Monthly archives: August 2003
It is absolutely gorgeous in New York today. Emily and I woke up around eight, and when we rolled around the corner to pick up the papers and some breakfast, it was downright chilly. Em loves the fall so she's all happy. The sun is out too. If there was a Platonic Ideal of a New York day on Labor Day weekend, this would be it. You can feel that summer is over and that fall is right around the corner. You know this is a great day for food. Especially local produce like corn and tomatoes, which will only be in season for another two, three weeks. And barbeque. Mmmm, ribsaque.
This is my last Sunday in my apartment here on 232nd street, up the block from the IHOP. I'm moving up the hill to Riverdale. I'm going from a working class Spanish and Irish neighborhood, to a upper middle class Jewish neighborhood. We'll see how that works out. For now, I'm having neighborhood-seperation-anxiety.
Today will be the last Yankee game I watch in this apartment too. I moved in here three years ago, a week and a half before the Mets played the Yanks in the World Serious. I broke this apartment in with the 2000 Serious, how cool is that? It was the first apartment I ever had to myself and I've had a great time here.
I'm really looking forward to living with Emily. It's the first time I've ever lived with a woman, so fug it, I'm taking the Nestea Plunge. Besides, she loves baseball, and puts up with all the nonsense I put myself through during the course of the year, so how can I complain? Still, I'm having some sadness about leaving this joint.
The subway is just half a block away, and above ground. I'm accustom to the sound of the passing trains; it is a soothing, predicatble rukus. I don't hear it anymore. But this past week, I've paid attention plenty. I feel like I've been counting down the times I'll hear the subway again for days. So each time I hear it whoosh by, I stop what I'm doing and take a deep breath. And just let it all in.
Ihop wafting in through the window, Spanish music played from an upstairs apartment. The Broadway traffic and passing trains down the block.
Rocket Clemens is pitching his last game at Fenway Park this afternoon (that is unless the Sox and Yanks meet up in the playoffs, and even in that case, I bet Torre would avoid using Rocket in Boston if he could get away with it). Emotional day for the Big Texan. He's usally terrible when he's all worked up, and you know that the crowd will be all over him. But I wouldn't be surprised to see him go out and pitch a good game.
It'll make for a memorable day. I know my emotions are heightened and all out of wack as it is; unless the game is a total stinker, I'm sure it will be one that I remember for a long time, no matter who wins.
Saturday's game was probably the best game I didn't see all season. OK, I checked the score cowardly at one point, and I did listen to the ninth on the radio, but I didn't watch the game. If I had, I would have sat through one of the most exhausting---dare I say operatic?---games of the year.
After the game, Johnny Damon wasn't fazed: "We're a great team."
Tyler Kepner's beat coverage of the game in the Times today is outstanding. It's simple, clear and succint: a lean piece of reporting:
Joe Torre had the sauce:
I hope today's game is worth writing about. But hell, I'll be writing about it "irregardless" as they say here in the Bronx.
And remember: You can't spell hip hop without IHop.
YANKS BEAT PEDRO, SOX AND EVERYTHING IS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD
I avoided the game today as long as I possibly could. It was a muggy Saturday in New York; in the early afternoon, Emily and I decided to take a much-needed break from unpacking. So we drove up to the country to visit my mother and my step-father and their new puppy.
I knew it would be dangerous to check the score cause I was in my step-father's house. He is a New Englander, and though he doesn't give a spit about baseball, he grew up a Red Sox fan and a Republican. The TV in his house is cursed accordingly.
It was close to 4:30 when I turned the game on: it was the bottom of the eighth and the Sox had the bases loaded, with the Yanks ahead 8-4. Gabe White was pitching. I couldn't bear it so I walked away. Five minutes later I saw Rivera give up a double and the score was 8-6. That was enough for me. I didn't want to make a scene.
Instead, Emily and I drove back down to the city and we listened to the ninth inning in the car. When her boy Jorge Posada hit his second homer of the game, I almost crashed the car I was so happy. (Actually, that's a fib; we were at a stop light. But I did shake a lot and make a whole lot of noise.) The final score: Yankees 10, Red Sox 7.
Andy Pettitte gutted it out and earned his 17th win of the year. The Yankee bullpen was shaky again but then again the Boston relievers were nothing to write home about either. Pedro Martinez only pitched four innings and took the loss. The Yankees continue to fare well against The Great One.
Nick Johnson had four hits and Enrique Wilson played well against Martinez once again. Jason Giambi continues to slump; Will Carroll admits that the big boy hasn't been the same since he was plunked twice last week. (Call me a drama queen will ya.)
Rocket Clemens will pitch tomorrow. Act III should be a doozie.
RED SOX 10, YANKS 5
The Sox finished the Yanks off, and took the first game of the series. Boston now trails the Yanks by just 3 1/2 games with their ace going this afternoon. I am going to be busy moving stuff with Emily to our new apartment today and would be a crazy man if I tried to watch the game. I don't know what the numbers are, but I always feel like the Yanks lose when the play on the Fox Saturday Game of the Week. Dealing with Pedro and the Fenway Faithful is tough enough; add Joe Buck to the mix, and I'll be out of my bird.
Boomer Wells didn't take long to fire back at his pitching coach and manager. The classy southpaw ripped Torre and Stottlemyre on Michael Kay's radio show yesterday, suggesting: "The way I feel sometimes, I think I've worn out my welcome, and it's a shame."
Someone should tell the fat bastard that he wore out his welcome years ago. Still, no matter how much of a baby Wells is, he's proven that a little controversy can go a long way. What are the odds that he pitches well on Monday?
SAME OLD SONG FOR WEAVER
So what did you think Jeff Weaver was going to do? He is a sad sack and a sap. He left after the sixth inning. The Sox have fattened up their lead to 10-5, and they are cruising. Yankee pitching is getting stomped again. Tough week to play any kind of Sox for the Yanks, white or red. With two innings left, the Sox pen would have to implode in a rather royal way to blow this one.
Then Contreras couldn't get anyone out in the bottom of the fourth. Bill Mueller hit his 17 homer of the year--a two run shot, and then Gabe Kapler added an RBI double. The Sox regain the lead, 6-5.
Contreras was replaced by Jeff Weaver. The beat writers are mulling whether they'll need to change their storylines or simply augment the running ones. Will Weaver make the most of the opportunity or will he get his ticket punched too? The Boston crowd is yelling, "Weaver, Weaver." It has an ominous, distinctly college-cadence; it sounds like a frat chant or something you'd hear at a hazing ritual.
Johnny Damon flies out to left and Varitek tags up from third. Boston leads 7-5.
End of the fourth:
WILD START IN BOSTON
In the top of the first, Jeter doubled to right and then Giambi walked. Giambi missed a fat pitch on the 3-1 count; hes been slumping lately and it showed there. Bernie grounded out and moved the runners over. Then Matsui came up and worked the count to 3-2. The 2-2 was close and Lowe wanted it badly. So did the crowd. Godziller banged a double off the Green Monster, and the Yanks led, 2-0.
As Posada came to the plate you could hear militia chants of Yankees Suck, Yankees Suck echo through the crowd. Posada grounded out to second to end the inning.
Bottom of the first
Contreras strikes Johnny Damon out on a forkball, fishing. The pitch almost knuckles. It kind of floats up there. The big Cuban falls behind Todd Walker, 1-0 and then 2-1, then 3-1 and then he walks him. Nomar smacks the first pitch he sees into right field like hes Fast Eddie Felson; Walker holds at second. Contreras falls behind David Ortiz and then gets a swing and a miss on a forkball, but the pitch gets passed Posada and the runners advance. Contreras misses with a fastball, 2-1. Another pitch in the dirt, Posada is lucky to have snagged it, 3-1. Ortiz singles to left, Todd Walker scores. Nice piece of hitting by Ortiz.
Yanks lead, 2-1. First and third with one out for Kevin Millar. Its hot and muggy and currently raining in New York. Looks hot up in Boston, but Contreras should be used to the heat. Posadas going to get his moneys worth tonight, this forkball is wild in the dirt. Contreras ends up striking Millar out on a barely-visible foul tip that Posada held on to. Groans from the crowd.
Contreras falls behind Trot Nixon, 2-0 and then 3-1 and the he walks him to load to the bases. Mel Stottlemyre comes out to talk with Contreras. The entire infield meets him on the mound. There is a lot of head-nodding going on. Everyone seems to agree on something.
Contreras starts Bill Mueller out with a strike on the outside corner. Then a breaking ball low and outside for a ball, 1-1. The next pitch is a fastball inside, waist high. Mueller backs off and it is called a ball, 2-1. Mueller then fattens his average by smacking a single up the middle. Two runs score, and the Sox lead, 3-2.
First pitch to Varitek is high. The catcher swings right through it for a strike, but the pitch gets away. The runners move up to second and third. Forkball in the dirt, blocked by Posada. This inning is taking forever. Its the first inning and already weve got a Tennesse Williams play over here. Fastball for a strike on the outside corner. Contreras continues to fidget. Posada goes out to the mound. The fans boo. Contreras throws a nasty splitter on the outside corner and Varitek waves at it. The big guy strikes out the side and the first inning is over after 33 minutes.
It's going to be a long night.
(Though Lowe sets the Yankees down quickly in the second, and Contreras responds with a 1-2-3 inning of his own. Maybe they'll just settle down...)
BOMBERS BITE BACK
When the White Sox scored a couple of runs off Mike Mussina in the top of the first inning this afternoon at the Stadium, it looked as if the great Chicago Hit Parade was picking up where it had left off last night. But the Yankees responded with five runs of their own in the bottom of the first, which helped them along to a 7-5 win.
The Yankees are now 4 1/2 up on the Sox, who had the day off. Hey, the Bombers even scored a run on a saftey squeeze, which means Zim was alert and awake and having himself a good day. I watched the game as I packed up over thirty five boxes filled with nothing but books and records. Brother.
Mussina was far from spectacular but he pitched six innings and gave up three runs. Nelson allowed a couple of runs in relief. Gabe White retired his man in the eighth, and Rivera came in to get a four-out save. He got a fly ball to right to end the inning. In the ninth, the Yanks scored an insurance run and then Rivera went to work on the Sox. He jammed Sandy Alomar to lead off the inning. Alomar hit a short pop fly that landed several feet in front of Soriano. When it landed on the infield dirt, that ball spun off to the side like a marble. By the time Soriano fielded it and made the throw to first, Alomar was able to hustle out a single. He twisted his foot in the process and was replaced by a pinch runner.
Rivera then struck out Robbie Alomar on three pitches. The future Hall of Famer didn't stand a chance. After a stolen base, Carlos Lee flied out to left-center field. Bernie Williams covered a decent amount of ground to make the play; runner tagged to third. The Big Hurt came to the plate and smacked the first pitch right at Bernie in center to end the game. Hot dog.
It was a good win for the Yanks. The White Sox made their point. Now, the Bombers head for Boston with Jose Contreras starting against Derek Lowe tomorrow night. Lowe was nasty last Sunday against the M's; Contreras was sharp against the O's in his return outing.
On Saturday, Prince Pedro faces Andy Pettitte, who has a good career mark against Boston. You have to figure that game will be a riveting one. The Yankees have faired relatively well against Martinez, but you can't bank on that: he's just too good. Little bastard. Sunday gives the knuckle baller Tim Wakefield vs. Rocket Clemens. Unless the Sox and the Yanks face each other in the playoffs this could very well be the last time Clemens pitches in Fenway Park.
All in all, it should be a boffo weekend for the greatest rivalry in the East. It's easy to expect a high scoring, back-and-forth game. Or perhaps a devastating pitching performance or two. But no matter what kind of games these two teams play--whether it's a 2-1 pitching duel or a 9-8 slugger's fest---they are almost sure to be tense, dramatic and worth the price of admission.
SOCK IT TO ME?
Will Carroll, the injury guru over at Baseball Prospectus, ran a terrific little interview with Rickey Henderson earlier this week that is well-worth reading (Nate Silver, one of the fine baseball analysts at BP conducted the interview with Carroll). Will also took the time to bust my chops in his Under The Knife column yesterday. He wrote:
A few corrections are in order. I don't bitch, I kvetch. I don't moan, I whine (and then I shout and throw things). And I don't cry. I wail.
Capice? (I can't have my character besmirched, after all.)
The Big Bad White Sox continued to beat up the Yankees at home last night, crushing the Bombers, 11-2. Actually, the Yanks didn't get crushed, they were creamolished. David Wells took it on the chin, while Bartolo Colon shut the Yankees down with ease. Yankee pitching coach, Mel Stottlemyre had some cherce words for Boomer. According to The New York Times:
Joe Torre took the game in stride:
While Jorge Posada tried to blame himself:
The loss cost the Yanks a game in the standings as Boston rallied to beat Doc Halladay and the Blue Jays, 6-3. The Yankee lead is down to four games (five in the loss column). The Bombers play an afternoon game today and look to Mike Mussina to end the hurt before heading up to Boston for a big, three-game serious this weekend.
I'm up to my ears in boxes here in the Bronx. I'm in the middle of moving, so I fear that blogging will be light over the weekend. Still, I'll try the best I can to take a few moments to make a comment or two.
I was thinking last night about how much I enjoy writing about baseball on a daily basis. I want to thank the people who have been reading Bronx Banter this year. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the feedback and comments you've sent me as the season has rolled along.
On that note, I'd like to ask for some help. Anyone who has any impressions or thoughts about the Yankee-Sox games this weekend, please feel free to send them over. I'm going to have to rely on you guys, because I don't know how much of it I'll be able to catch myself.
Thanks in advance.
I don't think they have a burning need for a shortstop, but I would love to see Miguel Tejada in a San Diego uniform.
There is a Blue Jay's-based website called "Batter's Box" that has an extremely well-done interview with Toronto's general manager, J.P. Ricciardi. Ricciardi is clearly a bright and affable guy. I think he's very interesting-looking too. There is something exaggerated about him that reminds me of an Al Hirshfield illustration. It's his long, narrow face. Or he could be one of those slick-looking rodents, dressed in a zoot suit, that you'd find in an old Warner Bros. cartoon. It's not that he's ugly either, you can actually see that he's handsome. But from certain angles, he's all of a piece.
On top of all that, he's a good interview. Kudos to the guys at Batter's Box for a job well done.
BATTERED AND BRUISED
The Yankees welcomed Felix Heredia and Gabe White to the bullpen, and released Jesse Orosco. Jeff Weaver is headed to Tampa single A, mostly to work with pitching-guru (and the former Mr. Seka) Billy Conners. Weaver will be called up next week in order to make the post-season roster:
Since I had an inclination that Rocket might get spanked, I didn't find the game upsetting, especially since Toronto jumped all over the Sox in Boston. Of course the Red Sox stormed back and made things exciting, but the Blue Jays were able to hold on for the victory, and the Yanks lead over Boston remains at five games (six in the loss). The A's edged by the Orioles, 2-1 in extra innings and now lead the Sox by a game in the wildcard.
I caught two funny moments in the game as well. Jose Contreras, the Yankees' sleepy Cuban pitcher who is Delroy Lindo dark, was sitting on the bench in the fourth inning. His eye-lids were heavy and it looked as if he could barely stay awake. Why is he always so sleepy? I don't know why, but I find it amusing.
Also, in the second inning, Bernie Williams was rounding second, when the bag jumped up and bit him. Bernie seemed to forget where the bag was I guess. He wiped out, flat on his face. A sympathetic Robbie Alomar tried to contain a smile. He was probably happy that it didn't happen to him, and not surprised that it happened to Bernie. Williams smiled sheepishly at Willie Randolph at the end of the frame, and must have taken plenty of abuse from his teammates in the clubhouse later on.
SORI SAVES YANKS
Jeff Weaver relieved Jesse Orosco with one out in the eighth, and after getting the second out he served up a long home run, which cut the score to 3-2. But Lil Sori, who led off the game with his 10th lead-off homer of the season, had a big, two-run, two-out single in the ninth to seal the victory. Mariano pitched a flawless, four-out save.
Jason Giambi was plunked twice. The second time, he was pelted in the right hand on a 3-0 pitch. Giambi spun around and shook his hand in anger. Yankee fans held their breath. He eventually left the game. Initial x-rays were negative and Giambi said he's 50-50 for tonight's game. We'll see. I'll be nervous until he's back in there swinging the bat again.
Lefty relief pitcher Gabe White has joined the team and the Yanks have also picked up another southpaw for the pen in Felix Heredia. Cashman picked him off waivers, blocking him from going to another team. This likely spells the end for Jesse Orosco. Another pitcher must go as well. Either Jeff Weaver will be demoted to the minors or Antonio Osuna could be released.
The Yanks start a three-game series vs. the streaking Chicago White Sox tonight. The Sox play Toronto.
Pedro Martinez continued to master the Mariners yesterday afternoon at the Fens, as Boston swept the M's to end their grueling two-weeks vs. Oakland and Seattle in fine form. (Martinez might not be happy in Boston, but an angry Pedro is an effective Pedro.) They remain tied with the A's for the wildcard---Oakland is now tied with Seattle for first place in the west---and trail the Yanks by five (six in the loss column).
The Orioles then went out and handled the Yankees, behind a strong, complete-game performance from Rodrigo Lopez. The breaking ball was working and Lopez K'd 10 Bombers. Mike Mussina wasn't awful, and he trailed 3-2 going into the ninth before the O's scored four runs and put the game out of reach.
The Sox beat the Mariners in extra innings, surviving a blown save from B. Y. Kim.
On Sunday---which was even more beautiful than Saturday---the Yankees rebounded behind a stellar outing from Jose Contreras. There was a chill in the air that reminded me that fall is just around the corner. While the Yankee brass is crowing about the triumphant return of their soporific Cuban, I'll wait and see how he does in Boston this Friday before getting too excited.
The Red Sox beat the Mariners for the third straight day too. The A's crushed Toronto, and Tim Hudson looked just fine. Oakland and Boston are tied for the wildcard while the Sox trail the Yanks by five (six in the loss column).
Pedro Martinez will pitch this afternoon as the Sox go for the sweep.
It's amazing how quickly fortunes can change. The night of the blackout last week the Yankees beat the O's down in Baltimore and then they won six more in a row. In the meantime, Boston's mighty offense was experiencing one of its few collective droughts of the season, and the Yankees put some room between the two teams. Going into Friday's game, the Bombers led Boston by seven, eight in the loss column.
Buster Olney wrote in an e-mail this past week, "The Red Sox are fading, right on schedule. They're like homing pigeons finding their way back to their cages; you don't quiet understand how, but it's absolutely predictable."
The A's are Boston's cheif competition for the wildcard. After Oakland swiped the first two games in Boston this week, Red Sox Nation was ready to damn it all and jump off the bridge. Yes, the offense was back in the final game, and they pounded Rich Harden, who pitched in place of a bruised Tim Hudson (only been just about the best pitcher in the league this year). But they blew those two games. 17 men left on base!
Last night, the Sox beat the Mariners, 6-4 while the A's faced a long night with Roy Halladay--the other guy who could be the best pitcher in the league. The Blue Jays beat the A's 6-3, and Doc had his 17th win. The Sox and A's are now tied for the wildcard spot.
But the fortune for Red Sox Nation gets better as Mark Mulder, one of Oakland's Big Three, could be out for the rest of the year. (Mulder had to leave after three innings this past week in Boston.) In his Under the Knife column yesterday Will Carroll, the injury guru over at Baseball Prospectus, wrote:
But it's apparently worse than that (I'm sure we'll hear more from Will in the next couple of days). According to the Associated Press:
Oh, man this is brutal for the A's. Somewhere, Michael Lewis is fuming. It reinforces just how much Oakland's success has depended upon the healthy, durable trio of Hudson, Mulder, and Barry Zito. Forget the other stuff, it's the Big Three or bust. They can still make the playoffs without the great offense, but it remains to be seen if they can do it without their top flight pitching.
I don't know how many times Oakland has to play Seattle again, but I know the Sox get to play Tampa and Baltimore a whole bunch. With this sudden turn of events, the wildcard will be Boston's to lose. They've got the advantage. I know Sox fans like Ed Cossette who have remained confident in this particular Boston squad throughout the painful losses and the slumps. Ed and his friends might have something to shout about in October after all.
Oakland's chances rest on the fate of Tim Hudson. I don't know how the hand injury will effect him, if it will slow him down any, screw with the way he throws certain pitches. He's been remarkable all year and is the soul of thier staff. If he's OK, and can bulldog his way through the next six weeks, Oakland will still be in it.
Meanwhile, the Yanks lost a close one to Baltimore in the Bronx last night, 4-3. The winning streak ends at seven. David Wells pitched well enough to lose, and Pat Hentgen threw a nice game for the O's. The Yankees had their chances late. Bernie couldn't do anything with two runners on in the eighth, and Nick Johnson had a chance with the bases loaded and two out in the ninth. But then he didn't. The O's brought in the ol' southpaw Buddy Groom, so Torre countered with Ruben Ruben Sierra. Sierra had 5 hits in like 10 or 12 at bats against Groom so Torre went with the percentages.
But I'm sure I was not alone among those Yankee fans who instinctively groaned. Aw, man, don't take Nicky Johnson out. Sierra looked at one pitch and he swung at that pitch. A strike-one fastball. Sierra swung late, and popped the ball to Gibbons in right to end the game.
The Yanks lead Boston by six games, seven in the loss column.
The other story of the night is that Brian Cashman finally traded Sterling Hitchcock to the Cardinals. The Yankees recevied two young pitchers in return. According to Newsday:
Hitchcock finally gets out of his penthouse prison and will get a chance to start meaningful games for a team struggling to make the playoffs. I wish him luck and am relieved, for him and for us, that he's finally gone.
GATOR GETS HIS
Today is Ron Guidry Day at the Stadium. I'm going with my friend Mindy, and a couple of her friends. I went to high school with Mindy but we didn't start to bond on the baseball tip until last season. Since then, we're famous baseball pals. Mindy went to spring training earlier this year and actually got to meet Guidry. She said he was a real humble southern gentleman, and she had a great time talking with him.
I was seven years old when Gator had his amazing 1978 season and I suppose it's the first memory in my baseball consciousness. I don't really remember the '78 season in any coherent way, but I was aware of the skinny little lefty who just killed it every time he pitched. I started following baseball in a deliberate, aware way starting the next year in '79. So I have much stronger memories of the playoff sweep in '80 by the Royals--George Brett's Revenge!--and the disastrous 1981 World Serious than I do of Reggie's homers or Chambliss' shot.
Guidry was my favorite pitcher and second favorite player overall next to Reggie Jackson. Willie Randolph was my third favorite. I liked the skinny guys because I was a skinny guy. I was also drawn to the quiet disposition, the cool professionalism that both Wille and Guidry displayed. Reggie of course was a totally different animal, but that's another story. You got to have a ying to your yang.
Anyhow, I'm going to enjoy giving the Gator his props in person today. I hope to have lots of casual conversations with fellow Guidry fans and get swallowed up in the collective memories of the crowd. That will be interesting. Should be a long-ass afternoon; we'll arrive at 2:00 for the ceremony. The game doesn't start until 4:00, so that'll be close to six hours out there when it's all said and done (sun block: check).
Fortunately, it's a tremendous day here in New York. It's one of those days that the radio calls one of the 10 best of the year. Absolutely perfecto. Hot, sunny, but not humid. With a cool breeze cutting the heat nicely. The city is dead, with everyone still on vacation, and I love it. This is usally my favorite time of year. When you can get great corn, and fresh tomatoes, and nobody is in New York. Couldn't have a lovelier Saturday for a wedding or a tribute to Ron Guidry at the Stadium.
BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: JIM BOUTON
Jim Bouton is the author of perhaps the most famous baseball book of all, "Ball Four." He also pitched for the New York Yankees, was a sportscaster and an actor, and also helped create "Big League Chew" bubble gum. Mostly, he's an author and a motivational speaker. His latest effort, a self-published book called "Foul Ball" is about Bouton's crusade to save a minor-league ballpark in the Berkshires. I had the opportunity to speak with Bouton last month. He speaks in a raspy, soft voice, and he laughs often. Here is our conversation.
Enjoy and have a great weekend.
Bronx Banter: In your new book, “Foul Ball,” you write that there have been two experiences in your life that you’ve felt compelled to write about. One was your time as a player, which you wrote about in “Ball Four.” The other one was your campaign to save a minor league ballpark in the Berkshires, which resulted in “Foul Ball.” What drew you to this story?
Jim Bouton: Well it was a story I hadn’t intended to write about. My partner, Chip Elitzer and I simply had a plan that we thought was a revolutionary plan to resurrect an old ballpark in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with our own money, private money, and have a locally owned baseball team so that Pittsfield would never again be faced with the situation that they’ve always faced which is: Build us a new stadium or lose your team. They’ve been running up against that for years. The people have voted three different times against a new stadium. So our plan to save Wahconah Park, we thought would be embraced by the community, and we would have a lot of fun. But then when we started running into opposition from the leadership in the community, not the people, who were a hundred percent behind us, but the leadership of the community, which is to say Berkshire Bank, The Berkshire Eagle—the local newspaper--, a Law firm, and General Electric, well, I started taking notes. And I’m glad I did because as our fortunes got worse, the story got better.
BB: How does Pittsfield differ from the other towns in the Berkshires?
JB: It’s a town that’s in decline. It used to be the home of General Electric until they pulled out. Then of course, they pulled out a lot of population with that when the jobs dried up. It’s an older community and it’s struggling to regain it’s footing. The city is $9 million in debt. About the only claim to fame in this city is the fact that they have a ballpark there. They erwere in jeopardy of losing that and they still are by their own newspaper, The Berkshire Eagle, which has threatened to either build a new stadium in Pittsfield, whether the people want it or not, or even worse, build it in a nearby community. Pittsfield would then lose its natural baseball monopoly, which they’ve had since the turn of the century.
BB: What part did General Electric play in this story?
JB: When my partner and I discovered that the local newspaper and the power guys were insisting on building a new baseball stadium on property owned by the newspaper in the middle of town, we tried to figure out why they would insist on doing that when they could have spent their $20 million in tax dollars on another kind of a building. A civic center, an indoor arena, a concert hall; another reason for people to come to Pittsfield. When we saw that their opposition made no sense, we tried to figure out why. I guessed, correctly it turns out, that they were trying to cover up toxic waste on that property. One of the last documents in my book is a release notification form, which confirms that the newspaper knew this property was polluted before they tried to “donate” it as a site to the city of Pittsfield for a new stadium. Now, we don’t know whether General Electric has polluted that site in addition to the pollution that we DO know about. There have been a number of test borings done on that site that have never been made public. Since the property used to be junk yards many years ago, and General Electric was using junk yards as PCB dumping grounds, there may be worse chemicals down there. But people don’t know about these things because they’ve been kept secret. It’s a very secretive town, and people don’t have all the information they need to have to make decisions about their lives. In any case, that’s how General Electric got involved. They were a back-story. Is this polluted by General Electric or what’s the story? I still don’t know if there is PCB pollution on the proposed stadium property, but I do know that the publisher I had signed a contract with to publish my book [Public Affairs], “Foul Ball,” sat down and said that I would need to get balancing comments from General Electric for whatever I was saying about them in the book. I said I wasn’t going to do that. I didn’t get balancing comments from major league baseball about “Ball Four,” and I wasn’t going to do it with General Electric. Then the president of the publishing company told me that one of his friends is the top lawyer for General Electric and that this lawyer was going to be investing in the publishing company. A week after that, I was told by the editor who I had been working with on this book, that I had to remove all references to pollution and General Electric. And I refused to do that, and as a result I terminated my contract with Public Affairs. During which time, by the way, the publisher’s lawyer told my agent that I could keep half of my advance if I promised not to say why I was leaving Public Affairs. I don’t know what my price for silence is but I know it’s not $25, 000.
BB: In writing a book that was certain to make local political enemies in Pittsfield as well as much bigger enemies with a company like GE, did you ever feel that you or your family was at risk?
JB: I didn’t, but my wife did, and still does. Other people have warned us about angering powerful people who have a lot of money at stake. I mean if they find out that there are PCBs on this property the clean up could run into the tens of millions of dollars. So, who knows? I haven’t been threatened by anyone. I tend to brush it off but I think others are more concerned than I am.
BB: One of the most endearing parts of the book is how you and your partner in crime, Chip Elitzer, had the begrudging support of your wives.
JB: I’d say they were reluctant warriors. They were with us in the beginning but then we turned it into a daily campaign. This became a 24-hour crusade for Chip and I. The more we were opposed by this power group and the more nonsensical their opposition became, the more we pressed. We went to the people, we took to the streets: we had petitions and e-mails and faxes and posters. You name it. Chip and I would send each other e-mails and instant messages at three, four o’clock in the morning. We would read one of the newspaper editorials’ attacking us on-line, and we would have an answer for it before the newspaper hit the stands the next morning. We were nuts, you know. It was like a great buddy flick thing. I remember at one point I said to my wife, I said, “Paula. Who else but Chip and I could do a thing like this?” And my wife said, “Single people mostly.”
BB: You talk about having known Chip for only several years before you started this mission. You talk about building a tree house together and I know you have to get along pretty well with a guy to undertake a project like that. I think that male companionship is the emotional theme of the book. On some level, the book is really about how guys get along, even when they are married. What they do together, how they interact. You built the tree house together; you rallied around the ballpark together.
JB: Yeah, the tree hut that was fun. But we really bonded on this one. We went through this campaign together, and we now greet each other like old war buddies. Like, “Hey, we’ve been through some real traumatic experience together.’ We have a certain kind of a bond. You’re right. It’s a rare opportunity to go through something like this, and come to know another human being in a way that you wouldn’t have known him otherwise.
BB: Yeah, it’s like an a-sexual marriage.
JB: Well at one point my wife Paula said, “You know you and Chip---“ this is earlier on when she didn’t mind it so much---“you and Chip really work well together, you make a good team, you anticipate each other’s moves. It’s almost like dancers, the way you work together. And I said to her, “You know we’re getting married in August.” Paula said, “Well, you make a lovely couple.”
BB: At some point in the book it seems that you guys are aware that your chances to get your plan passed were remote, but the competitor in you seemed compelled by the challenge. It’s like you got off on testing yourselves, and recognized that the results were well out of your control.
JB: Yeah. When it became obvious that they were not going to give us a license to play in Wahconah Park, which would have been the key that opened the door to us renovating it and putting a locally owned team in there, no matter what, we began to sweeten our offer to see how far they would go. What would they turn down? We decided to plum the depths of their unreasonableness. It turned out that there was no bottom to it.
BB: I understand the ethical motivation behind your campaign, but on a personal level what was in it for you? The challenge?
JB: Yeah. Our original goal was to do something fun. We thought it would be a fun adventure to restore an old ballpark and put a locally owned team in there. We would get a big kick out of that, and that was our original goal. But after a while the goal changed, “Let’s see who these guys are. Let’s see how far they will go.” So it was a challenge to stay in the game. Besides people were begging us on the streets. They’d stop us and say, “Don’t go away." Please don’t be discouraged. Keep fighting. That’s what they [the powers at be] they always are. They discourage people and then they go away.” We said, “Nope, we’re not going away, we’re staying here ‘til the end.” Don’t worry about it. So we felt we had a compact with the people of Pittsfield. We owed it to them to stay in there and hang in there and fight this battle. In the process, turn over all these rocks in the pits of these dark caves. It was like turning over one rock after another, and you’d see all the bugs running. That’s really what it was like. So our pleasure then, at that point became in exposing the system. The beauty of it was we paid no penalty for this. Chip and I don’t work in Pittsfield, we don’t need the bank, we don’t need the law firm, the newspaper. So this is the first time anybody got inside who didn’t need the leadership in the community. As Chip said, “We don’t owe them any favors, they don’t owe us any favors, therefore they’re scared of us.”
BB: This brought out the old ‘60s Idealists in you.
JB: They didn’t know how to deal with us because we weren’t a political entity. We had to be dealt with on the merits of our arguments. They were totally at Sea with how to deal with something like that.
BB: I found it poignant that this crusade helped energize you in a way that you hadn’t been since the death of your daughter, Laurie, several years ago. Was that something that you were aware of while it was happening?
JB: I wasn’t conscious of it. I wasn’t conscious of it at all. But I do remember at some point in the summer, on the anniversary of Laurie’s death, I said to Paula, “You know this is the most alive I’ve felt since Laurie died.” Which was in 1997. And Paula said, “I’ve known that. And I’ve been watching that, and I’m glad to see that this adventure has made you come alive again.”
BB: Is that one of the reasons why you think she put up with it and supported you?
JB: It might be. Yeah, I think that was part of it. Seeing me smiling and enthusiastic and totally absorbed in something.
BB: Waking up at four in the morning to write letters to the editor.
JB: Right. Here I was acting like a kid again. She liked seeing that, so even though it was a burden on our time together, it certainly was good to feel that energy level back again.
BB: Your wife served as the editor of the book too.
JB: Well, she’s a wonderful editor. She reads all the time. She knows when she likes something and when she doesn’t. She would be the editor of the first drafts of stuff that I would write. And of course she was in the story, so she knew all the characters. She was also a fact-checker and she provided valuable assistance. And she’s not one of these little shy editors who puts a little note in the margin that says, “Open this up a bit more here.” Her comments were more like: “Boring!” “Get Rid of This.” Or one of my favorites, “Out, Out, Out!!!”
BB: Did you find that it was a difficult book to write?
JB: No, it wasn’t a difficult book to write at all. As a matter of fact, it was an easy one to write because it was such a great story. All I had to do was keep notes. It was difficult in the sense of having to pay attention every single day. At one point I decided, “You know I need to start keeping notes here.” I kept notes every single day: phone conversations, meetings, transcriptions of video taped council meetings, parks commissions meetings. Plus, I had e-mails and newspaper articles, etcetera. I had very good notes of conversations, with quotes. So I had about seven piles of papers, all dated that I drew from in order to recreate the season day-by-day. Not one single person has come forward and said they were misquoted.
BB: Getting back to your buddy relationship with Chip. Since you guys are both irreverent '60s guys, there were times when you reminded me of Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould in “M*A*S*H.” Then I remembered that you acted in Altman’s movie version of Raymond Chandler’s last novel, “The Long Goodbye.” The movie happened to be one of the inspirations for the Coen brothers’ movie, “The Big Lebowski,” which I happened to work on.
JB: That was with Elliot Gould also.
BB: How did you get the job?
JB: I had run into Elliot Gould at a fundraiser in New York of some kind. I forget. Afterwards he was going to be going off to play some pick-up basketball, and I joined him. So we played pick-up basketball together, and I said, “This was fun. Let’s get together next week.” And he said, “Well, I’m going to be in California making a movie. I’ll be there for about a month, I’ll give you a call when I get back.” I said, “OK, fine.” Anyhow, three days later, I get a call at three o’clock in the morning. It’s Elliot Gould. He and Robert Altman are at a party somewhere in California. Stacey Keach just got sick and he can’t play the role of the killer. Elliot told Robert Altman that he thought I’d be good for that role. I don’t know what that says about me. In any case, Altman and Elliot are on the other line and I said, “You guys know what time it is?” They said, “It’s midnight.” I said, “Well, it’s thee o’clock in the morning in New Jersey.” Anyway they said, “Get on the next plane. Bring a toothbrush; you’re going to play the part of Terry Lennox. You’ll be perfect for the part.” I said, “Well, OK.” Flew out there. Did a little screen test, which took about two minutes, and I was in the movie.
BB: How was Altman with you?
JB: Well, Altman was great. He’s considered an actor’s director and I can see why. I had taken a couple of acting courses from Lee Strasburg at the Actor’s Studio.
BB: This was after your playing days?
JB: This was after I had retired, but before I made the movie. So it was a coincidence when he asked me to make the movie that I had taken a couple of acting lessons. The great thing about Altman was he said, “You read the script?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “OK, well then just forget about it. Here’s the story: you haven’t seen your old friend Phillip Marlowe for a couple of years, and now you need a ride to Mexico cause you’ve just killed your wife, but you’re not going to tell him that. But you want him to drop you off at the border. So I don’t care what you say to each other. You’re two guys, you haven’t seen each other in a long time. At some point in the conversation you gotta tell him you want him to give you a lift down to the Mexican border. Other than that, I don’t care what you say.” So that was great, even though in my mind I was trying to stick close to the script. I didn’t want to just have an adlib conversation with Elliot Gould. I didn’t know what that would be like. I guess as sort of a rookie actor trick, Elliot comes over to me, just before they’re ready to shoot the first scene and he says to me, “Did you get the changes?” Of course, there were no changes, but he just wanted to see the look on my face. The funny part about it is that they shoot the scene and I walk into his apartment, and the way he started talking and acting real casual, hardly paying much attention. And he was distracted, doing something else. I thought the camera wasn’t rolling because it didn’t seem like he was acting. Of course that’s what real acting is: to make it seem like you’re not acting. At some point I said, “Hey, is the camera rolling here?” “Yes. Cut! Try it again.”
BB: There was an amusing exchange with you and Moose Skowron at the Yankees Old-Timer’s Game in 2001 where he took exception with your feeling that the modern players are superior to the one’s you played with. What makes the current generation of players better?
JB: In terms of the quality of play, the players are just better than we were. They’re bigger, they’re stronger, they’re faster. They are better trained, they have weight training, and personal coaches, they have computers, they have videotapes now to help them with their motions and their batting swings. There are just all sorts of advances that are way ahead of us. But Moose believes, still, that the 1960s were better. I said, “Moose, don’t you remember the Old Timer’s days in Yankee Stadium when we would sit there, in 1962, for example, and Bill Dickey would come in from the 1930s and tell us how much better they were back in the ‘30s. We used to think the guy was an old nut.” I said, “That’s what you look like to player’s today.” There is no way that Bill Dickey was better than Yogi and Mickey and Whitey, and there’s no way that guys today aren’t better than Mickey and Whitey.
BB: What about the argument that is usually put forth by the old guys that the modern players have terrible fundamentals and can’t do the little things to help their team win?
JB: Well, the game has changed. It’s not a bunting game. It’s a home run game. So they have big, strong guys who hit home runs. That’s the way it is. The games are now 14-10. You don’t have as many 2-1 ballgames. So if we walked off the field in 1962 and onto a baseball field today, 40 years later, we would probably be able to score three or four runs by bunting, and hitting and running, and hitting the cut-off man, and moving the runner over, and then we’d lose 14-3.
BB: Why are the old guys so threatened by the modern players? Is it because on some level they feel that they won’t be remembered?
JB: No. I don’t know that they feel threatened. But everybody thinks that their era was the best. When you were in high school that was the best music of all-time, no matter what went before or came afterwards. I feel that way about my music when I went to high school in the ‘50s when Rock’n’Roll was just coming out of R&B. When black artists were just beginning to be played on the radio. To me that was the birth of real music in America. But I hear people who grew up in the ‘70s think the Doobie Brothers invented music. It’s just that we tend to think our era is the best. Your high school was the best. Our high school was better, our state was better, our religion was better, our skin color was better: we’re better. That’s the way we think I guess.
BB: Do any of your old Yankee teammates still have hard feelings about “Ball Four?”
JB: Oh, I’m sure there are. I don’t really pay attention to that anymore. I mean, most players who play in the big leagues today read “Ball Four” when they were in high school or college or the minor leagues. I don’t feel any resentment at all from today’s players. Occasionally, some old coach in his ‘70s will be sitting over in a corner, thinking, “There’s that Bouton guy, who wrote that book.” But they probably never read it in the first place.
BB: Sounds like the kind of criticism Michael Lewis has encountered this summer with his book, “Moneyball.”
JB: Oh yeah, who is criticizing him?
BB: Stodgy old sportswriters, TV guys, and general managers who haven’t read the book.
BB: Yeah, right. I can see that. They hate it when somebody comes in from the outside and exposes something. That was the resentment Chip and I found going into Pittsfield and it is the resentment that Michael Lewis has found in baseball. But this kind of work has to be done by an outsider. Somebody who come in with fresh eyes, somebody with no axe to grind, and somebody who can’t be compromised by the political winds.
Meanwhile, Jose Contreras will start for the Yankees on Sunday, leaving Jeff Weaver's immediate future up in the air. Tyler Kepner has a nice appreciation of the Yankees other famous import, the sure and steady Godziller Matsui, in the Times today.
The Yanks host the Orioles this weekend, while the Mariners visit Boston.
SAME AS IT EVER WAS
It's that time of year again, isn't it? The time when the Yankees get all the cherries while the Sox are stuck with the pits. The Bombers outlasted another iffy outing from Mariano Rivera, and edged the Royals, 8-7. The Yanks had led 8-3, but never count Tony Pena's bunch out. KC hit four singles off Rivera in the ninth, and if Carlos Beltran didn't make a base-running gaffe, things might have ended differently. Desi Relaford struck out to end the game instead.
The Red Sox watched the afternoon game before taking on Oakland again last night. Naturally, the talk in Boston is about the annual Sox swoon. Kevin Millar, for one, isn't having it. Before the game he opined:
Then Boston went out and blew a 6-2 lead. B.Y. Kim allowed four runs in the eighth, and Oakland charged back to win, 8-6. It's not as if the Sox didn't have their chances; Boston left 17 runners on base. The frustration in Boston is mounting.
I wonder how Ed Cossette is handling all of this.
Still, they are a good enough team to make a run, so it's tough to count them out yet. Just ask Mr. Millar:
The Yanks are now 7 1/2 up on the Sox. It's too early to get excited; let's not get ahead of ourselves. Still, it's nice to see the Yanks put a streak together.
BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: JANE LEAVY
Jane Leavy, author of last year’s smash hit, “Koufax,” is on a roll. Not only is “Koufax” due out in paperback this September, but Perennial (a division of Harper Collins) has issued a paperback edition of her 1990 comic novel, “Squeeze Play.” The novel follows the adventures of a woman sportswriter, A.B. Berkowitz, who happens to cover the worst team in baseball. The New York Times Book Review noted that the novel, “does baseball mythology proud…the overall effect is that of a surreal parody, with a baseball team and newsroom that Mel Brooks might have assembled, where nobody and no activity is life-size, and where sex is a metaphor for baseball: you gotta play hurt.”
I recently had a chance to speak with Jane Leavy. I hope you enjoy our conversation.
Bronx Banter: After reading “Koufax” what most impressed me about the man was that he wanted the one thing that seemed unattainable: to be regular, normal. He is attractive because he comes across as an unpretentious, decent guy.
Jane Leavy: And because he so much doesn’t want to be anything else. That is the ultimate paradox. When I first got in touch with Sandy, and try to persuade him to cooperate in whatever way he was willing to cooperate, I of course did the thing that every writer does. I sent him clips. I carefully edited everything and I did not send him a copy of “Squeeze Play.” Cause of course I didn’t know him, and I didn’t know whether the man had a sense of humor. When he called me back he said, “I want to read the novel.” I hemmed and I hawed, and I finally said, “You know, there are a lot of shlongs in it.” And he said, “Is mine one of them?” I said, “No.” And he said, “So what’s the problem?” That’s how I knew Sandy Koufax had a great sense of humor and that it would be fine.
BB: Tell us about your novel, “Squeeze Play.”
JL: Harper Collins is bringing out a Perennial edition; I’m sitting here looking at it. It just came in the mail.
BB: And it’s a loosely fictional story based on your experiences as a sportswriter?
JL: It’s not loosely fictional; it’s loosely inspired by my life as a sportswriter at The Washington Post. I was the alternate baseball writer for the Orioles between ’79 and ’83 [Tom Boswell was the senior writer]. I did a bunch of baseball, but by ’83 I started to do tennis as well, and I became the Olympic correspondent so I stopped doing quite as much baseball in the mid 80s. “Squeeze Play” is loosely inspired by my experiences in the locker room.
BB: Did you always want to be a sportswriter?
JL: I wanted to be a sportswriter because I wanted to be a writer and a teacher once told me, “Write what you know.” What I knew, and still know, is the Yankee batting order, and all the pertinent stats. This is why A.B. Berkowitz is a Yankee fan. That part of “Squeeze Play” is thoroughly and completely autobiographical. It is a love story about a girl and the national pastime. So sports writing was a natural career choice for me, particularly baseball. Also, don’t forget: I cam up in the pre-Title IX era when girls who liked to play ball were still tomboys; at puberty, we were consigned to observe. A writer is nothing if not an observer.
BB: Which sportswriters inspired you?
JL: The most formative sportswriter for me was Red Smith, the late columnist for the New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune, the paper my parents read when I was growing up. Red was literate, funny, self-deprecating and he had a hell of a good time. When I went to journalism school at Columbia University after college, I wrote my master’s essay---a fancy name for a long magazine piece—on Red Smith. This was when everyone else wanted to be Woodward and Bernstein. The professors were appalled but privately jealous, I think. I hung out with Red for six months. And I said if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me. I still think the New York Times should have white space where his column once appeared.
BB: What made you write a novel instead of a non-fiction book?
JL: Because you can always tell much more of the truth in fiction than you can in fact. Certainly that was true in American journalism in 1990. I’m not sure you can make the same argument today.
BB: So you came in at the tail end of the first wave of women sportswriters to venture into the locker room in the late 1970s.
JL: There were women who came before me, including ones who were around in 1927. I was really in the second wave. I hit the beach in the second wave.
BB: Did you cover any team sports besides baseball?
JL: I did a little bit of everything. I did some basketball; I did some hockey, some golf. I did some tennis, some football. I started out being a feature writer/baseball writer, then I became a tennis writer/Olympic writer.
BB: How were you treated differently from sport to sport?
JL: You know, this might sound really strange, but there were equally measures of chivalry and “Animal House” in each sport. It depended on the guys. Football players, professional football players, I have always argued are the largest, most fragile creatures in the universe. By far. You have the whole war ethos, the troops, and such. These are scared boys. It doesn’t matter how cauliflowered their necks are: they are acutely aware that they are one really nasty hit away from being sidelined forever. So they have a very acute sense of their own fragility. And at the same time they are these behemoths. They are some of the most vulnerable people that I’ve ever met. They’re also much more cowed in general by coaches, and the whole system. You know how people talk about “the system” in football. Basketball players are more hip, more sophisticated, more worldly kind of guys. I covered the Wizards some when they were still the Bullets, and I had some of my nicest experiences with basketball players. Phil Jackson probably changed my life forever because he was the first guy I met in a locker room, when I walked across the threshold in Madison Square Garden in 1978. I was on assignment for the New York Daily News, writing what now seems a fairly hilarious and dated piece about the prettiness of jocks. This was not long after Joe Namath was modeling pantyhose or whatever he was doing…
BB: Or Jim Palmer doing the Jockey ads.
JL: It was an old idea then, but what the hell. The piece was about how jocks were getting all prettied. I walked into the Knicks locker room and I was scared to death. Which of course, everyone is, male or female, the first time they walk into a professional locker room, and anyone who tells you different is lying through their teeth. I knew enough instinctively to know, you let the beat people go first. Not that I had been a beat person, but I had enough common sense to realize that somebody on a tight deadline needs to get in and out. So I cowered behind a very large notebook, which I used to shield my eyes. When you look at the new cover of “Squeeze Play,” that’ what you see: a reporter, shielding her eyes. Anyway, I hid. I stood there looking stupid until everybody was gone, and finally this guy comes out of the shower, stark naked, dripping wet: large, long and white. And he puts his arm around me and says, “Is this your first time?” Bravado escaped me, and I told the truth. I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Well, we just want you to know, you’re doing very well.” And he patted me on the head and disappeared. My mother didn’t raise me to lie, so I told the truth. The guy was Phil Jackson, and he went back into the shower. He came back out again, still naked, still white, and still very wet, and said, “By the way, what are you doing here anyway?” I said, “I’ve got to do this piece on jocks getting all pretty and sissified.” And he said, “Oh, OK.” And he went around the locker room, which was filled with Lonnie Shelton, Earl Monroe---
BB: Clyde was gone already, right?
JL: Clyde was gone. But he goes up to Pearl and goes, “Yo, Pearl. You got some smells?” Pearl had never heard sweeter words. He goes, “Smells?” And he gets up off his trunk, which was filled with approximately 100 different varieties of coco butter and cologne. Phil Jackson begins taking the stuff out and trying it all on. And he’s spraying himself, and spraying the rest of them. He’s dancing and he’s prancing. He’s having everybody sniff his wrists to see which smell becomes him more. He does this whole parade, this whole shtick for me, and then he stops and winks at me and says, “Got enough?” That is what we all know as being handed a story. He was quite deliberate, it was quite gracious, and it was quite formative. From that moment on—even though I might have taken a deep breath every time I crossed the threshold---I didn’t expect the worst. The number of times that guys were chivalrous was astonishing. Now in “Squeeze Play,” the character in question, A.B. Berkowitz, has a different experience than mine. She is much more hassled and much, much more horrified. Her experience is far more difficult than my own was. That’s why I say it’s loosely autobiographical.
BB: Did you know women that had a much harder time than you had?
JL: Sure. Absolutely. I think partly, it’s luck of the draw, who you get. How you comport yourself. It’s which sport, which team. If you get a team with some really bad red ass guys, you are going to have a brutal time. If I had been a beat writer covering a team with Dave Kingman on it, I would have been miserable. He sent Helene Elliot of Newsday a dead rat I believe. The Orioles were always described at the time as a very vanilla team. In that sense I had it pretty easy. Did I have really bad moments? Absolutely. And most of the really absurd, totally horrible things that happen to A.B. Berkowitz in “Squeeze Play” actually happened, because I’m not good enough to make some of that shit up. “Squeeze Play” is a comic novel. It is an inherently funny situation, being a woman in a men’s locker room---it’s the old theme of being a woman in a man’s world, only naked. I deliberately exaggerated the grossness in the early parts of the book in an attempt to replicate the assault on the sensibilities that occurs every time you cross that particular threshold. It’s very useful to be able to laugh. That said, “Squeeze Play,” is also a serious book about journalism and the dilemmas every reporter faces. Done well, every interview is a seduction---not in the sexual sense. It is an attempt to get people to say what they don’t intend or want to say, to reveal more of themselves that they expected. It’s a kind of power, easily abused. It always made me feel responsible for the information I elicited and charged with a responsibility to handle with care.
BB: Did you find that the black players were more sympathetic to you as an outsider, a minority?
JL: Yeah, I think so. Though I think frankly that being 5’1 was both a decided advantage and disadvantage. It was a disadvantage because of where I came up to on most of these guys, which is why I carried very large pads, and felt tip pens, so I didn’t have to look at what I didn’t want to look at. Contrary to the popular belief, you don’t go in there to look. You do your best not to look.
BB: That must be awkward because you must have to force yourself not to look.
JL: Well, you get adept at writing upside down and pirouetting in place very quickly. You position yourself---if you can---behind a pillar, or you lean in a certain way so that you can see a person’s face and not anything below the neck. I always found it incredibly amusing that there were guys who thought you were really there to ogle them. There was one guy who started bating me, a hockey guy. I asked the guy to put his pants on; I was sitting and talking to him. I really didn’t want to look at him, and I said, “Would you put your pants on?” He said, “Oh, I thought you all just came in here to look.” I said, “As a matter of fact, I really am not interested in looking at your particulars, and I would really appreciate it if you put your pants on. I’m not on deadline, there is no urgency here, believe me, I can wait.” He just looked at me incredulously, and I said, “Hey, look pal. I’ve seen them before and yours isn’t any prettier than anybody else’s. Put on your pants.” And I said it in a really loud voice, and believe me it made an impression. It was very premeditated.
BB: How much tension existed between the female sportswriters and the male sportswriters?
JL: Oh I think that was very individual. Some women had a really hard time. Sometimes I had a harder time with the reporters than I did with the athletes. Sometimes it was the reverse. I think that was luck of the draw. Early on, that might have been truer than it was later. It became pretty much common place. Though one thing I have always believed---and it is certainly a theme in this book---is that a woman reporter can be very much at an advantage, not a disadvantage. The advantage is that you are an outsider, which is what reporters are supposed to be. Too often, I think male sportswriters get involved in unseemly competition---if only with themselves---to show guys that they know as much as the real guys do. Well, they don’t. But you’ll get some old geezer who played second base in high school debating with Soriano the best way to make a play at second. You know, that’s not a reporter’s job. A reporter’s job is to ask the questions that elicit the answers. And then check them against the facts, and find out if they make sense. It’s not to say, “Hey, let me tell you about the time that I played second base.” I think that women tend not to compete with the athletes based on trying to prove themselves. And women listen better. I also think that being short was an advantage in that I was very non-threatening. A lot of the guys used to think of me as a little sister I guess. I came up to their waists, maybe, and they’d pat me on the head kind of deal. So I think you could make it work to your advantage. I also think that you had to show them in one way or another that you could get along. That you could hold your own. Athletes test themselves every day. If they play every day, that is. Or every Sunday. But they test themselves: against each other and against the opponents. They live by testing themselves. Against time and against distance and against each other. And sooner or later, they are going to find a way to test you to find out what you are made of. There are all sorts of ways you can respond to that. That is pretty individual. I always tried to let them know that it would take a lot to gross me out.
BB: Roger Angell wrote a good piece about women reporters in the late ‘70s called “Sharing the Beat.” I was particularly taken with the comments made by Jane Gross. One of the things she said was how much she appreciated how much the guys got on with each other, the companionship.
JL: I actually came to envy it. This is actually somewhere in “Squeeze Play,” but these guys actually get to sit around naked and eat sloppy joe’s, and scratch themselves, and talk to their friends, and nobody thinks it’s weird! Wouldn’t you like to able to like to do that once? Just sit around and be utterly unselfconscious? And be a complete dirtball. They are comfortable with themselves in a way that is absolutely, in a strange way, seductive. To say the least, they are earthy, but there is a comfort level with their bodies, with each other, with sitting around and not thinking twice if oops, sloppy joe is falling in my pubic hair. And I ultimately came to envy that. The experience of being in the locker room has nothing to do with sexuality; it had to do with a kind of comfort with themselves and with each other, and with their place in the world.
BB: Jane Gross said she felt more sympathetic towards men after working the beat.
JL: Well, I never felt unsympathetic to men. I should re-read that piece. But it is true that women ask different questions. One example that I’ve always used is, if a reporter says to a player, “Well, where was the pitch?” And the pitcher would say, “It was on the outside corner.” And a male reporter would interrupt, “No, I was up in the press box, it wasn’t on the outside corner, it was right down the middle.” And the pitcher would look at him like, “What planet are you on? How could you possibly be arguing with me about where the pitch was?” This would go on endlessly. Finally one day I heard Jim Palmer—or maybe it was Scott McGregor—say: “Where was the pitch? It was over the godamned fence.” That’s all you need to know. I’ve witnessed debates where guys would be sitting there, insisting to an athlete, that they know more about what happened on a particular play, and the players would sit there rolling their eyes. A female reporter is much more likely to say: “Tell me what happened.” Or in the case of a trade: “How do you feel?” That question has become ubiquitous today, and it wasn’t when Jane Gross or I started reporting. But it’s the idea of seeing the person as a complete human being and not just a piece of chattel, or a page of statistics. Sure. “How about your kids? When was the last time you tucked your kid in?”
BB: Do you think baseball is ready for an openly gay player?
JL: Gee…I don’t know. I think we live in a homophobic society, with a president who thinks that gay marriage is a sin, and feels compelled to tell us that we are all sinners as a consequence. So do I think that it would be particularly well received in a locker room? No, I doubt it would. But you know what? I’m sure there are plenty of gay athletes out there, who have figured out, for better or worse, how to get by. Maybe some friends know, maybe some friends don’t know. Certainly there are gay athletes out there. I’ve never met one who resembled the guy in “Take Me Out.”
BB: Were you pleased with the reception of the Koufax book?
JL: No, I really hated being on the best-seller list for 16 weeks. Somebody was saying something very sweet to me about it recently, and I said, “Look, let’s be real. This has to do with Sandy, not me.” This is a response to who he is. I was fortunate enough to be in the position to write about somebody who really touches a chord in lots of people. The mail that I have gotten has been astonishing, absolutely mind-boggling. I’m still, very slowly, wending my way through answering 1,000 letters, and that’s not including e-mails. The stories people have to tell, and the things that he meant to them, is incredible. You can say, “Well, it’s not curing cancer,” but he did something that…it wasn’t so much what he did, but how he did it that touched people.
BB: You also made a very concerted effort to paint a specific portrait of him. For instance you didn’t get into his marriages.
JL: I chose not to speak to his ex-wives. I’ll tell you something that’s fascinated me. The supposition that people made, even though it was stated quite clearly that it was my choice, was that this was something he insisted upon. I would say, “Go back and read the introduction.” He asked me only one thing: Not to speak to his niece and his nephew, and I said OK. It was my choice not to speak to his ex-wives. I knew that it was a fairly radical thing to do in modern journalism.
BB: What was the reasoning behind it?
JL: My reasoning behind it was complex. What it comes down to is, this is a book about him as a ballplayer, and about the time in which he lived and how he dominated it. It was never intended to be an expose about “Where did Sandy Koufax disappear to, and why he disappeared.” Certainly I felt that I needed to account and explain what he does now, and I think that I did that. But I didn’t want to spend 200 pages talking about what he’s done since 1966. The reason he’s a public person is because of what he did between 1955 and 1966. If he had been married to anyone during those years, I might well have had to make a different decision. Had he had children I might well have had to make a different decision. But given the fact that he’s been divorced from two women, neither of who was in his life when he played baseball, and that the book was not about the ex-ballplayer, but about the ballplayer, I felt it was a reasonable choice to make.
BB: Ultimately, there wasn’t any reason to talk to them for the purpose of the book.
JL: Part of the problem is that it’s like a temptation. It’s like a chocolate éclair that’s out there on the counter. You go down that route and…What if you do talk to them and they say really shitty things about him. You know, what do ex-wives say? Then you feel compelled to spend time and attention dealing with that. I didn’t want to be there. I don’t know whether his ex-wives would have said nasty things or whether they would have said, “You know it was a really important time of my life and I wish him well.” I don’t know what they would have said. I just didn’t want to go there. The thing that I find astonishing, Alex, is that people therefore think it’s not an intimate portrait. We’ve come to define intimacy in this country as meaning exactly one thing: who you shtup, how often and in what position. That’s not the definition of intimacy I choose to embrace. I would argue that the book is a very intimate portrait of him, without being one that is invasive. It’s not what makes him important.
BB: How did he respond to the book?
JL: I have never asked him if he read it, I have never asked him to read it. I have never asked whether he’s going to read it. I said one thing to him and that was that I respected his sense of embarrassment of being the subject of a book, and I felt it was completely consistent with who he is that he wouldn’t want to read it. I don’t know whether he’s read it; I doubt that he has.
"Squeeze Play" was released yesterday, and you can find it at a bookstore near you.
Ms. Leavy is currently doing research for her next project, a book about Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Duke Snider, and is looking for all the help she can get. She asked me to pass along a request. Ms. Leavy is looking to speak with anybody who was at the famous Bobby Thompson "Shot heard round the world" game; the second game of the '51 World Serious (when Mantle tore up his knee on an exposed drain pipe); Mantle's first pre-season exhibition game vs. the Brooklyn Doders; the game where Duke Snider twisted his knee, as well as anyone who might have ever seen the Say Hey kid playing stickball in the streets of New York. If anyone out there was at any of these events, or perhaps knows somebody who was, you can contact Ms. Leavy at NYCF8@aol.com
YANKS ROLL ALONG
Andy Pettitte pitched another solid game, and the Yanks survived a three-error to defeat the Royals, 6-3. With the Yanks cruising 6-0, Alfonso Soriano made two errors in the seventh; Nick Johnson made one and the Royals scored three times. But the bullpen held the lead, and the Yanks were propelled by home runs from Soriano, Bernie Williams and Karim Garcia.
Jason Giambi did his best Rickey Henderson impression in the sixth. Leading 5-0, Giambi walked. Kevin Appier wasn't paying him much mind, and the Royals didn't hold him on the bag, so Giambi swiped second. Yeah, that's right. Standing up. He then came around to score on Godzilla Matsui's bloop single to center.
Garcia crushed a first-pitch breaking ball off the upper deck facade in right field, and has provided nice pop during the last three games. The Yanks recalled Juan Rivera to play right and face right-handed pitchers today. But between Karim Dellucci and Juan Sierra, the Yanks have a four-headed right field platoon that is similiar to the left field rotation they've had in recent years.
Derek Lowe and the Red Sox were holding the A's down for much of the game last night in Boston, but the bullpen couldn't close the deal. Two walks and a Ramon Hernandez dinger later, the A's walked away with a dramamtic 3-2 win, which moved Oakland a game ahead of Boston in the wild card race. The Sox now trail the Yanks by 6 1/2 games.
JUST WIN BABY
Weaver's counterpart, Jose Lima, was his usual animated self. He couldn't spot his fastball, and his change up could only take him so far. The Yankees blasted him, and were able to hold off K.C. for a 11-6 win. It's hard not to be taken with the Royals. Not only do they refuse to die easily, but they maintain their sense of humor whether they are winning or losing.
Carlos Beltran killed the Yanks and looked like the star we know him to be. Raul Ibanez was the hard luck player of the game, hitting two long foul balls that narrowly missed being homers (in the 4th and 6th innings). Nick Johnson had three hits for the Yanks; Jorge Posada and Karim Garcia added home runs.
There were a couple of freeze-frame moments during the game that caught my atttention. You know those slow-motion, suspended-in-air flashes where time suddenly halts; the kind that the highlight shows love.
In the third, Derek Jeter hit a shot to deep right-center field. Carlos Beltran was there in plenty of time, but he jumped too early and the ball glanced off his glove. In mid-air, Beltran braced himself to hit the wall. But it didn't come as quickly as he anticipated, and he just floated for a moment, stuck in time, until THUD, he smacked up against it.
In the following inning, Bernie Williams raced home trying to score from second. But his slide came up short, and instead of sliding through the plate, it was as if he was sliding into third. Bernie's lead foot (the left one) stopped just shy of the plate, and as his body straighten, the force of his momentum carried him off his feet entirely and he tumbled over the plate and the catcher. It looked like a startled cat, leaping out a tub. But once Bernie was in the air, time stopped again, and all Bernie could do was enjoy the ride and pray that he would land all right.
The Yankees survived another dubious night of pitching, and everything was all right in the Bronx. The Sox had the night off. New York's lead is now 5 1/2 games.
Jeff Weaver starts against Jose Lima tonight at the Stadium. This one could get ugly early. I hope Lima pulls some of his high school Charlie horseshit, just to piss the Yankees off. Then, hopefully, Jason Giambi will plant a couple in the upper deck.
MUSSINA GEM BLANKS O'S
Mike Mussina gave the Yankees just what the doctor ordered: a three-hit, complete-game shut-out. Mussina had his entire portfolio of pitches working, and dominated his former team as the Yanks pounded Baltimore, 8-0. (By the way, Sunday was Jorge Posada's 32nd birthday, and not Saturday night, as I had originally reported.)
The Yankees win, coupled with the Red Sox 3-1 loss to the Mariners (who says Freddie's dead?), puts New York five games ahead of Boston, six in the loss column. (It is the largest lead of the year for the Yanks.) Boy, does Rafael Soriano have a live arm or what? He could effectively do what K-Rod did for the Angels last year. The Sox went 3-4 in Oakland and Seattle. Dan Shaughnessy says the Sox potent offense needs to regain its form in order for Boston to keep up with the Yanks.
For one day, there was nothing to fret about, although according to George Vecsey in The Times, that won't last long. (I stand guilty as charged.)
The Bombers are back in New York tonight for a three-game series against the Royals.
SUNDAY LINKS N THINGS
Here are some links that I thought I'd pass along:
1. Joe Torre's critics must have been circling like sharks last night after he forgot to protest the O's batting out of order in the first last night. (Larry Mahnken has a great write-up on the ruling and the game.) It could have cost the Yanks the game, which had one of the wildest finishes I've ever seen. Torre's response? He was as accountable as ever:
"I slept," Torre said. "It's inexcusable. It was totally my fault."
2. Keith Law, the erstwhile Baseball Prospectus writer, who now works for the Blue Jays, wrote a letter to the New York Times addressing a recent column by William Rhoden.
3. Jack Curry has a long piece in The Times today about bunting, and how the sacrifice is regarded in the contemporary game.
4. Not wanting to take any chances, the Reds have shut down Brandon Claussen's season.
5. As always, Gordon Edes' Sunday Notes column in The Boston Globe is a must-read. Today, he talks about the changing fortunes of the Cubs and Red Sox.
6. Aaron Gleeman weighs in on the fielding prowess of Andruw Jones. Lengthy as usual, but informative and thorough.
8. Don't miss Christian Ruzich's excellent interview with former MLB prospect, Phil Hiatt over at The Cub Reporter.
9. Don't miss Rich Lederer's latest piece on Frank Thomas. Don't like The Big Hurt? Tough. He's only one of the best offensive players in the history of the game.
10. Finally, a team of Baseball Prospectus all-stars pen a good piece about the greatest young starting rotations in baseball history.
Hope everyone has a great afternoon.
Jeff Nelson is the new pitcher for the Yanks. Tony Batista leads off for the O's; he is one of the rare right-handed hitters who does well against Nellie.
Slider outside, 1-0. Fastball, fouled back, 1-1. Another slider, outside, 2-1. Batista hits the next pitch on the screws, but it is right at Matsui in left.
B.J. Surhoff pinch hits for Fordyce. He swings and misses at a slider in the dirt, 0-1. Another slider, coming from a side-arm angle, right over the plate, 0-2. The next pitch is a heater right over the plate. Chalk up a backwards K for Nellie.
Jack Cust is the pinch hitter. Slider, taken for a strike. Fastball, fouled back, 0-2. Fastball up and away for a ball, 1-2. Slider on the outside corner, misses, 2-2. (There are tons of Yankee fans making noise.) Slider on the outside corner. But it's low. Nellie hops off the mound, but the count is full. Slider way outside, ball four.
Now the Orioles fans counter and make some noise of their own.
Looks like a lack of concentration on Nellie's part there. He got a little ahead of himself. Mel comes out to talk.
The first pitch to Larry Bigbie is a slider inside for a ball, 1-0. The next pitch is a fastball, down Broadway, taken for a strike, 1-1. Fastball, outside corner, strike two. He nails the pitch into right center field for a single.
Cust comes rounds third and heads for home. But he falls. Soriano takes the cut off throws and throws low to Boone at third. The ball almost got away. Boone chases him home and throws to Posada. Jorgie runs him back to third and throws back to Boone. Boone then moves towards Cust, but nobody is covering home. Nellie is not there!
But Cust falls again! Only feet away from home, he stumbles again; Boone falls on him and makes the tag and the game is over.
Holy Christ I think I just wet myself.
To paraphrase a famous football call, "Jack Cust must be the sickest man in America." Oh, baby. That's some good ol' fashioned dumb luck.
The Yanks escape with an another ugly win, but remain four ahead of the Sox.
Nick Johnson is 0-3 with two walks on the night. He walks on five pitches.
Jeter bunts the first pitch in the air!!! (Gasp.) But it falls foul. (Sigh.) The pitch was a heater, up and in. Boy, you don't see that too often. He swings and missed at the next pitch. Johnson is running. The throw goes through to second, and they pick Johnson off first on a close play.
Ball low, to Jeter. The next pitch is high. Jeter spins away, 2-2. He pops the next pitch, foul and out of play behind the plate. Slider, low, and the count is full. Dag, that one was close. Yeesh. Fastball, low and inside. Jeter waves at it for the strike three.
Fastball high to Giambi, 1-0. He smashed the next pitch into the center field bleachers and the Yanks take the lead, 5-4. The big guy stood at the plate after he hit it; he knew it was gone. How do you say, Jimmy Jack? It's his 35 homer of the year, and his 94th RBI.
Bernie takes a slider for a strike. Ball, outside, 1-1. Fastball outside, 2-1. Another fastball; this one is fouled off to the left side. Fastball right down the middle, strike three.
ME OF LITTLE FAITH
Dave Roberts bunts for a single.
Cruz sets to bunt and looks at two straight balls. Then he swings wildly through a change up, 1-2. He bunts the next pitch to Johnson who goes to first for the first out. Roberts heads to second.
The Orioles are up in the dugout with white towels on their heads, trying to work the rally magic.
Matos, Baltimore's hero of the night is up. He flies out to deep right field; Roberts tags and moves to third.
Jay Gibbons is next. He's 0-4 on the night, and Mel Stottlemyre comes out to talk with his pitcher.
Gibbons skies the first pitch to Bernie in center to end the inning.
Ruben Sierra pinch hits for Dellucci. Why? David is a lefty, and would have likely been walked. Instead Sierra is given the intentional pass and the bases are loaded for John Flaherty. Karim Garcia pinch runs for Ruben Ruben, and Jorge Posada pinch hits for Flaherty.
Will it be a birthday knock or a birthday double play?
The first pitch to Posada is high for a ball, 1-0. The next pitch is rocketed foul down the first base line, 1-1. Fastball, low; Posada is late, and fouls it off to the left side. He's now down, 1-2. Fastball, way upstairs, and the count is even. (YES just flashed a chart: Posada is hitting .472 in the last ten days.) The next pitch is fouled back. (A fly ball to the outfield would do...) Slider, swung on and missed, strike three. Good pitch.
Happy fuggin boitday.
Here is Soriano, who is 0-5. He looks at a ball, low, 1-0. Fastball on the inside corner, 1-1. Ground ball to third. Batista steps on the base for the final out. The Yanks are 1-6 with runners in scoring position tonight and if I wasn't typing, I would throw this damn machine out of the window.
TAKE YOUR BASE...
Matsui takes a healthy cut and fouls away the first pitch Ryan throws him. So much for the sacrifice bunt. The next pitch is a fastball on the outside corner for a strike and Gozilla is in the hole, 0-2. Fastball, upstairs, 1-2. The next pitch is a slider way outside, 2-2. Another heater, just outside; Matsui holds up, and the count is full. (Throw to first.) Wow. That one got my heart beating. The payoff pitch is a fastball, way outside, ball four.
With Boone coming to bat, that's it for Ryan. Hargrove signals for a righty.
ZILCH IN THE TENTH
Chris Hammond replaced Mo, and pitched a 1-2-3 tenth.
Luis Matos leads off for Baltimore. He fouls and inside fastball off, 0-1. The next pitch is a fastball tailing in for a ball, 1-1. (Mo continues to tap his left foot tentatively as he comes set; it looks like a cat trying to balance himself on a ledge. I don't remember Rivera ever doing this until this season.) Matos rocks the next pitch over the left field wall and the game is tied at four. The pitch was a fastball, low and in, and straight as a string. That's the second consecutive night that the lead-off man has homered vs. Mo.
Gibbons takes a ball high for a ball, 1-0. Fastball outside, 2-0. Fastball high and away, 3-0. (Torre is going to have to answer for the first inning mistake...) Fastball, right down the middle for a strike, 3-1. The next pitch is sliced foul down the left field line. Oh, man was that ever close to being a double. The full count pitch is lined back to Rivera. One out.
Cutter, outside for a ball to Batista. The next pitch is fouled off, 1-1. Cutter, away and out of the zone; Batista waves at it, 1-2. Cutter, in on the hands, fouled back. Another cutter, tailing way outside; Batista whiffs. (That was a good pitch.)
Fordyce looks at another nice cutter for a strike. Good movement on that one. The next pitch is in the same place and Fordyce grounds out to Soriano.
We're going to extra innings, folks.
Sterling Hitchcock was about as good as anyone could have expected, allowing three runs over six innings. He didn't throw many pitches and left trailing 3-2. But John Flaherty hit his second solo homer of the game to tie the score in the seventh, and Godzilla Matsui's RBI single drove home Jason Giambi to give the Yanks the lead, 4-3 in the eighth.
Antonio Osuna worked a perfect seventh. He allowed a single with one out in the eighth, and after fouling off 4 full count pitches, D. Roberts popped out to left for the second out. Osuna is throwing relatively hard tonight. Devi Cruz is up next, and he smacks a grounder to third. Boone has to move to his left---I don't know if leadfoot Ventura reaches this one---and goes to second for the force to end the inning.
There was an odd bit of business early in the game when Batista and Gibbons batted out of order. But the Yankee bench was slow to catch the mistake and missed their opportunity to protest the error (which would have erased a Baltimore run). Torre, Zim and company suddenly had extra incentive for the Yanks to win. The questions will sting if New York loses by a run.
David Delluci laid out and made another great catch tonight (this one was on the warning track). Bernie is still swinging a good bat, and Aaron Boone has two hits. Jorge Posada turns 32 today, and was given the night off.
Mo is getting ready for the ninth. It's rare when the sight of Rivera makes one nervous, but since Mo's cutter hasn't been cutting too much lately, this one still ain't over.
YOU CAN'T STOP THE PROPHET
I GOT YOUR BACK
Will Carroll and Derek Zumsteg's Pete Rose story got some big league support Thursday from Allen Barra in The Wall Street Journal. Both Marvin Miller and Bill James are quoted in the piece; Carroll delineated the origins of the scoop to Barra (if anybody needed clarification).
Bill James put it well when he told Barra:
It's good to have friends in high places, and Barra's column is a credibility-boost to the Zumsteg-Carroll piece. Good for them.
BOONE'S DISPUTED BLAST SAVES BOMBERS
The Yankees did almost everything they could to lose last night in Baltimore, but Aaron Boone got his first big hit for New York, and the Bombers toppled the O's, 6-4. Roger Clemens started and although he never seemed totally comfortable, the Rocket bulldozed his way through seven innings and left the game with a 2-1 lead, which the bullpen promptly spoiled.
Jesse Orosco and Jeff Nelson were ineffective and the Orioles went into the ninth leading 3-2. With men on first and second and one out, Aaron Boone came to the plate. The O's had intentionally walked Nick Johnson twice earlier in the game to face Boone, who could not take advantage of the opportunities. He wasn't alone as the Yankees stranded two bases runners in each of the first five innings. They left another man on in the sixth, and they left the bases loaded in the eighth.
Boone hit a line drive to right field which was foul by inches. Quickly he had two strikes against him again. But he recovered and hit what looked like a three-run homer to left. But it was called foul. Boone, making his way around first, couldn't believe it and sprinted across the infield to argue the call. The umps got together and reversed the ruling. The ball was fair and the Yanks once again had the lead. It was Boone's first homer for the Yanks. Lil Sori added a solo shot for good measure.
After the game, Boone told the Post:
Mariano came on in the ninth and immediately served up a bomb to Jack Cust. The Orioles got two more hits before Rivera got out of the inning on a couple of comebackers. So the bullpen and the lack of clutch-hitting plagued the Yanks once again; however, they were able to come away with a win, which should keep the kvetching at bay (for today at least). Bernie Williams also hit a home run, and looks as if he's starting to get into a groove. Jorge Posada is the hottest hitter on the team right now.
Meanwhile, the Mariners were busy beating up on the Red Sox---Ichiro hit a grand slam---and the Yanks now have a four-game lead (five in the loss column). They are going to need the cushion because Sterling Hitchcock is pitching tonight. That could be an adventure. But if the bats show up, he might be all right.
Jeremy Giambi is going to have season-ending surgery on his shoulder this week. It is one of the few moves that haven't worked out for Theo Epstein this year.
I looked across the street and saw that the power was out in Rockerfeller Center as well. Everybody was calm, but I was tense and ready to spint if I had to. After 15 minutes of making phone calls and trying to figure out what the hell was going on, I joined the hoards of people on the streets. I work in the Time Life Building on 50th street and I live on 232nd street. Talk about a hike. But I have family on the Upper West side, so I knew I wouldn't have to shlep all the way home.
I ended up crashing at my aunt and uncles, and didn't make it home until just after 10:00 am Friday morning. I'm thoroughly exhausted (this must be how Will Carroll feels). Without going into the grizzly details of my particular adventure, let me say that New Yorkers were calm and under control.
Yesterday evening, your basic type A personalities took charge and stood in the middle of busy intersections and played traffic cop (where is Ned the wino when you need him?). Bascially, you saw the best and worst of human nature: some avaricious vendors were selling water for up to three bucks, while others were giving it away for free. Cars were filled with strangers, and good will generally ruled the day---just ask Mike Lupica. Also, the streets were replete with video cameras, hoping to catch something...anything sensational.
I was concerned that once it got dark, we could see a repeat of the '77 blackout, but I don't think that happened. (I was six during that crisis and don't remember it at all.) It probably helped that the power went out many hours before nightfall, and I also think the 9.11 experience has altered the way we handle ourselves under duress as well.
It didn't occur to me until this morning to find out what happened around the majors last night. I didn't know whether there would be any papers at all. But when I saw the Daily News, I happily discovered the Yanks had actually played their game in Baltimore last night and won, 8-5>. Godzilla did his best Pete Reiser impression and made a great catch late in the game as he ran into the outfield wall. Posada had another big night, and Bernie had three hits as well. Pettitte wasn't sharp but got the win. Funny how things even out, huh?
You don't say. The Red Sox won a dramatic game in Oakland yesterday afternoon and left town with a split. The Yanks still lead Boston by three.
It's almost noon, and I'm going to sleep.
WAKE ME UP WHEN IT'S OVER
Rob Neyer's latest column is about the Pete Rose affair. I think it's a great piece; it ostensibly sums up how I feel about the whole mess. I find the Pete Rose story too enervating to write about. I just don't care enough about it to get all worked up, one way or the other. David Pinto adds some good points about Rose as well at Baseball Musings, while Jay Jaffe does his customary due dilegence over at Futility Infielder.
BEWEAVE IT OR NOT: ROYALS SPANK YANKS
That's almost as weak as the stuff he had on the mound. Joe Torre was blunt in his assessment of Weaver's performance:
Kevin Appier was effective, and KC rolled to an 11-0 shutout. Even though he was recently cut by the Angels, Appier has a lower ERA than Weaver. The Yanks lost two of three again to a good team, and they also lost a game in the standings as the Sox finally beat the A's, 7-3.
There isn't anything good to say about last night's game from a Yankee perspective. The dog days have enveloped them indeed. Derek Jeter did offer a reality check of sorts:
Just ask the Twins.
Jeff Weaver started the first by giving up two singles. He then walked Raul Ibanez on a full count pitch. It looked as if Ibanez went around, and it also appeared as if the home plate ump raised his hand to signal strike three. But it was ball four. Joe Torre and Zim protested to no avail. Weaver's old pal, Mike Sweeney smacked a fat 1-0 fastball into right for a two-run single, and Weaver and the Yanks were lucky to escape the inning down, 3-0.
Weaver has his screwed-up 'game face' on. I used to think it was concentration. Now I think it's a cheap guise to cover his fear. Come on, dammit. Show some mettle Jeff, you big baby. Don't be a sucka.
Appier looks like crap---watching him pitch is like being at the dentist without novocaine--but he's escaped trouble through two. This is going to be ugly.
A SCOOP BY ANY OTHER NAME
The Baseball Prospectus-Pete Rose story caused quite a stir yesterday. Both Jay Jaffe and Jon Weisman have thoughtful, and measured columns today (Jay has full complement of links as well). Lee Sinins' take may be less objective, but it's convincing and funny. Here is what he wrote in his latest ATM report:
I sure would like to know what the two other entities that Lee doesn't trust are, though the Oval Office and the MTA rank high on my list.
BOW DOWN TO A PLAYER THAT'S GREATER THAN YOU
The Mets, Giants game was interesting last night because it marked the return of Edgardo Alfonso to Queens. But Fonzie, and even the visiting former President, Bill Clinton, took a back seat to the great Barry Bonds. (You were expecting J.T. Snow maybe?) Bonds, who has historically not hit well at Shea Stadium, was masterful. He walked on four pitches in the first. The Mets had the lead when he came up again, and promptly lined Aaron Heilman's first pitch into the bullpen. There were smiles all around---it was hard to resist, even for Johnny Franco---and plenty of cheers for Mr. Bonds. (Hey, the fans aren't stupid; the realize they are catching history here.) He doubled in a run in his following at bat, and was finally retired by Grant Roberts his fourth time up (he whiffed on a fastball up and out of the strike zone).
The Mets led 5-3 in the ninth. David Weathers got the first out, so he was able to pitch to Bonds. He got two quick strikes, and then threw three-straight balls. The 2-2 pitch was close, and Weathers thought he had a strike out, but it was a ball. Bonds creamed the 3-2 pitch to right for another homer, and I nearly fell off the couch I was laughing so hard. Bonds now has 650 career homers, just ten shy of Willie Mays on the all-time list. Amazing.
Weathers got the next two outs, the Mets won, and (almost) everybody went home happy.
YANKS BLANK KC, 6-0
The Yankees got just what the doctor ordered last night: a fine performance from both Mike Mussina and the offense. It was a well-balanced effort as the Yanks defeated the Royals, 6-0. Mussina pitched eight innings, allowed four hits and walked four; Mariano pitched a scoreless ninth. The Yankees' dubious bullpen was essentially given the night off.
Jorge Posada went 4-5, and Soriano and Bernie Williams both looked impressive too. Jason Giambi, who has a bum knee which may require surgery, walked twice, added two hits, and is looking mighty locked-in right now. Hey even Aaron Boone picked up a hit, after a 0-17 streak (he is 5-41 as a Yankee).
I was talking with Christian Ruzich, The Cub Reporter, yesterday, and he had the opportunity to land a press pass in Oakland a few weeks ago when the Yankees were in town. There was a fan appreciation ceremony that day, so the players took bp in an under-ground facility. Ruz said that Giambi wasn't as huge as he was several years back, but he did note several sizable tatoos on the sluggers' arms. In fact, he pointed out that Giambi wears a 3/4 sleeve on his right arm to cover one of his pieces. I noticed it last night. Thanks for the fashion tip, Ruz.
David Wells, who is back in New York and will have an MRI on his ailing back today, will miss at least one start, and there is some concern that he could miss more than that. Sterling Hitchcok will likely start in his place on Saturday against the Orioles.
The Yankees gained a game on the Red Sox, who lost in Oakland last night, 5-3. The A's scored five runs early and held off a late surge by Boston. Oakland is now one game up in the wild card race; the Yankees lead the Sox by four, five in the loss column. The Red Sox are 13-13 since the All-Star break.
Speaking of the Sox, the morbid saga of Ted Williams continues:
You can't make this kind of creepy stuff up. Sheesh.
GODZILLA: THAT'S ONE OLD ASS ROOKIE
Last Sunday morning, I found myself walking from east to west on 125th street in Harlem. Just a few blocks away from the Apollo theater I spotted a Japanese kid with an Ichiro/Godzilla t-shirt. He was with two friends (also Japanese I presumed), so I stopped them to chat about baseball and Matsui. I asked if they were going to The Stadium that afternoon, and they said they were. They had also been to the first two games of the series and were pulling for the Mariners. The kid with the Godzilla shirt was named Hidi (I hope I got that right), and one of his friends' name was Hideki (the third guy's name escapes me, but he didn't talk much anyhow). They were very amused with how much I like Hurricaine Hideki Irabu, and they assured me that he was pitching quite well in Japan this season.
The guys told me that Ichiro was slightly more popular in Japan than Godzilla, but that they are really two very different types of personalities and players. They were eager to know who I thought Kaz Matsui would sign with next year. I told them that I didn't think the Yanks would get him, but that stranger things have happened. The guys really enjoyed the passion and excitement of Yankee Stadium, which made me feel proud to be a New Yorker. We enjoyed a nice conversation for about ten minutes when I discovered that these guys are students who live in St. Louis. So I asked them what Cardinals fans were like since I've never visited the midwest.
It just goes to show, you never know where you'll meet great baseball fans.
Speaking of Godzilla, Allen Barra is clearly a fan of the stocky Japanese import, who is enjoying a fine, if not sensational rookie campaign in the majors. Barra makes a case for Godzilla as the hands-down cherce for Rookie of the Year.
THOSE WERE THE DAYS
I have seen the Bernie Mac show and I think it's pretty good. I don't know how much longer than can keep it fresh, but thus far it has been able to be clever and hip, without compromising Mac's persona. I've also read and seen several interviews with Bernie and I think he's a stand-up guy. There is no pretense or B.S. with Mac, and he's very thoughtful. The fact that he's making a baseball flick makes me like him all the more. I'm hopeful that this movie---which co-stars the talented Angela Bassett---could in fact be decent. I'm rooting for it all the way.
SAY IT AIN'T SO
Bob DuPuy, the President and Chief Operating Officer of MLB has issued a statement regarding Baseball Prospectus' Pete Rose story:
As you can well imagine, this story has caused a veritable shit storm in the on-line baseball community. Check out the thread running at Baseball Primer for the gory details.
DUKE OF HIS DOMAIN
Pat Jordan was a bonus baby for the Braves in the late '50s and early '60s. He threw gas, but never made it to the majors; eventually, he became an accomplished journalist. His first memoir, "A False Spring" is considered a baseball classic. I think that the sequel, "A Nice Tuesday," is a better book, even if it is more about Jordan's personal life than it is about baseball.
Jordan still writes for The New York Times magazine, and it is always a treat to read his work, especially if it is about a pitcher. Before "A False Spring" was released in 1974, Jordan published a collection of stories he had written for Sports Illustrated called, "The Suitors of Spring." All of the articles in this collection are about pitchers, including the likes of Tom Seaver, Bo Belinksky, Bruce Kison, Steve Dalkowski and Sudden Sam McDowell.
I buried myelf in the book last night after suffering through the Yankees game, hoping to take my mind off the pain of the here-and-now. Jordan describes McDowell and Dalkowski as young men who were possessed by their talented; Seaver, on the other hand, was a late-bloomer with less natural talent. Of course, Seaver became on the great pitchers of all time. Dalkowski never made it passed triple A and McDowell never became the great pitcher he was expected to become.
Here is a healthy excerpt from the article on Sudden Sam, "A Talent for Refusing Greatness:"
I don't think that Jeff Weaver is nearly as gifted as McDowell was, and perhaps he isn't even as interesting a person. But I thought about Weaver after reading this article last night, because he's a pitcher with great stuff who hasn't been able to put it together. Of course, you can replace Jeff Weaver with your favorite talent who hasn't lived up to expectations. The point is, all the talent in the world doesn't mean spit if you don't thrive as a competitor.
Anyhow, there isn't a baseball writer I enjoy more than Pat Jordan. Next time you happen upon one of his books, pick it up and give him a try.
DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK (I'VE BEEN HERE FOR YEARS): ROSE SET TO RETURN TO BASEBALL IN 2004
Will Carroll and Derek Zumsteg of Baseball Prospectus are reporting that Pete Rose will be allowed to return to baseball next year:
Wow. Nice scoop, fellas. Think this will generate a stir? Duck and cover.
As expected, things went from bad to worse for the Yanks last night, as the spirited Royals pounded the Bombers' bullpen into submission in front of their largest crowd of the season. (Remember, Bill James told Mark McGrath that they hate New York even more in Kansas City than they do in Boston.) The Royals hit 11 doubles, and the Yanks added 8 to set a major league single-game record.
It was another infuriating loss for Yankee fans. (If you want to feel worse, read Mike Lupica's "I-told-you-so" rant in today's Daily News.) This was definitely one of those games that cost me some sleep, I won't lie. Even though the Yanks cranked out nine runs, it wasn't enough (the final score: Royals 12, Yanks 9). Looks like those baserunning blunders were costly after all. As bad as the Yanks were, I'd be remiss if I didn't credit the Royals, who lived up to their scrappy reputation. They are not unlike the Angels were last year: aggresive, opportunistic, and essentially likable.
Hey, at least Buck O'Neil and Bill James and Rob Neyer had a good night.
Brett Prinz made his Yankee debut in the 8th and was touched up pretty good. Antonio Osuna left the team to be with his ailing mother. There is no word yet as to whether David Wells will miss any time with his creaky back.
Again, the silver lining was that the Red Sox lost. Tim Hudson, the A's hard luck ace, pitched a two-hitter, and Oakland beat Boston, 4-0. (Both hits didn't leave the infield.) Pedro Martinez threw 101 pitches in just five innings, allowing two runs. Boston still trails New York by three games.
MONSTERS IN KC
Boomer Wells tried pitching through back pain tonight, but couldn't hold the 5-1 lead his offense staked him to, and didn't make it into the fourth inning. A trip to the DL could be looming for Boomer. Sterling Hitchcock is coming on to pitch, and that never spells good things for New York. Paul Abbott, recently acquired in a trade with Arizona, is either throwing the ball in the dirt or six feet over the Yankees heads, for KC.
The Yankees baserunning has been awful thus far, and further demonstrates how shaky this team is fundamentally. They are a good team, but not the scary air-tight team of 97-2000. (This may be unfair, as that Yankee team will go down as a great team.) In the first, Jorge Posada was thrown out at second, trying to stretch a single into a double for no good reason, to end the inning. In the third, with runners on second and third and just one out, Bernie Williams didn't score from third on a slow ground ball to first base.
Sure, the Yanks were up 5-1 at the time, but by the bottom of the inning the score was tied. Posada and Bernie have always been lousy on the bases: Posada thinks like Raul Mondesi and runs like John Riggins; Bernie is just a flat-out ditz. Alfonso Soriano had a one-out double in the fourth and then was thrown out trying to steal third. The score was tied. Why steal?
Oy veh. This should promise to be a long, drawn-out affair. I expect the lead to change hands several more times. After a long fly out from Giambi in the fifth (he already hit a two-run blast), Matsui cranked a solo shot to straight-away center to give the Yanks the lead, 6-5. Aaron Boone hasn't had a base hit since Christ was a Cowboy.
Going to be a long night. Tim Hudson squares off against Pedro later tonight in Oakland. What a gem that promises to be. Aesthetically speaking, it doesn't get much better than Pedro vs. Hudson, man.
MO AND THE MECHANICS
My good friend, Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus, sent me some interesting observations on Mariano Rivera over the weekend:
OK, cool. The only question I had was: What is the "power T" position? Will responded:
Will is right, he should do an article on pitching mechanics. I know I learned something I didn't know. It is part of what makes Carroll such a great guy. Like many other baseball writers and bloggers, he loves to share information. After all, what fun is there in knowing everything and keeping it all to yourself? I feel like I learn something new about baseball each and every day of the year. It's why I keep coming back for more.
Raul Mondesi made the papers this weekend talking trash about his former employers in the Bronx. Needless to say, Mondesi proved why the Yanks (and the Jays and the Dodgers before them) didn't want him around anymore. The story doesn't merit serious consideration, it only goes to show that Raul is a first class sucka.
IT'S NOT THE HEAT, IT'S THE STUPIDITY
The Yankee bullpen coughed up a 4-1 lead against the Mariners on Sunday, and the Bombers lost to Seattle, 8-6. There are all different kinds of losses. The best way to describe how I felt after this one can be summed up in one word: fury. Derek Jeter told The Times:
"I just felt it was a game that we should have won," Derek Jeter said. "I'm sure if you ask anybody, they would have said the same thing."
At the end of the game, YES announcer Michael Kay correctly stated that the game was "odiously unmanageable." (Am I the only one who thinks that Kay himself has become odiously unmanageable too?) Even though neither starter, Jamie Moyer nor Roger Clemens were at the top of their game, they weren't terrible either and the game moved along at a reasonable pace. (The game marked the first time two 40-year old pitchers ever started against each other.) It's only when the bullpens took over that the game slowed down to what Kitty Kaat characterized as a "taffy pull."
My "loveable and huggable" collection of relievers, Jeff Nelson, Jesse Orosco, Osuna, and Chris Hammond got their tits lit but good. The M's pen faired better, and showed why the Benitez trade makes sense for them: they didn't even need to go to him.
For the third consecutive weekend, the Yanks have dropped 2 of 3 games when they should have won at least 2 of 3. About the only thing that made it bearable was the fact that the O's beat the Sox again in Boston (Nomar Garciaparra, who has been smoking hot, whiffed with the bases loaded to end the game). The Yanks lead remains three. But Joel Sherman thinks this is a disturbing sign for a team that is expected to go deep into October:
"This loss - like the other five during the past three weekends - was emblematic about why the Yanks should have October worries: Because they lost yet another close game due to missed opportunities on offense, missed outs on defense, misadventures on the bases and miserable relief pitching, especially miserable relief pitching."
...July and August may not be October, but the past three weekends have shown how the games will be played in the postseason and the Yankees have failed the test."
ANDY TO YANKEE BATS: THIS IS ANOTHER FINE MECHE YOU'VE GOTTEN US INTO
Andy Pettitte pitched a complete-game and lost 2-1 to Gil Meche and the Mariners on humid and damp Saturday afternoon in the Boogie Down. I was at my mom's for lunch with Emily and mercifully missed the vexing affair. The baby-faced Meche pitched well earlier in the season at The Stadium, and he was nasty again this time. According to The New York Times:
This is Pettitte's second hard-luck outing in a row. (Remember last Sunday's gem against Mulder in Oakland?) Dem's da breaks, but Andy's been the best pitcher on the Yankees staff for well over a month now. The Bombers lose ground as the Red Sox hit a bunch of historic homers up in Boston to drill the O's, 6-4. The Yanks lead is back to three, the same as it was when Ed Cossette left for vacation. The more things change, the more the stay the same. Welcome home, Edward.
OH WHAT A NIGHT
Yankee fans stewed two nights ago when Mariano Rivera threw away a lead against Texas while Pedro Martinez was busting out a complete game beauty vs. the World Champs; tonight, the shoe is on the other foot. The Sox lost both games of a double-header at home against the Orioles, while the Yankees outlasted the Mariners, 9-7. The Yanks now lead Boston by four games.
Neither Jeff Weaver or Ryan Franklin were particularly effective. Hideki Matsui hit a home run early, but The Mariners rallied down 3-1 in the fifth and went ahead 5-3. (Edgar singled home two runs with the bases full to put the M's ahead.) The bases were still loaded when Dave Dellucci made a terrific diving catch that saved at least two more runs. It's not often a Yankee makes a play that could be nominated for a "web gem," but this was certainly one of them.
One inning later, Nick Johnson hit a grand slam which put the Yankees ahead for good. It was the first grande salami of Nicky's career. Mazel, papi.
Just to make things exciting, Jeff Nelson came on to face the top of the order in the eighth, with the Yanks leading 8-7. He struck out all three batters he faced and pumped and jumped off the mound. It was a nasty outing. Armando Benitez pitched the bottom of the inning, and gave up a single and a stolen base to Alfonso Soriano (who looked much better tonight). Nick Johnson then rolled a seeing-eye single between short and third to give the Yanks an insurance run.
Mariano Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 ninth; a sight for sore eyes, indeed. (He struck out Edgar, who is now 9-15 lifetime against Rivera.)
I didn't think the Sox would drop two at home. Every time I see them trailing by three, four, or five runs early, I assume they are going to come back and win. And if they lose, it will be 11-10 in extra innings. Looks like this Red Sox team is intent on keeping things dramatic. Tonight, it's Red Sox Nation turn to pass the pepto.
YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH
David Pinto has a good take on Jeter's defense over at Baseball Musings (he uses the win shares method to make his case):
"Jeter is the worst regular shortstop in terms of defense over the last five years. And it's not just that he's at the bottom; he's way below the level that keeps shortstops playing. Long time readers of this site know that I've pointed out specific plays where I've seen the ball come off the bat, expected an out, and Jeter doesn't get to it. I have advocated moving Jeter to another position. His lack of defense (and Soriano's, for that matter) cost the Yankees against the Angels last year. Most of the time it doesn't matter because he makes up for his defense with his bat. But against a team that puts the ball in play a lot, I don't want Jeter playing shortstop."
THE AWFUL TRUTH
Derek Jeter's defensive flaws have been widely discussed in the alternative-baseball media for over a year now. The Newark Star Ledger has a piece this morning about Jeter's fatal flaw. Michael Hoban, a 67-year old mathematics professor at Monmouth University, conducted a study ranking shortstops defense and Jeter finsihed dead last:
"I'm the worst?" Jeter said when confronted with the numbers. "I don't think I would say that. But I couldn't really care less what some mathematical equation comes out with."
..."How to you rank defensive shortstops?" Jeter said. "I don't see how a formula can evaluate how somebody plays.
"You get a strikeout pitcher on the mound as opposed to a ground-ball pitcher, it's going to affect the statistics you use to evaluate defense. So I don't really think you can."
What did you expect Jeter to say? "You're right, I am the worst defensive shortstop in baseball." Like Ralph Kramden once declaired: "I got my pride." Regardless, Jete's comments should be fodder for his detractors. Let the bashing continue.
When Rafael Palmeiro hit a 3-run dinger off of Mike Mussina in the top of the first yesterday afternoon, it looked like it could be another long day for the Yankees. But Enrique Wilson answered with a grand slam in the bottom of the second, and the Yanks went on to beat Texas, 7-5. Alex Rodriguez, who is on a homer tear, tied the game at 4 with a solo homer, but Jorge Posada had the go-ahead hit---a slow dribbler that made it's way through the infield---and the bullpen held on for the win.
Jeff Nelson received a rousing ovation from the Stadium crowd when he appeared in the 8th. According to The Times:
"Nelson, a 36-year-old veteran of almost 700 major league games, tried to compose himself when he reached the mound. Surrounded by Manager Joe Torre and the infielders, Nelson stared at the ground.
'I couldn't look up," he said, "because I didn't want them to see the water in my eyes.'"
Nelson didn't pitch particularly well, but he escaped a bases-loaded jam without allowing a run. Mariano Rivera, however, did give up a run in the 9th. Rivera's pitches are catching too much of the strike zone, and they are not breaking with their usual sharpness.
The Red Sox completed a three-game sweep of the World Champs in Boston to remain just 2.5 games back. The Sox play the O's this weekend, including a double header today.
Again, it's damp and drizzling in New York. The Mariners, who are just percentage points behind the Yanks for best record in the league, come to The Stadium for a big weekend series. It should be extra special if Benitez or Nellie get to pitch. Speaking of which, the boys over at U.S.S. Mariner think the M's got the better of the deal. They also think there is no doubt that Nellie's mouth precipitated the move:
"This is the rarest of trades; two contenders, in the same league, with a good chance of facing each other in the playoffs (and a matchup against each other this weekend), swapping players who are both likely to play fairly prominant roles in that potential playoff series. Make no mistake, this is a message trade. Had Jeff Nelson not criticized Mariners ownership last week, he would still be a Mariner. This would not a trade that was explored because of on-field performance (more on that below), but simply one to show the players who was in charge. Criticize the boss and you'll be shown the door. This is a power play by ownership/management."
Jay Jaffe, The Futility Infielder, is happy with the trade:
"What's suprising is that both players slipped through waivers. As I understand it, the transaction rules that govern this time of year require each player to pass through waivers, in which every team gets a crack at the player with the worst teams in the player's same league getting first dibs. The player claimed can then either be dealt to the team claiming him or withdrawn, closing the window on any trade opportunity for the season. For both Benitez and Nelson to have made it through means that the two teams chasing the M's and the Yanks, Oakland and Boston, respectively, passed up the opportunity to claim the player either as a means of aiding their own bullpens, or at the very least of blocking a trade to their rivals."
THE MORNING AFTER
Here is some of the reaction to the Nellie-Benitez deal:
Joel Sherman in The Post.
John Heyman in Newsday.
Larry Stone in The Seattle Times.
Mariano Rivera blew his fourth save in the last ten days, and the Yanks lost a heart-breaker to the Rangers tonight, 5-4. Rivera started the ninth with a 4-3 lead, but after a walk and an error, Hank Blalock hit a 2-run single to win it for Texas. It was the fourth error of Rivera's career and it was costly.
David Wells pitched admirably again, but Rivera was awful. This was a stunning loss.
To make matters worse, Pedro Martinez pitched a complete game in Boston, and the Red Sox beat the Angels 4-2. Anahiem had the bases loaded in the ninth, but Pedro struck Tim Salmon out to end the game. Boston is now two-and-a-half games behind the Yankees and Red Sox Nation will sleep well tonight (it was a perfect night for Red Sox fans). I'll be tossing and turning. Sort of.
The Nelson trade makes it hard to be too down, but I think this game was worse than any of the recent losses against Oakland and Boston. This was was inexcusable. Plus, it wasted two monstrous home runs; one by Giambi, the other by Nick Johnson. (Johnson's solo shot put the Yanks ahead in the 7th.)
Rivera looked glum and furious on the bench. It was about as angry as you'll see him. But he didn't have anything tonight. Maybe he's in a slump too. He can join Bernie (who hit into two double plays tonight), Sori and Jorgie in dumpsville.
CHRISTMAS IN AUGUST: YANKS DUMP BENITEZ ON SEATTLE, NELLIE RETURNS
I left work this evening at 5:00. When I walked into my apartment in the Bronx it was twenty to six. As I changed my clothes I heard Chris Russo on the FAN talking about Jeff Nelson and clearing waivers and some such talk, but I didn’t pay close attention. Then I played my messages and heard the news: The Yankees traded Armando Benitez to the Seattle Mariners for Jeff Nelson. Instinctively, I shouted at the top of my lungs.
Benitez for Nellie. (Then I yelled again.) Benitez for Nellie. It’s like music to a Yankee fan’s ears. Talk about good karma. (In with the good air, out with the bad air.) Oh, baby. So much for The Curse of Jeff Nelson. It was a nice idea but the Yankees don’t have curses, they have potholes. You know, stuff you can fix. Jeff Nelson leaving New York is often regarded as the worst move of the Cashman Era, and now they get a chance to make up for it with Nellie himself. There's the angle. No one has replaced Nelson since he left. Of course, he might not be as good as he was three years ago; the vacationingLarry Mahnken>, for one, is skeptical:
"I don't know if I really like this trade. Nelson has pitched fairly well for the Mariners this season, but hasn't been that effective at getting the team out of jams, as shown by his poor rating in Michael Wolverton's report, in which Benitez ranks better. There's also the fact that Nelson isn't going to be a Type A Free Agent, so the Yankees are more or less sending two draft picks along to the Mariners with this deal (though I doubt the M's will risk offering Benitez arbitration). This really looks to me like it's an attempt to reconstruct the bullpen that dominated the postseasons in the late 90's, which would be nice to have, but it's probably a better idea to do it with younger, cheaper pitchers.
I think this is more or less a horizontal movement for the Yankees' bullpen, Nelly should pitch fine, and Torre will probably be more comfortable giving him the ball in a tight spot. And while Nelly has had some of the same problems as Benitez in the past in finding the plate, he's also death on right-handers--a ROOGY, if you will. That should be VERY valuable against Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez at "
Alls I know is that I'll be able to sleep at night with Nellie on the team.
Last night I was noticing how difficult to was to root for Armando. Some bad guys are great to root for, but Benitez is the like the cross-eyed bully in "Friday." He's just tough to like. Benitez looks like a cartoonists’ conception of a baseball player. He’s completely exaggerated in every way. Even when he’s trying to be subtle. When he ended the game last night, Benitez ran his right index finger along his brow, as if to wipe off the sweat, and then jerked his arm to his side and flicked the sweat of his fingers. It was right out of Tex Avery. Benitez is Bluto.
He lasted less than a month on the Yankees and that’s a beautiful thing as far as I’m concerned. At the very worst, the Yanks will lose with Nellie instead of Benitez, and I’ll take that bargain any day of the week. Heck, we already know what that’s like to lose with Nellie. We’ve seen Benitez lose dramatically with the Mets for so long, I’m thankful we’ll be spared the sight of him blowing big games for the Bombers.
Plus, the Yankees bullpen could just scrap by now. At least they are appealing. Orosco and Hammonds with all that old man soutpaw junk. Gabe White, when he returns, with some heat from the left side. Plus, the not-so-spectacular-but-awfully-amusing Antonio Osuna, who I love just because he reminds me of Luis Guzman (“Carlito’s Way,” “Traffic”), the great New York character actor. Maybe they can get something from Contreras, the soporific Cuban giant, too.
I don't know if Seattle plans to use Benitez as a closer for Kaz or as a replacement for Nellie. I thought Kaz was about to come back.
It is clear that Nelson's big, fat mouth got himself traded. But you could do worse than getting Benitez in return, especially when you already have a good bullpen. Looks like a win-win situation for both teams. David Pinto thinks the deal is a wash.
Think the weekend serious against the Mariners in the Bronx is going to be fun? Boone-Boone-Nellie-Benitez? Awwww, bacon.
According to the Newark Star Ledger, the Yankees are showcasing Dave Dellucci, and may be interested in trading him in a package deal for an every day right fielder, like Reggie Sanders. (Thanks to Lee Sinins for the tip.)
That's too bad, because I like the looks of Dellucci in a Yankee uniform. He's got a little Henry Rollins in him, and a little Treat Williams too. (I haven't seen him enough to get a good call on him yet.) Jay Jaffe described him well:
"Dellucci looks like a classic role-player, good looking guy who your girlfriend notices and asks you why he doesn't get to play more, as you roll your eyes and explain that while he's got some speed and he hustles, he's never gonna hit enough. Chad Curtis with a better personality and haircut."
Derek Jeter led off the game last night against Texas with a home run, and then hit another one in the second. They were typical Jeter shots to right field. He came up again in the fifth and hit a long fly ball to straight away center. "No way," I said aloud. The ball went to the warning track and was caught for a long out, despite being hit farther than the two homers.
Jeter received a round of applause as he jogged back to the dugout, but the damage had already been done. It was not Colby Lewis' night. Hideki Matsui followed Jeter with a home run of his own in the first, and Jason Giambi was 2-2 when he came to bat later in the fifth. I said to myself, "He's hitting one here." Sure enough, Giambi plastered a fastball into the third deck in right field, and the Yankees never looked back, beating Texas 6-2.
My cousin Gabe once said that Giambi at bat looks like a Celtic warrior fighting off his enemies with one hand. Like something out of Conan. That's what his home run looked like last night. He strong-armed the ball with one arm into the upper deck.
Roger Clemens pitched well on his 41rst birthday, but he found himself in a bases-loaded, no out jam in the fourth. According to the Times:
"The pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre went to the mound as Clemens and catcher Jorge Posada debated pitch selection. After the meeting, Clemens got a popout and a strikeout, and faced Nivar.
Nivar, 23, who was called to the majors last week, was looking for his third career hit. He made Clemens work, fouling off three pitches with an 0-2 count and driving him to distraction.
'I wish I could have thrown an eephus pitch for the first time," Clemens said. 'I was letting it go, and that kid was swinging away. I was like, "Man, this would be the night to do it if I was ever going to do it." But I think probably Joe would have taken me out of the game. Or he might have fainted.'
Clemens spared Torre the sight of a blooper pitch. But he did go for something unconventional, dropping to a sidearm angle for a tailing fastball. A surprised Nivar bounced it back to the mound, where Clemens snagged it and threw to first to end the inning, pumping his fist at his side."
It's too bad Clemens didn't turn into Dave LaRoche for just one pitch. Now, that would have been funny.
Antonio Osuna knocked Alex Rodriguez down in the eighth inning, much to the delight of the crowd. A-Rod glared in the Yankee dugoug and then popped out to left. Rodriguez has been getting killed in the press lately, but William Rhoden has a sympathetic column on the Texas superstar in the Times today:
"I am baffled by a persistent ambivalence in sports journalism when it comes to athletes and money. We acknowledge that sports is big business, but in our hearts, we seem to resent the business aspect of games that turn young athletes into multimillionaires. For the last three years, Alex Rodriguez of the Texas Rangers has been Exhibit A of our ambivalence.
...For the last three seasons the industry has derived some satisfaction watching A-Rod suffer losing season after losing season."
Meanwhile, up in Beantown, Jeff Suppan had a miserable first outing for the Sox, but the bats led another comeback, and Boston defeated the World Champs, 10-9. Never a dull moment for Sox Nation, right? The Yankee lead is still 3.5 games.
THE BIG PAYBACK
Rob Neyer critiques Oakland's recent moves: trading for Jose Guillen and signing Scott Hatteberg to a contract extension. While John Harper---who may just be the best baseball columnist in New York---contributes an article on Billy Beane.
IT AIN'T THE MEAT, IT'S THE MOTION
Buster Olney has a nice piece on Roy "Doc" Halladay over at ESPN. Buster writes about how movement is more crucial to a pitchers' success than velocity:
"Halladay, like a lot of pitchers, threw the ball with mechanics that brought his arm angle straight over the top -- like a pitching machine. It is a delivery that kept the ball spinning on a centered, balanced axis, the kind of rotation that does not foster movement.
The movement comes when the ball is thrown with its axis and rotation off-center. 'Some of it is arm angle, finger pressure, hand and wrist position, the grip on the baseball,' said Mike Flanagan, the 1979 AL Cy Young Award winner and now the general manager of the Baltimore Orioles.
...'There's a lot of feel, a lot of touch,' said Flanagan. 'Some pitchers don't have it. You'll look at the videotape with them and they'll see the movement, but don't realize it themselves when they throw the ball. You're talking to them and you say, "Can't you feel that?" And they don't.'"
Fortunately for the Blue Jays, Roy Halladay can.
WHAT, ME WORRY?
The weather promises to be stormy in New York all week, so it will be interesting to see how many games they can actually get in. Not a whole lot going on this morning. The New York papers are focusing on the troubles of the first-place Yankees, while Bob Ryan wonders whether this could really be "the year" for the Red Sox.
"GORILLIA MY DREAMS" OR "THINGS THAT GO GULP IN THE NIGHT"
As I'm talking with her, the Red Sox start a rally. Meanwhile, I'm feeling stressed because I don't want to ride the subway for an hour and miss the end of the game. An old, fat lady is now batting for Boston. Right-handed hitter. She faces Benitez and lofts a lazy pop fly to Mondesi in right (even though he had already been traded in real life). Mondesi inexplicably bolts toward first base and the ball falls in right field with nobody near it.
Suddenly, it's 5-4 Yankees. Armando Benitez is pitching. There are two outs, and it's the ninth inning. That was when I woke up.
I wasn't sweating but my heart was racing. There isn't much to figure out here, except why a fat old lady was batting for the Sox. But I think my anxieties about Armando Benitez should be familiar to Yankee fans everywhere, whether it keeps you up at night or not.
GIMMIE SOME MORE
Today is an off-day for the Red Sox and Yankees, but ESPN has two articles about the age-old rivals in case anyone has gotten bored in the last 12 hours. Bob Klapisch writes about the Yankees' front office hysteria, while Peter Gammons explores the friendly relationship Brian Cashman shares with Theo Epstein.
According to Epstein:
"It's ridiculous when people try to make it seem as if we have a personal rivalry," says Epstein. "It's just the opposite. We are good friends, as much as we can be in our business. We shook hands and joked with one another after each one of our three games at Fenway last weekend. He is one of the general managers I admire and respect most; hey, he's one of the most respected, period. He doesn't obsess about what the Red Sox do and I don't obsess about what the Yankees do because it can be costly and counterpdroductive."
The Gammons piece concentrates on Epstein's open-minded way of running things in Boston:
"Theo likes having a lot of people with imput and the constant buzz of ideas," says one of his assistants. "You have the sage, experienced and fearless voice of Bill Lajoie, and Josh Byrnes. Then there are a bunch of us who brainstorm with him every day. What is most interesting is that he wants voices that disagree. He wants every side to every issue, and encourages contrary opinions."
This is the reason why Epstein is so appealing, and why the Sox are an extremely likable team. (It was much easier to despise them when Dan Duquette was running the team.) Reading this article reminded me of something that Oakland's assistant GM, Paul DePodesta said in "Moneyball:"
"It's looking at process rather than outcomes," Paul says. "Too many people make decisions based on outcomes rather than process."
Focusing on the process is not a luxury Brain Cashman can afford working for Boss George, which makes what he's been able to accomplish in New York all the more impressive.
Baseball is always under criticism for not being what it once was, or what it should be. But are we in fact living through a "Golden Age?" A writer named Tom Keaton has good an article dispelling a few of the most commonly held myths about baseball's problems.
Rich Lederer has another wonderfully original article up on his site. This one is about some of the most obscure home run hitters of all-time. Certainly worth perusing.
Pettitte vs. Mulder. Not a thinking-man’s delight, but a big boy special instead. Andy is 6’5 and Mulder is 6’6. They are both guys you want to call “Meat.” Mulder has been striking guys out recently, but Ben Jacobs thinks it could cost him in the long run. Pettitte has enjoyed an excellent string of pitching winning his last eight starts.
I’ve been critical of Pettitte this year. Here is a portion of a letter I received last week from a reader named Steve:
"I think the thing with Pettitte that gets him in trouble on the hill is that he has a pretty wide repertoire of pitches and too much Mike Mussina in him. Mussina is a thinker but I think he's a confident thinker. He's playing chess out there and always seems to be on the attack. Andy on the other hand starts questioning himself, and always seems to default to the cutter when he questions his other stuff. I think (and this is totally subjective and I could be very wrong) that Andy is at his best when he trusts his breaking stuff and doesn't try to overpower guys. When he gets fastball happy he gets knocked around."
Mulder starts off well and so does Andy. The A’s have the only hit through three (a single by Jose Guillen that was misplayed by Soriano; could have been an error, but it was a tough play). Mulder is quick and efficient. This guy makes it look easy. He’s got the Yankees anxious, swinging at pitches early in the count. Cruising through the early innings without breaking a sweat. He retires the first twelve without incident.
The A’s are hitting a ton of ground balls to Boone at third.
Funny how humbling the game can be, but Eric Byrnes, who played so well against the Yankees early in the year, is in a deep funk. Since he hit for the cycle in June, Byrnes came into Sunday’s game 8 for his last 80.
Mulder retires the first two batters in the fifth, and then Aaron Boone laces a double over Eric Byrnes’ head. Soriano follows with a hard-hit one-hopper to short. It narrowly misses hitting Boone, who bends his back to get out of the way, as if he was avoiding a tag in a rundown. Tejada times his leap for the ball perfectly, but it takes a funny hop, and skips past his glove into center for a single. (It was slower than he thought.) Tejada slaps his glove on the ground, and Boone scores his first run as a Yankee.
After giving up a hit in the first, Pettitte has retired 14 in a row through five. Byrnes is now 8 for his last 82.
Jeter singles to start the sixth. Bernie flies out to right on the first pitch. That helped Mulder out a lot. Boos for Giambi. Michael Kay is ‘sticking up’ for Giambi. (Spare us.) Giambi grounds into a 3-5 double play (Chavez is the only infielder on the left side of the infield in the Giambi shift) to end the inning.
Terrance Long skies a pop foul to the left side. Matsui runs for days to catch it, but he makes the play for the first out. Eric Piatt follows with a hard liner to center field, but it’s right at Bernie Williams who makes the catch for out number two. That’s probably the hardest hit ball for the A’s all day. Pettitte walks Mark Ellis on five pitches. The first man to reach in sixteen batters. Now Pettitte works out of the stretch. Andy rears back and K’s Jose Guillen on a high heater, out of the zone (thank you Rocket Clemens Workout!) to get out of the inning. (Andy seems to be throwing his change-up effectively today too.)
Yanks 1, A’s 0.
(44,528 announced crowd in Oakland. The largest of the weekend.)
Top of the Seventh
Posada leads off. Mulder never steps off the rub. He’s perpetually ready to pitch. He gets Jorgie swinging in the dirt at a good off-speed pitch for his sixth strike out of the day. One out. Curve ball, outside to Matsui, 1-0. Fastball, strike. Slider, low, 2-1. Swing and a miss foul, 2-2. (Matsui broke his bat.) Breaking ball, 55-footer, 3-2. Fastball, on the outside corner. Delayed call…no call. Ball four. Everyone just froze for a moment. Mulder isn’t happy with the call.
Here’s Aaron Boone. Throw to first. Ball one (88th pitch of the day), outside corner, looked close. Another throw to first. Next pitch, same place, low and outside, 2-0. Boone then hits a soft grounder to third. Chavez goes to second for the force. Two outs. YES replays show Ellis took his foot off the bag before he got the throw.
Fastball, high, ball one to Soriano. Sori singles between short and third into left. (See the ball, hit the ball.) He’s 8-17 lifetime against Mulder. Two men on with two out for Todd Zeile.
The first pitch to Zeile is high for a ball. The next pitch is way inside, ball two. Why nibble with Ziele? Breaking ball, high and outside. Again, it looked close. 3-0. Fastball right down the middle, strike one. Ziele swings over a nice slider for the second strike. Full count, runners moving…Eeee strug ‘im out. Another nasty slider, low and out of the zone. Mulder pitches out of trouble.
Bottom of the Seventh (stretch)
Eric Chavez flies out to Karim Garcia in right. Garcia almost lost the ball in the sun, but he made the catch.
Andy over throws the first two pitches out of the zone against Tejada, and then lays a breaking pitch over the plate for a strike. Jorgie goes out to talk with Andy. Tejada snaps the next pitch foul. Man, does he ever swing hard. Fastball, inside and high, the count is full. Tejada calls time as Pettitte is in his wind up, and Andy launches one over the umps head. Miggy raises his hand apologetically to Pettitte. Tejada fouls the next pitch foul, and then whiffs on a cutter in the dirt. That pitch was similar to the one Mulder struck Ziele out with. Two out.
Durazo strikes out to end the inning. Pettitte has thrown 95 pitches.
Okay, I’m officially starting to worry about Benitez.
Ruben Sierra pinch-hits for Garcia, and grounds out weakly to third on the first pitch. Way to go, big guy.
Jeter looks at a fastball, high 1-0, then drives the next pitch to Eric Byrnes in center for the second out.
The bullpens are quiet. Mulder falls behind Bernie, 3-0 and then Bernie swings at the freakin’ 3-0 pitch and grounds out to short. Come on. Come on, youse guys are freakin’ killin’ me over here.
Even though the Yanks aren’t hitting, I feel comfortable and confident. Even if they lose this game late again, I feel like they should win it.
Ramon Hernandez flies out to deep right for the first out. Dave Dellucci is the new right fielder.
Eric Byrnes gets all over the first pitch and hits a home run foul by about 15-20 feet. Dumb luck, man. He fouls the next pitch---a fastball, in on the hands, 0-2. Fouls the next pitch, a cutter in the dirt, off too. Grounds the next pitch foul too. The last two pitches were balls, but Byrnes isn’t letting any pitch get by. He grounds the next pitch—a breaking ball, to Boone at third. Boone collects his seventh assist of the game for out number two.
T. Long hits a grounder at Soriano. He has to move to his right, and he throws off his back foot. The throw takes Ziele off the bag, but he tags Long for the apparent out. But the call is safe and the A’s have life. Ziele is hot, and here comes Joe and so is he. It looks like Torre is telling the rookie umpire that he made the call too soon. “This is as mad as I’ve seen Torre all season,” says Singleton. Forget about starting off the ninth with the number nine hitter.
Eric Piatt falls behind, 1-2. Pettitte goes to first three times. The 1-2 pitch is low and wild. It gets past Jorgie and Long moves to second. Posada goes out to talk with his pitcher.
The A’s organist plays “If You’re Happy and You Know it.” Mariano Rivera is sitting on the bullpen grass, his legs split wide away. He leans back on his arms and wags his feet back and forth. Singleton says he looks like he should be chillin’ on a blanket in Central Park.
Pettitte K’s Piatt on the next pitch, swinging. Another cutter. Onions. (Actually, I don’t know whether it was a cutter or a sinking fastball.)
Top of the Ninth
Mulder throws a strike to Giambi on the inside corner, 0-1. Giambi skies the next pitch to Long in left for the first out.
Breaking ball, way outside to Posada, 0-1. Jorgie had K’d thrice. He grounds the next pitch to Chavez. The throw is in the dirt, but Durazo makes a terrific scoop for the out. If that got away, Posada is on third.
Hideki hits a grounder toward right for an infield single and then gets picked off of first to end the frame.
Bottom of the Ninth
Torre lets Andy start the inning. It’s top of the order for Oakland. The thought of Tejada coming up scares me here.
Andy falls behind Mark Ellis 2-1. Ellis works the count full. The crowd is finally into it, making noise. The 3-2 pitch is fouled off to the right side. The next pitch is up and hit, Ellis twirls away and jogs to first with a walk. That’s it for Andy, here comes Mo. This will make it four games in a row for Rivera.
I have a bad feeling about this.
Guillen bunts Rivera’s first pitch foul, off himself. There goes Billy Beane’s lunch. Mo makes a courtesy throw to first. The next pitch is a fastball high, and Guillen jabs at it foul, 000-2. Ron Washington, one of Michael Lewis’ favorites, strolls down to say a word to Guillen. Rivera then throws to first again. Pitch out, Ellis bluffs. 1-2. Fastball, inside, foul-tipped. Posada couldn’t hold on to it. Great pitch. The next pitch is a 96 mph heater, up in the zone. Guillen swings right through it for the first out.
The first pitch to Eric Chavez is low and inside, 0-1. Chavez is 2-7 in his career against Rivera. He swings at the next pitch and fouls it back, but it’s a good-looking swing. Rivera got away with one. Chavez then laces a single sharply to right. Ellis moves to third. This is getting messy.
Fastball, right down the plate to Tejada, 0-1. Fastball in, Tejada moves back, 1-1. Fastball, low and outside, 2-1. Pettitte is slumped in dugout; he can barely watch. Tejada rocks a fastball to left. It’s off the wall. (It was almost out.) Godzilla fumbles the ricochet and the game is over. Ellis scores, and Chavez comes around to score the winning run. If Matsui made the play cleanly, the run might not have scored.
In a game with no margin for error, the Yanks couldn't close the door on the A's. Who else but Tejada?
Final time: Two hours and twenty-five minutes. More Efficiency.
Oh, well. Shoot. That’s a tough loss. Still, one that will hopefully make the Yankees grouchy. Sometimes that’s grouchy and pissed is not a bad place to be. I remember feeling so confident as a fan when Paulie O or Cone would linger in the dugout, steaming, after a tough loss.
The Yankees lost two of three against both Boston and Oakland when they could have swept both series. A lot will be written about the failure of the bullpen, but you still have to feel confident that the Yankees will win more games like this than they’ll lose. They finish the road trip, 4-2 but it could have been better. Do you look at the glass as half-full or half-empty?
The Red Sox salvaged the weekend series with a win in Baltimore, 7-5. There was a long rain-delay, and Sports Center ran a clip of Todd Walker and Nomar Garciaparra reacting to a loud thunder clap. Walker sprinted off the field with the quickness. The Sox were loose and having fun during the delay. The offense, sleeping all weekend, made sure they weren't swept.
The Yankee lead is now 3.5 games, which is the same lead they had nine games earlier when they started this road trip in Boston.
The 1973 A’s were honored before the game and my boy Reginald Martinez Jackson threw out the first pitch. (You were expecting Blue Moon Odom maybe?)
Jeff Weaver started, and had a mediocre start. He have up two in the first, one in the second, and one in the third. But he got through the middle innings before running into trouble again in the seventh. He hung in there on a lousy day is the way I look at it. I am not discouraged with the start. Of course if the Yankees had lost 4-1 I would be a little less forgiving.
Zito fell to 8-9, even though he still sports an excellent 3.30 ERA. I like Zito personally, but I love to hate him on the field. He’s just so nasty, that beating him is almost like beating Pedro: a treat to be savored. (Cause it won’t happen often.) Mulder is too non-descript to hate, and I love Hudson too much to hate him. Even when he’s sticking it to the Yankees, I love him so much I want to marry him.
The beauty part is that the Red Sox lost again to the Orioles. Boston led 2-1 going into the bottom of the sixth when Baltimore plated seven runs. The O’s won, 11-2. Derek Lowe took the loss. Mike Timlin and Ramiro Mendoza both gave up runs, and Todd Jones gave up two in relief.
The Yankee lead is now 4.5. The Sox are in a slide since they played the Yankees and received all sorts of glowing reviews for their performance on and off the field. Red Sox fatalists are probably saying ‘I told you so,’ at all of those who foolishly jumped on the bandwagon. But this Boston team has been resilient and instead of wilting against the likes of the Mariners and A’s (14 straight games starting August 11th), I think they could step up and excel in those games.
You never know.
FRIDAY NIGHT AT THE FIGHTS
Mike Mussina and Tim Hudson lived up to advanced billing on Friday. They both pitched seven innings and gave up four hits apiece. Hudson walked three and struck out five; Moose walked one guy and whiffed nine. Hudson threw 119 pitches, Mussina 98. And Mike Mussina led going into the eighth, 2-1.
But the Yankee bullpen couldn’t hold the lead and the game went into extra innings. Orosco started the eighth and promptly stuck out Terrance Long. In comes Harmando who struck out pinch-hitter Billy McMillon. Mark Ellis singled, and then Hatteberg drew a walk. What else? That was it for the big guy. Torre called for Rivera.
Up steps Miguel Tejada. Mo shatters his bat. Sharp grounder to second. Soriano boots it. Ellis scored from second, and the game was tied. Mo broke Erubiel Durzo’s bat too; he popped out to Jeter to end the inning. Soriano was dropped in the batting order to eighth last night for the first time all year. He took the move in stride, but went hitless and made a crucial error.
Antonio Osuna gave up a solo bomb to Tejada in the 10th, and the A’s pulled out a 3-2 win. The loss for the Yankees is similar to the two games they dropped to the Red Sox last weekend. Gut-wrenching to watch; clearly games they were in control of winning. Games that cost them in the standings.
Before the game started, I knew that the Sox had already lost to Baltimore, 2-1. The Sox managed four hits, and wasted another good outing from old man Burkett. So the Yanks failed to gain another game in the standings.
Having no desire to subject myself to such craziness, I went to bed after watching the first couple of innings. So I didn’t have to suffer and lose sleep over it. After all, I condition myself during the week to not watch or listen to the games, and can do it fairly easily, even on a Friday night. In the spirit of "Moneyball," I’ve become more efficient as a fan; I realize how much stress I can take, and I adjust accordingly. (There is only so much drama that I’m willing to take in early August.)
The most interesting part of the night was seeing Aaron Boone play third base for the Yankees. They showed a clip of Ventura in the Dodgers dugout, and he had a distracted, far-away look. Actually, the showed him so briefly it was hard to detect his expression at all. It was blank and calm as always. I projected the other stuff onto him. But suddenly, I missed him more than I ever thought I could. I missed the idea of having him around. In a jolt, I felt a surge of emotion that made me connect with all of the Ventura fans that I know out there. So that’s what they’ve been talking about. Okay.
Boone looks more like his father than his brother. Brett Boone is compact but powerful. Like Barney Rubble with springs. Aaron’s face is narrow, and he had dark hair, and dark eyes. It’s a completely different energy. It’s also very different from Ventura. Hudson struck Boone out with ease in his first at bat. Boone hit sixth and had a single to go with another strike out. (I bet Boone wished he could have joined the Yanks back home against Texas.)
The first thing I thought about when I first saw Boone was Roy Smalley. I’m not saying there is anything to it; I’m just reporting the first thing that came to my mind. The analogy doesn’t really work when you think it through, but there is something similar in the look.
Bernie went 0-5 and whiffed twice, Matsui was 0-4, Giambi 0-2 (with two walks).
By Bronx Banter correspondent, Christopher DeRosa
Derek Jeter’s up to .324/.394/.464 now, and it’s been, oh, a day or two since I’ve heard how overrated he is.
When Jeter struggled back from his shoulder injury, the Yankees played some of their worst ball in recent memory. He wasn’t hitting, and instead of fielding ground balls, he was yucking it up with George in a Visa commercial. At the beginning of the July, somebody sent me Page 2’s list of the ten most overrated athletes. Derek Jeter was #3. The failings of the new Yankee Captain afield were suddenly visible enough for the story of his overratedness to crest. That was probably pretty gratifying for some in the sabermetric community who have for years bewailed Jeter’s reputation as a superstar, or clutch player, or winner, or whatever.
I’d like talk a bit about Jeter’s rating, but first off, let me recognize that there are more than two positions in the debate. There are:
1. The people who think Jeter can do no wrong, possesses magical abilities, and is better than A-Rod.
Grouping the opinions of 2, 3, and 4 with those of 1 or 5 tends to emotionalize the issue, so let me state up front that though a fan of Jeter, I can see that most of his critics are just trying to evaluate a player as honestly as they can, and get irked when they think a player has an inflated reputation. My premise here is that a player can be praised up and down without really being overrated.
The opinion that Derek Jeter is overrated is common, and fast approaching Point Rudi, when the people convinced of a player’s under- or overrated-ness out-number the holders of the original perception. If you made an all star team of the players whose overrated-ness has upset the most people, Jeter would probably be in the starting line-up, along with Steve Garvey and Pete Rose (although I don’t know that he could move Phil Rizzuto off the shortstop position, what with his awful range and all).
Hell, Baseball Prospectus wanted to move him to third after the 1998 season. The idea that Jeter is a good fielder seems limited to Yankee broadcasters John Sterling (radio) and Michael Kay (YES). I’ve even read several accounts of how Jeter’s shovel pass in the 9-6-2 that nipped Jeremy Giambi at the plate in the 2001 Division Series was really an example of his poor play, either because he was actually supposed to be covering second base, or because he interfered with an accurate throw by Shane Spencer. One of my friends compares Jeter to David Beckham (I know that’s a put-down but I’m not quite sure how bad). People are not reluctant to criticize this guy. It’s not a revelation to say he’s overrated, it’s an old refrain. The very fact that you are right now having an encounter with Jeter-is-Overrated Backlash should tell you that this is a notion in general circulation. Who has inspired all this comment though? Who is doing the overrating?
Is it the traditional sportswriters? When Jeter arguably deserved the MVP award in 1999, the writers voted five players ahead of him.
How about the fans? The fans have never elected Jeter to the All Star team. In 1999, the year Alex Rodriquez was injured and Jeter was playing his best ball, the fans elected Nomar Garciaparra—a pretty good indication that while fans thought there were three great shortstops in the American League, they thought Jeter was specifically third in that group. These days, the idea of the Big Three shortstops is history. Last year during the ridiculous Omar Vizquel all star bubble that resulted in five shortstops on the AL All Star team, an ESPN.com poll asked fans to pick the least deserving one on the squad, and Jeter won.
Managers and coaches? He’s never won a Gold Glove—they know he’s no great shakes with the leather.
How about those anonymous scouts who get quoted in Peter Gammons columns and such? They’ve been saying Tejada’s better since the 2000 season, and questioning Jeter’s place in the AL shortstop troika.
Himself? He’s not a self-promoter. Asked about that Larry Bird play against Oakland, he just said the Yankees coached that positioning in Spring training.
I’m tempted to say you can’t even find anyone outside the Evil Empire who actually overrates Jeter, but you can. In mid June, I saw Harold Reynolds on ESPN saying he’d rather have Jeter than Alex Rodriquez. But the other three guys on the show disagreed with him. Karl Ravech, Peter Gammons, and Bobby Valentine are more representative of the mainstream on this question than Harold Reynolds or the Yankees’ homer announcers.
If you really want to know how the baseball public rates a player, you can’t just look at superlatives. You have to look at stuff where people are actually forced to choose. Commentators are careless with superlatives when they talk about a player is isolation: when he wins the World Series, breaks a record, or retires.
When Tony Gwynn retired a couple of years ago, all the gushing accolades set off a round of complaint from the cognoscenti about how the ignorant public overrated batting average and Tony Gwynn. But they don’t, really. The fans didn’t elect Tony Gwynn to the All Century team, or Roberto Clemente either. They elected power hitters. The writers didn’t give him the MVP when he hit .370, or .394. They gave the award to hitters with more power. When a guy like Gwynn retires, people say “He’s the greatest hitter I ever saw.” They’re not going to say, “He was all right but I rank him behind Al Kaline.” Same with Jeter when the Yankees won. They said he’s the greatest, but you can see by the voting that they didn’t really mean it. Derek Jeter doesn’t get picked in the first round of a lot of rotisserie league drafts.
Take your casual fans. When they overrate players, it tends to be on the basis of their triple crown stats or their raw rotisserie-type categories. In part, that’s how Vladimir Guererro sometimes gets cited as the best player in baseball, or the most underrated. I doubt many of these fans would dispute Jeter’s rating based on a more sophisticated analysis:
Win Shares 00 01 02 2000-2
Alex Rodriquez 37 37 35 109
Wins Above Replacement Player 2000-02
Alex Rodriguez 41.2
Miguel Tejada 26.8
Nomar Garciaparra 22.4
Rich Aurilia 21.2
Derek Jeter 21.2
Omar Vizquel 17.2
Edgar Renteria 15.2
Your casual fan who looks at some basic stats would likely know a few things, like Tejada and A-Rod were MVP candidates last year while Jeter wasn’t, or, Nomar’s been better when healthy but got hurt one year. To the extent that they are not yet aware of on base percentage, they may underrate Jeter’s contribution:
Career OBP through 2002
The kind of fan who would be shocked by how much Jeter trails the best shortstop in an advanced metric is a fan so casual that he or she isn’t really looking at all; i.e. not making an effort to rate players to begin with. Then you’ve got your angry know-nothings who go to the park to chant obscenities at opposing players… all this worry over Jeter’s rating can’t be about them, can it? These people are not casual fans, but niether are they interested in trying to rank baseball players.
After awhile the focus on Jeter’s shortcomings can be a little frustrating for the sensitive Yankee fan, especially because it feels like a conversation people should have been having for a long time about Cal Ripken Jr. When old man Ripken limped into yet another All Star start in 2001, A-Rod let him play short, Selig stopped the game in the middle to give him a pointless award, and the announcers fawned all over him. But when Jeter came up, they were quick to offer that, if you really looked at his year, his selection to the team was questionable. They never suggested that maybe a 40-year-old inert offensive player like Ripken shouldn’t be keeping, say, Troy Glaus on the bench.
And Ripken had been sucking wind for years on his march to Cooperstown. I am certainly not saying that Derek Jeter is a better player than Ripken. Jeter has only had that one year that was up there with the Ripken’s best few campaigns. I only mean that Ripken was a much better example of the Teflon Ballplayer people think Jeter is. Ripken enjoyed many seasons of superstar status as a non-superstar player, and took comparatively little grief about it. To his legions of admirers, the things he couldn’t do at the plate were invisible in the glare of his Hard Work, Character, Respect for the Game, etc.
Jeter gets his vague character points too. I believe it was on the basis of being a Winner and a Leader that Michael Jordan picked him, along with Eddie Jones, to sell a special line of ugly sneakers for Nike a few years ago. I don’t think it has crowded out all other considerations, the way it did with Ripken, though.
How about Jeter’s alleged leadership; is there anything to it? Baseball teams, after all, are still collections of human beings who have to work through their motivations and relationships. From the outside, I can only see Jeter’s leadership at work in two ways. Of all the Yankees of recent years, he and George Steinbrenner seem the most committed to the notion that anything less than a championship is unacceptable. I suppose that in small doses, that exacting attitude can be useful to a team.
Perhaps of more value to the Yankees is that Jeter buys into Torre and Zimmer (Don Zimmer, you remember, was not always regarded as loveable). You may have had the seen this scenario in youth sports. When the coolest kid likes the coach, the other kids more or less have to get with the program. If the kid with the most social power hates the coach, it’s going to be a long season. Bill James once had a great description of Kirby Puckett that I think applies to Jeter almost in its entirety:
On a certain hard-headed level, Kirby isn’t as good a player as people think he is. . . . He isn’t a great offensive player, and neither is he a great defensive player. Taking the complete package, any manager would kill to have him. If he ever has injuries, he doesn’t mention it. If he ever has conflicts with manager or teammates, we never hear of it. If Kirby knows how much he gets paid to play baseball, he’s never mentioned it. He gives the impression if being totally immersed in the game that he is playing, the game on the field. It’s hard to overstate how much it means to an organization to have a guy like that, because he sells to his teammates the attitude that Tom Kelly would sell them if he could (Baseball Book 1992, 251-252).
That took me by surprise in 1992, because a lot of us educated by James had been moaning for years that Puckett was overrated. It makes sense now. It’s not that “attitude” puts any games under the W column. We’ve all seen angry teams whose best players were jerks win, too. It is just that, the way those particular Twins were knit together, Puckett’s centrality was part of an dynamic that worked, they won a couple of titles, and everybody had a great time. It is more like a set of circumstances than a skill you can pack up and take with you when you sign with the Texas Rangers (and anyway, you generally can’t be a leader when you aren’t playing like a star). If leadership is bogus for use in rating a player, it can still be part of his history, and something to which a fan responds.
Fans don’t have to like players in descending order of their Wins Above Replacement Player. And they don’t automatically overrate the players they like. To use a player to whom I have no emotional attachment, Darin Erstad is another fan favorite getting the overrated label. The fact that he hasn’t had a good year at the plate since 2000 is, if anything, more obvious than the fact that Jeter can’t reach any balls. Do his fans really think he’s more valuable than a centerfielder who can actually hit (like their old centerfielder)? Or do they just think, “this man helped win us the World Series and we love him”? Maybe I’m assuming too much rationality here, but I think when people say Jeter is a winner, a lot of them just mean that he’s won a lot. When they say he’s a clutch player, a lot of them just mean he’s gotten some big hits in some awfully big games. When Yankee fans say he represents all that is good about baseball, they really just mean that when you watch a team everyday and the same guy, going on eight years, is always the first out of the dugout to congratulate a teammate, you begin to appreciate the guy’s attitude. As such, Derek Jeter is not overrated; he’s just popular.
Chris DeRosa is a historian living in Long Branch, NJ, who writes an annual newsletter for all his baseball friends. You can reach him at: email@example.com
PANIC IN THE BRONX?
SI's senior baseball writer Tom Verducci weighs in on the trade-deadline activity:
"Give the Red Sox credit. They put the heat on the Yankees. Boston hasn't been this close to New York in the standings this late in the season since the Yankees started winning championships in the Joe Torre era. The Red Sox have definitely improved themselves, especially in the bullpen. They upped the ante on New York, and I think the Yankees got caught up in the atmosphere of holding off Boston. And the Yankees should be worried about the Red Sox. There was a little more urgency for New York to get a deal done this week than in past years."
NELLIE RIPS GILLICK
Former YankeeJeff Nelson, never shy about expressing his opinions, let Mariners GM "Stand" Pat Gillick have it after the M's failure to make a deadline trade:
"It's frustrating for everybody in here, and it should be frustrating for the people who go out there and pay for tickets and pay these outrageous prices at these concession stands," the veteran reliever said. "They deserve a winner. Seattle, I think the whole city is aching for a winner, either the Seahawks, the Sonics or the Mariners. We have an opportunity to do that, and it's just unfortunate we didn't make a move.
"We have a good team, and we're in first place by four games. You watch these other contending teams -- New York, Boston, Oakland, Chicago -- they're very good teams as well, but they want to be better. And they better themselves by going out and making these trades. It's tough to sit here year after year and watch this team not do things to better themselves.
"I've never seen an impact player come to this team (at the trade deadline), nor have they ever seemed to go out and try to get one. Every year it's, 'Oh, we tried to make moves, we tried to make moves,' but other teams seem to do it."
Meanwhile, hold everything: Louie and the D-Rays went 14-12 in July. How sweet it is...
Theo Epstein's pop, Leslie Epstein, is an academic with an attitude against the Yankees. He's rooted against them for years, and raised his kids to loath them too. Like many Yankee-haters---especially of an older generation---Mr. Epstein looks at the Bombers as the essence of corporate, Republican America:
"Is it true Steinbrenner summoned all of them down to Tampa?" Leslie wondered after hearing about the Boss' meeting of the minions in Florida this week. "He must be asking them, 'How come this little jerk is making you guys look like fools?' They wanted both Scotts (Williamson and Sauerbeck), and we got them. We're supposed to have the depleted farm system, right? What's going on here?
"I don't like to gloat over (Brian) Cashman getting reamed by his boss, because I know he's a good guy, but if Darth Vader The Convicted Felon should be discomforted, well, it pleases me to no end. ... The fact that my son is part of doing that to him is even better."
You got to love it when the eggheads get personal.
Think the next two months will be exciting, if not histrionic?
The Yankees drew 11 walks last night, and stranded most of them on base. Though New York left 12 runners on (the Angels left 8), Nick Johnson smacked an RBI single off a Troy Percival heater in the 10th inning, and the Yanks beat the Angels,2-1. The Yanks swept the World Champs and gained another game on Boston who were busy losing an extra-inning affair of their own. Boomer Wells pitched well, and Armando Benitez got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the eighth (he got the win, Rivera the save).
After losing to the Angels in the playoffs last year, it sure is nice to spank the World Champs, who are not even playing .500 ball.
Meanwhile, Pedro Martinez left after six innings last night in Texas trailing, 3-2. Trot Nixon tied the game with a homer in the ninth, and B.Y. Kim threw three scoreless innings. But Buster Olney's boy, Alex Rodriguez crushed a grand salami off of Todd Jones in the 11th to give Texas the win. The Yanks lead is now three-and-a-half games.
The Bombers head to Oakland to face The Big Three this weekend. Mussina v. Hudson to start it off tonight. Should be worth the price of admission.
It was interesting to see the reaction to the Aaron Boone trade yesterday. Around my office, the Mets fans rolled their eyes with envy and said, 'The Yankees get whatever they want.' The fact that the Bombers had to part with their top pitching prospect didn't seem to faze them in the slightest. Meanwhile, many Yankee fans seemed to react with anger and frustration. 'Why did we need to get rid of Claussen for a third baseman? What about a right fielder?'
Then there was some sadness surrounding Robin Ventura's departure. Ventura, the laconic team comedian, was very well-liked with the fans, and his personality will be missed.
"I'd say I'm disappointed," Ventura said. "It's a great place to play, the guys are great, Joe and his staff are great . . . It's a special place."
I've always liked Ventura more as a person---though I've never met him, of course---than as a ballplayer, though he was a solid defender with a good hitting-eye. His best days are clearly behind him. But it was hard to break the news to my friend Mindy, who simply adores him.
I was exhausted by the time the deal was finally announced yesterday. Following the trade rumors since Tuesday, I felt like a kid on a junk-food high. By 4:00 pm, I crashed. I was bemused when I first heard the Boone rumor, and then melancholy. I understand the anger that Jay Jaffe (who has another impressive critique this morning at Futility Infielder) and others feel towards the deal, but after rooting for the Yankees for 25-some odd years, I've developed a thick skin for this kind of move. They make me feel weary more than anything else. I'm resigned to the fact that George makes moves like this in his sleep, and that he's made far worse trades in the past.
If this is the cross Yankee fans have to bear---gluttony and stupidity---so be it. It's the kind of problem most fans would love to have. Of course, I would have liked to see Claussen develop in a Yankee uniform. It's a nice fantasy.
Still, the New York media almost uniformly agrees this was a superfluous and panicky deal by Boss George and co. A reaction to the nifty trades Boston has made all season. Here is what some of the heavy-hitters have to say about it: Sherman, Madden, Lupica, and Jack Curry.
Here are some of Rob Neyer's impressions on the deal, which were posted in his chat session yesterday:
"As for what the Yankees gave up to get Boone, 1) they never give young pitchers a chance, anyway, and 2) Claussen has a great arm, but he's coming off Tommy John surgery and has just 39 K's in 69 innings this season.
...I don't think they're thinking about the long haul. If [Jeff] Weaver works out, great. If he doesn't, they can always sign a free agent or trade for somebody's high-priced veteran. When your budget is unlimited, you don't have to worry about next year
...They're a tad soft in right field, but essentially the Yankees are now without a single weakness. Which doesn't mean the Sox are sunk, of course. They have to beat out either the Yankees or the A's/M's. And I think they will."
Aaron Boone is no Brian Giles, but from what I've heard he's an animated and spirited player; a younger, more powerful Scott Brosius. (According to The Post, the Yanks could have had Giles for Claussen, Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera, and minor-league pitcher, Chien-Ming Wang. The asking price was too steep for New York, but which trade would you have made?)
If Boone's a true gamer, he won't have any troubles with the New York fans. I want to like him, even if the trade does leave me feeling hung-over.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01