Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Monthly archives: May 2004


Yanks 5, Devil Rays 3
2004-05-30 09:43
by Alex Belth


Last night Kevin Brown faced Tampa Bay for the fourth time this season. In his first three outings, Brown allowed one run over seven innings. Going into the eighth with a 5-0 lead, Brown had allowed just one hit. But Toby Hall hit a solo home run, then Brown allowed a walk and double and his night was over. Felix Heredia gave up a run-scoring single off the glove of Tony Clark--who has performed admirably in Jason Giambi's absence--before Flash Gordon struck out Fred McGriff for the last out of the inning. It was a match-up that didn't seem fair. Gordon threw two fastballs that McGriff couldn't catch up to but fouled off. Then he threw a drop-curve ball and the Crime Dog swung about four feet over the pitch. Mariano Rivera came on for the save in the ninth as the Yanks held on for the win. They moved a half-a-game into first place after the Red Sox lost to the Mariners earlier in the day.

Considering how Brown was pitching, the game didn't seem close at all. The Yanks hit three solo home runs (Bernie, Ruben, Enrique), and many of their outs came on exceedingly hard-hit balls. Tampa made a charge, but it was too little too late. I'll be honest, I was dreaming about a one or two hit shut-out as the eighth inning began. As you can imagine, the self-loathing Mr. Brown wasn't too pleased about his night ended. According to Newsday:

"If we had two runs and I gave up three, the perception is I didn't do what I needed to do to win the game," Brown said. "But because we had five runs, that's a different situation. And perception is a tricky thing . . . I was what I was. It doesn't change the way it was the first seven innings. And it doesn't change what I was in the eighth inning."

Jon Lieber is on the mound today against Carlos Zambrano as the Yankees go for the sweep.

In other Yankee news, the Times reports that Steve Karsay was impressive during an extended spring-training game in Florida. About a month ago I was under the impression that Karsay was done for the season. If he manages to come back and be effective, that would be an enormous boost for the Yankees' bullpen.

Browsing the Sunday papers, here are a couple of links to feed your head:

Sam Borden has a nice piece on how Joe Torre deals with the New York media. Borden also speaks to Gary Sheffield, who feels that he's being singled out by government officials with regards to the Balco case.

Gordon Edes, the top baseball man at the Boston Globe, answers fan mail today, including the possibility of Randy Johnson pitching in New York or Boston before the year is over (zilch).

Finally, Tom Boswell weighs in why Junior Griffey still matters.

Yanks 7, Devil Rays 5
2004-05-29 11:14
by Alex Belth

I can't think of a more depressing-looking ballpark in the American League than Tropicana Field in Tampa. Add to that the fact that the Devil Rays just aren't a very good team and it's hard to get juiced up for this series. Unless of course you are a Yankee fan. It's probably tough for some of us too, but hey, a win is a win, and I'll take it.

Javier Vazquez was good, if not sterling, and the Rays jumped on him for two runs in the first. Doug Waechter was decent for the first couple of innings, but when Ruben Sierra tied the game with a two-run blast, I thought Sweet Lou was going to hurt someone. When the inning was done, Piniella got in the face of his catcher Toby Hall. I guess Hall called for the wrong pitch in the wrong spot. The Yanks opened up their lead with four runs in the fifth, capped by a three-run blast off the bat of Gary Sheffield. Sheff only had one hit on the night, but continues to hit just about everything hard. (As does Hideki Matsui who had two hits and has quietly improved.)

Tampa Bay rallied against Vazquez and Paul Quantrill--who had another poor performance--and closed the Yankee lead to one run. But a solo home run by Derek Jeter gave the Yanks some breathing room, and Tony Clark made a nifty running catch in the ninth inning to help seal the victory.

The story of the night? Well, Mariano Rivera recorded the 300th save of his career, and Derek Jeter had three hits, and honestly is looking like the player we've been used to watching for the past eight years. If you had just watched the Yankees over the past week, you would have never thought that anything had been wrong with the Yankee captain.

Pedro Martinez wasn't brilliant last night either, but he pitched well enough and Cookie Monster hit a grand slam as Boston beat the Mariners at Fenway Park. The Sox remain a half a game ahead of the Yanks. David Ortiz is the rebirth of Luis Tiant for the Sox. There was a touching moment in the clubhouse last night. According to the Globe:

And then there was the cardboard box sitting on a table in the locker room. It had a slot in the middle. Written on it in black letters was, "Please, any help you can donate to the people of my country -- D.R. They got hit by the flood. Thank you, David Ortiz."

It was after his second at-bat, in the fourth inning, when Ortiz, the designated hitter, walked back into the clubhouse after grounding out to third. He encountered Ellis Burks with his 9-year-old son, Christopher. Alan Embree had paid off an old bet to Burks with a pair of $50 bills. Burks handed the money to his son, who immediately dropped a fifty in the box.

"When I saw this I was ready to cry," Ortiz said. "It made me feel great. To see a young kid do that. I got excited. My mind was different after that. That changed me."

As much as I loath the Sox, it's hard to resist some of the characters they've got up there like Cookie and the catcher...

Kevin Brown was back with the Yanks last night and will pitch today.

Yanks 18, O's 5
2004-05-28 08:14
by Alex Belth

Is it over yet? Good gosh. The Bronx Bombers made like the Gashouse Gorillas last night and had the conga line rolling as they creamolished the Orioles. Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui each had three hits, Tony Clark (who had three hits as well) and Enrique Wilson each collected 4 RBI, Alex Rodriguez hit a home run...well, you get the pernt. It wasn't pretty for the home town team as New York compiled 21 hits in all. According to Tyler Kepner, "The Yankees have not scored more runs in a series in 53 years, since they dumped 42 runs on the St. Louis Browns from May 3-5, 1951."

Jose Contreras worked out of jams in the first and fourth and allowed three runs in the third, on home runs to Miggy T and Raffie P. Sidney Ponson cruised for the first four innings and then got his tits lit in the fifth. By the time he was yanked, the Baltimore ace was smiling. I suppose he was laughing to keep from crying, but YES announcer called Ponson's cavalier attitude "inexplicable and inexusable." If I were an Oriole fan I would not have taken kindly to Ponson's "Oh well" display either.

The A's torched the Red Sox at Fenway Park, 15-2--Eric Chavez hit an absolute bomb to straight away center--reducing Boston's lead over the Yanks to a half game.

Yanks 12, O's 9
2004-05-27 09:07
by Alex Belth


It warn't purty, but a win am a win. The Yankees survived an awful showing from their middle relief corps by crushing Baltimore's relievers as the Yanks won their third straight. Baltimore jumped to an early 3-0 lead off of Mike Mussina, and the Yanks left the bases loaded in the first and runners on the corners in the third. Gary Sheffield walked in his first at bat and was robbed of two RBI in the third when Luis Matos made a fine running catch to end the inning. Sheff must have been wondering what he had to do to catch a break.

With the score 3-1 in the fifth, Derek Jeter collected his second hit of the night, a single to left, which scored Kenny Lofton. Before Rodrigo Lopez could throw a pitch to Alex Rodriguez the game was delayed for an hour and five minutes by more rain. When play resumed, Lopez was still pitching, though he hadn't been especially sharp. But as the YES announcers noted, Lee Maz doesn't exactly have sterling options in his bullpen. Rodriguez legged out an infield hit and then Gary Sheffield popped a hanging curve--or was it a slider?--deep into the left field seats. Tony Clark added a solo dinger in the sixth, Sheffield singled home Lofton, and the Yanks had a comfortable 7-3 lead.

But it didn't last as Mussina, Paul Quantrill, Gabe White (Only Build 4 Cuban Linx himself), and everybody's all American punching bag, Taynon Sturtze, coughed up the lead. Baltimore pounded Yankee pitching for seven hits and six runs in the inning and when it was all over led, 9-7. The less said about this ugly turn of events, the better.

Especially considering that the O's weren't out in front for long. In the seventh, southpaw Buddy Groom quickly got ahead of Godziller Matsui but then left a fastball up in the zone which was crushed into the right field bleachers for a homer. Yanks down by one. Ruben Sierra singled, and B.J. Ryan replaced Groom. After Tony Clark grounded out, Enrique Wilson singled home Sierra, and then Bernie Williams--pinch-hitting for Lofton--singled home Wilson to give the Yanks the lead for good. Derek Jeter fought off a nasty slider that was in on his hands, and blooped a lucky-ass double down the first base line. It was the cheap, fortunate kind of hit that Jeter has been searching for. Bernie advanced to third and Rodriguez was intentionally walked to load the bases. Sheffield fell behind in the count but then laced a single to right. Williams and Jeter scored, and Sheffield had his sixth RBI of the night. (Sheffield actually collected another hit--a single to center in the ninth--to cap off his most productive game in pinstripes.)

The score remained the same as Flash Gordon and Mariano Rivera effectively shut the Orioles down over the final three innings:

"It seemed like a hundred years before we got to them tonight, and it was almost tomorrow," Manager Joe Torre said.

The game ended at the stroke of midnight.

The Bombers remain a game-and-a-half behind Boston who beat the A's again at Fenway Park last night.

Jose Contreras will replace Kevin Brown tonight. Brown left the team to deal with some personal issues and will start against the D-Rays on Saturday. Contreras will face Sidney Ponson this evening.

Yankees 11, Orioles 3
2004-05-26 10:24
by Alex Belth

Both Bernie Williams and Gary Sheffield hit the ball on the screws in the first inning last night, and neither had anything to show for it. After three quick, scoreless innings in Baltimore, a thunderstorm post-poned the game for over an hour. However, Yankee starter Jon Lieber picked up right where he left off when they started up again, and tossed another efficient game for New York. The Yankee bats (Clark, Posada, Matsui, Wilson) came to life and bombed the O's for eleven runs. Alex Rodriguez delivered the crusher: a three-run blast to dead center.

Sooner or later, a group of Yankees will all get hot at the same time. Meanwhile, Bernie had some excellent swings with just one hit. Derek Jeter was robbed of a two-run double on a terrific play by Melvin Mora, but later hit an RBI double to right field. Jeter was 1-6 on the night and his batting average continued to drop. Gary Sheffield still hasn't found his groove either. According to the Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:

"When I face tough pitchers, I'm at my best," Sheffield said. "When you're talking about kids you don't know that aren't all that difficult to face, that's when I have my problems."

..."I always have problems with the 4 and 5 starters," Sheffield said. "The first three pitchers, I do my best against. My thing is, I like challenges. When I'm facing a guy I know shouldn't get me out, those are the hardest guys to be patient with. I know it, they know it, and I pretty much go chasing. It's my fault. It's more me than them."

There is merit to Sheffield's claim, at least for this season. In 27 at-bats this year against Bartolo Colón, Tim Hudson, Pedro Martínez, Jamie Moyer, Mark Mulder, Curt Schilling and Barry Zito, Sheffield has nine hits, for a .333 average. His homers have come off Moyer, Zito and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' ace, Victor Zambrano.

Sooner or later, Sheff is going to burst. The Yankees remain a game-and-a-half behind the Red Sox who murdalized Tim Hudson and the A's last night in Beantown.

At a Loss
2004-05-25 14:06
by Alex Belth

Joe Sheehan, Gary Huckabay, Tim Marchman and Jay Jaffe all pay tribute to the late Doug Pappas, the terrific baseball mind who passed away last week. Sheehan observes:

It wasn't just the caliber of his work, which of course was high. It was that he had the courage to stand up and say, "They're lying. This is the truth," and back it up with so much evidence that he could not be ignored. Doug had a permanent effect on the way baseball's off-field issues are covered. He made it right--no, he made it mandatory--to question the claims of baseball's authorities, and he did it in the face of opposition from some powerful people. When called on the carpet by Bud Selig, Doug calmly presented the facts and refused to be intimidated.

Marchman adds:

Pappas provided a moral context for journalists to follow, and was not shy about holding them to it. What he understood was that if baseball is really the American game, the way in which it is run and the way in which it is covered tell us a great deal about our national character.
Baseball deserves not to be treated as a mere diversion or pastime, but to be run in an honest and untainted fashion. When it is not, those of us in a position to explain how this is so have an obligation and responsibility to do so. Reminding us -- writers and readers alike -- of this was Doug Pappas's legacy to the game, and it is as fine as any writer has left.


Pitching In
2004-05-25 08:45
by Alex Belth

Who has been the Yankees' best starting pitcher so far? Head on over to "The Midnight Hour," where Steve Bonner examines the evidence. Great job, Steve. Thanks.

I Gotta Be Me
2004-05-25 08:29
by Alex Belth

While I was doing research on Curt Flood up at the Hall of Fame library last week, I took the opportunity to look up some of my favorite baseball writers. Pat Jordan, Lee Allen and Ed Linn were just a couple I had time to get to. In Roger Angell's file, I found a lengthy interview that appeared in a literary publication called "Writing on the Edge." Conducted in July of 1993 by Jared Haynes, Angell talked about writing and baseball of course. Here are some words of wisdom then from one of the true masters of baseball writing:

Good writing is based on clear thinking, which is the hardest thing we have to do. It’s as plain as that. It’s hard to start to write because what you have to do is start to think. And not just think with the easy, up front part of your brain but with the deeper, back parts of the unconscious. The unconscious comes into writing in a powerful way.

…I think I’m also hampered a little bit by the feeling that I’m probably competing with myself, although I try to combat this. I don’t feel a need to write a better piece each time I go out, but I know that I’ve got something of a reputation and I don’t want to write a bad piece, I really don’t. I don’t want to let down the side—by which I mean I don’t want to let myself down. I recognize this feeling among ballplayers because the great motivating factor for every major-league athlete, anybody who’s been an athlete for a long time, is that you don’t want to look bad out there. People say players today are out there thinking about money, but the truth is, they want to do well. That’s why they’re there. There’s another connection between sports and writing—all writers want to do well. It’s one of the reasons why it’s so damned hard.

…When you’re writing, you have to think about the person who’s going to be reading this, every moment. This is what I say to young writers I deal with. What will the reader think? What will the reader think? We are doing this very complicated thing in concert with the person who is going to read this. You have signed an invisible compact that promises that you are not going to let this guy down. You’re not going to play tricks on him, you are not going to lead him up this way and then turn on him and do something else.

…A great model for me was Red Smith, who was a model for almost every sportswriter. The great thing about Red Smith was that he sounded like himself. His attitude about sports was always clear. He felt enormously lucky to be there in the pressbox. He was not in favor of glorifying the players too much—Godding up the players, in Stanley Woodward’s phrase. But he was Red Smith in every line. You knew what he had read and what his influences were.

I don’t try to be a literate sportswriter; I try to be myself. It’s as simple as that. Everybody’s got to find what their voice is. You’ve got to end up sounding like yourself if you’re going to write in a way that’s going to reward you when you’re done. If you end up sounding like somebody else, you’re not going to be any good. You won’t get anywhere. Readers are smart. They will pick up whether the tone is genuine or not. Tone is the ultimate thing writers have to think about. You could write on a given subject—a ball game or a national crisis or a family crisis—in twenty or thirty different ways. You only have to pick what you want people to make of this.

'Nuff said, right? Further, Angell discussed the importance of writers taking their subjects seriously:

You have to respect your subject. If you’re writing about professional athletes, respect is a crucial ingredient. You can’t patronize these guys. There are many ballplayers who are less educated than the people writing about them. Many of them find it difficult to talk and it’s a big problem. If you put down exactly what they say—particularly Hispanic ballplayers—it sounds as if you’re patronizing. If their English isn’t good, you have to be very selective and suggest in a minimal sort of way that some of this is being delivered in an accent. But underneath this, you can’t laugh at these guys. You know that sometimes ballplayers can be laughable when they are talking about what they’ve done, or maybe just pretentious, too full of themselves. If you want to say they are too full of themselves, you have to say it, you can’t suggest it. I remember a couple of times I had what I thought was first-class stuff about a player, or a lively anecdote, but I didn’t use it because I couldn’t get it right. I couldn’t write about it without sounding as if I were inviting the audience to feel superior.

Finally, I like this story about how ballplayers feel about us fans:

Very few players think about the fans. They glance up there, and once in a while you will hear them say that the fans have been great, “the tenth player,” but that’s all by rote. The only player who surprised me about this was Willie McCovey, in San Francisco in the early seventies, when the Giants in mid-September were suddenly in first place or close to it. They had just lost a couple in a row and eventually ethey dropped back to third place, but ten days before the end of the season, they had a real shot. I was talking with McCovey and he understood how rare this chance was because he’d played in the World Series, in ’62 but not since then. He knew how rare it was for a player. I said, “Willie, the fans here are dying. Do you ever think about this? They’re really suffering.” And he looked up in the stands and said, “Yes, I know. When you step up to bat, you’re all they’ve got. If you fail, they fail.” Of all the players I’ve talked to, he’s the only person who saw that connection.

Yankees 8, Rangers 3
2004-05-24 08:53
by Alex Belth

Javier Vasquez pitched a good game and got some much needed run support to boot. Enrique Wilson was the offensive hero of the afternoon for New York, as the Yankees avoided being swept by the Rangers. Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams both collected singles, but still look far from right at the plate. Gary Sheffield hit the ball hard several times, but went 0-4. However, Hideki Matsui collected three hits; Alex Rodriguez and Kenny Lofton each had two (Lofton left the game early due to a tight hamstring). The Rangers drew a record crowd for a three-game series over the weekend. Where have we heard that before? The Bombers are now 3-3 on their longest road trip of the season. After a day off today, next stop: Baltimore.

The Yanks remain a game-and-a-half behind the Red Sox, who swept the Blue Jays at Fenway Park over the weekend.

Thin Crop

Tyler Kepner profiles the Yankee farm system in the Times today. It's nothing much we don't already know. Witness:

"We're not as strong as we've been in the past," General Manager Brian Cashman said. "But that's because we've utilized the farm system to our advantage. Many of the big deals we've had the ability to do in my six years as general manager are because of the farm system."

Oh, Yes

Nobody has ever pitched a no-hitter for the Mets. Tom Glavine came close yesterday, going 7 2/3 innings before allowing a hit. Still, it was a masterful performance. In all, a memorable day for Met fans.

Rangers 4, Yankees 3
2004-05-22 19:15
by Alex Belth

Flushed Gordon

The Yankees pissed away a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning this afternoon--a missed call by the first base umpire Tony Randazzo and then some awful fielding by Tom Gordon was enough to do the trick--and the Rangers won the game on a walk-off homer in the ninth. In all, it was a painful loss for New York and a joyous one for the young Rangers. I'm too red-faced to write about it objectively right now, however the game did see some good starting pitching from both sides. Jose Contreras went six innings, allowed three hits, two walks, and struck out seven. The only run he allowed was a solo homer by Alfonso Soriano. (Bernie Williams and Tony Clark went deep for the Yanks.) One thing is for sure: it's going to be a long night for Mr. Gordon.

The one silver lining for the Yankees is that almost all of the games they have lost over the past two or three weeks are games they have had a good chance of winning. They've been right there in all of 'em. Unfortunately, this makes the losing sting just a bit more. Aww man, but they should have won. (Whatsa matter? Y'all ain't got no sympathy for us Yankee fans?) Hopefully Javey Vasquez can help the Yanks salvage the last game of the series tomorrow afternoon before the Yanks return to the east coast.

Prince Pedro is on the mound for the Bostons tonight. Nertz.

Rangers 9, Yanks 6
2004-05-22 09:40
by Alex Belth

Bomb Squad

It was a frustrating night in Arlington for the Bombers, as Kevin Brown couldn't hold a 4-1 lead, and the Rangers stomped their way to a 9-6 win. Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano both had two hits but were overshadowed by David Dellucci, who had four hits, including a home run. The square-jawed Laynce Nix--hey Alex Ciepley, is that a name right out of gay porn or what?--hit two bombs. Actually, many of the Rangers are square-jawed young sluggers.

The Yanks made a frantic comeback in the ninth inning, but came up short with the tying runs on base. During the rally, Jason Giambi sprained his ankle running around first base. The x-rays were negative but it appears as if Giambi is headed for the DL for the first time in his career.

The Texas crowd booed Alex Rodriguez in his first at-bat, but they weren't vicious. In fact, from what the YES cameras showed, many people were laughing as they were booing. For his part, Rodriguez shut them up with the quickness as he roped a 2-1 offering into the left field stands for a two-run homer. As he rounded the bases, many of the boos turned into cheers. Rodriguez was half-heartedly booed for the rest of the game, but it was nothing like he experienced when he first returned to Seattle in 2001.

The Yankees collected plenty of hits--Gary Sheffield and Jorge Posada each had three--but were unable to string together a rally until it was too late. Kevin Brown was lit up, and the newest Yankee Tanyon Sturtze was torched as well. It was Brown's first defeat of the season.

So what happens when the Yanks lose? That's right, the Sox win. Boston pounded the Jays last night in Boston and leap-frogged back into first by a half-a-game.

There wasn't much pitching in Arlington last night and with Jose Contreras throwing for New York later today, the Yankees better hope they can score some runs. As hot as Texas is, this could get ugly.

Cooperstown Confidential
2004-05-21 14:42
by Alex Belth

By Bruce Markusen

Regular Season Edition

May 20, 2004

Card Corner

Tommy Davis has always been one of my favorite players. In some ways, it’s a strange association for me; I never saw him play during the prime years of his career, and for good reason—I had not yet been born. By the time I was old enough to start following Davis’ career, his playing ability had been reduced to a splintered shell of its former self.

In truth, we had very little in common. He’s from the West Coast; I was born in downstate New York. He’s black; I’m white. He’s old; I’m, well, not quite so old. So why have I followed and researched his career so closely? In part, it’s because he played just about everywhere, giving him the opportunity to experience a long list of teams, teammates, and managers not approached by most other players. More importantly, I think it’s because Tommy Davis struggled for much of his career. I like guys who have to struggle—and then persevere. They work so hard, and when they reach one of their goals, they appreciate what they’ve accomplished all the more.

At one time destined for a place in the Hall of Fame, Davis eventually settled for a solid career as a longtime, well-traveled veteran. In the early 1960s, Davis had been arguably the National League’s best all-around hitter. In 1962, he led the league with a .346 batting average and 153 RBIs. In 1963, Davis’ numbers fell, but he still led the league in hitting with a .326 mark. Two years later, Davis caught his spike on the second-base bag while executing a take-out slide, shattering his right ankle. The fracture, a frightening injury to a professional athlete, robbed Davis of much of his speed and power-hitting capability.

Instead of giving up, Davis adjusted. He learned to hit off his front foot, making him more of a contact hitter and far less of a power threat. The injury rendered him a journeyman player, as he floated from Los Angeles to New York (Mets) to Chicago (White Sox) to Seattle (Pilots) to Oakland to Chicago (Cubs). Given the frequent movement and the constant rejection, it’s hard to understand why Davis could have smiled so sincerely for his 1969 Topps baseball card (No. 135 in the set and his only card as a Pilot). By the following year, Davis had been traded three times, sold twice, made available in the expansion draft, and even released—on Christmas Eve, no less.

In 1971, Davis found a home in the Bay Area, at least temporarily. Playing a game in early April, Davis and the A’s trailed the Royals, 4-3, heading to the bottom of the ninth inning. With one out, Dick Green singled and moved up to second on a walk to backup outfielder Steve Hovley (a onetime teammate of Davis in Seattle). Royals reliever Jim York then retired leadoff man Campy Campaneris for the inning’s second out. Since Oakland manager Dick Williams had pulled a double-switch earlier in the game, the pitcher’s spot, featuring relief pitcher Bob Locker, was now scheduled to bat. In Locker’s place, Williams called upon his most experienced pinch-hitter, which happened to be Davis. With two on and two outs, and the A’s facing their third loss in four games to start the season, Davis belted a hard-hit ball into the left-center field gap. Green scored easily from second to tie the game, and Hovley raced all the way home from first base to give the A’s a dramatic come-from-behind victory. Tommy Davis, who had been acquired from the baseball scrap heap known as the waiver wire, had paid his first major dividend as the leader of Oakland’s bench brigade.

Davis’ clutch hit marked the beginning of a summer filled with late-inning heroics. By mid-season, Davis had become the best backup player on the Oakland roster, forcing his way into a platoon that saw him play first base against left-handed pitching. Batting a team-high .324 with 42 RBIs in only 219 at-bats, Davis played a key role as a supporting cast member to a lineup that featured stars like Sal Bando and Reggie Jackson. No American Leaguer played better off the bench than Davis, who batted a league-leading .464 as a pinch-hitter while driving in 13 runs with 12 pinch-hits. As Dick Williams would later tell sportswriter Phil Pepe of his skilled batsman, “Tommy Davis can hit at midnight with the lights out.”

So how did the A’s reward Davis? In the spring of 1972, the A’s waived the veteran first baseman-outfielder. “I knew I was in trouble when I got my contract,” Davis said of the written agreement that Charlie Finley had mailed him during the winter. “I hit .324 for him and he offered me [only] a $3,000 raise,” Davis told the New York Daily News. Davis had also continued to hit well in the spring exhibition games, assaulting pitchers at a .563 clip prior to his release. So why did Finley and the A’s essentially throw away such a valuable bench player while receiving nothing in return? The A’s claimed that the condition of Davis’ oft-injured legs prevented him from playing a position in the field.

In reality, Davis’ defensive limitations had little to do with his sudden unemployment, since the A’s planned to use him mostly as a pinch-hitter. The real reason could be found in the name of Davis’ agent—Bob Gerst—the same man representing celebrated holdout Vida Blue. Davis had first introduced Blue to Gerst, an act that Finley now considered unconscionable given Blue’s unwillingness to accept contract terms and report to spring training in Arizona. “If that’s the reason they cut me,” Davis told the New York Times, “there’s nothing I can do about it. If it is [the reason], it’s very childish.” Later on, Davis fully realized Finley’s intent. “He wanted a scapegoat,” Davis said. “He didn’t want to get rid of Blue, but he wanted to show how strong he could be.”

With teams looking to reduce their rosters to the 25-man limit late in spring training, the timing of the release did not help Davis. “I figure I had a job, hitting for Oakland and maybe playing sparingly… the next thing I’m out of baseball,” Davis told Black Sports Magazine. Davis would eventually find work with the Cubs and in later years would make Finley regret his foolish decision to release him. Davis would become one of the more productive designated hitters in the American League, at a time when Finley continued to search high and low for viable DH candidates. In baseball, that’s the best way to exact revenge, and Tommy Davis had succeeded in doing just that.

By the time he ended his 18-year major league career in 1976, this after having made even more journeys (including stops in Chicago, Baltimore, California, and Kansas City), Davis ranked first on the all-time pinch-hitting list with a batting average of .320. Among today’s pinch-hitters, there’s no one who’s even close. While that’s not enough to make the Hall of Fame, the ability to perform one of baseball’s toughest and least appreciated jobs gives me just one more reason to call Tommy Davis one of my favorite players.

Major League Morsels

Anyone familiar with this author knows that I rarely miss an opportunity to mix and match two of my favorite hobbies: baseball and horror. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, in an indirect way, have given me the opportunity to do just that. It seems that the old section of a hotel in St. Petersburg, where many of the Devil Rays’ opponents stay during road trips, has been the source of several ghostly episodes that might be best described as baseball “hauntings.” One seemingly supernatural episode involved Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, who spent a series in the hotel’s older section last year. One day Roberts asked to have some dry cleaning delivered to his room. When Roberts returned to the room, he didn’t find the dry cleaning wrapped in plastic and draped over hangers, as is usually the custom. Rather, he discovered the clothes laid out on the bed, as if someone else was preparing to wear the clothes instead of him… According to another account, Red Sox reliever Scott Williamson says he experienced a particularly gothic encounter last year while with the Reds, who were playing the Devil Rays in an interleague matchup. In the midst of a deep sleep, Williamson suddenly awoke in his hotel bed, unable to breathe. While lying on his stomach, Williamson felt an unusual force on top of his, pushing him into the mattress and making it difficult to take a breath. When he finally freed himself and turned his head to the side, he saw a man dressed in clothing of 1920s or thirties vintage. Though Williamson had never previously believed in ghosts, the encounter convinced him that he had experienced something paranormal. As a result, Williamson has vowed that he will not spend another night in the old section of the hotel, where the incident took place. He’ll take his chances in the newer section of the hotel, which is said to be ghost-free… These and other ghost stories prompted Red Sox manager Terry Francona to warn his players about this month’s trip to Tampa. “Watch for the haunted rooms,” Francona said cryptically and perhaps not completely tongue-in-cheek…

Is it just me or do the new uniforms of the Blue Jays look eerily similar to those of the Devil Rays, from both the uniform design to the logo? And if that’s truly the case, why would any team emulate the Rays given their continual futility on the field and seemingly complete absence of luck, which has reached exasperating proportions this spring? Perhaps the Jays should go back to their original look from their glorious days in 1977, when Roy Hartsfield was calling the shots from the dugout, Otto Velez was crushing home runs in right field, and Hector Torres was gobbling up grounders on the turf at Exhibition Stadium…

When the Mets decided to designate talented right-hander Grant Roberts for assignment, the move surprised many observers. Other than the pitching-rich Red Sox, Marlins, and Cubs, just about every major league team could use help in the starting rotation, making Roberts seem like an attractive commodity. So when Roberts cleared waivers, with none of the other 29 teams putting in a claim, the sentiments of surprise may have given way to feelings of shock. As it turns out, no one should have been shocked or surprised, since Roberts has been struggling with pain in his pitching shoulder and believes that he needs to undergo surgery. The Mets aren’t yet ready to make that decision, however, and are still hoping that Roberts will be able to resume pitching at Triple-A Norfolk without having to go “under the knife.” We may have to wait for Will Carroll to check in on this one.

The All-Name Team

While watching a recent game between the Mariners and Yankees, I was nearly blown away by the mention of one of Seattle’s rookie pitchers, a promising right-hander named J.J. Putz. The name struck a chord with me, prompting the following thought: there sure are a lot of players with unusual names nowadays. Some are laughable, some are lyrical, some are even nonsensical. So with both the comical and the mellifluent in mind, here is our All-Name team for 2004:

First Base: Lyle Overbay (a literary name, like something out of Hemingway)

Second Base: Gookie Dawkins (his name makes me think of a combination of Mookie Wilson and Darryl Dawkins)

Shortstop: Pokey Reese (a perfect double play partner for the Gookster)

Third Base: Shea Hillenbrand (you have to love a first name that jives with a ballpark and a last name that sounds like it came from Wuthering Heights)

Left Field: Wily Mo Pena (the first name is pronounced WIL-lee, not WI-ley, but the “Mo” makes it special)

Center Field: Coco Crisp (you just knew this one had to make the first team)

Right Field: Kit Pellow (sounds like a character in a Russ Meyer film)

Catcher: Geronimo Gil (the G’s are silent, almost like H’s, but it’s still an eye-catching name in print)

DH: Erubiel Durazo (a lyrical name that sounds better when said with its proper Spanish accent)

Starting Pitcher: C.C. Sabathia (a moniker that’s smooth and cool; it also makes me think of Shield actress CCH Pounder, formerly of ER)

Relief Pitcher: J.J. Putz (even pronounced correctly as POOTZ, it’s still funny)

The Nickname Game

The always affable Jim “Mudcat” Grant made another visit to the Hall of Fame this month (it’s getting so that we’ll have to change his permanent address from California to Cooperstown), so I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the origins of his colorful nickname. Back in 1954, Grant earned the “Mudcat” tag while playing his first season of minor league ball for Fargo of the Northern League. According to one story, a teammate named LeRoy Irbe mistakenly thought that the rookie right-hander hailed from Mississippi, known as the “Mudcat State,” and slapped him with the label. According to another story, a teammate regarded Grant as so homely that he described him as being “as ugly as a mudcat.” Grant, who is actually from Florida and not at all unsightly in appearance, opted not to correct his teammate or defend his looks, and accepted the name with his usual geniality. The nickname became so popular that it eventually replaced his first name in common, everyday usage. Nowadays, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who calls him Jim; it’s always Mudcat or “Cat,” for short.

Sonnets To Sierra

I love to admit making mistakes—when it involves one of my favorite players, that is. During the late eighties and early nineties, I found fewer players in the game more exciting than the young Ruben Sierra. He had all the earmarks of a future Hall of Famer, and a game remarkably similar to an established member of Cooperstown, the late Roberto Clemente. In fact, Sierra looked like he might emerge as an even better player than his fellow Puerto Rican, given his ability to switch-hit and his burgeoning power. Sierra played the game much the way that Clemente did, bypassing walks in favor of a determined aggression at the plate, pasting line drives into the gaps, displaying enough power to keep pitchers at least slightly intimidated, running the bases with a dogged kind of recklessness, and showing the kind of range and throwing arm that made him a right fielder only a few strokes below Roberto’s class.

And just when Sierra appeared on the verge of piercing his prime years as a full-fledged superstar, he inexplicably became consumed with weights and body building. Not satisfied with merely adding a few degrees of tone and a few pounds of muscle, Sierra seemed to become so obsessed with weightlifting that some might have confused him for a “Mr. Universe” contestant. Overly ripped with extra layers of muscle, Sierra lost the flexibility and agility that had made him such a versatile threat offensively, on the basepaths, and in the field. Burdened by a body that had become too heavy and rigid, and flaunting a personality that sometimes rubbed managers and teammates as arrogant and selfish, Sierra began a march toward mediocrity. Traded from the Rangers to the A’s in the Jose Canseco blockbuster, Sierra butted heads with Tony LaRussa, who soon demanded his banishment to New York for a washed-up Danny Tartabull. While with the Yankees, Sierra became one of the few players to foster a relationship of animosity with Joe Torre. From there, the journeys only continued with more frequency, from New York to Detroit to Cincinnati to Toronto to Chicago (White Sox). By the late 1990s, Sierra had been given up for baseball dead, with a body made for bench pressing but now ill-suited for the flexible rigors of swinging and throwing.

Yet, a comeback was still in the offing. After not playing a single major league game in 1999, Sierra resurfaced with his original Rangers, where he put in a revived season as a DH and part-time outfielder. He then moved on to the Mariners, where he once again played credibly if not spectacularly. And then when he became reduced to reserve duty, he found himself coming full circle again, this time back in New York, with a manager that he had once considered unapproachable and a manager who had considered him uncoachable and incorrigible. Now aging and no longer capable of playing the field or running the bases with any level of skill, a more mature Sierra grasped the value and importance of becoming a part-time player for a team that had visions of playing in a World Series. Realizing that he could not crack the Yankee lineup on an everyday basis, he became an integral bench cog and Joe Torre’s No. 1 choice for pinch-hitting calls in the postseason. (Does this sound like Tommy Davis all over again?)

Earlier this year, Sierra began the season slowly, hitting little during the first few weeks of the season. His bat seemed slower, making his lack of fielding versatility more pronounced and his presence on the roster more problematic, so much so that I called for his trade or release, in order to free space for the younger and more athletic Bubba Crosby. Well, I’d still like to see Crosby on the 25-man roster as a spare part, but not at the expense of Sierra. At a time when a number of Yankee bats have failed to hit to their established levels, Sierra remains one of the few Bombers playing above and beyond the expected call of duty. He also looks like one of the few Yankees who wants to have a bat in his hand with runners on base (through games of Monday, May 17, he’s batting .342 with runners on) and one of the few who understands what comprises a two-strike swing.

Does any of this mean that Sierra should play an everyday role on a team that hopes to call itself a champion? No, not at all. The DH role is meant for a veteran who is a better and stronger hitter, like an Edgar Martinez or a Rafael Palmeiro or a Frank Thomas. The aging Sierra is bound to tail off at some point, and will inevitably give up at-bats to a rejuvenated Bernie Williams or perhaps Tony Clark or maybe even untested career minor leaguer and Sabermetric favorite Brian Myrow. Yet, when that time comes, Sierra should still be allowed to wear Yankee pinstripes, even if only in a supporting role as a part-time DH/late-inning bench threat. Through games of May 17, he had accumulated an OPS of 1.013 as a left-handed hitter, making him a formidable option as a DH against right-handed pitching. He remains the Yankees’ best alternative as a pinch-hitter who brings a sense of danger to the plate, the kind of hitter who is as likely to drive a double down the line as he is to poke a single through the middle infield. Yes, Ruben Sierra can still contribute after all, even after all those calls (and yes, my call) for expulsion from the Bronx.

Pastime Passings (compiled with help from

Warren Abramson (Died on May 13 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; age 78; complications from a heart attack): A longtime front office official with the Milwaukee Brewers, Abramson was the first man that Bud Selig hired in his effort to help bring major league baseball back to Milwaukee. Hired in April of 1966, Abramson was entrusted with providing hospitality during Chicago White Sox games at Milwaukee’s County Stadium. Those games helped launch Selig’s efforts to return major league ball to Milwaukee, which had just lost the Braves to Atlanta. When the Seattle Pilots relocated to Milwaukee and became the Brewers just prior to the start of the 1970 season, Selig hired Abramson as his Director of Hospitality. Often serving as a host in the team’s executive dining room, Abramson was still working for the Brewers at the time of his death.

Wayne McLeland (Died on May 8 in Friendswood, Texas; age 79; cancer): McLeland pitched in 10 games for the Detroit Tigers during the 1951 and ’52 seasons. In 13 and two-thirds innings, he posted a won-loss record of 0-1 and an ERA of 8.57. After his retirement from baseball, he worked for the Goodyear Tire company for 35 years.

Sam Nahem (Died on April 19, 2004 in Berkeley, California; age 88): A pitcher who toiled for the Brooklyn Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, and Philadelphia Phillies over a four-year major league career, Nahem enjoyed his best season in 1941, when he posted a 2.98 ERA in 81 and two-thirds innings for the Cardinals. The following season, he saw his career interrupted as he joined the Army for service in World War II. After the war, Nahem returned to pitch for the Phillies, but was ineffective, allowing over seven earned runs per nine innings in 1948.

In addition, here are two deaths that have been reported from the previous year.

Ray Medeiros (Died on June 6, 2003 in San Mateo, California; age 77): Medeiros appeared in one major league game, serving as a pinch-runner for the Cincinnati Reds on April 25, 1945. Nicknamed “Pep,” Medeiros did not come to bat or play a position in the field in his lone appearance.

Danny Napoleon (Died on April 26, 2003 in Trenton, New Jersey; age 61): A veteran of two major league seasons, Napoleon played in 80 games for the New York Mets in 1965 and ’66. Although he batted only .162 in 130 at-bats, he did contribute to Casey Stengel’s 3,000th managerial win. Serving as a pinch-hitter, Napoleon delivered a three-run triple in a 7-6 win over the San Francisco Giants on April 14, 1965.

And Another Thing

On the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend (May 29), the Hall of Fame will kick off a special weekend of activities by presenting a Legends Series event with former major leaguer Frank Tepedino, who played for the Yankees, Brewers, and Braves over an eight-year career and was part of Atlanta’s famed “F-Troop” bench squad in 1973, when he hit .304 with 29 RBIs in 148 at-bats as a backup first baseman and pinch-hitter. More importantly, Tepedino served as a firefighter with the New York Fire Patrol, contributing to rescue efforts at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Tepedino will discuss his memories of that fateful day and also recall his big league career as a teammate of Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron. The program will take place at 1:30 p.m. in the Hall of Fame Library’s Bullpen Theater. Admission to the Tepedino event is free for all Museum visitors and tickets are not required, but seating is limited and will be accommodated on a first-come, first-serve basis… The special Memorial Day Weekend will continue on Sunday, May 30, when the Hall hosts four veteran players from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in another afternoon event. And then the weekend will wrap up on Monday, May 31, when former major league relief ace and Vietnam veteran Bill Campbell discusses his military duty during one of the country’s most controversial eras. As with the Tepedino and the AAGPBL events, admission to the Legends Series with Campbell is free of charge, but seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-serve basis. For more information on any of the Memorial Day Weekend programs at the Hall of Fame, call 607-547-0261.

Cooperstown Confidential author Bruce Markusen is host of the Hall of Fame Hour, which airs each Thursday at 12 noon Eastern time on Radio. He is also the author of three books on baseball, including A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, Roberto Clemente: The Great One, and The Orlando Cepeda Story. A fourth book, Ted Williams: A Biography (Greenwood Press), is scheduled for release in the fall of 2004. Markusen has also written a young adult horror novel, Haunted House of the Vampire, which is scheduled for release this fall.

Yanks 6, Angels 2
2004-05-21 08:29
by Alex Belth

Awww, Bacon

Derek Jeter lead off the game last night and blooped a single to center off of big Bartolo Colon. On television, you could see the Yankee dugout in the background when Jeter reached first. Though he was not in focus, Joe Torre was smiling. (A bloop, a bloop, my kingdom for a bloop.) Bernie Williams followed with a sharp single up the middle; Jeter moved to third and scored on Alex Rodriguez's sacrifice fly.

Two innings later, Jeter smashed a solo homer off Colon. Later, Hideki Matsui added a two run homer, and Jorge Posada contributed a two-run double, which proved to be more than enough for Mike Mussina, who is regaining his form. (This was his fourth consecutive win.) The Yankees won another series, taking two of three from an injury-depleted Anahiem team. Next stop: Texas, where the boo-boids eagerly await the return of Alex Rodriguez. Jack Curry and John Harper anticipate Rodriguez's arrival.

The Yanks budged back into first by a half-a-game as Derek Lowe and the Sox were pounded in Tampa by the Rays, 9-6.

Finally, as Mariano Rivera approaches his 300th career save, the Times, Post and Newsday offer puff pieces the Yankees' great closer.

Yanks 4, Angels 2
2004-05-20 08:39
by Alex Belth

I'm back at work today so I didn't stay up and watch the game last night. Truth be told, I had a bad feeling on my way to the newsstand this morning, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Yanks defeated the Angels in another close game. Jon Lieber was economical again against an aggresive Anahiem team, and the Yankee offense was patient, drawing eleven walks. (Derek Jeter didn't collect a hit but he did draw a bases-loaded walk which brought home the winning run) However, they didn't capitalize on the free passes, scoring only four runs. It was enough though. Jason Giambi was back in the line up and he hit a two-run homer. Alex Rodriguez had a double and a triple, and Joe Torre was tossed for the first time this season, arguing balls and strikes in the sixth inning.

The Yanks remain a half-a-game behind the Red Sox who beat the Devil Rays, 4-1. Tampa Bay is the worst team in the league. According to the Boston Globe Sweet Lou isn't thrilled and delighted at the state of affairs:

"I don't read newspapers," [Piniella] said. "There's nothing for me to read newspapers about. I don't know what was written, I don't know what was said, I don't have to address anything. All I know is I'm tired of losing. That I am tired of. Nothing more, nothing less. Just tired of the losing."

It's going to be an exhausting season down in Tampa.

Angels 1, Yanks Zilch
2004-05-19 13:41
by Alex Belth

What a rude welcome home. 1-0. I sailed up to Cooperstown on Sunday afternoon and took in the Yankee game on the radio until I lost reception somewhere around Albany. It was a crisp game on a beautiful day, and the Yanks pulled it out, 2-1. About 20 miles outside of Coopertown, I passed a used bookstore on the side of the road. I couldn't resist. A sign on the screen door said to be mindful of the cat. There were four older ladies in the store, kneeling on the floor, sifting through piles of murder-mystery paperbacks, yacking it up. They had a small selection of baseball books and dig this, I come away with a good paperback copy of "Joe, You Coulda Made Us Proud," Joe Pepitone's goombah tell-all; an excellent paperback copy of Roger Angell's "Five Seaons," and a good paperback edition of Craigh Wright and Tom House's book, "The Diamond Appraised," for $2.15. Good bless the sticks.

I had a productive time in Cooperstown; it was nice to be out of the city for a minute, and it sure is beautiful upstate New York. A tough return home though as the Yankees lost a close one last night in Anahiem. I knew that Javier Vasquez wasn't going to get out-pitched by Aaron Sele again, and he wasn't. But Sele was good enough and the Angels bullpen was terrific.

The Yanks had a chance to win the game in the ninth. Troy Percival hit Jorge Posada with a pitch that skipped inside. But did it really hit him? It was a close call and Scioscia came out to argue. Next Hideki Matsui hit a ball on the screws that smacked off Percival. Posada moved to second and Godzilla was thrown out at first. Two out and Bernie Williams smacked the first pitch he saw into right for a single. Posada is hauling ass around third, and he's got some load to haul. Vlad Guerrero is like Clint Eastwood in right: doom. The throw is on-line but comes in on a few hops. Jose Molina blocks the plate nicely, Posada slides in ahead of the tag, but is called out.

The ump was behind Molina and didn't have a good view of the plate. Anyhow, the Yanks didn't get the call, and nobody on their bench put up any fuss. But after watching the replays there were a lot of unhappy campers up late in New York no matter if Posada was really hit with Percival's pitch or not. The Bombers wasted a solid outing from Vasquez.

The offense couldn't get going all night. (Kenny Lofton was inexplicably thrown out trying to steal third with Rodriguez up and one out in the eighth). The Angels pitched well, and eventually their offense caught up with Paul Quantrill. But Aaron Sele again? Okay, fine. He won't get them a third time in a row, believe that. The Red Sox won and are back in first place by a half a game. (Boston doesn't know when Nomar and Nixon will return. The Sox are still getting better production out of short than the Yankees are.)

Of course, it is easier to get over the loss simply because Randy Johnson's perfect game was so winning. The smile on his face when he saw how his young catcher was freakin out, going nuts, after recording the final out, was priceless.

Oh and not for nothing, I sure do miss Soriano. Which is not to say that I wish the Yankees had him and not Alex Rodriguez. I'm happy with the trade and I love watching Rodriguez play. But I still miss Lil Sori. Jack Curry has a good piece on Soriano, who is doing just fine with Texas, in the Times today. I like the closing line: "The only bad moment I had," Soriano said, "was when I heard the trade."

Mariners 13, Yanks 7
2004-05-16 10:02
by Alex Belth

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

On an uncomfortably warm Saturday afternoon in the Bronx, the Yanks lost a game that they should have won. It was another long, sometimes tedious affair, but there was plenty of entertainment to be had. After coming back to tie the game, the Yankees had the bases loaded with one in the bottom of the ninth with Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi due up, but they did not score. In the bottom of the 12th, Rodriguez slid home with what would have been in the winning run, but he not been called out. It was a close play, and it appeared that Rodriguez got his foot in there before he was tagged.

But he didn't get the call, and in the next inning, the Mariners roughed up Gabe White for six runs, and that was that

"We're not going to go home with the ice cream cone all the time," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. (NY Times)

Seattle put an end to their six-game losing streak. It was disapointing that the Yankees lost, especially since they had a chance to win on a day that Donovan Osborne pitched. Still, even when they were trailing, it felt like they were ahead. The Yankees have some of their old swagger back. No matter how far they are down, you get the feeling that they think they'll come back.

Donovan Osborne got into trouble in the second inning again. But instead of six runs, he just allowed four this time, only two earned. The second two runs came how when Alex Rodriguez booted a grounder. But he would make up for it with a two-run bomb to straight-away center in the third, and a solo homer (that barely made it over the wall) in the fifth. His second homer tied the game.

It was a tough day for Jamie Moyer who was getting killed by home plate ump Chris Guccione. Squeezed is an understatment, he was getting robbed. The ump was taking away all of Moyer's weapons. It got so bad that Bob Melvin had to get himself kicked out of the game over it.

Seattle went up by three on a bases clearing double by Dan Wilson, but Hideki hit one off the facade of the Upper Deckie, then Bernie hit a solo shot to tie the game once again.

For sure I thought Rodriguez would come through in the ninth with the bases juiced and just one out. Here was his "defining" game as a Yankee, right? Made the error, made up for it with the two homers. Did I think he was going to hit a third? You betcha. But hey, even a sac fly would have done the trick. But reliever J.J. Putz--pronounced "puts"--got him to break his bat and pop up in the infield. To be fair to Rodriguez, Putz made a heck of a pitch, up and in. Giambi, who was 0-6, grounded out sharply to first to end the inning. Giambi didn't look comfortable; his hip is bothering him. According to the Daily News:

Joe Torre described Giambi as doubtful for today's game against the Mariners. Giambi, who was in obvious pain after the game, said he'd feel better with a day off, especially with an off-day coming up tomorrow. Giambi chastised himself for staying in the game after the initial spasms, saying, "I should've been smarter and come out. It was stupid. It kept getting worse. ... It was hard to bend over and swinging didn't help it. That wasn't the smartest thing, either. Now I've got to get it to stop constricting. It's not structural."

Good job of pitching by Putz, but can we talk? Anyone who spells their name "Putz" but pronounces it "Puts" is a putz where I'm from.

My favorite moment of the game was when Gary Sheffield tatooied a home run to left field off of Jamie Moyer in the second. Sheff has been stinging the ball for weeks. Only trouble is, the majority of his hard-hit balls have been foul. But yesterday, he hit Moyer's second-inning offering so hard the ball didn't have time to go foul. I think it was ascared to go foul. It was a "We-Make-Holes-in-Teeth", Cavity Creeps, "Hasan-Chop" blast, and it was worth yelling about. (I got up off the couch and stomped around the living room.) Evil Empire is right. When the Yankees are down, you can hear the Empirial March theme in your head as they send bruiser after bruiser to the plate. If nothing else, there is a lot of beef on the Yankees this year.

The Sox won and are back in first place. Kevin Brown pitches Sunday before the Yankees go on a four-town road trip starting Monday (Anahiem, Texas, Baltimore, Tampa Bay). I'm headed up to Cooperstown New York this afternoon to spend a couple of days in the research library for the Flood book I've been working on. I haven't been to the Hall in over twenty years, so it should be a fine time. Anyhow, it'll be good to just get in the car and get out of the city for a minute. I've got a stack of cds that I just burned, so I'm good to go.

I doubt that I'll have access to the Internet--unless Bruce Markusen lends me his machine for 15 minutes tomorrow morning--but I'll be back on Wednesday. In the meantime, check out all of the Yankee-related links listed to the right, and feel free to leave any comments or observations you might have while I'm gone in the "comments" section below.

Yanks 9, M's 5
2004-05-15 11:33
by Alex Belth

Walk on By

On the night that I became an uncle for the very first time--congrats to my bro and his wife and the newest Yankee fan in New York, Lucas William Belth--the Yanks beat the Mariners 9-5, in a long, sometimes painful affair at the Stadium. It remains humid in New York, and last night's game was a deliberate and slow as the previous two games against the Angels were brisk, and quick. Though Mike Mussina was far from sharp, he hung around to earn the victory. Everything equals out in the end, right? For all those 2-1 gems that Mussina has lost, he's entitled to win a stinker every once in a blue moon.

The Yankees offense wasn't explosive, but they were patient, and the Mariner's simply could not throw strikes, walking ten in all. (My man Bernie had two solid hits and a couple of RBI.) This was a brutal game to watch if you are a Seattle fan. I'm sure the Mariners can't wait to get back to the ballpark this afternoon for some more of that cherce bp that Donovan Osborne served up last weekend.

Old man Moyer goes for Seattle. Anyhow, I'm giddy about being an uncle, and still reeling a bit from the Nets' exciting triple overtime win against the Pistons. Veal Scalabrine—winner of the Michael Rapaport look-alike contest—This is your life!

Yankees 7, Angels 4
2004-05-14 08:17
by Alex Belth

"Bernie always starts off slow," Jeter said. "I don't really think it's anything new. But he's the type of hitter where if he gets hot, he can hit .450 for a month and people forget about what he did." (New York Times)

Jon Lieber retired the first eleven Angels he faced yesterday before Jeff Devanon singled to right. (The Yanks already had a 3-0 lead, thanks in part to two RBI singles to left field by Jason Giambi.) Lieber's next pitch was smacked to center by Vlad Guerrero and then Jose Guillen tagged an off-speed pitch that was high and over the plate over the right field fence to tie the game. (Jeez, when you are hot, you're hot.) The rookie Casey Kotchman followed and nearly came out of his spikes he swung so hard at one offering. I thought Lieber might put one in his ear; instead, the threw a strike and Kotchman ripped a single passed Miguel Cairo into center field.

Then Lieber retired the next eleven batters before allowing a one-out double to Adam Kennedy in the eighth. Lieber finished the frame and left with a 6-3 lead. (The Yanks added a run in the bottom of the inning.) In the ninth, Tom Gordon walked the lead off hitter, recorded an out (Vladi), then allowed a single--to Guillen--who else?--before he was replaced by Mariano Rivera. Casey Kotchman singled in a run, then Jose Molina whiffed. Molina's brother, Benji, walked to load the bases, but Rivera came back to K Shane Halter to give the Yanks the win.

Lieber was the story of the day, and so was Bernie Williams who had three hits, including a double and a home run. Funny what happens when your manager scolds you, especially in public. Torre and hitting coach, Don Mattingly, still have faith in Williams. Joel Sherman reports:

Torre is asked about the conventional wisdom, that there is nothing more difficult than to coach a star player beyond his prime.

"Except what makes that tough is that normally the player thinks he's better than the manager thinks," Torre said, delving into the fuzziness of Bernie World. "This is the other way around. This is unique in that regard."

...Sentimentality is not permitted, and Mattingly and Torre claim they are seeing Williams with objective eyes.

"I like Bernie, period. Still, you have to separate that," Mattingly said. "I know hitting. Joe knows hitting. You can see it [that Williams can still hit]. It's there. We've told him, 'You can still play, and we're not lying.' "

Mike Lupica adds:

Mattingly talked then about watching Williams grow up in baseball, the way Yankee fans have, talked about how Yankee fans who have been around - not the ones who decided they were madly in love with the Yankees in October of 1996 - root as hard for Bernie Williams as they do for anybody in the place.

"Bernie is theirs," Mattingly said. "He did grow up in front of these people, from the bad time into the great times. You can hear it when he does something. They want him to keep going."

It was a good win for the Yankees, particularly after they were embarrassed on Wednesday night. Jorge Posada appears to be fine--he'll miss another couple of games--and harbors no ill-will toward Alfredo Amezaga or the Angels. The same cannot be said for the thin-skinned Jose Guillen, who had some cherce words for Paul Quantrill:

"Trust me, I'm not afraid of anyone," said Guillen, who hit a three-run homer off Jon Lieber in the fourth yesterday. "You tell him that.

"I don't give a [bleep] if he has 20 years in the [bleeping] big leagues. He can shove it up his [bleep]."

Quantrill dismissively said, "I don't need a war of words with this guy. What's his first name?

"The fact is, if he wants to stare and rant because someone pitches him in, he needs to grow up and learn the game . . . I guess I didn't get the memo that you are not allowed to pitch Guillen in."

Jack Curry correctly notes that a good little rivalry is brewing between the Angels and Yanks:

The Angels do not fear the Yankees and privately relished the idea that they helped create a tenser atmosphere at Yankee Stadium with their bruising victory Wednesday. The intensity is not within light-years of the intensity surrounding Yankees-Red Sox, but it is intensifying.

...What should concern the Yankees about this series is how comfortable the Angels were against Rivera. The Angels had four hits, including Bengie Molina's two-run homer, and a walk in nine plate appearances. Rivera struck out three, but he looked mortal against a patient lineup, blowing one save and struggling to earn another.

Not to mention the fact that the Angels were playing without G. Anderson and Tim Salmon (Troy Glaus sat out yesterday too). The Angels, like the Red Sox, are a worthy rival; a well-rounded team with plenty of appealing personalities, as well as some guys who are oh so easy to root against. Oh yeah, they are good too. It should be interesting to see how things pan out next week in California.

Ruben Sierra had two hits, including a solo dinger, and Derek Jeter continues to look like his old self. He doubled down the third base line to lead off the game, and was robbed of another double by a Amezaga in his next at bat. Hideki Matsui homered and doubled halting a mini-slump, which made two of his biggest fans happy. The YES cameras were in love with an amusing Japanese couple that has been at each of the Angel games. The man, who looked to be in his 30s, wore glasses and a Godzilla hood over his head, as well as a pinstriped Matsui jersey. Dude had a Godzilla hand-puppet on his left hand and a held a Godzilla doll in his right hand. (His girl had wore a Matsui jersey too, and also rocked the hood and hand puppet as well.) Before each pitch he tapped the two dolls together, and for two games, he had nothing to show for it. But yesterday, he was as happy as you can imagine.

Alex Rodriguez continues to look impressive in the field, making a nice charging play on a bunt by Amezega in the third. The funniest moment in the game came in the eighth when Tony Clark scored from first on Matsui's double to left. Clark started his head-first slide about half way between third and home. It was a ridiculously long slide and when Clark picked himself up, he raised his eyebrow---looking a lot like a young John Cryer--and offered a goofy smile to his teammates, who were already having a good laugh.

The Yanks moved into first by a half-game as the surging Blue Jays pounded Curt Schilling and the Red Sox in Toronto last night.

Why is it so hot?
2004-05-13 13:08
by Alex Belth

I can't watch the game this afternoon, but I sure hope the Yanks can rebound from last night's loss. John Lackey goes against Jon Lieber uptown in the Bronx, where it is hot and sticky. Anyone watching who wants to leave their impressions or who have some cherce comments, feel free to chime in. Thanks.

Angels 11, Yanks 2
2004-05-13 08:43
by Alex Belth

This will not stand. This aggression will not stand.

The Temperature is Rising

Remember at the start of the season how I wondered if and when the Yankees would get into a brawl this year? Well, I thought it might go down last night. It didn't, but the Angels are a team that would have made Leo Durocher proud. They are aggresive and fiesty and they certainly aren't intimidated by the Big Bad Yankees. Anahiem blew the doors off of a close, quickly played game in the eighth inning last night, and when it was all over there was plenty of hard feelings for the New Yorkers. I know I was simmering, and I'm not too much happier the morning after. (Aaron Sele. I hope you are happy Alex Ciepley.)

In the second inning, Jorge Posada was hit in the face by a side-armed throw from rookie shortstop Alfredo Amezaga. Posada was trying to break up a double play, and slide toward Amezaga and not the bag. The ball actually hit his hand or chest first, but it was a violent play. While the Yankees didn't think it was dirty, they didn't feel it was necessary either. According to the Times:

"It was a simple double play, and I thought he could have just gone over the top and gotten the double play without doing that," Torre said of Amezaga's throwing style. "I'm not saying he wanted to hurt him, but I didn't think it was necessary to do that."

...Amezaga said he spoke with Yankees designated hitter Bernie Williams and third base coach Luis Sojo about Posada's condition. Told it was serious, Amezaga was distressed.

"Bernie said that he was going to be out for a while," Amezaga said. "After hearing that, it comes to your mind, 'What have I done?' It's part of baseball, I wasn't trying to hit him, and this was the first time it's happened to me. It would be good to call him, and I will see how he's doing."

Yankees reliever Paul Quantrill, who saw the play from the bullpen and later gave up three runs in the Angels' five-run eighth inning, did not understand why Amezaga threw it the way he did.

"I don't know why the kid had to get down that low," Quantrill said. "Last I remember, Jorge wasn't a world-class sprinter. He wasn't even that close to the bag. From the bullpen, it looked like Jorge was trying to get down. I don't know if he would have even reached the bag."

The next contentious moment came in the bottom of the fifth when Alex Rodriguez came to bat. Angels catcher Benji Molina had some stern words for Rodriguez concerning Molina's fourth inning ground out to third. On that play, Rodriguez took about ten steps toward first before getting rid of the ball. Rodriguez was practically at the pitcher's mound. He could have run the ball to first and still beaten Molina to the bag. After the play, Jeter was in stiches on the field. It's one of the reasons Jeter is so likable. His laughter in the course of competition is genuine and easy. Rodriguez smiled too.

But Molina didn't appreciate it one bit. Maybe he thought that Rodriguez was trying to show him up. I don't think that was the case--Rodriguez just stuttered with his feet trying to gain his footing--but I don't blame Molina for being sore. So what happens the next time Molina comes to the plate? He grounds out softly, very softly to third. Most big leaguers would have made the play close, if not beat the throw, but you can time Molina with a calendar, and he was thrown out easily. It was as if there was some cruel joke being played on him.

Jaiver Vasquez allowed a two-run homer to Jose Guillen in the first and later gave up a solo shot to Adam Kennedy. He wasn't especially sharp again, but he settled down and pitched into the eighth. What was especially agonizing for this Yankee fan was watching wack-ass Aaron Sele (who is 5-15 lifetime against New York including the playoffs) pitching well.

The Angels added a fourth run off of Vasquez in the eighth, and Javey was fuming as he left the game. Paul Quantrill came in and intentionally walked Vlad. The 2-0 pitch was up to Jose Guillen, who did his best Manny Ramirez whip around like it was close to hitting him. Guillen, the pretty-faced slugger, glared at Quantrill and started flapping his yap. "Lighten up Francis," I yelled from my couch. "Why in the hell is Quantrill going to hit you with two men on in a close game, you mo-mo?"

"With his 20 years in the league, I guess he didn't like that," Quantrill said of Guillen, an eight-year veteran. "So he decided he wanted to stare at me for a while. I told him if he wanted to come out to the mound to discuss it, he should."

The Angels put on the double steal on the next play, and Guillen was then intentionally walked to load the bases. Everyone came home on Casey Kotchman's double to the left field gap. The Angels were now up, 8-2.

(The fat joke continued as Benji Molina followed by tapping out weakly to Rodriguez at third.)
In the bottom of the inning, Scott Shields struck Derek Jeter out looking to start the frame. Jeter, who had two hits on the night, was not happy and starting woofing at the home plate ump Larry Poncino from the dugout. You could read his lips saying, "Bear down, the game's not over yet." I thought Jeter was going to get tossed. (Has he ever been thrown out of a game?) He didn't and Shields got squeezed on a couple of pitches to Rodriguez who would reach on an error, and was straight-out robbed on a 1-2 pitch to Giambi. Shields almost popped out of his uniform. Giambi flew out to the wall in left field.

The Angels didn't relent in the ninth, stealing bases and taking advantage of lazy fielding by the Yanks. Jose Guillen hit a double off the center field wall, and Cadillaced his way around first. Who does this guy think he is, Alfonso Soriano? He scored on a mental error by Jason Giambi. In the bottom of the ninth, Bernie Williams--who had a double on the night--reached on an error in the ninth, but he didn't run the ball out either and instead of standing on second, he was stuck at first. Piteful Bernie, piteful.

In all, what started as a crisp, efficient game turned into a laughter for the Angels and a humilating loss for the Yankees. For Yankee fans it brought back memories of the 2002 playoffs. What's worse, this Angel team looks to be better than the 2002 edition. I thought the two teams might actually throw down last night. They play the rubber game of the series this afternoon. John Lieber is pitching for the Yanks. He throws strikes and the Angels aren't shy about swining the bat. It could be a long afternoon. It is going to be very hot and uncomfortable in the Bronx today. It will fell worse if the Angels stick it to the Yanks again.

The only silver lining last night was that the Sox lost to the Indians again.

Dirty Four-Letter Word
2004-05-12 14:06
by Alex Belth


As Mark McClusky noted earlier this spring, writing about how difficult it is to play baseball is a tired cliche. Still, as trite as it may sound, baseball-as-hard-work is a metaphor that suits me to a tee. More to the point, I am inspired by how much hard work it takes to play the game. When Derek Jeter can struggle as mightily as he has this season, I know it's not because of a lack of effort on his part. He's just got to eat humble pie like the rest of us. Actually, I feel good knowing how much work he puts into improving his game because it helps me push myself.

Sound corny? Maybe it is, but it works for me. One of the reasons is because of my own relationship to work. It's not that I'm a poor worker--far from it--but I'm often a resentful worker. My sense of entitlement and grandiosity have a nasty habit of getting in my way: I'm too smart, charming and talented to have to work so hard, man. Aren't I above this? Instead of looking at work as the key to eventual success and happiness I look at it as a form of punishment, an affront to my greatness. Plus, I get so wrapped up in what I want the results to be that I am unable to appreciate the process.

I struggle with this daily. It hasn't kept me from busting my tail at my 9-5, or spending most of my free time writing a book. Yet I'm often so pissed off about having to do the work, that I exhaust myself, and find that I don't have the energy I need to get everything done.

Writing is a lot like playing baseball in that it is simply very difficult to do well. There is some inspiration involved of course, but I find that writing is mostly a process of rewriting and editing and rewriting again. There is nothing glamourous about it, though it is extremely rewarding. My grandfather was a writer. He worked for the Brooklyn Eagle in the 1920s and later as a publicist for the ADL. When I was a kid he wrote a book about the history of anti-semitism in American called "A Promise to Keep."

Recently, my father shared his enduring memory of watching grandpa write. "I don't remember him at the typewriter, but I do have a clear image of him reviewing what he had written, sitting at the dinning room table. He made corrections by hand, and...he struggled. None of it came easily. It was very difficult for him."

My grandfather wrote in a clean, succint style out of the E.B. White school. I was thankful to my dad for sharing that story because I've found that writing the Curt Flood book has been extremely hard. I felt comforted in realizing that for most people, writing is tough stuff. It ain't supposed to be easy. Duh.

All of this started floating around in my head last night after I watched Joe Torre's manager report on the Yankee pre-game. He was speaking about Bernie Williams and Torre mentioned that unlike Jeter, Bernie was not an instinctive player. Anyone who has watched Williams over the course of time knows this, but Torre meant that because he doesn't have a natural feel for the game, it is that much harder for him to break out of a slump. Torre mentioned just how hard playing baseball is for Williams, and quite frankly, that's why I Bernie's been one of my favorites. I know how hard it is for him. That's what has made his career so rewarding to follow. He had to bust his ass, and seriously apply himself, to get succeed.

I'm not ready to give up on Bernie yet, but even if he is close to the end, I'll always look back on his career and be amazed by what he has accomplished, not by what he hasn't done. And knowing that it's such a grind for him helps me take it easy on myself when I find myself struggling, and fighting the process too.

Yanks 8, Angels 7
2004-05-12 09:05
by Alex Belth

Up All Night

Just who do the Yankees think they are: the Red Sox? The Bombers are making a habit of winning games in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion this season. Amen, brother. They played a wild game against the Angels on a muggy and wet spring night in New York. The weather was a harbinger of a hot New York summer ("Dog Day Afternoon" hot, "Do the Right Thing" hot), and the game was delayed twice by rain. Kevin Brown was far from stellar, and Mariano Rivera blew his first save of the year. However, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez had three hits each, and Gary Sheffield drove in the winning run in extra innings to give the Bombers the "w." Oh yeah, some guy named Ruben Sierra came up big for New York again.

I caught Peter Gammons on Baseball Tonight during the second rain delay, and he was asked who was harder to hit against right now: Franciso Rodriguez or Mariano Rivera. He made the correct call and went with Rodriguez. So would you believe that they both pitched one inning last night, both gave up three hits (Rivera allowed two earned runs, Rodriguez one earned, one unearned), and both blew saves for the first time all year? Go figure.

I was supposed to go to the game with Jay Jaffe but I couldn't make it on the count of having to work late. Man, I hope Jay stayed for the whole thing. (I'll link his report once he's got it up.) While you are waiting, peep Larry Mahnken's excellent write-up, "An Affair to Remember."

The Angels are a great-looking team despite the fact that some of their best players are on the DL. They look every bit as good, if not better than the Red Sox (minus the sick starting pitching). My man Vlad Guerrero stroked an RBI double on the first pitch he saw from Kevin Brown, and later poked a solo homer to right off him too. (Brown's stuff was up in the zone early.) For several seasons I've felt that Vlad is the Bizarro version of Alex Rodriguez. He's as violent and raw as Rodriguez is smooth and polished. Vlad looks like he's off the farm, while Rodriguez looks like he's just off the runway. Off the field, he's a withdrawn and demure as Rodriguez is gregarious and photogenic. Guerrero has heavy eye-lids and a sweet smile, though he's not conventionally good-looking like Rodriguez. Actually, Vlad looks more like a goat than a sex symbol. (What are those creatures from mythology that are half human and half goats? That's Vladi.) They are a fascinating contrast in styles, but are arguably the two best players under 30 in the game. Guerrero is all legs and ass, and he swings at balls and strikes alike. According to Jack Curry:

"Since I was a little boy, I've been swinging at everything I see that comes near home plate," said Guerrero, who was at Yankee Stadium with the Angels last night. "That's one thing I've never changed."

The Yanks kept pace with the Sox, who beat the Indians in Beantown last night. And oh yeah, Rocket Clemens won again and is now 7-0. Yeesh.

Here come the Angels
2004-05-11 08:25
by Alex Belth

Even with some of their best players on the DL, the Anahiem Angels are still the hottest team in the American League. I don't have a fancy TV package, so I haven't seen them yet. But Vlad Guerrero is one of my favorite players in the game, and I have to admit that I'm curious to see what this team is all about. John Harper previews Anahiem in the Daily News this morning, and yesterday I asked my good pal, California native Rich Lederer, for a quick scouting report. Here is what he has to say about Mike Scioscia's bunch:

Bronx Banter: How is this team different from the 2002 champs?

Rich Lederer: Can you say Vladimir Guerrero? Vladi is by far the biggest difference between the 2002 and 2004 versions of the Angels. Jose Guillen, who was named A.L. Player of the Week on Monday, is another significant upgrade. The Angel left fielder had to be taken off the field on a stretcher with a sprained right knee and ankle after sliding awkwardly into second base on Sunday and is questionable for the series.
This year's team has Guerrero and Guillen as compared to Scott Spiezio and Brad Fullmer. All the other starters are the same. Spiezio and Fullmer are teeny in comparison to these boppers.
Bartolo Colon, the other major addition to this year's ballclub, gives the Angels a legitimate number one. However, he is not scheduled to pitch against the Yankees this week.
Other than that, the Angels are pretty much the same team that won it all in 2002 and went 77-85 in 2004. Health or lack thereof was the biggest difference between those two clubs and is likely to be the key to this year's fortunes as well.

BB: Just how good is K-Rod?
RL: Yankees fans won't want to hear this but Francisco Rodriguez (0.00 ERA in 17 IP with 28 Ks and only 4 BB) is even better than the pitcher who blew down the Bronx Bombers in the 2002 ALDS. In a word, K-Rod is unhittable. Rodriguez has one of the nastiest sliders in baseball to go along with a mid-90s fastball. Think Mariano Rivera circa 1996. When K-Rod enters the game in the seventh or eighth inning, it's good morning, good afternoon, and good night.

BB: How is this team winning when they are so hurt? (What kind of competition have they faced?)

RL:The Angels are the hottest team in baseball, if not the best. The Halos are 9-0 in May after sweeping the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Devil Rays--the teams with the worst records in 2003. Playing the Yankees on the road and at less than full strength may prove to be a whole 'nother thing.
Anaheim has four key players currently on the disabled list and Guillen may be on the verge of making it five. Reliever Brendan Donnelly (1.82 career ERA, the lowest among all active pitchers with 100 or more IP) has been out all season with a fractured nose. All-Star outfielder Garret Anderson (upper back stiffness) hasn't played since April 22. Designated hitter Tim Salmon went on DL on May 1 with an inflamed left knee. First baseman Darin Erstad joined the ward over the weekend with a strained right hamstring.

BB: Who and what exactly is a Chone Figgens?
RL: This Chone isn't for dipping in coffee, but he can be dipped into the lineup at just about any position. Look for Figgins to start all three games in CF for the injured Anderson. He is a fun player to watch and is reminiscent of Mickey Rivers. Like Rivers, his game is all about speed. Figgins has five triples in 71 AB and is 9-for9 in SB attempts.

BB: Do you feel that the Angels are as good or better than the Sox and Yanks?
RL: The Angels are very good, but they are not as talented as the Red Sox and Yankees. They can beat you offensively with the long ball or by playing little ball. In addition, Anaheim has such a strong bullpen that if they can get six good innings out of their starter, they are a tough team to try and beat in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. Colon is a horse, but he would be no better than a #3 with Boston or just one of a deep four with New York.
BB: How are they better than New York? How are they worse?

RL: The matchups this series favors the Yankees in the first two games. Kelvim Escobar vs. Kevin Brown Tuesday night and Aaron Sele vs. Javier Vazquez on Wednesday. The Yankees own Escobar (32 hits and 14 walks in 18 1/3 innings last year) and all of baseball owns Aaron Sele. Well, maybe not own. That $8.7 million he's earning per season is being paid for entirely by Arte Moreno although I think it would only be fair if the opposing teams chipped in, too. Vazquez has struck out 15 and walked only one vs. the current Angels players.
John Lackey, coming off a shutout and four quality starts in a row, gives the Angels their best shot at beating the Yanks on Thursday. New York will counter with Jon Lieber, who may be the Yankees version of Aaron Sele. Lieber, who has always been vulnerable against left-handed hitters, is fortunate that the Halos can only trot out Jeff DaVanon, Chone Figgins, Adam Kennedy, and Casey Kotchman. The latter--the organization's #1 pick in the 2001 draft--will be facing his first major test in the big leagues this week in the Big Apple.
Look for A-Rod to have a big series as he has hit 9 HR in 78 AB vs. the scheduled Angels starters.
Here are my picks position by position (when healthy):
C - Posada, NYY: By a wide margin.

1B - Giambi, NYY: Over Erstad?

2B - Kennedy, ANA: Do the Yankees have a 2B?

SS - Jeter, NYY: Two misfits defensively but at least Jeter can hit.

3B - Rodriguez, NYY: You gotta go with A-Rod although Glaus nothing
to sneeze at.

LF - Guillen, ANA: Higher ceiling than Matsui.

CF - Anderson, ANA: No contest over Lofton or Williams at this point in their careers.

RF - Sheffield, NYY, and Guerrero, ANA (tie): Choose your weapon.

DH - Salmon, ANA: Father time has passed both Salmon and Williams by.
SP - NYY: At least with respect to The Big Three.

Bullpen - NYY and ANA (toss up): Two of the best in all of baseball.
Overall: Slight edge to Yankees.

Kim Quat

B.Y. Kim was knocked around by the Indians at Fenway Park on Monday, and by the end of the night he was knocked out of Boston's starting rotation. According to Bob Hohler in the Boston Globe:

No sooner did the Sox hit the clubhouse after Kim's second straight abysmal start -- this time the struggling Korean surrendered six runs (four earned) on five hits, three walks and a hit batsman before he departed to a cascade of boos -- than Francona and general manager Theo Epstein huddled behind closed doors with Kim, pitching coach Dave Wallace, and senior pitching adviser Tony Cloninger.

The message was clear: Bronson Arroyo would replace Kim in the rotation, taking the next turn Saturday against the Blue Jays in Toronto.

What remains to be seen is whether Kim reports to the bullpen, Triple A Pawtucket, or the team's training and rehabilitation center in Fort Myers, Fla. The Sox gave Kim the night to consider the options.

In other Sox news, Johnny Damon will apparently shave his beard off later this month as part of a charity event. Hope you are not superstitious. And while we're talking Boston, be sure and check out Gordon Edes' piece on Dennis Eckersley in today's Globe.

Yanks 7, Mariners 6
2004-05-10 13:43
by Alex Belth

Donovan Osborne did his best Jose Contreras impression on Sunday afternoon, and was hammered by the Mariners in front of the largest crowd in Safeco Field's history. He allowed six runs and didn't make it through the second. But the Yankee bullpen held Seattle in check for the rest of the game, allowing the Bronx Bombers to catch up.

Alex Rodriguez hit a solo home run in the fourth and Jason Giambi added a three-run job in the sixth. The Yanks tied the game on Derek Jeter's two-run homer in the seventh and took the lead for good on Hideki Matsui's sac fly in the eighth.

Giambi's home run was especially impressive. Going into his third at-bat against Seattle starter Jamie Moyer, Giambi had whiffed twice. With the count 1-1, Giambi fouled a ball towards first and broke his bat. He got a new stick and then took an off-speed pitch, off the plate to even the count at two. Moyer placed the following pitch right on the outside corner, but Giambi didn't bite, and neither did the home plate umpire: full count. Moyer left the 3-2 pitch up in the zone and Giambi took a terrific cut and fouled the ball directly behind the plate, a sign that he narrowly missed clobbering it. Ah, there was his chance, the announcers said. Then wouldn't you know it, Giambi smacked the next pitch into the right field stands. You can fool some of the sluggers some of the time, but you can't fool all of 'em all of the time.

Jeter's home run was a shot to dead center, and it sounded great off the bat. Oh, and Matsui's sac fly came on a 3-0 pitch! The Yanks moved to within a game of Boston, who fell at home to the Royals yesterday. Today is an off-day, then the Yanks host the incredibly hot (and hurtin') Angels at the stadium. It will be interesting to see how they fare against the team with the best record in the league.

Catch Me Now I'm Falling
2004-05-10 09:02
by Alex Belth

We're playing muscial chairs here at All-Baseball today. I'm trading spaces with Mark McClusky, who offers the following piece on one of my favorite Yankees, good ol' Bernabee Williams. I have a short write-up over at Baysball on my favorite (non-Yankee) American League pitcher, Tim Hudson. (I'll be back with a write-up of the Yankees' come-from-behind, 7-6 win over the Mariners later in today.)

Enjoy. ---Alex

End of the Road?

by Mark McClusky

The decline of a once great ballplayer is one of the hardest things in sports to watch, simply because it’s possible for that player to hang on in an active role longer than in most sports. There are so few great players in the game that even as their skills deteriorate, they’re still more valuable than the average player.

I come here today at Alex’s kind invitation not to bury Bernie Williams, but to praise him. I haven’t had a chance to watch him regularly since leaving New York City in 1999 to move out to the Bay Area, so what I get of Bernie are fleeting glimpses, either in matchups against the Oakland A’s, or in the postseason.

Maybe my lack of regular exposure to Bernie is one reason for the shock I felt watching him in the six games the A’s and Yankees finished up last week. Because, frankly, he didn’t look like a major league hitter. Bill King, the long-time A’s announcer (and one of the true joys of being an A’s fan), described some of the swings that Williams took at the Stadium when the A’s were in town as the worst swings he’d ever seen a big leaguer take.

He was right. It’s clear that Bernie is, physically, a mess. He’s had reoccurring knee problems, and he’s got chronic shoulder issues that limit his range of motion. What that means is that he’s not driving the ball at all. It’s a mess, as you see his swing breakdown even as he takes it.

That’s all led to this line, which I’m sure you Yankee fans don’t need reminding of: .197/.297/.262. Goddamn, Bernie Williams OPS is .559. That’s Neifi Perez territory, and a shame, because Williams has been an underappreciated offensive player for over a decade.

I moved to New York in 1994, at the same time that the Yankees were starting to shake off the memories of the 80s and early 90s, and becoming a team worth watching. I bought tickets at the Stadium, upper deck right behind the plate, and got to see a team come together. Jeter came up, Wetteland was there. Paul O’Neill. And Bernie, the quiet centerfielder who was also somehow the stabilizing factor on the team.

I really do think of the first part of the Yankees current run as Williams team, no matter how much hype has piled up around Jeter over the seasons. They weren’t teams built with dozens of free agents, and George had receded to the background, for once. Instead, those teams, culminating in the 1998 juggernaut, just went out and played hard every day. They were a business-like, almost corporate team, and some people never loved them for that.

Nostalgia for the Bronx Zoo days always seemed misplaced to me. The Yankees, at that point, were strangely likable, even for die-hard Yankee-haters. They played the game hard, and played it well. Something that didn’t get noticed as much at the time was the emphasis that the Yankees placed on getting on-base; playing Moneyball while Michael Lewis was still writing about business.

In my time reporting on baseball, I never got a chance to talk to Williams, much to my disappointment. I know this is moving into some dangerous territory, but there always seemed to be a straight-line you could draw between Bernie and the Yankee icon to end all icons, Joe DiMaggio. I did get a chance to meet DiMaggio before he died, and you couldn’t help but be struck by his grace and almost regal carriage. There’s more than a little than that in Bernie. “Classy” is overused, but in this case, it fits.

Which is why it’s so hard for me to see him struggle. I’ve always like Williams, and more importantly, I’ve always respected him. He’s only 35, but it seems his days as an effective player are likely over. He’s earned the right to go out on his own terms; I just hope that the Yankees, recast in Bronx Zoo mode, will let that happen.

Yanks 6, M's 0
2004-05-09 10:15
by Alex Belth

The Mariners hit the ball hard against Mike Mussina in the first two innings last night but couldn't score a run. Mussina pitched out of jams in both innings, then quickly settled down and pitched his finest game of the year. Moose went eight, and didn't allow a run. For the first half of the game Seattle's baby-faced starter, Gil Meche blanked the Yankees too. However, they chased him from the game in the seventh as Rodriguez-Giambi-Sheffield and Posada hit a string of consecutive doubles to put the Yanks on the board.

The following inning, Bernie Williams connected on a 3-2 pitch for a single to center. After Rodriguez whiffed, then Giambo homered to right. Sheffield scorched a double to right field and Jorgie doubled him home. Done and done. Paul Quantrill pitched a scoreless ninth, which is great because Flash Gordon and Mo Rivera will be rested plenty for Sunday.

Watching the game, I couldn't help but chuckle at the fact that Rich Lederer and I chose to write a piece on Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter this spring. Williams has traditionally struggled early in the season, but now that he's older, it's easier to say, "Oh, maybe he's just warshed up." Still, he's bristling at called strikes every night, and that's not like him. On the other hand, Jeter has never slumped like this in his career. Who knows why it's happening no--armchair shrinks start your engines---but I can't recall a time when Jeter has experienced this kind of prolonged misery.

He was called on on strikes in his first at-bat. The pitch was on the outside corner and it looked good to me. The over-head angle replay showed that it was just off the plate, still it was close enough to swing at. Jeter had a conversation with the umpire before he walked back the the dugout, which he is doing more than ever these days.

The following inning, the YES cameras showed an exasperated Jeter talking with his hitting coach, Don Mattingly. Jeter was going over that third strike, and he shrugged his shoulders like there was no way he could win. But the biggest problem for Jeter isn't that he's getting killed with the outside fastball--although, that's been an issue too--it's that he can't catch up with the fastball right over the plate. His bat is slow. In that first at-bat, Meche threw a fastball right by Jeter that was down the heart of the plate. It's only natural that Jeter would question himself if he can't catch up with that pitch. Then they kill him outside, and that's what he fixates on.

During Jeter's third at-bat, you could clearly hear some Seattle fans chanting, "Over-rated."

Another thing that I've noticed lately is that Jason Giambi just doesn't look like a happy guy. When he's on the bench and he takes his hat off, he looks tense and alert, not quite comfortable in his own skin. His body language is stiff, and his choppy hair and big eyes make him look like an owl. It wouldn't be so strange if Giambi wasn't so different back in his Oakland days, where he was the B.M.O.C., the rock'n'roll leader of the pack. Just by looking at the dugout shots on TV, I don't get a sense of which players Giambi is tight with. They don't seem to dislike him, but he looks isolated. He hardly ever smiles. I don't know, he's not the same guy. Maybe it's the hair. I wish he'd grow it out ala Donnie Baseball--anything to loosen him up a little.

One last observation. Regular readers here are familiar with the fact that I'm no Kenny Lofton fan, but I have to say the guy smiles and jokes around more than any other Yankee. He's playful, and his teammates seem to enjoy him. At least that's what I get from what they show on TV. Maybe I could learn to like him after all.

Oh, one last, last thing: be sure and check out Kevin Kernan's piece today on Dioner Navarro, the kid who is generally considered the best prospect in the Yankees system.

Curt Schilling was a beast for Boston yesterday hurling a complete game five-hitter, as the Sox rolled over KC, 9-1. (Pokey Reese had an inside-the-park-homer.) But the most appealing game of the day has to be Texas out-lasting the Tigers, 16-15 in 10 innings. Our boy Sori went 6-6 with 4 RBI. Deep in the heart of Texas!

Cooperstown Confidential
2004-05-09 09:20
by Alex Belth

By Bruce Markusen

Regular Season Edition
May 6, 2004

Friday Night Massacre

Most Yankee fans fondly recall the “Boston Massacre,” that memorable four-game sweep of the rival Red Sox in September of 1978, which helped New York overcome a 14-game deficit in winning the American League East. Fewer fans likely remember another Massacre—the “Friday Night Massacre.” It took place 30 years ago (and had nothing to do with the Red Sox), when the Yankees traded away nearly half of their pitching staff in a stunning and controversial deal.

On Friday night, April 26, 1974, the Yankees edged the Rangers, 4-3, to remain within a half-game of first place in the AL East. In the meantime, the Yankee braintrust put the finishing touches on a monster seven-player deal with the Indians. The Pinstripers surrendered four pitchers—right-handers Fred Beene, Tom “Blutto” Buskey and Steve Kline, and left-hander Fritz Peterson—or 40 per cent of their 10-man staff. In exchange, the Yankees received pitchers Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw and a young first baseman named Chris Chambliss.

The trade shocked both Yankee players and fans. “I can’t believe this trade,” star outfielder Bobby Murcer told The Sporting News while expressing his belief that the front office had lost confidence in the team’s ability to win. “You don’t trade four pitchers,” longtime ace Mel Stottlemyre informed Yankee beat writer Phil Pepe. “You just don’t.” Stottlemyre’s batterymate, the often gruff Thurman Munson, offered an even more candid assessment. “They’ve got to be kidding,” said a not-so-diplomatic Munson. Yankee fans seemed to agree with the assessment of the team’s veteran players. Hordes of Yankee followers flooded the team’s switchboard with calls of complaint. And when Chambliss, Tidrow, and Upshaw made their first appearances at Yankee Stadium, they received a barrage of boos from the rush-to-judgment contingent in the Bronx.

The media also joined in the criticism—and the questioning. Why did the Yankees give up so many pitchers in one trade, especially someone like Buskey, who had been named the team’s outstanding rookie during the spring? Why did they trade for a first baseman when they really needed a second baseman? (Much like the current-day Yankees, the 1974 version of the Pinstripers struggled to find a pivotman. They started the season with an aging Horace Clarke before making trades for mediocrities Sandy Alomar and Fernando Gonzalez.) What in the world was the front office thinking in making such an unbalanced deal? One Cleveland writer suggested the Indians should send the Yankees a thank-you note for their generous gift of a quartet of pitchers. “Make sure you thank them for me, too,” declared ex-Yankee Fritz Peterson in an interview with Cleveland beat writer Russell Schneider.

The barbs didn’t faze Yankee president Gabe Paul, the architect of the blockbuster trade and the man who had created a “Cleveland Connection” with his onetime organization, bringing in former Indians like Sam McDowell, Graig Nettles, Duke Sims, and Walt “No-Neck” Williams over the last two years. Paul maintained that the deal conformed to his general philosophy on making trades. “The way to evaluate a deal is to sit down and look at your club before a deal, and then look at it after a deal,” Paul explained to The Sporting News. “If the club looks better after the deal, go ahead and make it. I think we’re a better club with Chambliss…” Paul clearly held a high opinion of Chambliss, whom Yankee pitcher Ken Wright had praised only 10 days earlier by hinting that he would win a batting title. “I think we got an outstanding first baseman in Chambliss,” Paul said proudly. “[He’s] a fellow who could be our first baseman for 10 years.”

Chambliss didn’t last 10 seasons in Pinstripes, but that was about the only prediction from Paul that proved to be an exaggeration. After flailing away in his first Yankee go-round, hitting only .243 with a mere six home runs in 400 at-bats, Chambliss began to contribute in 1975, hitting .304 and playing an excellent first base. His lack of power (nine home runs) and plate patience (29 walks) remained a concern, but he improved his power output in 1976, accumulating 17 home runs and 96 RBIs. All in all, Chambliss solidified the Yankees at first base, which had become a revolving door for one-dimensional players like Mike Hegan (good field, not much hit), Ron Blomberg (good hit, no field, and always injured), and Bill Sudakis (no field, occasional power).

Even if he did little else, Chambliss forged himself a piece of pinstriped history in 1976, when the Yankees advanced to the postseason for the first time in 14 seasons. In the fifth and final game of a nip-and-tuck American League Championship Series against the Royals, Chambliss deposited a dramatic home run over the right-field wall, victimizing Kansas City relief ace Mark Littell and sealing a New York pennant for the first time since 1964. Providing a calming influence in a turbulent clubhouse, Chambliss then played a key role in helping the Yankees win the World Series in both 1977 and ’78. In the 1978 playoffs against Kansas City, Chambliss racked up six hits in 15 at-bats, giving him an even .400 batting average vs. the tormented Royals.

Although Chambliss was the headline name acquired in the Friday Night Massacre, another one of the new Yankees also made his share of contributions. Right-hander Dick Tidrow played a crucial—though more subtle—function in the Yankees’ World Championship run. One of the most versatile pitchers of his era, Tidrow performed admirably in any role, ranging from long relief to starting to late-inning fireman. Comfortably in almost any game situation, Tidrow compiled over 330 combined innings during the 1977 and ’78 seasons, winning 18 games and saving five others. In contrast to the foursome of pitchers surrendered to Cleveland—all of whom, except for relief ace, Buskey had seen their best major league days—Tidrow and Chambliss helped the Yankees become better before the arrival of final championship pieces like Reggie Jackson. They then assumed important positions as role players for the re-tooled World Champion Yankees of the late 1970s. Yeah, it wasn’t a bad trade by Gabe Paul after all.

The Nickname Game

Shortly after his trade to the Yankees, Dick Tidrow acquired one of the best nicknames of the 1970s. His teammates started calling him “Dirt” because of his overzealous involvement in a rather strange pre-game ritual. As former Yankee reliever Sparky Lyle explains in John Skipper’s excellent book, Baseball Nicknames, Tidrow would join him and other Yankee teammates in a game called “flip.” “It’s usually played behind home plate near the screen, while the other team is taking batting practice,” Lyle explained to Skipper. “You bat your ball with your glove over to one of the other guys. Tidrow would be diving after balls getting his uniform filthy. We called him ‘Mr. Dirt’ after the guy in the Mobil commercials [which were popular in the 1970s] and it stuck with him.” Tidrow accentuated the “Dirt” image by letting his hair and sideburns grow long while sporting a bushy mustache. It’s just too bad that he never had a chance to play alongside journeyman outfielder Jim Dwyer, who was known as “Pigpen.”

Beantown Bunts

So what has been the impact of injuries to Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon on a Red Sox team that started so well before embarking on a recent losing streak? The Sox have given up a few degrees defensively with Kevin Millar playing out of position in right and Mark Bellhorn taking over at second (with the rangier Pokey Reese shifting to shortstop), but the effect to their offense did not really start to show until the losing streak, which saw them score only 10 runs in a span of four games. At least one of the replacements has given them a boost offensively. Showing the patience that started with his tutelage in the Oakland organization, Bellhorn has taken an early hold on the American League walks race… The real impact of the injuries to Garciaparra and Nixon has been on the first-base position, where the Sox have used Millar, David McCarty, Brian Daubach, and David Ortiz (who splits his time between first base and DH). Ortiz has been just fine, but Daubach and McCarty have hit with no power and Millar has struggled at the plate while trying to handle the added chores of playing the outfield. And now with knee surgery sidelining Ellis Burks for over a month, the Red Sox may end up using Ortiz more and more as a DH… There may be one other option for the Red Sox to consider. How about putting Jason Varitek at first base and installing the hot-hitting Doug Mirabelli as the everyday catcher, at least for the short term? That would improve the Red Sox’ defensive play behind the plate while also easing the physical toll on Varitek, who’s become one of Boston’s most important players. Varitek might profit later in the season, when catchers tend to slump under the burden of the Northeast’s summer humidity… It’s the Red Sox’ pitching that has really kept them afloat in the American League East, posting a staff ERA of 3.21 through games of Tuesday, May 4. Although Pedro Martinez has been less than his usual dominant self, the bullpen has been sensational, with the trio of Keith Foulke, Scott Williamson, and Alan Embree virtually unhittable through the first month of the regular season. Much like the Yankees, who have deepened their bullpen with the additions of Paul Quantrill and Tom “Flash” Gordon, the Red Sox may have to rely on a lengthened bullpen to make up for the inconsistencies of the starting rotation.

Met Musings

For all the criticism of the Fred Wilpon ownership and the front office’s seeming unwillingness to spend as much as is fiscally possible, the Mets did make one of the best offseason pickups of the winter. The acquisition of unheralded Karim Garcia has filled at least part of a massive right-field hole and made Mets fans quickly forget about the foibles of Roger Cedeno. Garcia has built up a resume of detraction over the years, with critics pointing out that he’s not Luis Gonzalez (for whom he was once traded), knocking him for his lack of patience at the plate, and skeptically questioning his character because of his third-man-in role in the nasty bullpen blowup that developed during last year’s American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Red Sox. Garcia’s involvement in the skirmish, which was actually started by either a Boston bullpen attendant or Yankees reliever Jeff Nelson, probably cemented Garcia’s fate as an ex-Yankee who didn’t fit the good-solider scheme preferred by Joe Torre and Brian Cashman… During the winter, the Yankees decided to keep Ruben Sierra over Garcia, even though Karim is 10 years younger, has more power, and is a much better outfielder. While the Yankees might be temporarily gloating over Sierra’s recent two-dinger, seven-RBI performance against the Royals, they may still rue the day that they failed to pick up the option on Garcia’s contract. The Mets have become immediate beneficiaries of their rival’s decision; they love Garcia’s defensive play in right field; his cannon-like arm, which might be one of the five best in the game; his short, compact swing against right-handed pitching, and his hustling, chugging style on the basepaths. Yes, Garcia has his limitations; he swings at too many pitches, doesn’t draw enough walks, and has a shaky reputation against left-handed pitchers. But as long as the Mets understand that Garcia is best utilized as a platoon player and limit his exposure to southpaws (which they’ll probably do once Cliff Floyd returns from the disabled list and Shane Spencer moves back to a time-sharing plan in right field), they should have one-half of a productive platoon in right field. The bottom line? The Mets can win with Garcia playing a key role in the Mets’ outfield. They simply need to upgrade a few other positions, starting with third base (where Ty Wigginton is not the long-range answer) and second base (where they continue in a holding pattern waiting for the return of Jose Reyes)… On another front, the Mets’ decision to designate onetime high-level pitching prospect Grant Roberts borders on the bewildering. Roberts posted some impressive outings during spring training, but his velocity has fallen off recently, and the Mets have apparently decided to give up on his future in New York. By designating him for assignment, the Mets have lowered his trade value, because other teams know that New York has only 10 days to trade him, outright him, or give him his unconditional release. That’s always the down side to designating a player for assignment, because it almost always hurts a team’s leverage in trade talks while the player often takes on the aura of damaged goods. Simply put, Grant Roberts is too much of a talent to be designated for assignment, just like D’Angelo Jimenez was last year, when the White Sox received very little in return from the Reds for a capable leadoff hitter.

Yankee Doodles

There are few baseball watchers who enjoy listening to Jim Kaat as much as this writer. Most of the time, I find his analysis to be on target and his old-time baseball philosophy to be refreshing at a time when too many color commentators are trying to reinvent the game while engaging in overblown listen-to-me hysteria. Yet, I have to admit that Kaat lost me a bit last month when he was decrying the Yankees’ lack of offensive output during the three-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox. While pointing out the Yankees’ “swing-for-the-fences” tendency that produces too many strikeouts, he lamented the absence of the Yankee offenses of years gone by—the teams that featured Joe Girardi, Tino Martinez, and Scott Brosius. The implication was clear: the Yankees were better when they featured contact hitters who could skillfully put the ball in play. While I agree that the Yankees’ habit of striking out with men on base is a cause for concern, I have to wonder how any of the players that Kaat mentioned would somehow be an improvement over the current Yankees at each position. Is Joe Girardi a better offensive player than Jorge Posada, simply because he can bunt and hit-and-run? Would you really want Tino Martinez playing every day ahead of Jason Giambi, who gets on base 40 per cent of the time and hits with far more power than his predecessor? And who in the world would play Scott Brosius ahead of an all-universe player like Alex Rodriguez?... Granted, the combination of Girardi-Martinez-and Brosius would probably produce fewer strikeouts than the current mix of Posada-Giambi-and A-Rod. Yet, that’s about all they would do. The current Yankees all have more power, higher on-base percentages, better slugging percentages, and if you factor in A-Rod, more basestealing capability. In each case, I’ll take the current Yankees at catcher, first base, and third base (as would most Sabermetric observers) and it’s not even close. It’s a slam dunk.

Card Corner

Billy Cowan was once described as the “epitome of a fringe ballplayer.” That characterization was dead solid perfect in assessing the journeyman outfielder, who bounced from the Cubs to the Mets to the Milwaukee Braves to the Phillies to the Yankees to the Angels during an eight-year career that spanned from 1963 to 1972. Cowan was never close to being the best player on any of his teams, never an All-Star, and will certainly never make the Hall of Fame. (For that matter, he didn’t even make the preliminary Veterans Committee ballot of 200.) Yet, he receives more autograph requests through the mail than most journeyman outfielders of similar vintage—if only because of his comical 1972 Topps card. Opting to have some fun with Cowan, the Topps photographer lined his head up perfectly within the confines of the old halo at Anaheim Stadium. At the time, the ballpark still featured a large halo at the top of a tower within the perimeter of the ballpark. (I may be wrong, but I believe that the halo is now featured in the renovated stadium’s parking lot.). One thing I’ve always wondered about the Cowan card is whether the outfielder was actually aware of what the photographer was doing. It certainly looks like the photographer intentionally set up the photo so that Cowan's head was right in the middle of the halo, but I’m not so sure that Cowan realized that he had been placed in an angelic pose. If anyone has additional background information on that card, specifically Cowan’s awareness of being the subject of a mild practical joke, please e-mail me at… The 1972 card, by the way, was the last one issued for Cowan, who played in only three games—all as a pinch-hitter—before drawing his release. While the Angels contended that Cowan was no longer a useful player—after all, he was 0-for-3 as a pinch-hitter and had struck out 41 times against only seven walks in 1971—Cowan felt differently. Once labeled by The Sporting News as the “Clarence Darrow of the clubhouse,” Cowan filed a grievance against the Angels through the Players Association, claiming that the release occurred for reasons other than baseball ability. The Angels’ top pinch-hitter in 1971, Cowan contended that California had cut him loose because of his active role as the Angels’ player representative, which was like being branded with a scarlet letter at the time of major collective bargaining friction between the players and owners. Like Cowan, three other player representatives for the Angels had also been relocated, with infielders Jim Fregosi and Bobby Knoop sent packing in trades and catcher Bob “Buck” Rodgers demoted to the minor leagues. When the Angels, like the 23 other teams in existence at the time, dared to strike at the tail-end of spring training, they delayed the start of the 1972 regular season—and perhaps influenced the eventual end of Cowan’s major league career.

Remembering Gonzalo Marquez

No child should be subjected to the kind of boyhood nightmare that enveloped Gonzalo Marquez, Jr., the son of the former major league first baseman. On December 19, 1984, the 12-year-old Gonzalo was riding in a car driven by his father, who had since retired as an active player and was now a scout with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The car crashed at a location not far from Valencia, Venezuela, killing the elder Marquez while leaving the youngster with a mass of broken bones. Gonzalo Jr. eventually recovered from his myriad injuries, but the horrific accident erased any hopes of pursuing a career as a professional ballplayer while taking away a father who would have loved nothing better than to see his son follow his career path to the major leagues.

It’s been 20 years since the death of the elder Marquez, who was a star first baseman in the Venezuelan Winter League before becoming a pinch-hitting hero for the Oakland A’s in the 1972 World Series. (In Game Three, Marquez delivered a key pinch-hit that started a two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning. The hit helped the A’s come back to beat the Reds, 3-2, and capped off a remarkable rookie season for the man that A’s announcer Monte Moore called “Mandrake The Magician.”) Although Marquez, who played only two more seasons in the majors, has become mostly forgotten in the United States, he is still regarded as one of the greatest hitters in the history of Venezuela. As such, the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum would like to honor Marquez with a display of artifacts and has asked the younger Gonzalo, who is now in his early thirties, to supply some items.

Unfortunately, Marquez has little of his father’s memorabilia. During a recent visit to Cooperstown, Marquez made a quiet plea for some outside help. He would like to locate any kinds of artifacts that relate to his father’s career and would also like assistance in producing a replica of one of his father’s Oakland jerseys at nominal cost. If anyone can help Gonzalo Jr. in his search for artifacts or can help in reproducing an A’s jersey circa 1972, please send him an e-mail at the following address: Thanks in advance to anyone who can offer assistance to the Marquez family.

Pastime Passings

Darrell Johnson (Died on May 3 in Fairfield, California; age 75; leukemia): A manager for eight seasons with three major league teams, Johnson was best known for guiding the Boston Red Sox to the American League pennant in 1975 and coming within one game of winning the franchise’s first World Championship since 1918. Stern in appearance but easygoing in nature, Johnson was well-liked by his players and highly regarded for his handling of pitchers and his general level of patience. Johnson’s major league career began as a player in 1952, when he broke in with the St. Louis Browns. A defensive-minded catcher, he later played for the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, and Baltimore Orioles before retiring in 1962. After his playing career, Johnson became a skipper in the Orioles’ farm system before being offered the Red Sox’ managing job in 1974. In 1975, Johnson skillfully worked two rookies—Fred Lynn and Jim Rice—into Boston’s starting lineup and led the Sox to the American League East title and a three-game playoff sweep of the defending World Champion Oakland A’s. The Red Sox then played the favored Reds in the World Series, forcing a seventh game when Carlton Fisk hit a dramatic game-ending home run in Game Six… When the Red Sox struggled to a 41-46 start the following summer, primarily due to a string of pitching injuries, they fired Johnson and hired Don Zimmer—a harsh punishment for a man who had just steered his team to the Fall Classic. In 1977, the expansion Seattle Mariners hired Johnson as the first manager in team history. He remained in Seattle until he was let go in the midst of the 1980 season. Johnson later worked for the Texas Rangers in his final managerial tenure.

Lou Chapman (Died on April 30 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; age 90): A longtime writer for the Milwaukee Sentinel, Chapman served as the beat writer for the Milwaukee Braves throughout their 13-year tenure in Wisconsin. He later covered the fledgling Milwaukee Brewers, beginning with the team’s first season in 1970. Earning a reputation as strong, investigative beat writer, Chapman was given the nicknames “Scoop” and “Gumby” (a derivative of the word “gumshoe”) for his ability to break stories. Chapman was so highly respected that he earned Wisconsin Sports Writer of the Year five times during his career.

Di Ann Kiner (Died on March 22 in Rancho Mirage, California; cancer): The wife of Hall of Famer and longtime New York Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner passed away after a long struggle with reoccurring cancer. The couple had been married for over 40 years.

And Another Thing

The first stop on my spring book tour will take me to the faraway land of Cooperstown, New York. I will be hosting a short presentation and then signing copies of A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Saturday, May 15, at 1:30 pm. It will be a long commute, but it should be worth it. For more information on the signing, please call 607-547-0261.

Cooperstown Confidential author Bruce Markusen is host of the Hall of Fame Hour, which airs each Thursday at 12 noon Eastern time on Radio. He is also the author of three books on baseball, including A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, Roberto Clemente: The Great One, and The Orlando Cepeda Story. A fourth book, Ted Williams: A Biography (Greenwood Press), is scheduled for release in the fall of 2004. Markusen has also written a young adult horror novel, Haunted House of the Vampire, which is scheduled for release this fall.

Mariners 6, Yanks 2
2004-05-08 10:55
by Alex Belth

Awww, Nertz

Brett Boone was out of the line-up for Seattle on Friday, but Edgar Martinez—that old Yankee killer—wasn't. In the first inning, Edgar rapped a 2-RBI double to right field. It was the 500th double of his great career. The next time up, he lofted a 2-run home run to left field (the 299th of his career...he would narrowly miss hitting number 300 later in the game). While there are many new faces on the Mariners this year, some things never change.

I know Derek Zumsteg has made a good case for Martinez being a Hall of Famer, and without looking at any numbers, my old-fashioned gut-feeling is that Martinez is on the short-list of great hitters I've seen in my lifetime. I believe that he's a Hall of Fame hitter, no doubt about it.

Jon Lieber couldn't get his sinker down and the M's struggling offense tagged him for six runs. Ryan Franklyn, on the other hand, survived several threats from the Yankees' potent offense, the Mariners' bullpen closed the game out. It was a frustrating night for the Yankees, who got men on base, but were unable to sustain a rally. Alex Rodriguez had some good swings in his first two at bats—he singled his second time up—and then stranded two men on base in his following two plate appearences.

For the Yanks, the night can be summed up in Ruben Sierra's first at-bat. With Hideki Matsui on first and no out, Sierra drove a fastball to the wall in dead-center. As Randy Winn and Ichiro closed in on the ball, it looked as if it might have a chance to leave the park. Winn got there first, extending his right arm to make the catch as he reached the wall. But Ichiro cut in front of him, and pinned Winn to the fence, reaching around him, and making the catch...for a moment.

The two froze in time for a beat—shall we dance?—and as Ichiro's momentum stopped, his glove pressed up against the wall, the ball squirted loose and fell to the ground. Meanwhile, Matsui was half-way between first and second. And so was Sierra, who passed Godzilla by about 10-15 feet. As he rounded first, Sierra watched the play in center and lost sight of Matsui. As he hit the brakes to return to first, he pointed his arms like a traffic cop. Matsui had slammed on the brakes too, and advanced to second.

Que the Benny Hill theme music. Matsui advanced to second and Sierra was called out, on what will be one of the most memorable plays of the year. I would have been pissed if it wasn't so funny. Both the play in the outfield and the Keystone Clods base-running. The Yanks would fail to score in the inning. Sierra was robbed of a double in his next at-bat by Ichiro, and though he did collect an RBI single his third time up, it was a vexing night for the big guy.

On first-glance, this Seattle team is a lot harder to hate than they have been in years past. The Mariners have a lot of guys on their team who look alike, and most all of them sport some sort of carefully groomed facial hair. Ibanez and Winn have long, thin faces and look as if they were cousins. Rich Aurillia—Is Brooklyn in the House?—and Scott Spezio have round faces, and they too look as if they could be related (ditto for Fred Flinestone Edgar, and Barney Rubble Boone). Dan Wilson and Edgar are the only remaining faces from the mid-90s, and of course, they've still got one of my favorites in John Olerud there. I don't know, this isn't an impressive-looking team. But they do seem like an amiable bunch. For a Seattle-take on the game, head on over and see what my man Peter White has to say about it all.

I had faith that the Yanks were going to come up with a big rally late, but it never happened. It did in Boston though, as the Sox, down 6-2 in the eighth, topped the Royals at home 7-6. What with all the good karma coming out of Boston these days, I half-expected to hear "We Are Family" when Manny scored the winning run. Ed Cossette is enjoying his team's chemistry. If they keep it up, what will their feel-good theme-song be?

A's 7, Yanks 4
2004-05-07 08:42
by Alex Belth

Eight is Enough

Javier Vasquez had his worst outing as a Yankee and after a rough start, the young Rich Harden handled the Yankees to earn his first win of the year, as the A's avoided being swept at home. The A's bullpen didn't blow the lead, and Mark McClusky can digest again. He isn't alone either. Even Yankee fans like the new and improved Steve Bonner weren't too upset over the loss.

Kenny Lofton returned to the line-up and played well for the Yankees last night. Jason Giambi missed the game with a quesy stomach, and his back-up Travis Lee will be out for the rest of the year after he has surgery on his shoulder next week. Hand it to the Post for getting the scoop on one of the secrets to Jorge Posada's success.

Elsewhere, after a tough first inning in Cleveland, Pedro Martinez was his usual stingy self, as the Sox beat up on the Indians. Boston finds themselves in sole possession of first place going into the weekend.

Finally, future Hall of Famer Michael Piazza hit a game-winning dinger in extra innings as the Mets swept the Giants. (Hey, you gotta believe, baby.) Barry Bonds played, and didn't get a hit. But that hasn't prevented him from expressing himself.

Yanks 4, A's 3
2004-05-06 09:16
by Alex Belth

When you're hot, you're hot...

When I got home from Shea last night my girlfriend was wrapped up on the couch watching the Yankee game. My sister loaned Em a stuffed animal of Marsupilami, a popular comic book character in France, a couple of years ago, and Marsu has been on the living room couch since the Yankees started their winning streak last week. I thought I'd mention to Em before we retired that the Yanks hadn't lost since Marsu has been on the couch, but you know what they say about messing with a streak. (Oops.)

I saw Gary Sheffield hit a line-drive homer off of Barry Zito--he swung so hard that he nearly knocked himself off of his feet on the follow-through--and also watched the Yankees leave a lot of runner on base. The A's were leading 2-1 when I went to bed.

I used to agonize over not watching the Yankees' west coast games, but now, I actually enjoy the surprise of waking up in the morning and waiting until I get to the newsstand to see what happened. As you can imagine, I've had two excellent mornings this week. (For a re-cap of the game from a New York-perpective, head on over to Clifford's Big Red Blog.) The Yankees did leave a lot of men on base last night, but they are a team on a roll, and they overcame their mistakes--as well as Oakland's--and came-from-behind again, scoring two in the ninth and winning, 4-3. Jason Giambi hit a solo homer off of Zito to tie the game at two, and Alex Rodriguez added a solo shot off of Arthur Rhodes in the top of the ninth to tie the game at three. Tony Clark's double later in the inning proved to be the game-winner.

It was another sickening loss for Oakland. Mariano Rivera allowed back-to-back singles to start the ninth, but retired the next three batters for the save. Derek Jeter sat out with a stomach virus, and Jose Contreras was demoted to the minor leagues. Ruben Sierra sat with a sore leg (though he did pinch-hit) and Kenny Lofton is still riding the pine. Other than that, everything is coming up roses and daffodil's for the Bronx Bombers.

The Red Sox remain tied for first with New York as they beat the Indians last night. Cookie Monster hit two bombs, as Boston halted its five-game losing streak. Pedro Martinez will pitch tonight.

In other news, Rocket Clemens keeps on rolling along on his Magical History Tour, and MLB sinks to a new low.

2004-05-06 08:37
by Alex Belth

Alex Ciepley and I were in the Mets ticket office at 6:15 last night picking up our tickets (courtesey of Josh O) when we learned that Barry Bonds would not be in the line up. Without thinking I exclaimed, "Son-of-a...Bitch." An elegant-looking security guard took exception with my vocal critisism. "Hey, that's not very nice." I surprised myself a little by the comment, but it was an honest gut-reaction. "Aw come on," I protested. "He's the reason we came all the way out here." He repeated, "That's not very nice."

I got more sympathy from the gentleman who took our ticket at the gate. The guy was a dead-ringer for the barber character Arsino Hall played in "Coming to America." I expressed my disapointment that Bonds wasn't playing and he said, "Goddamn, you'd think you could find a way to play, even if he does have a little cold. Especially with all these people coming to see him." My pernt exactly. "Hey," I told him, "at least you get to be here tomorrow night."

Anyhow, by the time Mike Piazza came to bat in the first inning, I said to Jay Jaffe, "Well, even if we won't see Bonds maybe we'll be able to see Piazza make history." Less than a minute later, Yazzie homered to right centerfield to become the all-time ding-dong leader for catchers. There was less than 20,000 people at the park, but they stood up and gave Piazaa a rousing ovation. When it was over, Josh said to us, "That's the loudest it's going to get all season."

We had expected it to rain, and with the score tied at the end of the fifth, it came down in buckets. Having no investment in who won this replacement-level affair, and with a long trip home to the Bronx ahead of me, I decided it was time to split. The game would resume by 10:00 and Shane Spencer homered to boost the Mets to an 8-2 victory.

As disapointing as it was not to see Bonds, I feel fortunate to have seen Piazza get his record.

Deja Tue: Yanks 10, A's 8
2004-05-05 09:38
by Alex Belth

Jose Contreras got his tits lit but good last night, and didn't make it out of the third inning. But that shouldn't come as a great surprise. However, the full moon must have been in effect anyway, as Ruben Sierra once again had the key hit in a Yankee comeback against Oakland (like last Tuesday, the knock came off of Ricardo Rincon). Shoot, how often does Mark Mulder have two bad starts in a row? I don't know, but the Yankees sure will take it. How about Donovan Osborne getting the win again, as he did last Tuesday in the Bronx? Yeesh, that was a game worth staying up for, huh?

The Bombers pounded out 17 hits against A's pitching. Alex Rodriguez became the youngest player in history to reach 350 career dingers, had three hits and four RBI in his best offensive game as a Yankee. As good a win as this was for New York, is was a terrible loss for the A's. Head on over to Athletic's Nation for plenty of hard feelings:

I don't want to go overboard and say that this is a fatal blow to the A's season because we're still so early in the season, but maybe a new catcher behind the dish and a new pitching coach have been too big an adjustment for the Big Three to make. When do we see Zito, Hudson and Mulder give up, in order of their starts...six earned runs in six innings (Zito), six earned runs in seven innings and eight runs overall (Hudson) and then seven earned runs in six and a third (Mulder tonight)?

...Watching those pitchers get shelled the last three times out is like watching Superman get kicked in the privates with a kryptonite-tipped steel toe. You know that there isn't any better way to inflict damage on the psyche of an A's fan than to shell the Big Three.

The Red Sox lost their fifth straight and are now tied with the Yankees for first place in the east.

Finally, looking for a good quote? Then check out Tom Verducci's recent interview with George Steinbrenner.

How High the Moon
2004-05-04 22:06
by Alex Belth

My apartment is between 236th and 238th street in the Bronx. What happened to 237th street, I'll never know, but that's how it goes sometimes in the boroughs. Em and I live on the top floor (7th) of one of those aparment houses that was built in the sixites. The main attraction of our place is the terrific eastern view that looks down onto Broadway, and up onto the Kingsbridge hill. We get a natural horizon, with lots of buildings and roads in the middle. Every morning, we are greeted by the sunrise. It is serene and quiet up here, but we can see the constant motion of the city--the Major Deegan Expressway, the subway, the Metro North, almost a dozen side streets, as well as helicopters and airplanes and other assorted winged creatures overhead. It is reassuring to know that even when we are tired and peaceful, the city is still moving.

Tonight, we were treated to the full moon, a huge yellow ball. I turned off all of the lights and smooched my girl for a while, and then we watched some of Steve Trashcan pitch for the Mets. It's cool outside, but man, what a gorgeous spring night to be out at the ballpark. Barry Bonds is out of the line up tonight with a cold. I've got plans to be at Shea tomorrow with Jay Jaffe and Alex Ciepley. It is supposed to rain all day, but hopefully, the game will get in, and Barry Bonds will be feeling better. Imagine schlepping all the way out to Flushing to see Bonds and he's not playing? Considering the fact that I've never seen him play live before, it's a chance that's worth taking.

I've got to be up mad early for work in the a.m., so my old ass won't be staying up for the Yankee game. I assume they'll have a full moon in Oakland too. Wonder if anything strange will happen. Maybe Mulder flirts with a no-hitter, or perhaps Gary Sheffield hits a couple of homers. And who knows just how a full moon could effect our boy Contreras. Two good starts in a row, against the same team? Ya think?

Anyhow, if any night owls are up watching the game tonight, feel free to start a thread in the comments section below and leave your observations and impressions. I sure would appreciate it.

And now for something...

Oh, and on a totally unrelated note, if anyone ever gets a chance to see an exhibition of Lucian Freud's paintings, I suggest that you not let it pass you by. Freud's portraits are fascinating, difficult, and memorable. You've never quite seen flesh painted the same way before. He's first-class and there is a good article on him in the Times today.

High and Low
2004-05-04 09:06
by Alex Belth

Roger Angell embraced the Yankees' early-season struggles as a welcome surprise. In the latest Talk of the Town (peace to TFD for the link), Angell notes:

This was miserable or delightful, depending on where your loyalties lay, but most of all it was weird. It was glorious...The Yankees’ losing streak suspended all this, for a while at least, and what was refreshing about it was that the Yankees were suddenly so bad, at the plate and afield, that they seemed removed from the games, spooked or laid low not by the opposing pitcher or sluggers but by some cosmic change of terms. They were playing in a cartoon or on an asteroid landscape.

Of course, the Yankees 8-4 come-from-behind-win against the A's last Tuesday changed the team's fortunes (at least for the moment). They've won six straight, and for Angell, it's back to business as usual, in which "Confirmation replaces expectation at these levels of sport, and fun feels prearranged." However discouraged, Angell does a nifty job of describing how the Yankees got their groove back:

The double, by pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra, curved sharply toward foul ground in deep left field but then changed its mind and hit the line instead—a big hit, and a smile at last from the great and enigmatically difficult game. The Yanks won again the next two nights, resuming their 2004 campaign with a three-game sweep. Derek Jeter was the last to leave the isolation ward of the April epidemic. Hitless in his previous thirty-two at-bats, he led off the Yankees’ first inning of the Oakland finale by smashing Barry Zito’s first pitch deep into the left-field stands, circled the bases, and touched home, restored at last to the humdrum.

Ah, it could be worse. Just ask Murray Chass. Now, it's Boston's turn to struggle, as the Red Sox offense has not been able to get a clutch hit since last week. Curt Schilling lost a tough one, 2-1 to the Indians last night in Cleveland.

The Yankees are in Oakland for a three-game series starting tonight. Jose Contreras looks to build on his first decent outing of the year; he'll face Mark Mulder again. The jury is out until the big Cuban can string together a couple of good starts. Meanwhile, Joe Torre thinks that Gary Sheffield is due to break out shortly. According to Newsday:

"Sheffield is going to hurt somebody," Joe Torre said after the Yankees' 4-2 victory over the Royals Sunday. "He's swinging it. He's swinging it hard, like he's always done. He's just not able to center it right now."

When he does, duck and cover.

Yanks 4, Royals 2
2004-05-03 08:55
by Alex Belth

Sweep Dreams

What could be finer than the Yankees sweeping a series at home? Oh, the Red Sox getting swept in a three-game series against the Texas Rangers? Sure, that's a start. Mike Mussina struggled early again yesterday, but a 4-6-3 double play saved his bacon in the third, he gained his composure--retiring the last eleven men he faced--and only allowed two runs in seven innings of work. Down 2-0 in the third, Hideki Matsui doubled and advanced to third on Ruben Sierra's flyout. Then he tagged and scored on a shallow pop fly to left.

Jason Giambi (2-4) nailed a solo homer into the right field upper deck to tie the game in the fourth. The game remained tied in the seventh, when Jorge Posada led off with a double. Matsui followed and singled to right. Posada was waved home by Luis Sojo and scored. Juan Gone's throw missed the cut-off man and Matsui alertly moved to second. Godziller moved to third on wild pitch and scored on a sac fly by Ruben Sierra.

Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera finished the Royals off and the Yanks have now won six straight. For the last couple of years friend Greg G has been saying that Rivera needs to hit more batters, just to keep them honest. Well, after giving up a single to start the ninth, Rivera did just that, plunking Joe Randa, and putting the tying run on base. Next, he blew away Matt Stairs and Desi Relaford, then got a ground out to end the game.

Joe Torre, who missed Saturday's game to attend his daughter's communion, notched the 800th win of his Yankee career.

Yankees 12, Royals 4
2004-05-01 16:55
by Alex Belth

Back in Business

Jon Lieber pitched seven solid innings against the Royals in his Yankee debut on a warm Saturday afternoon in the Bronx. The Yankee offense provided him with plenty of cushion for his first win in almost two years (it was the fifth consecutive win for New York). Derek Jeter had three hits, and Alex Rodriguez added two, as did Jason Giambi, who also walked twice and was hit by a pitch. Rodriguez has a twelve-game hitting streak working. Hideki Matsui homered, scored three times and collected three RBI, but it was Ruben Sierra who was the slugging star of the day, hitting a three-run homer in the third and a grand salami in the eighth.

Two night ago my girlfriend scolded me for regularly cursing Sierra out. It's not so much that she likes Sierra--which, incidentally she does--but she hates to hear me dog any of the Yankees. She thinks it's negative karma. I tried to convince her that Ruben, Ruben is all warshed up as a player, and she said "Well, what about the hit he got the other night to win the game?" Doesn't matter, he's still garbage, I reasoned.

Well, I'm sure Emily is pleased that her boy had such a good day, and so are most Yankee fans I figure. The only people who should be upset are Royals fans who have to stomach getting killed not just by Rodriguez, Giambi and Sheffield, but old man Sierra as well.

I didn't get a chance to watch the game, so if anyone has any impressions--particularly of Lieber--that they'd like to share, I sure would appreciate hearing from you.

Strictly Business

Oh, I almost forgot to mention ol' Rocket Clemens, who won his major league-leading fifth game of the season last night. His ERA this year is 1.95. Here is the quote of the night:

"It's amazing how a man his age still throws 94 or 95 [mph]," said Cincinnati's Jacob Cruz, who struck out three times against the 41-year-old Clemens. "I'm upset that he didn't retire. We all are."

Bet the Astros would beg to differ.

Yanks 5, Royals 2
2004-05-01 11:56
by Alex Belth

Spring is easily my favorite season of the year in New York City. (Fall is second.) The way the weather is right now, chilly in the morning, chilly at night, and lovely during the day--is choice. I love it. All of the trees now have buds, and some are almost in full bloom. Women are wearing skirts and dresses again. Hello? Yams galore. Oh baby, how about those NYC legs? Hey now. Talk to me, talk to me.

I went out to dinner with a friend from high school who just bought a two bedroom apartment on 115th street just off Broadway. Which means that it's essentially on the Columbia University campus. We went out for Indian and then took a walk on the campus. Dave's father went to graduate school for business at Columbia during the late 1960s. His pop went on to become a successful and financially comfortable executive who retired early, golden parachute and all. His parents now live in Florida year-round.

Not so long ago, they visited Dave in New York and took a stroll on the Columbia campus. It was the first time Dave's dad had set foot on Columbia since he left grad school in 1968. He told his son that he would have to step over protesting bodies in order to get to class. Which just goes to show, no matter how much attention the hippies got, twenty years later, there were a whole lot of guys who retired early with golden parachute deals too, man.

The weather was great and riding the train home, even waiting for the bus, was pleasent simply because it felt so good to be out. As the subway moved above ground through the northern Manhattan streets, I thought about how much I love living in New York City, how proud I am to call it home.

When I got home Carlos Beltran had just hit a one-out single off Mariano Rivera. It was the ninth inning and the Yanks were ahead 5-2. As I hugged Emily and we said our hellos, Rivera walked Mike Sweeney and Mel Stottlemyre came out for a talk. Mo then blew away Matt Stairs swinging and got Ken Harvey to wave at a pitch two feet over his head to end the game. Fourth in the a row for the Bombers and there was more smiles to be had. (Royals manager Tony Pena even got into it flapping his arms like a chicken after the Royals intentionally walked Alex Rodriguez and then Gary Sheffield in the fifth inning.)

As I learned in the highlights, the game was all about Javier Vasquez, who is the most impressive pitcher on the Yankees staff so far this season.

According to the Daily News and the New York Times:

"I saw it early on," Torre said. "He's very comfortable with himself. He has a lot of confidence. You recognize that when he gives up a home run like that and then buckles down. He's very professional. He seems to be mature beyond his years."

"The thing I'm most impressed with is how he bounces back after a bad pitch or a bad hitter," said Joe Torre, the Yankees' manager.

"He throws a lot of strikes. He gets ahead in the count and keeps hitters in a defense mode. He throws a very lively fastball, plus he has a slider and a changeup that he is confident to throw at anytime. For a kid 27 years old, that's pretty amazing. He came here knowing how he wanted to pitch, and he wasn't going to change that."

Mike Scioscia once told George Will that a pitcher has his best stuff working only 60-70 percent of the time. The rest of the times they have to concentrate on the craft of pitching more than they can on having dynamite stuff.

"It's never easy, but I felt good," Vazquez said. "The guys put five runs on the board and that helped. I'm a fastball pitcher and it was there for me today. I didn't think my stuff was so great, but I mixed the pitches up pretty good."

The win was important because it gave the Yankees a winning record for a month in which they played poorly. In fact, they have now had a winning record in the month of April for 13 consecutive seasons. Considering how they must have felt after getting their asses handed to them by the Red Sox, it is something to feel good about. I sure know that I feel good about it.

The Yankees are like the great rap duo EPMD: no matter how you slice it, it all comes down to Business. I have to admit, I'm not a business-minded person at all. At least not naturally. But growing up following the Yankees, I've grown to appreciate their Business-like approach to the game. I do admire the fact that Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter work so hard to maintain a high level of performance. Some people find it boring and I can understand that. I find it comforting.

I always slapped hands, or high-fives when the Yankees, or any team I rooted for, won a game. But starting in 1998, my brother and I just gave each other a firm, hearty hand shake. Maybe a pat on the back. We got so used to watching the team win, and shake each other's hands at the end of the game, we just thought it was the most natural thing to do as well. Any other kind of celebrating--unless the game was appropriately dramatic--seemed exessive, in bad taste.

On Wednesday night, when the Yankees beat the A's all of the guys I was with who were Yankee fans shook each other's hands. Job well done guys, nice doing business with you.

Going out of Business?

Speaking of business, that's just what Pedro Martinez seems to be giving the Boston Red Sox. According to the Globe, Pedro will test the open market at the end of the season:

"I will consider any team as of now," he said. "The Dodgers don't have the same people that were there when I was mistreated. I'm open to anybody, just as I am open to anybody in the future."

..."I'll play for anybody, but I'm not going to say I'm going to try to play for the Yankees before I give Boston the opportunity to sign me," he said. "Boston has probably the same chances the Yankees will have."

Check out some of the fine voices from Red Sox Nation linked to the right for the fan reaction.

Certainly Out of Business

Sometimes you have to wonder how the Mets do business at all. It can't just be about bad luck. Jose Reyes had a setback in rehab and will be shut down for more than a minute. How long before he returns is anyone's guess. Lee Jenkins reports in the Times:

"He feels like maybe he came back too soon," [Reyes' agent, Peter] Greenberg said. "He's dejected, frustrated, very upset. He's kicking himself."

So are the Mets, who have been treating Reyes for almost two months with no real results. Reyes will undergo a treatment program in Port St. Lucie that includes weight lifting, aerobics and exercises in a pool — a regimen much different from the initial treatment he received when he strained the hamstring March 14.

..."You can't do this in-house," [fitness expert and hamstring specialist, the Phoenix-based Mack] Newton said. "You have to look outside your organization and look at all the resources, or you're really not serious about being successful. You're not insuring your investment and that's stupid. If the people in-house knew what they were doing, how did it get to this point in the first place? It's not like this started the day before yesterday."

Head on over to the various Mets sites listed to the right for more on this story. Hey, Jeff Pearlman's book might be the highlight of the season for Mets fans, and that'd be a damn shame.


The Yankees are reporting that reliever Steve Karsay won't be around this season at all:

"No, I don't think we'll get anything out of him," Torre said. "If he shows up here, it'll be a bonus. Every time it looked like he was getting to where he could let it go - he was throwing with good velocity - he had a reaction to it."

No Karsay, no DePaula, and most likely, no Travis Lee either.

Mass Appeal

William Rhoden is one of the few general sports columnists who writes thoughtful and enganging pieces on baseball. He's got one today comparing P. Diddy's current star turn in a rival of "A Raisin in the Sun," with Alex Rodriguez's arrival in the Bronx.

You can debate who has more pressure. A-Rod is playing with the Yankees and carrying his reputation onto the big stage of New York. Frankly, I think there is a lot more pressure on Combs. Rodriguez switched teams and positions; Combs switched genres.

...The more intriguing part of the Rodriguez-Combs analogy is the impact they have had on their supporting casts.

The most pressure on the Yankees is not on Rodriguez, as it turns out, but on Jeter, the Yankees' 29-year-old captain, shortstop and backbone.

It's no coincidence that the worst slump of Jeter's career coincided with the arrival of Rodriguez. The slump wasn't about envy, not even about a sense of looking over one's shoulder, just an awareness: the best player in baseball at your position is playing third base and has slowly gained ownership of that position as well. Rodriguez has an 11-game hitting streak; Jeter broke out of an 0-for-32 slump on Thursday night.

I think Rhoden is the first guy to say that Rodriguez is all tied up in Jeter's slump, but of course, I've been thinking about it since last Sunday. He's right when he says that it's about "awareness" more than envy. Jeter's not a stupid guy. He realizes that on some level he's the one who is going to have to adjust to Rodriguez as much as Rordriguez is going to have to adjust to him. It's much easier for Rodriguez: He's the superior player. In the end, that will win out. And Jeter is bright enough to recognize it. I think he's competitive enough to eventually regain his confort zone, but I'm interested to see if he'll offer to change positions for the good of the team sometime in the next couple of seasons.

Funny Guy

Lisa Olsen has an amusing puff piece on Jon Lieber, who is making his first big league start in 21 months for the Yankees this afternoon.

[YES announcer, and former Yankee, Joe] Girardi calls Lieber "naive" and "kind of a simple guy who doesn't get too wound up about anything." Joe Torre calls him "a character." After being asked about today's eventful start every which way, and in several different languages, Lieber says, with a smile that stretches all the way to the door, "I feel like I'm on Death Row. Do I get my last meal?"

I'm not going to be able to watch the game, but I'll follow updates on the computer. It's an overcast day in New York, and more than slightly humid. It's a day that anticipates the summer weather. In no time at all, it's going to hotter'n' July. Bernie had two hits yesterday, Sheffield an RBI, Rodriguez a single that extended his hitting streak to eleven. I hope the Yanks get as hot as the weather.