I see him play). That kind of thing doesn't matter much to me, and certainly not how I regard a specific player. The question of sexuality does however remain a huge bug-a-boo in professional sports. But I'm still surprised that Michael Piazza was the only member of the Amazins clubhouse last year who was targeted as "The Gay Met." I felt like saying, "Am I crazy, or does Robbie have something on the entire New York media which is preventing them from breaking this story?"

Maybe it's a story that isn't ready to be broken yet. Perhaps the taboo of one's sexual orientation is the last place sports writers care to venture. Still, part of me can't help but wonder if there are just too many boys in a place like New York to keep Robbie's focus completely on the field.

Maybe we should ask him mother.

HEY NOW Joel Sherman
2003-04-12 09:16
by Alex Belth


Joel Sherman had a column in Friday's Post comparing the current Yankee team with the '98 squad. Sherman is the most reliable voice at the Post, though I find him to be an unspectacular writer. He tends to conform to the shrill sensibilities of his paper (fair enough), and brings the Shakespeare line, "Me thinks thou dost protest too much," to mind often, whether he's writing a positive or negative piece. Curiously, Sherman comes across as an aimiable and more even-handed on his stints on television (he is a guest analyst on MSG from time to time).

It's a bit premature to compare the 8-1 Yanks to the '98 version, but that's what Sherman gets paid for. Still, without getting ahead of ourselves, he does make some decent points:

Like a great horse in the starter's gate, the Yanks seemed to sense the beginning of the race. You could feel it building in that last week of spring training. Their focus. Their effort. Their seriousness. They came out for the season hitting and pitching and defending, and they haven't stopped yet.

There had always been a sense that Jeter and Rivera were the indispensable Yankees during the Torre era, too valuable to lose for an extended period. But the Yankees are more than surviving without them. It makes you start thinking 1998 thoughts about what this team could be if Jeter, Rivera and Karsay return over the next several weeks at full production.

"It would be too premature to compare to our 1998 team," Cashman said. "That team went through a lot to become one of the elite teams of all time. This team is still in its infancy. It is not fair to compare any team to the 1998 team."

...What those '98 Yankees had was a ceaseless sense of purpose this version still must demonstrate.

..."I watch from the bench," Todd Zeile said, "and I wonder what the scouting reports must look like for other teams."


David Wells pitched a 3-hit, complete game shutout on Thursday afternoon to give the Bombers their ninth consecutive victory over the Twins. Johan Santana pitched 4 innings of middle relief for Minnie and struck out 8 of the 12 batters he faced, living up to the advanced billing he recieved during the winter.

Wells, who loves pitching in cold, crappy weather was terrific, and displayed yet again why the Yankees have kept him around in spite of all his mishegoss: dude can pitch. However, Wells told Michael Kay on ESPN radio yesterday that he was close to quitting the team and leaving baseball this spring after his book controversy set Yankee camp on its ear.

According to Jack Curry in the Times:

"He offered to quit," [GM Brian] Cashman said. "That was in the first discussion in Clearwater. It was his first reaction when we confronted him with him what might be in the book. He said, 'Listen, I'll just shut it down and quit.' We told him he was being emotional and to relax and calm down."

Torre said "wow" when told that Wells had disclosed his desire to quit and added: "He was emotional. He felt hurt that he was hurting people. I think that's where he wanted to walk away because he felt he let people down and stuff like that. Again, it was an emotional thing and we told him it's not time to make that decision."

2003-04-12 08:59
by Alex Belth


The Hall of Fame canceled a screening of what many people consider the most satisfying baseball movie to date, "Bull Durham," on the count of the leftist politics two of the films stars, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. I think Robbins is a talented actor on the screen, and an arrogant putz in real life, however, whether I agree with his opinons or not, I certainly agree with his right to express them. I'm not sure what the Hall was trying to accomplish here, but boy, have they generated reams of bad press over the incident, which is a wet dream for liberal editorialists.

For full and comprehensive coverage, look no further than Jay Jaffe's Futility Infielder. I had the pleasure of spending some time with Jaffe last weekend, and I'm pleased to report he is as good a guy as he is a writer (plus, he bears an uncommon resemblance to Robin Ventura, which can't be bad now can it?).

For some reason I wasn't able to link the specific articles, but they are the last two he's posted. So get going, Meat, and get yourself schooled.

2003-04-12 08:46
by Alex Belth


I'm taking a few days off to be up north in Vermont with my girl Emily, who is recovering from her surgery slowly but surely at her folks place (it's hard to believe the operation took place a month ago). Sorry that I didn't mention that before I took off. My bad. Fortunately, they've got a computer up here, so let me take this time to catch up a bit...

2003-04-10 07:21
by Alex Belth


The announced crowd at Yankee Stadium last night was 31,898, but it felt more like 1257. It reminded me of the Bombers recent past--93-97, before the throngs started jamming the Stadium, and attendence was thin. You had to be a brave soul to sit through last night's game, though at 2 hours and 25 minutes, it was mercifully quick affair. I like it when the crowd is small enough to hear individual chants and hecklers. You could hear the bleacher creatures roll call in the top of the first, like they were sitting just under the broadcast booth.

In a brisk, well-played game, the Yankees beat the Twins 2-1, on the strength of two solo home runs (Jorge Posada and Raul Mondesi) and 8 strong innings from Mike Mussina. Kyle Lohse, Minnesota's young right-hander, was efficient and effective for 7 innings, pitching quickly and staying ahead of the Yankee batters. He made a mistake to Posada---the first batter he had fallen behind all night, and got burned, as Jorgito popped a line drive into the right field seats. Two batters later, Mondesi yanked a pretty good slider into the left field stands for the go-ahead run. Mondesi, who looked foolish in his first at-bat, is holding his hands further away from his body, and lower than usual. He holds the bat straight-up in the air, and looks like a right-handed Reggie Jackson.

The most exciting play of the game came in the 4th inning. Soriano led off with an infield single to short, the Yankees first hit of the game. Torre put on the hit-and-run and Nick Johnson smacked a ball to the left side, which was snared by the Twins third baseman Corey Koskie. Koskie dove to his left to make the play. He threw to first to get Johnson, and then had to scramble back to third as Soriano charged passed second and into third. The throw from first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz was low and wide, and Koskie made another nice play, blocking the throw and saving a run. It is interesting to note that Sori slid into third feet first. Looks like someone's paying attention.

Mike Mussina was almost as nasty as Lohse, he lasted longer, and pitched out of trouble when he needed to:

"A hundred and twenty pitches is a lot for me in July, let alone bad weather, but I had good stuff," Mussina said. "It was cold, it's not fun, but I grew up in this weather, have been playing in the Northeast as long as I've been playing.

"I think I'm throwing the ball pretty well. The stuff I went through at the beginning and the middle of last year, hopefully I got rid of and the way I threw at the end hopefully will carry over. To this point I think it has."

For Twins coverage, be sure and stop by Aaron Gleeman's blog, as well as John Bonnes' Twins Geek.

SCRIPTED Have the Yankees
2003-04-10 07:12
by Alex Belth


Have the Yankees hired Robert Towne or William Goldman as Hideki Matsui's interpreter? It sure sounded like that in Jack Curry's column yesterday in the Times:

"When I hit the ball, I kind of figured it was going to be a homer," Matsui said. "But, when I hit it, it didn't feel like I had actually hit it on my own. It felt like there were other energies, other powers, that helped me."

Matsui hasn't been flashy, or spectacular, he's been sound, and grounded instead. Both Robin Ventura and Don Zimmer had nothing but raves for Matsui in today's Daily News. According to Ventura:

"The other night at the 'Welcome Home Dinner,' we're standing there on the stage, and I look over at Matsui and he's practicing his footwork. I learned when I was with (Tsuyoshi) Shinjo with the Mets that's the way it is with the Japanese players. We were coming home late one night in spring training and there was Shinjo out in the parking lot practicing his swing! Same thing with Matsui, you'll see him making practice throws or taking swings without a bat in hotel lobbies or whatever."

..."I'll be honest," said the Yankees' resident baseball lifer, Don Zimmer, "I didn't know what to expect from this guy, other than he'd hit a lot of home runs in Japan. What's most impressed me is that he seems to do everything right. He doesn't have great speed, but he's quick at getting out of the (batter's) box and he knows how to run the bases. His arm is average or a little below, but he throws the ball accurately. If you ask me, the (cutoff) play he made in left field on Opening Day was more impressive than the grand slam."

2003-04-09 07:41
by Alex Belth


David Pinto has a good interview with Red Sox consultant Bill James over at Baseball Musings. Needless to say, this is a sure shot. Don't sleep.

Baseball Musings: How do you like working on the inside of baseball? What was the most unexpected thing for you?

Bill James: It's been fun so far. The most unexpected thing is the Red Sox organization, the internal view of it. The guys I work with are mostly young, extremely sharp, very focused. But you walk around the offices. . .the office is very diverse, extremely competent. It is unusual to see an organization with so many quality people.

How am I supposed to hate the Sox when they become more competent and likable with each passing day? Oh, I'm sure I'll find a way...

2003-04-09 07:17
by Alex Belth


A six-game hitting streak to start the season was sure to make Godzilla Matsui's debut in the Bronx a welcome one, but he exceeded expectations by hitting a grand-slam in the 5th inning of the Yankees 7-3 win over the Twins yesterday at a frigid Yankee Stadium (considering how ugly the weather was on Monday, it's remarkable that the grounds crew had the field in playing condition). Nick Johnson, and Jason Giambi hit 1-out singles, and then Bernie Williams was intentionally walked to load the bases for Matsui, who hit a 3-2 pitch from Twins starter Joe Mays, into the right field bleachers.

According to Bill Madden in today's Daily News:

"I only had two pitches out there," Mays said, "a sinker and a changeup. I really wasn't able to throw my breaking ball. I give Matsui credit. He laid off a couple of changeups down, and then when I had to come in with a pitch on 3-2, it was a changeup that was flat and he got it."

..."With first base open and Bernie coming up, there's no question I'm gonna walk him," the Twins manager said. "JoeMays is a sinkerballer and we're trying to get a double play there to get out of the inning."

..."He's a good hitter, and any time you face a team with a lineup that has (Raul) Mondesi batting eighth it's a formidable task," Gardenhire said. "But as long as we compete with 'em like we did today, I'm satisfied. We got a lot of good swings today, a lot of balls hit right at people, and even after the (Matsui slam) I never felt we were out of the game."

Matsui looked perfectly at home sitting on the bench between veterans Todd Zeile and Robin Ventura. The humble Japanese star tipped his cap and gave a small wave to the crowd as he walked off the field at the end of the game. Godzilla, who looks like Shemp from "The 3 Stooges," has a body like an ape. He could be a bouncer or a goon. He's bigger than Yogi Berra, but has the same kind of goofy build. Matsui's parents were at the Stadium yesterday, in what turned out to be a happy day for the Yankee fans who braved the 35 degree weather.

Andy Pettitte pitched well enough to earn the win, and Robin Ventura added a home run of his own. Alfonso Soriano was limited to just one hit, after collecting 2 or more in his first 6 games. Send him down, already.

2003-04-08 13:00
by Alex Belth


The Red Sox have picked up Pedro Martinez's $17.5 million option for 2004, which ends a good deal of speculation regarding Prince P's future in Boston. At least until November. Dan Shaughnessy reports that the new Red Sox owners are in the business of people-pleasing, and you'd be hard pressed to find a Red Sox fan who wasn't thrilled and delighted to have Pedro back for at least one more season:

Historically, owner John Henry has been soft on players, eager to please. Lucchino has been a hard-liner. On paper, this is a risky business decision, but fans don't care about that. It's not their $17 million, and if Pedro is happy, the Nation is happy. And ultimately, ownership came to the same conclusion.

These are not Tom Yawkey's Red Sox.

2003-04-08 07:36
by Alex Belth


Each and every baseball season has its share of satisfactions and disillusionment, its thrills and despair...The professional life, moreover, grinds and polishes the emotions to a fine, hard core---of athletic spirit. The professional player has more skill and needs no false hustle to do his job. A player who loves his craft and has the patient determination to do the best job he can creates a personal efficiency that is as much a pleasure to watch as it is a help in winning ball games. Running full speed with his mouth open does not always contribute to a player's success. The professional stores up, treasures, that wining spirit, for there are many long days in the baseball year.

Jim Brosnan, from "The Long Season." (1960)

I came along this passage recently, and one sentence particularly struck me as a fitting description of Bernie Williams: "A player who loves his craft and has the patient determination to do the best job he can creates a personal efficiency that is as much a pleasure to watch as it is a help in winning ball games." Bernie does love his craft I think, even though I've always gotten the sense from him that there is something he does even better than playing baseball. Baseball is just how he happens to make a living. The game doesn't seem natural for him, and that's part of what has made his career rewarding to follow. He's become a terrific player, though his baseball instincts have never been much to write home about, through his dedication to improvement, and an impressive work ethic.

I think Bernie is a musician by nature. Watching him do just about anything on the ballfield, from swinging a bat, to tracking a ball down, to hitting the cut-off man, is like watching a musician, let's say a guitarist in this case, practicing his scales. Discipline is very important to Williams' game. My cousin and I were talking about this over the weekend and he said, "Bernie always looks like he's practicing. Which isn't to say he isn't trying hard, or competing."

I agree. But there is a rhythm to his movements, a gracefulness, that has always been aesthetically pleasing, but I never lose sight of the fact that baseball looks like hard work for him. Watch Williams in an at-bat. Watch how he follows through on a pitch. He goes through the same routine no matter what the results are. The long-follow through, skipping back out of the box, with a comic gesture. I'm always aware of the game-within-the-game with Williams. There is always something going on upstairs with him, the wheels are always turning, even though Bernie usally appears placid and emotionless. If you watch him throughout an entire season, you can witness the small pleasures he seems to take when he makes a nifty slide into second. There is an extra flourish, almost like something out of a Buster Keaton movie, that distinguishes Bernie from his teammates. It is his stillness, I think. I also think Bernie likes running as much as anything else in baseball. Again, his intincts aren't the greatest, but you can see that loves stretching those legs and turning it on (he was a track star as a kid).

It may not show up in the boxscore, but if you look closely enough, you too can share the enjoyment of Bernie's private ballet.

Williams' has achieved far more in his career than I ever expected he would when he came up in the early '90s. It is great to hear that he hasn't stopped busting his ass. Peter Gammons reports in his latest column:

"[The Yankees] are better than they were last year," Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "They're so deep. And (Jason) Giambi and Bernie Williams seem to get better every year. It's good for young teams like ours to play them because they are an example as to how to win."

2003-04-08 07:29
by Alex Belth


Lee Sinns, the man behind the sabermetric encyclopedia, and the free daily ATM reports, is interviewed at length by the good people at NetShrine. Everything you always wanted to know about one of the internet's baseball stars, and more.

2003-04-08 07:18
by Alex Belth


Derek Jeter and the Yankees got the answers they were looking for from Dr. James Andrews, the noted orthopedic surgeon, yesterday. Andrews agreed with the diagnosis Yankee doctors gave Jeter last week: he will not need surgery. Jeter will likely need a minimum of six weeks of rehabilitation before he can return to the team. So let's conservatively say that Jeter returns in at some point in June. That's about as good as anyone could have expected.

According to the Times:

The Yankees said the treatment would begin immediately. "The risk is always there,'' General Manager Brian Cashman said, referring to reinjuring the shoulder. "To what degree no one can really measure. I'm not confident this won't happen again, because it can, but we're very confident in the fact that he hasn't done surgery now.''

Somewhat ominously, Cashman added, "If he dislocates it again, he'll need surgery, no doubt about that.''

2003-04-07 13:00
by Alex Belth


It was fun to watch Tampa Bay's young rookies Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli play agains the Yanks this past weekend. Baldelli is a very tall kid, and has exceptional speed for a right-handed hitter. He actually looks a bit like a giant version of Chris "Maddog" Russo, the manic-New York-radio personality (the fact that his name is Rocco only makes the comparison more fitting). Baldelli looked good in the field, and at the plate, if you discount his four-strikeout performance vs. Rocket Clemens yesterday (he did come back with an RBI single in his 5th at-bat).

Way t'go, Rocco.

2003-04-07 12:45
by Alex Belth


Derek Jeter and now Junior Griffey. Damn. Last night on "Baseball Tonight," Bobby Valentine warned that bad things happen in 3's, and gave fair warning to the rest of players in the Majors. Griffey dislocated his right shoulder attempting to make a diving catch against the Cubs over the weekend, and is out for at least a few months. Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus has a linkable column for all of you who do not subscribe to the Premium package. See what you've been missing.

Carroll reports:

Griffey's injury is much more reminiscent of Phil Nevin's injury than Derek Jeter's, both in mechanism and result. Reports from Cincinnati indicate that, like Nevin, Griffey is likely out for something in the order of months rather than weeks.

...Mechanism is a fancy way of saying how an injury occurred and what forces acted on someone's anatomy in a way that caused damage. Some injuries have such clear, repeatable mechanisms that they become predictable; watch a football player collapse after a dead stop on turf and you can quickly say to everyone "oooh, ACL tear," and be right nine times out of 10. For Griffey and Nevin, the shoulder was forced from the glenoid fossa (the shoulder socket) to the rear after force was applied to the arm due to dives and amplified by the weight of the body. For Jeter, his humerus (upper arm) was forced forward from the fossa by the weight of a foreign body (Ken Huckaby). While seemingly a small difference, it is the likely explanation of why Jeter has escaped with a much less serious injury.

Jeter is scheduled to recieve a second opinion on his status from Dr. James Andrews today. On Friday, Yankee doctors determined that Jeter would not need surgery and could return in 4-6 weeks. Carroll thinks that is overly optimistic but could see Jeter returning before the All-Star game.

MASHIN' The Yankees bullpen
2003-04-07 07:34
by Alex Belth


The Yankees bullpen blew a 5-3 lead on Saturday evening, which resulted in the Bombers first loss of the season, but the team regrouped yesterday and continued mashing just about everything in sight. Jeff Weaver wasn't particularly sharp on Saturday night, but he pitched good enough to win. Yesterday, Roger Clemens earned career win #295.

Alfonso Soriano should officially have his named changed to Superfreak. The Yankees lead-off hitter has had two or more hits in the first six games of the year. On Saturday, the kid actually Cadillac'ed his way into a triple. If the fat bastard had been hustling out of the box it would have been an inside-the-park homer, easily.

Raul Mondesi has been as hot as Johnny Blaze. On Saturday the two outs he made were hit as hard as his two hits (a double and a spectacular triple). What's been impressive is that Mondesi has been patient, taking a strike and working deep into the count. Mondesi was held hitless yesterday, until late in the game. He fouled a ball off of his foot and after hobbling around for a few moments, rocketed a double into the left field corner.

Hideki Matsui has been interesting to watch. Godzilla has a six game hitting streak to start the season, which should put him in good graces with the Opening Day crowd at the Stadium tomorrow (the Opener, originally scheduled for this afternoon was post-poned due to a freakin' snow storm that is supposed to hit later today). He reminds me a bit of Wade Boggs at the plate. He is poised and patient, and though he has hit the ball on the nose several times, it looks as if he's simply going with the pitch, trying to put it in play. He doesn't look like a home run hitter. Matsui also made a couple of good plays in the field. He has played the ball well off the wall, and he makes a quick, accurate relay throw.

Bernie Williams and Nick Johnson are also swinging good sticks right now (Bernie made a say-hey, over-the-shoulder catch on Saturday night too). About the only Yankee who isn't locked in is Jason Giambi, who continues to draw walks all the same, and oh by the way, does have 3 home runs.

We'll see if the Yankees offense stays this hot when they return to the cold weather up north (they have played their first six games indoors).

CHUTZPAH Chutzpah. That's what
2003-04-05 17:59
by Alex Belth


Chutzpah. That's what New York fans were treated to on Friday night by two old buddies, David Cone and Boomer Wells. Cone started against the Expos out at Shea. My boss offered me two tickets at the end of the day on Friday. "You want to go to the Mets game?"

I looked at him incredulously and said, "Talk to me in the middle of May, thank you very much."

It was a cold, rainy and generally miserable night for baseball in Queens. Boomer Wells was pitching in Tampa Bay, in a domed stadium, if that's what you want to call it. It looks like a glorified indoor stickball court. I assume the temperature in a place like that is 75 and comfy. Cone was the story of the night, but since I'm a Yankee fan, I flipped back and forth between the two games.

Wells looked like ass in the first inning, but escaped only allowing 1 run home. But I mean he literally looked like a man's ass out there. Cold and clamy. I was watching the game with my brother Benny Eggs, who turned to me and said, "Hey, how come Wells gets to have a mustache?"

7 innings later, when Wells left the game with a 12-1 cushion, we had our answer. Cause that bum can pitch. He's funny to watch because he throws strikes, so guys put the ball in play. Especially a young, aggresive team like Tampa Bay. But these guys are popping up to right all night.

Wells looks like he should be getting rocked and all of a sudden it's the 7th inning and hardly anyone has scored.

Meanwhile, Cone was his old dramatic self at Shea. Cone struck out Vlad Guerrero on a splitter in the dirt in the first inning, and then faced the Expos slugger again with the bases loaded in the third. Cone had walked Jose VIdro to get to Vlad, and it was as if Cone said, 'Let's make this really interesting.' Guerrero, taking enormous hacks, worked the cout to 2-2, when Cone dropped a breaking ball right passed him. Vlad swung and missed and my brother and I both jumped up from our seats. Onions!

2003-04-04 12:51
by Alex Belth


Here is another fine edition of Steve Goldman's Pinstriped Bible column. Goldman joins Lee Sinns in questioning Joe Torre's choice in back-up catchers (this means you John Flaherty):

One of Torre's stated managerial goals for this season is to rest Jorge Posada more often. In the past he has had to push Posada to the limits of his endurance because, it has been said, he did not have a backup catcher he trusted enough. Mr. Torre must have a very specific picture of what he's looking for in his head, because he's passed on some very useful reserves over the years.
John Flaherty replaces Chris Widger in the latest in a long line of Yankees backup catchers. The Blue Jays have found Tom Wilson to be a useful part-time player. The Rangers got a .580 slugging percentage out of Todd Greene last year. As my quill pen scratches these words onto the parchment, Bobby Estalella is enjoying a two-homer game for the Colorado Rockies. Chris Widger was a serviceable backup with the Yankees last year, and a passable starter with the Expos and Mariners before that. In place of these players the Yankees have had Alberto Castillo, Joe Oliver, and Chris Turner.

There are several goodies relating to Jeter's injury as well, but why spoil it? Best to get your ass over to what is undoubtedly the best weekly Yankee column available.

PATIENCE... The Yankees won't
2003-04-04 07:52
by Alex Belth


The Yankees won't know the results of Derek Jeter's MRI until later this afternoon, and even then, they will likely consult another opinion before they decide how to proceed. There are rumblings this morning that Jete will not need surgery, but that could just be wishful thinking. All we can do is sit tight and wait.

At least three former teammates who have dislocated their shoulders have called or plan to call Jeter: Gerald Williams of the Marlins, Rondell White of the Padres and the Mets' David Cone. On a conference call with reporters yesterday, Cone said he planned to call Jeter to wish him well.

Cone dislocated his left shoulder while pitching for the Yankees in Kansas City on Sept. 5, 2000. He writhed on the field in excruciating pain but returned before the season ended. Cone said Jeter has more use for his left arm than he did, but he seemed optimistic about a quick recovery.

"If there's one arm you'd like to dislocate, it'd be the left arm," Cone said. "He's going to need it more than I needed mine in terms of pitching or hitting. One of the things you're going to have to guard against is re-injuring it if he comes back too soon, or moving his left arm for any live drives that might come his way. That may present a problem down the road.

"As long as it's safe to play and it doesn't pop out again, I think he's going to be fine, probably a lot quicker than people think."

2003-04-04 07:34
by Alex Belth


Lee Sinns is the man behind the sabermetric baseball encyclopedia. Sinns also distributes a daily news e-mail that is remarkable on two counts: 1) for it's wealth of information, and 2) for it's price---it's free! Any serious baseball fan should not waste another moment before signing up for Sinns' ATM report here.

Two nights ago, Bernie Williams collected the 1000th RBI of his career. Sinns paid tribute to my most favorite Yankee in yesterday's ATM Report:

Yankees CF Bernie Williams reached 1000 career RBI.

Williams became the 10th player to reach 1000 with the Yankees--

1 Lou Gehrig 1995
2 Babe Ruth 1968
3 Joe DiMaggio 1537
4 Mickey Mantle 1509
5 Yogi Berra 1430
6 Bill Dickey 1209
7 Tony Lazzeri 1154
8 Don Mattingly 1099
9 Bob Meusel 1005
10 Bernie Williams 1000

Despite the disinformation campaign being waged by the NY media to declare
Derek Jeter to be the most important offensive player during the Yankees
run of success, Williams has dominated the comparison between the 2, during
the time they've been teammates--

Williams .538 .409 .947 315 .698 8.16
Jeter .464 .390 .854 217 .634 6.97

The only significant area where Jeter wins the comparison is outs, where he
holds a 364 out edge, in 461 extra PA. Jeter's OBA is the equivalent of
having the same .409 OBA as Williams in Williams's number of PA and then
having a .182 OBA (which would even make Neifi Perez look like a star by
comparison) in an amount of playing time that many starting players don't
get over the course of a season.

If Bernie can manage to stay healthy, he has a shot to beat out Yogi, and break into the top 5. Pretty good company, wouldn't you say?

2003-04-03 16:45
by Alex Belth


There was an interesting feature in the Times the other day, titled "Going Against the Grain," by Bill Pennington, which chronicled the efforts of the Massachusetts high school system to banish metal bats in favor of wood bats. Opinion is split, and the debates are heated, but I like the concept behind the move. I grew up playing with metal bats, and I appreciated how they were easier on the hands, and how they gave me an inflated sense of myself as a hitter.

Some high school coaches are complaining that using wood bats will ruin the chances of their kids to compete for scholarships. While this may be true, anyone who is worth their salt is eventually going to have to use a wood bat if they make the minor leagues, let alone the majors, anyway. Why not get 'em started early?

Besides, who prefers the ping of a metal bat over the crack of an old fashioned wooden one?

"I'm worried about the future," said Frank Carey, the baseball coach at North Redding High School, who made an impassioned plea at the hearings. "Kids have trouble with failure and metal makes it easier to hit. Nobody likes to hit .200."

Alex Campea, the baseball coach at Catholic Memorial High School in West Roxbury, suggested that wood bats would improve the quality of games. "Those kids will also become better fielders and better bunters," Campea said. "We will have 2-1 games with speed and strategy. It's not supposed to be about who hits it farthest. We had too many 15-12 games. Those are football scores."

2003-04-03 12:29
by Alex Belth


Last month Barry Bonds was talking about how much he picked up watching David Eckstein play when they toured Japan together last fall. Today, Peter Gammons has a column on the story:

"He's one of my favorite players ever," Bonds said. "I told him that he's a gift from God. Everything is difficult for him, yet he gets it done and done well."

..."He sat around with me and a lot of the guys for hours almost every day, talking baseball and teaching," Eckstein said. "He never stops learning."

Like Buck O'Neil recently told Bronx Banter: "When you stop learning, you're through."

And they say Barry Bonds isn't a role model.


2003-04-03 08:11
by Alex Belth


Alex Rodriguez became the youngest man to hit 300 home runs yesterday, crushing the mark set by Jimmie Foxx. Lordy.

Don't throw rocks at the throne, man.

Meanwhile, old man winter threw a gust of wind at Sammy Sosa in the 6th inning of the Mets 4-1 win over the Cubs last night at Shea, and knocked down what looked like was going to be Slammin' Sammy's 500th career home run. Sammy thought it was gone, and so did Al Leiter. In August, that ball easily reaches the bullpen. The blast would have tied the game. Instead it was a long out. But you should have heard the buzz at Shea after the ball landed safely in Cliff Floyd's glove. Anybody would can generate that kind of excitement when he makes an out is a player to remember.

A real superstar.

CHARMED It has often
2003-04-03 07:07
by Alex Belth


It has often been said---and rightfully so, that Derek Jeter has led a charmed baseball career. Even though Jeter's famous luck ran out on opening day in a collision with Toronto catcher Ken Huckaby, the Yankees future captain must have sprinkled his last batch of gold dust on rookie Erick Almonte, who had a spalshy debut last night, with 2 hits, including a home run in the Yankees 9-7 victory over the Blue Jays.

The game itself was a bloated, tedious affair. The Yankees jumped out to a 9-1 lead, and then watched the Jays slowly chip their way back into the game. No lead is safe these days. Mike Mussina was not sharp, and Jose Contreras was awful in relief. But Chris Hammond came in and recorded a big strike out, before Juan Acevedo closed the door in the 9th and helped the Yankees gain their first sweep of a series on the road to start a season since the World War II.

Todd Ziele started at third base, batted in the 2-hole, and collected 3 hits including a homer in his first at bat. Hideki Matsui narrowly missed his first home run on American soil, and wound up with 2 hits, and an RBI.

Derek Jeter was on the Yankee bench during the game, arm in a sling, smile on his face. Jeter goofed around in his usual sunny manner, which must have come as a welcome sight for Yankee fans. At a time when he should be at his lowest, Jeter put on a good face, and brought his optimism and good cheer to his teammates.

Jeter is scheduled to have an MRI later this afternoon in Tampa. Phil Nevin, the Padres slugger who will miss the entire 2003 season because of a dislocated shoulder offered his empathy to Jeter.

Jeter's disposition may have alleviated any undue pressure Almonte may have put on himself. Almonte is a big kid, and gasp, may even be prettier than Jeter. Lil' Sexy was welcomed by his Yankee teammates, especially by fellow countryman Enrique Wilson, who will share duties at short for the time being with Almonte. Wilson, who looks more like a Dominican Hobbit, took Almonte out to lunch and bought him a pair of shoes earlier in the day, taking care of the rookie just like Manny Ramirez had once looked out for the young Wilson when he came up with the Indians:

"I don't make much money ($700,000 this season), but he makes less," Wilson said, about his Dominican soulmate from Santo Domingo. "We come from a poor city. We stay together. It's the same thing when American players come to our country. It's kind of hard."

..."He did everything as good as you can do it," JoeTorre said. "He doesn't say anything. He's really tough to read, but he certainly had a smile on his face when he hit the home run."

Joel Sherman reported in the Post:

"It doesn't surprise me [about Wilson]," said manager Joe Torre. "It's a real sign of class for Enrique to do what he did today. I'm real happy he did it."

Wilson felt he was just honoring his own heritage. Breaking in with the Indians in 1997-98, Wilson was prevented from reaching into his pocket by Manny Ramirez, who took care of food, clothes and housing, "Because he told me, ¡®Rookies don't pay.' "

As for Jeter, we should know something by the end of the day, or early tomorrow about his immediate future. Reports around New York have been overly optimistic I think, but then again, I always dwell on the worst-case scenerio.

Travis Nelson, over at Boy of Summer, makes a convincing case for Mike Bordick as a possible replacement at short.

And Jay Jaffe, The Futility Infielder, has an excellent write-up on the entire Jeter story too.

Check 'em out.

2003-04-02 13:17
by Alex Belth


According to Lee Sinn's ATM report today:

Indians GM Mark Shapiro says if the Yankees are interested in Omar Vizquel, he "ha[s] no intention of trading him." Meanwhile, Vizquel has no trade rights, by virtue of being a 10 and 5 year man and has said he doesn't want to go anywhere, except he'll consider returning to the Mariners.


2003-04-02 13:04
by Alex Belth


Led by Jason Giambi's 2 homers, and a decent outing from Andy Pettitte, the Yankees rolled over the Blue Jays 10-1 last night in Toronto. Each Yankee regular had at least one hit. Erick Almonte, who joined the team prior to the game will get his first start tonight.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox survived a late home run from Rey Ordonez, got some good pitching from their bullpen and eventually beat Tampa, 9-8 in 16 innings.

2003-04-02 12:49
by Alex Belth


Rob Neyer is probably the most famous popular sabermetrican not named Bill James. Although I value his insights as much as the next guy, what I enjoy most about Neyer is his unpretentious and self-depricating writing style. Neyer has a trio of columns this week that are worth checking out: one, one the fate of the Yanks now that DJ is down, another on the next revolution in baseball, and finally Rob's prediction that the Red Sox will win the World Serious this fall.

Here is Neyer's take on the Yankees' shortstop situation:

Do the Yankees have an alternative at shortstop? Not at hand, no. They have nobody in the minors who even remotely resembles a major-league shortstop. Minor leaguer Erick Almonte might become a decent player someday, but at this moment he's no better than Wilson. And platooning isn't in order, because Almonte bats right-handed and the switch-hitting Wilson has fared significantly better against left-handed pitchers.

So if the Yankees want a good shortstop, they're going to have look elsewhere.

Why the Sox? And why now? Does this have anything to do with the fact that Neyer's old boss, Mr. James now works for Boston?

Because I can, and because I want to.

...But the truth is that winning the World Series isn't about being the best, it's about being the luckiest. Yes, I know the 1998 Yankees were the best team, and of course they won the World Series. But weren't the 2001 Mariners also the best team? Well, they nearly lost their Division Series before getting crunched in the ALCS. I thought the Angels and Giants might actually have been the best teams in their leagues last year, but they both needed a bit of luck to get where they got.

So if you make me pick a World Series winner, then I might as well have some fun. I think the Red Sox are going to win something like 100 games, and I'm not going to not have fun just because it's been 85 years since the Sox got lucky.

And what of the next revolution in baseball? Neyer thinks it concerns the new generation of general managers coming into the game:

There are, today, baseball executives who are actively seeking guidance from brilliant men from other disciplines and professions. This is happening, in large part, because the new breed of baseball executives is both incredibly bright and incredibly educated, and so they're not intimidated by other people who are incredibly bright and incredibly educated.

I'm not suggesting that the "traditional baseball man" isn't bright. Of course he's bright. I've spoken to a dozen traditional baseball men in the last year, and I can report that not one of them wasn't bright.

...Most baseball executives, even the bright ones, don't want to try anything new, because new is hard. Instead, their goal is to do things the way they've always been done ... but better. And that can work. Both of 2002's World Series teams were (and are) run by men who have little use for this newfangled objective analysis that everybody's writing about, and it's hard to argue with their results. If you do it well enough and you get lucky enough, it can work.

Which is, of course, true of just about any approach. But everybody can't be the best and the luckiest, and there's an advantage to being among the first to figure this out.

In case you missed it, don't forget to check out Michael Lewis' lengthy profile on Billy Beane, adapted from ''Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,'' which will be published in May.

2003-04-02 10:49
by Alex Belth


Looks like the story about Miguel Tejada signing an extension with the A's was a practical joke from the good folks over at Baseball Prospectus. This is how you get got, huh? Thank goodness I'm not an Oakland fan. And here I was worried about phoney reports concerning Jeter yesterday.

At least I wasn't the only chump out there. John Perricone, who after a month of technical difficulties, has returned with full force to his terrific site, "Only Baseball Matters," was duped too.

If a sucker is born every minute, then I guess I'm only tree-an-a-half-years-old.

2003-04-01 19:09
by Alex Belth


During the course of the afternoon today, I came to grips with the fact that the Yankees will likely play the entire season without the services of one Derek Jeter. Erick Almonte and Enrique Wilson are all good and fine in a pinch, but this is George Steinbrenner's universe, and they are not the type of players who start for a long stretch of time---like a full season, for this kind of Yankee team. This is not Horace Clarke's Yankees.

Who is out there? Freakin' Rey Sanchez is playing in Queens for cryin out loud. Mike Bordick? Gulp. Melvin Mora? It would be the end for my cousin Gabe. Nah, fuck all that shit, what about Omar Vizquel? He's the last man standing in Cleveland, and his contract is up next year.

Wouldn't Vizquel be the perfect fit?

I called my cousin Gabe and told him what I was thinking.

"You Yankee fans have to learn how to control your id somehow," he said.

But that's the thing about being a Yankee fan. We do live in a universe where we know the owner to going to spend the money and grab the 'name' player; it's only natural when our fantasies are greedy too. We know they can come true. You can't help being greedy. (You just have to balance it out with humility and respect.)

So why not Vizquel?

I wasn't the only guy thinking about the Tribe's most controversial author/player today either. I wrote to Aaron Gleeman, and asked him if he had John Sickels' scouting report on Erick Almonte. I also asked him what he made of Almonte.

Here is Gleeman's repsonse:

I got my Sickels book out and was all set to tell you what Sickels said about Almonte when I realized that Almonte isn't in the book! Which should tell you all you need to know about him (there are like 800+ guys in the book).

As for my take...

He's young (25 in Feb) and I actually think he could be a decent starting shortstop. However, he isn't the type of guy that could start for the Yankees and keep his job for very long. I'd say his true level of performance in the majors, in a good year, would be something like .260/.315/.410, which would put him as a pretty much "average" shortstop (shortstops hit .265/.324/.398 as a group last year).

I really think the best fit would be Vizquel, who would make a nice 1 year replacement and who the Indians are almost certainly willing to give up pretty cheaply.

See ya

If the Yankees improve defensively at short with Jeter out---which is entirely likely, they will be hard pressed to duplicate Jeter's offense. The man from Cleveland is as good a fit as you can imagine. The Yankees need a defensive short stop more than they need an offensive one. The Yankees offense can take the hit. But Omar has a little bit of O and a whole lot of D...

Boy, Jeter is going to drive himself mad rehabing all summer. He's never had to deal with anything remotely like this before. In a couple of days, when he knows for sure what's going to happen, some of his fear will subside and then that kid is going to start getting pissed. And he's going to be pissed all summer too. Yeeeesh.

2003-04-01 15:39
by Alex Belth


According to Baseball Prospectus, the Oakland A's have reportedly signed short stop Miguel Tejada to a 5-year extension worth $58.5 million.

A's General Manager Billy Beane announced today that the Oakland Athletics have signed AL MVP Miguel Tejada to an extension through the 2008 season.

"We're very pleased to have gotten this done," said Beane, "and it's a tremendous load off my mind to know that we'll have Miguel in Oakland for many years to come. It's important to the success of the A's and for our fans. I couldn't be more pleased."

The terms of Tejada's deal include a $3.5 million signing bonus, and escalating salaries through the 2008 season averaging $11 million annually.

2003-04-01 14:58
by Alex Belth


Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus weighs in on the Jeter injury in his "Under the Knife" column today. The prognosis doesn't look good for Jeter or the Yanks:

Traumatic injuries are one thing that a team cannot plan for explicitly. However, even if it's a "break glass in case of emergency" type player, everyone has a Plan B. The question is: Does Plan B prevent you from executing the rest of your strategy to win? In the case of the Yankees, one place they have almost no depth is shortstop. With Derek Jeter's health never a problem, this was an area where Brian Cashman and crew skimped a bit.
One play changes everything.

On a brutal, but legal and well-done play by Blue Jays catcher Ken Huckaby, Derek Jeter took the point of Huckaby's knee (covered in high-impact plastic) to the shoulder. Even with TiVo, I was going back and forth. It appeared from most angles that Jeter's initial move was to grab at the area that would indicate a broken collarbone. From a later angle out of the center-field camera, Jeter's hand appeared to go to the shoulder. As teammates surrounded him, an ESPN camera got a good shot of Jeter saying: "It popped out." Mat Olkin saw the same thing--I should take a course on lip-reading--and when Jeter finally got up, the way they held the arm told a lot. Had it been a collarbone, the arm would have been held across the body, much like where it would be in a sling.

The official diagnosis is dislocated left shoulder. Where have we heard this before? Phil Nevin, of course. Digging through the list of injuries, there are some frightening comparables. Nevin is clearly negative, as is Danny Bautista. The best comparables however are other shortstops--Alex Gonzalez (Florida version) and Rafael Furcal. Neither of these play in the same way nor have the body type of Jeter, but they'll do for our purposes. Furcal is a switch hitter, but all three players injured the left (non-throwing) shoulder. Both Gonzalez and Furcal were forced to have surgery after having previous problems with lax shoulder capsules. Jeter had some problems in his acromioclavicular joint in late 2001. Where Jeter's injury differs is in the mechanism; Jeter absorbed a football-type collision, while both Gonzalez and Furcal had the injuries occur during dives.

The outlook is not good. I cannot find a situation where a player was able to come back in-season from this type of injury. Furcal's injury happened pretty late in the season, so that makes timing this pretty difficult, but looking at the others, things can't be stated positively. The best-case scenario is that after reduction (having the dislocated bone "popped back in"), there would be no ligament or labrum damage. In this case, it's possible that Jeter could be back in as little as four weeks. The worst case, of course, is similar to Nevin or Gonzalez, where Jeter would be done for the season. What the most likely case is won't be known until the results of imaging are in some time Tuesday. Brian Cashman will have to trust Enrique Wilson, commit to Erick Almonte, or hit the phones quickly. ("Hello, Billy? Yeah, yeah, you're the best-looking GM in the game. About that Tejada kid...")

Expect Cash to hit the phones and hit 'em hard.

2003-04-01 08:01
by Alex Belth


Tom Glavine was roughed up in his debut for the Mets, who took it on the chin, losing the home opener to the Cubs 15-3.

The Red Sox got a good outing from Pedro Martinez, but their bullpen lost the lead in the 9th, as Carl Crawford hit a dramatic, game-ending 3-run homer off Chad Fox to win Lou Pinella's first game as manager of the Devil Rays.

While the alarm is sure to sound in Boston, Pedro remained calm:

''It's only the first game,'' he said. ''That's all I can say to the Boston fans. Please keep the faith because we're going to battle hard tomorrow and hopefully we'll win some games and be OK by the time we get home.''

Ed Cossette, who runs Bambino's Curse, didn't panic either, though I'm sure his digestion took a hit last night.

2003-04-01 07:05
by Alex Belth


The Yankees and Cablevision agreed to a one-year deal minutes before game time last night. For those of you who believe in karma, the Yanks were punished for screwing with their fans for so long, as the Bombers suffered an unexpected and startling injury. The Yanks defeated the host Blue Jays, 8-4. led by Roger Clemens, and Alfonso Soriano, but lost Derek Jeter in the top of the 3rd inning. Jeter dislocated his left-shoulder in a collision with catcher Ken Huckaby. It was the kind of heads-up hustle play that we've come to expect from Jeter:

Jeter sustained the injury on an unusual play in the third inning after drawing a one-out walk. With Jason Giambi, a pull hitter, batting, the Blue Jays shifted their infielders to the right side, leaving third base uncovered.

Giambi bounced softly to the pitcher, Roy Halladay, who threw to first baseman Carlos Delgado for an out. Jeter crossed second and kept running, expecting no fielder to cover third.

The strategy worked for Jeter in a game here last August, but the Blue Jays were prepared this time. Huckaby raced down the third base line as Delgado fired across the infield. Huckaby caught the ball just as Jeter slid headfirst, and the umpire Paul Emmel signaled safe.

But Huckaby could not stop his momentum. After catching the high throw, he careered into Jeter with his knees, his shinguards crashing into Jeter's left shoulder. Jeter's helmet flew off and he instantly grabbed his shoulder. He was knocked off the base and Huckaby tagged him, ending the inning.

Asked if Huckaby's play was dirty, Jeter said: "I don't know, it's tough. He was running full speed trying to get to third base."

Huckaby called Jeter during the game and left a message in the Yankees' clubhouse. He said he intended no harm.

"The pitcher is supposed to cover on a ground ball to the infield, but the ball was hit back to him, so he couldn't get there," Huckaby said. "Derek did that to us last year, where he went from first to third with Giambi up on a ground ball, and I just reacted and took off for third base.

"When I caught the ball, the only way I could stop my momentum was to go down to my knees. I wasn't trying to block the base. I was just trying to go down and stop, so I could put the tag down. I was hoping I'd fall short, but I landed right on top of him."

I saw the play live, and it was immediately clear that Jeter was seriously hurt. It was a clean play by Huckaby, but a violent one all the same, just the kind to bring your blood to a boil if you are a Yankee fan. Especially when the catcher seemed to lay on top of Jeter for an extra second. But as Jeter continued to lay on the ground, the second-year catcher was clearly rattled:

"The longer he laid down the more I felt that (the Yankees) would think it was a cheap shot and I felt horrible for what happened," Huckaby said. "It wasn't a cheap shot at all. It was one of those fluke plays. How many times do you see a catcher covering third base on a throw to third? It never happens. For me, I was in a place where I didn't belong normally in a game."

..."I didn't know where the base was and I was going full speed," Huckaby said. "The only way I could stop was to go down on my knees or else I'd over run the base. I wasn't trying to block the base. And I didn't want to go down like that at all...I'm not looking for anyone to get hurt," he said. "I felt real bad about it. If I could not put his arm there I would."

According to the Post, Jeter is likely to miss 2-4 months:

"There are two options," the former Jets and Islander orthopedic surgeon and the director of the Nicholas Sports Medicine division at Manhattan's Lenox Hill Hospital told The Post last night. "One, you put it in a sling for a short period of time, let it heal and rehab it. That takes a couple of months. The other option is arthroscopic surgery in which you sew the ligaments back to the shoulder. Usually you allow the athlete four months before returning to his activity."

Nicholas said that the shoulder is a ball and socket joint and when it's dislocated the ball is no longer on top of the socket when it slides out of the joint.

"When athletes are involved in injuries you can push [the recovery time] but it's at least six to eight weeks with this," Nicholas said.

All considering, if the Yankees can get Jeter back for the second half of the season, healthy for the stretch run, they should consider themselves fortunate. They could lose him for the entire year. I sent an e-mail to Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus, the injury-guru, and asked him what we can expect. When I hear back from him, I'll post his response asap.

In the meantime, it looks as if Erick Almonte will be called up to play short. Almonte was once a highly regarded prospect. Apparently he can hit, but isn't much of a fielder. Ralph Wiley thinks he's the Yankees secret weapon. I'm not so sure.
Look for Boss George to make a trade sometime soon.

It will be interesting to see how the Yankees recover without their team leader. They have enough fire-power to play well without Jeter, but they will certainly miss him.

David Pinto considered what Joe Torre will do with his line-up before the game was over last night.

Aaron Gleeman was sad to see Jeter go down, however:

I did think it was funny that Karl Ravech (on Baseball Tonight following the game) said, "Our thoughts will be with Derek Jeter tonight." I think that is just a tad over the top. I mean, the guy hurt his shoulder, he didn't get paralyzed or anything. And since when is Jeter the first guy ever to suffer a semi-serious injury? Do you think Karl Ravech would have said the same thing if Nomar had separated his should yesterday against the D-Rays? I doubt it and I think that is why a lot of people aren't the biggest Derek Jeter fans.

Seconds after Ravech said that, Peter Gammons said the following: "A lot of people come up with stats saying how Jeter isn't a great player, but none of that matters, he is one." I have one question...what stat is there that says he isn't a great player? People need to learn that a player can simultaneously be great and overrated at the same time. Or even more importantly, can be great and still have major flaws (for example, defense).