Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Monthly archives: March 2004


Double Negative?
2004-03-31 08:47
by Alex Belth

The Sports Illustrated Baseball Preview issue is out today. Kerry Wood is on the cover and the headline reads: "Hell Freezes Over: The Cubs Will Win the World Series." Ah, the SI jinx. The boys at The Cub Reporter are going to love this. Then again, considering how jinxed the Cubs have been, how could this really hurt?

Meet the Mets
2004-03-31 08:37
by Alex Belth

There is an entertaining two-part preview of the 2004 Mets over at The Shea Hot Corner (part one and part two). Met fans, head on over and check it out.

Like Me, Please
2004-03-31 08:31
by Alex Belth

Alex Rodriguez has an article about coming to play for the Yankees written with Dan LeBatard for ESPN the magazine. It is a far cry from Reggie Jackson's "I'm the straw that stirs the drink" 1977 article in Sport magazine, but there is something needy about the tone of the piece all the same. Rodriguez come across more like Sally Field, as somebody who desperately wants to be liked. It's as if Rodriguez is trying to convince us what a good guy he is.

It speaks to Rodriguez's insecurities that he felt the need to come out with an article like this. But he does make some interesting comments. One particularly struck me:

Fear of failure is what fuels me, keeps me on edge and sharp. I'm not as good when I'm comfortable.

This reminded me of a Lou Piniella quote that I read in Michael Lewis' fine piece in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine:


I think that is what Rodriguez is talking about. Considering how much failure is inherent in the life of a baseball player, it makes perfect sense. You could say the same applies to being a great comic or rock star too. Once you get too comfortable, you are sunk. After all, Sir Lawrence Olivier threw up before almost every performance he ever gave on the stage. I doubt if Rodriguez gets physically ill before every game, but I'm sure he's not overly confident on the days he goes 4-4 either.

p.s. The Lewis article is really terrific. It's long, but a must-read.

Yanks Bounce Back and Bomb Tampa Bay
2004-03-31 08:11
by Alex Belth

Yankees 12, D-Rays, 1

Ah, just what the Yankees needed to avoid a full-scale disaster. The Yankees blasted the Devil Rays in the second game of the season, leaving New York sports writers with nothing much to write about for the next five days. Pity for them, but good for us fans. Jorge Posada homered twice and collected six RBI. Fittingly, Hideki Matsui also homered. Jason Giambi, Kenny Lofton and Gary Sheffield also had good offensive games. Kevin Brown allowed a run in the first, but was his usual stingy self. He threw seven innings, allowed six hits and struck out five. Tom Gordon pitched a scoreless eighth, and Mariano Rivera whiffed two in a scoreless ninth.

I didn't see any of the game. If you did, whatta ya here, whatta ya say?

D-Rays Bomb Yanks in Season Opener
2004-03-30 08:47
by Alex Belth

Tampa 8, New York 3

I only caught the second and third innings. Mussina didn't look sharp, and I guess the Rays eventually got to him. Giambi homered. For those who did watch it, how ugly was it? Discuss.

Eastward Ha!
2004-03-29 13:34
by Alex Belth

Hideki Matsui gave the people what they paid to see when he hit a home run in his return to Japan on Sunday. The Yankees beat Godzilla’s former club, the Giants, 6-2. (Donovan Osborne was rocked in the Yankees’ second exhibition game, against the Hanshin Tigers )

It may have been Matsui’s moment, but as Joel Sherman writes, this is really the about the beginning of the Alex Rodriguez era in New York.
Joe Torre has announced the Opening Day line-up. The most notable decision was that Kenny Lofton will bat ninth. Derek Jeter will lead off, followed by Matsui. (How do you like them apples? Who says Torre isn’t capable of a surprise here and there?) Of course, the heart of the order will be Rodriguez-Giambi-Sheffield, with Posada, Sierra (DH), Wilson and Lofton making up the bottom half of the line-up.

Lofton isn't happy about batting ninth, but quite frankly, who cares? I'm sure there will be plenty of things that upset Mr. Lofton in 2004. But hey, it could be worse: he could be playing in Pittsburgh.

The Daily News has its 2004 season preview today. Naturally, there is much about the Yankees-Sox continuing rivalry. Always the realist, Mike Mussina offers his pragmatic take on the situation:

"You write a great book, you make a great movie, you write a great song, an album, how do you follow it up?" says Mike Mussina. "You have to, but I don't know how you beat last season. You can add all the people you want, but you can't make the stakes any higher."

…"Is everybody going to be disappointed if it doesn't turn out the same way it did last year?" Mussina says. "What if it goes 12-7 this year and we don't meet in the playoffs? Does that mean all this jockeying back and forth is for nothing, because it doesn't turn out the way it did last year? It won't turn out that way. It can't happen that way again, it won't. We were down 4-0 in Game 7 and won the game. It will not happen that way again.

"Now, it will be exciting playing them 19 times, but the same thing won't happen."

Sox fans can only hope that's the case. Then again, I hope that it doesn't come down to a seventh game in the ALCS either. I don't know if I can bear the stress. Either way, I'm excited about the season. Usually, I invest much time in why the Yankees won't win. I'm way too nervous of a fan to think too highly of their chances. But about a week ago, I turned a corner. I'm confident that--if healthy--the Yankees will be a tough out. Now, I'd feel good about my chances if I were a Red Sox fan too. Or an A's fan or even an Angels fan. All I know, if I'm a Sox fan or an A's fan, I would not be too happy about having to deal with Rodriguez and Sheffield when the Bombers come to town.

The bottom line is, the 2004 Yankees will either be a bad team or a baaad team. I could see it going either way. But for now, I like the guys they have this year more than I have liked the teams of the past two seasons. They've got some type-A personalities back (Brown, Sheffield, Rodriguez), and some edginess will go a long way for this team. I like that.

I won't be up at the crack of dawn watching the game tomorrow, but most likely, I'll have the scores and reports up later in the morning all the same. If you are watching the game, and have comments or thoughts, send em' in and let the banter begin.

Meeting of the Minds
2004-03-26 13:37
by Alex Belth

Here Come the Smart Guys

The Baseball Prospectus book signing at Barnes and Noble in downtown Brooklyn was a lot of fun last night. It started promptly at seven. I don't think I got there until a quarter past. Of course Jay Jaffe was the first guy I saw, just as he was about to walk into the store. Same thing happened a few weeks ago at the pizza feed in Times Square. I saw Jay, with his pal Nick Stone, just as I was arriving at the restaurant. My man Jay. We walked in and could hear Joe Sheehan's voice muffled through a microphone from upstairs. So up we went.

There was a nice turn out. I don't know, 30-35 people? Maybe more. Mostly men, but a couple of women too. Standing and sitting. There was pizza (the Dude abides). Basically it was a was a cluster of baseball nerds all huddled together talking about PECOTA and steroids and why some teams are luckier than others in the playoffs, and good stuff like that. I think it's a completely enjoyable experience. Being a nerd and being proud of it. Other people stopped by to listen as well and Jay and I stood in the back next to the pizza, with our friend, Cliff Corcoran.

As we settled in, Doug Pappas, who is an all-of-a-piece-baseball-nut–-I mean really a classic––was talking about performance-inhancing drugs when this round, bearded man with a funny, blue baseball hat, helped himself to a slice of pizza and stood next to Jay. Pappas was the oldest writer in the group, and though he's not what I expected him to look like, he was perfect. And very bright.

I don't know that Jay was aware of the funny bearded guy next to him, but I was. This guy was a too much. Looked like a combination of John Belushi and Danny Devito, full, thick black beard. Think about the illustration of the Brooklyn Bum on the pack page of the Daily News when the Dodgers finally beat the Yanks in '55, OK. He had the plastic shopping bag, and the rumpled suit. Staring straight ahead, listening to Pappas, chomping on his free pizza. What kind of quirky Paul Mazursky bit is this?

By the time Dayn Perry was up to talk, the fat guy had had enough and moved on to better things in the self-improvement section. Dayn was a nice surprise. Not that I expected him to be a putz. I have followed his work for a while, and enjoyed it very much but I had no conecption of what he looked like or sounded like. As Alex Ciepley told me later, "I didn't realize just how southern he was." Dayn is very southern, in the best possible way I suppose. I don't know too many southerners, but Dayn has a slow, easy, and direct way about him, that I would associate with a cool southerner is like.

Prospectus had five guys at the signing. Doug and Dayn were joined by Steven Goldman, Nate Silver and one of BP's founding members, Joe Sheehan. Each guy took a turn fielding questions. Sheehan acted as the emcee of sorts. Joe is polished, and composed in front of an crowd. He could be on TV. He is precise, self-aware and smart. He's like an old pro with the audience communication skills. But let's face it: the guy is from New York. Respect due. Why shouldn't he be good on his feet, talking in front of people?

Ah, it's an assumption on my part, I know. But I have rucchmones with Sheehan. Joe and I were born within five months of each other, and it's likely that we were born in the same hospital (Columbia Pres). How old do you have to get before discovering you were in the same grade with a someone instantly bonds you somehow? Joe grew up in Inwood, and I originally lived on the upper west side. Sheehan may have been residing in southern California for the last dozen or so years, but everthing about him says New Yorker. And that's what it so appealing about him. Get Sheehan to go on TBS and talk hoops with Kenny "the Jet" Smith, and he'd be a cinch. The guy is a natural sports talker.

I didn't get a chance to hear Steven, but Goldman was there anyway, standing behind Nate and Pappas (who were seated at a table), with his hands resting on chest, holding the edges of his jacket. He looked like an Orson Welles publicity still circa "The Magnificient Ambersons." All he needed was a pipe, and some slippers.

It was a comically studied, self-aware posture. You know slightly self-depricating; one that looked completely comfortable as well. Goldman is a big guy, with a great shock of black hair and black rimmed glasses. He has these terrific, expressive eyebrows and an easy smile. He's entirely sympathetic. One of those dudes you look at and say, "Man, isn't he such a good guy?" And I'm telling you, looking at him, all I could think was what Al Hirshfield could do with him in that pose, next to the charactures of the other guys. He would make a fine Al Hirshfield drawing.

Nate Silver would too, and he was a very good with the audience. Nate looks like a kid, but he comes across with the confidence of an adult. He was not rattled talking in front of people and he made eye-contact with the people who asked the questions. I got the sense that he tried to answer each one to the best of his ability. He wasn't overly concerned with having the "right" answer.

The great thing about Nate is that he doesn't look like a baseball guy. He looks like a numbers whiz or a record nerd or some kind of nerdy guy. But he's completely comfortable in his nerdiness, which makes him less nerdy. He was actually assertive and confident in a way that some of the other speakers were not. (He later told me he had been on the debate team, and it shows.) Nate doesn't come across like an awkward dork, he comes across as someone who is extremely comfortable with his intelligence.

Silver doesn't project any insecurities about being as smart and I always find that to be an inviting and welcoming quality. I love that in people. He's humble. Silver is more interested in sharing his knowledge and having a dialogue than being right all the time, or superior in any way. He's completely impressive. No two ways about it: Nate projects well.

After the signing, their was mingling and then a gangle of us headed west on Atlantic avenue and settled in a neighborhood bar. It was a bar for local locals in their twenties and thirties. The place was still pretty much empty when we arrived which means that we staked out a good spot in and around a slightly elevated area that had tables and booths. Later in the night, the place filled up and a this mo mo who looked like Kenneth Branaugh spun records. He played eighties music and had his shirt open half way down his chest. Jeez what a stroker.

But the vibe was good, and a good bunch of guys were there, including Alex Ciepley, Derek Jacques, and Pete Fornitell. Must have been about a dozen of us or so. And it was a fine night, hanging out with dudes, talking about baseball. What more could you ask for to keep you grounded as a guy?

On the Money
2004-03-25 13:19
by Alex Belth

Thanks to Baseball Primer's "Clutch Hits," I found a short interview with Michael Lewis, author of "Moneyball," as well as an especially good longer one with author Bill James. They are both worth checking out.

Boston Banter
2004-03-25 08:13
by Alex Belth

Alex Rodriguez had to leave last night's Yankee-Red Sox game earlier after getting smacked in the kisser by the ball. A throw from Hideki Matsui bounced off of Brian Daubach's foot and proceeded to bite Rodriguez right in the face. Ouch. The ball landed just under Rodriguez's eye. He left the game, but x-rays were negative and he should be OK. The Yankees won the game, 8-6.

Speaking of the Sox, I've got a two-part interview with Howard Bryant, columnist at the Boston Herald, and author of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston," over at The Hardball Times (Part One and Part Two). If you get the chance, let me know what you think of 'em.

He's a Keeper
2004-03-24 10:07
by Alex Belth

The Mariano extension became official yesterday, and all was well in Yankeeland. Chicken soup for the soul. According to the Daily News:

"I think I was born to be a Yankee," Rivera said. "I could've gone and tried to test the market after the season, but I wanted to remain a Yankee. It's priceless, the pinstripes. Putting on that uniform every day in and out is priceless. If I have a chance to go in the Hall of Fame in the pinstripes, that's big for me."

Next up: Joe Torre.

Part two of T.J. Quinn's profile of Alex Rodriguez is up today. It is worth taking a peek at because Quinn concentrates on Rodriguez's skills on the field.

The Yankees host the Red Sox tonight in Tampa, but trainer Gene Monahan is more concerned with preparing his players for their long trip to Japan.

And You Can Quote This

I remember on one of my first days working for the Coen brothers, DVD copies of "Fargo" arrived at their office. This was in the fall of 1996, and the movie—which had been released earlier in the year—was a hit. But I still hadn't seen it. Anyhow, the guys popped in one of the disks in to check for color, and definition, and almost immediately they started chuckling. They laughed at everything: violent scenes, and straight scenes alike. Maybe these guys aren't pretentious after all, I thought. The chuckling turned into wheezing. Hey, these guys are fun.

I was reminded of this when I read Joel Stein's article on the boys in the current issue of Time. Stein concludes his piece:

Despite all the careful prep work and their rep for being brusque and quiet, the brothers are known for being loose on the set, laughing repeatedly at their own lines of dialogue and gags. "In the movie Tom [Hanks] sort of does an Ed Grimley, where the house blows up andhe's running up the steps," says Ethan. "One of our voices is all over the track, laughing," finishes Joel. That wasn't the only scene that had to be dubbed over in the recording studio because of Coen brother laughter. The brothers, it turns out, are most interested in amusing themselves.

Amen, brother.

Puff n Stuff
2004-03-23 08:34
by Alex Belth

The Daily News has the first of a three-part series profiling the career of Alex Rodriguez today, if you like that sort of thing. Rodriguez turned a nifty double play against the Tigers yesterday. John Haper called it Rodriguez's first Graig Nettles play:

"I guess you'd say it was like the birth of me being a third baseman," A-Rod said afterward. "That was the first one where I got a pretty good rush out of it, I'll tell you that."

It was a beauty, all right, A-Rod's first truly sensational play with the glove as a Yankee. He robbed Ivan Rodriguez of a double with a backhand dive, and with runners at first and second, turned the stab into a double play by scrambling to third and making an off-the-wrong-foot throw across the diamond.

Meanwhile, Bubba Crosby could make the big club coming out of spring training. With all of the high-priced studs on this team, Crosby, the Dodgers number one draft pick in 1998, is a welcome breath of air. He is often compared with Lenny Dykstra, as a hustling, scrappy kind of player. Hey, if Clay Bellinger made the team, so can Bubber.

Back fo Mo
2004-03-23 08:20
by Alex Belth

Mariano Rivera will be in New York for at least another three seasons. A two-year extension, with an option for a third, could be announced later today. According to the New York Times:

The Yankees and Rivera agreed to terms on a two-year, $21 million contract extension that will keep Rivera with the team through 2006, several club officials said Monday. The deal includes an option year for 2007 that will be triggered by games finished. Rivera will earn $10.5 million each season, making the total value of the deal $31.5 million if the third year vests.

A lot of money for a closer? Yup. Is Rivera worth the risk? I'd say so. I know I'll sleep well at night knowing that the Sandman is around to close games out for the Yankees. If he holds up for the next few years, I think it's safe to say: Next stop, Cooperstown.

Final Days
2004-03-22 09:07
by Alex Belth

I watched most of the Yankee game against Tampa Bay yesterday and all I can say is that the middle of the Bomber line up is rough, man. Each time 3-4-5 came up again, the only word that came to mind was, rough. Rodriguez is terrific of course, but he is prone to striking out. Giambi has an even better eye, though he too, whiffs a good deal. But then you come to Sheffield, who doesn't strike out much, and who hits the ball extremely hard virtually every time he's up. The dude is vicious. Oh yeah, Godziller went 3-3 yesterday. Matsui is part of the second-tier Yankee hitters along with Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. There is no doubt that the Bronx Bombers are back.

Jorge DePaula pitched well, and is battling Scott Proctor for the last spot in the bullpen. Big Tony Clark is likely to stick around a bit longer as well, as Travis Lee will start the season on the DL with an inflammed left shoulder. Enrique Wilson and Miguel Cairo are also banged up. Could our man Homer actually make the squad? We shall see.

Meanwhile, Brian Cashman made Mariano Rivera an offer on Sunday night: two years, $21 million, with an option for a third season. Acccording to reports, Rivera could accept the contract extension as early as today.

A Litle of This (and a Little of That)
2004-03-19 13:49
by Alex Belth

Here's a couple of cherce cuts for you before I break for the weekend...

Congrats go out to fans of the Oakland A's, after Eric Chavez signed a six-year extension the other day. Christian Ruzich and Aaron Gleeman cover the story well.

Tyler Kepner has a puff piece on Joe Girardi this morning that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

The Yankees are meeting with Mariano Rivera's agent today. Rivera would like to sign an extension before the season starts.

Gordon Edes reports on MLB's reaction to critical comments made about their drug-testing policy by Curt Schilling and Johnny Damon. (Meanwhile, Nomie and Trot are hurt and both could miss the season opener.)

Finally, Scott Miller has a good piece on one of my favorite pitchers, Greg Maddux, who has always been an interesting quote:

"I still believe if you do everything mechanically correct, it's impossible for the ball to not go where you want it to," Maddux says. "Like in golf. If your swing is mechanically correct, the ball is going to go where it should -- or, at least, where you're aiming.

"Things will change, and your mind will do things funky that you don't want it to do."

..."Coaches, if they tell you 10 things, one or two maybe will work," Maddux says. "Very rarely will all 10 things work for everybody. I see it. I've worked with kids before. You tell one kid the same thing you told another kid yesterday, and the kid yesterday didn't get it but the kid today does.

"I do it with my own kids with their math homework. I tell them one way, and they have no clue. I tell them another way, and they get it. Pitching is no different."

I'm headed to the Transit Museum in Brooklyn with Emily tomorrow. We both love the New York Subway system and its history, plus Em's never been to the Museum, which recently reopened after a long over haul. The two of us will be sitting on our fat asses watching the Yankees exhibition game on Sunday. I'll be talking trash at the TV, she'll be knitting. Hope everyone has a good weekend.

Well, OK Then
2004-03-19 13:02
by Alex Belth

I love quoting movies. Doesn't everyone to some extent or another? OK, I shouldn't speak for everyone, but even my girlfriend, who doesn't get off on that kind of thing, loves to quote lines from her favorite movie, “What About Bob?” (Believe it.) I've formed relationships based around a mutual love of movie-quoting. It's an addicting, compulsive activity, and one that I thoroughly enjoy. I don't think I've sent Mike Carminati an e-mail yet that didn't contain a reference to "Stripes."

I wouldn't go so far as to say that loving to quote movies is what got me a job working for Joel and Ethan Coen, but it didn't hurt. (I had previously worked for Woody Allen, and did my impression of the Wood man talking about the Knicks went over well with the guys.) The Coen brothers make extremely quotable movies themselves, and I think that is because they love to quote movies. When I first went to work for them I would pepper every day conversation with lines from "Raising Arizona"-which may be their most quotable movie. (Since I worked on "The Big Lebowski" I'm partial to that one, which is chock full of good lines too.) They would laugh, repeat the line, and quote another one. Or they would correct how I misquoted a line. (Don't some people just hate when you get the words/lyrics wrong?)

During the production of “The Big Lebowski,” I recall driving Ethan to the bowling alley set in East Hollywood one day, and we went back-and-forth quoting from "Raging Bull." It was a great treat to work in the editing room with them. As they put the movie together, we inevitably would quote our favorite lines. Ethan and I especially were fond of the Dude groaning, “Mm’aaww, man,” when he wakes up from getting cracked on the jaw by Julianne Moore’s goons. On some days, that’s all Ethan and I would say to each other. (Our other favorite was when the Dude is riding in the back of Maude’s limo and he tells the driver, “Yeah, I got a rash, man.”)

I mention the Coen brothers because they were brought up in the All-Baseball American League East Roundtable earlier this week. Jon Weisman wondered what kind of movie they would make about the Yankees-Red Sox feud. I responded in an e-mail:

I don't think the Coen brothers would have much to say about the Yankees and Sox at all. Both teams are way too stuck up for the likes of the Coens. Coppola, Scorsese, DePalma, Speilberg: These are the kind of directors who have enough inherent hype in their styles to do the Yanks-Sox justice. The Coen brothers could do the Pirates vs. the Padres, though MLB is probably way too sophisticated and boring for Joel and Eth. Those guys love losers. Not self-satisfied, pompous losers like the Sox. The Cubs come close. But if they ever made a baseball movie--which I doubt would ever happen--it would be set in some minor league some time in the past. Don't you think?

So what are some of your favorite Coen brother quotables? (Actually, a better question is: What are some of your favorite quotable movies of all-time?) Here are some that jump to mind:

"The important thing is we wall want it to have that Barton Fink feeling. I guess we all have that Barton Fink feeling, but since you're Barton Fink I'm assuming you have it spades."

"'Lo Tom, what's the rumpus?"

"Well, we could start for instance with the Schmatte, like where's the Schmatte? You could maybe tell us that."

"Repeat offender."

"You ate sand?"

"We're set to pop here honey."

"Mind you don't cut yourself, Mordicai."

Jon added two good ones:

"Her insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase."

"You know - for kids!"

Here are two more than aren’t from the Coen brothers, but very well could be:

“Nice boy, but about as sharp as a sack of wet mice.” –Foghorn Leghorn

“It's as hot as two rats fucking in a sock in August in Kansas City.” Ichiro’s favorite American expression, as told to Bob Costas.

And Will Carroll noted that:

"The Ladykillers" looks to be one of those eminently quotable movies, along the lines of "The Big Lebowski." I find myself saying "We need waffles, forthwith" already and that's just the trailer.

I'm looking forward to seeing how Tom Hanks fares with Joel and Eth. I suspect it will be a lot of fun. Do yourself a favor though and see the original "Ladykillers." The 1955 Eailing comedy stared Alec Guinness and featured Peter Sellers-- a big radio star in England at the time on "The Goon Show"--in a supporting role.

2004-03-19 12:52
by Alex Belth

I experienced some technical difficulties over the past 24 hours, hence the lack of new material. My label-mate Will Carroll was kind enough to post an article I wrote this morning; head on over and give it gander when you get a chance. On that note, I'm pleased to report that the snow has ceased and the sun is shinning in New York. Are you ready for spring or what?

Snow Day
2004-03-17 14:02
by Alex Belth

For the second straight day it is snowing in New York. The city is mobbed today with packs of drunken suburbanites stumbling around in the name of Saint Patrick. Fortunately, the YES network is televising a Yankee exhibition game tonight, so the last-ditch efforts of old man winter aren't bothering too tough.

I got an e-mail from my friend Mindy who was in Tampa last week with a couple of her pals, checking out the Yankees camp. She said it was such a mob scene this year that she doesn't have any intentions of going back next season. Here are a few of her observations:

There were a couple of light-hearted moments we saw before the games. One day, Jeter and Kenny Loften were making fun of the way a-Rod was running up and down the field, so Kenny started prancing around on his tippy toes, leaving Jeter doubled over. Giambi ran over to get in on the joke and Jeter looked like he was gladly re-telling the story. Very cute.

...One thing I feel is worth mentioning...I realized that many of these people come down to spring training not just to see games, but to see players up close, get pictures and most importantly, get autographs. The autograph seekers are everyone from wide-eyed little kids to ruthless baseball memorabilia freaks who are looking to make an easy buck on e-bay. Either way, the entire time I was there the only person I saw signing any autographs was Jason Giambi (which he did last year as well). After, the guys left batting practice, A-Rod, Jeter, Kenny Lofton, even Enrique Wilson, ran by tons of fans waiting for autographs. Giambi was the only one to take the time to sign them. Even when people were throwing the balls over the fence at him (all at once), he stopped and ran around picking them up off the ground to give a signature to everyone. Last year, Joe Torre was the only other guy next to Giambi that I saw giving an autograph. I was very proud of Bam Bam Giambi and according to everyone that I met who knows or has met these guys—they all said hands down Giambi is the nicest of the pack. He is friendly and down-to-earth and immediately made them feel comfortable approaching him.

Slow day in Yankee land as yesterday's game against the Devil Rays was rained out. Oh, my bad, there was one newsflash: Popeye Zimmer doesn't like George Steinbrenner. I don't know about you, but I'd pay to see George and Zim settle this like men, in a steel cage match. Two men enter, one man leaves.


There are a few good articles out there that I'd like to alert you to if you haven't come across them on your own already:

1. Jay Jaffe pays tribute to Rock Raines.

2. Alex Ciepley has a fascinating two-part interview with Michael Musuka (part one, and part two), who was the first openly gay Athletic director in the country. Musuka worked for Oberlin college and then Brown University. Musuka is insightful, and a lot of what he says may surprise you. Here is a good exchange:

BT: So you would actually not advise a pro athlete to come out.

Muska: I just don't think it's worth going through. I wish it were.

It's kind of like a kid coming out. If the kid's going to come out to his family, it's a scary thing -- you're going to hope that you have a support network around you. Perhaps your parents or teachers at school. I think a pro athlete needs to know they've got that same support mechanism.

Until we see a general manager who brings in people to talk about homophobia in sports, until you see some leadership in pro teams do that, I think that a guy will say, "What's my support base, what's my safety net, what's in my contract to protect me?" Basically, there's nothing.

Ciepley does a terrific job with the interview. Kudos.

3. Here are a trio of articles on statistical analysis. Two are from (one and two) and another one is from The New Yorker (thanks to Baseball Primer for the links).

Wanna Be Startin' Something?
2004-03-16 08:57
by Alex Belth

Last Saturday I watched parts of two Yankee spring training games. First, I caught most of the Friday night game on Yankee Rewind, and then I popped in-and-out of the day game against the Braves. One thing is for sure: as much as I like to worry about how good the Red Sox, Blue Jays and every other good AL team will be, I don't envy any of those teams when they face a healthy Yankee line up. Watching Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield follow Jeter felt like playing a video game, almost too good to be true. I allowed myself to get caught up in the excitement. Man, this is going to be fun.

It is reasonable to assume that this team will pound out plenty of 12-4 wins. I'm interested in how many games they win 7-5 after trailing 4-1 going into the seventh or eighth innings.

One player who caught my attention was Scott Proctor, the young flame thrower aquired with Bubba Crosby from the Dodgers in the Robin Ventura trade. Last summer, John Sickels opined:

Like Crosby, Proctor is a product of Los Angeles' 1998 draft class. Drafted out of Florida State in the fifth round, Proctor has pitched adequately as a starting pitcher, but never obtained true prospect status and was often left off Dodger prospect lists. Converted to relief this year, Proctor has posted a 2.58 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 66 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. His fastball has been timed anywhere between 89 and 95 mph, and he has a reasonably effective slider. He is 26, and could be a middle-relief sleeper.

Proctor is thin, almost like a young Tim Hudson. His motion is compact, and he kept the ball down, mixing in a slider with his fastball. I'm curious to see how he develops this season. Perhaps he'll make it up to the Bronx at some point during the summer. For his part, Crosby has caught the attention of Joe Torre and the Yankee coaches. Bill Madden reports:

"The first thing I noticed about him were his quick hands," said batting coach Don Mattingly when I asked him if Crosby, who is hitting .363 while playing a flawless center and right field, might be the real deal. "He can run, throw and hit. That's all I can say, other than the fact that he's a major league player in my opinion, and could be one for a long time."

Meanwhile, Donovan Osborne, an old favorite of Joe Torre's from their days in St. Louis, will make like Sterling Hitchcock and fill-in as the number five starter...for now.

The Yankees bombed the Phillies yesterday. Gary Sheffield homered, as did Kevin Brown. Brown, who allowed four hits and no runs in four innings of work, hit the first pitch thrown to him by Billy Wagner over the fence. I didn't know Brownie's birthday was in March.


Pedro Martinez intentionally threw at Karim Garcia's head in Game Three of the ALCS last year. Apparently, the diminutive right-hander is still sore at Garcia, as he went off on the erstwhile Yankee in a recent ESPN interview. According to the Boston Herald, Martinez will talk to the Red Sox about a contract extension this week.

Point, Counterpoint
2004-03-16 08:22
by Alex Belth

Murray Chass defends Don Fehr and criticizes politicians in an op ed piece in the Times, while Tim Marchman applauded John McCain's efforts to expose baseball's steroid problem. Both articles are worth checking out.

The Ides Have It
2004-03-15 08:33
by Alex Belth

Et tu?

Aaron Gleeman and Mathew Namee have launced a new baseball website, The Hardball Times. It features a talented crop of writers like Ben Jacobs, Larry Mahnken, Bryan Smith, and Joe Dimino to name just four. I've signed up to do some work for them too. Although my name is listed on the front page with the regulars, I will only be an occasional contributor to the site (between my work for and the book I'm writing, there is only so much additional writing time left). However, Gleeman and Namee have assembled a terrific group, and I'm happy to be associated with them. Quite frankly, I'm as eager as the next guy to follow what they've got to say throughout the coming season. Head on over see what they are all about.


Jon Lieber has strained his groin and will miss his first couple of starts of the season. A setback to Lieber doesn't come as a surprise. For now, the Yankees are content to give a few of his starts to either Donovan Osborne or Jorge DePaula. The team got better news from their ace Mike Mussina, who pitched well yesterday and then offered some typically sardonic words to reporters as to why he chose to come to the Bronx several years back. According to the Post:

"Two World Series, yeah I'm pretty pleased with the choice," said Mussina after throwing four hitless innings yesterday. "What were my other options?

"I could have gone to the Mets. That's been smooth across town so far hasn't it? I could have stayed in Baltimore, that would have been fun. Or, I could have gone to Boston and watched the other side of it for three years."

Or he could have tipped the balance in favor of the Red Sox.

Hey, in case you missed it, check out Tyler Kepner's profile of Joe Torre that appeared in the Sunday New York Times. It's excellent.

Cooperstown Confidential
2004-03-12 14:05
by Alex Belth

By Bruce Markusen

Spring Training Edition

March 11, 2004

Rapping With Mudcat And Scoop

On February 14, former major league standouts Jim “Mudcat” Grant and Al Oliver visited the Hall of Fame to participate in a Legends Series event celebrating Black History Month. In one of the most enjoyable assignments I’ve received at the Hall, I had the pleasure of interviewing these two well-spoken former stars. One of a dozen African-American pitchers to win 20 games in a major league season, Grant won two games and hit a key home run for the Minnesota Twins in the 1965 World Series. Oliver, a lifetime .303 hitter and the 1982 winner of the National League’s batting crown, helped the Pittsburgh Pirates to the World Championship in 1971. Grant was also a member of that 1971 Pirates team, but was traded in mid-season to the Oakland A’s, thus denying him the opportunity to play in that fall’s World Series.

The educational program with Grant and Oliver, which featured a number of youngsters in the audience, highlighted the Hall of Fame’s celebration of Black History Month. Grant and Oliver talked at length about the racism that they battled in becoming big league stars, while also expressing hope that baseball will eventually overcome its current struggles in recruiting young African-American players and fans. The following is a partial transcript of that interview, which occurred in front of a capacity crowd in the Hall of Fame Library’s Bullpen Theater.

Markusen: Why is baseball struggling in drawing more young African Americans to play the game?

Oliver: The bottom line is, I really don’t think that they have had the proper Afro Americans to market the game of baseball. Basketball has Michael Jordan. Football has so many guys, like Walter Payton. Baseball, for whatever reason, did not have that proper player. It seems like they were lacking something—you take the Ken Griffey Juniors, the Barry Bonds. In Barry’s case, they say he didn’t get along with members of the media. Ken Griffey would have probably been the one that could have promoted it.

Our young people look at TV today. And TV is a vital part of their lives. And what they see is what they do. They see a Michael Jordan soaring through the air. They see a Barry Bonds hitting balls out. But see, that’s not marketable. And they see these running backs and these wide receivers. Deion Sanders was a perfect example. Everyone wanted to be like Deion.

If baseball would market the Afro Americans just a little bit more, then it would be easier for myself and guys like Mudcat to go out into the inner cities and promote baseball so much better. When I was coming up, that’s all that you saw. Growing up in Ohio, you look at the Cincinnati Reds—Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson. You look at the Cleveland Browns—Jim Brown. The marketing [today] is really not there, and I think that’s the main reason.

Markusen: One of the programs that baseball—Major League Baseball—has tried to push over the last decade or so is RBI—Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities. What kinds of strides do you think RBI is making?

Oliver: I think they’re doing the best that they can do. I know that Mudcat and I have talked briefly about that this morning. I really believe that they need to bring in more players who have been there, ballplayers who have been successful. I really believe the more successful that you’ve been, the more you have to offer. The more that you’ve been around, the more that you’ve been well-traveled, like Mudcat especially. Mudcat has seen it all. I believe there’s nothing in this world that Jim “Mudcat” Grant has not seen! And people he’s come in contact with, and things that he knows.

I really think that sometimes we can be our own worst enemy—the Afro American—if you really get down to the truth of the matter. Sometimes there is a tendency not to invite another Afro American, afraid that this particular one might know more than you do. And as a result, you don’t invite him because [you think] you might lose your job. It’s not about that. The only thing that we want to do is be supportive and enhance your program. We don’t want your job.

Markusen: Mudcat, your thoughts on RBI?

Grant: I’m really disappointed in the RBI program. The intention of it was to promote baseball in the inner city. It hasn’t gotten very much promotion. And on top of that, for some reason, they will not use ex-African American ballplayers. We beg to be used. We’re not called for certain events; we’re not called for certain tournaments. I think if they use us more, the program will improve. I think right now it may be a semi-political thing. As long as baseball promotes the word ‘RBI,’ it would seem [in their minds] to be OK, but nothing is really happening in the inner city communities when it comes to RBI. We have to get the cities involved where the ballfields are, where the RBI players play. Take care of the field a little bit. You know, run that machine over there. Don’t let [the field] get so bad that the kids don’t want to play. So we have to get the cities involved; they’ve been ignoring where the inner city kids play.

But I’m more disappointed in the head of the RBI program because we don’t make a point [of getting former black players involved]. I think we are afraid to say that this is definitely an inner city program. Say it. And then do it. And then when you do the program, bring white kids in, too. Let them mix. Let them do things. But first do the job that the RBI program is supposed to do. It’s an inner city program; get these kids playing baseball. Call us, so we can motivate parents to be managers and so forth.

Oliver: Mudcat just hit on one key point when he said ‘inner city,’ but let’s bring in whites. Today’s society, in the inner city, you see whites as well. And what better way can we learn about each other. See, that’s where we need to be at in 2004. This is not 1804. We should be like this now. What better way to bring people together to learn about each other, and find out that, hey, we are all in this together.

Grant: We’ve done that in the past. We were much segregated in baseball, as all of you know. But then Jackie [Robinson] came in, Larry Doby came in, and then the rest of us came in and we taught America that we could live together, that we could worship together, that we could play together, that we could understand one another’s history. We did that. But we need to make the point of starting first in the inner city. Get out there and motivate these children and mothers and dads. We need to say, ‘If you’re kid played baseball, and he gets to the point that he’s pretty good, he may sign a contract where you won’t have to work for the rest of your life.’

Oliver: That’s true.

Grant: That’s true! We haven’t done that yet. We haven’t convinced our black parents, ‘Man, look at the opportunities.’ Jackie [Robinson] must be rolling over in his grave right now. He must be. Jackie died from all of the pressures that happened in the game and what he had to do. And here we are, not taking advantage of that. And I think part of the blame belongs to us, too. We’re going to change that, by the way. We’re going to change that. We’re going to make some people angry, but we’re going to change that.

Markusen: Mudcat, you grew up in Florida. How did you become interested in baseball? How did you start playing?

Grant: I was the batboy of the local black team in Lacoochee, when I was about five years old. It was a sandlot team, a mill team. We sold baseballs and made baseballs, and I was the batboy. Somehow or other I got hooked [on baseball]. I was always interested in music and I could play the organ like nobody. But then somebody gave me a baseball, and for some reason I forgot how to play the organ. I kept playing [baseball]. I remember when there was no one to play with, I would take a tennis ball and throw it up against the house and then grab a bat and hit it. And I would draw circles, big circles, semi-circles, and smaller circles, and then I would hit [into the circles]. Onetime my mother said, ‘I don’t want you hitting that ball against this house no more.’ But I did—and she outran me. {crowd laughs}

And I kept on playing. Then I got to the point where this game, it just took. It just took over. At the age of 14, I was one of the ten best baseball players in the state of Florida. At the age of 15, I was the best baseball player in the state of Florida—in the Negro league schools. Of course, we weren’t allowed to go to white schools back in those days. But I kept it up and got better, much better. Reflecting on it now, I know I was better, but then, you don’t think that way [at the time]. I remember at the end of a game when they brought me in to pitch—I was the third baseman—I threw so hard that the opposing high schoolers would not come to bat; the coaches had to kick them out of the dugout. I used to wonder, ‘Why don’t they want to come up and hit against me?’ It wasn’t until I was like 30 years old that I realized that I could play!

One day I was in a high school tournament as a third baseman. I got four hits. And we needed to win the game. So the coach brought me in [to pitch], and the [home plate] umpire was Fred Merkle. {Oliver laughs} What you laughing at? Anybody remember Fred Merkle? Do you know the Fred Merkle story? {A child shouts out, ‘Bonehead!’} Bonehead Merkle, that’s it, that’s him. He was the umpire. And I was throwing so hard that the catcher couldn’t catch the ball; it was hitting Bonehead all over the shins. So he told the Cleveland Indians, ‘There’s a guy I think you should all take a look at.’ And that’s how it started from there. Mr. Merkle was a wonderful man. His wife and Mr. Merkle became friends of mine. And back in those days, when a bird-dog scout recommended you, they got paid as you went [up the minor league ladder], and so I was able to earn them a piece of money. So that’s how I got started.

Markusen: For those who don’t remember, Fred Merkle, playing against the Chicago Cubs, failed to touch second base on what was essentially a game-winning hit, and by a technicality, they got the forceout at second base. It basically cost the [New York Giants] the pennant, and Merkle unfortunately was known as ‘Bonehead,’ a nickname that I’ve sometimes shared with him over the years.

Let me pick up on something you said, Mudcat. Throwing the ball up against the house. I grew up in the early to mid-1970s. My father was a huge baseball fan. That was one of the things that I did, was throw the ball—a rubber ball, a tennis ball—and I ruined our glass door that we had leading into our kitchen. And then ultimately I found this big boulder that I could throw the ball up against and I would play imaginary games. I think that’s something we don’t see from the kids today—the imaginary games, the creative games, playing games like “Running The Bases” where you get hung up between two bases. I think that’s something that’s needed today, whether you’re talking black, white, or Latin American youngsters, that creativity.

Grant: Sure. Sure. There’s no doubt about that. Even though we have more organized baseball now than we had back in those days.

Oliver: Did you play “fungo?”

Grant: Oh yes.

Oliver: You see, we had fungo when we were youngsters. Fungo was a game where if you were the hitter and you hit the ball past the pitcher, it was a single. You hit the ball past the next guy, behind him, it was a double. Off the fence was a triple. And naturally over the fence was a home run. And that’s how you became a real good hitter. Those were the things back then that we did. We created our own games. And like Mudcat was saying, I used to throw the ball up against the steps. The steps would be from here to this young man right here [in the front row of the theater]. I would throw the ball as hard as I could, and [former major leaguer] Larry [Hisle] went to pick it. And that’s where I obtained the nickname “Scoop” to this day. I always had the ability to pick it at first base. Nobody could throw the ball by me at first base, even if they tried. I could catch anything. But like I told my shortstop and the other infielders, when I have to throw the ball, be ready. But I’ll catch yours! I had a good arm, but where it was going at times I didn’t know. And that’s where it all started, just from throwing the ball up against the steps.

Markusen: At what age, Al, did you start playing ball?

Oliver: Organized ball?

Markusen: Just picking up a glove and a bat.

Oliver: Probably when I was five or six. Just like one of my grandsons now; it is really amazing to watch him. Yeah, five or six I started with bat and ball. At five or six, I also started with basketball, football. I mean we did everything. My mother said when I was about six years old, ‘Junior is going to be a ballplayer.’ That’s what she told my dad. And she was right. Junior turned out to be a ballplayer. The thing was, you really didn’t know what sport because back then we played them all. But she was right [about me choosing baseball].

Markusen: When you were a youngster, you didn’t need to get two whole teams of nine players apiece. You were able to use these games to overcome the lack of numbers.

Oliver: Yes, right. Because we didn’t have a full team until I started playing Little League ball. And I started playing Little League at age ten. Those were the fun days.

Markusen: Mudcat, you wanted to say something.

Grant: I was going to say, to be fair to the other sports back in those days, there was very little made of football. There was very little made of basketball. Most everybody played the game of baseball. So today we have to be a little bit more creative in getting these kids to play baseball. There really has to be a serious effort in that inner city to get the kids to play today, because there’s no more stickball, there’s no more throwing it against the steps.

Baseball, too, must try to get the black fans back. You have to make a pointed effort as you do in any other marketing scheme. I remember when Pepsi Cola outdid Coca Cola by simply getting some black girls jumping a rope [in a television commercial]. So sometimes you have to make an effort. I remember in 1958, I was the only black pitcher in the league at that time and I had won about four games. We went to Detroit, and I came off [the field] to take batting practice, and the bleachers were full of black people. I said to Larry Doby, ‘Larry, there must be a promotion out here or something.’ He said, ‘No, don’t you know why they come out? They came to see you.’ I said, ‘You’re joking.’ He said, ‘No, they came here to see you. Let’s go out to the outfield.’ And we went from foul line to foul line, just shaking hands. So we’ve got to make an effort [like that] to get them back into the game.

I don’t think there’s hip-hop in baseball. There’s hip-hop in basketball and football. But there’s no hip-hop in baseball. We’re going to have to try hop-hip. {the crowd laughs}

Markusen: Mudcat, you mentioned Larry Doby. He was your hero growing up. Tell us about that.

Grant: Well, with Jackie Robinson, you had people spill out into the streets when Jackie Robinson signed. Every player, every kid, was Jackie Robinson. ‘I’m Robbie. I’m Jackie. I’m JR.’ But I was Larry Doby. I got beat up every day because I was not Jackie Robinson. I said, ‘I’m Larry Doby.’ For some reason that struck me because it was seven weeks—11 weeks later [after Robinson’s debut]—that Doby made his debut. That was 1947, ’48. And in 1958, about ten years later, Larry Doby became my roommate. In spring training—this was 1957—they told me, ‘You’re going to room with Larry Doby.’ I said, ‘Uh, uh.’ They said, ‘Yes, you are!’

So I got in the room and they were still at the ballpark. And then Larry came in a little bit later, and I was sitting in one spot. Larry said, ‘Well, you must be Mudcat Grant.’ I said, ‘Yes sir, Mr. Doby.’ He asked, ‘Do you like that bed over there?’ I said, ‘Yes sir, Mr. Doby.’ He said, ‘You like TV?’ I said, ‘Yes sir, Mr. Doby.’ He said, ‘We’re going to have to get rid of this yes sir, Mr. Doby.’ I said, ‘Yes sir, Mr. Doby.’ {the crowd laughs}

He taught me just about everything. I know the history of Larry Doby, because late at night Larry would pace, late at night. He would yell, he would scream. This is how he would overcome some of the difficulties that he had to go through. I know it was difficult. And then he taught me, ‘This is what you’re going to have to face [as a black player]. You’ve got to face it, and when you cross the white lines, you better win. It ain’t about, ‘Oh, this is so bad for me.’ You better win. Because if you don’t win, good-bye, see you later.’

Markusen: Did Larry know that you were the guy that idolized him? Did you ever tell him about that?

Grant: I told him that about in the middle of the season. I couldn’t tell him [right away]. But I told him in the middle of the season and that seemed to touch him pretty good that I was rooming with my idol. But of course you know that Larry himself wasn’t hurt [physically], but he was hurt by the fact that Jackie was the first to sign. And we don’t forget Larry Doby, but Larry came 11 weeks later and went through the same thing, but it wasn’t New York City, it was Cleveland, Ohio. And even to this day, as we celebrate Black History Month, we hear Jackie, Jackie, and [basketball great] Bill Russell, and nothing about Larry Doby. That hurts me, too.

Markusen: Larry passed away recently, just this past year. Had you been keeping in touch with him?

Grant: See him all the time. He got crabbier as he got older! {the crowd laughs} But I’m very close to his family and we always had good times together, Larry and I. We always had a lot to talk in baseball, but he was kind of stubborn because he knew I wanted him to tell the story. He said ‘Don’t you tell me what to do.’ And I said ‘I’m telling you what to do, you tell this story.’ He said ‘Shut up.’ I said ‘Don’t tell me to shut up.’ We didn’t get the story, but I’m gonna tell it anyway.

Markusen: Al, how about you? Did you have a baseball idol or hero growing up?

Oliver: Not so much hero because you know my dad was my mentor, but the guys that I had high respect for were Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson. So being from southern Ohio and being a Reds fan, those were the two guys. And who was ever to think later that one day I would play against Frank and [oppose] him to the World Series and then play for him as a player. So those two were the ones that I really enjoyed watch play. You know, I would tell any young person today, you know, don’t get so much hung up on us as athletes. It starts from home. Look at your parents as your role models; those are your true role models. Yes, I do feel that we have an obligation and that’s to be good citizens, be productive on the field, and do the things that we know that we’re supposed to do. But those were the two guys that I looked at, Frank and Vada.

Markusen: Robinson was one of the most hard-nosed players I can remember seeing. He would take guys out at second base. Was that an aspect of his play that you really liked, how hard he played the game?

Oliver: How hard he played, there’s no question about that. You know, and Vada’s smoothness as a runner, yeah, I always liked those hard-playing players, I always did. Because I played with a lot of them, you know, throughout my career. Hard players, hard-nosed… Frank is hard-nosed as a manager, too.

Grant: Yeah, he was hard-nosed. You speak to him, you know, you play against him and say ‘How are you doing, Frank?’ He’ll say ‘What are you speaking to me for?’

Oliver: But Frank has settled down. You know, really it’s amazing. It’s great to see because he’s such a good guy and one other thing about Frank Robinson is that he is one of the most intelligent people that I have ever been around… He can stand next to you with his manager, I’ll never forget, he could almost call every pitch. I mean he was smart.

Grant: And underrated.

Oliver: Oh yeah.

Grant: Frank deserves to be [ranked] up there.

Markusen: How’d you fare against him [Robinson]?

Grant: Not too good!

Markusen: Mudcat, let’s talk about that time period that you came up; 1958 was the year that you made your major league debut for the Cleveland Indians. Especially for the youngsters here, I think it’s important to realize how different America was, how different it was for the black player. Segregation was going on seemingly in every aspect of society. Some of it was so ridiculous, to the point of segregated water fountains, hotels, restaurants. As a major league player, how affected were you by all of that and were there any efforts made by your teammates or the organization to help shield you from it?

Grant: First, I wasn’t affected by it because by that time, I had my mother nail confidence into me where I could overcome it. But I still got training by the African Americans that were already there. You’re right, though, some of the kids here can’t associate with what was going on back in those days. It just doesn’t seem real because now we’re in a different generation. But we could not stay at the same hotels, especially in spring training. We could not drink at the same water fountain. In fact, [Indians pitcher] Gary Bell went to a fountain one day, and one said ‘white’ and one said ‘colored.’ And we looked underneath and the pipe went to the same [place]. Is it going that way or is it going that way? No, it was going the same way.

[Let me talk about] Ted Williams. Some of the white players, man, they could not put up with this, but were afraid to say something. Even today some of the white players need closure because they know they should have said something and didn’t say anything. But Ted Williams did. We were in New Orleans, one of the most segregated cities there was at that time. What they did with us, we played the Boston Red Sox in an exhibition game; this was during spring training. So you flew in on the airplane, and then after you come through the airport, the white players and all of the bags [for both white and black players] went on the bus and went to the white hotel. We could not ride in a white cab so they put us outside of the airport into some grassy areas where we waited for black cabs to come and pick us up. Sometimes it would be an hour; sometimes it would be two hours that we had to wait there. Now the cab would pick us up and we would go to the black hotel or motel or bed-and-breakfast. And the bags would be over at the white hotel. Now the Boston Red Sox had been sued to get black players on the time. They had two black players, Pumpsie Green and Earl Wilson. Me and Vic Power were the only two black players on the Cleveland Indians. So four black players couldn’t merge onto a hotel. If you did, it created some problems. The four of us couldn’t go, so we pulled straws. For the first time ever I lost the pool. Now I’ve got to go to the hotel. And I did. I went over to the hotel. You had to pay the black cab driver four times as much to drive to the white hotel because it was dangerous. So I get out of the cab and this guy walked up to me and he said, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘Well actually, I’ve come to get those bags.’ The bags were still sitting in the lobby. He said, ‘You ain’t got no bags here.’ And I said, ‘Those bags belong to the colored baseball players.’ He said, ‘That’s a likely story. You ain’t coming in here.’ So Ted Williams—and this is three hours later—Ted Williams was coming back from dinner. So he saw me—Ted Williams and the trainer. Ted said, ‘Hey, how ya doing?’ I said, “Well Ted, I’m not doing too good. You know I can’t stay here.’ He said, ‘It’s a shame you can’t stay here.’ I said, ‘And our bags are sitting right over there. But this bellman won’t let me go and get the bags.’ So Ted said, ‘Mud, you know, the bellman is right. You shouldn’t be going over there to get them bags. HE should be going over there to get them bags.’ Ted then said [to the bellman], ‘That’s right, boy. Go over there and get them bags!’ {crowd erupts in laughter}

So those were some of the things that happened back in those days.

Card Corner

For this week’s entry, we rely on a submission from researcher and SABR member Maxwell Kates, who nominates a 25-year-old card from the 1979 Topps set. Card No. 616 in that set features journeyman infielder Billy Almon, the 1974 draft’s No. 1 choice who never reached expectations of stardom in the major leagues. The card’s photo, which was snapped during a game at Shea Stadium, shows Almon dressed in the San Diego Padres’ highly unattractive uniforms of the day. As Max points out, those yellow-and-brown beauties are believed to be the last uniforms featuring both the team name and the city name on the front of the jersey… Beyond the ghastly colors of the Padres’ uniforms, Mad Max finds something intriguing in the odd way that Almon is holding the bat, which he is gripping by the wrong end (perhaps after being called out on strikes yet again). Perhaps he is getting ready to crack the bat over his thigh, ala Jim Rice? And then there’s the dazed expression on Almon’s face, as if to say, “What should I be doing with this piece of wood? I am after all in the major leagues.” In 1979, Almon would bat only .227 with an on-base percentage of .301 and a total of one home run. For his career, the shortstop-third baseman performed only a bit better, batting .254 with 36 home runs in 15 seasons with the Padres, Expos, Mets, White Sox, A’s, Pirates, and Phillies. He was, however, an excellent bunter, leading the National League with 20 sacrifices in 1977… Just how highly was Almon regarded as an amateur? When Almon graduated high school in 1971, several teams wanted to draft the lanky shortstop in the first round, but he wrote to each club informing them of his decision to attend an Ivy League school (Brown University). The Padres drafted him anyway, taking him with a 10th round selection in the ’71 draft. Three years later, the Padres once again targeted Almon, selecting him with the first overall pick in the draft after he set a school record by hitting 10 home runs in a short season. The Padres even gave Almon a $90,000 bonus—a huge amount at the time—but he struggled to hit in both the minors and the majors, making him just one of many No. 1 picks to turn into big league disappointments.

Pastime Passings

John Henry Williams (Died on March 6 in Los Angeles, California; age 35; leukemia): The contentious son of Hall of Famer Ted Williams died after being diagnosed with leukemia last fall and undergoing a bone marrow transplant in December. After his father’s passing in July of 2002, John Henry gained notoriety when he campaigned to have the elder Williams’ body cryonically frozen. John Henry and his sister, Claudia, claimed that their father had signed a handwritten pact indicating his preference to be frozen, but their half-sister, Bobby Jo, insisted that Williams wanted to be cremated. John Henry also entered the public spotlight in the spring of 2003, when he attempted a career playing independent minor league baseball, but his efforts were quickly stalled by injury.

Marge Schott (Died on March 2 in Cincinnati, Ohio; age 75; lung disease): A controversially colorful owner, Schott oversaw the Cincinnati Reds from the mid-1980s through the end of the 1999 season. At the peak of her career, Schott’s Reds won the World Series in 1990, surprising the favored Oakland A’s in four games. Unfortunately, her tenure as owner was also marred by a series of racial slurs and other insensitive remarks. The outspoken Schott drew the ire of the baseball establishment through her praise of Adolf Hitler and her criticism of umpires for canceling an Opening Day game due to the sudden heart attack death of home plate umpire John McSherry.

Pete Cera (Died on February 24 in Hazelton, Pennsylvania; age unknown): A veteran of 60 years in baseball, Cera worked most notably as a major league and minor league trainer. He also served as a traveling secretary and clubhouse manager during a career that began with the Hazelton Red Sox in 1938. Cera also worked as the clubhouse manager for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1980, the year that they won the World Championship.

Lloyd Merriman (Died on January 20 in Fresno, California; age 79; emphysema): A veteran of five major league seasons, the left-handed hitting outfielder batted .242 in 455 games. More notably, Merriman served a tour of duty in the Korean War, flying combat missions with both Ted Williams and John Glenn.

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 (Greenwood Press) is scheduled for release in the fall of 2004.

Talkin' Baseball
2004-03-12 08:55
by Alex Belth

I attended a Baseball Prospectus/Pinstriped Bible Pizza feed in the heart of Times Square last night and had the chance to talk with some engaging and very bright baseball writers and fans. The only drawback was that I didn't get to talk to even more people than I did. As it was, I hung out with Chaim Bloom, Alex Ciepley, Jim Gerard, Murray Markowitz, Jay Jaffe, Cliff Corcoran, Steven Goldman, David Pinto, Nick Stone, Steve Keane, John Kay, Derek Jacques, Repoz, and a kid named Justin. Joe Sheehan will be in town to do a Prospectus book signing in Brooklyn in two weeks and I hope to keep the conversations flowing then.

Interestingly, two topics that a group of us touched on are examined in the local papers this morning. The first is the case of Willie Randolph--one of my favorite players as a kid--and how he has had a difficult time making the leap from coach to manager. As much as the guys at my table agreed that Randolph seems like a decent, if taciturn guy, none of us had much sympathy for him. Murray Chass explains why:

Perhaps, too, he would have served himself better had he managed in the minor or winter leagues to gain experience. An ardent family man with four children, Randolph nobly didn't want to leave them for long periods and burden Gretchen, his wife, with their sole care, but others, like Tony Peña and Lee Mazzilli, benefited from minor league managing.

"I'm glad I did it," Mazzilli, the rookie Baltimore manager, said about his three years in the minors. "When you're sitting behind that desk, it's a whole different ballgame."

Randolph notes that Lou Piniella didn't have to coach in the minors, but that is not the point. If he were to give up his cushy job next to Torre, and manage in the minors for a few seasons, I think his chances of getting a big league job would increase dramatically. As it is stands, I don't have the impression that Randolph is burning to be a manager. If and when he does, I think he knows what he needs to do to better his chances.

The other Yankee coach that was mentioned was Don Mattingly. Alex Ciepley--who covers the Cubbies, but was raised in Mattingly's home town in Indiana--asked what kind of coach we thought Donnie Baseball would be. The general feeling was that he would do well. He was a popular teammate when he played, and he comes across like an empathetic guy. John Harper talked to Mattingly yesterday, and reports:

"Every player struggles, I don't care who they are," Mattingly said. "I went through that. I know those feelings. That's when I want to be there to help guys. These guys are all successful, and I'm not trying to change them. Sometimes you just need to listen to what a guy is saying, find a way to get him believing in his swing again."

Players say Mattingly is the ideal hitting coach because he has so much knowledge and so little ego. With that in mind, Joe Torre says he believes Mattingly truly will make a difference.

"They love him," Torre said, speaking of his players. "Everybody knows what kind of player he is, but they know what he's all about too. He's all about helping these guys, whatever it takes. Not to say other coaches we've had here weren't good, but because of who he is, Donnie gets in their heads a little more as far as the nuances."

Further, Mattingly admits that one of the reason modern ballplayers are so productive is because of their dedication to physical fitness (unlike Mr. October, Mattingly is not about to touch the steroid issue):

"The game has changed because of the way these guys work out," Mattingly was saying yesterday. "I don't worry about what these guys are doing to my numbers, or anything like that. I just wish I would have had a personal trainer when I was playing.

"I told Jason (Giambi) the other day, 'That's the one thing I would do different if I could. I'd hire a guy myself.' I think these trainers make a difference. If I'd had one who was putting me through workouts for the core muscles and all that, it might have made a difference as far as my back. I worked out but it's different when you've got somebody pushing you."

It's nice to hear a former player actually sticking up for the contemporary players. Obviously, Mattingly is not in a position to trash them, but his comments are sensible, and that may be why he'll be very good at his job.

You Talking Loud But You Ain't Sayin Nuthin'
2004-03-11 08:48
by Alex Belth

White Noise

The political grandstanding continued in Washington yesterday as senator John McCain took center stage in the steroid story. Gentlemen, start your soapboxes (Reggie Jax goes to Washington). What, is this an election year or something? Selena Roberts files a report in the New York Times today. Over at Baseball Musings, David Pinto notes:

I have a feeling this is all theater. The Senate has better things to do than worry about steroids in baseball.

In a second post, Pinto continues:

I don't think it's clear that the union has no desire to fix this issue. The union is run by very smart men, who I suspect understand the steroid issue much better than the Senators questioning them. They understand that tests consist of false positives and false negatives, as well as real results. That's why players are only being reprimanded after long term failures, and why the players privacy is protected. The program they put in place may not be intrusive enough for a lot of people, but I think that the fact that 5 to 7% came up positive instead of the 70% that some people speculated about means that testing may be working.

Hey, don't y'all know that players just want to make like Eddie Murphy and party all the time?

At the same time, the New York papers are filled with the kind of non-story that drives Lee Sinins and Joe Sheehan bananas. Gary Sheffield was upset with the way the Yankees handled his recent thumb injury. He then told reporters just how bothered he was by it. Yankee general manager Brian Cashman then met with Sheffield for twenty minutes and they smoothed everything over. End of report, good night.

Cause He is Not the One, Got More Game Than Parker Brothers, A Rod is Hitting Bombs and Yo, He's Smooth Like Butter
2004-03-10 08:32
by Alex Belth

John Harper is one of my favorite local writers because he often seems more interested in what is happening on the field than what goes down behind the scenes. Today, he accurately describes Alex Rodriguez's swing:

He makes it look easy. The swing is too smooth for a home run, especially when A-Rod hits it to right-center, his true power slot, as he did yesterday. There is none of the violence that Sheffield or Jason Giambi bring to a home-run swing. Often it doesn't look like it's gone as it leaves the bat.

"A lot of times," A-Rod was saying yesterday, "it looks like a fly ball. But it just keeps going."

...A-Rod says it is as much a learned skill as it is a natural gift that goes back to his days in Seattle, when he hit with Edgar Martinez for hours at a time, absorbing everything the long-time Mariners' DH had to offer.

Rodriguez does have an easy swing. It is so smooth that sometimes it isn't exciting to watch. He's like a cyborg. But how can you argue with the results?

Speaking of great hitters--but one with a distinct cut--the Yankees received good news regarding Gary Sheffield's right thumb: he won't need surgery...yet. Apparently, Sheffield played just fine after he tore ligaments in the thumb last summer (the numbers back this up), and he's ready to get back in the line up. According to the New York Times:

Braves Manager Bobby Cox said he did not remember Sheffield's injury and was not surprised to hear that Sheffield would keep playing.

"He'll be in there, believe me," Cox said. "He's as tough as they come. Gary never complains about anything. He'll play. If the bone ain't showing, you're playing, right?"

...Sheffield's final numbers last season — .330, 39 homers, 132 runs batted in — bolster his case for playing through pain. In a statement, George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner, called him "one tough cookie," and Cox said the Yankees should be grateful to have him.

"Gary had as good a season as I've ever seen a hitter have," Cox said. "He just hit everything like a rocket the whole year. If they want to give him to us, we'll take him."

The Yankees are usually cautious when it comes to dealing with injuries, and they will continue to evaluate Sheffield as the spring rolls along.

In addition, Brian Cashman met with Mariano Rivera's agent yesterday. Rivera would like to sign a contract extension before the regular season begins.

Thumb Luck
2004-03-09 08:34
by Alex Belth

When Gary Sheffield jammed his thumb last week in an exhibition game against the Blue Jays, he didn't think much of it. But yesterday, there was cause for concern, and Sheffield will be in New York today visting a hand specialist to determine whether or not he'll need surgery. Brian Cashman and George Steinbrenner are worried, though Sheffield still thinks he'll be OK. However, if he does go under the knife, he could miss between two and three months.

What does this mean? Will Kenny Lofton be the Yankees new right fielder? I'm going to wait and see what today gives before I get too excited one way or another. (Hey Will, the new meds must be working.) Aaron Gleeman, for one, doesn't think that Yankee fans need to panic:

New York signed Travis Lee and Kenny Lofton this off-season and went into spring training with a ton of depth among outfielders and first basemen. Luckily for them, the two players who have gone down with injuries are both outfielders, meaning they can simply plug in their depth and keep on chugging along toward 100 wins.

As long as Sheffield is back for October, the Yankees will be just fine. That's the beauty of a Mo Vaughn-sized payroll. They have the ability to not only pay Sheffield $13 million a year, they can also pay Lee and Lofton about $5.5 million to be role players and insurance policies.

Pumped Up

Murray Chass has a good column today about how the steroid scandal doesn't seem to have bothered ticket sales--at least in Boston and New York. Christian Ruzich, Twins Fan Dan, and Jay Jaffe have weighed in on the affair, but nobody has been as devoted to in-depth and thorough coverage of steroids in baseball as John Perricone has been. Take the pillow from your head, and put a link in it.

Finally, check out Seth Stoh's nifty bit of Twins history today over at Seth Speaks.

Blister in the Sun
2004-03-08 08:52
by Alex Belth

After watching the Yankees play the Red Sox yesterday I wrote that you could feel the intensity of the rivalry through the television set. The players felt it too. You could see that on the field. Who takes a meaningless spring training game this seriously? According to the Daily News:

"I know I've never seen anything like it," said Curt Schilling, the newly acquired Red Sox pitching ace. "It's Boston and New York and it's different from anything else. I've only been here three weeks and I know it."

...Alex Rodriguez, destined to become a flashpoint of sorts for fans on both sides, considering his pedigree before he even stepped into pinstripes, perhaps said it best: "It was as intense a spring training game a I've ever been in."

Sportswriters noted--helped generate?--the heat too. Tomas Boswell opines:

Yet, in its bizarre way, this game epitomized the best that baseball offers. How can you over-hype a game, even in spring training, if it took a century to create the passions that envelope generations of fans on both sides?

And John Harper explains:

The electricity is sparked mostly by the Sox fans' obsession with beating the Yankees. It has always been as much a part of the culture as their Boston accent, but not like this.

The focus of that obsession now, of course, is Alex Rodriguez. People who cover the Red Sox say the home folks seemed to take losing A-Rod harder than they did Aaron Boone's climactic home run last October, if you can imagine that.

"Sox fans have come to expect losing to the Yankees on the ballfield," one Boston writer said yesterday. "The A-Rod thing cut deeper because in December they were all so sure he was coming. The outcry when the Yankees got him was unlike anything I've ever seen."

The rivalry is also very real for the front offices of both teams. Witness the incident in the parking lot yesterday. Gordon Edes reports:

Emotions came to a boiling point in a stadium parking area, where Yankees publicist Rick Cerrone and a longtime Sox security guard, Dave McHugh, a retired postman from Portland, Maine, had a run-in.

"Do you know who I am?" shouted Cerrone, contending that McHugh had pushed him. "I'm with the American League champion New York Yankees, and you're a typical Boston Red Sox employee."

McHugh said he was merely trying to pass through a crowd of reporters in order to allow some Yankee players who had driven down from Tampa to leave, and that he'd put his hand out, said "excuse me," and gave Cerrone a small push when Cerrone inadvertently backed into him. Part of the problem was that Reggie Jackson's older brother, Ja Mz, had a car that was blocking that of Yankees catcher Jorge Posada. A call was placed to the Hall of Famer in the clubhouse, and he quickly got in touch with his bro. "You better get out there," he said. "You're starting a war out there."

On the field, things were far more civil. George Vecsey writes:

Fraternization in vivid daylight: Nomar Garciaparra, wearing a bright-red warm-up shirt, meandered over to the batting cage and began hugging Yankees — Joe Torre, Jorge Posada, Ruben Sierra, Derek Jeter.

He even found Alex Rodriguez taking grounders at third base and hugged him, too.

"Nomah," one fan shouted in horrified Boston patois. "Don't do that!"

...As might be expected, the fans were not touched by gestures of solidarity among colleagues who have not seen each other since around midnight on Oct. 16.

Manny Ramirez and Kevin Millar playfully called the exhibition, Game 8 in the Boston clubhouse. According to the Boston Globe:

Reporter: ``Is it hard for you to hate the Yankees having grown up there?''

Manny: ``Not really, man. This is just a game, man. Everybody is so mad at the Yankees because they win all the time. They're the best team out there. We're just trying to go out there and compete.''

Again, the pleasantries will subside during the regular season. Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Curt Schilling, Prince Pedro, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton and probably a few others will all talk some sort of trash during the summer. But whatever they say will be tame compared with the heckles, taunts and chants we'll hear from the crazies in the stands. Excuse me if I already feel enervated.

Sample Size Sunday Special
2004-03-07 18:26
by Alex Belth

That's the Joint

A few years ago I used to spin records at my friend Steven's bistro "Plate 347," which was down on 2nd avenue between 21rst and 22nd street. I was never serious about being a DJ, but I had made a professional quality mix cd with a friend of mine in 2000, and I found that playing records once a week gave me some spending money and a chance to meet people. It was fun learning what records you could play when, and what particular records were sure-shots every week—think "Used Me" by Bill Withers or "Love and Happiness" by Al Green. But I never wanted to be a DJ. I'm just not that nocturnal a person to be perfectly honest. It was not my thing. I don't trust people that late at night who are that drunk: I need eye contact and daylight. So after a year or so, I stopped playing records at my friend Steven's restuarant.

In November of 2002, I started Bronx Banter and I suppose that's where I've been playing records ever since. Just in a different format. I hardly buy records at all anymore. The majority of new music that I've aquired in the past year has been burned from vinyl to cd by my friend Jared who works at a smart record shop on avenue A. Now I spend all my extra cash buying baseball books.

For me, there is a distinct connection between the ability to select records and the ability to excerpt newspaper articles and create a good post, a good blog, or website. Playing records and writing post have a similar appeal to me. I'm sifting through a lot of material and sharing what I think is most important with an audience in the hopes of making a connecting and stimulating their own interest and enthusiasm. I look at excerpting articles much like sampling old records. The idea is to grap the part of the article, or the song, that captures what the whole piece is all about to you. There is no right or wrong, just dope or wack (with lots of room in the middle).

With that in mind, I dug through my bookshelf on Friday night looking for a quote to leave you with for the weekend. A platter that matters, so to speak. I went right for David Falkner's "The Short Season." Here is the first thing that caught my attention:

For every outright critic of spring training, there are at least ten ardent defenders of the system—they shall appear in due course—but the Cooperstown files are revealing in yet another way. Much spring training writing tends to downright silliness. There is probably no other single body of prose in the English language in which writers seem quite so hard-pressed to come up with something, anything, than the collected newspaper accounts of spring training over the last half century. Something, anything, more often than not involves the search for yarns, lore and jokes—rather than baseball...Some stories are retold from generation to generation, with the roles of the main actors somehow getting switched.

I watched the Yankees visit the Red Sox in Florida today and while the drama remains the same, the actors have changed. This year, we get a Pokey and a Schilling, a Burks and a Sheffield and a Brown, and the return of Flash Gordon. Actually seeing Alex Rodriguez on the field gave me an undeniable jolt of excitement: How cool is this going to be? I feel lucky to be alive and Yankee fan.

Jose Contreras started for the Bombers and didn't have dick. The Sox clubbed him for four runs before he was done, and the home crowd was all pumped up. There might be a lot of hype written about the Yankees and the Red Sox, but then there is also the plain fact that the fans are juiced up each and every time these two teams play, even early in spring training. It matters to the people in the stands and you can feel that sitting at home, watching on television.

George Steinbrener and John Henry have gone back-and-forth jabbing at each other this winter, and according to many observers, the rivalry has never been hotter. The fans seem to be as rabid as ever before. The only people who seem to take it in some sort of stride are the players. Which is not to say that they are not competitive. I don't mean to suggest that at all. I don't think Pedro is going to take Jorge Podsada out for lunch anytime soon. But when you see Manny Ramirez on second base, he looks loose, and is aimably chatting it up with Jeter and Rodriguez. These guys may want to beat each other, but they don't seem to hate each other either. They understand that in the blink of an eye they could be teammates. (Which is what makes Rodriguez being a Yankee so perverse for Red Sox fans and delightful for Yankee fans.)

Last year there was a piece on the Yankees-Sox rivalry in SI—I'm guessing it was Verducci's —and Willie Randolph was talking about how he still didn't talk with Dwight Evans (who was a coach with Boston at the time). But during warm ups and later, during the game, there is as much friendly talk between members of the Yankees and Red Sox as I assume there is between any other two teams in the league, which is to say, a lot.

The teams will not be so cordial when the games matter of course. According to the Roundtable of writers who previewed the season here on Bronx Banter, if the Yankees are to get in a bench-clearing brawl this year, it will likely happen with the Red Sox. That said, the rivalry burns brightest for the fans. We own it. The player's are disposal and they know it. It's the stories that remain contant, and that's what keeps us coming back. Choose your own adventure.

Sunday Papers
2004-03-07 10:02
by Alex Belth
Joy in Cubville...?!?!
2004-03-05 08:26
by Alex Belth

Christian Ruzich thinks that there is plenty of reason to be excited about the Cubbies in 2004. Optimism from a Cubs fan? I know it sounds like Ripley's. The question is: Do you believe?

Testing One, Testing Two
2004-03-05 08:13
by Alex Belth

Nomar Garciaparra has some reservations about the accuracy of the random drug tests that major league ballplayers will undergo this season. Garciaparra is unusually outspoken about the steroid scandal:

"People don't realize that testing isn't infallible," he said. "What are you going to do when you get a false positive? What are they going to do when a guy is getting accused and then realize, `Oh, well, oops, we messed up'? Are they going to go back and try to restore the guy's name and reputation or are they just going to accept the fact that the guy's reputation and name are ruined?"

..."Now, all of a sudden, we have names," Garciaparra said. "I don't know where the anonymity is. When you see that, how are we supposed to trust anybody with anything like that? How am I supposed to go in there now and agree to a drug test when you tell me one thing and it's not true?"

Also, be sure and stop by Dodger Thoughts to get Jon Weisman's thoughtful take on the steroid story.

You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry
2004-03-05 08:02
by Alex Belth

My cousin Jonah didn't play or watch baseball as a kid, but he's become a devoted fan over the past seven or eight years, and I like talking baseball with him a lot. As a Mets fan he doesn't pay much attention to the Yankees, but I liked what he had to say about Derek Jeter in an e-mail yesterday:

Recently I've been feeling bad for Jeter. He's gone from being overrated to being dissed by everybody. Maybe he should let Rodriguez play ss but I get the feeling that the first time he makes an error this season everyone's going to say "see? he's no good." Maybe Rodriguez is better equipped to learn and excel at a new position than Jeter is. There is definitely something smirky about Jeter that I dislike but all of a sudden he's an underdog. Probably he'll be his regular self and I can go back to not liking him but this off-season I get the feeling that he's being under-appreciated.

On that note, let me turn to Joel Sherman's column about Jeter in today's Post. Sherman reports that Jeter isn't at all pleased about being slighted since the arrival of Alex Rodriguez:

"Derek has had to defend himself on things other than winning and baseball," [bench coach] Willie Randolph said. "And he doesn't like that."

..."Of all the guys in our clubhouse, I feel best about having him on the team," Randolph said. "He's the biggest winner on the team. Other guys still have to show what they can do. Derek has done it."

This is the clubhouse feel about Jeter. It also makes him symbolic of the intensifying war within the game between quantative [sic] analysts and scouts. Statistically Jeter pales to A-Rod and, using newly devised defensive metrics, he pales to just about every shortstop. But among teammates, Jeter always has been the guy other Yanks want batting with a game on the line, the guy other Yanks want the ball hit to in October. Either you believe that stuff is worth wins or you don't. It is part of the ongoing debate.

Considering that Sherman writes for the Post, he has been remarkably aware of sabermetric analysis. He concludes that an angry Jeter could be a very dangerous Jeter for the rest of the league. As local talk show host Chris "Mad Dog" Russo would say, "Excellent point Shermie, that's an excellent point."

Talking Turkey
2004-03-04 08:48
by Alex Belth

Good Guh-News

According to reports in the Daily News and the New York Post, Joe Torre and the Yankees are talking extension. Yesterday, Torre told reporters:

"I think I'm leaning toward wanting to do it again," Torre said.

John Harper notes that this is great news for the Yankees and Yankee fans:

There are no Lawrence Franks [rookie head coach of the New Jersey Nets] in baseball, because the job isn't about film study and long hours and halftime adjustments. It's about presence and personality and, particularly in the case of a team like the Yankees, knowing how to lead star players across the desert of a 162-game season.

Cashman said Torre has a feel for it that you can't teach.

"It's a gift he has," Cashman said yesterday. "He was a great player himself who can relate to today's players. He just has that Midas touch of knowing when to be forceful and knowing when to pull back. The combination of his touch and the talent here has been lethal."

It's the reason that Steinbrenner, with more to lose now than ever, has gone sweet on Torre again. He's romanced him this spring and probably will pay him something like $15 million for two more years.

Joel Sherman continues:

"I just love the players and the game itself," Torre said in explaining why he now wants to extend his deal. "I am looking forward to the job every day. I am not ready to pack it in. I'm just happy I feel the way I do."

Yankees president Randy Levine handled the previous negotiations with Torre. Swindall, Steinbrenner's son-in-law, has been in charge this time and developed a rapport with Torre that helped ease the manager's mind. Torre also conceded that sidekick Don Zimmer's departure could have fostered a better bond with Steinbrenner, who detests Zimmer.

"That [Zimmer's presence] was part of the stress," Torre said.

So it appears as if Torre will be around for a little while longer (by the end of spring training, the Yankees could also reach an agreement with closer Mariano Rivera to keep him in pinstripes for at least another two seasons too). Naturally, Torre will have his hands full, but that is nothing new. Yesterday, the Yankee manager took some time to talk with Jason Giambi, whose personal trainer Bobby Alejo will not rehired by New York. It has been a tough camp for Giambi, and there is a lot of pressure on the slugger this season. In Bob Ryan's column yesterday, Johnny Damon all but called Giambi out as a steroid-user:

Damon played with one of the players named (do your homework, people). Says Damon, "I know he's done stuff in the past. He's made a lot of money. Hopefully, he's aware, he'll stop, and he'll continue to play well."

Ouch. If Giambi starts off slowly this year, expect Yankee fans to be all over him. He's in a tough spot. I wonder how much this pleases the good people of Oakland.

Speaking of the Sox, according to the Dirt Dog, Bob Hohler's story about Curt Schilling brushing back teammate Kevin Millar is largely fictitious.

Questions and Answers

Travis Nelson has an impressive and thorough article about the possibilites of baseball coming to New Jersey, while my neighbor Dr. Manhattan asks himself the same set of questions I asked my Roundtable Group over the weekend. Dr. M even adds a few questions of his own. Here is my favorite:

Dr. M: Who will be the starting pitcher acquired by the Yankees in midseason?

A: Al Leiter, assuming he doesn't suddenly collapse. He's a lefty and still throws reasonably hard with good breaking pitches, which will be an asset against David Ortiz and Trot Nixon (the only real problem with the Yankees not having a lefty starter). As an old pitcher on a bad contract (and a no-trade, I believe), he can probably be had cheaply (and he will almost certainly waive his no-trade for a chance at the World Series without leaving home). And Jim Duquette has (properly) not been afraid to trade with the Yankees.

I was talking with my cousin Gabe--a Mets fan--the other day about how Leiter would likley end up in Boston by the end of the year. He corrected me and said that it is more likely that he'll go to the Bronx. What do you think?

2004-03-03 13:44
by Alex Belth

The Mets and the Dodgers are playing a baseball game this afternoon. Awwww, bacon. In the spirit of G. Mota and Michael J Piazza, do you think the Yankees and Red Sox will engage in a benches-clearing brawl this year? If Curt Schilling's intrasquad outing yesterday is any indication, I'd say the odds are likely. Wonder what Kevin Brown will do when he faces his teammates in a scrimage?

Thanks to David Pinto, I found some great information on steroids over at Nick Schulz's site. In particular, Schulz has links to two informative articles: one by Baseball Prospectus writer Dayn Perry, and another by Patrick Cox. They should both be required reading.

Advertisements for Myself (and Others)
2004-03-03 08:32
by Alex Belth

I appeared in a story about New York-based baseball bloggers that was written by Mets beat writer Pete Abraham for Weschester County's largest paper, The Journal, last Sunday. Doug Pappas, Jay Jaffe, Larry Mahnken, Steve Keane, Cliff Corcoran, and Vinny Milillo and Scott Milholm were also featured. It was great to see the blogging community receive some attention, and I am honored to be mentioned in the same company with all the bloggers Abraham interviewed (many of whom didn't make the final cut).

All Shook Up
2004-03-03 08:21
by Alex Belth

Yesterday, a story in The San Francisco Chronicle claimed that six baseball players--Marvin Bernard, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Benito Santiago, Gary Sheffield and Randy Velarde--received steriods from Barry Bonds' trainer, Greg Anderson. The source was not named, and none of the men have been accused of using steroids. Regardless, the ramifications of the story were felt around baseball on Tuesday, notably in Yankeeland. John Harper has a measured take on how both Jason Giambi--shook--and Gary Sheffield--defiant--handled the latest allegations. Murray Chass has an even-handed column in the Times.

In all, it's not a cheery morning in baseball. (Oh, by the way, the Yankees had their first intrasquad game yesterday too.) Somehow it is fitting that ol' Marge Schott--one of the game's great comic villains--passed away yesterday just to put the icing on the gravy on a black day for the sport. But as Will Carroll cautions, we should resist the urge to be shrill here:

Let’s not jump to uneducated conclusions. Let’s take our time and cover this correctly.

Amen to that.

Mean Ol' Man Mike?
2004-03-02 14:06
by Alex Belth

I wanted to take a moment here to thank Ben Jacobs, Steven Goldman, Rich Lederer, Cliff Corcoran, Jay Jaffe and Christopher DeRosa for their contributions to Bronx Banter Preview series I ran last week. I think I can speak for the majority of the readers when I say we are all better and more informed fans because of their efforts. In addition, I would also like to thank all of the writers who participated in the Roundtable Discussion. I deliberately selected a diverse group and I think the results were fun and stimulating. Hopefully, we’ll do it again next year.

On that note, the one part of the Roundtable chat that really struck me were the answers to the Mike Mussina question. Mostly because the writers all seemed to agree that Mike Mussina is a virtual lock to win 15 games, let alone 20. I know it’s hard to predict how many games a pitcher will win, and you usually won’t hear prognosticators say that an ace pitcher is going to win 12 games. But 15 games is nothing to sneeze at, and while we expect good pitchers to win at least that many games, how often do they actually do it?

I asked Rich Lederer to do a quick bit of research for me and he discovered that only three active pitchers have won 15 games in five consectutive seasons: Greg Maddux, 1988-2003; Roger Clemens, 1986-1992; and Randy Johnson, 1997-2002 (from 1995-1999, Charles Nagy won at least 15 games, but I don’t think he’s with a team any longer). From 1994-1997, Mussina won 15 straight, and in the three seasons since he’s been a Yankee, Mussina has recorded 17, 18 and 17 wins. As the writers in the Roundtable Discussion noted, Mussina is a good bet to win 15, but in spite of the Yankees’ terrific offense, nothing is a lock.

Furthermore, Lederer explains that:

Winning 15 games is a much more difficult proposition than generally believed. To illustrate, from 1999-2003, each season has produced fewer than 30 pitchers who have won 15 games. That works out to not even one pitcher per team. Winning a certain number of games is as dependent on the team's fortunes as it is the individual pitcher's statistics. In order to win 15 or more games in this day and age, a starting pitcher not only has to perform well but he generally needs to be on a reasonably good team, stay off the DL, and have luck on his side. Most pitchers would also need at least two good relievers--one to hold the lead in the eighth inning and one to close it in the ninth.
To the extent that there are 15-game winners, they tend to be bunched on teams. Last year, for example, the Yankees and Mariners both had three 15-game winners. The A's had three the year before.
Given the Yankees' offensive prowess, it wouldn't surprise me if Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, and Javier Vazquez all won 15 games this year. However, based on recent history, the odds of it happening are probably not all that great.

But as Joel Sherman points out in his column today, the Yankees need Mussina now more than ever. Sherman writes:

[Mussina] is the lone major leaguer to win at least 17 games in each of the last three years. As a Yankee, he has 52 wins, 659 innings and a .642 winning percentage. The only other major leaguer to even reach levels of 45/600/.600 in the same three-year span is Mussina's now ex-teammate, Clemens.

"One of these years I'm not going to throw 200 innings," said Mussina, 35, whose streak of nine straight 200-inning seasons is the majors' longest (see chart). "I hope it is not until I'm 42."

Considering the fact that Mussina has been tinged with odd luck throughout his career, it is easy to say, “This is the year that everything will go right, and he’ll win 20.” I have done it each year that he’s been in New York. Maybe Mussina will never win 20 and he'll be left muttering like Dennis Quad in "Breaking Away" about being mean ol' man Mike. As far as I'm concerned, I’ll be happy if he wins 15 again and I'll be elated if he finally gets his 20-win season.

Nice Guys Play Center

Recently, two Mets beat writers told me that Mike Cameron has a great clubhouse presence. Yesterday, the Times ran an informative article on Cameron’s approach to playing center field. In case you missed it, head on over and give it a gander.

If it Bends...
2004-03-01 13:52
by Alex Belth

A few years back I had a good conversation about comedy with a cab driver while we were stuck in midtown traffic. We were talking about the actor-comedian Jay Mohr and why we found him so hard to take. My impression of Mohr was that he was a slick, self-satisified car salesman. He had charisma, but just not the kind I wanted to be anywhere near. The cabbie--himself a struggling stand-up comedian--had Mohr pegged. "The reason he won't take off is because he isn't vulnerable, and every great comedian, or comic character, needs to have some vulnerability in order for people to embrace them."

I think this is right on, and although it was something I knew, I had never heard it expressed in so many words. Of course, it isn't absolute, but it's not far off. Think about it: Archie Bunker, and Ralph Kramden were incorrigible louts, but they were also fraile and sensitive too. That's how the audience can put up with their obnoxious behavior. Some of our greatest comics have been amazingly vulnerable. Lenny Bruce and especially Richard Pryor come to mind.

I think that vulnerability is what attracts us to ballplayers as well. We may not be aware of it consciously, but I think it's there. It makes them more approachable, especially in the modern era of millionaire athletes. They don't need to express it, because we all know that they live with it. (Think about the state of Jose Contreras' pysche.) On any given day they could suffer a career-ending injury.

The sense of uncertainty is particularly actue in the spring when baby-faced youngsters fight to get noticed and old timers hang on, giving baseball one last try, before it discards them and moves along happily ever after.

There have been a few articles of late that have, in one way or another, touched on the vulnerability of ballplayers. Tyler Kepner profiled Kevin Brown in the Sunday Times, and here is a good one about Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez, who was humbled by the Red Sox' efforts to move him over the winter:

“My agent called and told me about the waivers,” said Ramirez, who was available to any team willing to pay the remainder of his contract (five years, $101.5 million). “I was a little bit mad. But I said this is a business. Baseball doesn’t need me. I need baseball.”

Even better, here is what Oakland's third baseman Eric Chavez recently told my label-mate Mark McClusky:

When you struggle, there's nowhere to go. You can't hide, you can't take a couple of days off--you have to jump back in the saddle the next day. I'll go home sometimes and I'll honestly think I'll never get a hit again. That's not the case. I know eventually I'll run into a hit. But there are times when the ballpark is the last place you want to be going.

At this level, the game is much more mental than physical. Sometimes the harder you try, the worse it gets. You want your talent to take over, but everyone else is talented too, so you try and get an edge mentally. You can't get comfortable. I've never been comfortable enough where I can honestly say I'm a good player. I've seen what baseball can do to people. Until the last day I play, I'll never be comfortable in this game.

Chavez is surprisingly candid. Interestingly, McClusky thinks that it helps explain what is keeping Chavez from realizing his full potential. But indivudal players aren't the only vulnerable ones. Witness the so-called fall of the Atlanta Braves. Murray Chass pens what could be his best column since returning from medical leave and suggests that we probably shouldn't count Bobby Cox and company out just yet. GM John Schuerholz tells Chass:

"The greatest winning streak in baseball is our winning 12 consecutive division titles," he said the other day. "The second-longest streak is the number of years people have predicted our demise."

As great as the Yankees and Red Sox appear, they are a string of injuries away from missing the playoffs (remember the 1987 Mets?). It's this uncertainty, this vulnerability that helps make the game so compelling.

Clutch Hit

I want to direct everyone to the latest edition of Mudville Magazine, as well as Tim Marchman's new venue: New

Yankee Preview: Roundtable Discussion 2
2004-03-01 08:51
by Alex Belth

Last Licks

Part Two: B-Side

BB: Who will have the better season: Pettitte or Vasquez? Clemens or Brown.

Allen Barra: Right now, if Kevin Brown escapes injury, he's a better pitcher -- that is to say, more effecitve -- than either Pettitte or Clemens. For that matter, putting aside the question of durability, he's probably at least as effective as Curt Schilling. Vasquez is probably a better pitcher than al of them, and he's just coming into his prime.

Jack Curry: This is the shortest question so far, but maybe the toughest because, really, who knows how they'll act react in their new environments. A couple of Yankees were raving about how much Brown's pitches move. Just nasty stuff. If he stays healthy (I know, a big if), I think he'll have a better year than Clemens. Pettitte and Vazquez is a tossup. I think both will win 15-18 games and be productive starters. But, with the Yankees, of course, Brown and Vazquez need to perform in October.

Steven Goldman: I don’t buy this question, because differences of context – league and park and supporting personnel – make the answer dependent on more than the merits of each pitcher. What I think you’re really trying to ask is, “Did the Yankees make the right choices here?” Vazquez is already a better pitcher than Pettitte and should remain so, but that’s only germane if the choice was Vazquez or Pettitte, which it wasn’t. Whether letting Pettitte go will depend on whether the team’s estimate of his short-term injury future is accurate, and we won’t know that for awhile. Clemens or Brown wasn’t a choice either, and what he does vs. Brown is not at all relevant to the sitch in the Bronx. I think he’ll be fine.

Jay Jaffe: Vazquez will thrive in the Bronx, Pettitte will do reasonably well in Houston, the better defense behind him tempered by the loss of the favorable dimensions of Yankee Stadium and that great run support. Clemens will be fairly effective in limited use and I think Brown will too, though his stats will suffer by comparison to his LA days. I give the Yanks the edge overall.

Bruce Markusen: Statistically, Vazquez will have the better season, in part because of pitching at Yankee Stadium and in part because of his terrific natural stuff. Pettitte will have a good season for the Astros, but his ERA and home runs allowed will both rise while pitching in a ballpark that’s not favorable to left-handed pitchers. I would have liked to have seen both pitchers in pinstripes, but that’s a whole other story. Based on what scouts say about Vazquez’ repertoire of pitchers and on what people in Montreal say about his steady character, Vazquez has a chance to be very, very good in New York. With apologies to Orlando Hernandez, he could be their best Latino starter since the days of Luis Tiant and Ed Figueroa. In terms of matching up Brown against Clemens, it all comes down to Brown’s health. If he can avoid the disabled list, he can put up better numbers than Clemens did the last two years in New York—and what he might do in Houston. Brown does have one thing working against him, and that’s the Yankees’ questionable infield defense, which would be helped greatly by the acquisition of a high-caliber second baseman. I’d call it almost a toss-up between Brown and Clemens, with Clemens gaining perhaps a slight advantage because of a decreased workload in Houston. Fewer starts could translate into higher quality for “The Rocket.”

Rob Neyer: Vazquez and Brown will pitch better than Pettitte and Clemens.

Tom Verducci: Vazquez will be the biggest winner on the Yankees staff. The guy had brutal run support last year -- the Yankees will just bludgeon the back half of teams’ rotations and middle relief, leading to easy six-inning wins -- and he has the makeup to be a star. Clemens and Brown are a toss-up, especially because I regard both as health risks. Clemens is a risk because he pitched seven months last year at 40 without missing a start. The odds simply work against him, especially because NL baseball does not afford him the maintenance he needed in the training room in between every inning of AL games. Brown has real violence in his delivery, not a good thing at his age. He’s a start-by-start guy. But if he stays healthy, his stuff is still dominant.

BB: Will Mike Mussina win 20 games? If not, will he at least win 15 games again? How close is Mussina to being a Hall of Famer?

Allen Barra: Mussina will probably win 18 games this year. He should have made his move towards the Hall of Fame when he came to the Yankees; for some reason, he didn't, and my guess is that it's too late now. But he is still very good.

Jack Curry: I thought Mussina was a lock to win 20 last season after starting off 7-0. He'll definitely win 15 games and he is on track to be strongly considered for the Hall of Fame. He would help his cause greatly by mixing in a couple of 20-win seasons and getting a ring.

Steven Goldman: Could be; his luck could break right one of these days. He’ll be over 15 again, even if his ERA goes up a bit. As for the Hall, he’s going to finish with 250-plus wins, and that’s going to be attractive, but the lack of Cy Youngs and 20-win seasons is going to hold him back with some voters who, let’s face it, are not paying the slightest bit of attention anyway. BP’s Pecota compares him to Jim Bunning, which is dead on. It took Bunning about 20 years to get into the Hall.

Jay Jaffe: Twenty, schmenty; it's overrated, particularly in this day and age, but I do think he'll get it with this lineup. Three good seasons and at least one ring will make him a lock.

Bruce Markusen: Mussina is close to a Hall of Fame level, but I think he’s considered a notch below the likes of Clemens, Martinez, Johnson, and Maddux. If a Hall of Fame vote were conducted today, all four of those would likely be named on the first ballot. That’s not the case with Mussina, who has some work to do if he wants to win some more votes. A 20-win season and a World Series MVP Award would do a lot for Mussina’s reputation.

Rob Neyer: It’s very tough predicting that any pitcher will win 20 games, but I think Mussina’s a lock to win 15. As for the Hall of Fame, he’s still got a lot of work to do. Hall of Fame voters like 20-win seasons and Cy Youngs, and to this point Mussina hasn’t done enough to separate himself from the likes of Tommy John, Jim Kaat, and Bert Blyleven.

Tom Verducci: Mussina is long overdue to win 20. He’s the biggest given on the staff. Mark him down for at least 15 wins. It’s a little early to judge his Hall chances, but it’s safe to say he’s not yet in a decline phase. He’s a lesser version of Maddux when it comes to durability and consistency. I like the many times he’s showed up in Cy Young voting. He’s no lock for Cooperstown, but he is on the radar.

BB: Do you see Jose Contreras as the x-factor in the Yankees starting rotation?

Allen Barra: Yes, Contreras is the x-factor. He has great stuff, but like other Cuban pitchers, he seems to break down a great deal. If he goes without injury, he's a superb Number Four starter. His durability remains unproven.

Jack Curry: Contreras is the one of the X-Factors. So is Lieber. Lieber has to show he's healthy, too. Contreras has to prove that he can succeed in the majors throughout an entire season, not just in spurts. I didn't think it was a good sign for the Yankees that he spoke so openly and depressingly about missing his family in Cuba last week. I don't think any of us really understand what the guy has been through and he'd be inhuman if he didn't impact him, even a little, on the field.

Steven Goldman: Him or Lieber. Even at his best, Lieber was never Sandy Koufax. Coming off of surgery, no one is suggesting he will be his best. Control pitchers without good stuff are also known as “target practice.”

Jay Jaffe: Aside from Moose, they're all x-factors to a degree, but I think the risks are reasonable. Lieber's had a long rehab and will be fine. Vazquez is already an excellent pitcher and while it might take him some time to learn the hitters, he's going to mesh well with Posada. Contreras will be more comfortable this year than last and will pitch well. Brown's key is his health; the Yanks will need a sixth starter available so they can give him a rest on the DL sometime this summer or skip his turn if his back/neck/elbow flares up. As a groundball pitcher, Brown's not very suited to this team, so it will be interesting to see how he handles that if he gets some tough breaks. On the whole, I'd put the 39-year-old pitcher as the x-factor.

Rob Neyer: Well, sure. Him and Jon Lieber. I happen to think that Contreras will be one of the better starters in the American League, but what we can’t know is whether he can handle the physical strain of starting 30-plus games. In my opinion, if the Yankees don’t win 100 games it will be because Contreras and Lieber don’t combine to win at least 25 games.

Tom Verducci: I regard Brown as more of an x-factor because he could be the Cy Young winner or he could be a permanent resident of the DL. That’s a wide swing. I’d be amazed if Contreras makes all 33 starts and throws 220 innings. He will have days where he just dominates hitters with filthy stuff. And once in a while he’ll look lost on the mound. Don’t discount his family not being allowed out of Cuba. He is a very sensitive man.

BB: How do you think Bernie Williams will adapt to being a designated hitter? Will Kenny Lofton's presence distract him or inspire him? How close is Williams to being a Hall of Famer? What does he need to do to qualify?

Allen Barra: Bernie Williams was hitting about .350 when his knee began to bother him last year. That was his shot at the Hall. I'm afraid he's missed it now. But at his age, he's got nowhere else to go, so there's no reason for him not to play as hard as he can. I think the key is not mental, as his four World Series rings illustrate. The question is how well he comes back after his injury.

Jack Curry: Until Bernie had to have an appendectomy the other day, I expected him to be the starting CF and start over 100 games out there. Now Torre probably will start Lofton out there at the beginning of the season and let Bernie ease back in slowly as the DH. I'm sure Bernie wasn't thrilled that the Yankees added Lofton, but Bernie's defense has eroded. I don't think Bernie is a Hall of Famer.

Steven Goldman: Spending part of the season at DH should be beneficial for Bernie, keeping his legs fresh. There have simply not been many 35-year-old center fielders who can take the pounding of running around out there every day. The same is true of Lofton, which is why a job-sharing arrangement (assuming that Bernie returns relatively soon) makes the most sense for the team and for Williams. As soon as he perceives that he can make more of a contribution by spending half his time in the outfield, half at first base, I think Williams will accept it, or, to paraphrase Stanley Kubrick, stop worrying and learn to love the Lofton… Bernie is a Hall of Famer by any standard, but even if he hangs around long enough to clear 2,500 hits and 300 home runs (he probably won’t), the Hall won’t call without a brain transplant.

Jay Jaffe: I don't think there's as much to the Lofton presence and Williams move as has been made out to be. Giambi's fragility will mean plenty of time at DH for him, which means plenty of time in center for Williams if he's healthy -- the difference between him and Lofton with the stick will outweigh the defensive concerns (you might see Lofton come on in the late innings occasionally). Bernie's been working hard over the winter and rather than sulking about it is treating this as though he's fighting for his job; I expect his motivation will carry him and Torre's loyalty will win out, keeping him the regular there. But I think when the time comes he'll be fine as a DH. The guy is a professional hitter and will do well there if and when the time comes.

I think that because of his association with the Yankee dynasty Williams already has a decent shot at the Hall of Fame. The simple Bill James metrics (HOF Standards and HOF Monitor) have him in the pocket. Looking at him in the context of the BP stuff I did on the Hall which focuses on Wins Above Replacement Player for peak and career totals, he's a middle-of the-pack HOF CF, in the top 10 behind Mays, Cobb, Speaker, Mantle, DiMaggio, Ashburn, Snider, and Billy Hamilton, and having surpassed Kirby Puckett. Yes, Griffey's a better player -- behind Joe D on that list -- but he's limping into the Hall by comparison. Another couple of productive seasons will shore up Bernie's credentials and keep him around long enough to remind writers how great he's been.

Bruce Markusen: Given the professional that Williams is, he should have little difficulty in adjusting to designated hitter status. I think he’ll still end up playing center field against left-handed pitching, which might clear the way for Jason Giambi to pick up some at-bats as a DH. Since Williams is very sensitive, he’s probably hurt by the acquisition of Kenny Lofton, but he needs to look at this objectively. He has lost a lot of his defensive value over the past three seasons, to the point that he’s now one of the poorer fielding center fielders. Williams is probably pretty close to Hall of Fame status. He’s been underrated for years, and it seems like he’s only receiving credit now that his career is on the decline. If Williams can bounce back from his injury-plagued 2003 and have one or two more big seasons, that will strengthen his case greatly.

Rob Neyer: Williams is a great player, but like Mussina he hasn’t enjoyed any huge seasons or won any big awards, and that’s really going to hurt his Hall of Fame chances. I think he needs to win an MVP or come very close, and at this point that’s looking very, very unlikely. I think he’s similar to Rafael Palmeiro, except Palmeiro’s got all the home runs to impress the voters. As for DHing, I think he’ll be fine. Williams doesn’t strike me as the sort to let that affect his hitting.

Tom Verducci: Bernie will get the bulk of the starts in centerfield, provided he is healthy. Torre just doesn’t easily toss aside the guys who have done it for him -- not for a Lofton who is barely a better defender than Williams. (Has anybody seen Lofton’s arm or the routes he takes to balls?) Without even looking at Williams’ numbers, I think his shot at the Hall is an outside one. I say that while recognizing that he’s probably underrated overall. But does he show up much in MVP voting while playing on great teams? (No, he finished seventh once, 10th once, and that’s it.) I tend to have a harsher grading scale for my Hall vote than a lot of guys, but I also don’t think that long and hard about active players when it comes to the Hall. It’s like baking a cake. I’d hate to judge its taste when it’s only three-quarters cooked. There’s a reason the Hall gives a five-year waiting period. Perspective is a very valuable tool.

BB: Theo Epstein and Billy Beane are the two most celebrated general managers in the game right now. Is there any doubt that Brian Cashman belongs in their company?

Allen Barra:Excuse me, but how did Theo Epstein move up to the class of Billy Beane and Brian Cashman? Did I miss something, or is his hand weighed down by too many championship rings? Billy Beane is handicapped by lack of resources. What is Theo Epstein weighed down by, besides his arrogance?

Jack Curry: Cashman gets automatically criticized because the high payroll allows him to make some mistakes that other organizations can't make. Plus he has to deal with the George factor and the notion that a lot of other executives toss their opinions into the mix before decisions are made. But JP Ricciardi of the Blue Jays told me that money alone doesn't make a solid team. It's the fact that the Yankees have the money and they have a savvy GM like Cashman contributing to the decisions.

Jay Jaffe: None whatsoever. He was ahead of the curve as a young GM, and while his genius isn't celebrated, his skill at maintaining his job, sanity and championship-caliber ballclub under Mad King George is one that goes relatively unheralded. Yes, it's great to have money, but it still takes brains to make the deals, and with the Brown and Rodriguez deals, Cashman made some pretty creative stuff happen this winter. He's smart enough to play things much closer to the vest than those two, and with the A-Rod deal, he was rewarded for that strategy.

Bruce Markusen: There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind. We hear so much about the Sabermetric approaches of Beane and Epstein, but the Yankees have been incorporating Sabermetric concepts since the mid-1990s, when Gene Michael started to rebuild a team that had fallen into disarray. Michael has been preaching on-base percentage for 10 years now, well before either Beane or Epstein moved into positions of power. Like Michael, Brian Cashman doesn’t call himself a Sabermetrician, but he believes in a number of those concepts, as well. There’s a tendency to downgrade Cashman because he has so much money to work with, but it was Cashman who initiated talks with the Rangers about Rodriguez, it was Cashman who resisted efforts to trade Andy Pettitte years ago, and it’s been Cashman who has done most of the down-and-dirty trade negotiations with other teams. All the while, he’s had to deal with the most demanding press corps and the most demanding owner in sports. The bottom line? Cashman is a very bright guy who doesn’t believe in standing pat; he’s always looking to improve the roster. That’s the kind of general manager I’d want running my team.

Rob Neyer: I think it’s way too early to include Epstein in a group of great GM’s—though he obviously has a good chance to be considered in that class, eventually—and I think it’s ridiculous to suggest that Cashman is Beane’s equal. Cashman is a fine executive, I don’t have any doubt about that. But until he wins 90 games with a $50 million payroll and runs the show all by himself—Beane’s done both of these things in Oakland—I don’t think Cashman belongs in the same discussion.

Tom Verducci: It’s too hard to argue against his record, no matter what you say about revenues and checkbook baseball. And can we see Theo or Billy in one World Series before we start casting the plaques for Cooperstown? They’re both on my short list of best GMs, but professional sports is a cold, bottom-line business. Every market, every franchise, every team has issues all their own, but I go back to Bill Parcells: in the end, you are what your record says you are. And Cashman has a darn good record.

BB: The Yankees have a gruff edge this season with the additions of Kevin Brown, Sheffield and Kenny Lofton. Some observers look at this team as a far cry from the Paul O'Neill Yankees. Will the new attitude help or hurt the team?

Allen Barra: The so-called "Paul O'Neill Yankees" were really the solid pitching Yankees, This is a much better hitting team than most of the "O'Neill" teams, and if the starting pitching holds up, no one's going to be nostalgic for 1999.

Steven Goldman: I’m in the clubhouse infrequently, but every time I went during the O’Neill years, there he would be, at the far end of the clubhouse, slumped in his chair, glowering. He was not the poster child for winning attitude, just attitude. I’ve always marveled at how the kind of post-at-bat whining and kicking that got Gregg Jefferies run out of New York caused O’Neillto be seen as “a warrior” …Uh, what was the question again? Oh, yeah. Casey Stengel used to say that if a team came up with a problem player, it should just “disappear him.” If Lofton is a problem, he’ll be headed out of town. He might be headed out of town anyway.

Jay Jaffe: Those guys aren't quite as cuddly as O'Neill, nor have they enjoyed the stability Paulie had. They have mercenary qualities, but they all have a mean competitive edge, Brown in particular. Lofton might get a little squeaky about playing time, but they'll bring a lot to the team overall because they're hungry for a championship, and they wouldn't be here if they weren't.

Bruce Markusen: It could go either way. In some ways, the Yankees have been so businesslike that sometimes complacency sets in, especially when the season is so long and the team is annually regarded (mistakenly) as a lock for the postseason. Sometimes a slumping team needs a mini-controversy or a dispute to re-light the ignition. If Lofton, Sheffield and/or Brown get out of line, there’s still a Jeter and a Jorge Posada around to calm them down and remind them of the way that things are done with the Yankees. And with a manager like Torre, any controversies will be relatively short-lived. He’s brilliant at defusing problems that might have mushroomed in previous Yankee eras.

Rob Neyer: New attitude? I think what’s important is the new lineup, which is better than the old lineup.

Tom Verducci: First of all, don’t throw Sheffield in there. The guy is accountable, plays hard and plays hurt. Brown is a ferocious competitor. How he feels about the media is irrelevant. Lofton could be a problem if he’s reduced to a pinch runner/pinch hitter/part-time player who gets 250 at-bats. That’s not what he expected when he signed. A-Rod burns to win as much as anybody. The only concern there might be that A-Rod is like Clemens when Clemens first joined the Yankees -- he tries too hard to be just one of the guys.

BB: From a writer's viewpoint, is this the most interesting Yankee team since the Bronx Zoo days of the late seventies?

Allen Barra: As Tommie Lee Jones says, "Yes. Hell, yes!"

Jack Curry: I spent eight days with the Yankees at the start of spring training and, in 14 years of covering them, I've never seen the buzz around the team that exists now. I can't speak to the late 70's because I was still in elementary school, but A-Rod has added a factor that has actually made the most storied team in sports even more interesting. The Yankees are never devoid of stories and that will never be more accurate than this season.

Steven Goldman: Nope. The ‘04s don’t even begin to match the 77-78s in personality. I don’t think that time will ever come again, not in New York, anyway. Back then, players had a lot to say to the writers. Today, they spend most of the time they’re supposed to be available to the writers in the bathroom. From a team-building/analysis point of view, the business of importing veteran all-stars is a lot less exciting than the process of building from within, making clever trades, unearthing hidden gems — you know, the whole Moneyball thing.

Jay Jaffe: A-Rod's addition will certainly add to the potential tabloid fodder of this team, but there are plenty of legitimate story lines such as they way Jeter and Williams respond to the threats to their primary position roles and how the new rotation fares. Because there's drama when they go far and more drama when they don't, the Yanks are always interesting, always offering several story lines. If anything, from a preseason vantage point, I think this team's stacked lineup of newcomers is LESS interesting than the melding of the '98 squad with all of the homegrown talent. Their hunger after '97 drove them all season long, and they had much more to prove than these guys do.

Bruce Markusen: I don’t cover the team on a regular basis like the beat writers, but I do write about the Yankees often in my “Cooperstown Confidential” column. This team is likely to generate more stories of intrigue than any of the Yankee teams since the early 1980s or the “Bronx Zoo” years of 1977-79. In that sense, they’ll probably provide me with more material for the column. With that said, some of the soap opera stuff can be carried too far, to the point where it becomes exaggerated and doesn’t interest the real baseball fans. In terms of coverage of the team, there needs to be a balance between the stories off the field and the team’s performance on the field.

Rob Neyer: Oh, I don’t know if I’d say that. I think what made the Bronx Zoo Yankees interesting was their manager and how the players reacted under the stress of playing a 162-game schedule while working for a crazy owner. But this manager’s no Billy Martin, the schedule hasn’t even begun, and the owner’s not as crazy any more.

Tom Verducci: No, not even close. The Billy-Lou-Yogi years were more interesting and tougher to cover. George had more of a fastball back in those days, ready to rip players and managers at the first two-game losing streak. (After the Yankees started 1985 0-2 in Boston, he called the next game ``crucial.’’) I will give you this: it has the greatest star power George ever has assembled. This team will be covered in the front of the tabloids nearly as much as in the back.

BB: What are you looking forward to about the 2004 Yankees? And what are you dreading about them?

Allen Barra: What I'm dreading most is the possibility of Kevin Brown and Jose Contreras not holding up; if they both go down, I fear the Yankees season goes with them. On the other hand, it's just possible that the Yankees could be overpowering this year. Giambi was the American League's best hitter for three seasons, and there's not reason why he can't revert to that. No real reason, too, why Soriano shouldn't blossom into a genuine superstar. if that happens, and Bernie Williams comes back, the Yankees could bury the Red Sox, a team that had several players performing well over their heads last year.

Steven Goldman: Pleasant anticipation: I want to see what Joe Torre will do with this group. Torre isn’t perfect, but on the whole he’s been a tremendous asset to the Yankees and will be worthy of his eventual selection to the Hall of Fame. Now he’s been given a new problem to deal with, the 1982 problem of having an overabundance of depth. Can he keep everyone happy? I think his contractual status will have a great deal to say about the outcome.

Dread: The first announcer who talks about the Yankees buying another pennant should be sent to Camp X-Ray.

Jay Jaffe: I really want to see how the homegrown guys -- Williams, Jeter, and Posada -- respond or rebound with such a strong supporting cast behind them. Giambi too. I look forward to the rotation answering the questions of the doubters who predicted doom and gloom once the Yanks lost Pettitte. I dread the endless A-Rod/Jeter coverage whether it's tabloid-style fodder or a season-long sabermetric debate about the merits of the two players' defense. I feel like saying either way, "Yeah, we know. Who really gives a shit with this lineup?" The tabloid buzzards will be circling all year, looking for signs of weakness and generally missing the forest for the trees, as usual.

Bruce Markusen: Like most fans, I’m looking forward to watching Alex Rodriguez play on a day-to-day basis. I’ve only seen him in fits and starts in the past. He’s the best all-around player in the game and it should be a treat to watch him. I’m also curious to find out who will emerge as the everyday second baseman and how that player might improve the Yankees’ subpar infield defense. Finally, I’m anxious to see Hideki Matsui now that he’s had a full season to acclimate to major league baseball and the American culture. He played well in 2003; he has a chance to emerge as a full-out star, rather than just settle for being a very good player. The only thing I’d dread is the collective age of the team. This is a very old team. If a half-dozen key players start to show their age or break down physically, the Yankees may not have the depth to sustain such manpower losses.

Rob Neyer: I’m looking forward to the 50-60 times they lose. I’m dreading the 100-110 times they win, not to mention all the media attention.

Tom Verducci: I look forward to watching the lineup at full strength. On all cylinders, they will just wipe out some teams the way the Indians would in the mid-90s -- opposing teams would need to summon pitchers from Triple-A after a three-game series against those Indians teams because they’d be so beat up. I dread the Jeter-A-Rod made-for-media subplot. I hope Jeter chooses not to fight it, that he learns the beast lives only if he feeds it.

BB: Do you think the Yankees will get into a bench-clearing brawl during the regular season?

Allen Barra: I, for one, wouldn't mind seeing it. I think the Yankees allowed themselves to get pushed around too much last year. They are physically one of the strongest teams in baseball, and I wouldn't mind seeing them put the fear of God into the White Sox or Angels.

Steven Goldman I sure hope so. The record for “Best Yankees Brawl of All-Time” has stood since 1933, when Ben Chapman started a fight at second base, then went into the Senators dugout, fans rushed onto the field, and the Yankees ended up duking it out with riot police. The 1997 thing with Benitez and the O’s came close, but no cigar. Oddly, though this record has outlasted several single-season home-run marks and Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak, it gets very little mention in the press.

Jay Jaffe: Yes. Brown will start something, probably against Boston.

Bruce Markusen: Yes, if only because the organization is so hated by the rest of the league. Yankee hitters always seem to be targets of inside fastballs—just look at the number of times they’ve been hit by Red Sox pitchers in recent years—so it’s inevitable that someone will lose his temper and charge the mound. The most likely candidate? It could be Lofton, or Sheffield, or Giambi. We know that it won’t be Don Zimmer.

Tom Verducci: No, I don’t know how you anticipate something like that happening.

On the Cutting Room Floor:

I asked a question about the Yankees’ coaches that didn’t make the cut. But I just can’t bear to throw Barra’s line away:

Allen Barra: My feeling is that good coaches are like chicken soup. They can't hurt.

And that's the fact, Jack.

Yankee Preview: Roundtable Discussion 2
2004-03-01 08:26
by Alex Belth

Second Helpings

Round Two, Side One

Here is the second part of the Roundtable Chat.

[A note on how the forum was conducted. The questions were e-mailed to the participants. When I received the responses—from fourteen guests in all—I recognized that I would need to run this in two parts on two consecutive days. As it is, it’s looooong. Hope you don’t have anything to do for a while. But hey, the whole purpose of Yankee Preview week is to offer a feast of insight and opinion to all the insatiable Yankee junkies like me out there. The worst it should be is too long.

Regardless, I tried to keep things brisk, and conversational. I have edited portions of the answers at my own discretion in order to keep the length manageable. In no way have I tried to misrepresent any of the contributor’s original intent. Further, I am grateful for all of the time and effort each guest put into answering the questions. I hope you enjoy what they have to say and that it stimulates even further discussion.]

Cast of Characters:

Allen Barra: Slate

Jack Curry: New York Times

Steven Goldman: YES Network, Baseball Prospectus

Jay Jaffe: The Futility Infielder

Bruce Markusen: Baseball Historian

Rob Neyer: ESPN

Tom Verducci: Sports Illustrated

Bronx Banter: Will Joe Torre be fired during the 2004 season? If so, when? If he is canned, who will replace him? Will Torre ever manage the Red Sox?

Allen Barra: I have no idea. I do think sometimes that Torre's misery is a bit exaggerated by the press because of their hatred of Steinbrenner. If the Yankees win, Torre will probably be fine. If not, Willie Randolph would be the logical successor.

Jack Curry: How things can change around the Yankees in a matter of days. Toss a $252 million shortstop into the mix and have him play third base and then watch George play nice with Joe. A month ago, I would have thought there was a chance Joe could get fired in 2004. And, while there is always a chance for those sorts of occurrences around the Yankees, I think Steinbrenner's warmth toward Torre is evidence that he realizes how valuable Torre is to commanding an always turbulent ship. I now expect that Joe will end up signing an extension.

Steven Goldman: The walls of the Yankees clubhouse bulge with inflated egos. It would be asking a lot of a rookie manager, even Willie Randolph, to deal with this group, whereas Joe Torre’s biggest positive is that he’s been able to keep his players focused. At this point, that’s the result of the gravitas that age and success confers on a manager. As such, I don’t think George will pull the trigger. He can be manic, but generally is not oblivious… Torre won’t manage the Red Sox. In addition to destroying the symmetry of his career dénouement with the Yanks, the timing would be all wrong — by the time Boston is done with its Franconastein experiment, Torre will be on the wrong side of 65 with nothing left to prove. The Francona signing also shows that a young GM will seek to work with a manager that’s within a hail Mary pass of his age. Regrettably, not many young people want to hire dad or grandpa.

Jay Jaffe: Unless the Yanks find themselves within a few games of .500 at some point after the first month of the season, no. In the unlikely event he is fired, Willie Randolph would probably get the "interim" tag for the balance of the season or until an already bad situation needs to be made worse. This is almost surely Torre's last gig and I doubt he could get on board with the Sox philosophy.

Bruce Markusen: While anything is possible in the Bronx, I believe this Yankee team is too talented to go through the kind of prolonged slump that would prompt the firing of the manager. Even if the Yankees fell behind the Red Sox by seven or eight games, the fallback option of the wildcard should maintain Torre’s job status. Now if the Yankees were to fall seven or eight games out of the wild card spot, then that would produce a different outcome. If Torre were to be fired during the season, I think the new manager would be either Willie Randolph or Bucky Dent. Some of my sources say that Dent is actually George Steinbrenner’s first choice to succeed Torre, but with a mid-season change of managers, “The Boss” might be more inclined to pick one of the coaches already with the team, as a way of aiding a smoother transition. Keep an eye on Bucky, though.

Rob Neyer: No, I don’t think that Torre will be fired. This team is just too good to struggle long enough for Torre to get canned. And no, I can’t imagine that Torre will ever manage the Red Sox.

Tom Verducci: Torre will not be fired and in fact will decide to return next year. I doubt he will ever manage another team. It sounds as if he has caught a new enthusiasm not just for managing, but managing the Yankees.

BB: The arrival of Alex Rodriguez brings with it plenty of potential for controversy. The biggest issue of course is who should play shortstop? Though the Yankees don't have any intentions of moving Jeter right now, who do you think should play shortstop for the Yankees?

Allen Barra: The Yankees have won 6 pennants with Derek Jeter playing shortstop. I honestly don't see what the big deal is about this.

Jack Curry: A-Rod is the better shortstop. If the Yankees were starting a new team tomorrow and Jeter didn't have the history of success he has with the team, A-Rod would be the shortstop. I think the Yankees are paying homage to Jeter's captaincy and what he has done for them, which is a nice gesture. But Joe Torre constantly says that he will play the team that gives the Yankees the best chance to win. Is that the team with A-Rod at SS or Jeter at SS? I think one of the interesting points here is that A-Rod is the better athlete and defensive player so the switch to 3B will be easier for him than it ever would be for Jeter.

Steven Goldman Rodriguez, of course, because he’s the better glove. Any other consideration puts winning second to soothing a player’s ego.

Jay Jaffe: A-Rod is clearly the superior shortstop, but Jeter's shortcomings, particularly his poor first step, are even more ill-suited to third base than they are to short. His future is in centerfield, where his speed and ability to judge fly balls will be assets and he'll be able to outrun some of his mistakes (just like his predecessor). It's probably too late to make a change for this season because Bernie Williams (CF-DH) and Jason Giambi (DH-1B) should both be in the lineup every day, and Jeter-to-CF means that to get all three bats in the lineup requires Giambi to be the regular 1B (or to have Bernie learn the position). Those moves should have the benefit of a full offseason to prepare for them. For the purposes of stacking the lineup, squeezing A-Rod into a new position for a year while leaving the rest undisturbed isn't the worst way this could go.

Bruce Markusen: If it were up to me, I would play Rodriguez at shortstop and move Jeter over to third. Rodriguez is a Gold Glove caliber shortstop, with above average range, great quickness, soft hands, and a strong arm. There are a few shortstops better than him defensively (Cesar Izturis with the Dodgers and perhaps Edgar Renteria with the Cardinals come to mind), but not many. And at 28 years of age, I don’t anticipate that A-Rod has lost much—if any— range in the field.

Rob Neyer: Obviously, A-Rod should play shortstop because that’s where he’s most valuable.

Tom Verducci: Of course, on paper A-Rod should play shortstop and Jeter should play second base. But it’s not a controversy because it will never happen. The bigger controversy will be how Jeter feels about being eclipsed as the franchise’s biggest star. A-Rod is a better player and stronger personality. If Jeter is threatened by that, then you might have another Kobe-Shaq, or A-Rod-Griffey. If Jeter rolls with it and understands there is plenty of room for both and becomes real friends again with A-Rod, the rest of baseball should shudder.

BB: Some baseball observers are more offended that A Rod--the better defensive player, and the best shortstop since Honus Wagner--will be asked to move positions than they are that he's joined the Yankees. Jeter is famous as a team-first player. Do you think he would ever consider moving positions, ala Chipper Jones, if it helps the team? If he doesn't, how could that change his image? In addition, what position do you think would best suit Jeter's talents?

Allen Barra: Look, A-rod wants to prove he can be a winner, a team player. Let him display a little humility for the sake of the team.

Jack Curry: Jeter considers himself a SS and has since he was eight or nine. There will inevitably come a time, maybe in three months or maybe in three years, when Torre or another manager has to consider replacing A-Rod with Jeter. Jeter's reputation as a team player will be put in a dicey position if he resists this kind of change. I've talked to several AL talent evaluators who feel Jeter would probably be better off at 2B than 3B if he ever did move.

Steven Goldman: Everyone rolls their eyes when some gap-toothed old-timer (I’m imagining Walter Brennan’s Groot Nadine from Red River) says, “the players of my day were way better than today’s preening candy-asses,” but those “Greatest Generation” players did have a better sense of team goals. Maybe I’m just buying into the myth the managers of that time liked to peddle, but when Joe McCarthy asked Joe Gordon to move to first base so Jerry Priddy could play second, he moved and didn’t kick. That seems to have changed… Either Jeter is a man heavily into denial or he’s selfish. That doesn’t, by the way, make him less of a player — just human.

The classic 1960s rock group The Band sometimes would switch instruments between songs. It’s not that they were interchangeable, because each of them was a technician with his instrument; they were just doing what was best for each song. This year’s Yankees song includes Kevin Brown and Paul Quantrill, so it would behoove them to get their best ground ball D out there when those fellows are on the mound (when Mussina or Vazquez are out there, a statue of Hans Wagner can play short). Joe Torre at al are probably sincere if they believe that shifting Jeter will break some magic spell that’s been in place since 1996. If that’s the issue, we’ll have to accept it. If it’s just about feeding Jeter’s ego, then Jeter and the whole organization are hypocrites. It’s like a football team playing it’s passing defense against a running offense because one of the linebackers objects to being replaced in the package. Imagine the public’s reaction to that player. Not moving won’t hurt Jeter’s image, but it should.

Jay Jaffe: I think Jeter might come to the realization sooner or later, but it won't be overnight. I believe his resistance to it will be regarded similarly to Cal Ripken's resistance to ending The Streak, something that might benefit both the player and the team but run contrary to the image the player is trying to convey. It's an uneasy tension, but so long as the Yankees win, it will be a non-issue. If Jeter's defensive play is even remotely implicated in their failure to do so, then I do think he'll suck it up and do the right thing. See previous question for the last part of the answer.

Bruce Markusen: Yes, absolutely, I think Jeter would definitely consider moving to another position. A lot has been made of Jeter’s supposed selfishness in being unwilling to move to third base, but that’s unfair speculation. I don’t think the Yankees have even asked Jeter to move, and I don’t think he considers it his place to suggest to Torre that he be moved. If Torre were to approach Jeter during the spring and ask him to move to third or second, Jeter would nod his head and do it. Internally, his pride might be hurt by it, but Jeter’s professionalism and team attitude wouldn’t allow him to make a public spectacle of the situation. Jeter’s lack of range at shortstop would be better masked if he were to play third, but I believe his best position would be in center field. Jeter has always been great at reading and tracking pop-ups, so I see no reason why he couldn’t handle fly balls on a regular basis. Although Jeter’s first step is lacking, he has the kind of closing speed that a good outfielder needs.

Rob Neyer: Would he consider it? Sure. But so many people for so long have been telling him—and us—that Jeter is a good (or great) defensive shortstop, that I’m sure he believes it. And if he’s a team player and he thinks he’s the best shortstop the team has, then why would he volunteer to move? I don’t think he’s going to move unless he’s ordered to move, or he suffers an injury that makes it obvious he can’t play shortstop any more. As for his best position, it’s probably center field or left field.

Tom Verducci: Here’s one of those many situations in baseball where paper analysis is incomplete. You have to be around the team to understand what Jeter means to his teammates and his manager. And when you do understand that, you know why displacing Jeter would upset the equilibrium of the team. I believe Jeter could have said, ``Heck, I’ll play anywhere they want me to play,’’ fully knowing that Torre isn’t about to move him with the history and investments between the two of them. But then you could argue in that case that Jeter would be disingenuous and deserves credit for honesty in saying, ``I’m not going anywhere.’’ It may not be what you want to hear, but it’s what the man meant.

In Toronto once, Carlos Delgado played first base while David Segui DHd, clearly a poorer defensive lineup, but a manager would argue it was worth upholding Delgado’s status as a team elder and sachem. A similar equation is at work here. I don’t think it hurts Jeter’s image a bit. (It does enhance A-Rod’s image to switch positions at the peak of his career.) I imagine Jeter would be a very good centerfielder. (Since he seems so opposed to second base, I question whether he could excel there without the mental commitment.) One thing Jeter does better than almost anybody except Omar Vizquel (including A-Rod) is catch pop flies. That tells me he’s good at doing the quick mental calculus of tracking fly balls off the bat. Think Robin Yount.

BB: There has been a wide gap in the perception of Jeter's defense. Many fans and mainstream analysts believe that he is a good shortstop, while sabermetric observers contend that he is actually a poor defensive player. Now that the Yankees have a superior defensive option on their roster, will the perception of Jeter's defensive reputation change?

Allen Barra:It already has changed -- look at all the charts and stories about this after they acquired A-Rod. I do think Jeter loses a few opportunities at short because the Yankee pitching staff has generally been high on strikeouts, but on the whole, let me say again that I'm at a loss to figure out why this is an issue. Let me repeat this: the Yankees won six pennants with Derek Jeter at shortstop. If Jeter was the worst shortstop in baseball, wouldn't the six pennants indicate that this is not much of a problem?

Jack Curry: Jeter's defense, which has been average and which has taken a dip since he hurt his shoulder, will be watched more than ever this season. You know the first time Jeter makes an error to cost a game, the questions about replacing him with A Rod will start. So a player who has already been under the microscope will have to deal with even more scrutiny.

Steven Goldman: There are still ordinary Americans out there who believe that the president’s tax cuts were intended to benefit the middle class. If they can’t see a man with his hand on their wallet, how are they going to be objective about something as hard to judge as a ballplayer’s defensive skills, especially when the team announcers are going to keep telling them how great he is? That being said, there will be people asking “Would A-Rod have booted that one?” every time Jeter makes an error, which will be missing the point — it’s not about the balls he almost gets to, but the ones he doesn’t get to at all… There are more implausible myths than Jeter’s great glove that have millions of adherents. Logic is a weak force against blind faith. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Jay Jaffe: You'll hear a lot of "A-Rod would have had that" carping from some fans and media, and if Jeter goes down for any length of time where A-Rod takes over, the scales will fall from peoples' eyes, particularly the fans. I do think the Yankee brass, from Torre to Steinbrenner, is protecting Jeter here, not wanting to make their $189 million player look inadequate in anyone's eyes. They'd rather make the move a year too late than a year too early.

Bruce Markusen: The wide gap in perception is still there. During the press conference to introduce Rodriguez, Suzyn Waldman of the YES Network asked out loud and I’m paraphrasing here, “When did Jeter become such a bad shortstop?” That kind of statement indicates she doesn’t visit the baseball internet sites where Jeter’s defensive play has been criticized by Sabermetricians for about five years now. And that’s probably the case with a lot of the mainstream media, which is still very distinct from the Internet breed. Now that A-Rod has joined the mix, I think that the mainstream media in New York will put Jeter’s defensive play under a heavier microscope. If Jeter has a rough game where he makes a couple of errors or allows two or three up-the-middle grounders to get past him, some writers will inevitably speculate as to whether Rodriguez would have made the plays. It’s unavoidable that Jeter’s defensive reputation will suffer; as one gets older, his range is only going to diminish further. Would this result in Torre making a mid-season switch, moving Jeter to third and A-Rod back to shortstop? I don’t think so, if only because Torre hates the idea of asking a player to change positions in the middle of the season. Torre would only make a switch like that during the early or middle stages of spring training.

Rob Neyer: Yeah, I think so. People are going to watching Jeter very, very closely, and it’s less likely that those routine grounders-turned-singles will be ignored by Suzym Waldman. (Well, maybe that’s a bad example…)

Tom Verducci: People may look at Jeter’s defense with a more critical eye because it has become a front burner issue, but Jeter never plays the position so awkwardly that you regard him as deficient. The guy is great on pop flies, very good at timing line drives, has very good hands and footwork on slow rollers and has a patent on the jump throw from deep shortstop -- all of which look great on the nightly highlights. He doesn’t make a ton of errors. It’s more what you don’t see with Jeter, such as range, especially to his left, so that’s more subtle. (I also have to give him a bit of a hall pass because he’s had shoulder problems in two of the past three years. He never uses injuries as an excuse, but I believe the injuries have hindered him a bit.) I would not place Jeter in the poor category. He’s better than that. I don’t think it’s A-Rod so much that will put his defense under the microscope as it is more the Yankees’ staff. Brown, Lieber and Quantrill especially will throw a ton of groundballs. And if the Yankees don’t go out and get a glove-first second baseman (which I think they will) their defense up the middle risks undermining the strength of the staff.

BB: How much better is the Yankees bullpen this season than it was in 2003?

Allen Barra: The Yankees' one major weakness last season was their inability to get from the 6th inning to Mariano Rivera. This showed up big in the post-season. If nothing else, they addressed that weakness in this off-season. Paul Quantrill is the best right-handed setup man the Yankees have had in several seasons. The problem now, of course, is the fragility of the starting rotation.

Jack Curry: The bullpen is much improved with Gordon and Quantrill and Joe Torre shouldn't have to dial for relievers with trepidation, as he did last year. I think Gordon is going to have a terrific year for the Yankees. He also gives them insurance if Rivera suffers an injury.

Steven Goldman: Much better, assuming all the old guys don’t break down at once. If they take turns being unhealthy, the Yankees now have the depth to wait out the injuries instead of trading for Graeme Lloyd, Armando Benitez, Billy Brewer. It should be noted that depth that encourages less work for Mariano Rivera is not necessarily a good thing.

Jay Jaffe: Considerably so, especially if Karsay comes back. With Gordon, Quantrill and Karsay, the Yanks are very deep in righties who can pitch the late innings, but Heredia and White are a bit thin from the left side. Don't expect too many strict-platoon maneuvers from Torre, and don't be surprised if the Yanks look for a lefty reliever to shore up the pen midseason.

Bruce Markusen: On paper, the bullpen will be much better, assuming that Mariano Rivera still has another season of dominant relief pitching left in his right arm. Paul Quantrill is always good; he’s been one of the most underrated relief pitchers of the last decade. Tom “Flash” Gordon is a bit more inconsistent than Quantrill, but can also be dominant with his great overhand curve. I also have a feeling that Steve Karsay will bounce back and have a big season. From the left side, Felix Heredia and Gabe White figure to be a big improvement over the parade of situational left-handers the Yankees used last season. All in all, the bullpen looks to be better by leaps and bounds, but it still comes down to Rivera being great.

Rob Neyer: Without looking at every pitcher’s projected stats, I would guess that it’s somewhat better but still not one of the best in the majors. I like Gordon and Quantrill, of course, and if Karsay’s healthy (fat chance) he’s obviously pretty scary. But there will still be times when Torre has problems getting the lead to Rivera, and I suspect that once again we’ll see 1) a bunch of late-season additions, and 2) at least one high-price reliever left off the postseason roster.

Tom Verducci: This is the most underrated area of improvement on the team. Torre tried 19 guys last year and still didn’t know what he had by the World Series. (Can you say Jeff Weaver?) He also used his starters and Mariano Rivera a lot in the early season because he had little trust in his setup guys. He can’t afford to do that this year, because he will have to carefully manage the workload of the post-rehab Lieber and Contreras, who made only nine starts last year and is unaccustomed to the 220-inning, every fifth day grind of big league pitching. Gordon’s stuff was lights out last year (though he looks like he came into camp heavier). Quantrill thrives on pitching often and can get lefties out, too. Heredia had a very underrated season last year, even if he’s not the classic lefty specialist. And if the Yankees get anything out of Steve Karsay, the bullpen might be so good Rivera won’t have to worry about getting outs in the eighth inning (unless the Yankees are playing Boston, of course).

BB: Will the Yankees sign Mariano to a contract extension before the end of the 2004 season? And should they?

Allen Barra: As Tommy Lee Jones would say, "Hell yes!" The Yankees might lose Pettitte, but they'll never lose Rivera.

Jack Curry: I think Rivera gets the three-year deal he wants and finishes his career as a Yankee and as a Hall of Famer.

Steven Goldman: The value of closers is greatly overstated, but you can make an argument that Rivera is a cut above because of his consistency. He hasn’t had any Jose Mesa or Armando Benitez seasons where you dread the manager making that last call to the bullpen. What you do next depends on how well you believe that this fastball-dependent pitcher will survive the inevitable loss of velocity that comes with age. I think the Yankees will sign him, but I’m not convinced it’s the right move or even an essential one.

Jay Jaffe: Yes, they'll sign him. Given the money they're paying everybody else, Mo's salary is justifiable, and all the moreso because of the air of infallibility he carries and the confidence he gives Torre and the rest of the team.

Bruce Markusen: I don’t think that Rivera has much interest in negotiating during the season, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t return to New York. He likes it there, from all the winning to the heavy Latino population. The Yankees will probably try to re-sign him to a two-year deal, while Rivera’s agent will likely ask for three. They might end up compromising on a guaranteed deal for two years, with a club option for a third. Personally, I’m not a big fan of giving three or four-year deals to pitchers in their thirties, but let’s also keep in mind that Rivera keeps himself in great shape and throws with such an unusual ease of motion. He might just last until he’s 40.

One point about Rivera: he did go through a couple of slumps during the 2003 regular season that had people asking “What’s wrong with Mo?” Then in the playoffs Rivera reverted to his usual postseason form, pitching about as well as I’ve ever seen him pitch; he had it all, great control, terrific movement on the cutter, and ‘rising’ action on his straight fastball. The Yankees would take that scenario again in 2004: an OK regular season followed by a lights-out postseason.

Rob Neyer: Yes, the Yankees will sign Rivera before the end of the season, or if not before the end of the season, before the beginning of the 2005 season. Because the Yankees can afford him *and* he’s such a huge asset in October, the only reason *not* to sign him would be a significant drop in his performance this season. Which is possible, but not likely.

Tom Verducci: Rivera has no interest in pitching anywhere else and wants to sign a three-year extension today. I am generally against the idea of sinking $10 million a year into a guy who throws 70 innings, especially when any big league pitcher could convert most two- and three-run save situations. Rivera is an exception. (The Red Sox, for instance, think the Yankees would be nuts to sign a 35-year-closer to big bucks.) His body type and his mechanics have not changed a bit since he broke in back in 1995. His cool under pressure is unquestioned. He has exceptionally long fingers, which tells me he will master another pitch, such as a splitter, if he needs to adjust off the cutter as he ages. I think the Yankees will sign him to an extension before the end of spring training, with $10 million per year on the low side.

BB: Jason Giambi hasn't been embraced by New Yorkers in spite of two impressive offensive campaigns in pinstripes. Has the criticism been unfair? How much pressure do you think Giambi is facing going into the 2004 season? Does he get a pass now that Rodriguez and Sheffield are here to help? Short of the Yanks winning a championship, what will it take for him to be accepted by Yankee fans?

Allen Barra: N0, he doesn't get a pass, and since Giambi is such an intense player, I imagine he's putting a lot of pressure on himself. But if you're asking do the presence of A-Rod and Sheffield take some pressure off of him, of course…I don't know what kind of injuries Giambi played with last year; that's never been made completely clear. I'm afraid the steroids investigation is going to put him under more pressure whether he deserves it or not. Until he leas the Yankees to a World Series victory, he's on the hook. That's what they acquired him to do -- win a World Series.

Jack Curry: Giambi's number have been solid with the Yankees, but he still hasn't been the player they thought they were getting. The injuries have throttled him and not playing in the the World Series game, even if he was hurt, is something that will stick to him. I think A-Rod's presence will take the pressure off someone like Giambi because there should be fewer people around his locker. On the other hand, both Giambi and Sheffield could be hounded all year because of their connection to Balco. If names start trickling out from that grand jury investigation, and theirs are included, it could be a long year for those players.

Steven Goldman: The mass-hypnosis/Orson Welles stunt that was Tino Martinez has still not worn off. Giambi has had the two most productive offensive seasons by a Yankees first baseman not named Gehrig or Mattingly. Maybe if he runs out on the field doing backflips a la Ozzie, landing with a terrific thud that shakes the Stadium to its very foundations, the fans will like him. Whatever the reason, it has nothing to do with the quality of his performances.

Jay Jaffe: Recall that prior to sitting in the World Series, Giambi hit two homers in Game Seven of the ALCS. Overall, the criticism is unfair, and I don't think it's coming from Yankee fans, it's coming from the shit-stirring element in the local media. Unless a .412 OBP and .527 SLG are suddenly bad, then Giambi at 90% or whatever he was playing at lat year is still a PFG hitter: Pretty Fucking Good. The arrival of Sheffield and Rodriguez will take some pressure off of him, but the longer he's connected to the BALCO thing, the more that will be negated. I think he'll put up about a .420/.550 season with 40 jacks again, and the memory of Tino Martinez will become even more distant.

Bruce Markusen: Part of the criticism of Giambi stems from the fact that he hasn’t been the same hitter in New York that he was in Oakland. He’s not hitting .320 to .340, as he did during his peak years. Yet, he’s still a very good offensive player because of his sheer power (41 home runs) and keen knowledge of the strike zone (.412 on-base percentage). If he can match the home run and on-base percentage marks in 2004, the Yankees’ management will be pretty satisfied. Giambi will only be accepted fully by fans if the Yankees win the Series—and if he plays a sizeable role in them winning. Those are hefty requirements, but that’s the way of life in New York. Giambi might gain more acceptance if he took more of Jeter’s public approach when talking about the team. Jeter seems obsessed with winning, whereas Giambi is concerned with winning. There’s a difference. I know that Giambi wants to win a World Series, but it doesn’t seem to consume him. It didn’t help Giambi’s image when reports circulated last October that he was wound up as “tight as a drum” during much of his playoff struggle. Yankee fans want him to be like Reggie Jackson, who always seemed so confident and at ease during the playoffs and World Series. In reality, I think Giambi’s the better hitter, but we haven’t really seen it during the short season. Defenders will cite sample size, while critics will take more of a “no-excuses” approach.

Tom Verducci: Giambi was undoubtedly restricted last season by his knee. That was not the same swing he had in prior years. He deserves more slack than has been given him. That said, he had to at least argue a little bit to stay in lineup in Florida in the World Series. Torre didn’t like his body language and scratched him without a peep of protest from Giambi. The World Series? Come on. My question with Giambi is how much first base can he play? His body is older than his chronological age. If I’m the Yankees I worry that when he goes, he goes quickly, like McGwire or Keith Hernandez. Now the good news for the Yankees: he should have the best hitting spot in baseball, smack dab between A-Rod and Sheffield, which means teams will be reluctant to bring in a lefty except for very late, and he will gets pitches to hit with runners on. The ideal spot is to be surrounded by great hitters who both hit from the opposite side of the plate as you do. Best example: Sheffield with the Padres, who hit between leftties Fred McGriff and Tony Gwynn. How did it work out? Sheffield nearly won the triple crown. One more thing on Giambi: he needs a Yankee moment before New York fans totally embrace him. The two-run single against the Twins in a Division Series game when the Yankees were leading doesn’t cut it. His home runs in Game Seven of the ALCS were lost in the shadow of Matsui’s double, Posada’s double and Boone’s homer.

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