Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Monthly archives: May 2003


2003-05-30 13:24
by Alex Belth


More from Lee:

Baseball Prospectus's Will Carroll has just informed me that David Cone has scheduled a press conference for this afternoon, to announce his retirement.

With John Franco being activated, I guess Cone thought this would be the right time to step away. I'm sure he'll give a hell of a press conference later today---honest and heartfelt.

Roger Angell has another chapter to write. I just wonder if George will take Cone back this year, or if he'll make him wait til' next year.

SHEA HEY Lee Sinins
2003-05-30 13:04
by Alex Belth


Lee Sinins thinks that the Red Sox made a great move dealing Mr. Hillenbrand for Mr. Kim. Here is his take:

This is an excellent trade for the Redsox.

After 2.94 ERA/18 RSAA and 2.04 ERA/23 RSAA seasons as a reliever, Kim's off to a 3.56 ERA/9 RSAA start in his first 7 starts. He has a 3.26 career
ERA, compared to his league average of 4.37, and 52 RSAA in 243 games.

After starting his career with -20 RCAA/.682 OPS and 5 RCAA/.789 OPS seasons, Hillenbrand's off to a .443 SLG, .335 OBA, .778 OPS, 0 RCAA start
in his first 49 games.

Despite fooling people into thinking he's a good hitter due to his .293 AVG in 2002 and .303 in 2003, Hillenbrand is bad at getting on base. His OBA ranks among the top 10 worst figures in the AL since he's come into the majors in 2001.

...Hillenbrand does represent an improvement over Matt Williams. After having a negative RCAA 5 times in the past 6 years, Williams is off to a .391 SLG, .323 OBA, .714 OPS, -8 RCAA start in his first 43 games. And while Hillenbrand is a fraud when it comes to being labeled as a good player, at least he's a league average one--so long as he's able to keep his AVG high (the moment that goes down, his value plummets). But, instead of trading an asset like Kim for someone like Hillenbrand, the Diamondbacks screwed up in figuring out how to revive their bad offense.

...Meanwhile, Kevin Youkilis ["the Greek God of Walks"], the Redsox probable 3B of the future, has a .460
OBA down in AA (and no, that's not a typo).

2003-05-30 12:37
by Alex Belth


When I'm not watching baseball---or reading about it, or talking about it, I spend most of my leisure time cooking food and buying records (that is, when I'm not chillin with my beautiful goilfriend, Emily). Even when I'm watching a game, I am likely to have my head in a Marcella Hazan cookbook, while listening to the latest release from Stones Throw records. I also am known to listen to the comedy stylings of George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Cos, Albert Brooks, or Steve Martin when I fall asleep at night.

On that random note, the great Jazz critic, Nat Hentoff had a piece on Lenny Bruce yesterday, and there is a fun article on Patti LaBelle in the Cooking section of the Times this week that is also worth reading---not to mention a review of fine Philly cuisine (how is that for diversity?).

Pass the hot sauce, baby.

Let's hope the Yanks can have a little feast of their own in the Motor City over the weekend. I'm excited to see what Jose Contreras will give the Bombers tonight, though I'm not certain that he'll be great, even against the lowly Tigers.

Oh yeah, and not for nuthing, but my favorite blog entry of the week comes from John Bonnes, who wrote a very touching article yesterday. Just goes to show you, the quality of writing that people like John, Ed Cossette, Christian Ruzich, Jon Wiesman, Jay Jaffe and countless others bring to their blogs goes well beyond the game of baseball.

NERDSVILLE Tom Boswell weighs
2003-05-30 08:08
by Alex Belth


Tom Boswell weighs in on Michael Lewis' book "Moneyball." Homeboy even snagged my "Revenge of the Nerds" line. Needless to say, he loves the book:

Pretty soon, thanks to "Moneyball," the whole sport will catch up to the curve ¡ª the learning curve, that is. And it's about time

Dr. Manhattan also wrote a terrific review of the book that is well worth reading.

The New York Times Book Review section last Sunday was devoted to the recent crop of baseball books. Check it out.

2003-05-30 07:46
by Alex Belth


After months of speculation, the Red Sox finally traded third baseman Shea Hillenbrand, who simply did not fit into Boston's high-on base percentage offensive philosophy. Hillenbrand goes to the Arizona Diamondbacks for the versatile pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim. While the move won't inspire fear in Yankee fans, we shouldn't be so quick to lick our chops; this is a solid move, as Kim is a proven closer, and a decent starting pitcher as well. He is also only 24 years old. Anytime you can move a decent starting player for a good pitcher, you do it, right?

According to Gordon Edes:

Epstein deserves credit for being able to get what he did in this deal. Rookie Freddy Sanchez, who has had an outstanding spring in Triple A, can spell Todd Walker at second, and Bill Mueller's other-worldly slugging has earned him the right to play every day at third. David Ortiz and Kevin Millar will platoon at first, and if Jeremy Giambi doesn't start hitting, the Sox will add another bat.

''I think the Sox did well,'' the NL scout said. ''The team is in the place in the standings where they want to be, and if I'm in your place, I'd do the same thing.''

Ed Cossette likes the sound of Mr. Kim too.

BUSTA MOVE According to
2003-05-29 08:40
by Alex Belth


According to Sridhar Pappu in latest edition of The New York Observer, Buster Olney will be leaving the Times to join ESPN:

"I had other chances to leave The Times, but this is an incredible opportunity," Mr. Olney told Off the Record.

...According to sources, Mr. Olney, 39, was increasingly unhappy with how the department was being run from above. They said he'd been distraught over the treatment of former sports editor Neil Amdur, and over the management decision to spike two columns by Dave Anderson and Harvey Araton on the Augusta National controversy. (The Times covered the controversy vigorously and editorialized against Augusta's policy on women.)

Asked how much internal Times politics played a role in his decision, Mr. Olney would only say: "I love the paper and had a great time at the paper. Neil was great to work for. [New sports editor] Tom Jolly is a great editor. I wouldn't leave if this wasn't a terrific opportunity."

2003-05-29 08:13
by Alex Belth


Somebody was going to throw a fit eventually, and who better to go nutzo than Popeye Zimmer? Yankee bench coach, and manager Joe Torre's right hand man, Don Zimmer blasted his old pal George Steinbrenner yesterday. According to the Post:

"I hate to read the paper for 21/2 days that Torre is on the hot seat, that Torre is this and Torre is that and then for [Steinbrenner] to say that this is Torre's team and I have gotten him everything he wanted," Zimmer said in the dugout.

"What did Torre know about [Hideki] Matsui or [Jose] Contreras? I know Torre was probably instrumental in getting Todd Zeile here and he will be a good player. But now that we fail, it's Joe Torre's team. I think that's unfair.

"I don't care who knows it. We are struggling, and it's Joe Torre's team. For seven years it was [Tampa's] team. I would think we were all in this together, but you know that's not the way it is. He is the boss, but I ain't in prison.

"I never understood the split. I thought we were all fighting for the same thing. He is a big man but I was asked a question and I ain't going to duck it. I get tired of hearing it. I get fed up with the talk about the manager. He won four World Series in seven years. To me, that's a joke. But [Steinbrenner] calls the shots. We are struggling for two weeks and all of a sudden it's Joe Torre's team. For seven years it was their team."

..."We all know who the boss is, the world knows who the boss is. But what does that mean? That somebody can't say something," Zimmer said. "You are supposed to clam up like a mouse because he is rapping everybody?"

..."If he wants to talk to me I have been here [in the clubhouse]. If he wants to talk about that, we will talk about that," Zimmer said. "I respect him as the boss but does that mean we have to back off?"

..."He put the heat on the hitting coach, but this guy is here every day at noon and works his [butt] off," Zimmer said. "I don't know if he is a great hitting coach or not but he ain't going to cheat anybody."

Bill Madden, who collaborated on Zimmer's autobiography, reports that the rift between Popeye and Boss George has been brewing since early this year:

"I don't know what happened," Zimmer told me recently. "I've been friends with the man for 25 years. We live in the same town, I've worked for him three times. We've been on trips together and we've been at the track together hundreds of times. Then, all of a sudden, I see him at the track last winter and he walks right past me, refusing to speak to me."

Then when Zimmer got to spring training, he was informed he was not going to be issued a car as was the standard for all the coaches. A day later, that order was rescinded, but Zimmer had gotten the message and told Yankee officials what they could do with the car. Being equally stubborn, neither Zimmer nor Steinbrenner saw fit to seek the other out and mend their friendship, making it inevitable that it would come to this.

Ah, just another day of modern maturity in the Bronx. Still, since Torre isn't about to go after the Boss in such a blunt tirade, it proves that Zim does more for the Yanks than sit on his ass and whisper in the managers' ear. After all, what does he have to lose? He's too old to care. Madden concludes:

In the past, when Steinbrenner has sought to get at his manager by firing one of his coaches, the deed was done without much protest, and everyone moved on until Steinbrenner got the manager as well. I can't say with certainty that Torre would walk if Zimmer were fired, but I do know the loyalty and, yes, love that exists between these two men, and that's not something anyone should ever take lightly.

2003-05-29 07:35
by Alex Belth


Mike Mussina pitched brilliantly for the Yankees for eight innings last night, and entered the ninth with a 5-1 lead. Mussina was economical, and masterly, and while his counterpart Derek Lowe wasn't terrible, the Yankees got to him early, and it appeared as if the Yanks would cruise to their second straight victory over Boston. Mussina came out to pitch the ninth, promptly walked Jason Varitek, and gave up a single to Johnny Damon. Enter Mariano Rivera and pass the Malox. These are the same Red Sox who have made a habit of late-inning comebacks, and they lived up to their reputation. Before you know it, the game was tied, and if not for a broken play---which resulted in Alfonso Soriano throwing out Shea Hillenbrand at home, the Sox would have snagged the lead. Instead the score was now tied at five.

I had a bad feeling after Nomar slapped a single right under Derek Jeter's glove---how did he miss that? It is still May, and this is the time of year when the Red Sox win these kinds of games. I paced around my apartment, and thought of that somewhere Ed Cossette was sharing my pain: the same, but different.

With one out in the bottom the ninth, HI-deki Matsui laced a double to left field off of Brandon Lyon, and he advanced to third on a throwing error by Manny Ramirez. The Sox the intentionally walked Soriano and Jason Giambi to load the bases for Jorgie Posada. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who had a flashback to last July when Posada faced Ugie Urbina in the same situation.

I was sure he would hit into a double play. (Oh, ye of little faith.) The 2-2 pitch from Lyon was called a ball, and the Red Sox were understandably steamed about the call after the game:

''It's on tape,'' [Sox manager, Grady] Little said, ''just like a countryful of people saw it on ESPN.''

It sure looked close enough to be a strike to me. Of course, Posada walked on the next pitch and the Yankees escaped with a 6-5 win. How could I not think back on what Allen Barra said a few days ago:

I would not be surprised to see the Yankees beat them two out of three, or even sweep the Sox. I'm not saying it's going to happen, I'm saying it wouldn't surprise me. The Red Sox are the only team right now, who are capable of turning themselves into a worse team than the Yankees.

2003-05-28 12:54
by Alex Belth


I thought I'd share some of the letters I've received from readers regarding the Allen Barra interview.

Here is what Bronx Banter correspondent Chris DeRosa had to say:

That Allan Barra interview was rich. I do think he's caught something about Jeter. I don't see the joy in him this season. I'm not talking about anything that's gonna change Ws to Ls, but it saddens me, and I blame George.
For all the defensive woes of last season, we ranked 8th in defensive efficiency. This year, we rank 13th, ahead of only Texas. Nevertheless, in the second half, we're gonna have two big bats back, Matsui adjusted, and a lot of shitty teams on the schedule. So I ain't getting too bummed out about this horrible month.

Tom Fratamico, a Red Sox fan, has his own team to worry about:

Good point today on the Yankees schedule. They have already had their home and away series with Seattle and Oakland. These games do not come up for the Sox until August and will probably make or break their postseason chances. My head says this is a good thing. Theo and company have the time and resources to get reinforcements. My heart and history tells me to get ready for another summer flop. Yankee fans should be more optimistic than the Sox fans. We haven't played the best teams out West, no pen, Pedro is hurt, defense is awful, Lowe's ERA is around 5 and have won too many one-run games with the bats.

One of my first readers, Harley, a Yankee fan living in California, agreed:

...When is the last time the Yankees DIDN'T trail the Red Sox this time of year? And why should we care if they do? ...The Jeter Backlash isn't new or unexpected, but for the life of me, I'll never understand the Move Him To Third idea given his power numbers, and for all his defensive faults -- I'm guessing they begin and end with Range -- he manages, time and time again, to be the player in the middle of the Big Play. (Fun Research Project: Compare Nomar
and Jeter's fielding numbers in recent Yankee/Red Sox games, or just go back and look at the last time they met in the post season).

Here is Brian McMahon's take on the Yankee offense. Dig his take on what should be done with Jetes:

The way I see it, all their starting hitters are doing as well as you could possibly expect, with the exception of Mondesi--who's doing far better than we could have hoped, Giambi--who's been fighting an eye infection, and Hideki, who may become the Yanks' second expensive flop with that name.
The main enemy of the Yankee offense thus far has been injuries. In addition to Giambi's pinkeye or whatever, 6 weeks each from Jeter, Bernie and Nick the Stick would be tough for any offense. Sucks . . . but you can't blame anybody for that. If they were all healthy, they might score 1000 runs this year. But they're not, and they won't.

...Allen raises a great point about Soriano in the batting order. For God's sake, why is he leadoff? I've been saying all year Bernie and Sori should swap places--it's pretty obvious that Bernie's better at getting on base and Sori's got more power. Here's my ideal batting order, with their 2003 OBPs and HRs (assuming no injuries):
Bernie Williams .397 / 7
Nick Johnson .455 / 5
Jason Giambi .345 / 9
Alfonso Soriano .376 / 15
Jorge Posada .366 / 12
Raul Mondesi .379 / 9
Robin Ventura .382 / 8
Hideki Matsui .308 / 3
Derek Jeter .343 / 2
Of course, the quality of this arrangement depends somewhat on Giambi's BA coming around (thereby raising his OBP).
Yes, you heard right. DJ last. That means, of course, that it'll never happen, but he's just not a top-of-the-lineup guy anymore (on this team anyway), and I'd rather not have the complete sinkhole that is Hideki Matsui batting in front of Bernie.
Torre is a great manager in a lot of ways, but he's never been an innovative one, and I think he's too married to the idea that middle infielders are leadoff guys and outfielders are cleanup hitters. This is one team where it should be the opposite.

Thanks for all the e-mails, guys. They sure help keep the banter lively. Since I'm certainly no expert, it's great to read and share of all your opinions. Whether I agree with them or not, I can safely say, I'm learning more each day.


2003-05-28 07:48
by Alex Belth


Jay Jaffe, The Futility Infielder, invited me to the game last night, and we had a great time as the Yankees beat the Red Sox 11-3. Jay and I were at the last game the Yanks had won at the home---a few weeks back against Aaron Sele and the World Champs. Hey, there is nothing like a streak, even if it is a figment of our grandiosity.

The Yankees got a solid performance from Andy Pettitte, who survived a couple of long foul balls in the middle innings (Shea Hillenbrand, Big Manny), and pitched 7 2/3 innings of effective ball against the Red Sox. The Yankee bats also came alive, led by Robin Zeile and Todd Ventura. Derek Jeter lead off the game with a home run, and Jason Giambi added three hits. What was encouraging about Giambi's performance is that he drove two doubles to left field.

George was in the house and he continued to talk. He's in full military-football mode now, as the Yankee brass will meet over the next two days to address the state of the team. Who will be fired? The easy mark is hitting coach Rick Down, who has been canned by George before. Who will be traded? Who will be shook up? (George wants his boy Contreras to replace Jeff Weaver in the rotation.) Joe Torre is taking it all in stride:

"But I'm never a good loser," Torre said. "I never have been. I don't yell at my wife, because all she'd do is yell back. I'm still lousy at it, after all these years. But at the same time, I feel a responsibility not to go overboard. Because if I lose it and start making wholesale changes, that sends the wrong message to the only people I'm concerned about - the people out there in that clubhouse."

Two days ago, Joe Torre said that somebody was eventually going to take a beating at the hands of his slumbering offense. Welcome to the Major Leagues, Matt White. Making his big league debut, White entered the game in the 8th and allowed six runs on four hits in 2/3rds of an inning.

Nomar Garciaparra's hitting streak was halted at 26 games.

There were some great duels between Sox and Yankee fans in the upper deck during the game. "Let's Go Red Sox," "1918." As we were leaving I heard one Sox fan offer, "Who's in first place?" I told Jay, "Who ain't won shit?" I usually bristle at the nasty chants, but when you are at the game, they somehow seem more playful than mean-spirited (still, I get can't with chanting that anybody sucks).

Oh, not for nothing but Godzilla Matsui gets points for selecting "Get Back," and "Day Tripper" as he theme music.

I want to thank all the readers who sent in e-mails regarding my "two-guys-in-a-bar" bitch session with Allen Barra. A lot of readers felt that we went overboard in bashing the Yanks. You mean we sounded rash, and panicked? Say it ain't so. New Yorkers acting a tad histrionic? Get outta here. I don't think the Yankees were as good as they showed early, or as bad as they've played recently. They haven't faced Baltimore yet, and their schedule gets easier in the second half of the season so they should be alright. But the doubts will continue until the Yankees make the playoffs and play well in the post-season. That's just the nature of the beast.

I try to be as even-handed as possible living in a manic city, following a self-important team, which is covered by a carnivorous press. If I succumb to the Sturm und Drang of the Yankees, well then I guess I'm no different from your average New York Yankee fan. And there is nothing more I'd ever want to be.

2003-05-27 08:44
by Alex Belth



Allen Barra, the wonderful baseball writer/book-reviewer/social critic, recently joined the sports department over at The New York Times. Over the Holiday weekend, Barra wrote stellar columns about Roger Clemens and the 300 win club. I had a chance to speak with Mr. Barra on Sunday afternoon. Here is our exchange regarding the state of the Yankees.

Bombs away.

Bronx Banter: Are you planning to be at the Stadium on Monday for the Clemens game?

Allen Barra: I may be. I may have to finish a piece. I would love to be out there for it. I will staunchly maintain, as I said in my book--which I used as background information for the piece I wrote today---that Clemens is the greatest starting pitcher in baseball history. Or certainly one of the top three or four. There is no reason for not considering him in that group. If he had pitched from 1910 through 1925, he would have won 400 games. He would have been Walter Johnson. Or better than Walter Johnson.

BB: Well maybe the Yankees can score a couple of runs for him, God forbid.

Barra: I don't know. This is a bad team. Of course, they are injury-riddled and I can't understand that.

BB: You mean why they are getting hit with the bad breaks?

Barra: Why in the world did they wait to take Bernie Williams out of the line up? It was so obvious that Bernie Williams was hurting. Why would you not take Bernie out and get that knee fixed? Now, it's going to cost them dearly. That was just a terrible, terrible decision by the team. How many double plays do you have to hit into? Their two most consistent hitters were Bernie and Nick Johnson, and now, they're out. I don't understand Mussina's lapses. Nor do I understand what is wrong with Andy Pettitte.

BB: Maybe he lost the Lord somewhere along the way.

Barra: Jason Giambi, we know had an eye infection. I don't know. Does he still have it? Jason Giambi was the American League's best hitter for three years, arguably for four years. All of sudden, you don't want him up there with a runner on third base? Cause he can't lift the ball out of the infield? I don't know what the problem is. I don't know what has happened to this team mentally. This is the same malaise that gripped the Yankees with something like thirty games left last year. They played shitty ball against shitty teams, and they were just terrible. And going into the playoffs, I had no confidence whatsoever that they were going to be able to win. Even if Clemens pitches a good game, you figure he's going to be down 2-1 in the seventh inning. All of a sudden, in the past year and a half, Derek Jeter can't hit for any power. Soriano¡¦

BB: The freak.

Barra: Yeah, but he's beginning to be a like a super version of Juan Samuel.

BB: Or Dave Kingman.

Barra: He's more talented. Especially when you talk about his power and speed, but he can't backhand a ground ball? He can't make contact in key situations. Plus, this is just a team that is way out of whack. The guy who ought to be batting third, fourth or fifth, is batting first. Your lead off hitter is leading the team in runs batted in, doesn't that tell you something a little screwy there? [Torre's ears must have been burning, because Soriano hit third on Sunday and Monday.]

BB: Could it be that this is the end of their run? Is this just the natural cycle of things catching up to them?

Barra: I don't know. I do know that it is really puzzling that there hasn't been one guy who has stepped forward on that team and taken charge. They are rudderless, and they don't seem to have any direction. They don't have any take-charge guy. The closest thing to that is Roger Clemens. And he can go only once every six days.

BB: You don't see Jeter as that guy?

Barra: Have you seen Jeter out in the field? Do you see any sparks coming out of him? I've got to say that this is one of the worst defensive infields I've ever seen. Ventura can still catch balls hit at him, but he can't move to either side. It's just a terrible defensive infield. The whole thing was summarized by that game they played---who was it against? Texas. Batting in the last of the 8th, with the bases loaded and one out.

BB: The Yanks left a zillion guys on base in that game.

Barra: I think they left 8 runners on base in extra innings, but all they had to do is get one home in the eighth, and they got Mariano Rivera pitching [the 9th]. A hit would have scored two runs. Soriano is up there with a 3-1 count. Show some discipline, you know. If it's ball four, the go ahead run scores, and you go to the ninth inning with at least a one-run lead. So he swings at two curveballs out of the strike zone, trying to pull them both. Jeter comes up. You take a pitch in that situation, don't you? To get the run home; try to work the count. Hacks at the first pitch, and hits a routine grounder to second base. So here is Soriano and Jeter playing like rookies in a key situation. And sure enough, they found a way to lose the game. And they don't only lose it; they lose it by several runs.

BB: Those were the games they used to win regularly.

Barra: I'm just appalled at the lack of team discipline. Posada¡¦

BB: He's a mental case.

Barra: I know that catchers are scarce, and that power-hitting catchers are scare, but god, this guy just goes into the tank sometimes. When he's not hitting a home run, he's doesn't make any contribution to the team at all. And then there is his defense. Matsui makes that wonderful relay to Jeter against the Angels, and Jeter turns around and relays the ball home. And where is Posada? He didn't know it was coming; he was on the wrong side of the plate. He's in back of the plate. It's little things like that. Everything they've done like this has come back to bite them in the ass.

BB: Is this something you think they can turn around?

Barra: No I don't. There is something about this team that is just paralyzed. I mean it's entirely possible that when they get all their players back in there, through sheer, overwhelming talent, they could win again. Sure. What could happen is that everybody could just revert to form. But I don't understand why there isn't one player on that team playing up to form. Mariano Rivera and Roger Clemens are the closest ones.

BB: Mondesi has played well.

Barra: The way they've been the last couple of weeks, the other team scores early in the game, and the game is over. Mussina can't be a stopper, Wells can't be a stopper. Weaver, I don't what's his problem. He's not pitching anywhere near the level he pitched with Detroit. Matsui? I'm not going to complain about him. He's dedicated, and he's trying. They ask him to play center field, he does it. I'd like to see some more of that on the team, even if they guy isn't hitting what they expected. Especially if he keeps hitting to the opposite field, I don't care if he hits home runs.

BB: He could be more like a poor man's Wade Boggs.

Barra: And you know, Jeter is not a good short stop. When are the fans going to realize this? When is the team going to realize it? Don't go looking for an expensive, aging third baseman. Move Derek Jeter to his natural position. We hear all this fuss about moving Piazza [from behind the plate to first base], why don't we hear that Jeter ought to playing third base, or second. He doesn't have the range of a shortstop. He's a terrible defensive shortstop. And Soriano is a terrible defensive second baseman. You've got two black holes up the middle, just sucking up runs.

BB: Meanwhile the Red Sox will be down five runs in the eighth and they come back and win the game.

Barra: Well, the Yankees used to be like that. I don't know. I don't understand how everybody tanks at the same time. But that's what is happening. The Yankees have also gotten some terrible calls. On the relay home---the play I was talking about with Posada---the umpire didn't judge his call on whether or not the guy was out---it looked like he was---he judged it on whether Posada was were he should have been. Mondesi hits a home run in extra innings and it bounces off the fucking foul pole---

BB: And nobody in the Yankees dugout said Dick.

Barra: Nobody on the Yankees jumps up and protests? It's about time for Joe Torre or someone, to show a little old fashioned¡¦This team needs, god forbid---I'm sorry to say this---but they really could used Billy Martin right now. I know he'd burn himself out there after two years, but still¡¦I want to see somebody starting hitting somebody at second base.

BB: Posada tried to do that the other night, and got kicked out of the game.

Barra: I know. They could use a little more of that. They could also use somebody trying to work the count a little more. That's the reason they were hitting so well in the first place. I'm so tired of these guys going up a just hacking. Or the other extreme of taking. How many times have you seen somebody go down with runners on base on a called third strike?

BB: Matsui takes a lot of strikes.

Barra: At least he's got an excuse. He's learning the pitchers. What's everybody else's excuse? This team cannot win without Jason Giambi hitting a ton. And I don't understand what's happening, do you?

BB: Not really. I keep looking for signs for him to snap out of it. The guy looks like he's starting to put some good at bats together over the past couple of games and then yesterday (Saturday) in the ninth inning, against the Jays closer, he gets a first pitch fastball, dead over the plate and Giambi swings right through it. When he's on, he murdalizes that pitch. I hear people bitch about, ¡®Why doesn't he just lay one down the third base line?' [Giambi tried to do that in the ninth on Sunday afternoon] But I don't think that is the answer.

Barra: Ted Williams wouldn't do that either. If Giambi was hitting .290, with about 15 home runs, would we be complaining? You might say, ¡®Jeez, he should hit one to the opposite field every now and then.' But that's not what is happening. A weak pop-up to left field with a runner on third base? With no outs? That's where you need Giambi to get on base and bring the tying runner to the plate.

BB: The fans have been sitting on their hands waiting for something to cheer about, and with the Sox coming into the Stadium tomorrow it doesn't get any easier.

Barra: On the other hand, the Sox may be the only team the Yankees can beat.

BB: Why? Just because----

Barra: Because they are the Red Sox. I would not be surprised to see the Yankees beat them two out of three, or even sweep the Sox. I'm not saying it's going to happen, I'm saying it wouldn't surprise me. The Red Sox are the only team right now, who are capable of turning themselves into a worse team than the Yankees.

2003-05-27 08:12
by Alex Belth


I shot an e-mail to Rob Neyer before the game yesterday, expressing my concern about the Yanks. Here is his reply:

What's interesting about this game is that EVERYBODY is focusing on 300, which is understandable but a little silly, considering that Clemens IS going to win 300. It's just a question of when.

What is in doubt is another division title for the Yankees. And if the Yanks lose today, they're 2 1/2 games back.

Jeez Rob, don't you know that George is making promises again?

Unlike the his team, George Steinbrenner didn't go down without a fight after yesterday's loss at the Stadium. It wasn't a full-on explosion, but the fuse has been lit. According to Murray Chass in The New York Times:

One club official and one baseball official have said in the past few days that Steinbrenner is "worse than ever." People in and out of the organization made similar observations last year, which apparently means worse has turned to worst. "He's off the wall," the club official said before the game.

Steinbrenner did speak with reporters after the game. Joel Sherman reports in the Post:

"We are still going to win this," Steinbrenner told The Post when asked about the Yankees falling behind Boston. "I'm confident. Don't bet against us. I believe our manager, Joe Torre, will get these things right. Mark down this date and remember I told you this. We are going to win. I believe in this team."

..."I'm not happy with them," Steinbrenner said. "We have to get straightened out. I think Joe will get us straightened out. It better happen."

When asked if there was an "or what" to that, Steinbrenner replied, "We'll have to wait and see." However, when asked directly if Torre should feel in peril from that statement, The Boss responded, "I will not criticize him at all. He knows what has to be done. But he also has been given everything he has asked for. What he has wanted, we have provided."

Make no mistake about it, George is putting all the pressure on Torre. If the Yanks fail this year, George will feel justified in hammering Uncle Joe. But don't be surprised if Rick Down or Mel Stottlemyre go first.

According to The Daily News:

When asked if Jeff Weaver should be out of the rotation and Contreras in, Steinbrenner lowered his voice to almost a whisper and made a suggestion certain to raise Torre's eyebrows.

"Yes I do. Right now," he said, nodding. "Because I think that Weaver has gone to too much of a thrower right now. He was great in the bullpen for us before. Contreras is not that type of a pitcher. He's a starting pitcher. All of a sudden you put him (Contreras) in there (the bullpen) - he showed me he can still throw the ball 95, 96. I kinda like (Contreras), but I'm not going to be the one to say it."

Godzilla Matsui got the business too:

"All I know," Steinbrenner said, "is that this is not the guy we signed in terms of power. This falls to my hitting coach figuring out a way to straighten this guy out."

...Of the slumbering Yankee bats, Steinbrenner said, "I'd like to see more timely hitting. Giambi's a mystery to me right now. We'll have to see what happens there, but don't bet against us. Don't bet against this team," The Boss added, jabbing a finger into a reporter's chest for emphasis.

While the Boss was blustering, Joe Torre was as calm as usual. I caught his post-game press conference on ESPN, and Torre talked about how nobody was going to feel sorry for the Yankees. He said that the only thing that will snap his team out of this slump is for them to continue to show up and work hard. THere are no magic cures. He said that somebody is going to take a beating some day, suggesting his offense will finally wake up and revert to form. But Torre sounded as if he was trying to convince himself. He wasn't defeated, or exasperated, he just seemed at a loss. Derek Jeter commented that this Yankee team hasn't won anything yet:

"It was a perfect atmosphere and we didn't show up," Jeter said. "That's the bottom line."

..."Maybe that's too strong, but we didn't get him enough runs," he said. "We didn't show up with the results. The effort was there, just not the results."

..."It's happening a lot lately," Jeter said of the losing. "Anyone who says it doesn't happen to us a lot, this is a new team. That's the bottom line.

"Everyone wants to compare years past to this year, but it's not the same team as years ago. ... We have different players."

Where have you gone, Luis Sojo?

2003-05-26 17:26
by Alex Belth


The Red Sox mauled Rocket Clemens and he just left after five and two-thirds, down 5-3. Antonio Osuna comes in and before you know it, the score is 8-3. Clemens threw more than 125 pitches, and was ahead of a lot of batters, but the Sox, like the Angels last fall, spoiled a lot of good pitches, and demonstrated why they are scoring more than five runs per game. They had dinky hits, and then had some solid hits too.

Down 5-1, the Yanks put a couple of runs on the board to close it to 5-3. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth, Raul Mondesi was up with one out. He hit into a double play.

In the sixth, Johnny Damon poked a two-out knock through the left side. Jeter put himself out of position by bluffing towards second---with two men out, why I don't know---and Damon's ground ball became an RBI single. Nomar Garciaparra later bounced a single up the middle, right in between Jeter and Soriano. Sori knocked it down, after Jeter waved at it, and held the ball as Matsui ran in from center and yelled for him to throw home. Too late. Another runner scored.

I could practically hear George steaming from my place over on the west side of the Bronx. How would you like to be Brian Cashman right about now?

You can hear "Lets Go Red Sox" chants loud and clear on TV. Think there is any drinking going on at the Stadium right about now?

It's ugly and it's gunna get f-ugly before it's all over.

(Too bad the Yankees don't have some red-ass clown ignorant enough to start a brawl.)

FLIP FLOP Roger Clemens
2003-05-26 15:01
by Alex Belth


Roger Clemens just retired the first three batters in the top of the first, and I'm going to do an about face in my approach to the game. Now, I think the Bombers will win today. If any team can help the Yankees when they are down, it's the Red Sox, who are facing more emotional strudel and evil demons than the Yankees are. What's a lousy little losing streak compared with Clemens gunning for 300 and 80 years of history?

So now I think the Yankees will pull one out. I'm flip flopping like a madman here in the Bronx. I'll probably change my mind two or three more times during the course of the game. I've got more nervous energy than I know what to do with. Watching Wakefield float his knuckler passed the over-anxious Yankee hitters should calm me down, right?

2003-05-26 12:55
by Alex Belth


The Yanks made like Ray Milland this past weekend and got bombed----swept by the Toronto Blue Jays. Spanked, really. This after the Texas Rangers swept them last weekend in the Bronx. The Bombers have now lost 11 of their last 12 at home, and now trail the first place Red Sox by a game and half. They Jays aren't an arrogant team, but they were smiling broadly by the end of Sunday.

Who stunk up the place? Who didn't (Okay, Contreras and Hitchcock were good in relief)? This isn't just a couple of guys under-achieving, it's team-wide malaise. The pitching has been weak (Andy Pettitte, Jeff Weaver), the defense stinks (Soriano, Derek Jeter), and the offense is completely M.I.A. (the Yankees have not scored more than 1 run in an inning for 49 straight innings). The Yanks haven't played this badly since the end of the 2000 season, and you wonder what has to happen to light a fire under their ass.

Joe Torre talked with the team on Saturday, but what these guys need is Paulie O to take batting practice on a water cooler (Zim would work just fine as a fill-in).

It was rainy and cold in New York over the weekend and about the only baseball fans in town who felt halfway decent are Mets fans. Hey, we aren't the only one's that suck. Hey, misery loves company.

For their part, Yankee fans have not been dealing with their team's struggles well. They've become so pampered and so spoiled, they don't know how to handle losing again. Many fans I spoke with are so pissed at the Yanks, they aren't even watching them. Now, that the Bombers are struggling a bit, some of their faithful fans are treating them like step-children.

I'm not so discouraged by the losing---I realize what goes up must come down, and that eventually the Yankees will go through a period of losing again---but it's how they are losing. For years if they Yanks were down 3, 4, or even 5 runs in the late innings, you always felt they had a chance of winning. And even if they didn't win, they'd make it close, put up a fight.

For the past few weeks, when the Yanks are down 5-2 in the 7th, stick a fork in em. They are done.

You know who charges back when they are down late? The Red Sox.

It's almost 1:00 on Memorial Day, and I was hopeful that today's game would be called on the count of rain. After asking the fans to sit on their hands through the rain all weekend, you'd think George would give us all a break and play the game tomorrow. Don't make the fans sit in this slop, man.

But they are holding out. The game has now put pushed back to a 3:00 start. George will be in the house; Clemens has invited everybody under the sun to the Stadium, it's a national TV game, it's 300. They are going to try to get the game in. But I think it's going to back fire on the Yanks. I don't care if it is the Red Sox---the only team with bad enough Karma to kick the Yankees back to life. They are pushing it. George wants the glory of the big win. It's a set up.

I bet Rocket pitches good enough to lose---let's say 7 innings, giving up 2 or 3 runs, and the Yankee O snoozes again, and the Yanks lose.

That'll give George a chance to make his money, and get good and humiliated enough to finally blow his stack. I mean, that's what is coming, right? A classic George shit fit. Mt. Saint Steinbrenner is going to erupt any minute now, right? I don't know if he'll just pop off, diss his players, his manager, and issue a lot of threats, or if Rick Down or Mel Stott get fired, or what.

I think the Yankees can recover---the season is not over by a long stretch---but the fat man is about ready to sing.

Duck and cover, folks. This season may be just getting started.

2003-05-23 12:18
by Alex Belth


The Fan Who Wasn't There

I worked for Joel and Ethan Coen for roughly one calendar year, between the late summer of 1996 through the fall of 1997. I had been working as an apprentice film editor when I went to work for the guys, first as their personal assistant and later as an editing room assistant on their movie, "The Big Lebowski." We were in Manhattan, at their office for the first six weeks; in November we went out to Los Angeles, where "Lebowski" was shot on location. After the film was in the can, Joel and Ethan returned to New York to cut the film.

In October of 1996, when the Yankees won their first title since 1978, we were still in New York, so the Coen brothers are tied up in my baseball memories like it or not. Joel had no interest in the game at all, but Ethan seemed vaguely aware of what was happening. His wife Tricia, who was the co-editor of "Lebowski," as well as the script supervisor, was the sports nut. We stood on line outside of the Yankee clubhouse on 5th avenue to try and get World Serious tickets to no avail.

Ethan Coen's favorite player on the Yankees was Kenny Rogers. Figures, right? "The Gambler" is just like some half-wit out of one of their movies: well meaning, but hapless. The worse Rogers performed for the Yankees, the more shit he got from the fans and the media, the more Ethan liked him. We used to call him "Kenny Everyman" cause Kenny kinda looked like he could be just about anybody. Any dopey, normal guy.

Nowadays, Tricia is in a fantasy league and Ethan likes to play the guitar. (He yodels too; in fact, one of the best parts of hanging out with the two of them is that they turned me onto Jimmie Rogers, Hank Williams, Webb Pierce and George Jones.) I've spoken with Trish several times recently about her league, and she's taken to it like a bee to honey. Ethan and Joel were been busy mixing the sound to their latest movie this spring, a big-budget studio comedy---a romantic comedy---fittingly titled "Intolerable Cruelty." (George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones star, and the film will be released in October.)

I finally caught up with Ethan on the phone last week. But first, Tricia and talked some baseball. She was indignant that Torre had been starting Jason Giambi at the DH when he performs better when he plays in the field. Ethan was picking a guitar in the background, noodling around.

"It's bullshit, man. He's messing up my fantasy league team," Tricia told me.

I tried to reason with her but she wasn't having it, so she passed the phone to her husband, who momentarily stopped playing his axe. Ethan can be a man of few words. It's not that he doesn't like talking; it's just that sometimes he'd rather not be bothered (especially when he's dicking around on the guitar). Although both Joel and Ethan are definitely Jewish, and definitely New Yorkers, they are definitely not Jewish New Yorkers. There are a lot of meaningful silences; a lot of pregnant pauses that I assume are indigenous to the Midwest.

Here is an excerpt of our conversation:

Eth: Al?

BB: Eth.

Eth: How are ya?

BB: I'm good. Nu?

Eth: I'm good. You know, I don't have any thoughts on baseball, though. I quit following it.

(Starts playing the guitar again.)

BB: You quit?

Eth: Ya.

BB: Completely?

Eth: Ya.

(Guitar playing stops.)

BB: Wow. That's no good. Where did it all go wrong? Where did the love go? I mean didn't you play as a kid?

Eth: No.

(More guitar.)

BB: Did you want to play as a kid?

Eth: I went to games as a kid.

BB: Zolio Versalles.

Eth: Yeah, Zolio. You know. Harmon Killebrew. Rod Carew was with the Twins then. Tony Oliva.

BB: Oliva was good.

Eth: Yeah.

BB: Did you like baseball movies as a kid?

Eth: No.

BB: Do you like them now?

Eth: No.

BB: Has there ever been a good baseball movie?

(Long pause.)

Eth: No.

BB: Really?

Eth: Is there? I don't think so.

BB: "Bad News Bears?"

Eth: "Bad News Bears:" Excellent picture! Yeah, yeah. You're right. But just that one.

(More guitar.)

BB: Most of them bite. "Field of Dreams" was painful. "The Natural" sucked.

Eth: Yeah.

BB: You guys would make a good baseball movie.

Eth: I don't think so. No, you know "Bad News Bears:" you're right. It's a really good movie.

BB: Well, that was a great interview man.

Eth: You know what you can put down? You can say that I quit being a baseball fan when the Yankees traded Mickey Rivers.

BB: What the---? (Laughs) What the hell kind of thing is that to say? What about your boy, Kenny Rogers?

Eth: Is he still playing?

BB: Yeah, he's still playing. He plays on your hometown godamn team for crying out loud. He's on the Twins.

Eth: Shit. (Laughs) "Kenny Everyman."

BB: Mr. Square Jaw himself. Kenny Everyman is as good as he ever was, and he's even funnier now cause he's older, and more mulish than ever.

Eth: Yeah, I should see the Twins the days that he pitches.

BB: The best thing that guy ever did on the Yankees was when they had the World Series parade, and after stinking up the joint all year long, he was up on top of the float hooping and hollering louder than anyone.

Eth: Yeah, he was waving a flag. Pleased with pride as punch. (Laughs) That's really funny. That's good.

BB: Mick the Quick, huh?

Eth: Yeah, I quit being a fan when the Yankees traded him.

Well, there you have it: Ethan Coen is not a baseball fan. But that doesn't prevent him from making good movies, or giving one hell of an interview.

Hope everyone has a great Memorial Day Holiday.

P.S. Joel and Ethan left for Los Angeles last week to begin their next show--- a remake of the old Alec Guiness comedy "The Lady Killers," which stars Tom Hanks, and according to Joel, "you know, well, a whole lot of other people."

2003-05-23 08:52
by Alex Belth


Ed Cossette's piece yesterday about Curt Gowdy reminds you why good announcers are hard to find:

Gosh, even at 83 years old he ran circles last night around [Chris] Berman. Well, I take that back. It's not necessarily that he came across as more knowledgeable of the game, just more natural, easy, more reflective of what it feels like (or the way I want it to feel like) watching a game. This is the total opposite of listening to guys like Berman who don't really sound like they are enjoying the game so much as enjoying hearing themselves talk. I always feel like Berman is in a constant mental brain cramp trying to come up with the perfect expression or great turn of phrase. He gives me the sense that the game exists merely as a stage for his performance. And I shouldn't single out Berman, as this is the feeling I get from most the "modern" broadcasters, though Berman is the best example.

While Berman et al make me feel anxious and uptight, Gowdy puts me into a deep trance. My very breaths become the ebb and flow of the game.

Aaron Gleeman added an excellent critique of ESPN's Baseball Tonight crew, espcially his comments regarding Karl Ravech:

Now, all of a sudden, Karl Ravech (the main host) thinks he should be the one dispensing opinions, instead of just hosting the damn show. Karl Ravech!

The other night, when [Doug] Mientkiewicz hurt his ankle, Karl Ravech started talking about how the injury was going to "seriously hurt the Twins because they don't have any depth." I wanted to punch him through my TV set. The Twins don't have any depth?! I don't think it is hyperbole to suggest that the Minnesota Twins have more hitting depth than any team in baseball right now.

...Please, just host the show Karl! If we wanted to hear all of your brilliant comments and opinions, why would ESPN bother with journalists like Gammons and Stark or ex-players like Reynolds and Dibble? Why not just make it "Baseball Tonight with Karl Ravech," since I'm sure everyone is dying to hear what some talking head that is really good at reading a teleprompter thinks.

What both writers point out so convincingly is how many modern announcers (or in-studio hosts) feel as if they are more important than the stories they are covering. I have the same beef with Michael Kay over at the YES network. He thinks he has something to do with the Yankees success, and he forces the issue, trying to make every moment melodramatic and important. The results are as campy as they are infuriating.

This is about the cult of personality. Announcers aren't content letting the action unfold, they want to manufacture the action. Worse, they want to be the action.
Kay came up through the ranks as a beat writer, so he has a knack for stirring the pot. Primarily through his work as John 'Silver Throat' Sterling's straight man on the radio during the Yankees great run, Kay is now a minor celebrity himself. He now calls the games on TV, has his own radio show on ESPN, and his own version of "Inside the Actor's Studio" on the YES network. Like Ravech, his opinion of himself is completely out of whack.

Fortunately for us, Ken Singleton and Jim Kaat (and especially Paul O'Neill) love to rib Kay. As Kaat said the other day when Kay had the day off, "You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him."

WWJD? Carlos Delgado, and
2003-05-23 08:38
by Alex Belth


Carlos Delgado, and Vernon Wells led the League's best offense past Andy Pettitte and the Yankees last night at the Stadium, 8-3. To be honest, they spanked the Yanks, but good. Pettitte has now lost four games in a row---the first time that has happened in his career, prompting me to ask rhetorically: "Hey Andy, what would Jesus do, big fella?"

After learning that they will be without Bernie Williams for a while, it was a somber and soggy night in Yankeeville. Jorge Posada was hit by a pitch twice, the second time in the right foot. He was removed from the game, but appears to be okay.

On a positive note, Roger Clemens appears to be okay, and weather providing, he should start against the Sox on Monday.

Both Jason Giambi and Godzilla Matsui looked better at the plate last night. They each had two hits, and drove the ball well. The Yankees are going to rely on these guys more heavily now that Sweet Pea is gone.

Not for nothing, but I'm happy to see Carlos Delgado playing so well. He's always been such an appealing player, and though his numbers dipped a bit over the past two seasons, he's remained one of the scariest hitters in the league.

2003-05-23 08:07
by Alex Belth


You can add Bernie Williams to the list of the Yankees walking wounded. After struggling mightily for the past few weeks with a balky knee, Williams had an MRI yesterday that revealed that he has torn cartilage in his left knee. Surgery is likely, and it would put the Yankees center fielder on the DL for 4-6 weeks.


"It was just not letting me play the way I want to play," Williams said. "That's the most important thing. I'm trying to make a contribution to the team, and I wasn't. I was hurting them - not hitting and not playing the way I'm capable. That doesn't do anybody any good."

I spoke with Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus last night and he said that Williams' injury is not unlike the one suffered by Randy Johnson. He said that Bernie should return, good as new after the All-Star break.

Juan Rivera will be called up from Columbus and most likely platoon in left field with Bubba Trammell as Godzilla Matsui moves into center.


Buster Olney has a nice appreciation of the best closer in baseball in today's New York Times. And no, his name isn't Mariano Rivera. It's John Smoltz. Atlanta's erstwhile starter admits that he doesn't want to be a closer for the rest of his career. Smoltz has been compared with Dennis Eckersley, who will most likely make the Hall of Fame in the next few years for his body of work as both a terrific starting pitching as well as a dominating closer, but Smoltz doesn't see himself walking in Eck's footsteps:

''It's a totally different situation, although I'm honored to be mentioned with him,'' Smoltz said. ''There's no doubt that what he did as a closer, he set a pretty high bar. But I don't think it's the same circumstances. I don't think it's the same trend.

''I don't want this to come out the wrong way, but from what everyone told me was that, basically, he was relegated to that role. He was struggling as a starter, and in that role, he flat-out flourished. I don't think I was forced into this role. I felt like I had a lot more to give as a starter, but it is what it is."

While Smoltz would eventually like to return to the starting rotation, what makes him stand-out from his peers is that he doesn't simply rely on one pitch:

Smoltz has three extraordinary pitches: a fastball that was clocked at 99 miles an hour in San Diego last weekend, a slider that dives away from right-handed batters and a splitter that veers under the swings of left-handed batters, at a staggering 90 to 92 m.p.h.

...''I can't really think of another closer who can throw three pitches and make you look stupid,'' said Austin Kearns, the Cincinnati outfielder ranked among the league leaders in runs batted in.

Olney notes that Smoltz, like Rivera is an exceptional athlete. Both of them look beautiful shagging fly balls. I wonder how many years Smoltzie would have to put in as a great closer for him to be considered for the Hall. Perhaps Eck's fate will determine how we consider Smoltz's place in history. Or, maybe Smoltz will write his own ticket, if he goes back and has some success as a starting pitcher again, after being a stud closer.


2003-05-22 07:30
by Alex Belth


Roger Clemens muscled his way through six innings against the Red Sox last night and earned his 299th career victory. Tim Wakefield offered a nice counter-point as he fluttered knuckleballs passed the Yanks, while Clemens---who didn't have his best stuff---pounded the Sox with the hard stuff. Jason Giambi and Nomar Garciaparra hit first inning dingers, and the score was tied at 2, with two outs in the sixth, when Clemens was hit in the hand with a line drive off the bat of Bill Mueller. Rocket stayed in the game and went right at Doug Mirabelli.

According to the Times:

With an 89-mile-an-hour splitter, Clemens struck out Doug Mirabelli to end the inning. He spun his arm around and pumped his fist twice. He returned to the dugout hollering. "You've got to hit me in the head to get me out," Posada heard him say.

"He was fired up, trying to get us fired up," Posada said. "Someone hit him, and he was still standing."

Clemens was done for the night, but he didn't go queitly. There was a heated exchange in the Yankee clubhouse after the sixth inning.

Gordon Edes reports:

''I saw him fighting Joe and Mel,'' Cashman said. ''He said, `You are not taking me out.' I said to myself, `I'm getting out of this room right now.' This was Mel and Joe's decision.

''Roger was saying, `Don't even think about it.' He's a guy, you've got to drag him out of a situation.''

Raul Mondesi drove in Jorge Posada in the top of the seventh, and Robin Ventura added an RBI two-bagger in the 8th. (Ventura also made a nifty play to rob Manny Ramierz of a double in the 8th.) Chris Hammond worked the seventh and Antonio Osuna got the first two men out in the eigth before walking Trot Nixon. Mariano Rivera came on and immediately picked off Damian Jackson, who was pinch-running for Nixon, to end the inning.

Shea Hillenbrand led off the ninth with a fly ball to center field. Bernie Williams, who along with Hideki Matsui is in the midst of a terrible hitting slump, waved off Raul Mondesi with his glove hand and then dropped the ball. It was his first error of the season and Hillenbrand was on second base.

This was about the time that I started pounding my stickball bat into my couch and cursing wildly. (I'm sure Ed Cossette did the same when Jackson was picked off first.)

One out later, Hideki Matsui made a fantastic shoe string catch in left to rob pinch hitter, Jeremy Giambi of a double, the Yankees went on to the victory, and Rocket Clemens had his big win in Boston.

The Yanks remain in first place, now one game up on the Sox. They return home to the Bronx for a four-game set against the increasingly tough Toronto Blue Jays.


While Joe Torre offered words of encouragement for Jose Contreras after the Cuban got knocked around on Tuesday night in Boston, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre wasn't as charitable. Jeff Weaver got an earful too:

Torre and Stottlemyre were both critical of the starter, Jeff Weaver, who has a 6.90 earned run average in his last five starts and was shelled on Tuesday. Weaver acknowledged that he was having major mechanical problems, but Stottlemyre said the issue was deeper. "We also have to change his thinking a little bit, whether he wants to be a power guy or a low-ball pitcher, which we think he's suited for," Stottlemyre said. "I think he's a little bit in between. When he pitches high, he's just another pitcher, another guy who frustrates himself making mistakes."

2003-05-21 13:15
by Alex Belth


My good friend, mega-mix legend Steinski , forwarded me the following press release this morning:

New York Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams has inked a deal with GRP for the release of "The Journey Within," his recording debut. The CD is expected in stores on July 15. Williams, who plays guitar, composed seven of the album's tracks, which are said to be in a contemporary and Latin jazz vein. Along with his own compositions are Williams' interpretations of Billy Joel's "And So It Goes" and Kansas' "Dust in the Wind."

Pianist David Benoit is featured on the first single "Just Because." Other guests include Bela Fleck and Ruben Blades. A limited edition of the CD will feature original cover art of Williams depicted by famed artist LeRoy Neiman.

Williams will perform at Chicago's House of Blues on July 13, coinciding with Major League Baseball's All-Star Weekend.

Kansas? LeRoy Neiman? There is no accounting for taste I suppose. Still, I'm mildly curious to hear Sweet Pea's debut recording when it drops this summer.

2003-05-21 13:08
by Alex Belth


While the passion of fans in Boston and New York keep the Sox-Yankess rivalry alive and well, two teams that actually don't like each other a whole lot are the Twins and the A's. In their first meeting since the playoffs, Tim Hudson and the A's beat the Twins 4-1, and the benches cleared twice. What's the beef? Well, it all starts with the Twinkies catcher, AJ Pierzynski, baseball's answer to Bill Laimbeer.

According to Oakland outfielder Terrence Long:

"Pierzynski talks all the time. I don't understand it. I know those guys. Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones and Cristian Guzman ¡ª I'm close to those guys, and I don't understand how they can let that guy talk so much. Just go out and play the game. If talk can win a series, they would have won the next series. The Yankees don't do it. If anybody can talk, it'd be them.''

..And by the end of Game 5, when Pierzynski hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning off closer Billy Koch, Koch and others criticized him for his brashness and comments on the play, apparently believing they were shown up.

"All I know is when he touched home plate last year, he looked (catcher) Greg Myers in the eye and said, 'Boo-yah!' " A's outfielder Eric Byrnes said. "It's not right to do that to a 17-year major league veteran.''

True to form, AJ doesn't know what the A's are talking about. It's refreshing to have a cocky wisenhiemer like Pierzynski around. Boy does he ever look the part. After losing last night, he has another chance to prove himself tonight, this time against Barry Zito. Bon chance, my brother.

2003-05-21 12:48
by Alex Belth


Although the Yankees are still a powerhouse in the American League, it's safe to say that the 2003 version of the Bronx Bombers are not the same team that won World Championships 4 out of 5 years in the late 1990s. As Ed Cossette remarked yesterday:

Yeah, these are the Yankees, but, you know what? I'm not scared of them like I have been in the past.

In Peter Gammons' latest notebook column, Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro said:

"When it's time for us to win again," said Shapiro, "I hope our club is patterned after the Angels and the Mariners. They are good, but most of all, they play the game right all the time."

The Mariners and the Angels clearly patterned their teams after those great Yankee squads. What's interesting is that the 2002-03 Yanks look more like the Indians of the '90s or the original Gashouse Gorillas themselves, the Texas Rangers, than they do like their old selves or the Angels or M's for that matter.


There was another interesting bit in the Gammons column. This time about Washington Heights' favorite son (who isn't named Rod Carew), Manny Ramirez:

When the Rangers played in Boston, Herbert Perry told some of his young teammates this story about Manny Ramirez. "We signed together (Perry as the No. 2 pick, Manny No. 1 of then-Indians scouting director Mickey White)," Perry said. "And if you guys think Manny is a smart hitter now -- and he may be the smartest in the game in terms of setting up pitchers -- then you should know he was brilliant at 18. Sure, Manny comes across as carefree, but he is all business when it comes to the mental part of the game. We signed, and went to Cleveland. All the signed players are trying to jerk balls out. Not Manny. Head down. Swung through the ball. Line drives. We played a game. First at-bat, Manny set up the pitcher, got the slider he wanted and hit it out."

Ramirez's Boston teammates marvel at his ability to set up pitchers and recall situations against them. And if you want an example of how happy he is this season and how dedicated, go to the Sports Club/LA some morning when the Sox are in town and check out Manny and his wife in the yoga class. No kidding. Manny does yoga, has lunch, goes to Fenway, wanders out to the cage in center field and hits.

2003-05-21 08:31
by Alex Belth


Pedro Martinez isn't the only player hurting these days. It looks as if Mike Piazza could possibly miss the remainder of the season. He will be out for at least a few months.

The Times reports:

Though Piazza looked better yesterday, the diagnosis of his injury was fairly grim. An examination by the Mets' team doctor, Andrew Rokito, established that Piazza had severely strained his right groin and that a muscle there had partly torn away from the bone. The Mets said they could not specify how much time Piazza would miss. General Manager Steve Phillips said six weeks would be "the low end of it.'' He and Piazza did not dismiss the possibility that the injury could keep Piazza out for the season.

Yankee reliever Steve Karsay had season-ending surgery yesterday. According to the Daily News:

Dr. James Andrews discovered a tear in his rotator cuff.

"We're not expecting him back this year," Cashman said. "My understanding is we'll have him next spring."

After the horrible outing from Contreras last night, the Yankees should pull the trigger on a deal for a relief pitcher by the time the Sox reach the Stadium next week. Kelvim Escobar anybody?

Speaking of the world's most famous sports doctor, Allen Barra had a good piece on Dr. Andrews in last Sunday's Times that is worth checking out:

Slowly but surely, Andrews and his colleagues have changed the public's perception of the value of sports medicine. Only a few years back, it was common for callers on radio talk shows to complain about spoiled, pampered athletes who were given expensive medical treatment not available to the fans who pay their salaries. Not true, Andrews said.

"What we've learned from treating Bo Jackson and Jack Nicklaus has already been applied to thousands of student-athletes and weekend athletes, and even secretaries and computer operators and others whose injuries aren't sports related," he said. "If not for the money available from big-time sports, we could be years behind where we are now in terms of progress."

Neither Andrews nor any other sports physician will say it this way, but in a very real sense professional athletes have served as guinea pigs. So the next time Jeter makes a headfirst slide, think of it this way: He's doing it for all of us.

As always, don't forget to peep Ed Cossette's take on the last night's game over at Bambino's Curse.

2003-05-21 07:59
by Alex Belth


I received several e-mails just before last night's game from giddy Yankee fans, when it was learned that Pedro Martinez would not start. (Martinez has a mild muscle strain in his lower back, and should be back next week.) Well, those who laugh first, laugh least not last, as the Sox rallied and smashed the Yanks 10-7. I kept expecting to hear Fred Willard show up and say, "Wha happen?"

It didn't look good early on for the Home Nine, as emergency starter Bruce Chen served up a bomb to Alfonso Soriano on the first pitch of the game; fortunately, for Boston, Jeff Weaver couldn't get his act together either. Even better for Boston, they blew the game open against Jose Contreras, the pitcher George snatched away from them last winter. Contreras got out of a jam in the sixth, only to get smacked around in the seventh. (Boston fans know better than to laugh too much at anything, especially this early in the year, and especially with their ace hurting again. That said, it was a sweet night for Sox fans.)

Weaver and Contreras walked seven batters, and they paid the price for it.

According to the Times:

After the game, Torre was still stressing the positive, praising Contreras for throwing confidently after seeming so tentative in April. It is a worthwhile strategy for a sensitive pitcher like Contreras, who admitted before the game that he put too much pressure on himself early on, partly because of his contract.

"I was very pleased," Torre said. "I thought this was more of a plus than a minus, in the long run. I thought his command was much better than when he left. I thought his stuff was better, and he seemed to be more confident in letting the ball go."

..."I faced Contreras once in spring training, and all he was throwing was off-speed pitches," Ortiz said. "I saw him tonight throwing a lot of fastballs. I guess they've been working on that. I guess somebody told him that the big league club is different from whatever he played before. He's got a good fastball; he's got to use it."

That was Contreras's plan, and catcher Jorge Posada was pleased to see him execute it. "I thought he was more aggressive," Posada said. "His stuff was better, and he came after hitters. It's just a matter of time to put it all together."

Ramiro Mendoza didn't fair much better in his first appearence against his former team, allowing 4 consecutive singles to start the fifth inning, and giving up 3 runs. Jason Giambi came up with the bases loaded and just missed hitting a grand slam, skying out to right field instead. So it goes when you are slumping.

There was some minor drama in the first when big Manny was hit in the elbow with a Jeff Weaver pitch. Manny, who leans out over the plate as much as Jeter, Soriano, or any other modern slugger, glared at Weaver and had some challenging words for the Yankees string bean starter as well. God forbid his fat ass could be expected to duck out of the way of an inside pitch. Instead of putting his head down and jogging to first, it becomes a school yard stare-off. The funny part is by the time Manny reached second, he was calmly chatting it up with Soriano.

Jorge Posada lead off the next inning and Bruce Chen pulled a Shawn Estes and threw behind him, missing him all together (which considering the size of Jorgie's rump is no small feat). The ump immediately warned both teams, and the inside pitch was effectively erased for the rest of the game. Joe Torre shook his head disapprovingly. Torre talked earlier this year about how modern players have no conception of game awareness when it comes to getting hit. Every time a slugger is plunked it is a personal affront, a diss. Jim Kaat, announcer for the YES network, could feel Torre's pain.

While the Sox-Yankee rivalry is as heated as ever for us fans, these are not the Carlton Fisk-Bill Lee Sox vs. the Bronx Zoo Yanks. The ballplayers are all friends. Win or lose, they all belong to the same club. Does this make for a watered-down game? I don't know. It just makes for a different game. Sometimes you just want to yell at these batters, 'Get over yourself, and jog down to first tough guy.' Either that, or go nuts and start a fight. But the posturing is tiresome and unbecoming, especially for a great player like Manny.

2003-05-20 12:58
by Alex Belth


In his latest column, Rob Neyer answers e-mails regarding Michael Lewis' book "Moneyball."
Neyer also comments on the reception "Moneyball" is getting from the mainstream press (this means you Tracy Ringolsby):

The media coverage of Moneyball has, to this point at least, focused on 1) the reactions of a few baseball men who are portrayed in the book as something less than brilliant (they're not all brilliant? alert the authorities!), 2) a few possible errors (errors in a book? say it ain't so!), and 3) Billy Beane's ego (ego in a baseball executive? stop the presses!).

Don't pay any attention to all that stuff. Instead, remember two things. One, that Michael Lewis -- and not Billy Beane -- wrote Moneyball. And two, that Michael Lewis writes crackling good stories, and this might be his best story yet.

You can add Aaron Gleeman and Larry Mahnken to the growing list of baseball enthusiasts who have devoured "Moneyball." Check out their glowing reviews pronto.

As good as "Moneyball" is, it is not the only baseball book of the season that is worth reading. Jay Jaffe has a good post today about baseball books, with some essential links for those who are interested.

Jon Weisman, over at Dodger Thoughts, has a thoughtful, and compelling write-up of Michael Shapiro's new book, "The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers, and Their Final Pennant Race Together." (There is no perma-link for the article, so just scroll down.)

Finally, Michiko Kakutani reviews "Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville," a collection of baseball writings by the late Stephen Jay Gould. The Times usually devotes one issue of their Sunday Book Review to the latest in Baseball literature. Perhaps this Sunday will be the day.

2003-05-20 07:13
by Alex Belth


There is a reason why Red Sox fan Ed Cossette and I get along so well: we are wired the same way. We just happen to root for different teams. Here is an e-mail I received from Ed yesterday afternoon:

Hate to sound doom and gloom (though it's the nature of Sox fans) but do you really think the Yankees will lose 4 in a row? I look at the Yankees getting swept by Texas and think...they are going to come into Fenway pissed off and needing a win badly.

Man, I can't stand the tension. By this afternoon I'm going to be a wreck.

Although I'm a lifelong Yankee fan, I've got a good dose of gloom and doom in my blood as well (maybe that's because I root for the Knicks and Jets). I'm cautiously optimistic at best, and never over confident. That is why I have rucchmones with Ed. You can bet that no matter the outcome of these games, we will both be nervous wrecks. Ah, to be young and a baseball fan.

The Yankees had Lady Luck on their side last night in Boston, and before you know it, they put a five spot on the board against Casey Fossum, and went on to win 7-3. Fossum didn't pitch poorly, but in the first, after seeing-eye base hits from Soriano, Giambi, and Matsui---not to mention an impossibly fortunate bloop double by Derek Jeter, Raul Mondesi rocked a 2-2 fastball off the green monster for a bases clearing triple. Fossum settled down after that, but the damage had been done:

''It was really disappointing,'' Fossum said. ''A lot of crazy stuff seemed like it happened in that first inning. But I got out of that and I told myself that inning is over and I am just going to try to give us a chance to win the rest of the ballgame. I felt like I did that. I came back strong and still put us in somewhat of a position to win the game.

''I was making really good, quality pitches, but the balls were finding holes. We had the shift on for [Jason] Giambi and he hit it to shortstop. Even the first hit of the game was just a little ground ball that found a hole."

Boomer Wells, who turns 40 today, pitched efficiently for the win, and the Yankee bullpen avoided any major drama. (Think Boomer went out drinking last night?) This was a much-needed victory for the Bombers, especially considering that they have to face Prince Pedro tonight.


With the slumping Giambi brothers reunited in Boston this week, Jason called in his first hitting coach for some tips. Enter John Giambi, stage left:

"He's come in and we've talked," Jason said. "I've brought him into some of the cities. He's the one who built my swing as I kid. I wanted to see if he'd see anything. He watches all the games, so I wanted to see if he sees anything or if he could see me through it."

...Manager Joe Torre called Giambi's troubles a drought, no matter how long it has lasted.

"He certainly feels like a major disappointment to everyone, which is what he should feel like when we count on him as much as we do," said Torre. "But as long as you're busting your tail, you have the respect of your teammates and that's what matters."

2003-05-19 12:41
by Alex Belth


With the Yanks and Sox slated to play the first of 19 games against each other tonight in Boston, there has been plenty of ink spilled on the two teams. Here are a couple of articles of note...

1. Jay Jaffe , the futility infielder, has a terrific analysis of the Yankee offense thus far (pitching and---yikes---defense will come later this week).

2. Joel Sherman wrote a thorough and convincing case for Rocket Clemens not only being the best pitcher of his generation, but the best pitcher of all-time in Sunday's Post. Sherman is one of the few tabliod writers who is open to Sabermetrics and he builds his case on the writings of Bill James and others. Surprisingly in-depth stuff from the Post (not Sherman, who is excellent on TV and on the radio):

Look, I know - as sterile as you make it - this is a subjective choice and folks who loved Koufax or Gibson or Grove are never going to take Clemens to their bosom. I have never particularly warmed to Clemens the person, but the more and more I have examined the record and considered the conditions that record was forged in, the more I have come to recognize the conversation about the greatest ever now must include Clemens.

It has taken me a while to warm up to Clemens too, but I promised myself during the winter that I would try and enjoy watching him get his 300th victory, no matter how obnoxious the YES coverage becomes. It hasn't been a struggle either. Clemens isn't the nasty, head-hunter he has been in the past---sometimes I miss that---but he has been fun to watch this year. Even in the games he's lost, he hasn't been awful. What I get out of watching Clemens, is just how much work pitching is for him. Forget about his legendary workouts, just watching him on the mound is a testament to the hard work it takes to be a great pitcher, let alone a great 40-year old pitcher. He can seem artless, pounding the ball in, time and time again, but he is impressive.
3. Gordon Edes details the emergence of Lil' Sori. Looks like we aren't alone in labeling him as a freak:

Teammate Jason Giambi has called Soriano a ''freak, a cartoon character.''

...Todd Zeile, new to the Yankees this season, is playing for his ninth big-league team.

''He can be as good as he wants to be,'' Zeile said. ''He's phenomenal. He can do all the things you can do in this game -- hit, hit with power, run, field.

''The thing I enjoy about him as much as anything is that he seems to have fun doing it. He plays with a smile on his face, like he's on a sandlot field. People think it's easy for him, but he works hard.

''He's quick and strong and swings a heavy bat, a long bat [35-inch, 33-ounce model]. He's not a guy who looks like the Hulk-type player we see in the big leagues, but he's quick -- he gets his power from the elbows down.

''Watch his swing -- he seems to start from nothing, but you slow it down and watch him, he lifts his foot but it doesn't go forward, he just puts his foot back down and gives you that short swing. He eliminates all that movement.''

Who will be the heroes and who will be the goats of the series? Of course, it's too early to tell, but my random picks for unsung heroes go to Bill James' boy, Todd Walker for the Sox, and the seldom-seen Bubba Trammell for the Bombers. It could be a long couple of days for both bullpens.

I will be linking to Ed Cossette's wonderful blog, Bambino's Curse each time the Yanks and Sox match-up this year, but you should go there even when the two rivals aren't playing each other.

2003-05-19 09:55
by Alex Belth


I received the following e-mail from Bronx Banter correspondent Christopher DeRosa over the weekend. Dig his considered and astute take on "MoneyBall:"

It is probably going to be by far the baseball book of the year. Puts the A's sabermetric experiment in the context of the information age economy. There's lots here that's intriguing and fun: "Put a Milo on him." Ron Washington proves as quotable as Oscar Gamble in "Balls". And Lewis gets Bill James better than anyone. Some thoughts on the book:
You get the sense that Alderson and Beane imposed sabermetrics on the A's not just though force of personality, but through physical intimidation.

The A's have some studies they're obviously not sharing. But some of the results appear to be that they value reaching base far more highly than slugging, and that they don't believe, as the outside sabermetricians do, that hitters' strikeouts are no big deal.

We learn that Beane toyed with going over entirely to virtual scouting. I've thought you could do that successfully, but you still need someone to go talk to the kid before you know to put a Milo on him.

A large part of the book concerns the A's taking seven sabermetric specials in the first round of the 2002 draft. Is it really that great to use first round draft picks on guys nobody else wants? The Oakland scouts rate Beane's guys as like 30th round picks or no prospects. Lewis implies that the rest of the teams would draft in agreement with the scouts. If that's the case, why not take some chances in the first round and pick up your secret weapons later? Then you wouldn't have to strike clandestine deals with guys to persuade them not cash in on their surprising status as first round picks. You could just pay them whatever you pay the 7th round picks. What I think is that the revolution is further along than Lewis suggests, and that if Beane tried to let these guys slide, one of the other sabr-GMs would snap them up. ¡®Cause otherwise it is stupid to draft these guys in the first round.

Alderson circulated a pamphlet internally in which a researcher claimed "defense is at best 5% of baseball." Today, researchers would say it is more, like 18%. But even if it was 5%, that wouldn't be that useful a piece of information. It would be about 5% under prevailing conditions, within the parameters of everybody trying to field a real defense. A team that just says, "Deploy Ken Phelpses!" can ensure that fielding is a lot more than 5%, because there is no limit on how many runs you can give up, and therefore no limit on how badly you can field. Each walk-drawing hitter might be individually more valuable than the conventional fielder he replaces, but as a group, you can lose your ability to cover the field. That pamphlet may have helped screw up the A's of the mid-90s.

"Moneyball" fails to take up the question of starting Hudson over Zito in the 2002 ALDS. Howe took the blame, but is it realistic that Beane tells him when to steal and who to play out of position, but let's him decide the playoff rotation? I actually sympathize with the decision to go with Hudson. My point in raising the issue is that it really doesn't work for the activist GM to say, I wash my hands of the whole postseason thing, it's a crapshoot. Too bad, but baseball has championships. If they're crapshoots, then you'd better learn to play craps as well as you can.

Overall, "Moneyball" whetted my appetite but I could have scarfed another 300 pages easily. He told a lean story well, but there is no end of my fascination with this subject and I'd have liked a whole lot more.

DeRosa makes a great point about the starting rotation in the playoffs. I also agree that Lewis' portrait of Bill James is the best I've read to date. And of course, I wish the book was longer too. I don't know that it would be good for the book, but it would be good for us geeks.

There are several great bits with Washington. My favorite is how Oakland's infield coach reacts to the defensively-challenged players he is given to work with:

There were times that Wash thought the players Billy sent him shouldn't even bother to bring their gloves; they should jut take their bats with them into the field, and hit the ball back into the pitcher.

2003-05-19 09:14
by Alex Belth


I wasn't steamed about the Yankees yesterday, honest. More than anything, I just felt resigned. Sometimes your team is going to suck, and you have to suck it up. I called my girlfriend Emily late in the day and we commiserated briefly about the game. Emily is a relatively new baseball fan, and she is still getting acclimated to how dramatically the game can influence her boyfriend's mental state. But she had a great observation yesterday that I thought I would share with y'all:

Even though the Yankees lost, it was great to see how many people were at the game. It was a beautiful day, and there were all those people out there watching it, not to mention thousands more watching it on TV, or listening to it on the radio. People made phone calls and caught up with each other. I guess what I mean to say is that sports are really great because they really bring people together. That's important. Espcially these days when everyone seems so estranged from each other.


Oh yeah, I did get an e-mail from my old pal Shawn Nuzzo, regarding the Nick Johnson injury. I hate to say I told you so, but he told me so:

You're right. I told you so. This bum Johnson isn't fit to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Oscar Azocar. Before his 4-6 week injury, Nick Johnson had the potential (if he trained 20 hours a day and ate well) of becoming the Next Kevin Maas. But now, I'd just as well trade him for a bag of used baseballs and 3 batting helmets.

Consider me tweeked. Ah, what can you expect from the lead singer of a band called "The Clap?"

BUMMING John Thomson 3-hit
2003-05-19 07:53
by Alex Belth


John Thomson 3-hit the Yanks yesterday at the Stadium, as the Rangers swept a series for the first time ever in the Bronx. Thomson was nasty, but the Yankees were lifeless as well. Bernie Williams hit into a first inning double play in all three games, Jason Giambi continues to hear the boo's, and Jorge Posada went 2-17 on the homestand (the Yanks were 1-5 over that span). Plain and simple, the Yankees are mired in a slump. I guess this won't be1998-redux after all. Think Mt. Saint George is about to blow in Tampa?

After the game, GM Brian Cashman didn't mince words:

"In a nutshell, we stink right now."

..."[We stink] really in all aspects," Cashman continued. "Both mentally and performance-wise on the offense, defense and pitching sides.

"We look flat. That's how you look when you're not playing well, when you're making errors, when you're not hitting. I think people describe it as flat. You can describe it any way you want, but it's not good."

..."Maybe going into the jungle will shock us back into playing good baseball," GM Brian Cashman said. "Maybe that's what we need because we look real flat right now.

...Cashman has also heard from George Steinbrenner, who, according to the GM, "feels the way you'd think he would feel" about the way his $180 million team is playing.

The Red Sox beat the Angels yesterday at the Fens, and now share first place with the Yankees. Let the rivalry begin (again). Pass the Pepto.

Here is my question: which Giambi will have a game-winning or game-altering hit first?

FLAT Let's try this
2003-05-17 17:04
by Alex Belth


Let's try this again. I'm puppy-sitting at my cousin's place down here in beautiful Greenwich Village this weekend, and unsuccesfully tried a post about the Yankee game this afternoon. It didn't woik. If there is half a message that appears on the page, please excuse my sloppiness. But it fits the mood of the afternoon, as the Yankees dropped another game to Texas, this time by the score of 5-2.

While we are well aware of the Yankees' weakness---the bullpen and the defense, it has been the offense that has let them down of late. Texas retired the last 16 batters of the game, and the Yankees have now lost their third series in a row. After starting the year on fire, at 18-3, the Bombers have gone 9-12.

Hideki Matsui made two errors in left field this afternoon, and Joe Torre said the team is "flat." I'm certain that the Sunday papers will be filled with columns about how lousy the Yanks have played recently. Isn't that something to look forward to? Oy.

The Red Sox failed to take advantage though, as the streaking Angels rallied to knock Boston off 6-2. If you think the New York press will be grim tomorrow, wait til we get a load of what the Boston media rips into Trot Nixon. Nixon, the Red Sox right fielder made a terribly embarrasing mental error late in the game, which will haunt the Dirt Dog for a long while.

With men on second and third and one out in the 8th inning (or was it the 9th?), Nixon caught a fly ball in foul territory and then, thinking it was third out, flipped the ball into the stands.


Maybe the Yanks and Sox will lose again tomorrow just to get good and ready for their three-game set which begins Monday.

Stay tuned...

FLAT I had to go
2003-05-17 16:49
by Alex Belth


I had to go into work this afternoon, so I missed another lame performance from the Yanks, who fell to the Rangers Permalink | No comments.

2003-05-17 12:57
by Alex Belth


Jay Jaffe and I were both in attendence at the Yankees-Angels game on Thurday night. Check out his write-up of the game, and if you've got a little extra scratch, consider snagging some of his official "Futility Infielder" gear. Made for goils as well as for the fellas.

2003-05-17 12:48
by Alex Belth


Steve Keane over at The Eddie Kranepool Society is understandably exasperated with the Mets season.

I have never seen a player injure himself the way Mike Piazza did last night. He moved back from an inside pitch and looks like he may have pulled or torn his groin. Unbelievable. If the groin is torn, then Piazza will be gone for at least 6 weeks which may as well be next year. As it stands now 1-4 on this road trip 17-25 overall 12 games
back of the Braves with no sign that things will turn around it may be time to look at our options.

With Piazza now out, Keane suggests that the Great Mets Fire Sale of 2003 start now. It's hard to disagree.

2003-05-17 09:31
by Alex Belth


In Buck Showalter's emotional return to Yankee Stadium the Rangers clipped the Yankess 8-5 in 12 innings. The game features some nifty defense, including a shoe-string catch by Hideki Matsui in extra innings, and two stellar plays by Texas left-fielder Donnie Sadler. (The Rangers gunned down two Yankee runners trying to score last night.) Hank Blalock had six RBI to lead Texas.

According to the Times:

Blalock, 22, who entered the game with a .371 average, highest in the majors. Blalock ripped a three-run double off the left-field wall against Clemens in the second, and 10 innings later, he won the game with another three-run double off Juan Acevedo.

After trailing 5-1, the Yanks tied the game and had plenty of chances to win the game, but they couldn't get the big hit (both teams left 14 runners on base). Roger Clemens put an end to all the speculation surrounding his chance to notch win number 300 in Boston next week, although he is due to make his next two starts vs. the Sox. Rocket walked a season high 5, but also struck out 10.

It was a night of dumb luck for Raul Mondesi. In the first inning, after Clemens struck out Jurassic Carl Everett and Hank Blalock, he issued a base on balls to Alex Rodriguez, who promptly stole second. Rafael Palmeiro singled to right, and Mondesi had plenty of time to nail A Rod at the plate. Instead, he air-mailed the throw directly into the Rangers dugout.

I thought it was pretty funny. Everett was called out on strikes and he argued the call. Clemens reared back and was throwing gas. So was Mondesi. The inning had a distinct Nuke LaLoosh feel.

Hours later, in the bottom of the 12th, Mondesi hit a home run which just nicked the left-field foul pole. But it was called a foul ball, and nobody on the Yankee bench had a good enough look at it, so there was no arguement.

Just a long, stupid night for Mondesi and the Yanks.

Fortunately for the Bombers, the Angels edged the Red Sox in Boston, 6-5. The Yanks hold their slim lead on the Sox by a game.

OUCH One of my
2003-05-17 08:55
by Alex Belth


One of my favorite people that I ever worked with in the film business is a kid named Shawn Nuzzo. I hired Nuzzo as a runner on "The Blair Witch Project II" (don't laugh, that job paid for my turntables), and trained him as an apprentice film editor; the following year, we worked on the equally memorable cinematic gem, "Swimfan," turned out to be my final gig before I chose to leave the business. How can I describe Nuzzo? He doesn't look like Fred Flinstone exactly, but he looks like he grew up in Bedrock (Long Island actually). Besides being a singer in a punk rock band, Nuzzo, now in his mid-20s, is a Yankee fan. He came of age during the dark days of the late '80s, and early '90s---Oscar Azocar (who appears in this week's edition of "The Pinstriped Bible") was one of his favorites.

Anyhow, Nuzzo was great to have around the cutting room, because I had someone to gasbag about the Yankees with. Working late, as we often did, was less painful, when we were able to listen to the Yankee game on the radio. One of the best parts of following the Yanks with Shawn was how often we disagreed about the team we both loved: he loved Sterling and Kay, I did not; I loved Nick Johnson; he did not.

I bought the hype about Johnson before I ever saw him play, and when I did see him, I fell in love with the kid. I just liked his looks. I understood why Torre liked him too. It wasn't just a Pizzan thing (although I'm sure that didn't hurt); like Torre when he was coming up, Johnson looked older than he was because of his doughy features. He could have played the heavy in an old gangster movie. Nickie looked as if he would right at home having played in the 'teens or the 1920s. Nuzzo, on the other hand, disliked Johnson because of the way he looked. No questions asked. He just didn't like his looks. The two of us would go back and forth about him to no avail. I foolishly thought I could change Nuzzo's mind about Johnson: never happened.

I bring this up because just a few days ago I was thinking to myself how nice it's been to see Johnson finally start to develop into the player he was predicted to be. Maybe I should call Nuzzo, and see what he has to say now, I thought. Of course, I thought too soon. When I heard that Johnson will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a hand injury last night before the game, all I could think of was Nuzzo. Nuzzo, shaking his head, rolling his eyes, saying, "I told you so."

According to The New York TImes:

It was almost as if things had gone too well for Nick Johnson. His wrist and thumb injuries from spring training had disappeared, and he was having a fabulous season. Then he fouled a ball back on Wednesday, and everything changed.

Johnson felt a tingling sensation in his right hand, the same hand that bothered him so much in 2000 that he missed the entire season.

...Johnson was somber but managed a joke. "Just got to keep trying to strengthen it," he said. "That's the only thing I can do. Maybe drink some milk."

Somewhere, Shawn Nuzzo is not smiling.

Johnson isn't the Yankees only casualty. It looks as if reliever Steve Karsay is done for the season. This isn't entirely surprising, and it may not take the bullpen blowing a couple of games to Boston this coming week for Brian Cashman to swing a deal. According to Lee Sinins:

Yankees P Steve Karsay had another setback while rehabbing his shoulder injury, will see Dr. James Andrews today and there is concern that he could be out for the season.

After 2.35 ERA/21 RSAA and 3.26 ERA/11 RSAA seasons, Karsay's been on the DL for the whole season. He has a 3.88 career ERA, compared to his league average of 4.62, and 47 RSAA in 321 games.

It is only a slight exaggeration to say every single pitcher in baseball is now being mentioned as potential trade bait to go into the Yankees bullpen.

The news for the Mets was even more dire, as Mike Piazza strained his groin attempting to avoid an inside pitch by Jason Schmidt last night in San Francisco. PIazza had just started to hit too. Although there is no official news yet, Piazza had to be carried off the field and the news is not good:

"He's in a great deal of pain," said Jay Horwitz, the Mets' media relations director. "It's a substantial injury."


2003-05-16 07:19
by Alex Belth


My cousin Scott---an avid Red Sox fan---works on the floor of the Exchange. He hooked me up with choice seats for the Yankee game last night: Section 4, Box 12, Row A! (Hey now.) The seats were just to the left of home plate, three rows back. It is a strange vantage point---you are slightly lower than the playing field---but remarkable all the same. (The phonies sitting around us were annoying---many of them didn't even bother watching the game---but I expected it to be clown town down there, so it was part of the fun.) You get a great look at the hitters, especially when they are on deck. Watching these guys, I was struck at just how big most of them are: Giambi is a moose. Matsui and Mondesi are stacked too: ass and thighs for days. Troy Glaus? Dag. The man is a truck. These guys are simply not Hondu, Boog Powell big, they are all ripped.

You know who surprised me the most? Soriano. The guy doesn't look as thin as he does on television. He's got legs for days. Man, the kid looks like a horse. Soriano has been compared to a young Sammy Sosa, and it has been suggested that he may eventually bulk up like Sosa. Quite frankly, he doesn't need to. He's plenty cut as it is. Watching him take his practice swings in the on-deck circle was the most memorable part of the evening. Soriano coils back and unleashes that quick, vicious swing, as if he had been designed by a video-game programmer or a comic book artist: it's like liquid excitement. It's so flashy, it doesn't seem real. It's like a self-conscious swing that a teenager would concoct looking at himself in the mirror, because it looked cool.

Soriano didn't just look good taking warm-up swings last night either. He opened the game with a homer, later added a triple, and had a couple of deep flyouts, which left the crowd gasping as well. Derek Jeter had three hits, Bernie had two, and the rest of the Yankee congo line was back as the Yankees pounded the Angels 10-4. (The Sox creamolished the Rangers in Boston, and the Yanks remain one game up.)

Jeff Weaver wasn't great, but he pitched well enough (perhaps he was thrown off by all the run support). I like Weaver, I like the fact that he's a red ass, but his delivery, the way he gathers himself, is odd. He just slings the ball up there. He's the inverse of Tim Hudson, or Mariano Rivera. We were treated to an appearance by Rivera in the ninth, and he was beautiful to watch. His motion is fluid and economical, and from where we were sitting, you could see just how much movement his pitches have. Mmmm.

All in all, it was a satisfying night, and we went home happy.


Steve Karsay had a set-back in his rehab yesterday, and The Daily News is reporting that he could be through for the year. Jose Contreras---who apparently came to the States without a four-seam fastball---is on his way back to the big club, just in time for the Boston series. If the pen gets rocked by the Sox, look for George to press the panic button and make a move for a reliever pronto.

2003-05-15 17:17
by Alex Belth


ESPN is running a "Moneyball" blue plate special this afternoon. Catch an excerpt from Michael Lewis' new book, along with related articles from Rob Neyer and Eric Neel. Neyer also has an excellent interview with Lewis that is worth checking out.

There are several compelling exchanges, but my favorite bit was when Neyer asked Lewis:

RN: ...So what was the hardest thing to leave out of the book?

ML: Well it was funny to know that the players refer to Barry Zito's San Francisco apartment "The Stabbin' Cabin."

RN: Hrmm, I think I'll leave that one alone ...

Anything else?

ML: There were story lines that spun right off the Oakland A's that led more deeply into other clubs, especially the Yankees, Rangers, Blue Jays, and Red Sox. I wrote a chapter about watching a game with Blue Jays GM J.P Ricciardi that might have been the funniest thing in the book -- J.P being a very funny man -- but I had to cut it, because it just got in the way of the story. I think someone ought to do what I had hoped to do, and take apart the business mind of Rangers owner Tom Hicks. Again, it just didn't fit in my story. The Oakland character I was saddest to lose was Tim Hudson.

I don't know that I would have left the Zito thing alone, but that's just me---I love that kind of "North Dallas Forty" bawdy horseshit. Plus, I don't write for ESPN. I would also loved to have read more about Tim Hudson, and the Ricciardi segment sounds terrific too. But I admire Lewis' criticial facilities, because anything that takes away from the story is ultimately superfluous, and must be cut (there goes my editing background rearing its ugly head).

Anyhow, don't miss out on any of the fun.

2003-05-15 12:59
by Alex Belth


After the Yanks bombed Seattle's erstwhile ace Freddy Garcia last week, I wondered what had gone wrong with him (Garcia was roughed up again last night). Derek Zumsteg wrote an excellent column about Garcia over at Baseball Prospectus earlier this week. It seems that Freddy likes to party, and not only that, he may have playing hurt for some time now:

Garcia's a partier. It's known, and it's been interesting to see local sportswriters tiptoe around the issue, once afraid to mention it and now going so far as to say he is in fact a partier, but offering no actual proof. There are questions about Garcia's work ethic and preparation, and it's particularly awful to see him when he comes completely unraveled. There's a look on his face as if he's already checked out for the game as he serves up fastballs hitters can smoke, and I start to wish Bob Melvin would walk out to the mound, ask Freddy if he was injured, and then kick him in the balls so he can call in an emergency replacement from the bullpen. I don't really think anyone should kick anyone in the balls, by the way, that's just how frustrating Freddy's been to watch. I want to reach down from the stands and throttle him and say, "if you don't want to pitch, fake a muscle pull, don't keep giving up runs before we can get someone up in the bullpen. Intentionally walk every batter if you have to, it'll be less painful."

2003-05-15 07:50
by Alex Belth


The Angels handed the Yanks their ass on a platter once again at the Stadium last night. The Bombers have now lost three-straight, and now lead the Sox, who defeated Texas 7-1, by one game. Boomer Wells wasn't terrible, but he lost his first game of the year. Scott Spezio went 4-4, and wishes he could play against the Yankess all the time. (The most interesting play of the night came when Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter almost cut down Spezio at the plate as he tagged from third on a fly ball---Buster Olney has a great recap of the play in the Times.)

Point blank, the Yankee offense is slumping. Giambi still can't see; Lil' Sori---whose father passed away yesterday, isn't hitting jack-boil-scratch, and Bernie has cooled down as well (Bernie kills me, when he slumps he turns into a poor man's Rod Carew). Of course, the biggest concern in the BX, is the Yankees sorry excuse for a bullpen. Filip Bondy reports:

The Yanks lost again, however, and their bullpen has a gaping hole. There is nothing sexy about middle relief. Juan Acevedo isn't comfortable in the role of baton passer. Acevedo gave up a grand slam to Spiezio on Tuesday, another scream for attention. Torre says there is something wrong with Acevedo's mechanics, but the manager probably suspects it is more than that. Ever since the temporary closer has been asked to be a permanent middle man, he hasn't approached the game the same way.

"They have to feel important," Torre was saying yesterday, about the delicate egos of long relievers. "You always shower alone. You don't start and you don't finish."

From a temperamental point of view, Osuna is much better suited to this sort of existence than Acevedo. His ego fits more easily into the corner of the clubhouse, and in the bullpen.

Olney hit the nail on the head when he wrote:

The Yankees need somebody to give the starters a breather, as they wait for their second wind to kick in.

I watched the game with Emily at her place upstate last night, and was smoldering from the 7th inning on (I couldn't even enjoy watchin Benji Molina truckulate his fat ass around the bases, scoring from first on a double in the 8th inning). The worst part of it is that I didn't want to cause a ruckus and yell and curse. Now I got indigestion, but what are you going to do? I'm going to my first Yankee game of the season tonight, so let's hope they can avoid getting swept. Aaron Sele is pitching for the Angels, and if that dipshit shuts the Bombers down, then I'm going on strike.

Today's papers are filled with tributes to former Knick (and former Chicago White Sox), Dave DeBusschere, who died of a heart attack yesterday. I best remember DeBusschere almost jumping out of his skin when the Knicks won the Patrick Ewing sweepstakes in 1985, but he was considered to be the heart and soul of the great Knick teams of the late '60s and early '70s.

On the train ride into the city this morning, I was standing next to two Wall Street suits: a wily veteran, and an eager youngster. The older guy was your classic Goomba, talking shit the whole way, as his young friend listened intently. The Goomba had a thick New York accent, slicked-back hair, and leathery skin. He was all of a piece--straight out of one of Eric Bogosian's monologues.

"Hey, I remember when the subway was 35 cents, my friend. Can you imagine that? Those were the good ol' days."

I decided to bring up DeBusschere. The conversation didn't last too long. My man had to get back to his riff.

He continued: "You wouldn't believe this, but I saw Mickey Mantle play. I don't look old, but it's true. I'm 42, but I don't look it."

"How do you do it?"

"I drink. I fucking drink, man. Lemme tell you something, I work with all these guys who are work-out freaks. Health nuts. Guys in their twenties. They're sick four, five times a year. Me? I'm in the bar five, six nights a week, I smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, and I feel great. Hey: I had three grandparents that lived past 90. When my grandfather finally went, he was 99. Guy says to me, 'What was the cause of death?' I say, 'He was fucking 99, what do you mean 'cause'?" Hey, I haven't spent one cent in a bar or restaurant in New York since Mayor Bloomberg passed that no-smoking law. I'm not kidding. Screw that. And I'll tell you something else: I haven't gone to a movie theater since they banned smoking there either. Hey, I'm single, I feel great, I'm going to drink and I'm going to smoke as long as I like. Right?"

Hey, whatever gets you through the night, brother.

2003-05-14 10:07
by Alex Belth


Book Review

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

All the A's marketing studies showed that the main things fans cared about was winning. Win with nobodies and the fans showed up, and the nobodies became stars; lose with stars and the fans stayed home, and the stars became nobodies. Assembling nobodies into a ruthlessly efficient machine for winning baseball games, and watching them become stars, was one of the pleasures of running a poor team.

Billy could give a fuck about baseball tradition. All Billy cared about was winning.

It was hard to know which of Billy's qualities was more important to his team's success: his energy, his resourcefulness, his intelligence, or his ability to scare the living shit out of even very large professional baseball players.


Billy Beane, the charismatic and driven general manager of the Oakland A's, is the central character of Michael Lewis' smart, new book, "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game." There is little doubt that "Moneyball" will be popularly known as "The Billy Beane" book (the other Billy Beane book), but it could easily be called, "Revenge of the Nerds," because this story is, in large part, about how the baseball outsiders finally kicked in the door to professional baseball. While Beane is a provocative protagonist, don't get it twisted: this is not his biography. Beane is just a featured player of a bigger story.

The cast includes the likes of Bill James, the godfather of the sabermetrics movement; Sandy Alderson, former general manager of the Oakland A's, who first tested James' theories on a major league level; Paul DePodesta, Billy Beane's, Harvard-educated right-hand-man-behind-the-curtain; Scott Hatteberg, the A's gregarious first basemen; Chad Bradford, an unorthodox side-arming reliever who was signed by Oakland on the cheap; Jeremy Brown, a slow-footed catching prospect; as well as Beane's invaluable instructors---pitching coach Rick Peterson, and Ron Washington, Oakland's infield coach.

"Moneyball" is remarkable in many ways. First of all, it is compulsively readable. Lewis is an expert at shifting between tenses and moods, and he does it in a simple and direct style. He is, if nothing else, a crack reporter. The book is also striking because it presents a candid look at how a major league baseball team is actually run.

How often do you read anything truly revealing about the professional game these days? "Moneyball" offers a rare glimpse into the inner-workings of a major league baseball team, and Lewis depicts this world with a sharp ear for dialogue and an eye for the telling detail; the storytelling is very cinematic. (Has Michael Mann bought the movie rights yet?) Lewis, a baseball outsider, gets behind the scenes and he conveys what he sees with urgency, and intelligence which makes "Moneyball" a thrilling read.

The draft-day meetings with Paul DePodesta and the Oakland scouts are crackling good entertainment, right out of a David Mamet play (minus the affected cadences). Lewis' proclivity for Wall Street, and Vegas analogies, also help illustrate the new breed of thinking in baseball.

"The chief social consequence," of quantitative analysis over gut instinct, writes Lewis "was to hammer into the minds of a generation of extremely ambitious people a new connection between "inefficiency" and "opportunity," and to re-enforce an older one, between "brains" and "money."

Reading "Moneyball" I had the same feeling I get when I first hear a great album, or see a great movie, and I realize almost immediately that what I'm experiencing is something unusual, something great. Or if not great, then at least very, very good. I don't usually read books twice, but it's been a week since I first read the damn thing, and I'm already psyched to get back into it.


So what is "Moneyball" about? There are a lot of things going on here, but at the core of the book is just how thoroughly organized baseball resists change. Voros McCracken, a young sabermetrician tells Lewis:

"The problem with major league baseball¡¦is that it's a self-populating institution. Knowledge is institutionalized. The people involved with baseball who aren't players are ex-players. In their defense, their structure is not set up along corporate lines. They aren't equipped to evaluate their own systems. They don't have the mechanism to let in the good and get rid of the bad. They either keep everything or get rid of everything, and they rarely do the latter¡¦[But] "If you're an owner and you never played, do you believe Voros McCracken or Larry Bowa?"

The book is about efficiency vs. excess; progressive thinking vs. static tradition; empirical, or quantitative analysis vs. subjective evaluation; outsiders vs. insiders, or more to the point, underdogs vs. over dogs; and process vs. outcome.

At the bottom of the Oakland experiment was a willingness to re-think baseball: how it is managed, how it is played, who is best suited to play it, and why.

In what amounted to a systematic scientific investigation of their sport, the Oakland front office had re-examined everything fro the market price of foot speed, to the inherent difference between the average major league player and the superior triple-A one. That's how they found their bargains."

As the chapters on the 2002 draft illustrate, Beane's likes spitting in the face of tradition (His lasting achievement may be his insistence on drafting college players over high school kids).

Lewis has written acclaimed books on Wall Street ("Liar's Poker"), Silicon Valley ("The New, New Thing") and the Internet ("Next: The Future Just Happened"). The lifeblood of "Moneyball" is, not surprisingly then, economics, and the shrewd operators like Beane who manipulate the system to their benefit. The rise of sabermetrics in the pro game can be attributed to economic necessity. This is why Rob Neyer wrote that the new school of baseball management could in fact be revolutionary:

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.

But there's bright and there's bright. Knock-your-socks-off bright. Paul DePodesta is that kind of bright, and so is Theo Epstein. I'll stop there because I don't want to make a big list and miss somebody, but they're out there and they know who they are.

Do you know how to spot those guys, the ones who knock your socks off? They're the ones who tell you they still know just a tiny bit of what they want to know, the ones who think they've still got plenty to learn and aren't afraid of going out and looking for what they want to know.

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.


Lewis' story begins with sabermetricians like Pete Palmer and Bill James---the outsiders who challenged baseball's traditional belief system.

Lewis writes about Bill James:

There was something bracing about the way he did it-his passion, his humor, his intolerance for stupidity, his preference for leaving an honest mess for others to clean up rather than a tidy lie for them to admire--- that inspired others to join his cause¡¦The cause was the systematic search for new baseball knowledge.

"The thing that Bill James did that we try to do," Paul [DePodesta] said, "is that he asked the question WHY."

The new studies proved that on-base percentage and slugging percentage are a better representation of a player's productivity than the tradition measuring sticks like Batting average and RBI's. Stolen bases are overrated, walks are underrated.

Bunts, stolen bases, hit and runs-they were mostly self-defeating and all had a common theme: fear of public humiliation. "Managers tend to pick a strategy that is least likely to fail rather than pick a strategy that is most efficient," said [Pete] Palmer. "The pain of looking bad is worse than the gain of making the best move."

But that isn't all.

James also had something general to say to Billy, or any other general manager of a baseball team who had the guts, or the need, to listen: if you challenge the conventional wisdom you will find ways to do things much better than they are currently done.

¡¦The whole point of James was: don't be an ape! Think for yourself along rational lines. Hypothesize, test against the evidence, never accept that a question has been answered as well as it ever will be. Don't believe a thing is true just becomes some famous baseball player says that it is true.

The first baseball general manager to utilize James' wisdom was Sandy Alderson. It should come as no surprise that Alderson, a former Marine officer and lawyer, was a baseball outsider. While Tony LaRussa's A's were busy stomping the rest of the league in the late '80s and early '90s, Alderson set about to systematically change the A's organizational philosophy from the bottom up. He didn't have the leverage to tell Tony LaRussa what to do, but he could control the minor leagues. When the A's were sold in 1995, and were no longer willing to spend top dollar on talent, Alderson was able to extend his ideas to the big league club. His protZgZ was Billy Beane, a former first round draft pick, who had been a big league bust.

The new, outsider's view of baseball was all about exposing the illusions created by the insiders on the field. Billy Beane had himself been one of those illusions.


"What Billy figured out at some point," said Sandy Alderson, "is that he wanted to be me more than he wanted to be Jose Canseco."

In 1980, the Mets selected Beane as their second overall pick (Daryl Strawberry was the first). He was a five-tool prospect, a bonafide stud. He was fast, had power, and not only could do no wrong, but did things that other players just didn't do. Raised in Southern California, Beane had the opportunity to attend Stanford on a scholarship, but he ended up signing with the Mets instead. He would live to regret that decision. (When Beane turned down the Red Sox GM position this past winter he said that he had made a decision based on money once, and he wouldn't make the same mistake again.)

Beane had never confronted failure, and when came face to face with it in pro ball he unraveled. The Mets rushed him through the minor leagues, hoping that with his good looks and his five-tool talent, he would be playing in Shea before you knew it. (Lee Maz, eat your heart out.) Strawberry was zipping along nicely, why shouldn't Beane be too? To make matters worse, Beane expression his frustration with the fury of a football player. He was not prepared to suck. Plus, he had the red ass.

You could see why guys used to come down from the bullpen when Billy Beane hit, just to see what he would do if he struck out. To describe whatever he's feeling as anger doesn't do justice to it. It's an isolating rage: he believes, perhaps even wants to believe, that he is alone with his problem and no one can help him. That no one should help him.

The longer Beane played, the more depressed his career became. He hit with fear, he thought too much, he didn't have a baseball mentality. The truth was, he wasn't happy as a baseball player. An early sign that he wasn't cut out for it came when Beane roomed with a young Lenny Dykstra. Dykstra was the antithesis of Billy Beane: a scrub, an over achiever. He wasn't bright, but he had horse sense, and knew he was a ballplayer.

Scott Hatteberg, the A's first baseman, told Lewis:

Some guys who are the best are the dumbest¡¦I don't mean dumbest. I mean they don't have a thought. No system."

Stupidity is an asset?

"Absolutely. Guys can't set you up. You have no pattern. You can't even remember your last at bat." He laughs. "Arrogance is an asset too. Stupidity and arrogance: I don't have either one. And it taunts me."

It taunted Beane too, and he was a much better athlete than Scott Hatteburg. The way the pugnacious Dykstra showed no fear at the prospect of facing the great Steve Carlton said it all to Beane. But Beane soon learned:

The physical gifts required to play pro ball were, in some ways, less extraordinary than the mental ones. Only a psychological freak could approach a 100mph fastball aimed not all that far from his head with total confidence. 'Lenny was so perfectly designed, emotionally, to play the game of baseball,' said Billy. 'He was able to instantly forget any failure and draw strength from every success. He had no concept of failure. And he had no idea where he was. And I was the opposite.'


Billy Beane was a human arsenal built, inadvertently, by professional baseball to attack its customs and rituals¡¦what set him apart from most baseball insiders---was his desire to find players unlike himself. Billy Beane had gone looking for, and found, his anti-theses. Young men who failed the first test of looking good in a uniform. Young men who couldn't play anything but baseball. Young men who had gone to college.

If Lewis stumbled onto a story that he loved in the A's, he found the ideal protagonist in Billy Beane; baseball's answer to David O. Selznick. A calculating and charming opportunist, Beane is, from a dramatic point of view, practically irresistible. Beane looks like Kevin Spacey's better-looking, younger brother, but the character that first comes to mind is the Alec Baldwin character in "Glengarry Glen Ross."

"Billy's a shark," JP Ricciardi had said, by the way of explaining what distinguished Billy from every other GM in the game. "It's not just that he's smarter than the average bear. He's relentless---the most relentless person I have ever known."

The beauty part about Beane is that he's not just an arrogant, narcissistic prick with an inflated opinion of himself. He's complicated too. Beane is at turns warm, playful, intelligent, funny, and most importantly, vulnerable. Lewis does a neat job of exploring Beane's insecurities when the GM contemplated taking the Red Sox gig last winter.

The constant tension with Beane is how he tries to balance his hot temper with his empirical approach to business. When the A's play, Beane is not so different from the average, short-tempered fan.

Reason, even science, as what Billy Beane was intent on bringing to baseball. He used many unreasonable means-anger, passion, even physical intimidation-to do it. 'My deep down belief about how to build a baseball team is at odds with my day-to-day personality,' he said. 'It's a constant struggle for me.'


Of course, despite all of Beane's success with the A's, his team has not thrived in the playoffs.

The post-season partially explained why baseball was so uniquely resistant to the fruits of scientific research: to ANY purely rational idea about how to run a baseball team. It wasn't just that the game was run by old baseball men who insisted on doing things as they had always been done. It was that the season ended in a giant crapshoot. The playoffs frustrate rational management because, unlike the long regular season, they suffer from the sample size problem.

¡¦But in a series of three out of five, or even four out of seven, anything can happen. In a five game series the worst team in baseball will beat the best about fifteen percent of the time¡¦Baseball science may still give a team a slight edge but that edge is overwhelmed by chance. The baseball season is structured to mock reason.

Beane put it bluntly:

"My shit doesn't work in the playoffs. My job is to get us to the playoffs. What happens after that is fucking luck."

Paul DePodesta, Beane's own personal Mr. Spock, is more philosophical:

"It's looking at process rather than outcomes," Paul says. "Too many people make decisions based on outcomes rather than process."

After all, you can control the process, but not the results. Even if your name is Billy Beane.

Unfortunately for the A's, we live in a culture that is obsessed with results. I heard several casual fans talking about Beane this week, and they scoffed, "Billy Beane? How many fucking rings does he have?"

Paul DePodesta hopes organized baseball overlooks the A's success too (though after this book is released that may be harder to do):

"I hope they continue to believe that our way doesn't work. It buys us a few more years."

Not everybody in baseball is going to buy into the A's philosophy of course, and that's okay. Diversity is good. But the Blue Jays and the Red Sox are already on the bandwagon. Hell, the Yankees current run is based, in part, on acquiring high on-base percentage hitters. The real question is how long will Beane and the A's be able to use the sabermetrics-approach to such an advantage? DePodesta isn't going to hang around forever, you know.

It will be interesting to chart the fate of "Moneyball" this summer. It has already caused quite a stir. Beane's fellow GM's aren't particularly pleased about the book (I'm sure he wasn't too thrilled about portions of it himself). Kenny Williams, the general manager of the White Sox, has already had some choice---if not terribly astute---words for Beane. Fomer scouting director Grady Fuson isn't too pleased either. I'm sure others will follow suit. I doubt however, that it will hurt Beane's ability to perform; in fact, I'm sure he'll find a way to use it to his advantage.

Of course, the internet-based media is charged up about "Moneyball", but Lewis is really preaching to the choir there. No, what I want to see is how everyone from the mainstream press, to the casual fan responds to the book. It feels like an important book, but let's see if it really becomes an influential book.

Rob Neyer thinks it will be.

I think it will be very influential. Maybe not this year or next year, it might not be for another ten years, when the people who are in college today are working for major league teams. But I really think it's a great book and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Whether or not he's right, all I know is I'm looking forward to reading it again.

Oh yeah, not for nothing, but according to Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus:

This week's Baseball Prospectus Radio will be all about Moneyball, the controversial new book giving the insider look at the Oakland A's. Excerpted in NY Times Magazine and this week in Sports Illustrated, Moneyball is currently #10 on the bestseller list and will debut on the NY Times Best Seller list next week. In one of only two radio interviews he will do, author Michael Lewis will speak with BPR about the book, what he saw in his year with the A's, and whether the controversy surrounding the book is justified. BPR will also feature the subject of Moneyball, Billy Beane. Beane is currently General Manager of the Oakland A's and a former major league baseball player. His unique approach is changing the game, but his brash personality is rubbing many the wrong way. Is it truth or sour grapes? Tune in to find out:

Don't sleep.

2003-05-14 09:42
by Alex Belth


If nothing else, last night's Yankee-Angels game was as a painful reminder for Yankee fans as to how soundly Anahiem whooped the Bombers last fall. Mike Mussina was less than sharp, he didn't get the benefit of the doubt from the home plate umpire, and the Angels were just plain pesky, fouling balls off, and working their magic. The Yankees played like a-s-s, and made John Lackey look like Tim Hudson. It made for a less than spectacular return for Derek Jeter, who singled in four times at bat (he popped out three times to the right side).

Personally, I cursed and hollered at the TV throughout the ugly affair ("Sori, try getting your body in front of the ball precious!"). I guess I'm still sore about last year. A friend called during the game and said, "You got to love that scrappy little Eckstein."

I said, "I don't got to love dick. You love that little bastid, I'm too busy being furious."

"Awww, nutzo."
I wasn't any happier this morning when I read the headline for Harvey Araton's column in the Times: "Can't the Yankees be a Little Vunerable?" Perhaps he hasn't been paying attention. Fortunately John Harper and Joel Sherman detail the Yankees flaws in their columns today.

According to Sherman:

The rotation suddenly has become more pedestrian, the defense more shabby and the offense more homer dependent (nine of 12 runs over the past four games are on long balls). Over the past 10 days, the A's pitching and the Angels' passion have exposed Yankee flaws. Those are two possible playoff opponents.

Naturally, the Sox came from behind yet again, this time beating the Rangers. They now trail the Yankees by a scant two games. Given the Sox propensity for late-inning come-backs and the Yankees less than stellar bullpen, you think we're going to see some humdingers come next week?

I think we can count on it.

2003-05-13 07:21
by Alex Belth


Last week, Rob Neyer told me:

Baseball gives the fan the opportunity to be happy a number of times during the season. If you are a Cincinnati Bengals fan, you may only have the chance to be happy once or twice in a whole season. But if you're a fan of a truly bad baseball team, you have a chance to be happy 60 times a year.

I was thinking about this on Sunday when I saw Baseball Tonight's week-in-review. The Reds won three games in their final at-bat last week, and Mike Piazza hit a homer to win a game on Saturday for the Mets. Piazza, who has been the focus of negative attention in the papers recently, looked like a Little Leaguer as he crossed the plate. It was a sight for sore eyes, indeed. (Yazzie collected three hits in the Mets victory last night in Colorado, though Murray Chass writes that all is not kosher in Sheaville.)

One of the drawbacks of rooting for a succesful team like the Yankees is that they spoil you rotten. Watching highlights of the Reds celebrate last week I thought of how often I scoff at such celebrations: "Act like you've been there," or "Man, you'd think you guys won the World Serious. Settle down, now." But really, I've just become a snob, because those come-from-behind wins are exciting for the Reds and their fans, and why shouldn't they be effusive? A little "Bad News Bears" never hurt anyone. I've got to lighten up a little bit. Not everybody can be the cool, efficient, big city, Yankees. And thank God for that.

2003-05-13 07:06
by Alex Belth


Derek Jeter returns to the Yanks tonight, when they host the World Champs at the Stadium, and though they've played well without him, they haven't been nearly as much fun to watch. Mike Lupica opines:

Jeter is like the owner of the Yankees in this one big way: If he doesn't win it all, he feels as if he lost...Jeter is supposed to be the best winner. It starts with him being a terrible loser.

It's hard to disagree with Lupica, but I don't know of many players who enjoy themselves more than Jeter either. Winning may be the only thing that makes Jeter sleep well at night, and we don't know what kind of loser he really is, because he's never been in a losing situation, but between the lines, the guy is all smiles, all-confidence, all the time. During tense games, I often yell at him on TV, "Dammit Jeter, would you stop having so much fun. This shit is killing my stomach and you're smiling. Throw a bat, smash a water cooler, do something." But Jeter is no Paulie O. His confidence is unflappable, and so is his insistence that competition is supposed to be enjoyed. Looking at Jeter play baseball, it's hard to think there is anything else he'd rather be doing.

"I don't think he thinks about a whole lot other than playing," Joe Torre told the writers in Oakland over the weekend.

He may not be the best player on the team, but he is their biggest star. Lupica continues:

He is not the ballplayer DiMaggio was, or Mickey Mantle, or even Don Mattingly in his prime. There is no rule in the books that the star of the team has to be the best player on the team. It is that way with Jeter. He is the star of these Yankees and comes home tonight, at short.

2003-05-12 08:30
by Alex Belth


When Rickey Henderson was on the Mets a few years back, he was thrown out trying to steal second base one afternoon in Pittsburgh. As he trotted off the field the organist played "Old Gray Mare." I started humming along, but it wasn't until about twenty minutes later that I realized what I was humming. Man, an organist with a sense of humor is a beautiful thing. Acclaimed baseball writer Alan Schwarz conducted a brief Q & A with the old gray mare in yesterday's Times magazine. There isn't a great Rickeyism to be found, but still, it is mildly amusing.

2003-05-12 08:23
by Alex Belth


In the shadow of Yankee Stadium, you will find the 149th street subway station on the Grand Concourse. "The bench" as it used to be known, was a famous meeting spot for graffiti artists in the late '70s and early '80s. This spot was immortalized in Henry Chalfant and Tony Silver's documentary "Style Wars." You may have caught it on PBS over the years. If you haven't, it has just been released on DVD, with all sorts of extra goodies, and it is well-worth checking out. Not only because it captures a bygone era in New York City history, but because the young kids that are interviewed in the movie are priceless. The movie was filmed in 1982, when Graff writers and B-Boys (and DJs of course) were the most popular arms of the Hip Hop tree. (Nobody thought you could make any money rapping yet.) Unlike the rap game, Graffiti didn't exlude Latinos and white kids from getting down; "Style Wars" features middle-class Jewish kids, Italian kids from Brooklyn, Spanish kids from the Bronx, and black kids from Harlem. For a rich, poignant, and funny (not to mention aesthetically appealing) look at New York in the early 80s, look no further than "Style Wars."

BREAKING EVEN For the past
2003-05-12 07:57
by Alex Belth


For the past two weeks the Yankees have played exclusively against the Mariners and A's, two of the best teams in the league. When all was said and done yesterday, they ended up beating the M's 2 out of 3 twice, and losing 2 of 3 to the A's twice: .500 ball. Which is to say, it could have been worse, could have been better.

The Yanks faced Hudson, Zito and Mulder in Oakland over the weekend and they managed to get to Zito on Saturday (my cousin Gabe was at the game, and I hope to get a report from him when he returns home sometime this week), while they were stymied by Hudson on Friday and Mulder yesterday. Fortunately, Pedro and the Sox lost on Friday, and D. Lowe got bombed last night (although the Sox did manage another furious comeback), so the Yanks remain three games up in the AL East.

The Yanks return home for three against the Angels and then host the Rangers over the weekend before they go up to Boston for the begining of the madness. Both Don Zimmer (stomach) and Derek Jeter (shoulder) are expected to rejoin the team tomorrow night at the Stadium. Jose Contreras is on his way back to New York, and Antonio Osuna is expected to come off the DL this weekend.

Jason Giambi is all dinged-up, and he sat out of Saturday and Sunday's games. But he did take Tim Hudson deep on Friday night. It was encouraging that it was hit to left field. Perhaps with a couple of days off, Giambi will start getting more comfortable.

Meanwhile, Nick Johnson continues to impress. According to Ken Rosenthal:

"He's turning into a mini-Giambi, which is what everyone thought he was," A's GM Billy Beane says. "It's not going to be fun facing two Giambis. One is bad enough."

Bronx Banter Interview: Roger Angell
2003-05-09 10:00
by Alex Belth

This interview originally appeared at

Roger Angell, The New Yorker's celebrated baseball writer, has a new compilation out titled "Game Time", which contains many new pieces along with some previously published ones as well. BP correspondent Alex Belth caught up with Angell last weekend and talked about growing up a New York Giants baseball fan, the present-day Yankees, plus other topics New York baseball-focused and otherwise.

Bronx Banter: How did you get your start as a baseball fan, and as a writer?

Roger Angell: I got my start as a fan in the most traditional way possible: My father was a big baseball fan. My father had grown up in Cleveland, and when I was a kid, we would be going to Giants games here in New York, and Yankees games. As I've written, I think it still works with kids under 10 that their first big obsession is with baseball. They become aware of this gigantic lore. Some of the first players that I saw were people like Babe Ruth, and Carl Hubbell and Lou Gehrig, and I remember when Joe DiMaggio first arrived in my teens. So it goes back a ways.

BB: Where did you grow up?

Angell: I grew up close to where I live now. I grew up on 93rd Street, and on the way to school, my school bus which went up 5th Avenue when 5th Avenue went both ways, sometimes in the morning I would meet Col. (Jacob) Ruppert on his way to his brewery on the east side. He owned the Yankees. By that time I was 10 years old, so I would have a mitt, and I would give the mitt a whack and look at him, and expect him to stop and say: 'Young man, here's my card, take this up to the Stadium for a tryout.' It never happened. My father was a real fan, and he told me what to watch for. He had grown up in Cleveland in the Cy Young, days, and uh, his heart was broken for the rest of his life (laughs).

BB: So did you grow up as a Giants fan or a Yankees fan?

Angell: Both. I think I was more of a Yankee fan at first, but the Yankees were winning so often...that I discovered along the way that I was more a Giants fan than a Yankees fan.

BB: (Did you pull for the Giants) strictly because they were the underdog?

Angell: Cause they were the underdog, sure. And naturally you attach yourself to the underdog. But I think I enjoyed the Polo Grounds more than Yankee Stadium because it was such an eccentric and interesting park.

BB: Were most of the Giants fans of an older generation, because they were the dominant New York team before the Yankees?

Angell: Yeah, it's true. But I think if it had been some other city like Pittsburgh, I would have been a Pirates fan. It was just local. I was not a Dodgers fan, because the Dodgers always meant trouble for the Giants. I didn't actually go to a game at Ebbets Field until I was almost grown up.

BB: When did you want to become a writer?

Angell: My parents were divorced and I was living with my father during the weekdays. My mother was an editor at The New Yorker, was one of the first editors of the New Yorker. So it was sort of a family business. And she was married to E.B. White. So there was a writer close at hand. I think the aspirations came naturally.

BB: Did your mother write herself?

Angell: No, she was a famous fiction editor and early art editor. Famous figure in the family of The New Yorker, Katherine White. She was head of the fiction department, so I wound up in the fiction department myself many years later. But I remember watching E.B. White write, and I was a great admirer of his stuff because it looked so effortless and at the same time I could see how much effort had gone into it. He used to write the Comment Page, in the first page of the New Yorker. Every week. And that day, up in their place in Maine, he would close himself in his office and he would come out for lunch, and not say anything, and then you'd hear the sounds of sporadic typing in there, and then he'd mail it off and the end of the day and say it wasn't good enough. He was always saying that writing is hard, which is true.

BB: So writing was the family business.

Angell: The New Yorker was the family business. There was endless talk about The New Yorker all the time. Harold Ross, and all these people. I knew these people when I was young. Sure, it was an everyday sort of thing. My father was a lawyer, and I saw a lot of him, but he never begrudged me going into writing; in fact he encouraged me. So it was a natural sort of thing, and I grew up thinking I was going to do something in publishing. I had no idea I'd end up at The New Yorker, and I had no idea that I'd end up writing about baseball.

BB: When did you arrive at The New Yorker?

Angell: Well, I graduated from college, went overseas in the Pacific and became the managing editor of a G.I. weekly out there. Air Force. A magazine called "Brief." I had amazing preparation for what I would do later on. After the war, by this time I had begun to publish in The New Yorker, when I was quite young, publishing fiction. I wrote an article about a bomber mission in the Pacific. I didn't want to go to work for The New Yorker because it was the family business and you know you want to do things on your own. I went to work for a magazine called "Holiday," a new monthly started up after the war by Curtis Publishing. It was a famous travel magazine; it was a wonderful magazine that produced great writers, and artists and photographers from around the world. And I had a lot of fun doing that. I went to The New Yorker in the fall of '55. My parents were living in Maine. E.B. White was writing other stuff and my mother had retired by this time. It was a natural thing for me to do since I was a writer and editor and contributor to The New Yorker.

BB: When did you first write about baseball?

Angell: In '62. I had written some sports pieces, I had written a piece about the New York Rangers. I was a hockey fan; I was a sports fan. I did a couple of other things. And I had written a baseball piece for "Holiday," sort of a generic baseball piece. I said if you want I could go down to spring training. I certainly did not have it in mind to write a lot about baseball. The thing was, (my editor) didn't want sentimental writing about sports and he didn't want tough guy writing about sports, which were the choices back then. You were either weepy, or you were tough. The first year I went to spring training I found the newborn Mets in St. Petersburg. This is 40 years ago. I didn't think of myself as a sports writer so I didn't dare go in the clubhouse or sit in the press box. I sat with the fans. And I realized that the stuff that's ignored and never gets reported on is the fans. Nobody ever wrote about the fans. So I wrote about the fans, and I've continued to do so. I've continued to write in a form that allows me to write in the first person. And that allows me to say I am a fan of this team, or react to things as a fan as well as a baseball writer that now knows something about the game. The Mets were just a great fan story when they arrived. They played in the Polo Grounds and they were one of the worst and most entertaining teams that ever played. And that was a terrific story. And New York was used to the Yankees, winning all the time. Somebody said they had become like General Motors. And here was a team that was just terrible, but large numbers of people turned out to cheer them on, and if they won a game there was wild excitement. So I wrote that. They were something like anti-matter to the New York Yankees. I remember sitting there at the Polo Grounds, and there was a guy sitting near me in the stands blowing this mournful horn. TWUUUHH-TRUUUHP. And I wrote that there is more Met than Yankee in all of us, because losing is much more common than winning. When I heard that horn blowing I realized that horn was blowing for me. In some way, I began to settle into the kind of writing that I would do later on. They call me a "baseball essayist," or a "baseball poet laureate," and I hate that. I'm not trying to write baseball essays, and I'm certainly not trying to be poetic. I try to avoid it. I've been able to find myself and baseball a natural fit, and everybody wants to write about himself. That's why we do it (laughs).

BB: When were you aware that this was going to be something you were going to be doing regularly?

Angell: I think what happened was, I went to the World Series every year, again keeping my distance. But what happened in the 60s was that there were three great World Series and pennant races in a row. In '67, there was a four-way race in the American League between the White Sox, Twins, Tigers and the Red Sox. The White Sox went out first, and the Tigers were in it until the last day. The Sox had won and I was in the Red Sox clubhouse when news came that the Tigers had lost, and the Red Sox were in.

BB: The Impossible Dream Team.

Angell: Yeah, there was a great World Series that fall. Carl Yastrzemski was an extraordinary player, carried that team all the way through September. The Red Sox lost of course. And the next year was the Tigers and the Cardinals, and Bob Gibson struck out 17 batters in the first game. Something that never had happened before. And the year after that was the sudden arrival of the Mets: The biggest upset in modern times. These were three great late seasons and post seasons in a row, and by that time I was there writing about this first-hand. I was involved in some way. I felt involved. I learned how to attach myself to teams and I learned how to ask the right questions. It was a lot of fun. And the readers liked it so I went on doing it.

BB: When did you start approaching the locker room and the press box?

Angell: I did that in the sixties. I began to sit in the press box. I remember following the Red Sox around and sitting in the Press Box at Fenway Park, Tiger Stadium. A lot of writers were very good to me, and Cliff Keane one of the old Red Sox writers, famous guy for needling people, would make fun of me for taking so many notes. I'd fill up my notebooks, because I knew I was going to be writing much later, and I didn't know what would be useful at that time. So I would take notes and take notes. Keane would say to me, "How many pages today Rog, 20, 30?" I remember Keane trying to be cynical about Yastrzemski because Yastrzemski was such a great star. There was a game in Tiger Stadium where the Sox were behind a couple of runs, and Yaz came up and he said: 'OK Yaz, prove you're the MVP: Hit a home run.' And he hit a home run (laughs).

BB: What was it like in the locker room during that period?

Angell: Well, it wasn't nearly as crowded as it is now. The masses of TV people weren't there. You didn't have every local television channel in the land trying to represent something in the clubhouse. I think players were a little more accessible. And they were different, they were different. The great example that comes to mind right away is [Bob] Gibson after that 17-strikeout performance. He stood in front of his locker; writers were four and five deep at this point. And all of us had our pencils poised. This was in '68, and racially things were very uptight still. Someone said to Gibson: 'Were you surprised at what you did today?' Gibson looked at him and said: 'I'm never surprised by anything I do.' You could see this going through the writers like: 'What did he say? What did he say?' I hung around, after the crowds had left, and I was talking with Gibson a little bit, and I said: 'Are you always this competitive?' He said: 'Oh, I think so. I got a three-year old daughter, and I've played about 500 games of tic-tac-toe with her and she hasn't beat me yet.' And he meant it. He meant it.

BB: What were your impressions of the Cardinals in the 1960s?

Angell: You have to remember that when Gibson joined the Cardinals, he had played with the Globetrotters, as a second team. Many people forget this. But they played in the South and the black players would have to stay with black families when they went down there. Gibson hated this. Those were tough times.

BB: What was Bill White like in those days?

Angell: I didn't get to know him until later. He was a roommate of Gibby's at one point. He reminded me that when he changed clubs--he went over to the Phillies, I think the first at-bat he had against Gibson, Gibson hit him. He said: 'We're no longer roommates.' And of course that has really changed. This business of knockdown pitches and fighting for the inside part of the play has gone by, and if anybody gets hit now they look deeply insulted. It's too bad, because I really love the inside pitch, and the struggles of the batters to establish themselves.

BB: Those Cardinals were known for being a very racially integrated team. Did you get that impression from them?

Angell: Yeah, I think so, but the team I remember for that was the '79 Pirates. The greatest racial mix that there has ever been. Just unbelievable combinations of people. Suave, inner-city African Americans, and white guys from the South. Phil Garner was the son of a minister from the South. And of course Willie Stargell. You had South Americans, Latinos. The clubhouse was a mass of ethnic energy. All kinds of music going on. At one point I thought they were going to start sacrificing chickens. And rock music. That was the "We Are Family" thing. And everything revolved around Stargell, who was the guy that held it together. And they were so excited by themselves. It was just terrific.

BB: One thing I noticed in your feature about Gibson was that his reputation had diminished when the piece was published in the early '80s. These days Koufax and Gibson are clearly remembered as the outstanding pitchers of the 1960s, while Juan Marichal's reputation has suffered in comparison.

Angell: Well, Marichal was the one whose reputation has faded, you're right. And if you asked players from that era, 'who was the best pitcher?' they always mention Koufax, they always mention Gibson, and they all say the one everyone overlooks is Marichal, who was so tough because he had all those different pitches coming from so many different directions. He really knew how to pitch. Had a very wide range of skills.

BB: What are your impressions of the Yankees during the past 10 years?

Roger Angell: Torre's Yankees have made me a Yankee fan again, because of him. I was not particularly a Yankee fan, because I was not a Steinbrenner fan. I was just interested in other teams. But the way the Yankees played, and the atmosphere that prevailed there, the sense of professionalism and accomplishment....the presence of people like, well particularly Paul O'Neill, and Bernie Williams and David Cone. So many people all working together, who made very little reference to themselves. There were occasional exceptions; players here and there like Wells. But it was the perfect clubhouse atmosphere and it was a new thing for New York to have a Yankee team like that. I didn't enjoy it because it was like the old Yankees; I just liked it for itself. And they became the most interesting team in baseball, which is really amazing with the Yankees because there are so many preconceptions that are attached to the Yankees. So much of that encrusted history and lore. But these were interesting and lively teams that rejuvenated themselves. That post-season in 2001 was a great thing for everybody in a way. The play that Jeter made against the A's, which was like the necessary last ingredient, was really something. Everybody remembers that.

BB: Does Jeter rank with the all-time Yankees yet?

Angell: I don't need to rank anybody, let's wait and see. There is no hurry to rank him. I don't like to rank people unless they've arrived. I mean ranking Barry Bonds is extremely interesting now. But I don't need to rank Jeter yet. Let's see what happens. I remember when Doc Gooden had that great year (in 1985) and everybody was putting him in the Hall of Fame. And only some people said: 'Well, it was a pretty good year, let's see what happens.'

BB: The same can be said of Soriano now.

Angell: Yeah, he's just arriving. It's fun to watch people arrive. I don't have a great interest in the Best Ever. Or the Best this, or the Best that. You can play that out in the winter, but it is overwhelming sports now. We all want to have the sense that we were there at a historic moment, or that we were watching something historic, this next home run, or base hit. It makes you think about this constantly. If you look back in baseball history, I look back at the consecutive game streak, when Lou Gehrig broke the existing record. I've looked back at the newspapers of the time, and it was a little thing at the bottom of a paragraph. That was all. There was not this self-consciousness about records in the old days. What you watched is what mattered.

BB: Are you a fan of baseball writing?

Angell: I'm a fan of baseball books, yeah. I think my favorite baseball book of all time is "The Glory of Their Times," because it was thrilling to find out that some of these early players that we saw in distant, historical terms, were still around, living as old guys here in the country with perfect memories of what it had been like to play country ball. Larry Ritter went around with a tape recorder, while no one else noticed this. Suddenly there was a connection. We knew about baseball being in the past. We knew that baseball was both an old game and a young game. Which is still the case. It was an extraordinary piece of writing and reporting.

BB: Have you followed Bill James' writing career?

Angell: Yeah, I like Bill James. I'm not a sabermetrician, but I got to know Bill James early on, and I liked him a lot. He certainly opened up an entirely different area for us to understand baseball.

BB: Did the first publication of the Baseball Encyclopedia change the way you looked at statistics?

Angell: I wrote a long piece when it came out about what a significant thing it was to have it. I was aware of certain marks before it came out--number of games played, home run records. We are reminded of it every day now. I think that I had already sensed that every player who plays is playing against every other player who has ever played. Certainly if you have the Encyclopedia there, you look back at the lifetime stats of anybody, and of World Series games, it confirmed for you in interesting and exciting detail what you had already sensed. And we all had a few records that we would carry around as our favorites. Now they are all printed out. I remember a record I picked up very early on, that almost nobody is aware of. One of my favorite stats of all time is that from August of 1931 to August of 1933, the Yankees played something like 304 games without being shut out once. An extraordinary team record; nobody has ever come close to that. Just think of that. And there were great pitchers pitching then too.

BB: What was your experience like writing "A Pitchers Story" with David Cone?

Angell: He was just great. We had no written agreement. We had sort of talked about this as a joint venture. He kept wanting me to do it, and then we had a contract. But he wasn't involved in the contract and he could have said at any point when he started to lose, I'm sorry I can't do this. Nine out of 10 players would have gone that way, and all he did was keep apologizing. He said: 'I'm sorry I'm letting you down.' I said: 'You're not letting me down.' And at some point I said: 'This is more interesting that winning.' Which is true: Losing is much more interesting than winning. It was actually thrilling to go through with this and again, instead of looking at it from somebody who is a masterful pitcher, in control of everything, to see him hold onto some vestige of what he had been, to pull off a decent performance now and then.

BB: Was it awkward for you that he pitched so poorly?

Angell: It wasn't awkward, it was painful. It was horrible. It was painful for everybody that knew him, including his teammates. It was tough to see an accomplished and proud and extremely successful guy like that suddenly lose his form entirely, and struggling to find it. Torre, to his credit, stayed with him, and stayed with him. It was an amazing summer all along.

BB: What was your impression of Cone's 2001 season with the Red Sox?

Angell: He pitched well. He had a good season. He had some bad luck. He had some setbacks. The team completely fell apart. They fired the manager (Jimy Williams) mid-season. They had an inappropriate pitching coach who became the manager (Jim Kerrigan), who did not get the backing of the ownership. It was extremely ineffective, horrible. But Cone hung on and pitched well, through difficulties. He pitched a great game in Boston against Mussina, where Mussina came one out away from a perfect game. David was the losing pitcher but pitched nine innings. He had to go chew out Mussina, because he knew what a great game he pitched. Really. That was standard for David. The Sox came back down here and played at the Stadium the following week, and David made it a point of going to see Mussina, and said: "'What you want to remember is that we both pitched in a game that we'll never forget.'

BB: What do you make of Cone's comeback? When we first spoke last week, Cone had just hurt his hip, pitching for the Mets.

Angell: It's a good story. But yeah, I had a bad feeling about it last week. I could see it coming. I can't understand why nobody said anything about it. The writers or the coaches, but I saw Cone limping around, favoring that hip for a while now. I could see this coming.

BB: You've shifted your rooting loyalties over the years. Which teams are you pulling for these days?

Angell: I always change my loyalties because I get interested in the team I'm writing about. If I go and spend two days watching a team, I follow that team for the rest of the year. If I become aware of the people in the lineup and talk to the players a little bit, I'm interested in that team. I'm always interested in the Mets, I'm always interested in the Red Sox, I'm always interested in the Giants, my childhood team. I'm interested in the A's because I was always close with that team. I knew Bill Rigney very well. They were a great story in the '70s, and later when they came back with Tony La Russa, who ran such an admirable outfit. There are a lot of teams. I'm sort of a fan of the Angels now because they played so well in the World Series last fall.

BB: You weren't heartbroken that the Giants lost?

Angell: It almost killed me. It almost killed me. It was horrible. I mean I was there, I saw it happen with Giant fans. It was just appalling. Extremely painful. My God, they are up by five runs in the seventh inning of Game Six and lose? You don't get over that right away.

BB: What players do you follow closely these days?

Angell: Well, there are obvious ones like Pedro, Jeter. I was a great fan of Edgardo Alfonzo. When he arrived with the Mets, he really knew how to play baseball. A few of his coaches said: This guy already knows how to play. He picked it up in South America somehow. He was a complete ballplayer from the moment he arrived. And then there are always players that I haven't noticed before. Nowadays we are all victims of Bud Selig's horrible new schedule, and we are sequestered from seeing teams except in local divisions. I've never seen nearly enough of Garret Anderson for instance, who is a wonderful player. And that happens a lot.

BB: Are you not a fan of interleague play?

Angell: Sure, I think interleague play is fine. I have to say in defense of Bud Selig--I'm not a huge Bud fan for various reasons--but a lot of what he's done has been a success. Interleague play has been a success; the three divisions are working out OK. I don't like the schedule. I'm dead against the new schedule. I mean the new schedule was passed because teams didn't want to spend all that money on traveling, and the writers didn't want to be away from home so long, so far. But if you think about it, the great thing about baseball now is that we have some extraordinary stars, some of the best players who have ever played, but they are scattered all over. And you've got to be alert now. I mean the Giants are going to here (at Shea) for three days in the middle of August. Three days to look at Barry Bonds: That's terrible. Meantime, we get to see the Mets play Montreal, and the Phillies and Florida over and over and over again, which is not my idea of the best outcome for baseball.

BB: How do you like the contemporary game compared with previous generations?

Angell: I don't think in those terms. I don't think: This is the best time. I think that's a way to make yourself not enjoy what's going on. There is no doubt in my mind that we have as talented a bunch of players playing right now that the game has ever known. There is no doubt. These guys are extraordinary athletes. We have a rush of wonderful infielders, and great shortstops. Great shortstops who can hit. So why don't we enjoy what we are seeing? I don't have to say, this is the best time. Why make that choice? People are always ready to give up on baseball and say It wasn't what it was. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, and maybe it's about to be the best it's ever been. It's perfectly possible. I don't think people have any awareness of the contributions Hispanic stars have made to the game. They are the powerful force that has made the game as good as it is right now. They are not nearly appreciated enough.

BB: Is it more difficult to talk with players now?

Angell: It's much harder, because I'm so old. I'm 82. I approach them with my white hair. When they call you "sir," you're in trouble.

BB: Does the same thing go for the likes of Torre, and Zimmer?

Angell: No, the old guys know me, so I can talk to them. We go back a long ways. We look at each other and say, 'still here?' But a lot of my best friends in baseball are gone. Bill Rigney was my best friend in baseball, and he died a couple of years ago.

BB: Underneath his stoic calm, Torre is a tough Italian guy from Brooklyn, huh?

Angell: Torre was a catcher for most of his career. No gentle guys are catchers. Torre has got an immense sense of authority. He's tough enough. He doesn't go around acting tough because that's not his nature. But the players who come to play for him come to realize that he was a hell of a player. He shared an MVP award one year, lead the league in batting. So the next year he lost 64 points off his batting title. And he always points to that. He's also the guy who'll tell you about the day he grounded into four double plays. He's always putting himself down, which is a way he can help his team, because every player has horrible times, and they want to be reminded of that and not how great a player their manager was. But I go back to Bonds, who is one of the most exciting and interesting people to think about that I've encountered in baseball. It's amazing to me what he's done in the past couple of years. And all the old players that I've talked to about it, have said, 'I've never seen a guy locked in like this'--never, ever, ever. It's just astounding. It's really fun to place him in the category of the best who ever played. You have to put him among the top three outfielders of all time. He now belongs there with Ruth and Mays. I had a long exchange with a writer named Charlie Einstein, who is a friend of mine, a retired writer who lives around here. He used to cover the Giants; he went out with the Giants from New York to San Francisco. He's the biographer, and chronicler and closest friend of Willie Mays. And I wrote in my piece, I quoted a local writer out there, Ray Ratto, saying that Bonds is the best outfielder now that's ever played. He's number three. And he's never going to rise above three because the other two were Mays and Ruth. Of course Bonds was pissed off. But Einstein wrote, if I can remember this correctly, this means we have a second outfield of Aaron and Williams and DiMaggio, a third-best outfield of Clemente, Cobb and Mantle. And he said: 'Who is going to tell Stan Musial that he's on the fourth team?' (laughs)

2003-05-09 07:47
by Alex Belth


Two years ago it looked as if Freddie Garcia was going to be one the star pitchers in the AL for a long time, but he struggled last year, and last night took it on the chin again, as the Yanks pounded him for nine runs in the third inning, on route to a 16-5 win over the Mariners.

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

What was so baffling about Garcia's terrible outing is that other than the results, it wasn't all that bad. By all accounts he had great stuff, had command of all his pitches and didn't lose his cool. When Garcia struggles, that usually means home runs, yet he gave up only one extra-base hit, a double.

"In the bullpen I was warming up, and I was like, 'This is my day today,' " said Garcia, who fell to 3-4, 5.40. "I had good stuff, good velocity, everything going, and then in one moment, it disappeared."

"The kid got hit," pitching coach Bryan Price said. "I don't think he nibbled, I think he went after 'em. They hit his mistakes and they hit them hard."

The U.S.S. Mariner reports:

What an ugly game that was. Long, cold, and painful. From a fan's perspective, Garcia seems to self-destruct so completely it's difficult to believe. Fans are starting to boo him now, and there were a bunch of fans behind me who carped about him for innings after he left -- standard stuff, he's overpaid, see below, but also that he needs to go to the minors to work things out... which may be something to watch, now that I think about it -- the Mariners have a long history of abusing the DL and rehab assignments when they need to make someone disappear and in this case, possibly collect juicy insurance money.

Here's hoping the Yanks still have some runs left in their bats, because they are headed for Oakland, and the three-headed monster that is: Hudson, Zito, Mulder.

DOH! The Mets misbegotten
2003-05-09 07:22
by Alex Belth


The Mets misbegotten season took another dopey turn yesterday at Shea as the Mets brass bungled the long-awaited Piazza-to-first experiment. Who is driving this rent-a-wreck anyway? It sure isn't GM Steve Phillips anymore. It's simply a matter of time before he's fired. Art Howe? Mmmm, not likely. ("I didn't realize you say something on the radio around here it's all over the place before you even blink," Howe, the Mets' first-year manager, said. "It's a learning process for me." Can he truly be this naive?) That leaves Fred and Jeff Wilpon. Still, it's bewildering that an incident like yesterday can actually happen.

The New York press has been swirling around the Mets all season, and the sharks have gone in for the kill this morning. Joel Sherman, John Harper, Lisa Olson, and George Vecsey all sink their teeth into the Metroplitans.

Sherman reports:

These days it seems the Mets sit around and devise new ways to humiliate themselves. The Mets moved seamlessly from haircut-gate to another episode of front office ineptitude. For five years, they shunned this vital subject. Then in one thoughtless afternoon - in the same week GM Steve Phillips and Art Howe said they had no immediate intentions to meet with Piazza - they ended up more slapstick about who's on first than Abbott and Costello.

Vecsey opines:

The Mets' front office has a severe case of bone spurs of the thought process. In addition to all the gruesome things happening on the field and in the sick bay, the Mets have ticked off their best player, Mike Piazza.

They are a national example of how not to run a sports team: dawdle, and duck an inevitable decision. Then, when backed into an unfortunate corner by injuries, embarrass your big guy in public.

Sadly, Mo Vaughn's career could be over. Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus reported yesterday:

Mo Vaughn is fighting the good fight, looking to the best doctors across the country to try and find an answer for his painful, swollen knees. He seems almost hell-bent on having surgery to remove bone spurs that would likely return in just months. There are open questions about options he has for surgery that would allow a return to the field, not only this year, but possibly this career. My guess is that for all intents and purposes, Mo Vaughn is done. He may make cameo appearances, but his days as a feared hitter or even a productive one are now a memory.

2003-05-08 07:59
by Alex Belth


Mike Mussina improved his record to 7-0, Godzilla Matsui hit a homer, and the Yanks rolled over the M's last night, 7-2. Mussina struck out 12 in 8 innings of work and drew raves from the Mariners:

"The guy is straight nasty," Joel Pineiro said of Mike Mussina. "He's filthy."

..."He spotted his fastball well and had a good knuckle curve and changeup, but he pitches very different now," [Seattle skipper Bob] Melvin said. "Now he's got the cutter and the slider, and the arm angles he can throw from.

"He doesn't put the ball in the middle of the plate, so you're looking for the ball on the corner, and when you get the balls on the corner, there's not much you can do with them, anyway."

Joe Torre added:

"He did a lot of damage with his fastball," said manager Joe Torre, who compared his ace with Giants Hall of Famer Juan Marichal.
"Marichal used to pitch from a lot of different angles," Torre said. "And he could throw strikes when he wanted to."

Joe Torre held a team meeting before the game, and seems less bothered by the Yankees sloppy defense, than he is with their lousy bullpen.

Derek Jeter started his rehab assignment in Trenton, NJ last night and will join the Yanks next week:

When Jeter trotted onto the field to run wind sprints before the game, he received a huge ovation. Even in the red-white-and-blue uniform of the Thunder, Jeter stood out. He was taller, stronger and more poised. Someone suggested that Jeter should have worn his Yankee pinstripes because he looked so different anyway. Jeter jerseys and funnel cakes were the most popular items in the stands.

2003-05-08 07:25
by Alex Belth


A mental patient came on the 1 train at 168th street this morning muttering about Art Howe. I kid you not. The beauty part is that he was a dead-ringer for the Mets skipper.

I attended my first game of the season last night at Shea. My oldest and dearest friend in the world, Lizzie Bottoms, works for a non-for-profit organization that supports disabled people. They had a company outing to the ballgame last night, so I basically watched the game along with 500 retards (insert cruel and insensitive Mets joke here). The 'clients,' as they are called, were great, clearly the most exciting part of the Mets 2-1 loss to L.A. Steve Trachsel pitched against Hideo Nomo, and I was prepared for a drawn-out, tedious affair, but both pitchers worked surprisingly quickly. The two pitchers are a contrast in styles, but they essentially both look like men doing their morning stretches out there on the mound.

Some people call Shea a dump, and I can see their point, but there is something charming about it's scrubbiness. It feels so suburban compared with Yankee Stadium. There is a great ethnic mix of people at Shea, but it's much more about Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island than money-makin Manhattan. When Woody Allen used to crack jokes about guys who wore wool hats and delivered flowers for the florist, he was talking about the kinds of people who frequent Shea. The vendors are worth almost worth the price of admission. "Beeeeah heeeah." My favorite beer guy (one Todd Gomer) looked like the artist R. Crumb. He had a long neck like an ostrich, and tilted his head to the side before he called out, "Beeeah heeeah." Another guy was a dead-ringer for the actor Adrian Brody (also from Queens).

"It's the worst thing that ever happened to me when that guy won the Oscar. They used to say I was John Cusak, now I'm Adrian Brody. Except I'm much better looking, right?"

The other highlight of the evening was spotting Mike Piazza's poppa outside the stadium on our way in.

The lowlight on the night was having the misfortune to be sitting behind your classic obnoxious Yankee fan. As we filled in our All-Star ballots, he voted for nothing but Yankees and then proceeded to make a loud case for why Jeter is better than A-Rod. I couldn't hold back and so I got into it with him, until I realized it was a pointless exercise. Man, no wonder Yankee fans are so loathed.

I haven't talked much about the state of the Mets this week, but they have been all over the papers, most notably Rey Sanchez and his infamous haircut. Today, Bill Madden attempts to set the record straight:

So now, upon further review, it turns out reports of Armando Benitez serving as clubhouse barber to Rey Sanchez were greatly exaggerated. Not to mention totally fabricated.

...By this time, Fred Wilpon must not know whether to laugh or cry at the media's unquenchable thirst for more and more blood from his wounded ballclub, which succumbed in rather pathetic three-hit fashion, 2-1, to the Dodgers last night. If nothing else, however, I suspect the manner in which the Sanchez haircut affair was misreported and overblown (to the point of "off with his head" hysteria), provided some brief, welcome amusement for the beleaguered Mets owner.

Meanwhile, Mo Vaughn's career is in peril, though he appears to be taking it in stride:

"I'm 35 years old and I've got the rest of my life in front of me. I can't just let this be," Vaughn told the Daily News yesterday, rubbing the knee as he spoke. "I've got to get this fixed. If (my career) ends tomorrow, I'll deal with it. I'm not scared. I'm not going to play just because it's the easiest solution."

2003-05-07 07:53
by Alex Belth



BB: Are you still attached to the Red Sox now that Bill James is working for them?

Rob Neyer: Sure. It's kind of funny, because I now have three favorite teams, after years and years of not really caring about anybody but the Royals. Maybe even four, if you count the Mariners. I want the Red Sox to do well because Bill works for them; I want the Mariners to do well because I'm up here now and I see them all the time; and I want the A's to do well, because I'm such a fan of the work that Billy Beane does down there.

BB: What are your thoughts about theMichael Lewis book?

Neyer: It's hard for me to answer that question with any objectivity, because I've actually become friendly with Michael. I'm a huge fan of his work, and was before I even met him. I've read "Moneyball," his new book, three times. I read it twice while he was writing it, and then I read it once more in galleys. I think it's a fantastic book. Michael is a great reporter. He's just brilliant at being in a place and picking out the details that make the story jump out at you. It's a very vivid story that he tells. Nobody has ever written a baseball book quite like this one, and I think it's going to be a huge success. Now, the book is going to ruffle some feathers, there's no question. Already has. I saw a column that Joel Sherman wrote on Art Howe the other day, and there is going to be more stuff like that when the book comes out. Michael had amazing access to the A's and he wrote some stuff that I'm sure Billy Beane wishes that he wouldn't have written. But I think the book is fantastic. And if people want to know how baseball teams really work, and what the next wave is in baseball management, this is the place to go. It's going to be portrayed as a book about Billy Beane and secondarily about the Oakland Athletics, but it's truly about a lot more than that. It's really about a new way of looking at the game, and evaluating players, and building teams. I think it will be very influential. Maybe not this year or next year, it might not be for another ten years, when the people who are in college today are working for major league teams. But I really think it's a great book and I can't recommend it highly enough.

BB: Who are some of the other teams in baseball following suit?

Neyer: They all sort of fall in a continuum. I saw a story in Baseball America recently where everybody was divided up into four categories. And it just isn't quite that simple. Certainly there's Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta in Oakland, and Theo Epstein in Boston, and J.P. Riccardi in Toronto, who worked for Billy. And there are a lot of other GM's that pay attention to that kind of stuff. Mark Shapiro in Cleveland, certainly. Dan O'Dowd in Colorado. I mention these guys, and I know I'm missing another half-dozen.

BB: Cashman?

Neyer: Oh, absolutely. One man can't really do anything in that organization. It's too big of a job. But yeah, Cashman is a big believer in statistical analysis. Really, you have to look at what they do as opposed to what they say. To really make it work the way I think it should work, everybody has to be on board. It can't just be the GM. It has to be the scouting director, it has to be the owner: they all have to be on board with the approach. That's the tough thing to do. That's what the Blue Jays ran into when J.P. Riccardi took that job. It's what everybody runs into when they try to remake an organization. But one of the things that I think is important to talk about is the difference between a new approach and statistics-based approach. I don't really think that talking about statistics---and that's what everybody talks about when they talk about what this new approach focus' on---is what it's all about. It's more than that. I think it's about trying to figure out a different way to do things. And that may be statistics-based or it may not be. It may be coming up with a new way of scouting, or a new way to evaluate scouts, or a new way to hire scouts. And you may still have scouts out there trying to figure out who is the best player, but you have a different kind of scout too. I don't know. I don't think the movement or the idea is that we need to rely on statistics more than we already do. That may just be part of it. But that isn't the underlying principle. The underlying principle is, "Hey, maybe there is a better way to do this, so let's see if we can figure out what that would be." As opposed to doing it the way it has been done for twenty, or thirty, or fifty, or a hundred years. Which is the way a lot of organizations still do things.

BB: I've noticed how condescending the mainstream media has been towards the sabermetric-based philosophies. The YES announcers have been belittling the Red Sox bullpen strategy all year. What's worse is that they don't even seem to understand the principles behind the strategy.

Neyer: This is what every new idea runs into in every field. This isn't just baseball. Baseball might be particularly backward. Certainly I think football teams have been quicker to embrace new ideas than baseball has. Basketball perhaps as well. I'm not sure why baseball is so resistant to change. Maybe because it's the oldest sport. It's more bound by tradition, I think. It's harder to change the rules in baseball, for example, than any other sport. The other sports, they change the rules all the time. Baseball never changes anything. I think baseball, for whatever reason, is more conservative than the other sports, and the broadcasters and the writers fall in line. A lot of that is because of fear. If a new idea takes hold of baseball, then all these guys who have been in the game, writing about the game, broadcasting the game for decades, have to learn something new. And that's a tough thing for people to deal with. It's not a conscious thing. We all resist change. And the longer we've been in the middle of a thing, the more we resist changing that thing.

BB: Woody Allen said 'Change equals death.'

Neyer: Exactly. If tomorrow a law was passed that all baseball writers had to learn sabermetrics, you'd have a lot of guys out of a job. It won't be a law, of course, but at the same time it's a little scary for those guys. This thing is happening. It scares people like Hal Bodley to know that something is happening and he doesn't understand it. A few guys have been able to hang on. Peter Gammons has been able to adapt. I don't think he buys into sabermetrics really; I don't think he does. But he's able to drop terms like OPS into the conversation often enough, where you don't really know that he doesn't buy into it. Most writers can't even go that far, and they are kind of stuck. People like Hal Bodley, for example, are not in danger of losing their jobs. He can write for USA Today for as long as he wants to write for them. But it is a bit disorientating for them to be on the outside looking in as these things happen, and writers like Bodley become less relevant with each passing day.

BB: Christian Ruzich, Jay Jaffe and Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus are just a few of the writers who have been covering the topic of pitch counts, and recently Christian reminded me that in baseball, change doesn't happen rapidly. You wrote a column about pitch counts last week. What do you make of all of this?

Neyer: I wish I had an idea. I don't think anybody does. This first time it came across my radar screen I would guess, was four or five years ago. Not that it had never been talked about before that, but it's when I first really started to focus on it. And now I've been hearing promises from people who do analysis, I have been hearing these promises for years: "We're working on the big one, the Big Study." And the Big Study hasn't come out yet! And the reasons it hasn't come out yet are that most of these guys are amateurs and they don't get paid for their work, but the biggest reason is that it's a huge, huge job to sort through all this stuff. There are just so many variables: age, body-type, mechanics, type of pitches a pitcher throws, how hard he was working high school and/or college. You can maybe come up with some very basic rules but the problem is, when your rules are basic you are going to run into obvious exceptions. And when you have obvious exceptions, it will invalidate, at least in the minds of many people, your conclusion.

BB: Randy Johnson ruins it for everybody.

Neyer: Yeah, and I think what a lot of people would argue is that Johnson didn't throw that many pitches when he was 21. A 35-year-old pitcher is a lot different than a 22-year-old pitcher. But, yeah you're right. Neanderthals will conclude that if Randy Johnson can throw a million pitches, then everybody else should, too.

BB: What about guys like Doc Gooden, Saberhagen and Orel Hirshiser?

Neyer: People say that Gooden's drug use killed his career. I think his career got blown out because he got worked too hard when he was 21. He should have been a Hall of Fame pitcher, and might have been if he hadn't been overworked. But again, that's really speculation on my part. I think its informed speculation, but it's still speculation. Because nobody has done the work. I think the work will be done. Frankly---and I don't have any inside information here, honest I don't---I think it will be the Red Sox who wind up doing the work. Because they have a real commitment to research, and they have the money to spend on it. So I think that the work will be done, though of course if the Red Sox do the research, nobody else will have it. I've been advocating, for at least a few years now, that every baseball team should kick a certain amount of money every year into a central fund that is used to research things like this. "Why do pitchers get hurt?" It hasn't happened. I don't think it's going to happen, and the Red Sox are going to end up knowing a lot more than anybody else because they're going to be the only ones willing to spend the money on it.

BB: Speaking of the Sox, I wanted to ask you: Has there been a pitcher in history who has been simultaneously as dominant and as physically fragile as Pedro Martinez has? Or does he stand-alone in this regard?

Neyer: I don't know. Not as dominant, no. Because the number of pitchers who have been as dominant as Pedro you can count on one or two hands. I read about a pitcher named Slim Sallee back in the teens, who was considered a great pitcher, and he was a great pitcher for a few years. But his reputation was that he could only pitch every five days. Back then there weren't many top pitchers with that reputation. Most guys were expected to pitch every three or four days. So I think there have been pitchers acknowledged to be fragile, and were still great pitchers. But along the lines of Pedro, no I don' think so. Everybody knew that Koufax was on borrowed time. He had to use all that ice, and hot, volcanic balm on his arm. There was a perception he had of himself that it wasn't going to last forever. But no, I think Pedro might be unique.

BB: I understand the appeal of the Red Sox. The Sox have a rich history, dubious as it may be. And the same goes for the Cubbies too. They are teams that are famous for being losers. But what about the White Sox? They are just as sad, and nobody thinks they are literate or cute. What's up with that?

Neyer: It is kind of odd. Of course what stopped the White Sox in the '50s were the Yankees, who won the pennant almost every year. It's interesting; people talk about these curses like they are really odd. There are three curses that I really know about: the Cubs have the Curse of the Billy Goat (or whatever), the Red Sox have the Curse of the Bambino, and the Indians have the Curse of Rocky Colavito. The White Sox should have a curse, too, but nobody ever really talks about it. It would be the Curse of Shoeless Joe, or something. So you have four teams that haven't won a World Series in basically forever. What I think is odd is how many teams you have that are like that. Of course, three of the teams are American League teams, and some of those franchises have had pretty good teams. The Indians and White Sox were good in the '50s, but couldn't do anything because of the Yankees. The Cubs don't have that excuse, although people say all of those day games were a problem, and I think they probably were. The reason I don't put a lot of stock in that stuff---first of all, I don't believe in curses---is that if there are four teams that have the same curse going on, how weird can it be?

BB: I've read a bunch of your columns regarding Minnie Minoso and the Hall of Fame. Considering how prominent Latin stars are in today's game it's surprising to me that nobody has politicked for Minoso.

Neyer: I don't really understand the lack of support for Minoso. I think it's very odd.

BB: He was a popular guy, right?

Neyer: He was popular with the fans. Very popular. And he was both black and Hispanic, which you'd think would do him some good in these sorts of things. A few years ago Tony Perez played the Hispanic card when he didn't get elected one year to the Hall of Fame, and the next year he got elected.

BB: Did Cepeda play the Latin card as well?

Neyer: No, I don't think that he did. I don't think Cepeda ever spoke out. Generally when people talked about why Cepeda wasn't in the Hall of Fame, the reason given was that he'd been convicted of drug smuggling after his career. I don't care about the drug thing, but I didn't think he should have been elected to the Hall of Fame, because he just didn't do enough things that a Hall of Fame first baseman should do.

BB: Koufax and Gibson are the most venerated pitchers of the 1960s these days. Why has Marichal's reputation faded so dramatically?

Neyer: I think that are a couple of reasons for that, at least. One obvious reason is that the Giants didn't win a World Series, and the Cardinals did. And Gibson was outstanding in '64 when they won, and in '67 when they won. He also had the 1.12 ERA in '68 that people still talk about. The other thing is that it's quite likely that if Tim McCarver had been Juan Marichal's catcher rather than Bob Gibson's catcher, I think we'd hear a lot more about Marichal than we do. Because McCarver talks about Gibson all the time. I think it's those two things: the World Series Effect and the Tim McCarver Effect.

BB: You don't think the Johnny Roseboro fight has anything to do with it?

Neyer: I really don't. I don't know, maybe there's a little something there. That's one of my pet peeves about baseball: How we take these tiny little incidents, and blow them out of proportion. It's like the Alomar spitting incident. Alomar and the umpire [John Hirschbeck] made up years ago, but people still hold it against him. It's crazy. Roseboro and Maricial are friendly now. People still talk about that incident and try to demonize Marichal---not to excuse the action---but I think if Roseboro was able to forgive Marichal, so should we.

BLAST OFF Here are
2003-05-07 07:45
by Alex Belth


Here are a couple of fun columns which take the mainstream media to task, brought to you by The Cub Reporter and Mighty Mike C respectively.

2003-05-07 07:09
by Alex Belth


I've become smarter as I've gotten older. I don't watch or listen to any Yankee west-coast games during the work week. No matter what the early score is, I know it will jack me up too much, and then I'll never get a decent night of sleep. I also know how poorly the Yanks have played on the coast since I was a kid (though I'm not sure of the numbers), so the crank always emerges in me and I never expect to wake up to discover the Yanks have won. And if they prove me wrong, it's a nice surprise to start the day.

I can't say I was shocked when I saw the backpage of the tabliods this morning and saw that the Yanks played a sloppy game in Seattle last night, and lost 12-7. Did I say they would be sounding the alarm in Boston yesterday after Nomar made an error that cost the Sox a game? Well, now that the Yanks have dropped three-straight, we'll be conducting duck-and-cover drills in throughout the Tri-State area this morning.

Naturally, the Sox won, and the Yanks lead in the east stands at a scant two and a half games.

On my way to work this morning, I stumbled across two very lost looking tourists standing on the corner of 50th street and 7th avenue. They were a squat, Midwestern couple. When they saw me they asked, "How do we get to the 'Today Show?'" I helped them out and then walked with them for a block. The husband commented on my "Eight Men Out" varsity jacket and figured I couldn't be all bad since I was representing Chicago.

"You a White Sox fan?"

"No, we're Cubs fans."

"Well, hell, what's not to like about the Cubs," I said.

I got around to talking about the Mets and the Yanks and he says, "I don't like George Steinbrenner much."

"Well, I don't like him too tough either, but I do like the team he's provided us."

"What about Arizona? Those Diamondbacks beat you guys in their first year of existence."

I didn't have it in me to lay into this rube, even though I was in less than a cheery mood after reading about last night's game.

"Hell, that was nothing to be ashamed of, especially after they won three in a row."

"Yeah, well, where is the 'Today Show' again?"

2003-05-06 07:19
by Alex Belth



Rob Neyer is the most popular sabermetrician not named Bill James. The ESPN analyst has just published his third book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," and has prettied-up his home page to boot. I read Neyer's column regularly and appreciate him for his even-handedness, his self-depricating wit, and his willingness to get to the heart of the matter. I was fortunate enough to talk with Rob last week, and I'm pleased to say he's as genial over the phone as he appears in print. (It's always nice when people you admire don't suck.)

I generally don't like the idea of splitting interviews up into two parts, but after I transcribed my conversation with Rob, I felt it was the best way to go. We spoke for a long while, and when I went back to see what I could edit out, I found that I just liked too much of what he had to say. I don't want to completely blast the reader with too much information all at once, so here is Part One, where Rob talks about his how he became a baseball fan and a baseball writer. Neyer talks about his apprenticeship with Bill James, his adventures as a freelance writer, and the experience of writing a book about Fenway Park that his editor hated. Part Two will follow tomorrow.

This interview was conducted via telephone between the Bronx, NY and Portland, Oregon on Wednesday, April 30, 2003.

Bronx Banter: Where did you grow up?

Rob Neyer: I grew up in the Midwest. We moved around a lot, mostly in the Minnesota, North Dakota area, and finally settled in the Kansas City area when I was about ten.

BB: Did you play sports as a kid?

Neyer: Yeah, I was like most kids I think. Or at least most kids that I knew in that era, before video games and cable TV. Playing sports is just what we did. It seems to me, looking back on it, pretty much every day when it wasn't too cold out, we were playing baseball or basketball or football. I wasn't all that good at any of those things but I sure did enjoy them. We moved to Kansas City when I was nine, about to turn ten, in the winter or early spring of 1976. It was a great time to be in Kansas City because that was the year of their first division title.

BB: Were the Kansas City Kings still around when you were a kid?

Neyer: You know, they were. They were there until '81 and '82, I think. I was a big Kings fan as well.

BB: Tiny Archibald.

Neyer: It was right at the end of the Tiny Archibald era, I'm not even sure if I ever saw him play. The guy I liked to watch was Phil Ford, who was a fantastic point guard. I still have their starting line up memorized. They were good for four or five years there. I didn't like the Chiefs, both because they weren't very good and because I'd become a fanatical Vikings fan when I was in Minnesota. Basically I stopped caring about the NBA when the Kings left for Sacramento. I don't know if I've watched a complete NBA game since the early ¡®80s, asides from the ones that I've attended.

BB: Were you interesting in baseball writing when you were young?

Neyer: No, I don't think so. I don't think I was ever that focused on what I wanted to do. I was a voracious reader as a child, in addition to playing sports and watching as much bad TV as I could fit in. I read a lot, and I think anybody who reads entertains some fantasies about writing some day, but it was never something I was really focused on doing. I didn't read books about sports, really. I mean I read a couple of kids' books. One of my favorites was "Strange But True Baseball Stories"; I must have read that one a dozen times. And I remember reading a book about Phil Rizzuto when I was in the fourth grade or fifth grade. It was in the school library. God knows why; this would have been 25 years after his heyday, but there it was. I actually tended to read more science fiction novels and spy novels than anything. I read stuff like Bradbury, Asimov. Yeah, all the robot stories. And I read a lot of military history. Even in the fifth grade, I was reading giant books about stuff like submarine warfare in World War II. So I was a voracious reader, but there really that many sports books, at least that I had around. So no, being a sports writer is nothing I ever really thought about. I never had any idea what I would do one day.

BB: How did you then get your start in baseball writing?

Neyer: Well, it happened all of a sudden when I got a job with Bill James. When I went to college--this was in the fall of ¡®84--I was a huge Royals fan already, because they had been good. I think it's a lot easier to become a fan if your team is good. Which is why, parenthetically, that I think it's good for baseball that the same teams don't win every year. Because I think you end up with more baseball fans in the long run. Anyway, I went to college at Kansas, which is about half an hour from Kansas City. I went to KU for four years, and was essentially a wash out as a college student. Especially the last couple of years. I quit before I got my degree, and I think I would have probably gotten kicked out if I hadn't quit. I got a job working as a roofer and had that job for exactly nine months. And then I heard that Bill James, who happened to live a half an hour away from me, was looking for a research assistant, and I applied for job. I have no idea why Bill hired me, but he did.

BB: Were you already familiar with his work?

Neyer: Yes. I meant to say that before. When I was a freshman in college in 1984, the Royals were improbably involved in a pennant race even though they were a pretty average team. I was completely caught up in it, and hungry for anything baseball-related that I could find. I was in the university bookstore one afternoon, and I ran across this book, "The Bill James Baseball Abstract." I had never seen it before. I was fascinated by it, so I picked it up and brought it home, and I probably devoured it in one sitting. From that point, I was obsessed with Bill's stuff, and went out and got the books as soon as they came in. Every spring I would haunt the bookstore, literally every day from March 1st until it came out. Is the Abstract here, is the Abstract here yet? That is not a unique experience. I've talked to many people over the years who did exactly the same thing every spring. I just happened to be lucky enough to live not far from where Bill lived.

BB: Did you entertain fantasies of working for him when you found out he was a local?

Neyer: I do think I entertained fantasies of working for him one day. I think you almost had to. You had to think that if you're young, Well, maybe this guy is looking for somebody to help him. It was a dream job, but I didn't consider it a realistic option. It never would have occurred to me to actually approach Bill and ask him for a job. I even had a chance to meet him a couple of years before he hired me. A bunch of members of this group called Project Scoresheet, which was sort of a precursor to Stats and other organizations, we went out to a Royals game, and I sat next to Bill, but I didn't really talk to him too much. I was too intimidated. There are people in the world who will identify what they want out of life, and they'll go get it. And that's just never been my personality. I have always waited for things to happen, and I've been incredibly fortunate, where they just have. For example, an agent e-mailed me one time, and said, "Have you ever thought about writing a book?" Well of course I had but I had never done anything about it. Once I had an agent, I thought, "Well, I should probably try to do this." It was the same thing with the Bill James. A mutual friend of ours came to me and said, "Hey did you know Bill is looking for an assistant?" And I said no, I didn't know that. He said, "He should send him a letter and apply for the job." I sent Bill a letter, and we met for an interview and he hired me almost immediately. I've been very lucky in my life. A lot of things have happened to me that...welI, sure I helped a little bit, but for the most part I was lucky to be around where I was.

BB: You mentioned being intimidated by James when you first sat next to him at a ballgame, what was your impression of him when you interviewed for the job?

Neyer: I don't think I was all that intimidated by him, because it just seemed like a goof. Why on earth would Bill want to hire me? I think once he agreed to see me for an interview, I wasn't so intimidated any more. Bill is, for the most part, is the person that you'd expect him to be if you've read his writing. I remember where we were, were we ate, but I don't remember much else about the interview itself. The only thing I remember about the interview, literally, is that Bill asked me what my favorite baseball books were. And it wasn't hard to answer that question. I already had a list in my head. And they happened to be a lot of the books he had listed in his baseball books as his favorites. I believe I told him, "Your stuff, of course. But after the Baseball Abstracts, my favorites are probably 'Nice Guys Finish Last', 'The Glory of Their Times', and 'Ball Four.'" I didn't do that on purpose, it's just the way it worked. Oh, the other thing I remember is that Bill asked me for a college transcript, and I told him I'd get one, though I really didn't have any intention of doing that because my grades had been absolutely terrible from my sophomore year onward. Anyway, I got a phone call from Bill a week or two later, and he said he wanted to hire me. That was probably the best moment of my life up to that point. This would have been in December of '88. I went to work for Bill on January 2nd, 1989.

BB: What did you do as his assistant?

Neyer: I did a lot of everything. I did everything from ordering books for his library to baby sitting his kids from time to time, which I really enjoyed because I love kids in general, and Bill's kids were great. I paid the bills. Most of my work revolved around writing the Biographical Encyclopedia for Bill's Baseball Book, a book he did for three years from '90 to '92. I was fortunate to do a lot of writing on those. That was really the stuff I enjoyed.

BB: How long did you work for James before he encouraged you to write?

Neyer: I think from the very beginning he encouraged me to write. I have a fair amount of stuff in the first Baseball book, which he started working on three or four months after I started working for him. I would say that my initial efforts were pretty piss poor. I still have a memo someplace that Bill left on my desk one day, critiquing something I had written about Bill Almon, a shortstop of the 1970s and ¡®80s. It was a harsh, but useful and appropriate, lesson in writing. It pointed out obvious things like Don't write in the passive voice; People Don't have things done to the them, they do things. Some of that stuff was hard to take because Bill can be brusque. Especially when he's the middle of writing a book. But they helped. That's not to say that I learned all of those lessons immediately, but they did sink in eventually. And I think by the time I left Bill, after four years, I was ready--or at least more ready than I'd been--- to go out on my own.

BB: So you really got your degree at Bill James University. He was your mentor and your editor.

Neyer: That's exactly right. Bill is an amazing editor. I've seen him mark up things that I have written, but also things that other people have written, things that were submitted for him to publish in his books, and he's really amazing. He could have been a brilliant editor at a magazine or a publishing house.

BB: When you were working with James, did you guys go to a lot of ballgames together?

Neyer: You know, we didn't get to that many games. We went to some games. I remember one game in particular, with Tommy John beating the Royals for his last major-league victory. We probably went to half a dozen games a year, at the most. For three of the four years I worked for Bill, we didn't live in the same town, we both lived about an hour from the ballpark, and Bill had a family. And from the middle of the summer on, we were always working on the next book.

BB: And the manuscripts were due when, in December?

Neyer: That's right. The Biographical Encyclopedia stuff, we could work on that at anytime. But once we got under the heavy book crunch, we didn't do anything else. Bill's schedule would get crazy and it would consume his life, so we didn't get to as many games as I wish we would have, in retrospect. But I did see a number of games with Bill and that was always a great experience.

BB: Where did you go after you left?

Neyer: After four years I felt it was time to go. The job was still good, I just felt like I filled that apprenticeship as long as I should have, maybe longer, and it was somebody else's turn to have that opportunity. We parted on really good terms. I did some free-lancing for about nine months and was a terrible free-lance writer. Just awful. To be a good free-lance writer you have to be able to go out and get work. Unless you are established and people come to you. But I wasn't at that point yet. I am better at it now than I was ten years ago, but if I had to do that again, I'd still be a bad free-lance writer because I'm not good at making phone calls and getting people to hire me. The first few months weren't bad. But I had gotten a really good gig writing the backs of baseball cards. There was a set called the Conlon Collection. Basically, they were all photos that were taken by a guy named Charles Conlon in the first forty years of the 20th century. The Sporting News published these cards. I did a lot of research for the cards, and wrote the text for the backs. I like doing historical research anyway, so that was a lot of fun, and they paid really well. After that job ran out, I basically lived hand-to-mouth and check-to-check. I saw my tax return from that year the other day; I think I made something $8,000. This was in '93. I worked for Bill from '89 to '92. In '93 I freelanced, I made $8,000 bucks and I was reduced to buying food with my mom's Amaco credit card. It was pretty bad. Then I was fortunate, in that STATS, Inc. was looking to hire somebody to work on publications. They hired me. I believe my first day was November first or November second, 1993. And I worked there for about two and a half years.

BB: Did you put the book together, or were you a general editor?

Neyer: I did all that stuff. After the first year, I think my title was assistant director of publications, which was a lot more high-falutin as it sounds. Did a lot of writing for the various STATS books, all sports: basketball, football, baseball. I helped design some books, and did a lot of editing.

BB: Are you naturally inclined towards math and science?

Neyer: I was always good at math; I was never great at math. In junior high and in high school I was in the advanced math classes, but I wasn't a math star, or anything like that. I did better on the verbal sections of the standardize tests than I did on the math sections. The brutal truth is that like a lot of other things in my life, I didn't really have a passionate interest in things mathematical unless they were related to baseball. I dropped out of my Algebra 2 class in high school because it just didn't interest me. It was too theoretical. I wasn't very good at my physics class in high school, or college for that matter, because I wasn't able to apply it to anything that I really cared about. So no, I wasn't a math or science whiz by any means.

BB: One of the things I appreciate about your writing is that you make statistical formulas human. You aren't cold or clinical stylistically and that helps me grasp the information much more readily. You also appear to be as interested in the characters who play the game, as you are in the stats themselves.

Neyer: I think that that is certainly true for me. And Bill as well. I don't get this as much because I'm not as famous as Bill. So people don't feel quite as compelled to put a label on me, but there are a lot of people who think that all Bill cares about are numbers. That he's some geeky guy who sits around with a calculator all day. When the fact is that for the last decade plus, Bill has written a lot more about people and stories behind the numbers than the numbers themselves. It's characteristic of humans that we like to categorize things, to put labels on them and put them in a nice, neat box, because it makes life a lot easier. But if people do that with Bill, and to some extent with me, then I think they are going to get it wrong.

BB: When did you start working for ESPN?

Neyer: In March of '96. Back then it was called ESPNet SportsZone. The site was run and maintained by a company called Starwave, an independent company that had a business agreement with ESPN; basically we licensed the name. And used some of their talent to provide content, but essentially it was a completely independent operation.

BB: How many columns are you contracted to write weekly for ESPN?

Neyer: It's changed a little bit. When I first started I was doing one every day. And they were short. And then I started doing one every day, but longer. Then we cut back to four columns a week during the season, and during the off-season it was more like three columns a week. But it's not really set in stone. I could do three columns a week and maybe a chat a session, or maybe three columns a week and a special sidebar. Like I just wrote something, I took the "no" side of a debate on whether or not Rafael Palmeiro should be in the Hall of Fame. It wasn't a column, but could count (if I wanted it to) as one of my four columns for the week. I've got a contract and it's pretty open-ended. Basically we just trust each other. They trust me to put out a certain number of words every week, and I trust them not to load too much work on me.

BB: When you've finished a piece does it go to an editor before it is posted?

Neyer: Yeah, it does. When I initially started doing this stuff, back in '96, I had access to all the publishing tools and I would often publish my own column. But in the years since we've gravitated away from that, not really by any preference, just that I don't have the publishing tools on my computer any more. And I think it's a good idea to have it run by an editor anyway, because it keeps everybody from getting in trouble. I send my column off to an editor and it will be posted anywhere between a half and hour and three hours depending on how busy they are.

BB: Have you been tagged with the label as a Bill James clone?

Neyer: I don't think I really have. Partly because there is a certain distance between when I worked for Bill and when I worked for ESPN. Also because it wasn't that obvious to people. When I first did the column I didn't put at the bottom of the column, "Rob Neyer used to work for Bill James." You know there are people that do know I worked for Bill; I've written about it in every book that I've done for example. I've probably mentioned in the column a few times. And the fact is if people want to label me that way, I'm perfectly happy to be labeled that way. It wouldn't bother me at all. I treasure the association. And to an extent, I foster it. There is a quote from Bill on the first book I did, "Baseball Dynasties," and there is a quote from Bill on the book that just came out. If I wanted to get away from that I could, but I don't have any desire to let that go.

BB: What was the deal with your second book? The book about Fenway Park?

Neyer: I wrote an article about that experience on my webpage. In a nutshell, what happens was, I signed a contract with a major publishing house to write book about spending a year in Boston going to every Red Sox game. Which I did in the 2000 season. I lived in an incredibly over-priced apartment just three blocks away from Fenway, and went to all 81 home games; I think I went to 105 baseball games that season (including games in Seattle, New York, Miami, Chicago, and Kansas City). I submitted the manuscript. On time. And my editor at this publishing house just basically hated it. Wanted to have nothing to do with the thing. Which is obviously a pretty rough thing to have happen. Not only was there a level of embarrassment---I mean no author wants to submit a manuscript and have it rejected out of hand---but there was a big financial hit there. Because I was living that year as if I was going to get paid for the book I wrote. As it turned out, I ended up getting paid for half of what I should have gotten paid, and I owed the publishing house a significant portion of that money. To this day, I still haven't paid them back and I'm going to have to do that one of these days.

BB: Was the manuscript something radically different from what they expected?

Neyer: I think that was part of it. I don't know that they should have expected anything radically different. But one of the things I've tried to avoid doing is trying to get into the head of my editor. This was a very successful editor, who's edited many, many successful books. I don't know what he was expecting. Clearly he wasn't expecting what I sent him. But I'm not sure what he was expecting. I think that what I submitted was at least moderately close to what I had promised in my book proposal. But either it was far off from what he thought that was, or it just wasn't nearly as good as he expected. I don't really know. But the upshot was, he made some soft noises about trying to salvage the book. Basically rewrite the entire thing. I just found that impractical. And I got the impression from him, but more so from my agent, that they really weren't interested in rewrites, they just wanted to say that to assuage me a little bit. Maybe keep me from doing something like taking him to court, I don't know. So we took the book back and tried to sell it someplace else. We had some interest from a few editors but at that point it was too late to publish it that spring. But if you do a book in the 2000 season, what you want to do is publish the following season. There wasn't time to do that so the people who were interested in it wanted me to rewrite the proposal, and at least some of the book. Make it less focused on the 2000 season and a little bit more on the general Fenway experience. Then we could publish it in the spring of 2002. At that point I just wanted to get this thing out of my way. The publishing experience had been so distasteful. We did get an offer from a company called "iPublish," which was a division of Time/Warner. "iPublish," did e-books. They also published mine as a trade paperback for people who asked for it, and it's still available in both formats. There only as many copies as people order. Economically, you are not going to make a lot of money doing that, because people don't buy e-books. But my attitude toward that book is that I had fun working on it. I had a lot of fun going to all the games. I met some really good people when I was in Boston. And there are some people who really like the book. Today, I don't know how good it is. But there are people who like the book, and I'm not going to tell them that they shouldn't like the book. I learned a lot important things in the process, so I wouldn't call that book a success, in a lot of ways I'm glad that I wrote it.

BB: Were you a Red Sox fan before you went up there?

Neyer: No, not at all.

BB: Were you a Red Sox hater?

Neyer: No, I wasn't a Red Sox hater either. Since I was ten I was a Royals fan and haven't cared about any other team. I have some small rooting interest in the Mariners because I've lived in the Pacific Northwest for a while now. For the most part, the Red Sox were just another team to me. I visited Boston and saw Fenway Park for the first time in the fall of '99. I just immediately fell in love with that ballpark. I was there for three games in a row against the Orioles, in September of '99. I loved it so much I tried to figure out a way to get back there, and writing a book about the park and the Red Sox was the only way I could figure out how to do that.

BB: Did you find yourself pulling for the Sox that year you watched them up close?

Neyer: Oh sure. Yeah, I became a huge fan of the Red Sox. Personally, it would have impossible for me not to become of fan of the Red Sox. I believed it would help the book if the Red Sox did well. If they had won the World Series, then next spring people would want to read about them, and boom: I have a book ready. But even beyond that, I couldn't help but get caught up in it. I made friends with Red Sox fans. You know, I was at the Park every night, and I'm surrounded by people who care so desperately, so passionately about what this team is going to do. That's what attracted to me to the project. It was the ballpark, yes, but it wasn't the ballpark in the sense of this building; it was the ballpark in the sense that when you're in this place you are surrounded by people who are so passionate about what's happening. That's what really struck me. I love going to games in Kansas City; I love going to games in Seattle, but the feeling from the people sitting around you is completely different in Boston than anyplace I've been, except for maybe Yankee Stadium. But just this notion, all around you, packed in so tightly, are all these people care so much about what's happening on the field. It's something I've never felt anywhere else.

BB: Did you make it down to Yankee Stadium that year?

Neyer: I did. I was there for one of the great games of the year. I think it was a Sunday night game: Pedro vs. Roger Clemens.

BB: The 2-1 game.

Neyer: The 2-1 game, that's exactly right. I wrote about it in the book.

BB: Yeah, I remember that fuggin game. Nixon, that som'bitch hit the homer off Clemens.

Neyer: Yup, you got it. That was an incredible experience. I went to a few Yankee-Red Sox games that year, and they were all great. The fans are just insane for those games, of course.

BB: What were your impressions of Yankee Stadium?

Neyer: I like Yankee Stadium. I don't like the building a lot. It's so big; the upper deck is so far from the field. I sat in the right field upper deck, way down the line, one game. I mean you couldn't hear the P.A. announcer. You couldn't see the players, they were so far away. By that point I had been to twenty or thirty games at Fenway Park, where basically every seat is close to the field, and it's a completely different experience. I'm not that thrilled with the building. I don't like all the blue of the walls and the black of the batter's eye. I have this prejudice that everything possible at a baseball stadium should be green. And Yankee Stadium doesn't really have any green accept for the playing surface. So I'm not a big fan of the Stadium. I do enjoy the passion of the fans. I do enjoy sitting there, and looking out on the field, and knowing that Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle played here. For that reason I think Yankee Stadium is a great place to watch a game. I don't like the physical plant, per se.

BB: It's funny because every place the Yankees play on the road, you'll hear a vocal contingency of Yankee fans. That never happens at Yankee Stadium. Okay it does a little for the Subway Series, but it doesn't happen unless the Red Sox are in town. If the Stadium is sold out, you know to expect 10-15,000 Boston fans to be in the house.

Neyer: Maybe this is not representative, but after a game at the Stadium with the Red Sox I was on the subway train. It was mostly Yankee fans but there were some Red Sox fans too. And there was a lot of back-and-forth going on. One of the wonderful experiences that a person can have as a baseball fan¡ªit was maybe my favorite memory from that entire season---was being in a subway car after a game and hearing the Red Sox and Yankee fans chanting back-and-forth. And there was no malice. It was all very good-natured. I was standing next to a Yankee fan, and he was having a great time. The Red Sox had won the game, but he wasn't at all upset. And I asked him about it. He said, "You know what? In the end, we'll win. So why should we let it bother us." That's the attitude Yankee fans should have: "You know what? We've been winning since 1920, and the Red Sox haven't. So we should have fun with it. Eventually we'll win anways."

BB: I always take the opposite approach. I worry that the Yankees have won so much, that eventually it will be the Red Sox turn. They have to win it sometime, I worry. Why not now?

Neyer: Well, they do have to win sometime, and it is going to happen. In our lifetime the Red Sox are going to win a World Series.

BB: I agree.

Neyer: But to me, as far as the Yankees are concerned, when you've been on top for so long, it's almost upon you to be a little bit magnanimous about this thing. To me, the Yankee fans should basically just humor the Red Sox fans.

BB: What drives me crazy about Yankee fans is that the downside of what has transpired over the past decade is the sense of entitlement they have about winning. As if the Yankees have corned the market on winning, which is nonsense.

Neyer: Right, exactly. You hear about this all the time with Yankee fans. Yankee fans think that Thurman Munson, and Don Mattingly, and Goose Gossage should all be in the Hall of Fame. Now I think Gossage should be in the Hall of Fame, but the other guys, I'm a bit iffy about. I tended to paint Yankee fans with the same brush, but I've met some very nice and very magnanimous Yankee fans who feel very lucky to have their favorite team be greatest franchise in the history of sports. At least in this country.

BB: Hell, you are talking to one of them. It's what makes me focus on appreciating what we've got, every day.

Neyer: That's right.

BB: I know I'm going to enjoy the season, regardless of whether they ultimately win it all or not. Sure it would be great if they could win another ring, but if they don't it won't necessary ruin the year for me.

Neyer: Baseball gives the fan the opportunity to be happy a number of times during the season. If you are a Cincinnati Bengals fan, you may only have the chance to be happy once or twice in a whole season. But if you're a fan of a truly bad baseball team, you have a chance to be happy 60 times a year. Now, if you are Yankee fan you have a chance to be happy 100 times a year, which is even better. If you win the World Series, then you are happy for the whole winter. Baseball is a marathon. You have all these games, and all these ups and downs, and it's like a soap opera and all that stuff. I think if you are lucky, you can take it day-by-day. For example, the Royals this year, got off to this amazing start. I've never been under the illusion that it's going to last, or that they are going to win 85 games and the division title or anything, but I've been able to enjoy it because you have to take every day as it comes. I've enjoyed every one of their wins this year whether they win the division or not.

Tomorrow Rob talks about pitch counts, Pedro Martinez, and Michael Lewis' hot new book, "Moneyball." Stay tuned...

2003-05-06 07:10
by Alex Belth


Nick Johnson may have had his walks-streak snapped on Sunday, but the Times saw fit to give him some props today all the same:

"You see a guy with Nick's plate discipline in your system and you know that everything else, over time, is going to fall into place," Cashman said. "The homers and the hitting for average, that's going to come as he refines his game. But the plate discipline, he already has that. He's got a pretty high ceiling as a player."

The Yanks open a three-game serious in Seattle tonight and then move on for three more in Oakland this weekend. Both teams have played the Bombers well so far. It would be a terrific week if the Yanks can go 4-2 on this trip, but 3-3 is acceptable. Anything less than that would be a discouraging.

Meanwhile, the Royals won their 11th straight at home, and finally beat the Red Sox. Nomie tied the game with a homer late in the game, but then his error lead to the Royals comebackvictory. Once again, Derek Lowe was not effective. Oh how the alarm must be sounding in Boston this morning.

ICED Before Roger Clemens
2003-05-05 12:19
by Alex Belth


Before Roger Clemens and Barry Zito faced off on Sunday afternoon, Oakland's Scott Hatteberg--who is featured in Michael Lewis' forthcoming book "Moneyball," said that it was going to be like, "Cy Young vs. Cy Old." He immediately caught himself. He wasn't trying to stir any shit up.

So what does he do, but hit a homer off of Clemens his first time up. It would be enough for the A's, because even though Rocket pitched well---allowing 1 earned run in seven innings of work---Zito was better, and the A's bumped off the Bombers, 2-0, taking the series, the first the Yankees have lost this season.

I don't mind losing to Hudson, but Zito is tougher to swallow. Pedro is about the only guy who is harder to stomach. But man is Zito sharp. Jim Kaat mentioned several times during the broadcast that Zito, and the other Oakland pitchers look like they are simply playing catch with the catcher. Kaat compared Zito with Lefty Carlton, in that Zito is oblivious to the batters, concentrating soley on putting the ball in the catcher's mitt.

Zito also had the Gods with him yesterday. When the Yanks hit the ball hard, they hit them at an Oakland defender. When they got on the bases, they ran (or didn't run) themselves into outs. The only part of the game that frustrated me was that Nick Johnson was brought in to pinch hit with two-out in the ninth and he flew out to center, ending the game and ending his nifty little consecutive-games-with-a-walk streak.

Nuts. But hey, at least the Sox lost, and so things are exactly as they were going into the weekend: Yanks ahead of Boston by three. Red Sox fans must feel like they are right where they want to be. If they were three ahead, they'd be nervous. But three behind is a comfortable place to be.

2003-05-04 09:25
by Alex Belth


I left work early on Friday to accompany Emily to a doctor's appointment on the Upper East Side. I had some time to kill so I walked up from midtown, and boy let me tell you, the East Side is as weird and as wack as it's always been. Strange, cadaverous old honkies, poorly-dressed young honkies, and of course, the occasional nut case. On the corner of 68th street and Second Avenue, a toothless chap was standing there handing out business cards of some sort, running an open dialogue with himself.

"No, I'm not happy at all today. I should be in California. The Lakers won, and so did the Celtics. There are three games tonight, and I wish I could be there. Yeah. I don't like that Busch at all. No sir. Did you see him in that outfit? Who does he think he is, Tom Cruise?"

I told him not to worry: The Lakers will win. I moved on. I actually entertained myself with fantasies of running into Jason Giambi. I don't fully understand why it is that many of the jocks that choose to live in Manhattan select the Upper East Side, but I forgive them, because they are not from New York, and so they can't be totally at fault. After all, who said these guys knew anything about taste (watch Cribs lately)?

Still, I was hoping to run into the big lug, so I could tell him to relax, we are behind him and he'll turn it around before you know it. But wouldn't you know it? He never did materialize.

I sat in on Em's appointment ostensibly to take notes; there is so much information to digest, it's easy for her to forget half of it by the time she walks out the door. I introduced myself to the Doctor as her food-taster. Em's medical problems are not over, but we were encouraged, that she still had options. Her Doctor was attentive and reassuring, and how rare is that? When we were done, we jumped on a cross-town bus and went to see "A Mighty Wind," over by Lincoln Center. Brought to you by the same creative team that made "Waiting For Guffman," and "Best in Show," this new movie will appeal to those who enjoyed the first two flicks.

It was exactly what the Doctor ordered. Something light and stupid. After the movie, we strolled up Broadway to the best produce-fine-foods emporium in the city, Fairway, and stocked up for dinner. By the time we were done, a thunderstorm broke out, and we happily got soaked on our way to the subway.

The Yankee game was delayed for over an hour, but they eventually got it in. This is how lucky I am: Not only will my girlfriend tolerate me watching a game; she actually enjoys watching a game herself (I know she enjoys watching me watch a game). Hell, she'll even sit through a rain delay with me.

Ted Lily, looking thinner in the face than he did last year with the Yanks, pitched against Boomer Wells. It was another awful night for Em's boy, J. Giambi, who struck out three times, including once with the bases-loaded.

Emily was plum tuckered out, and napped on and off during the game. At one point she woke up and exclaimed, "I don't know if I was dreaming or not, but I think the Yankees have someone named Bubba playing for them. What the fuck is up with that?" She closed her eyes and went back to sleep.

The Yanks won 5-3, and it was a close, tense game. Robin Ventura drew a bases-loaded walk to break the tie, and Nick Johnson later pinch-hit with the bases-juiced again, and guess what? After taking two big hacks and fouling pitches off, he too drew a walk, which extended his streak of games with a base on balls to sixteen. Hooray!
Rivera pitched for the third-straight day, and for the second-straight day, looked sharp.

On Saturday morning, the Gods answered Emily's prayers and we tackled many messy area's in my apartment: the refrigerator got a thorough inspection and scouring, my closest took a beating, with old clothes being tossed, and the remaining one's being folded and put away neatly, and the corner of the room next to my bed, at long last, was straightened-up and organized. Oh, was Ms. Shapiro ever happy. Delicious relations followed all this purging, and then Em was off, and I was left to my own devices for the rest of the afternoon.

It was a cool, but sunny day in the Bronx, and when I was out getting the papers (getting the papers) in the a.m. I thought, Hey Giambi generally strikes me as an optimist. It's a brand new day. Maybe he can come out and relax a bit today.

Tim Hudson went up against Jeff Weaver in what turned out to be a dandy at the Stadium. Weaver pitched well, but let a couple off two-strike pitches get away from him, and left the game trailing 3-1. Hudson was brilliant. While Hudson may not be as dominating as Pedro Martinez (who pitched his first complete game of the year in Boston yesterday afternoon), he is built in his mold: diminutive, composed, and nasty. Roy Oswalt belongs to the club as well too.

Tim Hudson is the leader of the A's pitching staff and you can see why. He looks like the leader. On the mound, he has an icy-calm, and seems to be able to maximize his energy on each delivery. He was in full control yesterday, getting ahead of the Yankee hitters and making them hit the ball on the ground with his efficient sinker.

With his cap pulled down over his eyes, he almost looks like a kid's idea of a badass. Like something out of a comic strip. Hudson has a small mouth that gapes open as he looks to the catcher for the signs, and his scowl reminds me of a young Ray Liotta (though Hudson has a better complexion). He looks like Baby-faced Finster. There is nothing rushed about his demeanor. Calmly, he is in control of the proceedings. He could be a prison guard right out of "Cool Hand Luke," or maybe he could be Luke himself.

When Jorge Posada flew out to end the 7th inning, third base coach Willie Randolph made jogged by Hudson and made a comment that brought a smile to Hudson's face. It was no doubt a compliment.

Trailing 3-1 in the ninth, Oakland's manager gave the Yankees an opportunity by lifting Hudson in favor of closer Keith Foulke. I was preparing a sammich in the kitchen between innings and plotted out the perfect scenario: Nick Johnson leads off with a single; Giambi follows with a homer; Bernie follows that with a homer himself. And if he doesn't, then better yet, Godzilla does! See how easy it is to be a spoiled-ass Yankee fans?

Johnson did his part, by lining an outside fastball into the left field corner for a leadoff double. Of course, he had drawn a base on balls earlier against Hudson, and tied Willie Randolph for the team record of consecutive games with a walk at 17. Next, Giambi did his part, and got off the schnide, when he blasted a fastball off the faZade of the upper deck in right field to tie the game. I had my mouth full of sammich when he hit it, and I didn't know what to do with myself. So I just made a loud "MMMMMMM" chant, like Peter Boyle in "Young Frankenstein." I got up and started stomping around the living room, "MMM-MMM."

I even called Emily, who had been watching on her own. Needless to say, she was very happy for her boy.

But Bernie and Godzilla must have missed my cosmic memo, and the game went into extra innings. Juan Acevado coughed up the lead when Eric Chavez absolutely creamolished a fastball into the bleachers for a two-run homer. It was enough to give Oakland the "W," 4-2.

The Red Sox bullpen blew Friday night's game to drop the Home Nine four behind the Yanks, but they made it up on Saturday and again trail by only three.

The funniest moment in the Yankee game came in the top of the fourth. Eric Chavez popped out to Ventura in foul territory to start the inning. The winds were swirling yesterday and every pop fly became a miniature adventure. Ventura broke back to his right for the ball, and just at the last moment pivoted his shoulders back to the left to make the catch. Ventura slows the game down, and yet always seems in complete control. He had the ball the entire way. The only problem was that Erick Almonte was chasing the pop fly as well. There was no communication between the two, and right as Ventura squeezed the ball into his glove, he bumped into Almonte and the two fell over each other.

Almonte looked like an over-anxious puppy at the dog run. Ventura was nice not to scold him, let alone bite him. After Tejada reached on a single, Durazo sent a pop up to short left field. Ventura and Almonte went after the ball again, and this time Ventura clearly called him off. Almonte still was probably too close to Ventura, but that's only because puppies always like to hang around the older dogs.

2003-05-02 08:08
by Alex Belth


I've never been a fan of the Mets GM Steve Phillips, but there is nothing that is entertaining about the Phillips death-watch across town with the Mets. The Mets lost in extra-innings to the Cards yesterday (their fifth straight L), and it feels as if Phillips will not make it through the weekend. Jay Jaffe, the futility infielder, one of the best, if not the best baseball writer in the blogging universe, weighs in with take on the situation. Mike Lupica killed Phillips in the News yesterday, and today Joel Sherman lays some of the blame at the feet of the Wilpons.

According to the Daily News today:

Mets' chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon left Phillips open for increased scrutiny Wednesday when he told the Daily News: "Fred and I are only as good as the info we get."

Phillips didn't try to deflect blame when he was asked about those comments.

"My name is on every move that's been made here," Phillips said. "That's how I look at it."

If they are going to can him, I say do it and do it now. Don't draw this out any longer than you have to, fer cryin' out loud.

Somewhere, Bobby Valentine is enjoying a good laugh.

2003-05-02 07:43
by Alex Belth


Alfonso Soriano continues to confound and amaze. Derek Zumsteg of Baseball Prospectus admits he doesn't know how he would approach pitching our favorite Martian:

Seeing him take inside pitches and turn on them with those whip-fast hands, I honestly have no idea how I'd pitch to him. I keep thinking of Ball Four: smoke in on the hands. I think I'd ride him way inside on the hands, out of the strike zone, and see--and I know how bad this sounds--if you can either tie him up or hit him for a strike either way, because I haven't seen him bail out on that pitch.

Filip Bondy has a nice little puff piece on him in the Daily News today. When Soriano connected off of Seattle's impressive right-hander Joel Pinero in the sixth:

Soriano hesitated a moment at the plate, then rounded the bases. He can never get all the way back home without breaking out in a smile, because this game is so much fun, because there is always a teammate waiting to congratulate him, and because somehow it always feels like the first time for Soriano.

...There is nobody else in New York, and maybe nobody in baseball right now, who plays with this sort of joy and elan. Not Bernie Williams. Not Derek Jeter, even when he's healthy.

..."I'm waiting for the pitching more," Soriano said. "They no throw my pitch, and it's important to be on base for me. I try to be more patient."

The kid hasn't let success go to his head. As Kevin Kernan reports in the Post today:

All the players appreciate [manager, Joe] Torre, but no one appreciates him more than Soriano, who has become the best player in the game under Torre.

"He has allowed me to grow, he's been so patient," Soriano said of Torre. "If I make a mistake he doesn't get on me. He's been like a father to me. He is the perfect manager."

Speaking of Joe, regardless of the constant mishegas with the Boss, Torre isn't leaving anytime soon.

2003-05-02 07:25
by Alex Belth


Every fan has one player on the team he roots for that for one reason or another, serves as your own personal whipping boy. Mine is Jorge Posada, he of the weak chin, big ears and red ass. Whenever I need to vent some frustration, Jorgie is the one who gets it. I can accept all of Bernie Williams' flaws, his lousy baseball instincts, his flakiness, but it's just the opposite with Posada. Even when he's doing okay, I'm usually cursing his ass out. This isn't rational, but it's the way it is. Maybe it's because Posada is such a spaz, maybe it's just his looks, I don't know.

Well, I have to give it up for him today, because he played as good a game as I came remember him playing. Especially on the defensive side of things. Posada made three sterling plays---nailing Ichio at second on a bunt attempt by Randy Winn, and then later throwing out both Winn and Ichiro trying to steal second. Jorgie threw Winn out in the sixth with a picture-perfect throw that had some mustard on it; he rushed his throw to get Ichiro later on, but it was on-line and shortstop Enrique Wilson made a nice pick to record the out.

Joe Torre told reporters:

"He's been terrific," Torre said. "He seems so much more calm. I'm not sure it's going to last all year, but right now, he's developed a lot more confidence, and pitchers are developing more confidence in him. It's affecting every part of his game."

Posada was hampered by shoulder problems last year, but he seems to have recovered nicely. Back-up catcher Joe Flaherty added:

"He's always had that little hop with his feet that made him so quick," Flaherty said. "And you could see from the beginning of spring training that he's worked hard on that. His feet right now are as good as anyone's. He's so quick."

Posada also added a solo home run in the Yankees taut 2-1 victory over the Mariners last night. Mike Mussina improved to 6-0, striking out nine in eight innings of work (he has K'd at least eight batters in each one of his starts); Mariano Rivera looked much sharper than he did the night before, and retired the M's in order in the ninth for his first save of the season.

Jason Giambi's slump continues, and he looks tense and constipated. Meanwhile Nick Johnson drew another walk, and now has drawn a base-on-balls in fifteen consecutive games. Oh, by the way, Lil' Sori hit a towering homer to left which proved to be the game winner.

2003-05-01 07:59
by Alex Belth


Here is some feedback I received yesterday on the subject of queers in baseball. First up, is Steve Keane from The Eddie Kranepool Society:

I find the whole gay ballplayer discussion fascinating. I feel the lack of tolerance on the part of some people is on their upbringing. I am a born raised and New Yorker. I saw things growing up that most people could live to be 100 and never see. I also work for the City of New York in an office more diverse than the UN. Straight, gay, Black, White Hispanic, Jew, Gentile, Muslim you name it I know someone of any persuasion.

I looked up where Todd Jones was from and I found he was born in Marietta Ga. I'm guessing that Marietta is not as diverse as Boro Park Brooklyn where I was born and raised so I guessing he did not have much interaction with people of diferent backgrounds.

I never understood where many straight males get so angry and defensive about gays. What is ther fear? I just don't get it.

In a way I feel bad for Jones for he is so ignorant he did not even think before he spoke. He said some very hateful things. It will be interesting to see if the Used Car Salesman takes action against him and if the MLBPA will back Jones if he is disciplined.

Jones has not been disciplined yet (and I don't think he should be either), but he did issue an apology yesterday.

Here is what my cousin Gabe Fried had to say:

I forgot to tell you, I think, that I saw Take Me Out. It's not wonderful, but it is striking on a number of levels, among them the implicit suggestion that Jeter and A-Rod are lovers.

It's dreamy to imagine some big star with $20 million in endorsement contracts coming out with a smirk and a strut. Maybe Jeter (and maybe only Jeter) COULD come out and survive, standing in tact, perhaps even in weird ways enhanced. But I suspect that one aberrant superstar doesn't change the mores of baseball as much as you'd think. So Jeter comes out, which, in New York, would probably fly okay, at least as well as it would anywhere. But that doesn't suddenly give Geoff Blum permission to come out, or Denny Hocking, or Michael Tucker. It will take a long time before certain segments of the population stop equating being gay with being weak.

There is a portion of the population who become enraged at the suggestion that there are gay players. (Many of these people are the players themselves.) And there is another portion that thinks that ALL professional athletes are gay. Honestly--and I don't say this glibly or thoughtlessly--I suspect that if you removed social conditioning, the need for parental approval, and a potent, deeply embedded fear of exclusion, there would be a higher rate of homosexuality among professional athletes than there is among a broader cross-section of the population. Would it be ALL athletes? No. Would it be half? Maybe not. But if you're a gay man raised to believe that it's somehow corrupt to be a gay man, there are two vocations you can enter where you can a) prove your manliness and honor, and b) surround yourself with men: sports and the military.

I really do think that if you took all professional baseball players and bared each one's unconscious in a vacuum, free from outside influence, the portion of them who were gay would be somewhere around 30-40%.

I had the opportunity to speak with ESPN's Rob Neyer---who wrote a column on the Jones situation yesterday, and we got around to talking about homosexuality in baseball. Actually, it came up as we were discussing Curt Flood:

Rob Neyer: I'm not perfectly clear on why Flood did what he did. He wasn't doing it for the money from what I understand. And whether or not one agrees with the principle, what was admirable about him is that he was willing to chuck his career for the principle. To me, that's worthwhile. I just wrote a column today that was posted an hour or two ago, in response to what Todd Jones said about having a gay player on his team. What I concluded was that if a gay player came out today he should be considered a hero, because he would be doing it basically to make a point about a principle, which very few baseball players, or anybody really is willing to do. Very few of us are willing to take a big risk in our professional life or our personal life for a cause. To me, anybody who is willing to do that, whatever the cause may be, is in substance a hero. Whether we agree with the cause or not. And I think that is why Flood is relevant. It isn't because he brought about free agency; I think that has been miscast over the years. I don't think anybody really knows how much Flood had to do with it. Did he play a small part; did it help speed the movement along? Maybe a little bit. But the fact is, he lost his case. But I think Flood is bigger than baseball in the sense that he was willing to stand up for something he knew was going to cost him an immense amount of money and his career. There are very few people who are willing to do that. To me, that's what makes Flood interesting, that he was a rare individual. Most professional athletes are trained from an early age, and in fact are admired for not going against the grain. You're trained from Day One, the day you arrive in a major league clubhouse, to go along, to do what the veterans say, to pay attention to the manager. All of which are probably good if you are trying to get along with the team, but it's not exactly heroic to do what everybody tells you to do. And Flood went the other way, and that's what to me, makes him an appealing figure.

BB: I've been talking about what kind of player it will take to come out of the closet, and I've think, like Jackie Robinson, it will have to be a man of great character as well as great skill.

Neyer: Yeah, I think that's right. And in fact, I think the comparison is apt. I got some flak from some people today in response to my column. I said the first gay player to come out would be a hero, to me at least, along the lines of Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood. People said, You can't compare being gay to being black. Okay, fine, so it's not exactly the same thing, although one could argue that people are born gay, or at least with the propensity toward being gay, just as you are born black. But my point was, though I didn't make it explicitly, is that the thing that Todd Jones is saying about a gay player is the exact same thing that was being said about a black player in 1947. What he's saying is, Oh no, I don't have anything against gays personally, I just don't want them around here because they'll be a disruption. It's the same kind of crap that members of the Dodgers were saying in 1947. It's a bunch of bullshit. He doesn't want to have to deal with it, that's what it comes down to. The point of my column was that Todd Jones should be able to say whatever he wants to, without fear of being fined or suspended.

BB: Or getting killed by the P.C. Police.

Neyer: Exactly. But I also made the point that I think he's full of shit. It'll be a great day when a gay player comes out. And eventually---I hope in my lifetime---there will be lots of gay players, and nobody will give a damn.

BB: Buster Olney told me that he thinks the first gay player will probably have to be an established star---although he made the point that Billy Bean was in as good a situation as he'd seen for someone to come out, with the Padres in the early ¡®90s. Do you feel it would take an established star to be able to get away with it?

Neyer: I do. I think you have to have the combination of being a great player and also having the personality to withstand all the hassle. If you weren't a good player it would become very awkward for a couple of reasons. One, the other players would not be as accepting if you are the 25 guy on the roster. Now if you are the best player on the team, or close to it, your teammates are going be a little more likely to say, Okay we can live with this guy the way the Dodgers did with Robinson. It would also make it much tougher on management if the player wasn't great. It's going to cause a disruption; there is no question about that. The media circus is going to be crazy when it happens. And the team will be put in this really awkward position. What if the guy is the 25th guy, and he really didn't deserve a spot on the club? But they wanted to send him out. People will say you are only sending him out because he's gay. And nobody wants to be put in that position, no team wants to be put in that position.

BB: Nobody wants to be the Pumpsie Green of the movement.

Neyer: That's right. For all parties considered I think it's going to work better if it's a great player, or at least a good player. I think having him be the back-up shortstop could be a problem.

BB: One of the questions I have is what would a player stand to gain by coming out? Is it simply a guy saying, "I don't want to live a lie anymore?"

Neyer: Or again it could be a guy who thinks this is important for other gays. That's talking about the principle. I don't know if it's really our job to distinguish between motivations. It's certainly more admirable if the player is doing it out of a sense of justice as opposed to a sense of "I just can't live a lie anymore." Either one is admirable I suppose, and we should be sympathetic to either position. But if there is something larger involved than just, "I can't do this anymore unless I tell people I'm gay," it would be meaningful. It's not a selfless act in that situation, it's more of a selfish act, which I can certainly sympathize with, and would cheer for him as well, but it wouldn't be the same as somebody who would do it because he felt that he had a responsibility to make things better.

BB: I assume that there are gay ballplayers just like there are gay accountants. Do you think that teams and the writers who cover those teams know or suspect that some guys are gay, but just don't want to deal with it publicly?

Neyer: I do think that's the case. From what I understand, and I don't know this to be a fact, because it's been a while since I read anything about it, but I do think that there were people who knew that Glenn Burke was gay when he played for the Dodgers. I think there are gay ballplayers. I have no doubt about that, whatsoever, and I suspect that some of those players are either known to be gay by their teammates or are suspected to be gay. I think that it's out there; I just don't think people want to have to deal with what happens when you make it public. Think about all of the players who really aren't going like you if you're gay. They are certainly out there. I honestly believe that if a player came out, for the most part he'd be accepted by his teammates. I really think that. Would it be tough? Sure. Would there be some teammates that wouldn't talk to the guy? Yeah. But you know what? Every clubhouse has guys that don't get along now. It would just be a different reason not to get along. But for the most part I think they would be accepted, just like we accept gays that we know in our profession. Just like people grew to accept Jackie Robinson. Some of them didn't like him, and didn't go out to dinner with him, but they accepted him as a teammate. I think it would work exactly the same way in baseball with a gay player if someone gave it a chance.

BB: Someone's going to be the Pee Wee Reese and go out and put his arm around the guy.

Neyer: That's right. It sort of has a different connotation I suppose.

BB: Maybe he'll squeeze his ass instead.

The complete interview with Rob will be posted early next week. Stay tuned...

2003-05-01 07:34
by Alex Belth


Jamie Moyer was hit was some dumb luck in the first inning, when his fielders couldn't quite hold onto a couple of shots off Yankee bats (including a grand slam to Raul Mondesi), but he settled down and was his usual vexing self through seven innings. But the Yankees had a 5-0 lead, and received a strong outing from Andy Pettitte, and outlasted the M's for a 8-5 win. Juan Acevado and Chris Hammond got roughed up in the eight, and the Mariners drew closer, 5-4. (There was a lot of cursing in my crib at this point.) But the Bombers were able to add three insurance runs in bottom of the inning, which gave Mariano Rivera ample wiggle room in his first appearance of the season.

Understandably, Mo looked a bit tentative. You could even see it in his face. The icy calm wasn't there. He didn't look nervous, simply atrophied. Randy Winn battled him to start the inning, and it took 10 pitches for Rivera to retire him. Mo tapped his front foot before each pitch as if he was trying to gain his footing, or calm himself down, or both. He struck out Winn on a tailing fastball that I thought was a two-seamer, but has been called a sinker as too. That pitch was something new from Rivera. Brett Boone followed with a walk, and after falling behind 3-0 to Edgar Martinez, Mel Stottlemyre came out to talk with his closer. Mo then retired Edgar---who absolutely owns him---on three straight fastballs. Mike Cameron followed with a RBI double off the center field wall, before John Mabry popped out to Godzilla Matsui to end the game.

Nick Johnson walked again (which makes it fourteen games in a row), but he's hitting as well. The same cannot be said for J. Giambi, who heard the boo's from the ever-understanding and patient Yankee faithful.

Meanwhile, the Royals continue to shit the bed against the Sox in Beantown. The Home Nine rallied for three runs in the ninth and continue to trail the Yanks by a scant three games.

FATTY My brother Benny
2003-05-01 07:16
by Alex Belth


My brother Benny Eggs used to frequent the 2nd Avenue Deli regularly with my old man. This is before pop had quadruple bypass surgery a couple of years ago. Although the old man still indulges in the occasional steak--sometimes it's not so occasional--his eating habits certainly don't approach the unbridled excess of the old days. One night Eggs and the old man were sitting in a booth at the 2nd Avenue Deli, waiting to order. My dad was furiously stuffing down the complimentary cole slaw when the waiter arrived, so my brother order two pastrami sammiches. Just then pop started choking on the cole slaw. He slammed down a glass of water and held up a hand for the waiter to stay. Before he could fully recover, let alone draw a breath---his eyes now bloodshot, and tearing, he simply reminded the waiter: "Fatty."

I was reminded of this story on my train ride home yesterday evening. The Times had a great article on Pastrami on the front page of the Dining In section. Here is a classic New York scene:

I want a pastrami on rye, fatty, not too lean," said the middle-age man in line at Katz's, on the Lower East Side, practically wagging his finger at the counterman. "Pastrami shouldn't be lean. And I want coleslaw on the sandwich, but put it on the side, because I got to drive my truck to Jersey and I don't want it to get soggy. Put the mustard on the side for the same reason."
A pause. The counterman gave a world-weary shrug and continued to put together the sandwich, laying the slices of juicy meat onto the bread.

"And don't give me any of those half-sour pickles," the customer added. "Give me some really good sour pickles."

This scene might have taken place in 1946. Or '67. In 1980, even, it would have starred two Jewish men of a certain age and demeanor. On this recent day, however, the customer was black, and the counterman, Dominican

These kind of stories are dangerous to read with an empty stomach, and I got so worked up that I had to stop by Loeser's Deli on 231rst street and pick up a couple of dogs and a knish (as well as a couple of half-sour pickels and yes, a container of cole-slaw to boot). Okay, it wasn't a fat-ass Pastrami sammich, but they are foods that go well with mustard all the same. And it was delish, and terrif. About the only drawback is the awful bellyache I's got this morning. Hell, it was worth it.