Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Monthly archives: January 2004


2004-01-30 14:12
by Alex Belth

Tim Marchman has a good piece in The New York Sun today about why Yankee fans should be concerned about the coming season:

The lack of depth exposed by Boone’s injury has the club seriously considering such third-base options as Tyler Houston and failed prospect Drew Henson. Neither can cover for Derek Jeter’s defensive shortcomings with their range and sure-handedness, as Boone was expected to; this is a big problem given the ground-ball tendencies of several of the club’s new pitchers.

All this rightly worries Bronx boosters. Yet even taken together, these problems are little compared to the club’s real, tripartite crisis: huge commitments to declining veterans, a desiccated farm system, and chaos among the best management team the Yankees have had since the 1950s.

Y'uh-oh. But we already know this, right? Marchman concludes:

What’s to be done? Nothing.The Yankees invested massively in superstar talent, leaving nothing aside for contingencies; that can’t be easily fixed, and results from an inflexible organizational approach.This is a team that doesn’t have a single adequate reserve on the roster capable of taking over if frontline players go down, and I’d be shocked if Boone were the only one to go down. Giambi, in particular, is worrisome, as the knee injury that made him incapable of playing in the World Series is the same one that prematurely ended Mark McGwire’s career.

If things go well, this team is of course capable of being the best in baseball and winning World Series. But this season could also be the beginning of an ugly and epic collapse.

I think Tim is correct in stating that the Yankees are a high-risk/high-reward proposition. Things could turn sour quickly, or the Yankees could make it to the playoffs, and maybe even the Serious again. One thing is certain: It sure won't be dull in the BX this summer. But then again, it rarely is.

2004-01-30 13:47
by Alex Belth


By Bruce Markusen

(Reprinted at Bronx Banter with the permission of the author.)

Yankee Doodles

In spite of the acquisitions of veteran free agents Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, Tom “Flash” Gordon, and Paul Quantrill, it’s been a winter of discontent for many in Yankee fandom. Most Pinstriped diehards have already vented frustration over the failure to aggressively pursue homegrown Bomber Andy Pettitte (which might have served as a preemptive strike against the Astros and their offseason plan to sign the resident Texan), the lukewarm interest in free agent prize Vladimir Guerrero, the continued signings of older players in their mid to late-thirties, and the failure to address the team’s near abysmal defensive scheme. The Yankees, though still talented and ever capable of reaching the World Series for a sixth time in seven years, are a less likeable bunch than most of their predecessors dating back to 1995, which means that many of their fans have placed an even higher premium on winning it all. Otherwise, George Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman, and perhaps even Joe Torre will hear a season-long wrath filled with “I told you so’s” and “What were you thinking’s?”

The latest offseason setback can’t be blamed on the front office or the owner, however. Aaron Boone’s ACL tear, which he suffered while foolishly playing pickup basketball in violation of his contract, leaves the Yankees with a serious hole on the left side of their infield. (The Players Association has stepped in and claimed that Boone didn’t violate the contract, but Boone’s already admitted to his mistake. The Association is trying to say that Boone didn’t breach his contract because he wasn’t playing basketball in a professional league, which is a simply laughable argument.) Let’s hope the Yankees don’t try to kid themselves into thinking that some makeshift platoon of Miguel Cairo and Enrique Wilson will fill the bill in 2004; in a stacked division where the Red Sox may have already established themselves as favorites, the Yankees need a real third baseman, preferably one whose strength is on the defensive side of the field. Cairo and Wilson are middle-infield utility types; neither has a tremendous amount of experience on the corner and neither can hit well enough to play every day.

Whom do the Yankees turn to? In the short term, they’re ready to take a flyer on ex-Phillie Tyler Houston, who lost his place on Larry Bowa’s Christmas card list but has quietly signed a minor league deal with the Pinstripes. Houston’s an intriguing option, but he’s a below-average defender at best, doesn’t hit left-handers, and is better suited to filling a bench role as a backup infielder and third-string catcher. Coming off an excellent season as a pinch-hitter in Philadelphia, Houston could very well make the Yankees’ 25-man roster, but it’s not likely to be as the everyday third baseman.

So who’s the answer to the Yankees’ newly developed hole on the infield? Gary Sheffield’s offer to play third is a noble gesture, but the Yankees’ infield defense is already well below average and can’t sustain another position filled with unnecessary hijinx. Drew Henson can barely play at the Triple-A level, so the Yankees shouldn’t dare think that he might be anything near adequate in the Bronx. Erick Almonte isn’t out of the question, but the fact that he was dumped from the 40-man roster over the winter—and wasn’t picked up by any other team on waivers— doesn’t bode well for his future in New York. Double-A prospect Brian Myrow, who tore up the Eastern League at the age of 27, is an interesting story, but fielding is clearly not his strong suit. In terms of trade prospects, the name of Adrian Beltre continues to pop up, but it’s hard to imagine what players of substance the Yankees could offer in return; New York won’t surrender top catching prospect Dioner Navarro, whom the Dodgers are likely to seek in exchange for Beltre. The Yankees’ most sensible alternative might have been previously unemployed free agent Jose Hernandez, but he signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers earlier in the week. Though coming off a terrible season split between the Rockies, Cubs, and Pirates, Hernandez is a converted shortstop who has plus range at the hot corner.

Hernandez would have ranked as the safest choice for the Yankees, but he would not have been the most interesting or creative. Those adjectives might be used to describe the Pirates’ Jason Kendall, who’s very available given Pittsburgh’s desire to shed his oversized contract. As discussed on one of the recent “Clutch Hit” threads on Baseball Primer, Kendall’s an intriguing possibility for New York. Although a catcher by trade, he’s a terrific athlete whom the Pirates have pondered converting to the outfield or to second base in past years. It’s not unreasonable to think that Kendall could play third, especially if he’s given an entire spring training to make the transition. It’s a possibility the Yankees should give some serious consideration...

Lost amidst all of the Yankees’ off-season transactions has been a trade that has received less publicity than all of the others, but might actually provide the greatest in long-term benefits. Very quietly, the Yankees traded Chris Hammond—one of the few residents of Torre’s doghouse—to the A’s for two minor league prospects. At a time when the Yankee farm system is nearly barren and probably in its worst condition since the early 1990s, two unheralded youngsters may end up playing important roles in 2005 and beyond. Shortstop J.T. Stotts has already drawn comparisons to Anaheim’s Adam Kennedy; a high-average hitter, he’ll probably end up playing second base in the major leagues. Assuming Stotts, who split last season between Single-A and Double-A, is ready by 2005 or 2006, the Yankees can then move Alfonso Soriano to the outfield, which is probably something they should have done this winter. (Cashman wanted to sign Kaz Matsui to play second and move Soriano to center or right, but “The Boss” overruled him on that matter.) The other player acquired in exchange for Hammond, 21-year-old right-hander Edwardo Sierra, has impressed Yankee scouts with his high-powered fastball, which registers 96 to 98 miles an hour. A right-handed reliever, Sierra could be ready to pitch in a set-up role by 2005, which could work out well given the advancing age of Gordon, Quantrill, and Mariano Rivera.

Card Corner

From time to time throughout the year, we’ll take a 30-year step back and examine cards from the 1974 Topps set, which represented the first time that the company issued all of its cards (Numbers 1-660) at once and not in a series of staggered releases… This 1974 card of Juan Marichal (No. 330) is one of the last two regular cards that the Topps Company issued for the Hall of Fame right-hander; the other one is part of the Topps Traded series for 1974 (No. 330T), featuring Marichal in the colors of the Boston Red Sox (yes, it’s strange to think of him in Beantown after all those years by the Bay). The final card for a player is almost never worth as much as the player’s rookie card, but a Marichal in mint condition is still a pretty nice card to have in one’s collection. Beyond the card’s monetary value, I like the ’74 Marichal because it encapsulates the lasting image of the great right-hander’s most memorable attribute—an extraordinarily high leg kick that counterbalanced a no-windup delivery. The photographer skillfully managed to catch Marichal’s left leg at its highest point, with the toes of his left foot practically even in height with the tip of his cap. (Don’t try this at home; it’s sure to cause a muscle pull or some other serious injury.) The photo on the card is particularly striking because almost no pitchers in today’s game use this kind of a motion, in part because of the modern-day emphasis on the slide step and in part because pitching coaches like to teach more compact motions, thereby lessening the possibility of bad mechanics. As distinctive as Marichal’s motion seems in contrast to today’s big league pitcher, it’s hardly the only one of its kind in baseball history. A number of great pitchers have used high leg kicks and—in a dissimilarity to Marichal—big convoluted windups, including Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Warren Spahn. For years, the high leg kick was considered important for a variety of reasons; it added to a pitcher’s velocity, proved distracting to a hitter, and helped a pitcher hide the ball—and his pitching arm— behind his leg… While one’s eyes naturally tend to gravitate toward Marichal’s front leg, his back leg is also worth a look. In the photo, he’s bending his right knee severely, almost unnaturally, as a way of absorbing all of the weight that the leg kick causes to shift to the back side. The more I look at that back knee, the more my own joints start to suffer… The photograph for the ’74 Marichal was taken during a day game at Candlestick Park, at a time when the stadium still featured artificial turf—and lots of empty seats beyond the left-field fence. Yeah, those were the really fun days in Frisco, when players not only had to deal with the howling wind and glaring sun at The Stick, but also the rock-hard turf that supplied a pounding to the legs of infielders and outfielders. Of course, the fans didn’t have much fun either while dealing with the Candlestick elements, which kept down the size of the crowds in 1973, the year that this Marichal photo was taken. (The Giants finished a more-than-respectable 88-74 that season, but drew fewer than 900,000 fans, the third-worst figure in the National League.) So even on a day when the popular Marichal pitched, fans showed their apathy in the form of their absence. Still, for those who had a chance to watch Marichal, he always entertained with a speckled assortment of breaking pitches and that gymnastically fashioned leg kick.

Pastime Passings

Johnny Blatnik (Died on January 21 in Lansing, Ohio; age 82; extended illness): A veteran of three major league seasons, Blatnik made his debut for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1948. The right-handed hitting outfielder hit .260 with six home runs in 128 games as a rookie, but would appear in only 17 more games the rest of his career.

Marie “Blackie” Wegman (Died on January 20 in Delhi Township, Ohio; age 78; heart failure): Wegman originally turned down an offer to play in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), but then found out that a spot in the league paid more than her factory job and also included a nice bonus of a spring training trip to Cuba. A pitcher and infielder, Wegman played for four teams in the AAGPBL, including the Rockford Peaches.

Tom Glaviano (Died on January 19 in Sacramento, California; age 80): Nicknamed “Rabbit,” the diminutive Glaviano played for four seasons as an infielder with the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies. Sometimes adventurous with the glove, he was best known for making errors on three consecutive plays in a game on May 18, 1950. In 389 career games, Glaviano batted .257 with 24 home runs.

Harry “The Cat” Brecheen (Died on January 17 in Bethany, Oklahoma; age 89): Brecheen was best known for winning three games in the 1946 World Series, as his St. Louis Cardinals defeated the favored Boston Red Sox for the World Championship. A two-time All-Star, Brecheen also pitched in the 1943 and ’44 World Series, earning an overall record of 4-1 in the postseason. In regular season play, Brecheen forged a record of 133-92 with an ERA of 2.92. The 12-year veteran enjoyed his best season in 1948, winning 20 games while leading the National League in ERA, strikeouts, and shutouts.

COMMENTARY: Brecheen is one of those pitchers whose overall reputations might be hurt by his terrific performance in the 1946 World Series. We remember the three wins he had against the Red Sox that fall, but do we all appreciate a pitcher who won 40 more games than he lost, posted a lifetime ERA of sub-3.00, and twice led the National League in shutouts? While it’s true that Brecheen pitched part of his career during the watered down World War II years, he actually did his best work after the war. He enjoyed his best full season in 1948, when he led the NL in ERA, strikeouts, won-loss percentage, and shutouts. He also pitched pretty well in 1949 before starting to show signs of age at the beginning of the 1950s… I had always assumed that his last name was pronounced Bruh-CHEEN, but the “CH” actually forms a “K” sound, making the correct pronunciation Bruh-KEEN.

Jim Devlin (Died on January 15 in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania; age 83): The left-handed hitting catcher appeared in one major league game. As a 21-year-old rookie, he went hitless in one at-bat for the Cleveland Indians on April 27, 1944.

Gus Suhr (Died on January 15 in Scottsdale, Arizona; age 98): The oldest living alumnus of the Pittsburgh Pirates at the time of his death, Suhr played more games at first base for the franchise than any other player. As a rookie, Suhr batted .286 with 17 home runs and 107 RBIs, marking the first of three seasons in which he reached the century mark in runs batted in. An All-Star in 1936, Suhr also set a National League record by playing in 822 consecutive games, a mark that was eventually broken by Hall of Famer Stan Musial in 1957. After playing the first eight and a half seasons of his career in Pittsburgh, Suhr finished out his playing days with the Philadelphia Phillies.

COMMENTARY: Suhr didn’t hit with the ideal amount of power you’d like from a first baseman, but he was a fine defensive infielder and extremely durable. In fact, his long playing streak only came to an end because of his decision to attend the funeral of a family member… According to former Pirates public relations official Sally O’Leary, Suhr appeared at the team’s PirateFest event a few winters ago and proved to be extremely popular with Pittsburgh fans, drawing longer lines than many of the current-day Pirates. Suhr also returned to Pittsburgh last year, as the Pirates honored all of their former All-Star players. As part of the event, Suhr provided autographs for fans, signing clearly and legibly despite his advanced age.

Ewald Pyle (Died on January 10 in Du Quoin, Illinois; age 93): Nicknamed “Lefty,” Pyle pitched for the St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators, New York Giants, and Boston Braves during a journeyman five-year career. In 1945, Pyle was included in the deal that sent him and Hall of Fame outfielder Joe Medwick to the Giants for Clyde Kluttz. Pyle won a career-high seven games that season but also lost 10 decisions and sported an ERA of 4.34.
Mike Goliat (Died on January 14 in Seven Hills, Ohio; age 82; heart failure): One of the lesser known members of the “Whiz Kids,” the scrappy Goliat served as the starting second baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies during their pennant-winning season of 1950. A natural third baseman with a strong arm, Goliat moved to second base to fill a need for the Phillies in the middle infield. He batted .234 with 13 home runs and 64 RBIs in 1950, as the Phillies won the National League pennant on their way to facing the New York Yankees in the World Series. The following season, Goliat put on weight and was eventually demoted to the minor leagues before being sold to the St. Louis Browns late in the 1951 season. Goliat’s major league career came to an end the following year.

Tug McGraw (Died on January 5 in Nashville, Tennessee; age 59; brain tumor): One of the most colorful and comical players of the seventies and eighties, McGraw earned a reputation as a fearless ace reliever for successful teams while never allowing the pressure of the job to affect his sense of humor. In 1969, McGraw played a secondary role in the first World Championship for the New York Mets, saving 12 games while posting an ERA of 2.25. Four years later, he established himself as one of the game’s best firemen by helping the Mets to an unlikely National League pennant. Adopting the slogan, “Ya Gotta Believe,” McGraw emerged as the emotional leader of the 1973 Mets. After the 1974 season, the Mets traded an injury-plagued McGraw to the Philadelphia Phillies. Considered washed up by some, McGraw enjoyed a revival in Philadelphia and became a major contributor to the franchise’s lone World Championship in 1980. McGraw saved two games in the World Series against the Kansas City Royals, including the clinching Game Six… Although diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in early 2003, McGraw managed to attend the final game in the history of Veterans Stadium. In closing ceremonies at “The Vet,” McGraw reenacted the final pitch of the 1980 World Series, when he struck out Willie Wilson of the Kansas City Royals and then waited for third baseman Mike Schmidt to jump into his arms… McGraw died at the home of his son, country music singer Tim McGraw. McGraw is also survived by two other sons, Mark and Matthew, and a daughter, Cari.

COMMENTARY: Tug McGraw could be tough to interview because he liked to joke about everything and sometimes wouldn’t give you a sincere answer to the most serious of questions. Yet, there was something inherently noble about McGraw, because of his ever-present enthusiasm and spirit and a complete lack of bitterness or self-pity over his ill-fated battle with cancer. It’s not that well-known, but the Mets actually thought he had become afflicted with cancer as far back as 1974, which partly motivated their decision to trade him to the Phillies. McGraw had developed a growth on his back, which worried the Mets so much that they rushed into making a trade (for John Stearns) that they would later regret. As it turned out, doctors determined that McGraw’s growth was not cancerous, which left the Phillies with a healthy fireman for the balance of the 1980s and beyond… No one seems to know for sure how sincere McGraw was in sounding his “Ya Gotta Believe” motto throughout the 1973 season. The slogan actually started after team chairman M. Donald Grant chided players in a clubhouse meeting, insisting they could win if only they “believed” in themselves. At the end of Grant’s address, McGraw proceeded to yell “Ya Gotta Believe” while hysterically jumping up and down. Grant considered McGraw’s actions mocking in nature, but the left-hander kept up the “act” for the rest of the season, convincing the team’s beat writers that he meant what he said. So what may have started out as a gesture of sarcasm actually became a rallying cry for an under- talented Mets team.

Taylor Duncan (Died on January 3 in Asheville, North Carolina; age 50; stroke): The No. 1 draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in 1971, Duncan made his major league debut six years later with the St. Louis Cardinals. Scouts considered the energetic Duncan one of the best players to emerge from the sandlots in Sacramento, California, with one scout later comparing his abilities to those of Hall of Famer Joe Morgan. Yet, Duncan never lived up to such high praise as a professional—in part because of injury. Duncan broke his ankle during his first minor league season, robbing the talented middle infielder of some of his speed and range and forcing his switch to third base. He was later traded to the Baltimore Orioles as part of the deal that brought Dave Johnson to the Braves. During a brief big league career that included stints with the Cardinals in 1977 and the Oakland A’s in 1978, Duncan batted .260 in 331 at-bats. He later played in the Japanese Leagues and the Mexican League.

COMMENTARY: A classic example of “what if,” Duncan seemed destined for major league stardom until breaking his ankle as a minor leaguer. Unlike other notable ankle victims like Tommy Davis and Rennie Stennett, Duncan never experienced major league success before being cut down by the fracture of his foot. As a player who relied partly on his speed, Duncan lost most of it; the injury also took away enough of his range to necessitate a move from shortstop to third base. So instead of becoming the Joe Morgan of shortstops, Duncan had to settle for a secondary claim to fame—as part of the blockbuster trade that sent him and hard-hitting catcher Earl “Heavy” Williams to the Orioles for Dave Johnson (he was “Dave” back then, not “Davey), pitchers Pat Dobson and Roric Harrison, and catcher Johnny Oates. Although Duncan put up some good numbers as a third baseman in the Orioles’ farm system, he had the misfortune of being stuck behind both Brooks Robinson and Doug DeCinces… Duncan really didn’t receive an extended major league opportunity until he was taken by the A’s in the Rule 5 draft after the 1977 season. The 1978 A’s provided him with a window of opportunity, if only because they were so bad. Playing at third base, Duncan platooned part of that season with Wayne Gross, who hit a mere .200 with only seven home runs in 285 at-bats. Just how awful were the ’78 A’s? Their double play combination consisted of monumental mediocrities Mike Edwards (second base) and Mario Guerrero (shortstop), their starting outfield included the immortal Joe “Tarzan” Wallis, and their top winner was the royally named John Henry Johnson, who won all of 11 games for the lowly A’s.

Leon Wagner (Died on January 3 in Los Angeles, California; age 69; effects of drug abuse and homelessness): The colorful Wagner was an enormously popular player with both the Los Angeles Angels and Cleveland Indians. Nicknamed “Daddy Wags,” a self-imposed nickname that tied into his clothing store, he began his big league career with the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals before finding a niche in Southern California. In 1962, Wagner hit 37 home runs with 107 RBIs for the Angels, earning him a fourth-place finish in the American League MVP sweepstakes. After hitting 26 home runs in 1963, the Angels traded him to the Indians for slugging first baseman Joe Adcock and pitcher Barry Latman. Wagner played four seasons for the Tribe before wrapping up his career with the Giants and Chicago White Sox in 1968. In 12 major league seasons, Wagner hit 211 home runs, batted .272, and compiled 669 RBIs. Off the field, the well-dressed Wagner concentrated his efforts on operating a clothing store that bore the colorful slogan, “Get Your Rags at Daddy Wags.” He later acted in the 1976 film, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, which featured Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones…

COMMENTARY: I didn’t realize how good a player Wagner was until I looked at his career statistics earlier this month. Having always heard stories about Wagner’s fielding faux pas in the outfield and his flaky personality, I had regarded him as sort of a clownish journeyman—and nothing more. Boy, was I wrong. From 1961 to 1965, Wagner averaged 31 home runs and 90 RBIs, at a time when those figures still meant something. Simply put, he was one of the American League’s best left-handed power hitters during those years, strong enough to hit home runs in any of the league’s spacious ballparks. If only he had received a chance to play regularly before his 26th birthday, Wagner might have put up some numbers that would have made him a borderline candidate for the Hall of Fame… Off the field, Daddy Wags was much more than a clown; loved by teammates and fans alike, he sincerely enjoyed talking to people, even if he did brag a little bit too often about his batting prowess. He loved to hit, he found joy in playing the game, and he always seemed willing to give something back to his fans. It was no wonder that he was given the nickname, “The Good Humor Man,” during his tenure with the Angels… After his playing days, Wagner found day-to-day life to be a struggle, partly because he had made little money in baseball’s pre-free agent era and partly because he lacked a college degree. He dabbled in acting, appearing in the controversial Bingo Long film about the Negro Leagues, but he did not enjoy long-term success in Hollywood. Wagner later became severely addicted to drugs, which cost him most of his money and left him in debt to others. Stricken with poverty, Wagner ended up living in an old car and then a small electrical shed—located next to a dumpster—where his lifeless body was found earlier this month.

Lynn Cartwright (Died on January 2 in Los Angeles, California; age 76; dementia-related illness after a hip fracture): The veteran actress earned the biggest break of her career at the age of 65, when she was cast as the older adaptation of all-star catcher Dottie Hinson, the character portrayed by Geena Davis in A League of Their Own. Cartwright appeared in memorable scenes at both the start and finish of the highly popular movie. According to an interview with her daughter, Cartwright’s portrayal of Hinson was the favorite role of her film career.

COMMENTARY: When I first saw A League of Their Own, I thought the filmmakers had done a wonderful job of putting makeup on Geena Davis to make her look some 45 years older at the start and finish of the film. It wasn’t until 2002, when director Penny Marshall and several cast members visited Cooperstown, that I discovered it wasn’t Geena Davis after all, but a completely different actress who had portrayed the older version of Dottie Hinson’s character. I don’t know who made the decision to cast Lynn Cartwright in the role, but whoever it was should be regarded as a casting genius. Cartwright’s facial features looked so much like those of Geena Davis; if you did one of those computerized age projections, an older Davis likely would have doubled as Cartwright’s sister. Cartwright’s subtle performance, which represented the highlight of an otherwise obscure career, is just another reason why A League of Their Own remains one of the best baseball films ever.

Paul Hopkins (Died on January 2 in Deep River, Connecticut; age 99; brief illness): At the time of his death, Hopkins was the oldest living former major league player. A product of Colgate University, Hopkins pitched for two seasons with the Washington Senators and St. Louis Browns. In making his major league debut for the Senators on September 29, 1927, Hopkins gave up Babe Ruth’s record-tying 59th home run. Hopkins claimed that he didn’t know he would be facing the legendary slugger when he was first called from the bullpen to enter the game with the bases loaded.

John Stoneham (Died on January 1 in Owasso, Oklahoma; age 85): A longtime minor league outfielder, Stoneham earned a promotion to the Chicago White Sox in 1933, appearing in 10 games. He struggled in 25 at-bats, suffered a demotion to the minor leagues, and never again returned to the big leagues.

The Nickname Game

Within most editions of “Cooperstown Confidential,” I’ll spotlight a nickname or two from baseball’s past, offering up some explanations—or at least some well-founded theories—as to how the nickname came to be. Given his passing in early January, it might be appropriate to start with Frank Edwin McGraw, who was known without exception as “Tug” throughout his adult life. So why Tug? According to James Skipper’s book, Baseball Nicknames, McGraw earned the name because of his habits as a baby. Simply put, he tugged so hard at his mother’s breast while being nursed that his parents thought it only natural to give him the nickname, “Tugger.” According to another theory, McGraw tugged at everything as a child, from fabrics to toys to furniture. In either case, the Tugger label was eventually shortened to Tug. In the more politically correct times of today, the nickname might have been dropped, but thankfully it remained part of McGraw’s legacy, adding to the pitcher’s larger-than-life personality… Since I mentioned his name earlier in this week’s column, let’s provide an explanation for the nickname, “Tarzan,” given to journeyman outfielder Joe Wallis. The former A’s and Chicago Cubs outfielder never did much on the field during a five-year career in the late 1970s, but he garnered a reputation as one of the game’s more unusual characters. His teammates gave him the Tarzan label because of his tendency to jump out of motel windows, landing him directly in each facility’s swimming pool. Presumably, Wallis let out some kind of a jungle-like yell as he completed each assault on chlorinated water. Wallis also added to his offbeat persona by wearing an extremely thick beard, which gave him a look that might have earned a casting call for the 1970s cult classic, Deliverance.

And Another Thing

Speaking of nicknames, two former players who each sported alternate monikers will be making an appearance at the Hall of Fame in mid-February. Jim “Mudcat” Grant and Al “Scoop” Oliver will be featured as part of the Hall of Fame’s Legends Series on Saturday, February 14. They will talk about their own careers and efforts to promote baseball to the African-American community, beginning at 1:00 pm in the Hall of Fame Library’s Bullpen Theater. Admission to the Legends Series is free for all who purchase a Museum ticket that day, but seating is limited. For more information on the program with Oliver and Grant, call 607-547-0261.

Cooperstown Confidential writer Bruce Markusen is the author of three books on baseball, including A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, which is available at and at Borders Books. A fourth book, The Kid: The Life of Ted Williams, published by Greenwood Press, is scheduled for release this spring.

2004-01-30 13:35
by Alex Belth

For all of the latest on the state of the Los Angeles Dodgers, get yourself over to Dodger Thoughts on the double and check out what Jon Weisman has to say (and it ain't all pretty).

2004-01-29 19:16
by Alex Belth

Frank McCourt has finally bought the Los Angeles Dodgers. The owners approved McCourt's bid for $430 million today. It is too late for the Dodgers to capitalize on the off-season free agent market. But hopefully, this once-great organization will now have some much-needed direction and stability. David Pinto expects changes.

2004-01-29 08:53
by Alex Belth

Like many of us baseball fans, George Vecsey probably doesn't have much to do these days but dream warm thoughts. Some Yankee fans have been dreaming about pairing Alex Rodriguez with Derek Jeter on the left side of the Yankees' infield since November (while others are mortally offended by the notion that Jeter would be the one asked to move to third). It is a nice, unrealistic, dream. Today, we can add Vecsey to the list of dreamers who think the Yankees should try and land Rodriguez.

This is a very slow news day in New York, folks. The pressing news is that the Bombers have respectfully declined Gary Sheffield's offer to play third base (so much for Aaron Gleeman's "Infield of Doom"), while former-Yankee utility man Todd Zeile has some less than complimentary things to say about his former employers. According to The Daily News:

"I have no desire to play again for that organization," said Zeile, who appeared in 66 games for the Yanks last season before finishing the year in Montreal. "I don't know that they'd have a desire to bring me back, so I don't want to be presumptuous in that regard. (But) I thought I was going to get more playing time - as it turned out, I didn't. I think some of the things that happen over there are different than in any other organization in baseball."

... "Every day is potentially the end-all," he said. "It's whatever they need that day. It can sometimes be unsettling for people in role positions there. I don't really have a desire to get back into that mix."

I can't muster up the energy to comment. Thanks for the memories Todd. Fortunately, things are a bit more lively down in Tampa and gasp, Detroit. Pudge, say it ain't so, bro. Talk about playing yourself. Yeesh.

2004-01-29 08:43
by Alex Belth

The first time I ever came close to entertaining the notion of rocking a Boston Red Sox jersey was when Mo Vaughn wore number 42 for them in the mid '90s. Entertaining was as far as it would get, though I have to admit after visiting Fenway Park in the summer of 1999, and browsing through the gear shops across the way from the stadium, the Sox have some great stuff to wear. But let's be real: Me Hatfield, them McCoy. It's never going to happen.

But if it were, I'd still probably choose to rock Mo's number 42. I thought he was a great player up there, and a terrific part of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. He was also the first black player to be truly embraced in Boston without apologies (and I'm not counting Tiant because he was Latin). No small feat, indeed. By the time he arrived in New York to play with the Mets, Vaughn's career had been unfortunately reduced to a series of fat jokes. I could never get with that, and was sorry to see such a promising career hit the skids so quickly after he left Boston.

I'm sure I linked Ben Jacobs' appreciation of Vaughn a few weeks ago, but if I didn't, here it is again. Gordon Edes also had a nice piece on Vaughn in his Notes column in The Globe last weekend. Despite his ugly departure from New England, and his rapid decline, Vaughn remains a fan favorite in Red Sox Nation. And that's the way it should be.

2004-01-28 21:38
by Alex Belth

Rob Neyer and Steven Goldman add their takes on what the Yankees will do to fix the sudden problem at third base. Cliff Corcoran is back for more, and Shawn Bernard rates the defense of some of the possible candidates to replace Aaron Boone.

Meanwhile, Tom Boswell joins the chorus of critics who think the Yankees' front office have made some suspect decisions this winter:

What odds could you have gotten last fall that Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, David Wells and Jeff Weaver -- four-fifths of the New York rotation last year with 120 starts among them -- would all be pitching for other teams? It's unparalleled and almost incomprehensible.

Losing Pettitte, largely because George Steinbrenner snubbed him with offseason indifference, may haunt New York for years. Pettitte was penciled in for five more fine seasons and a place next to Whitey Ford. The Yankees can talk all they want about their rebuilt staff, but it's a bluff. This team is gut-shot. You don't win titles at Yankee Stadium without a quality southpaw starter. Kevin Brown will be 39 in March and missed half his starts in 2001 and '02. Pitching depth has always been Joe Torre's hole card. Now he can't name his fourth or fifth starter.

At the same time, Boswell likes the boys from Boston:

Hard as it is to accept (without smelling salts), the AL favorite is clearly the Red Sox. Curse or no curse, you can't get around it. The Red Sox are now the overdogs. They're so loaded and rich that they might as well wear pinstripes this season.

I have a feeling that the Red Sox will be the favorites in many a pre-season prognostication. Don't you?

2004-01-28 14:02
by Alex Belth

Mark Feinsand at confirms the story that Gary Sheffield has offered to play third for the Bombers, and offers his suggestions about what the Yankees' options are. Obviously, Sheffield wouldn't help the Yankees defensively, but I'm sure management appreciates the offer all the same. It's the kind of move that you would expect from a team-player like Derek Jeter (though it remains to be seen if Jeter would be any better at third than he is at short). Rich Lederer e-mailed me from the west coast this morning and added, "I was thinking how odd it was that Sheffield, a newcomer, had volunteered to plug the gap but that the team's leader and captain hadn't stepped forward with a similar offer."

Meanwhile, John Heyman reports in Newsday that New York has signed Larry Bowa's favorite son, Tyler Houston to a minor-league contract, so Sheff and Jeter may not have to worry about moving anywhere anytime soon.

2004-01-28 13:41
by Alex Belth

Alan Schwarz has an intriguing piece over at Primer about the future of defensive statistics. Don't look now, but the future is closer than we think:

This spring, Major League Baseball’s Internet portal,, will install in select parks a three-camera set-up to measure pitch speeds, locations and breaks—to automate the collection of pitch data that until now has been generally eyeballed. This is only the first step, though, in’s three-year plan to have up to six cameras in every major league stadium capturing everything—from line-drive trajectories to outfielder running speeds.

We’ll finally be able to know whether Derek Jeter—who is aesthetically wonderful—actually has the range statistics say he doesn’t. We’ll measure Vladimir Guerrero’s throwing speed and accuracy from right field. And we’ll get a lot closer to identifying the best center fielder in the game.

Traditionalists might bristle at such technological advances, but think about how this could potentially alter the way we view the game. The average baseball fan is bound to have some pretty sophisticated resources to consider come 2010.

2004-01-28 13:31
by Alex Belth


Over at Baseball Primer's "Clutch Hits," my man Repoz searches the Internet and finds choice stories like Lord Finesse and Diamond D dig in the crates and find ill beats. Yesterday, Repoz linked a little gem on Mudcat Grant. The article is about the influence Grant's mother had on his life:

Grant learned forgiveness from Viola. That’s also where he learned religious tolerance. Before beginning to play pro ball in Fargo, N.D., his mother had a request. Although a Baptist, she wanted him to attend other services. Episcopalian. Jewish. Catholic. Mormon.

“I was the laughingstock of Fargo,” Grant said. “They said, ‘Did that ballplayer come by your church yet?’ ”

After the season, Grant returned home and told his mother about the other churches.

“She said, ‘Do you know why I sent you to do that?’ ” Grant said. “I said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘When you die and go to heaven, if you think that the only people you’re going to see is Baptist, God is going to slap you upside the head.’ ”

Mother knows best.

2004-01-28 13:19
by Alex Belth

Here is an e-mail I received from reader Adam Birbrower today, listing his Bottom 10 Gay Icons:

10. Pete Rose
9. Al Harbosky
8. Greg Luzinski
7. Billy Martin
6. Yogi Berra
5. Ralph Kiner
4. Chad Curtis
3. Tom Lasorda
2. John Rocker
1. Popeye Zimmer

Speaking of Gay porn and Gay Icons, here is my vote for potential Gay Icon most likely to be be a Gay porn star (or something like that): Pete LaCock.

2004-01-28 08:55
by Alex Belth

Alex Ciepley is an openly gay baseball blogger who doesn't often write about gay issues, regardless of his provocatively titled blog, "Ball Talk." He follows the Cubs, has a succinct and crisp writing style, and is a shrewd analyst. But today he offers us some fluff: "Baseball's Top Ten Gay Icons." You might be surprised at some of the guys who made the list. Anyway, this is a fun article, and Ciepley's comments are both enlightening (for this straight fan) as well as amusing. I hope to see more of this kind of writing from Ciepley as the season unfolds.

2004-01-28 08:42
by Alex Belth

There is a very interesting story coming out of Cleveland today. Dig the AP report:

Indians minor league pitcher Kazuhito Tadano is asking for forgiveness for what he called a one-time mistake -- his appearance in a gay porn video in which he engaged in a homosexual act.

Tadano took part in the video three years ago when he was a college student. Sitting in Cleveland's clubhouse Tuesday, he said he hoped to put his actions in the past.

"All of us have made mistakes in our lives," Tadano said, reading a statement in English. "Hopefully, you learn from them and move on."

Shunned by Japanese baseball teams, the 23-year-old Tadano signed with the Indians last March. They think he can make their club this spring.

I likeDavid Pinto's take on this over at Baseball Musings:

It seems to me an openly gay ballplayer can't be too far into the future. A team with young players, like Cleveland, may be the right place for the first homosexual ballplayer. After all, these young men have grown up in a much more tolerant society than I did (I was born in 1960), and may not think it's such a big deal.

Last year, Buster Olney shared his feelings about this subject with me:

It's interesting cause when I covered the Padres Billy Bean was on the that team...I really believe that if any team would have been able to handle that situation, it would have been that team. Because the best player, Tony Gwynn, is a very tolerant person, he's very broad-minded. It was a very young team, that had stripped it down and they had all these young players, and Billy was very well liked. Some of the other leaders on the team like [Brad] Ausmus, were very bright guys. Trevor Hoffman, very accepting personality. If it was going to work, it would've worked on that team. But there is no doubt veteran teams like the Yankees I covered, or the Mets now: no chance. There is no chance.

The young Indians have more in common with that Padres team than they do with the big market squads in New York:

If he pitches well during spring training, Tadano could win a spot in Cleveland's bullpen. Whenever he joins the Indians, pitcher C.C. Sabathia says Tadano will be welcomed.

"This is the right team and the right organization for him," Sabathia said. "We have good guys here. Everybody has done something that they regret in their lives. He's a person just like everyone else."

Homosexuality is one of the last great taboos in American team sports. Let's hope it doesn't remain that way for too much longer.

2004-01-28 08:13
by Alex Belth


Baseball Prospectus offered two stellar articles on the Aaron Boone situation yesterday. The first was written by Andrew Baharlias, a lawyer who worked as staff counsel to the Yankees from 1997-02 (subscription is required). Baharlias reviews the technicalities of the case, and offers an insiders take on what the Yankees will do now. The second piece "Bye, Bye Boonie," features the kind of irreverent humor and insight that we've come to expect from Derek Zumsteg (again, subscription is required).

Zumsteg confirms what Bob Klapisch, Tyler Kepner, Mark Hale, and Sam Borden have written: There is no desirable bodies out there to play third for the Yanks. Nobody. According to Kepner:

"It's thin," Cashman said yesterday, referring to the third base market. "This is not the time of year and definitely not the position you want to be looking for. I don't anticipate finding one externally for quite some time."

Boone would most likely have been the No. 9 hitter in a loaded lineup. The Yankees can get by without his bat, but they will greatly miss his defense. "The biggest issue for me is defense and support for our pitching staff," Cashman said. "Boone is a tremendous defensive player with a lot of range. That's going to hurt more than losing his offense. But we're not there yet."

And Bob Klapisch reports:

Of course, no one has yet concluded that Boone's season is over, at least not until the medical tests are complete. Cashman indicated the third baseman would likely "fly all over the country" to see a number of specialists in the next two weeks. That explains why the Yankees never formally announced Boone's injury to the public...

Privately, though, executives were startled that Boone was so forthcoming about how he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Considering he was injured in a pick-up basketball game, a clear violation of his contract, Boone is in danger of being released by the Yankees and having his $5.75 million salary voided. In this case, Boone's honesty could prove to be expensive.

Said one Yankee executive, "do you know how often GMs hear from a player, "I hurt myself on the treadmill?" And you're like, "right." But when a guy says that, there's nothing you can do."

After thinking about it some, I have to give Boone some credit for being honest. A cynic will call him a sucker, but it shows that he's got a conscience. However, as Baharlias surmised, "Unfortunately, New York is the place where contract language trumps contrition every time out; truth is no defense when you've signed on the dotted line."

Looks like the Yankees, and their fans will have to sit on this one for a minute. Unless of course you believe that the Bombers would seriously consider Gary Sheffield's offer to man the hot corner (hmmm). In the meantime, thanks to Rich Lederer (whose latest piece examines the career of Lefty Grove), here is an excerpt of classic comedy to keep you laughing, or keep you from crying, depending on where you sit...

Costello: What's the guy's name on first base?

Abbott: No. What is on second.

Costello: I'm not asking you who's on second.

Abbott: Who's on first.

Costello: I don't know.

Abbott: He's on third, we're not talking about him.

Costello: Now how did I get on third base?

Abbott: Why you mentioned his name.

Costello: If I mentioned the third baseman's name, who did I say is playing third?

Abbott: No. Who's playing first.

Who is on third? Heck, isn't that MC Serch I see? Or is it the Prime Minister, Pete Nice?

2004-01-27 08:31
by Alex Belth

Although the full details of Aaron Boone's injury are not available yet, reports in The Daily News and The New York Times elaborate on Tom Verducci's scoop this morning. According to Tyler Kepner:

Boone told the Yankees last Monday that he had injured himself playing basketball, and the Yankees flinched at the news, even as they appreciated the admission. The injury came at the worst possible time for the Yankees, with virtually every third baseman already signed for the coming season.

"We are currently evaluating the extent of the injury and expect to solicit multiple opinions before providing a complete diagnosis," Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said in a statement. "Concerning his contract, I can confirm that there are certain prohibited activities which include basketball."

While the Yankees won't miss Boone's offense, he was the best defensive infielder on the team. So again, who will play third for the Bombers in 2004? The options aren't exactly encouraging right now. Cliff Corcoran, intrepid Yankee blogger, was up late last night asking himself this very question. Perhaps the Yankees will get creative. David Pinto suggests signing Pudge Rodriguez and moving him to the hot corner:

Peter Gammons did a piece on Pudge's footwork a few years ago in which it was noted that he moved like a second baseman. Pudge could have easily been in fielder. He has the arm for third base, he has a great bat for third base, and no one else seems to want him. Why not give it a try?

Can't wait to see what Steven Goldman has to say in his Pinstriped Bible column this week.

2004-01-26 17:13
by Alex Belth


As if Aaron Boone didn't already have enough of an uphill climb in his effort to win over Yankee fans this year, Tom Verducci is reporting that Boone suffered a serious knee injury (believed to involve the ACL) playing basketball last week. Boone could miss the entire 2004 season. This sure won't endear him to the Bleacher Creatures. According to Verducci:

The Yankees will seek all or some relief from the $5.75 million they were to pay Boone this season. Boone, whose dramatic home run ended the epic seventh game of the 2003 American League Championship Series against Boston, avoided arbitration Dec. 1 when he agreed to the one-year deal to return to the Yankees. His contract contains a standard clause that prevents the player from engaging in activities considered to pose significant risk of injury. Basketball is specifically mentioned in the clause as a prohibited activity.

Well, at least this gives us something to talk about. (Will Carroll, what do you hear, what do you say?) The burning question is this: Can the Yankees adequately replace Boone at third at this stage in the game? OK, I'm sure some observers will look at this as a chance to upgrade. Who do you think they'll target? (And I don't want to hear about Drew Henson, thank you very much.) I know the Rangers just made Alex Rodriguez their captain, but at least now we can still dream Steven Goldman's dream.

Roy Smalley, Aaron Boone, Mr. Boone, Mr. Smalley. Pedigree doesn't necessarily mean a thing in pinstripes, huh?

2004-01-26 08:29
by Alex Belth

Alex Rodriguez was in New York last night to pick up his American League MVP award, but is making headlines this morning as the Rangers announced that he's been made team captain. Does this mean the A Rod-to-Boston deal is finally dead? Gordon Edes in The Globe thinks so. So how did the latest twist in A Rod's off-season come about? The Rangers' owner provided some answers:

"This was the first time we've all been in the same location since the trade fell apart," said Hicks, noting that Rodriguez and his wife had just returned from a European vacation.

"We spent five hours together and worked through the inevitable issues that build up when you go through something like this. As is often the case, two or three issues are amplified in the process to 10 or 12 issues, but we worked through those issues very quickly and put them behind us."

One of those issues was the contentious relationship that had developed between Rodriguez and Showalter, who reportedly had made futile attempts to contact Rodriguez since the end of last season.

"It's taken on a life of its own," Hicks said of the reported friction between the men. "You see it in business all the time, a lack of communication. But they had a chance yesterday to look each other in the eye, they had a chance to talk, and they both realize they want to win a championship."

Brooklyn Blogger Adam Dlugacz was on the scene and filed a report over at Zimmer's Way:

A-Rod told a story about how after the trade failed to go through he had gone to Europe to get away from things. At first he liked that no one knew he was, he didn't say where he went, but he admitted that after a few days he missed being recognized. (It's amazing, Babe Ruth had the same experience when he first went to Europe, and complained about his lack of attention bitterly. The players almost need to be reminded of who they are.) Finally, on his last day there were three kids who appeared to recognize A-Rod. He admitted that he was craved the attention and was excited as the kids approached him. However, instead of asking for an autograph all three kids, in broken english, began chanting "Let's Go Yankees!"

I should note that Cashman and A-Rod were sitting next to each other. And, A-Rod talked about how much he loved New York City. I honestly think that Boston, as a state would commit suicide if he came to the Bronx.

For now, it appears as if Rodriguez isn't going anywhere soon. But then again, stranger things have happened.

Oh, and just to wrap up my thoughts on "In America," there is something that I forgot to mention about the rendition of "Desperado." Fortunately, Larry Abraham sent me an e-mail and hit the nail on the head when he observed:

I thought that the "Desperado" moment was one of the best in the movie. What I picked up on--I missed the knowing quality of her voice--was her pronunciation of the word "desperado"--with that British "a" from "flat" instead of the "ah" that we Americans expect. For me it captured how she was both quintessentially Irish and--as a cowboy--quintessentially American.

I caught that too. Thank you for noting it Larry.

2004-01-25 09:10
by Alex Belth

There is a sequence about two-thirds of the way through Jim ("My Left Foot") Sheridan's fine new movie, "In America" that will likely remain in my memory for a long time. The film is about a young Irish couple who move to Hell's Kitchen in New York with their two young daughters (ages ten, and six, I'd guess). They have very little money, and they live in a dilapidated building on Manhattan's West Side populated with junkies and derilicts. Essentially, the story is about their struggle to get over the accidental death of their young son.

Samantha Morton, who was brilliant as Sean Penn's silent foil in "Sweet and Lowdown" stars, but all of the actors are terrific. Anyhow, the sequence that stood out for me was when the ten-year old sings the Eagles' tune "Desperado" on stage at her school's recital. The choice of the song came as a surprise, especially coming from a young Irish girl. The director shows a montage of images as she sings, and her voice is soft and light, but not exactly innocent (the character has seen too much for that). The sequence is a reminder of just how emotionally powerful pop music can be when used with sensitivity and care.

Some filmmakers, like Stanley Kubrick and recently Q. Tarrantino, are famous for their selection of source music. But these two are overtly clever and ironic in their approach; the songs may stick with you, but often they have a look-at-me-Ma quality to them as well. Martin Scorsese too is revered for his attention to music, and in his early films, like "Mean Streets" and even "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," the songs don't simply serve as a commentary on the character's lives, they feel like independent characters themselves.

Perhaps nobody built a reputation for their use of pop music more than the British playwright Dennis Potter did. His two masterworks--both six-part mini-series made for TV--"Pennies From Heaven," and "The Singing Detective" were fantastic examples of this. When asked, "Why do popular songs have so much power in your work?" Potter replied:

Because I don't make the mistake that high-culture mongers do of assuming that because people like cheap art, their feelings are cheap, too. When people say, "Oh listen, they're playing our song," they don't mean "Our song, this little cheap, tinkling, syncopated piece of rubbish, is what we felt when we met." What they're saying is, "That song reminds us of that tremendous feeling we had when we met."

Jim Sheridan understand this, and allows the deep emotions that can be associated with a trivial pop song to pour over the audience. I've never cared much for The Eagles, but I sure won't be able to hear "Desperado" without thinking of that little girl again. (I feel the same way about Leonard Cohen's self-titled record and Robert Altman's "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" too.)

I think "In America" is well worth your ten bucks, and if you want a real treat, I would also strongly suggest that you rent Potter's "The Singing Detective"--which was recently released on DVD--as well. With a couple of months of winter left, it's an ideal way to pass the time.

2004-01-23 14:03
by Alex Belth

Here is the second excerpt I promised from Geoffrey Stokes' "Pinstripe Pandemonium." This one involves hitting, and there was nobody on those old Yankee teams who thought, taught, talked, and lived hitting like Lou Pinella. (One of the greatest images I have of Pinella--and I don't remember where I first read this--is of him standing up in his wife's bed in the middle of the night, looking in the mirror, practicing his stance. I wonder if a cigarette was ever dangling from his lips as he inspected his form.) So without further ado, here is Sweet Lou:

In this league at least, the really successful hitters guess a lot. I know that once I've seen a pitcher three or four times--certainly once I've seen him for three or four games--I have a pretty good idea what he's going to do in certain situations. That's why a batter loves to see the count at two-and-oh or three-and-one. You know the guy out there's gotta throw it over the plate, so you zone the ball. You decide ahead of time where he's gonna put it--low, high, inside, outside--and what kind of pitch he's going to throw, and you narrow your strike zone to that pitch. If it's somewhere else, let it go by; he's still gotta give you one or two more chances to hit the ball. But if it's there, you're ready for it. That's when you get your extra-base hits, and that's when you get pitchers in trouble, because once you're on base, he's got to pitch a little differently. He doesn't want the big inning, so he's going to pitch a little more cautiously. What you've done is you've taken some options away, made him a little more predictable, and if he gets behind the next batter, then he's really in trouble.

There are a lot of good pitchers in the league--there aren't any bad ones, that's for sure--but there's only a handful of great ones. Those are the guys who can either challenge you and get away with it--put it right in your zone and dare you to hit it--or the ones who consisntenly outguess you, who always have you lookin' at the three-and-one strike. But even with them, you've gotta make your own guess and get ready for a ball in your zone, because once or twice a game, even those guys are gonna lose their rhythm or try to do too much with a ball, and if you're not ready, that's a real lost opportunity. The only real difference between the good pitchers and the great ones is that the great ones don't yield to the situation around them. They're kind of self-contained, and they're gonna make you hit their pitch, not yours.

End of lesson. Thank you Mr. Stokes and Mr. Lou. Pitchers and catchers in three weeks.

2004-01-23 13:49
by Alex Belth

Two years ago I roped my cousin Gabe into an idea I had for a book. He's a Mets fan and of course, I root for the Yanks. We started to exchange e-mails during the 2001 season and I thought it would be great to compile a book of e-mails exchanged between a Met and Yankee fan over the course of a season. Well, I don't know how good the book would have been, but by the middle of the summer in 2002, we realized it wasn't going to fly.

The best thing that came out of the experience--other than being treated to Gabe's almost daily e-mails--was that I got in the habit of writing about baseball every day. And that set me up to eventually start the blog you are now reading (incidentally, Gabe is editing the Curt Flood book I'm writing for Young Adults).

I really like the idea of a correspondence between a Met and Yankee fan, and now, there is a blog devoted to such an endeavor, called "Yankees, Mets and the Rest." Head on over and see what Scott and Vinny have in store for us.

2004-01-23 13:35
by Alex Belth

I don't know if you've been over to Jay Jaffe's site, The Futility Infielder this week, but if you haven't, and are interested in the pending sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers, not to mention other Bud Selig-related items, make some time this weekend and check out the great work Jay has been doing.

Speaking of his Budness, Rob Neyer has an entertaining article that briefly touches on the legacy of all the baseball commisioners, from Landis to Selig.

And to finish off the subject of yesterday's tryouts by El Duque and Maels Rodriguez, peep this article from The Miami Herald, as well as reports by Will Carroll and Bryan Smith. For what it's worth, El Duque was one of my favorite Yankees ever. Even if he is broken-down and ornery, I sure would be happy to see him back, for the entertainment value alone. I don't know if it makes good baseball sense, but since when do I have good baseball sense? I just want to see Posada and Duque drive each other nuts again.

2004-01-23 09:22
by Alex Belth

As the sporting world awaits the Super Bowl, baseball news is squarely fixed on the back-burner. That will start to change in a few weeks, but for now, good baseball stories are hard to come by. (I know you are feelin' my pain.) So I thought I'd share a couple of excerpts with you from a slept-on little gem called "Pinstripe Pandemonium." Written by Geoffrey Stokes, a reporter from The Villiage Voice, the book follows the Bronx Bombers throughout the 1983 season. It is a slim, but shrewdly observed, and well-written book.

The Hall of Fame voters recently passed Goose Gossage over once again, but many Baseballists---a nifty phrase coined by Jay Jaffe---feel that if any reliever is qualified for induction, it is Gossage. Described by Stokes as "curiously shy," the Colorado native talked about the stress that accompanies being a closer:

"Sometimes, after a bad loss, I'm amazed that I can go out there the next day and do anything at all. But fortunately," he grinened, "there's this gorilla in me that just takes over.

"Of course," he added, returning to the subject of rhythm, "when it does, somebody's gotta keep it on a leash. I don't care how fast you throw; if you throw nothing but fastballs, there are hitters in this league that are gonna catch up to you. Somone's gotta slow me down.

"But that's hard for a cather to do. If I'm gonna get beat, I want to get beat on my best pitch, not on some off-speed thing that's just supposed to set the fastball up. But what happens is, I get out there, and I throw a ball at ninety-five miles an hour easy, so I just gather up my strength and try humming the sombitch at a hundred. I'm out there, and I feel that with just a little more effort, I could throw the sucker right through the catcher--and maybe halfway through the umpire, too.

"The thing is, it doesn't go as fast, 'cause my asshole's tight. It's pretty hard to throw a ball with one hand around your throat. And when that happens, even before everybody's turning around to watch the fuckin' home run, it affects the team. It's like your kids; when they see fear in your face, they get afraid too, even if they don't know why. In the clubhouse of at the hotel, everbody's got his own personality. But when I'm out there with runners on second and third, one out, and a one-run lead, I'm responsible for the whole team."

Gossage has become an arch-type for a certain kind of closer: snarling, physically imposing, flame-throwing. Dennis Eckersley, a control expert, who specialized in taunting and humiliating his opponent, is another. And now, so is Mariano Rivera, master of the single pitch, who is so cool that it barely looks like he's awake out there sometimes. But no matter the personality, all succesful closers thrive off the responsibility of having the game in their hands. Gossage concludes:

"The only thing about [closing] is you can't take it home with you. It's not like I'm a starter and I have to think about it for five days, have to spend my time saying 'Damn, that was a stupid pitch.' Except for the playoffs or the Series, there's always tomorrow. You know, it's like hunting. 'Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you.'"

What's that some sort of Eastern Philosophy? Far from it.

2004-01-23 08:46
by Alex Belth

Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez threw 35 pitches in front of a group of scouts yesterday at the University of Miami. The headline in The Times today reads, "Hernandez's Workout Hard to Rate," which seems appropriate because so much about El Duque has always been hard to figure. The scouts were divided on what they saw. According to Charlie Nobles in The Times:

[El Duque's] less-than-inspiring velocity left some teams wondering how to rate him.

"It's tough to evaluate that performance," said Mark Wiedemaier, a special assistant to the Los Angeles Dodgers' general manager. "It looked like he was playing catch."

Al Goldis, the recently hired talent assessor serving as a high-level assistant to Mets General Manager Jim Duquette, chose his words carefully in describing his reaction to Hernández's effort. "Obviously, he's not in the shape we expected him to be in," Goldis said.

However, The Daily News reports that the Yankees were more impressed with the workout:

The Yankees had at least three representatives on hand, including VP of major league scouting Damon Oppenheimer. "He looks like he's in really good shape," Oppenheimer said.

Would you rather see Hernandez as the Yankees' sixth starter, or John Burkett? What about Rick Reed? Well according to Mark Hale in The Post, the Mets have apparently offered Reed, as well as former Yankee outfielder Shane Spencer, contracts (details have not been disclosed). How about Maels Rodriguez? The young Cuban worked out for scouts yesterday in El Salvador.

If you were running the Yankees, which pitcher would you try to sign?

2004-01-22 12:45
by Alex Belth

David Pinto, whose Baseball Musings is one of the most prolific and popular baseball blogs going, is going to work for Baseball Information Solutions--the company behind "The Bill James Handbook"---as a programmer. Pinto has previously worked inside the industry for Stats Inc. as well as ESPN's Baseball Tonight. Check out David's post today for the skinny on his new gig. The good news for us is that Baseball Musings isn't going anywhere.

A well-deserved and hearty Mazel goes out to David. I wish him all the luck in the world with this exciting opportunity.

2004-01-22 12:31
by Alex Belth

"Those who come from Brooklyn know just what I'm talking..." MC Lyte

Developer Bruce Ratner has reached a tentative agreement to buy the New Jersey Nets for $300 million. As you have probably heard already, he would like nothing more than to move the team---originaly from Long Island---to Brooklyn. The Nets' lease in New Jersey doesn't run out until 2008, and Ratner faces a myriad of obstacles in getting a state-of-the-art facility built in Brooklyn. Still, the news has a lot of New Yorkers excited. The proposed arena would be built near the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which is at the heart of the borough's recent gentrification, just a stones throw away from Fort Greene, and Park Slope. Mark McClusky links several good articles regarding the pro's and con's of the prospective site for Brooklynites. While I think the notion of Brooklyn having its own franchise again is romantic and fitting, the reality is too far off for me to get too amped up yet.

2004-01-22 08:24
by Alex Belth

Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci has a column this week about closers and the Hall of Fame. Essentially, Verducci believes that closers are similar to kickers in football, and that it is fitting that is has been difficult for them to reach the Hall:

There is one kicker in the NFL Hall of Fame: Jan Stenerud. There are three closers in the baseball Hall of Fame: Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley. That sounds about right to me. These guys are specialists and as such deserve a more critical eye when weighing their careers.

Verducci is skeptical about whether Bruce Sutter should make it, and he compares Mariano Rivera's career to Troy Percival's. The two have awfully similar regular season numbers, though Rivera still comes out on top:

Of course, Rivera has something else in his favor. He has been knighted as The Greatest Postseason Reliever in History. Rivera has thrown 96 postseason innings (15 percent of his career regular-season total) and allowed only eight earned runs, a 0.75 ERA. Those numbers alone, like Eckersley's solid years as a starter, could put Rivera over the top when voters consider his career.

Rivera is the specialist's specialist. Someday he might break through the bias writers have against relievers, a bias that deserves to be in place.

Speaking of specialists, Jesse Orosco, who will turn 47 in April, is finally calling it quits. Mama, pray your babies grown up to be southpaws...

2004-01-21 13:54
by Alex Belth

Seth Stohs is running a preview of major league hitters and pitchers for the upcoming fantasy baseball season. But his preview will be of interest to the casual baseball fan as well. Stop by, and check out what Seth makes of your favorites (Stohs is addressing offense first: yesterday was the AL Central, today gives the AL East).

2004-01-21 13:28
by Alex Belth

While the Red Sox brass dismissed the latest Alex Rodriguez trade rumor yesterday, they came to terms with Trot Nixon and Byung-Hyun Kim. Nixon, who has been with Boston longer than any other player on their roster, signed a one-year deal ($6.6 million) while Kim inked a two-year contract ($10 million). Nixon has been a fine player for Boston. Not only that but he's always looked like a Red Sox to me. Even if he hasn't been their greatest player, when I think of the Red Sox, I think: Trot Nixon. I would hope that Boston will try to sign him after the 2004 season, but Tony Massarotti thinks the Red Sox could disgard Nixon's current contract in favor of a three-year deal during spring training.

2004-01-21 09:28
by Alex Belth

The Mets launched the 2004 season with the start of their annual caravan yesterday in Grand Central Station. Forgetting their insipid new slogan, "Catch the Energy," there is reason to look forward to the coming year at Shea. After all, the Mets have no where to go but up. While the Metropolitans didn't make a big splash their fans were hoping for by signing Vlad Guerrero, who knows, they still may consider trading for Magglio Ordonez (One can always hope). Regardless, it will be exciting to watch Jose Reyes develop alongside his new partner, Kaz Matsui. Mike Cameron too, should give Mets fans---not to mention Mets pitchers---plenty to ooh and ahh about with the glove in centerfield (along with Cliff Floyd, Cameron is one of the more likable outfielders in the league).

But the biggest story in Queens remains Mike Piazza's transition from full-time catcher, to part-time catcher, part-time first baseman. According to John Harper in The Daily News:

Mike Piazza pledged his allegiance to the ballclub, be it behind the plate or at first base. And if he still wasn't exactly bubbling with enthusiasm over the idea of his much-debated move to first, at least he seemed committed to making the effort.

"I'll be ready to play both positions," Piazza said. "The thing that's always worked for me is to keep it simple. I'll work at it and we'll see how it works out."

I hope that Piazza is healthy this year and has a terrific season. With the exception of Hubie Brooks and Mookie Wilson, he is my favorite Met player ever. The next ground ball that he doesn't run out will be his first, he calls a good game, is a solid receiver, and oh yeah, he just happens to be the greatest hitting catcher of all-time.

For more on the Mets, be sure and stop by Steve Keane's The Eddie Kranepool Society and Avkash Patel's the raindrops (they both have a full listing of Mets blogs and other Mets-related sources.)

2004-01-20 13:32
by Alex Belth

The Yankees avoided arbitration with Alfonso Soriano, who earned $800,000 in 2003. The two sides have agreed on a one-year deal for $5.4 million.

In other news, the A Rod Rumor Mill is starting to churn once again (or is that my stomach?).

2004-01-20 13:21
by Alex Belth

Kaz Sasaki has informed the Seattle Mariners that he will not return to the team in 2004, choosing to remain in Japan. Bryan Smith believes that the Mariners will be able to survive Sasaki's departure, but he also stresses that Mariner GM Bill Bavasi's other moves will doom Seattle to a third-place finish in 2004.

2004-01-20 09:01
by Alex Belth

Fans of baseball literature should be in for a treat this spring, as two highly-anticipated books about pitching will be released. One is a collaboration between Rob Neyer and his former employer, Bill James, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers." The second title is the debut effort by Baseball Prospectus' injury-guru, Will Carroll. Carroll recently handed in the manuscript for "Saving the Pitcher." While he's experiencing some trepidation over how the book will be received, if it is anything like his "Under the Knife" column, it should be insightful, engaging, and above all, educational.

2004-01-20 08:50
by Alex Belth

When Orlando 'El Duque' Hernandez came to the States to pitch for the Yanks in 1998, it wasn't long before a fairy-tale story accompanied his adventures. Before long, political strings were pulled, and his ex-wife and two children were allowed to join him in the U.S. Jose Contreras, the latest Cuban exile to pitch for New York, is not enjoying the same kind of luck. Contreras recently told the Spanish newspaper, La Prensa that Cuban officials have denied permission for his wife to leave Cuba. They have informed him that she will have to wait four more years before she can apply again.

2004-01-20 08:43
by Alex Belth

The Yankees are looking at John Burkett as the insurance arm they need to fill out their rotation. Oy veh. Burkett has spent the last few years with the Red Sox. Whenever he has started against New York, Yankee fans have felt confident that the Bombers could send the old man to the showers by the fifth inning. You think Red Sox Nation will share the sentiment should Burkett pitch against them in 2004? Count on it.

2004-01-18 08:35
by Alex Belth

Nomar Garciaparra isn't the one. He isn't going to stir the pot. According to an article by Gordon Edes in The Boston Globe, Garciaparra is taking the high road:

"I focus on the things I can control," he said, "and the things I can control are focusing on getting ready for the season. I'm not going to feel unsettled. I'm under contract with the Boston Red Sox. I know that. My focus is on getting ready. I look forward to this year."

And what about the potential drama with teammate Kevin Millar?

...And yes, he insisted, he's square with Kevin Millar, who has been backtracking ever since he came out in favor of trades that would have brought Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez to Boston, at the expense of Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez.

"Kevin and I are friends," he said. "We're friends. We've always been friends. Always. There are two sides to every story."

The story yesterday was this: Whatever bitterness Garciaparra may harbor toward the Sox is tucked away, far from prying eyes. He insists it doesn't exist. There were no Pedro-like demands that if an extension isn't agreed upon by the start of the season, he is definitely walking come October.

The Sox and Garciaparra may have gone beyond the point of no return in terms of Nomar's long-term future in Boston, but I hope that he remains in New England. Call it the traditionalist in me. As much as I love to root against the Sox, I was sad when they let Mo Vaughn get away and would feel the same way if Nomar bolted. I think Garciaparra should be a Red Sox for life.

2004-01-16 08:52
by Alex Belth

My man Cliff C profiles the Yankees' new back-up first baseman, Tony Clark over at Cliff's Big Red Blog. I didn't realize how young Clark is, or how decent he has been during his career. If used correctly, he should turn out OK for the Bombers:

A Tony Clark/Kenny Lofton platoon (with Bernie shifting to center against lefties) would give the Yankees a tremendous boost. Take a look at those two lines again:

Tony Clark vs. lefty pitching: 2003 - .279/.355/.500 (.285 GPA); 2001 -
.321/.376/.557 (.308 GPA)

Kenny Lofton vs. righties: 2003 - .313/.373/.478 (.287 GPA); '01-'03 - .281/.354/.442 (.270 GPA)

By way of comparison here are the GPAs for Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano over the past two seasons. Jeter: .289 & .273; Soriano: .283 & .286.

Basically, a Lofton/Clark platoon would give the Yankees another full-time offensive player on the level of a Jeter or Soriano. I just hope Joe Torre's smart enough to make it happen.

2004-01-16 08:45
by Alex Belth

The Marvelous Jew

Last weekend, ESPN Classic broadcast Game 7 of the 1965 World Serious. I was only able to catch the last couple of innings, but it was a treat to watch. (It's amazing how low key the Dodgers celebration was after the final out in comparison to the modern pile-on, and assorted fireworks.) I don't know why the network doesn't show more games from the early days of T.V. through the 1970s. (I'm sorry, but I have a hard time considering any game that has been played in the past five years "classic.") Football fans have been monumentally spoiled by NFL Films. You want to learn about Jim Brown or Sayers or the old Packer teams? It's all there for you.

But baseball fans who were born after 1970 don't have the same luxury. By all accounts the 1960s was an exciting era for the game, but I've rarely seen games from that period played on TV. (It's one of the reasons why Roger Angell is so important to our generation; his reporting gives you a good sense of the sights and sounds of the time.) The same goes for the game in the '70s. Hey, I'd like to watch McCovey, Bonds, Stargell and Dick Allen too. What about Sutter?

While I doubt that we'll see a change in this sorry state of affairs anytime soon, we should be thankful for the morsels that we are given. Rich Lederer, who grew up watching those Dodger teams in the '60s, caught the Dodgers-Twins game over the weekend, and has written a terrific appreciation of the Serious and Koufax's performance in it. He also critiques the sabermetric evaluation of Koufax's career. A good read on a cold day for sure.

2004-01-15 08:25
by Alex Belth

Like most Yankee fans, Shawn Bernard suspects that the Bombers will have another starting pitcher by Opening Day. Today, Bernard speculates if Maels Rodriguez, the latest Cuban hot shot pitcher to defect to the States, will be that man. Rodriguez is 24-years old, and can apparently throw smoke. He's Cuban. That should be all George needs to hear, right? When Rodriguez is allowed to work out for major league teams in a few weeks, expect the Yanks to be pursue him aggresively. Whether or not it makes any sense--for the Yankees or anyone else---we shall soon find out.

2004-01-14 18:47
by Alex Belth

According to ESPN, the Chicago Cubs have made a two-year offer to future Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux. Perhaps feeling the squeeze after the Astros upgraded their staff with a Hall of Famer of their own this week, the Cubs made what seems like a logical offer to Maddux. Maddux wouldn't have to be the ace of the staff, plus Chicago would get a shot to have the Mad Dog win his 300th game in a Cubbies uniform.

Sounds appealing to me, even though the deal calls for Maddux to make between $6 million and $7 million per year, which would represent a dramatic paycut. It should be especially appealing for all those unemployed, gold-bricking Cubs fans that former manager Lee Elia once lambasted. Oh yeah, I've heard that the Cubs are now the Yuppie team of cherce in Chicago. But let us not forget the bleacher bums who were celebrated by Elia in a fateful postgame press conference, back in 1983:

Eighty-five percent of the people in this country work. The other fifteen percent come here and boo my players. They oughta go out and get a fucking job and find out what it's like to go and a earn a fucking living. Eighty-five percent of the fucking world is working. The other fifteen percent come out here. A fucking playground for the cocksuckers.

Bring Maddux back, Cubbies. Give the bums and the Yuppies some gravy. And then make Ruzich and Carroll really happy and go sign Pudge to boot.

2004-01-14 12:19
by Alex Belth


Some Yankee fans are moaning about the fact that Roger Clemens has signed with the Astros. He was ripped in the tabloids yesterday; today, Roger's sister defends his actions in The Post. Really, I can't get behind being upset with Clemens. I'm not surprised he's chosen to play for the Astros; makes all the sense in the world to me (Actually, I was skeptical that 2003 was his swan song). Nor am I in the slightest bit upset that he won't be a Yankee this year, at least from a personality perspective (it's likely he's still got some good innings left). Has he ruined his chances of wearing a Yankee cap when he goes into the Hall of Fame? Probably, but so what? It's only fitting that he should go in as a Red Sox. So I don't get what all the cryin is about. But hey, you've got to find a way to sell papers in the middle of winter, right? Got to find something heated to keep you going in this bone-chilling weather. Fortunately, we New Yorkers have insulation: we've got enough hot air to keep us warm 365 days a year, thank you very much.

2004-01-13 16:20
by Alex Belth

Both Jay Jaffe and Jon Weisman wonder if everything was indeed kosher with the Angels' aquisition of superduperstar Vlad Guerrero. One thing is for sure: The move has to been seen as a slap in the face to the Dodger organization. Here is Tommy Lasorda in the L.A. Times:

"I'm very impressed with what they've done," he said. "They're gonna have a lot to say about who wins their division. That's the good thing about free agency, you can go out and get players you need."

What about the Dodgers, Tommy?

Lasorda shrugged and winced, a silence that spoke volumes.

Not easy to shut that man up either.

2004-01-13 16:02
by Alex Belth

Edward Cossette ponders the concept of team chemistry today over at Bambino's Curse. I just so happen to think it's one of the best thing Cossette has ever done. It's vivid, personal, and succint. Plus, I think he's onto something when he writes:

Chemistry is not friendship. Chemistry, for certain, is akin to what the Supreme Court said about pornography: I can't define it but I sure do know it when I see (or rather feel) it. (Of course, it's the inability to quantify it that gets all the sabermetrics guys and gals all pissy.)

Personally, I'm always trying to get that perfect chemistry in my own life. (And I think you could just as easily substitute the word chemistry with "grace" or "harmony" or "feng-shui" so on and so forth). When I've got it, there is no limit to what I'm capable of as an individual who is also part of a larger group. I find it difficult to believe it would be any different for Tim Wakefield or Kevin Millar.

David Pinto offers his reaction at Baseball Musings.

Speaking of Pinto, David also has some constructive criticism for Jim Caple, ESPN's resident Yankee-baiter, who weighed in on the Roger Clemens signing in Houston yesterday:

Caple is turning into a one-trick pony, blasting the Yankees every chance he gets. It's fine once in a while. I know lots of people think the Yankees are responsible for all the ills of the world. When Dan Shaughnessy took over Peter Gammons Sunday column in the Boston Globe, he added a new feature, a weekly dig at the Yankees buried in the column. Maybe this made Dan very popular in Boston; maybe his Yankee hatred makes Caple popular across America. But in both cases, it turned me off because I know neither writer will ever say anything honest about the Yankees. And if I can't trust them with one team, why should I trust them with any other team?

From what I know of Jim, he's a smart, funny guy. He should save his criticism of the Yankees for when they really deserve it. Otherwise, the constant harping will make readers indifferent to his columns. It's already done that to me.

As radio personality Chris "Mad Dog" Russo would say, "Excellent point Pinto, that's an excellent point."

And on a ridiculous note, the Yankees hired former general manager of the Chicago Bulls, Jerry Krause as a scout. Hey, mabe's he's a big "Moneyball," fan. Oh boy.

2004-01-12 17:56
by Alex Belth

Larry Mahnken is one of the best voices out there talking about the Bronx Bombers. He recently beat the spring training rush with an excellent two-part preview of the 2004 Yankees that is both sensible and detailed called, "The New Face of Evil." (Part One covers the offense, while Part Two examines the pitching.) When all is said and done, Mahnken likes the Yankees chances to return to the World Serious in 2004, provided they remain healthy:

If they’re healthy, I don’t see any team other than Boston being able to stop them, and I expect that’s what the season will come down to once again, an ALCS vs. Boston. I know that for fans of every other team it’s incredibly frustrating to see these two great teams making themselves better while everyone else scrambles to keep up, let alone catch up, but it really has to be this way. Boston improved their rotation, they improved their bullpen, they had the best lineup in all of baseball last season. They finally have the team they’ve wanted to end 86 years of broken dreams. And standing in the way of that are the Yankees, with a team just as strong, ready to break Boston’s dreams once again, as it seems they always do. It's what makes the Yankees evil, and what make the Yankees good. They’re relentless.

Meanwhile, do yourself a favor and head over Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT, and check out Lederer's latest interview. This week Joe Sheehan, a founding member of Baseball Prospectus, steps up at bat. Along with Rob Neyer, and Steve Goldman, Joe Sheehan ranks as one of the brightest and most compelling analysts writing about baseball today. Don't miss it.

Lastly, here is George Steinbrenner's clipped reaction to the news that Roger Clemens will now pitch for the Houston Astros:

"Roger Clemens was a great warrior for the Yankees -- a teacher and a leader. He told the world he was retiring, and we had no choice but to believe him."

Man, you think George is burning up?

2004-01-12 12:29
by Alex Belth

No, I guess it sure isn't. We are in the heart of football season, so for what it's worth, I figured I'd watch as much of the playoffs as I could stand. I used to be a football fan, a big one. Now, my football diet is anemic. Truthfully, I didn't watch more than one quarter of football until the playoffs all season long. My football intake has dropped steadily for years and it's at an all-time low. Part of it is that Emily doesn't like football at all; the other part is that I can't be bothered with anything but baseball—heck, especially in the off-season.

I don't miss football either. It's nice to know that it's there, and that I can drop in on it every once in a while. After a couple of years in college, I became a generally less angry person and something started to go out of football for me. But I used to be a football junkie. At times during my adolescence I loved it more than baseball. And I mean playing it with local kids as well as following the pros in the NFL. The idea of football Sunday was a lot more meaningful to me as a kid than it is for me today. Now, I want something everyday like baseball. Screw having to wait for the weekend.

My peak football years were from age 8 in 1979 through 17 in '88. Or something close to that. The Jets were my local team but I primarily rooted for the Cowboys. Figures, right? Who else is a Yankee fan going to pull for? Well it just so happened that when I first became aware that football mattered to my peers in school, the Steelers and the Cowboys were the two hottest teams to pick from. I went with the star on the Dallas helmet caused it looked cool, and that was about all there was to the decision.

Growing up in New York though, I ran into a lot of static from Giants fans. Hell, who cared that I liked the Jets—that was my problem—but that I liked Dallas? That was a cardinal sin. What ever for? What are you an a-hole? For the corporate tidiness of Tom Landry? Well, it was either that or the outlaw image of the Raiders or the cool efficiency of Don Shula's Dolphins. I went with Dallas. Those were the teams most people chose from. I went with Big D and subsequently experienced some of the most heart-wrenching defeats I would ever encounter as a fan.

It was my misfortune to start rooting for Dallas in their declining years of the eighties. That it coincided with the Yankees demise made it seem worse to me. I was too young to remember their two Super Bowl losses to Pittsburgh in the late seventies; I also was too young for Dallas' Super Bowl victory over Denver in 1977. But I was old enough for that loss to San Francisco in '81. It was the year that got away for the Cowboys. Danny White had his best season. But ah yes, Dwight Clark, and the catch. I can still bearly look at the replays.

It stands out for me also because that was the year my parents split. So all of the losses seemed harder to take that year and for a couple of years after that too. (Naturally, the Yankees would blow a 2-0 lead and drop the World Serious to L.A. later in 1981.)

It got worse for Dallas, but I prevailed. Through the tears and torment. Playoff beatings at the hands of the dreaded Redskins and insufferable Philly Eagles. Eventually, they started to bottom out. When the Bears tore through the league in 1985, they put a 44-0 whoopin' on a staggering Dallas franchise in the middle of the season, it cemented the end of the Dallas Cowboys as they had been known. The Era was over.

I was mortified, but determined to do the right thing by my team. I was a freshman in high school, and still more consumed by sports than I was by girls. Monday morning, I go to school with my Tony Dorsett jersey and my navy blue Dallas Cowboy sweat pants, that had the helmet logo on the hip. Yo, I had the wrist bans going and everything. The whole schmeer. So yeah, I got tooled on. I got all sorts of abuse for it. Monique Sampirie—the first girl I ever dated—walked right up to me and laughed right in my grill even though she didn't know the first thing about football. Not only that, but she also knew that I knew that she didn't know anyting about football. But everbody hears about a 44-0 beatdown. Dag.

But that was all cool. I could take the abuse. It's all part of the game. The important part for me was that nobody was ever going to be able to say that I wasn't a loyal fan. And that's what counts in war (beer). And football is a battlefield (puke). And I am a warrior (Geek).

When I did start to invest more time with girls than sports in high school, it was hard to sustain my interest in football. By that time the Cowboys were in despair. When they unceremoniously dismissed old man Landry, I had my out. In honor of the great man, I officially retired as a Cowboy fan. I was in college when Dallas became great again, first under Jimmy Johnson, and then briefly with Barry Switzer. I pulled for them, but strictly in a superficial sense. The uniforms were still appealing and that made me feel nostalgic, but I wasn't going to die with them. It didn't matter as much by that time.

Having said that, I was happy that the Cowboys lost in first round of the playoffs to Carolina this year under Pacells. He had a great year with them, but if they are going to be worth anything, then they've got to earn it. And I think Parcells did a good enough job just getting them a playoff game this year. Winning it would have seemed liked too much too soon.


I saw most of the Carolina-St. Louis game, a sloppy, poorly-executed affair which turned dramatic and entertaining late when the Rams came back to force overtime. It annoyed me for the first three quarters and I played with remote control quite a bit. Carolina had a chance to win it in overtime, but were called for a delay of game while setting up for a 39-yard field goal attempt —incidently, before the flag was thrown, Carolina ran the play, and kicked the field goal. Bounced out of good position, John Kasay ultimately hooked a 45-yard attempt wide right. Wasn't an awful kick. But there it was: Carolina had a chance to seal the win, and they blew it. So I didn't want them to lose and was happy enough when they won. The most compelling thing about the Rams is Marshall Faulk, who is an all-time great competitor and athlete. He played a riveting a great game as well.

Then of course, came the Titans v. the Pats. I was pulling hard for the Titans, not so much because I especially hate the Patriots—I don't—but because I think that year-in and year-out Jeff Fisher, Steve McNair and the Titans are one of the most likeable teams in the league. It was fuh-fuh-fuh-freezin in New York over the weekend, so Saturday night in New England was no treat. New England won a tight match, 17-14. The Eagles would beat Green Bay by the same score in a similiarly played game on Sunday.

I got to thinking about clutch players watching the end of the Pats-Titans game. Trailing by three points, the Titans had their last shot. Drew Bennett, a wide receiver, made two brilliant receptions falling out of bounds to keep Tennesse alive. The first one was contested, but it held up, and was an eye-popping grab. But on what would be the last offensive play of the year for the Titans, Bennett dropped a Grab-em ball by McNair, that was he had right in his hands. The definition of what would be considered a "choke" play.

Now, what is he? A choker? That's impossible. The Titans might have been done earlier had he not made the two marvelous side line catches. So what is clutch and what is a choke? And can you have both of them in one series or one at-bat? Either way, I'll bet Bennett was feeling pretty sick after he dropped the last one. I'm sure he feels worse today. But I hope he reminds himself of the great grabs too while he's beating himself up during the off-season. Those were bonafide.

I missed the Colts game, but am pleased with the outcome. Manning is pedigree and I like that he's got the monkey off his back as far as winning in the playoffs. What is it with Kansas City? Why do they have these years where they go 14-2 and lose in the first round of the playoffs?
The Philly-Carolina match up is a dud for a causual football fan like me. I would rather see Philly in the Super Bowl I guess. The Colts at New England could be a great game. I don't know if Manning gets it done up there, but if he does, he'll have earned it. That would be appealing. Still, if Tom Brady has a great game and the Pats win it, I can get with that too. Either way, I think I'm going going to root for the AFC in the Super Bowl this year.

Speaking of meat, it looks like former Yankee defensive tackle Roger Clemens will come out of "retirement" to pitch for the Houston Astros in 2004. Clemens will earn $5 million and pitch alongside his pal Andy Pettitte. Book Rocket's name making the Boss' enemy list, oh about five minutes ago.

Hey...Is it spring training yet?

2004-01-11 09:08
by Alex Belth


Suddenly, Mets fans were encouraged this week that their team could land Vlad Guerrero, who is arguably one of the five best players in the game. After rejecting a five-year, $75 million deal from the Expos, the biggest offer Guerrero has seen this winter is five-years, $65 million from the Baltimore Orioles. When Miguel Tejada signed with the O's it was widely believed that Baltimore had an advantage in reeling in Vlad (Guerrero and Tejada, both Dominican, share the same agents).

But for whatever reason, Guerrero has balked. Word had it that he would love to play for the Marlins, but Florida has not jumped into the mix with both feet. The Dodgers are in need of a star offensive player, but with ownership in flux, they have been unable to make a competitive offer. Ah, the frustrations of rooting for the Mets and Dodgers these days.

Which leaves the Mets (and now apparently, the Tigers too). What a steal this could be. An outfield of Cliff Floyd, Mike Cameron and Guerrero is more than somewhat appealing. Heck, I sure would be envious. Guerrero is my favorite National League star; Floyd and Cameron are great guys to boot. But the Mets, concerned about Guerrero's back troubles, were uneasy about giving him five years. So they offered him three-years at $30 million with incentives that could go much higher.

However, according the The New York Times this morning, Guerrero's agents have told the Mets that they will pass on New York's offer:

Last night, Guerrero, baseball's premier free agent this off-season, was prepared to accept the team's multiyear offer, believed to be for up to five years. Two people in baseball said the team was not the Baltimore Orioles. Baltimore was the only other team known to have made an offer to Guerrero, but the Orioles' offer deferred too much money.

So who is this mystery team? Florida? L.A.? The Tigers? A few weeks ago, Will Carroll heard a rumor that the Yankees were considering signing Vlad. Gluttony, you say? Reader Jim Gerard thinks it is sensible:

If the Mets are apparently in a position to steal him away from Baltimore for $13M a year, what's to stop George from offering him $14M? The Yanks seem to have made up their mind not to sign him early in the off season, and the only possible explanations for it are that George had his sights on Sheffield and ignored his baseball people, who seem to have preferred Guerrero; and that the team is looking to bag Beltran after next season. (They may have been wary of his back, but Will Carroll says it's fine.) However, that presumes: A) Beltran will still be a free agent -- KC could resign him or trade him to a team that signs him long-term, which most teams would make a contingency of acquiring him; or B) he'll want to play for the Yankees. While I love Beltran and perhaps even favor him over Guerrero because he plays a more important position, is better defensively, and has no injury issues, it's a much riskier strategy than grabbing Guerrero now. If so, he goes to RF, Sheff moves to LF or DH, Matsui to CF (if Sheff goes to LF), Bernie's the DH, Lofton becomes (appropriately) the fourth outfielder/pinch hitter-runner.
It's odd that George would apparently let a talent like Guerrero go unimpeded to his crosstown rival and make a major splash on the back pages.

While I doubt the Yankees are the team that has made the latest offer to Vlad---don't you think we would have heard some rumors leak through the New York Press by now if that were the case?---I can't argue with Gerard's logic. However, as much as I'd love to see Vlad in the Bronx, I think it would be hilarious and fitting if he ended up with the Tigers. First of all, he'd look crisp in their classic home uniform (are they still wearing that these days?), and the transition from oblivion (Montreal) to oblivion (Detriot) is just too funny not to appreciate.

But, nooooo. According the The Los Angeles Times, the mystery team is none other than the Anahiem Angels, who have crashed the party with a five-year, $70 million deal:

Guerrero, who speaks little English, will find a Spanish-speaking owner in Anaheim and fellow Dominicans in [Bartolo] Colon, [Jose] Guillen, pitcher Ramon Ortiz and coach Alfredo Griffin. In September, even before Colon and Guillen had signed, Ortiz heartily endorsed the pursuit of Guerrero.

"If the Angels sign this guy," Ortiz said, "my God, watch out."

Like I said, tough time to be a Dodger fan. I hope Jon Weisman keeps himself away from any sharp objects. And how do you think Mariners fans must feel about this one? Yeeesh.

2004-01-09 13:56
by Alex Belth

The amount of words devoted to Pete Rose this week has been predictably overwhelming. I'm back to feeling ennervated by the whole thing. Buster Olney is just one of many to weigh in with his take (Rob Neyer also has a good column delineating the history of gambling in baseball), but my favorite bit comes from Rob Dibble, who played for Rose and remains an ardent supporter of the Hit King:

I was in the locker room, when we'd joke that if two cockroaches took off across the floor, Pete would bet on who'd make it first. And I was also on the field when Pete managed the Cincinnati Reds to countless wins.

As my cousin Jonah remarked, somehow, just somehow, I think we would find a way to count all those wins.

2004-01-09 13:41
by Alex Belth

You didn't think we saw the last of Don Zimmer now did you? Popeye has been hired as an advisor by the Devil Rays. According the AP:

Zimmer, who turns 73 on Jan. 17, will be in uniform as a coach during spring training and for pregame practices at all regular-season home games.

It'll be good to have Zim hanging around Lou. Hopefully, it won't be too long before he and George engage in some backpage-tabliod fun. I wonder if there will be any fights in the East this year. I can't remember the last time the Yankees got into a bench-clearing rumpus, but I don't believe they've had one since Giambi's been on the team. Can I get a little help on this one?

2004-01-09 08:29
by Alex Belth

Rick Down, who was let go as the Yankees hitting coach at the end of the 2003 season (and subsequently replaced by Don Mattingly), was hired as the Bombers' coordinator of minor league instruction yesterday. This continues a time-honored tradition under George Stienbrenner's watch of placating fired employees by re-hiring them (or merely throwing money in their bank accounts). That's Yankee loyalty, Yankee pride at work for you.

Life with George often feels like Stienbrenner's version of Crime and Punishment. For instance, David Cone is in Yankee-limbo after walking away from a TV deal with the YES Network last season to attempt a comeback with the Mets. The Boss isn't ready to invite him back yet. Roger Clemens will certainly join Cone in Siberia should he choose to pitch for the Houston Astros in 2004. Nobody will be terribly surprised if the Rocket pitches again, right? If he does, he can count on waltzing into the Hall of Fame in a Red Sox cap. While that would be fitting, Clemens might be having drinks with friends and family elsewhere during his induction ceremony.

Finally, while Erick Almonte cleared waivers, third-string catcher Michel Hernandez (who defected from Cuba in 1996 and signed with the Yankees in 1998), was claimed by the Red Sox. As Bob Hohler notes in The Globe today, it is "the first major league movement between the archrivals since 1997."

2004-01-08 08:35
by Alex Belth

My good pal, and travelling companion, Jay Jaffe has a contributed a terrific piece to Baseball Prospectus, which analyzes the hitters who were recently up for election to the Hall of Fame. Using a series of advanced metrics, Jay's piece is in-depth, thorough, and exceedingly well done. Not only that, but it's available to everyone. (One conclusion that may be of interest to New York fans is that Keith Hernandez rates slightly ahead of Don Mattingly.) When you have some time, do yourself a solid, and do what Wacko Jacko implored Shelly Duvall to do: Go check it out.

2004-01-08 08:24
by Alex Belth

Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley were introduced as the newest members of The Hall of Fame in New York yesterday. Stories in The Boston Globe, New York Times and Daily News focus on Molitor and Eckersley's recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Last night, I perused my library in search for something good on Molitor. The first (and last as it turns out) place I looked to was Dan Okrent's book about the 1982 Brewers, "Nine Innings." Okrent, famous for "discovering" Bill James, was a featured participant in Ken Burns' "Baseball" documentary. (Emily and I have been watching some of the episodes lately, and she keeps goofing Okrent's red-rimmed glasses.) I've never been able to get through the entire book, which is a shame because the Brewers teams of the early eighties were an extremely appealing bunch. I pick it up in fits and starts, but it never holds my attention for long.

Anyhow, I looked through the portions dealing with Molitor's story and couldn't come up with an excerpt that was particularly revealing, although his early career was far from dull. Molitor, a golden boy, was moved around often, first playing short, then second, then center field, right field and finally third base (and all of this in the first five years of his career). He was as aimable as you would ever expect anyone that talented to be. But when he was benched one day in place of Don Money at third, he finally became testy:

"I don't like it one bit. Let someone else sit if they want Money to get his at-bats."

Okrent added:

His anger was uncharacteristically splenetic.

I didn't know what splenetic meant, so I looked it up. Turns out it means spiteful, irritable, ill-humored. Now, I love words; I especially enjoy looking up words that I don't know (of which there are many). But after I discovered the meaning of the word splenetic, I couldn't stop thinking about Okrent's red-rimmed glasses. (It's a good word, but one that struck me as pretentious in this instance.) I stopped thinking about Molitor and I mumbled and cursed about the word splenetic for the duration of the evening.

It reminded me of when I was a freshman at Hunter college and was taking a 400 level class on Samuel Beckett. I was living with my father in my grandparent's spacious apartment across the street from the Museum of Natural History. They had both recently passed away and the place was in the process of being sold, but for a few months it was home. I remember studying for a mid-term in the dining room. Papers covered most of the table and I was knee-deep in high-falutin philosophies, when a friend of my father's stopped by for a visit.

Jim was what you'd call a man's man. He was from the James Caan, Gene Hackman school of masculinity. He was funny and wry, and looked great in a leather jacket. He was one of those guys who looked as if he could live off cigarettes and coffee for the rest of his life. He sat down with me and asked what I was studying. I pulled one of the essay questions out which concerned a concept put forth by Descartes which said, "Nothing is more real than nothing." I was consumed with how the total heaviosity of the statement and how it related to Beckett's work.

Jim said, "Nothing's more real than nothing..." He mulled it over in his head for a minute. I was expecting him to share some deep life experience with me. He continued to repeat the statement to himself. He then snapped out of his train of thought and looked at me. "Nothing is more real than nothing? You know what? I'd like to talk to that guy. I really would. I'd like to have him sit right here, across this table and ask him exactly what he means by that. Nothing is more real than nothing? You know what? I'd like to punch him in right in his face. Punch him square in the jaw for asking that kind of question."

I wonder what Jim would have made of a word like splenetic in describing a ball player.

I moved along and broke out "Cracking The Show," Tom Boswell's fourth collection of baseball writing, and found an article written in early 1989 about Eckersley. It makes for a nice compliment to the articles in today's papers about Eckersley's recovery from addiction:

This is a second chance for me. Not too many people get a second chance. I am just so happy about what has happened to me that I don't want to stop...I've been so lucky, how could I be [upset about Gibson's homer]? You wouldn't be very appreciative if you acted that way, would you?

...I shouldn't have thrown him a strike...But think about how hard it would have been to take if it had happened to me ten years ago.

Boswell went on to write about Eckersley's good fortune, falling into the closer's job on the powerful A's team:

Eckersley is the first to point out that the A's are a closer's dream. No other team has four quality setup men in the bullpen. "Goose Gossage had to pitch two innings, somethings [Bruce] Sutter had to go three," he says. "I go one. Don't want to say my job is easy. But it can't get much better than this.

The Athletics' great talent helps. "I can only stay sharp if I pitch a lot," he says. "I only pitch when we win. And we win a lot. So I stay sharp."

Yesterday, Boswell wrote an insightful piece about how closers have been neglected by the baseball writers of America:

When will the sport, and specifically my peers among the baseball writers, figure out that no player in the sport is more central to success than a great closer? At any one time, almost every team in baseball has a legitimate slugger and at least one fine starting pitcher. Some teams have several of each. But perhaps half the clubs in the game can claim to possess even one superior ninth-inning door-slammer.

...When are we finally going to see some basic decency toward the great relief pitchers of the last 50 years? The bullpen got torched again yesterday by a bunch of ink-strained wretches who couldn't hit a Dan Quisenberry sinker or an Elroy Face forkball if you gave each of them two tennis rackets. If relievers such as Mike Marshall, Sparky Lyle, Sutter, Fingers, Willie Hernandez, Steve Bedrosian, Mark Davis, Eckersley and Eric Gagne are so good within a one-year span that they are chosen over all pitchers for the Cy Young, then how can the entirety of their careers be judged as so inconsequential?

Heck, if I were Sutter or Gossage, I'd be feeling positively splenetic, no?

2004-01-07 14:03
by Alex Belth

Peter Gammons is not known for trashing ball players. You can call him a yenta all you want, but he's no vicious gossip. (If anything, he champions all kinds of players--from the greats to the lesser known talents.) So Gammons' latest column on Pete Rose came as a bit of a surprise:

The fact that [Rose] has orchestrated the release of his book and his admission of guilt at a time when Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor -- two great people who overcame a lot, which Rose hasn't yet -- are being elected is a bold statement that he has no respect for Cooperstown, and that he wants to be in the Hall for one reason -- to make money to feed his addictions.

This is a man who admitted something in a forum in which he can make money. He has no remorse, no respect for anything but his next bet. Rose is perhaps the lowest figure in baseball in my 32 years of covering the sport.

Right on.

2004-01-06 17:33
by Alex Belth

Edward Cossette has been writing about the Internet media vs. the Traditional media over at Bambino's Curse for some time now. Considering that both Curt Schilling and John Henry visit and make comments on Red Sox websites (like Sons of Sam Horn), this is a story that will continue to unfold during the 2004 season. Apparently, Schilling was on SoSH recently and teed off on the Questec system. Although Cossette is partially thrilled with the intimacy that is created when players connect directly with the fans via a website posting, he raises some pertinent questions about ethics, and journalistic responsibiltiy. Essentially, he makes like Fiorello LaGuardia and asks: Say children, what does it all mean? David Pinto picks up the thread over at Baseball Musings. In all, this is a fascinating subject, and Cossette did a tremendous job of covering it today.

2004-01-06 14:11
by Alex Belth

Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley were elected to the Hall of Fame this afternoon. Now that Eckersley--most famous as world-class closer for the Oakland A's--has reached Cooperstown, perhaps the voters will begin to look more kindly on relief pitchers. Still, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage, arguably the two most significant relievers of the free agency era, did not make the cut once again.

Eckersley, a demonstrative and volatile performer, has been a nervous wreck of late as he waited to hear if he made it into the Hall. In a report that was published yesterday, he said:

"It's killing me is what it's doing...It's murdering me. Tell me already, so I can deal with it if I don't. I feel like a little kid, where you're dangling something in front of me. I can't even sleep. I'm like a yo-yo."

Eckersley is as entertaining off the field as he was on it. Terry Pluto covered the swinging salad days of Eck's career in "The Curse of Rocky Colavito," while Mike Bryan had an excellent chapter on Eckersley in his book, "Baseball Lives." Here is an excerpt from Bryan's book:

People say baseball players should go out and have fun. No way. To me, baseball is pressure. I always feel it. This is work. The fun is afterwards, when you shake hands.

When I was a rookie I'd tear stuff up. Now I keep it in. What good is smashing a light on the way up the tunnel? But I still can't sleep at night if I stink. I've always tried to change that and act like a normal guy when I got home. "Hi, honey, what's happening?" I can't. It's there. It doesn't go away. But maybe that's why I've been successful in my career, because I care. I don't have fun. I pitch scared. That's what makes me go. Nothing wrong with being scared if you can channel it.

I used to hide behind my cockiness. Don't let the other team know you're scared. I got crazy on the mound. Strike a guy out, throw my fist around---"Yeah!" Not real classy, but I was a raw kid. I didn't care. It wasn't fake. It was me. This wasn't taken very kindly by a lot of people. They couldn't wait to light me up. That's the price you pay.

I wish I was a little happier in this game. What is so great about this shit? You get the money, and then you're used to the money. You start making half a million a year, next thing you know you need half a million a year. And the heat is on!

Used to be neat to just be a big-league ballplayer, but that wore off. I'm still proud, but I don't want people to bother me about it. I wish my personality with people was better. I find myself becoming short with people. Going to the store. Getting gas.

If you're not happy with when you're doing lousy, then not happy when you're doing well, when the hell are you going to be happy? This game will humble you in a heartbeat. Soon as you starting getting happy, "Boom." For the fans---and this is just a guess---they think the money takes out the feeling. I may be wrong but I think they think, "What the hell is he worrying about? He's still getting' paid." There may be a few players who don't give 100 percent, but I always thought if you were good enough to make that kind of money, you'd have enough pride to play like that, wouldn't you think? You don't just turn it on or off.

Eckersley is a good talker. But he's not as slick as the media-friendly David Cone; he is much closer to Pat Jordan: a straight-shootin' sombitch. I admire him for his vulnerability and honesty. Bryan's interview with Eck was conducted during spring training in 1988, with his his greatest years as a relief pitcher ahead of him. But Eckersley was candid about how he felt about life after baseball:

I've been very fortunate to pitch for fourteen years in the big leagues. That's a long time for a pitcher. I'm afraid of life after baseball. Petrified. I'm not ashamed of saying it. I'll be all right, but nothing will ever compare with this. I will not stay in baseball. I think about commercial real estate and money, big money!

Or maybe I'll grow up after I get ouf of this fuckin' game.

Funny that we should be talking about grown-ups with Pete Rose clouding the baseball landscape, but both Mr. Molitor and Mr. Eck are all grown up now, and where they belong: in Cooperstown. Here's hoping that Blyelven, Ryno, Sutter and the Goose join them soon.

2004-01-06 08:28
by Alex Belth


As the Pete Rose story (a.ka. "The Hustler's Convention")hits the streets via the nation's newspapers this morning, I just wanted to do a quick follow-up on the piece I wrote yesterday. After I posted the article, I had the opportunity to ask a couple of questions to Tim Machman of The New York Sun, who is one of the brightest young baseball writers in the country.

Bronx Banter: Now that the Pete Rose affair has finally come out in the mainstream how will this effect Basball Prospectus' standing?

Tim Marchman: Honestly, I don't think it will one way or the other. The most you're going to see in the mainstream press is that "a website" broke this story a while ago.

BB: Will they be absolved by the mainstream media? Should they be?

TM: I think the mainstream baseball press, insofar as this is an issue to them, will judge this by results and not process. As I understand it, what Will Carroll and Derek Zumsteg reported was to the best of their knowledge true, and met a level of sourcing that would hold up at a newspaper. That doesn't mean that what their sources told them was accurate, although it seems probable to me that it was. From my angle, they met their obligations as journalists whether or not- and these are two distinct things- a)their sources were accurate and b)what they reported actually occurs the way their sources told them it would. Either, both or neither of this could be true. In regards to a), they had a responsibility to make sure the information met a certain threshold of credibility; I'm quite certain they met it. In regards to b), whether or not events unfold the way they predicted is irrelevant as long as they met their ethical obligations to ensure the information was credible. The world is dynamic. Unfortunately, I think they will be judged by whether or not events unfold in the way they had reason to predict they would, which is of course out of their control.

BB: Do you think BP wants to remain known as "outsiders" or are they trying to get on the inside and are merely running into static trying to do so?

TM: It's not my place to say how they want to position themselves, but I think a few points hold. First, they're not a monolithic entity. Joe Sheehan might call up Brian Cashman and get his call returned in five minutes; Will Carroll might call up Brian Cashman later that afternoon and find that he's out having a root canal. Forever. Second, I think Baseball Prospectus writers occupy a unique niche in that they have a great deal of access, but it's not neccessarily always on their terms, and I think at least some of that access has been thrust upon them more than they've sought it. (The Pete Rose story, if I understand correctly, is a perfect example of this). Anyway, for my money too big a distinction is made between insiders and outsiders. Plenty of good writers on big papers with tremendous access to front offices remain neutral and objective; plenty of self-styled objective analysts rely on conjecture and innuendo. What matters is sound thought.

BB: Was BP in over their heads breaking the story in the first place?

TM: Absolutely not. I think there are certain things they wish they'd known to do, but they did a solid and professional job of breaking an important story.

BB: Was it simply a matter that MLB and the mainstream press were in cahoots, and the story was only going to break when MLB was good and ready
to have it out there?

TM: Yes. Writers with the access that Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark have break stories of this scale on their source's terms; it's just how things are done. This is a real problem in sportswriting: is it journalism or is it boosterism? What does it mean when the two best-connected and most influential baseball writers work for an MLB broadcast partner? I don't mean to impugn Gammons' or Stark's integrity, but the appearance of a conflict of interest, in addition to the normal reporter/source dynamic, is troubling. They clearly knew about the story before Will Carroll and Derek Zumsteg; why didn't they break it? The only reason I can think of is that they were serving the interests of their sources before that of their public. One of the advantages of not relying so heavily on sources is that if a story like this does come your way you can break it without worrying about consequences.

I think Marchman hits the nail on head in saying that too much of a distinction is being made between the outsiders and insiders. Broad labels like this make me inherently uneasy, and yet I've used them as a way to start examining the contemporary culture of baseball writing. But Tim is right: What matters is sound thought. And the Internet-based writers don't hold a monopoly on it, that's for sure. Gordon Edes, the head baseball writer at The Boston Globe, wrote a wonderfully definitive and thorough piece on the Alex Rodriguez negotiations late last week, which proves that some of the most sound, and responsible work is coming out of a mainstream outlet. If you didn't catch it, I suggest you go back and take a peak.

2004-01-05 17:17
by Alex Belth

What can we make of the lack of left-handed starters on the Yankees' 2004 roster? While our impulse may be to yell like Chicken Little, the reality may not be as harsh as we fear. Shawn Bernard, who recently launched a Yankee-based blog called The Greatest Game, ran a simple but informative study the other day which noted that neither Andy Pettitte nor David Wells were particularly effective vs. right-handed hitting in 2003. At the same time Javier Vazquez (who agreed to a four-year, $45 million contract with New York this afternoon) and Kevin Brown were not killed by lefties either.

Jim Gerard, a reader of Bronx Banter, sent me an e-mail responding to quotes made by unnamed sources in Tyler Kepner's story in yesterday's Times:

One source claims Vasquez is going to have to adjust his style and will be sorely taxed by lineups "stacked with lefties." Just who is he referring to? The Red Sox have four good lefthanded hitters (Varitek, Ortiz, Nixon, Mueller when he hits that way), the Blue Jays about the same. Vasquez hasn't faced lineups of this stature in the National League? Silly. As is the comment that "teams are going to stack their lineups with lefties against the Yanks." What are they going to do -- import players for the series? The truth is there isn't a team in the AL that has more than four good left handed hitters, and some teams don't even have that many good hitters in total. Vasquez has a good BAA lefthanders; if he faces some tough lefties once in a while, well, isn't that what he's getting paid for?
And while Vasquez will have to work harder in a league with a DH instead of the pitcher, the Yanks' newly fortified pen will enable their starters to go a hard six or seven and not worry about getting the ball to Mo.

As Mike Carminati correctly points out:

Yankee lefties have fared better than righties in the Yankee Stadium era (3% better ERA). However, the latest Yankee dynasty didn't seem to benefit much from southpaws (5.23 ERA in 2000?).

Given the turnover in the Yankee rotation—just Mike Mussina remains from the 2003 rotation—they have other things to worry about than the lack of left-handers. Such as Kevin Browns' age and history of injury, Jon Leiber's rehabilitation, whether Jose Contreras is a viable major-league starter, etc. It will be odd if Felix Heredia leads all Yankee left-handers in wins next year though.

Chances are another left-hander not named White or Heredia will make his way into the Yankee pinstripes before it's all said and done. Call me crazy...

Actually, the storyline that most concerns me---and one that I haven't heard anything about as of yet---is: How will the Yankees will handle the future of Mariano Rivera? Mo has just one more season left on his contract and according to an article that appeared in Sports Illustrated several weeks ago, he was none too pleased about the way the Bombers handled the Pettitte situation. Now, I don't think Rivera is ready to bolt just yet. Still, it would behoove the Yankees to try and lock their stud closer up for two or three more years sooner rather than later. They have traditionally played the waiting game before signing their own players' to extentions. I wonder if they'll do the same with Rivera. I thought they would overpay to keep Pettitte, but evidently, they didn't accord him the proper respect in the courting process, so he left the money and the fame and went home. I would be shocked if they underestimate Rivera in the same manner. I doubt they will.

Still, the thought of Rivera and Torre departing is not a comforting one for the Yankee faithful.

2004-01-05 13:52
by Alex Belth

The last night I was in New Orleans at the winter meetings, Jay Jaffe and I were huddled around some of the guys from Baseball Prospectus when Jack Curry from the Times rolled around. I had introduced myself to Curry the day before and had wanted to introduce Jay to him as well. Curry smiled as he approached and said, "What are you guys doing anyway? Stalking us?" He was busting chops, but it wasn't until that point that I asked myself: I wonder what the mainstream press makes of guys like Jay and me being here?
Curry chatted with us for a good while. He was friendly and generous with his time, which both Jay and I appreciated. I think he was more curious than bemused. I can't say for sure, but my assumption is that Jay and I would be associated with Prospectus simply because that's who we were hanging around. And since it's Jack Curry's job to know who is who at these kind of things, I'm sure we stuck out. Of course Prospectus isn't on the same level as us bloggers---although several of their writers initially had blogs of their own, and some still maintain blogs too---but I don't know that it would matter to a member of the mainstream media. We would all be lumped together as the Internet Nerds, or The Stat Geeks, or The Sons of Moneyball.

Either way, we were the outsiders. Now, whether or not a blogger cherishes and promotes their status as an outsider, or is merely using their blog as a vehicle to become an insider is a different story. I'm sure there people on both sides of the fence. (After all, one of the Gods of baseball bloggers is Roger Angell, the ultimate outsider on the inside.) But to the mainstream press, we are outsiders.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a fellow blogger about the impact of blogs and the Internet on baseball writing. I think it has already had an impact, which is sure to gain momentum over the next couple of years. My friend asked, "What do you think the mainstream writers make of us?" "Not much," was my answer. I said that some of them clearly read and enjoy our stuff, while others can't be bothered. But most importantly, until a blogger threatens their paycheck, they won't be overly concerned.

I don't know the future for baseball blogs, certainly as a way to make a living. But ever so slowly, Internet baseball writing is making some waves. The most famous example came late last summer when Will Carroll and Derek Zumsteg of Baseball Prospectus wrote that MLB planned to reinstate Pete Rose. MLB denied the story and Carroll and Zumsteg were essentially left hung out to dry. Prospectus had not been in the business of scooping major stories, and suddenly they appeared to be in over their heads.

But as Will Carroll explained to me, he didn't set out to break the Pete Rose story. "We literally fell into it - it wasn't something we sought out or something we normally do (how many stories have we broken since?) so there was no gain to just blue-skying it."

As David Pinto pointed out today, the BP story stated that Rose would not have to admit to betting on baseball in order to be reinstated. That hasn't turned out to be the case. Playing Devil's Advocate, I asked Carroll, "If and when Rose does get reinstated by MLB, do you feel you'll be vindicated? Isn't it like saying it's going to rain? Eventually, you'll be right."

Carroll answered, "Then why didn't someone else do it?" That's a good question. I don't know the behind-the-scenes relationships between MLB and the mainstream media. But judging by their reaction to the BP story, MLB was furious that the story was leaked so early.

"It's speculation," Carroll continued, "but I think they wanted to handle this in their own way on their own time - which is their right - but our publication caused them to go early and because they had no other way to go, they went negative. It's a symbiotic relationship that MLB has with the media and it's clear that some have a relationship that allows them more access than others."

(For an all access take on the Rose story, look no further than Tom Verducci's latest column.)

I asked Carroll, that for all the trouble it's caused him, would he break the story again? "Without a doubt. I'd change small things - I'd know to ask for a copy of the memo rather than being shocked into stupidity. I'd know better how to conduct the investigation and confirm sources. Really, I wouldn't so much change anything as hope to be a better journalist."

Carroll believes the criticism he's faced will slow once Rose is resinstated, but he's not looking for credit or apologies. "I'd like for BP to be taken seriously as a media outlet with the respect due that type of credible, productive enterprise."

Jon Weisman wrote a compelling article about the BP story when it first broke. When I asked him how he felt about the story now that Pete Rose is on ABC, Weisman replied, "The issue of whether Pete admits guilt is relevant, at least to the widespread discussion if not whether he should be excused. On the other hand, I don't think this should prevent BP for being credited for being ahead of the pack on the story, however relevant one deems that to be.

"Alex, I don't want BP and bloggers like us to be dependent on scoops to gain respect. I want us to gain respect because our analysis deserves it and our writing deserves it - before, during or after the fact."

With that in mind, please head over to Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT, and take in Rich Lederer's latest article, "One Small Step for Blyleven," which suggests that the influence of Internet-based writers is here to stay. Just as Michael Lewis wrote about the hostilities of baseball's old gaurd in "Moneyball," Lederer encounters similar resistance from an old newspaper lion like Bill Conlin. Remember what Satchel said about looking back.

2004-01-04 10:37
by Alex Belth

Gordon Edes has a wonderful piece on Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield in The Globe this morning. Edes catches up with Wakefield in Florida a few months after the knuckleballer gave up the pennant-clinching home run to Aaron Boone. Fortunately, Wakefield, who pitched brilliantly during the 2003 off-season, has not become the new Bill Buckner in Boston. Wakefield talks about how he's dealt with the Game 7 loss to New York, and how the 2003 season was the happiest he's had in Boston since he joined the club in 1995:

"That was the biggest thing for me, sharing it with our fans," Wakefield said, "and with the guys on our team who had never been in that position before, like Todd Jones. You could see a look on his face like a little child.

"Mike Timlin, myself and Todd Jones, it was weird, but the three of us ended up in the middle of the field, sitting on the mound. We were just so blessed. I think we all felt the same way. I feel so fortunate putting that uniform on every day. I work, or play a child's game, for a living. Yes, it's work, but it's still a game, something I started playing when I was 5 years old."

Wakefield has been my favorite Red Sox for years; call it a soft spot for knucklers. This article proves that he's a real mensch too. Check it out.

2004-01-04 10:15
by Alex Belth

The Yankees received some unexpected news as 2003 rolled over into 2004: David Wells, the sole southpaw on their starting staff, is not going to pitch for them at all this coming year; instead, he is returning to his home town to pitch for the Padres. Wells and his agent had a handshake deal with the Yankees, but just as Wells snaked his way out of a similar arrangement in Arizona several years ago, he is now spurning the Yankees.

What goes around comes around, am I right? Wells understands that he's probably burned his last bridge in the BX. Speaking about his old pal George Steinbrenner the other day, Wells said:

"I'm sure now I won't hear from him ever again," Wells told reporters during a conference call reported by The Associated Press. "He's been good to me in a lot of ways. And in other ways, he's been very stubborn. That's George Steinbrenner."

Along with Wells, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens are gone too:

"They lost a lot of guys at once, and I think they're in shock," [Wells] said.

It's true that Cashman must be burning over this one, but shocked? That's a reach because nothing's shocking when it comes to Wells. The question is why would Wells leave a playoff team—his beloved Yankees no less—for the Padres? Well, because he could, that's why. In New York, Wells would be fighting for a spot in the rotation and would by no means be a lock to pitch in the playoffs should the Yankees make it that far (He had agreed to a minor-league contract with the Yanks). He walks onto the Padres and is most likely the ace of their staff. The incentive-laden deal with the Pads is far more attractive to him as well.

Finally, Boomer understood that he could hurt Steinbrenner and the Yankees as he was the only lefty starter they had left. They were vulnerable. Why would he want to do that? Perhaps it's because he wanted to bite them before they bit him. I don't know the answer of course, but I'm also not the least bit surprised with what Wells has done anyhow.

Now, the Yankees are faced with a bigger problem than dealing with Wells: Having no left-handed starters at all. According to The New York Times:

"They need a left-handed starter," one major league advance scout said. "At Yankee Stadium, teams are just going to stack their lineups with left-handed hitters. I don't know who it would be, but you have to have a left-hander there."

Brandon Claussen, we hardly knew ya.