Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Monthly archives: August 2004


Night of the Living Dead
2004-08-31 23:40
by Alex Belth

"I'm a blunt getting smoked and I can't wake up." KRS-ONE

Man, I had the worst dream last night. The Yankees suffered the most lopsided loss in team history, falling 22-0 at home to the Indians. (I can't believe they gave up the two-pernt conversion.) Hold up. That was no dream. It was a nightmare. Omar Vizquel had six hits, tying an American League record for hits in a nine-inning game. Esteban Loiaza finished the game for the Yanks. Not wanting to be left out of the festivities, he was torched in the ninth, serving up two, three-run bombs.

The Angels scored a bunch of runs late but it wasn't enough to beat the Red Sox who won their seventh consecutive game. Boston now trails the Yankees by three-and-a-half games, and they are creepin' closer.

A mortified Yankee team will look to rebound on Wednesday night against the ace of the Cleveland staff, C.C. Sabathia. Just what do the Yankees need to do to get a good performance out of one of their starting pitchers? Wait a minute, don't answer that. I'm going back to bed.

no title
2004-08-31 20:53
by Alex Belth

"Don't Look back. Something might be gaining on you." Satchel Paige

Puttin' Out the Fire (With Gasoline)
2004-08-31 20:41
by Alex Belth

Bring on Taynon, CJ, and who is that warming up in the bullpen? Esteban Loaiza? Come on in, the water's fine. Welp, we Yankee fans need to laugh to keep from crying tonight. Take it on the chin, and suck it up. (And at this point, with the score 13, no 14, make that 15-0 in the fifth, getting some laughs out of this one is the best we can hope for.) It's a joyous night for Red Sox Nation and an utterly forgettable one for the Bombers. Let's turn the page, as they say. Hmmm. I think I'm out of cliches. Funny, how El Duque—Wednesday night's starter—always seems to find himself in big games for New York. Keep hope alive peoples. All is not lost. (Though the papers will have a b-a-double "L" with this one tomorrow.)

The Doctor is...Out
2004-08-31 19:56
by Alex Belth

Javier Vazquez didn't make it through the second inning tonight in what was the shortest outing of his career. He was nothing short of awful. Jake Westbrook, on the other hand, looks sharp. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are out to an early lead in Boston. Need to vent? Unleash your fury below...

As Good as it Gets
2004-08-31 08:49
by Alex Belth

Every time I ride out to Brooklyn to visit my old barber I get this feeling that once I get there, he won't be around anymore. It is not only because he's getting older but because the Carroll Gardens-Cobble Hill neighborhood has become so gentrified that the older shops along Smith street are regularly replaced by chic boutiques, hip bars and trendy new restaurants. I lived in Brooklyn for five years (1995-2000) and loved my barber, Efrain Torres, a soft-spoken Puerto Rican man who lost the lease on his barber shop four years ago. Since then, he has a chair in another shop on Smith street, and still happily works six days a week.

It may seem like a long way to schlepp for a haircut. After all, I live in the Bronx now. But Efrain approaches his work with great care and respect for his craft. The barbers around my way are a good bunch of guys, but they cut hair like they are late for dinner. And not only do they rush, but their movements are coarse and violent. Their work is often sloppy. I've got a hard cut to screw up--a conservative fade (1 1/2 on the side and 2 on the top with a straight razor to clean up the lines). But I usually come home with small nicks from the razor with random little hairs sticking up from the top of my head.

Emily, who loves my hair short, will inspect their work and usually has some cherce words for their craftsmanship. "You should go back down there and have them get it right."

"Ahh, sweetie, it just doesn't work like that. It's fine, whatever."

I know I'm getting a second-rate cut but it's depressing trying to find a new shop. I always know that I've got Efrain, who I visited last Friday afternoon. (I'm not the only one who will travel a ways to see him either. He has regulars that come in from Long Island and Weschester as well.) A father and son--also Puerto Rican--own the shop and cut heads too. They will be silent for long periods of time and then suddenly come to life with tall tales of fighting and "How to be a man." They speak a mixture of Spanish and English, usually depending on who is in the shop. A heavy-set Spanish woman has a corner area where she cuts women's hair. A glass statuette of a dolphin sits on top of a can of hairspray next to her. I've rarely seen her with any clients. She spends most of her time rummaging through her bag or through the drawers of her table looking for make-up. You'd think her bag was a clown's prop. She's in there forever. Then she applies more lipstick, eye-shadow. She is comically vain. When she's left with nothing else to do, she will take a hot-iron and touch up her big, orange hair.

Efrain speaks with a heavy Spanish accent, but has a gentle voice and is unhurried in virtually all of his movements. It is always comforting to see him. He works in a predictable, almost robotic manner. Always the same routine. It's one that I've come to forget. I used to get impatient waiting for him to finish, but now, I appreciate the pace. His hands are soft. When he wipes away small hairs that have fallen in my face with a brush, he does it as if he touching somebody who is asleep, afraid to wake them.

He'll tell me stories that have no punchlines. He'll stop what he's doing at one point for the payoff. I sit there with a frozen smile on my face waiting for the kicker which never comes. So I keep smiling and offer a laugh which prompts him to laugh back, pleased that I've enjoyed his story.

When he's finished with the straight razor and everything is done, he'll take a pair of sissors and snip behind my ears or on the top of my head. As he was doing this last Friday he stopped and told me, "I'm sorry it takes so long, but you have to pay attention to the details. It's the small details that make the difference."

Ain't it the truth. The telling detail. It's hard to find people who take their craft seriously, but when you do find them, they are worth their weight in gold. Am I right? No matter what they do. If they drive a bus, or cut heads or write for a living. Pat Jordan is a throwback baseball writer. He is a journalist who writes "straight" stories in a style that pre-dates New Journalism or Gonzo writing, though he came of age in the era of Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson. His best pieces are long profiles, but he doesn't get to do much of them anymore. His most recent baseball piece for The New York Times Magazine wasn't longer than 2,000 words. He used to write 6,000 word articles regularly.

It's hard for a writer like Jordan to thrive in the today's magazine culture, which is a shame for someone who takes his craft seriously. He writes clearly, and has a keen eye for observation, not to mention human behavior. He respects the language and doesn't let cute language or gimmicks get in the way of the story. But even if he doesn't get the opportunity to pen longer pieces anymore, he is now offering a look at some of his best unpublished work. Jordan recently launched a website which posts a new story every month. They are no baseball pieces yet, but a sampling of all kinds of work: a piece about a healer, an expose on the porno industry. Jordan is charging up to four bucks per story. The shorter stories are only one or two dollars.

Anyhow, they are worth the money if you appreciate honest and unpretentious craftsmanship. Jordan writes like Efrain Torres cuts heads: with sensitivity and discipline. His work also suggests that he is doing exactly what he was meant to do on this earth. He cares about his craft which makes the visit well-worth the trip. Tell him I sent you.

So You Want to be a Baseball Writer?
2004-08-30 13:13
by Alex Belth

Rey Ordonez, eat your heart out

If most baseball writers are, at heart, failed players, then at least I meet requirment number one. Here are a couple of telling snap shots of me from a junior varsity game back in the spring of 1986.

Notice the fine form:

The discipline and grace:

For the record, my team lost the game. I struck out looking on a 3-2 pitch to end it. The damn pitch was right down the middle too (a bp meatball if there ever was one). This was the one game my dad attended that year; fortunately he brought his camera. Unfortunately, a shot of my coach consoling me after I made the last out has been lost. It was my favorite memory of the game.

And a literary career was born!

Blue Jays 6, Yankees 3
2004-08-30 08:25
by Alex Belth


"We're playing well," [manager Joe] Torre said. "I'll take winning five out of seven at every turn. If that's not good enough, it's not good enough. We have no control over them (Red Sox), but we're playing well right now." (N.Y. Daily News)

"This game is about runs, and they are on their best run of the year," Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said of the Red Sox. "We're in the driver's seat. We've got a month left of baseball, and hopefully our best baseball is ahead of us." (N.Y. Times)

I'm generally an upbeat person but when we're talking about sports I'm a pessimist--at least when it comes to rooting for my teams--always waiting for the the other shoe to drop. My girlfriend Emily has battled Crohn's Disease for years and at times I see how it clouds her view on life. But above all, she is a fighter. No matter how difficult things get for her, how dark things can get, she takes her lumps then comes out swinging. And when it comes to baseball, she is an optimist of the first order. It makes for a good partner (and sometimes a good foil). She never thinks the Yankees are out of a game. The ninth inning on Saturday was proof enough for her that anything can happen at any time.

As frustrated as I was to see yesterday's game slip away from the Yanks--a botched double play and a miscommunication between Derek Jeter and Enrique Wilson along with some poor pitches by Mussina and Paul "Lighter Fluid" Quantrill was enough to do the trick--let us look on the bright side: Mike Mussina pitched his best game since returning from his elbow injury and Alex Rodriguez went 4-4. Also, the Yankees went 5-2 on the week. Who knew that the Red Sox would forget how to lose? Boston won again yesterday, and now trail the Yanks by just four-and-a-half games (four in the loss column). They have won 12 of their last 13 games. However, now is the time for the Yankees to make up a few games as the Sox play their next nine games against the Angels, Rangers and A's.

Larry Mahnken, another noted Yankee optimist, isn't pressing the panic button yet either. In the latest edition of "Rivals in Exile," Mahnken writes:

If A-Rod does hit in the clutch down the stretch and in the playoffs, it will make up for the loss of Jason Giambi, though Tony Clark and John Olerud have been surprisingly solid in his place. They've posted a combined .802 OPS as Yankees, which isn't special, but above average for AL first basemen. That's about the level of production the Yanks got out of Tino Martinez in the late 90's. Clark and Olerud have taken a potential disaster and turned it into a push. If Giambi does come back and is effective, that would be huge, but with three great hitters already in A-Rod, Sheffield and Matsui, the Yankees don't need him.

What they need is good relief, which could make Steve Karsay the most important September addition. While you don't want to go too far in projecting the return of a pitcher who has been out almost two full years, but Karsay's with the team, throwing in the bullpen, and looking good. If he's able to pitch effectively in September, he could give the Yankees the vital solid middle relief they need to keep Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera on their butts. And if he pitched well, he could be a huge addition to the postseason roster.

The next three weeks represent the Yankees' last, best chance to finally put Boston out of the AL East race. If they play well, they can tack on a couple of games before they play the Sox on the 17th. If they don't add any games, or even worse, drop some, then things get hairy.

Amen. Not like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop or anything. But no matter what shakes down over the next few weeks, it looks like the Yanks and Sox will play six more exciting games against each other before we reach the playoffs. Did you expect anything less?

Yankees 18, Blue Jays 6
2004-08-29 09:42
by Alex Belth

"If I had stuck on the base, it would've been worse," Sheffield said. "I feel pretty good. I don't have a big limp. ... I walk pretty good. Freak accidents happen in this game. Thank God it's not worse and I'll be OK." (N.Y. Daily News)

Yankee fans got a little bit of everything on Saturday: thrills, spills and even some uncomfortable chills. Kevin Brown had little control in the early innings, he labored, and before you know it the Bombers were behind 4-0. Then the offense rallied against Ted Lilly—he of the nasty stuff but questionable disposition—to give New York the lead. Brown settled down and gave the Yankees some much-needed length, but Paul Quantrill was ineffective yet again, and before you knew it there was Mariano Rivera pitching in the eighth inning.

Which is funny when you look at the final score. But the Yankees brought out the whupping stick in the ninth inning and broke the game wide open. Tony Clark—my girlfriends favorite Yankee—hit three home runs. Gary Sheffield hit one two and so did Alex Rodriguez. And Ruben Sierra hit the 300th dinger of his career--a grand slam. Brown earned the win, the first recorded by a Yankee starter in the last 13 games. And Rivera came back out to pitch the ninth, which must have prompted some head-scratching for Yankee fans. I guess Rivera felt good and wanted to get the work in. I don't know, you tell me.

However, there was a nervous moment in the middle of the Yankees Gashouse Gorillas conga line routine when Sheffield turned his ankle sliding into third base. Sheffield was able to walk off the field and the x-rays were negative. He won't play today and the Yankees have an off-day on Monday. He should be able to return later in the week.

The Yankees didn't gain any ground on Boston who won again, this time behind a strong performance by Prince Pedro Martinez. The lead in the east remains five-and-a-half games. Meanwhile, Jason Giambi swung a bat again yesterday. In an expected move, Esteban Loaiza is being moved to the bullpen.

Sheff of the Future is Now

Jay Jaffe has some company in reconsidering Gary Sheffield. Jaffe has a wonderful three-part series on Sheffield's career cooking over at The Futility Infielder (the third installment will be posted when Jay returns from vacation). Now Bruce Markusen and Steven Goldman add their thoughts about Sheffield's admirable 2004 campaign. Markusen writes:

Even with two serious injuries, Sheffield is probably the most enjoyable hitter to watch in either league. From him incessant bat waggle (which makes you think he might break his arm at any moment), to steel-like wrists that seem to have come from a melding of Dick Allen and Hank Aaron, to a ferocious swing-from-the-heels approach that amazingly produces more contact than it does air, Sheffield has made himself into a one-man grandstand show in the batter’s box. There’s more, too. His plate coverage is simply remarkable, like that of a Roberto Clemente or a Yogi Berra. In a recent series against the Twins, Sheffield hit two eye-popping home runs. The first one came on a pitch up and in and probably out of the strike zone (it was practically above head level); at best, most hitters would have popped the ball foul behind the catcher. And then in the ninth inning, with the Yankees trailing by one after having forked over a 9-1 lead, Sheffield practically willed a game-tying shot into the left field stands, blasting a brutal pitch falling down and away, a pitch that most hitters would have dribbled down the third-base line. The dramatic home run initiated a Yankee comeback that produced four runs in the inning, giving the Bombers a much-needed win during one of their most dreadful stretches of the season.

In the latest edition of The Pinstriped Bible, Goldman provides some great charts to show that Sheffield's season may end up being one of the 5 or 6 best ever had by a right-handed hitter for the Yankees:

No matter how you slice it, Sheffield is giving the Yankees something special. There haven’t been a lot of left-handers in recent years who have posted numbers this good. He has been an extraordinary asset, and those who second-guessed his signing — this author among them — will think better of him in the future.

And that's the truth. Thhhppt.

Yanks 8, Jays 7
2004-08-28 09:34
by Alex Belth

In what was most likely his last chance as a starter for New York, Esteban Loaiza was awful once again but the Yankees scored enough runs to come away with a win. Phew. (Or is the P-U?) I know it is not nice to call a professional useless, but that is pretty much what Loaiza has been as a Yankee. Tom Gordon was forced into the game when the middle relief couldn't hold a four-run lead (he earned the save). The Yankees walked eleven times and Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, and Bernie Williams added homers. The Bombers remain five-and-a-half ahead of the Sox who won again (Boston has won ten or their last eleven already).

Jason Giambi took some swings off a tee yesterday in Florida. Perhaps there is a chance he will make it back this season after all. Giambi's saga continues...

Yankees 7, Blue Jays 4
2004-08-27 08:43
by Alex Belth

Awww, Bacon

I won't lie to you. When the Blue Jays had two men on with nobody out in the third inning, already up 4-0 lead, I started preparing myself for the Bombers to end the evening four-and-a-half games in front of Boston. Emily wasn't home yet so I let out a few cherce words, a couple of primal screams. After all, the Red Sox can't seem to lose these days, and it looked as if Jon Lieber wasn't going to make it through five innings. I wasn't the only Yankee fan groaning. Larry Mahnken was holding his own upstate New York:

We know that this is a slump, that this is not the real Yankees we're seeing out there. We know this is a slump because the numbers being put up by their players are even worse than even the biggest pessimist could have predicited, and that we can be almost entirely certain that these players will almost all put up numbers better than the past week and a half over the remainder of the season, and for most, those numbers will be appreciably better. We know that, considering the unusual fact that nearly the entire team has entered a slump at the same instance, the slump is likely to end soon, if gradually. And more than this, we know that because of the relative ease of the remaining schedule, the possibility of the Yankees dropping the final 5½ games of their lead and more is exceptionally unlikely, regardless of the events of the past week and a half. Even if Kevin Brown is out, that would have a much greater impact on their postseason fortunes than their chances of getting there.

But I am an emotional being, and often my logical conclusions are vetoed by my impatience, and I have, to a degree, lost faith in the entire Yankees lineup. Only Sheffield has my confidence, when anyone else comes up, particularly with two outs, I feel as though an out is certain. Of course this feeling will pass, but as I watched the game last night, this depair took over, and 4-0 felt like an insurmountable mountain.

But Jon Lieber rebounded, worked his way out of the further trouble in the third, and went on to retire 13 Blue Jays in a row. Meanwhile, the Yankees were without a hit through the first four innings. The Jays confident young pitcher David Bush, who throws a fastball, curve and a change up, was cruising. However, a throwing error by shortstop Chris Woodward to open the fifth initiated a rally. John Olerud and Miguel Cairo hit back-to-back singles to load the bases and then Kenny Lofton--who started in right field--slapped a single to left scoring the Yankees first run. Bernie Williams flied out, which scored Olerud and then Cairo came home on a bloop single to center by Jeter. It was a daring piece of base running by Cairo--who made two nifty defensive plays in the game--because had the ball been caught he would have been doubled off easily. Then Gary Sheffield walked to load the bases. So Alex Rodriguez had another golden opportunity to break out of his slump. Yanks down by a run, bases juiced, one out. But on the 2-0 pitch, Rodriguez grounded into a double play to end the inning.

And there was much angst in the borough of the Bronx. Rodriguez smiled in disbelief and gritted his teeth. The Yankees would eventually tie the game on another RBI single by Lofton--who had three hits on the night--but it didn't get much better for Rodriguez, who came up with a runner in scoring position in the seventh (a walk and a stolen base by Sheff). Rodriguez grounded out to short. Oy veh.

Lieber pitched into the eighth and was removed with one out and Carlos Delgado due up (Carlito launched a tremendous dinger off Lieber back in the first). The southpaw C.J. Nitkowski replaced him and retired Delgado on one pitch (ground out to Jeter). Next, he fell behind Eric Hinske 3-0 before throwing three consecutive strikes on the inside corner to get out of the inning. Hinske took the first two and swung threw the third. It was Nitkowski's best outing for New York to date.

Jason Fraser pitched the ninth for the Jays and walked Derek Jeter on a 3-2 pitch to start the inning. Then Sheffield smoked a double to left. Ken Singleton chuckled on the YES broadcast that Sheff hit the ball so hard he made the left fielder look like an infielder. "Three steps and it's by him." Second and third, nobody out and here comes Rodriguez. I figured the Jays would walk him to set up the double play. But considering how badly Rodriguez has struggled, they chose to pitch to him. "They're dissing him, that's a diss," I yelped to Emily. Rodriguez swung through a fastball and then fouled another heater off. Down 0-2, he was in a tight spot. But Fraser made a mistake and left another fastball up, over the inside part of the plate and Rodriguez smacked it into left for a base hit.

Both Jeter and Sheffield scored. Rodriguez threw his bat to the ground as he moved to first and peeked over at the Yankee dugout. He was so overcome that he held his fat ass to a single. There is little doubt that he should have been on second. As Matsui batted, Rodriguez started toward second several times, unsure of himself. The count went full, and Fraser balked Rodriguez to second. (Rodriguez should remember to keep Fraser on his Christmas list.) Godziller nailed the next pitch to center and Rodriguez scored putting the game out of reach.

As he entered the dugout, smiling and looking relieved, Rodriguez stumbled down the steps and almost wiped out. As you can imagine, this was a source of great amusement for his teammates. First, Willie Randolph busted his chops and soon enough, Derek Jeter was letting him have it too. Jeter sat on the bench flanked by Sheffield and Rodriguez. Jeter was doubled over in laughter. Rodriguez looked slightly pink and very much like a little kid. As great a player as he is, Rodriguez looks far more vulnerable than either Sheffield or Jeter do. He comes across as a classic younger brother. He may be a superior talent to Jeter, but there is something about him that suggests he needs validation and acceptance in a way that Jeter or Sheffield do not. Anyhow, watching the Yankees kid Rodriguez was a sight for sore eyes. There was a temporary halt to the angst in the Bronx, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Jeter lead the chop session.

Mariano Rivera continues to look strong and breezed through the Jays 1-2-3 in the ninth. The Yanks maintained their five-and-a-half game lead over the Red Sox who beat the Tigers in Boston last night.

Indians 4, Yanks 3
2004-08-26 08:26
by Alex Belth

Dag Nabbit

The Yankees lost a game they should have won last night. Coupled with a Red Sox victory, the Yankees' lead is down to five-and-a-half games. For the Indians, the win was a relief as it ended a nine game losing streak. The highlight of the evening was a squirrel which appeared in the third inning and liberally pranced around the field for the duration of the game. It was a frustrating loss for the New Yorkers who begin a four-game series in Toronto tonight.

El Duque pitched reasonably well, and the Bombers had a 3-2 lead when Flash Gordon took the hill in the eighth inning. But Gordon, working for the third consecutive night, didn't have any control and walked the first two batters. Both men would come around to score and that was the game. However, it's hard to get down on Gordon. If anyone or anything can be blamed for the loss it would be the Yankee offense, who once again hit the ball hard at times, but had little to show for it. Alex Rodriguez went 0-3 with runners in scoring position. According to George King in the New York Post:

Each team was terrible in the clutch. The Yankees went 2-for-12 and the Indians were 2-for-14. Alex Rodriguez's troubles hitting with runners in scoring position continued. He went 0-for-3 and hit into a double play that vacuumed the life out of a possible big seventh inning. A-Rod, who has four hits in the last 27 at-bats in the clutch (.148), is hitting .200 (23-for-115) with runners in scoring position.

Jon Lieber will try to give the bullpen a rest tonight. The bats need to make like the Bombers and make it easy for him.

Sheff of the Past

Jack Curry has a nice piece on Gary Sheffield's experience in the Little League World Serious today in the Times. Well worth a peak.

To Live and Die in L.A.
2004-08-25 13:51
by Alex Belth

Bleeding Dodger Green

Jay Jaffe has the second part of his Gary Sheffield profile up at The Futility Infielder. This portion covers Sheffield's time in L.A. Terrific stuff. Be sure to check it out.

Yanks 5, Indians 4
2004-08-25 08:36
by Alex Belth

Next to Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui has been the Yankees' most valuable offensive player this season. Godzilla offers a wonderful stylistic contrast to Sheffield's hyper-active batting stance. For the most part, Matsui is as still and calm as Sheffield is active. Matsui gently rocks back and forth, slightly lifting his front leg, as he waits for each pitch. His shoulders twitch as if he were a hippo reflexively shooing away the little birds that rest on its back. If not for these small movements you'd think Matsui was as dead as a Frankenstein monster.

Matsui came up with the winning hit for the Yankees last night when he slapped Bob Wickman's 1-0 pitch into left field for an RBI single. Derek Jeter led off the ninth in a 4-4 game with a walk. He then swiped second as Gary Sheffield struck out and wasted little time stealing third as well. Alex Rodriguez had three hits on the night and now had a beautiful opportunity to put the Yankees ahead with a fly ball to the outfield. But Rodriguez tapped a pitch low and away weakly to short for the second out of the inning. Rodriguez's frustration hitting with runners in scoring position continues. I'm certain that nobody is more aware of this than Rodriguez himself. Interestingly, Matsui hit virtually the same pitch--low and away--but drove it to the opposite field for a single.

Mariano Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his 43rd save of the year--oh those Deomocratic ground balls---while Tom Gordon got the win. The Indians have now dropped nine games in a row. Javier Vazquez allowed four runs with two out in the third inning, but he pitched a decent game. Along with the other Yankee pitchers Vazquez simply isn't striking men out this year, but he was able to keep them in the game, pitching seven innings. For the second-straight night, the Yankees appeared poised to blow the game open. Kenny Lofton was the hard-luck loser last night, striking the ball hard to the outfield three times with just a sacrifice fly to show for his efforts. (Coco Crisp made a terrific catch in left to rob him of a hit.) Lofton is one hit away from two thousand career hits. So close yet so far...

Regardless, a win is a win, and the Yankees stay six-and-a-half in front of the Red Sox who beat the Jays, 5-4.

Comeback on Hold?

According to Joe Torre, the chances of Jason Giambi returning this year appear to be getting worse. Torre told the Times:

"If he plays, I'm not sure how much of him we're getting, basically. I mean, I hope I'm wrong. I know no more than you do.

"But just the fact that he hasn't been able to do anything significant baseball-wise, and to be ill right now. Again, this is ill like the normal cold and stuff; it just keeps eating up days."
..."It's a setback," Torre said. "He's really drained right now."

"I think the thing that concerns me is to be able to get him enough work where he can rehab, and now that seems to be out the window. It doesn't seem that there'll be any games left to rehab at."

This is a bummer, man.

And Now For Somethign Completely Different...

Truman Capote wrote a scathing profile on Marlon Brando for The New Yorker in 1957 called, "The Duke in his Domain." I read it years ago and was telling a friend about it yesterday. It was a memorable, finely observed piece. So I googled it and it turns out that The New Yorker has put it up on the Net, most likely in honor of Brando's recent passing. If you are a Brando fan, it is a must-read. I don't know how long it will be posted, so take a peak while it's up.

Yanks 6, Indians 4
2004-08-24 08:32
by Alex Belth

Mike Mussina threw a lot of pitches in the first couple of innings last night. He walked three, allowed four hits and gave up three runs in five innings. Not a terrific line, but he didn't look awful either. He was sharper in his final two innings of work. Cliff Lee was erratic early, and he gave up three runs in five innings. The Bombers took a 4-3 lead on Ruben Sierra's two-out single in the eighth, but Flash Gordon gave the run right back in the bottom of the inning.

This set the stage for yet another big home run by Gary Sheffield. With two men out in the ninth, Bob Wickman plunked Derek Jeter in the elbow. Jeter was hurt badly enough to leave the game (fortunately, the x-rays were negative and though he may not play tonight, he should be OK to go tomorrow). This put the Yankees in a tight spot as Kenny Lofton had led off the inning pinch-hitting for Miguel Cairo. With Jeter out, Gary Sheffield was going to get his second shot at third base this year. But before he changed positions, he yanked a slider into the left field stands to put the Yanks up 6-4.

Watching Sheffield up with the game on the line, I've come to expect him to not only come through with a hit, with a home run. The YES cameras actually missed the swing live as they had cut away to a shot of Joe Torre watching in the dugout. Sheffield had barely missed a similar pitch from Wickman early in the count, which he fouled back dislodging a portion of padding from the backstop. When the camera cut back to live action, we saw the ball fly over the left field fence. Surprised?

Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth and the Yankees gained a game on Boston who were shut out by Ted Lilly and the Blue Jays, 3-0. The Yankee lead stands at six-and-a-half games. Gary Sheffield played third but didn't get a ball hit to him.

Sound the Alarm?

Murray Chass reports in the Times that George Steinbrenner isn't flying off the handle over his teams' recent struggles:

"I'm not panicking at all," Steinbrenner said in a statement. "We've been down this road before and I have tremendous faith in my players, my manager and the leadership of the team. We will be O.K."

The comment is remarkable for its mellow tone and its absence of threats. It is remarkable for the calmness and serenity it projects.

Managers often say they have to maintain a steadiness in the face of adversity, lest the players see panic on their faces and panic themselves. But here is Steinbrenner wearing a stoic mask. What a development.

However, George King notes that Boss Steinbrenner called his inner-circle to Tampa to meet. The group included GM Brian Cashman. Without knowing the particulars, we can all imagine what went on behind closed doors in Florida. And it most likely wasn't a kinder, gentler George.

A Bomb?

Alex Rodriguez continues to struggle and Mike Lupica rips him today in the Daily News. Rodriguez had an infield single last night, and was robbed of a hit by Omar Vizquel and a missed call by the second base umpire. He hit the ball sharply in his last at-bat but grounded out to third. Keep plugging away Rodriguez, we are behind you. Meanwhile, Jason Giambi still has a sore groin and now has a cold. He hasn't continued working out yet.

Getting Better All the Time

I enjoyed Paul O'Neill's infrequent stints in the YES booth last season mostly because of how he busted Michael Kay's chops. But as much as I admired O'Neill as a player, I find him hard to take as an analyst, if you want to call him that. He'll usually preface commentary by saying, "You know, when you're out there in right field..." followed by the standard ex-jock spiel. Oy. On the other hand, I'm really impressed with how thorough and professional Joe Girardi has been for YES. He's got a good sense of humor and he's extremely well-prepared. Maybe his work-ethic as a catcher has carryied over to his career as a broadcaster. Girardi seems like he's a cut above of his peers. He'll talk about a Cleveland hitter and let you know how he's done over the last week or so, as if he's actually sat down and watched tape of the games. Go figure. I'd be happy to hear more of him moving forward.

Angels 4, Yanks 3
2004-08-23 08:15
by Alex Belth

Garbage Time

The Yanks ended a thoroughly lousy weekend in which they were swept by the Angels, by collecting just four hits all afternoon. Kevin Brown was tagged for a three-run home run by Bengie Molina and that was enough to sink the Bombers. Nothing has gone right for the Yankees over the past week: they've lost six of seven games and a full five games in the standings. They now lead Boston by just five-and-a-half games. Wonder how the Mount St. Steinbrenner Fury Index is going?

The only rally the Yankees had yesterday was partially thwarted by another inexplicable sacrifice bunt by Derek Jeter. Kenny Lofton led off the third inning with a single and scored on Bernie Williams' double to right. Man on first, no out, Yanks up 1-0. And you could see it coming. Even a guy wearing a Jeter jersey in front of me was shouting out, "Why?" Jeter bunted Williams to third, completing his 13th sacrifice of the season. There was a smattering of applause at the stadium, admiring the captain's "smart" play. Oy veh. Oh by the way: end of rally. Gary Sheffield doubled Williams home. Somewhere Earl Weaver was shaking his head. Kelvim Escobar pitched well and the Yanks wouldn't get another hit until Sheffield hit a solo dinger in the eighth.

While Jeter's lack of walks this year--he has just 26--has really hurt his numbers (.326 BBP), his newfound love for the sacrifice bunt just doesn't make any sense. The New York press has been slow to call Jeter on it--the Times didn't mention it at all today--but a loss like yesterday's is enough to start them asking questions. Joel Sherman opines:

Why would Derek Jeter, struggling again on offense, sacrifice with Bernie Williams on second, one run already in and no outs in the third? Jeter said because he felt the team needed to build toward another run and that Kelvim Escobar's 95 mph fastball tails into righties, and he did not feel he could shoot the ball to right field. But he also disputed he has sacrificed more this season, though the 12 [actually 13] he has are one more than he had produced in the three previous seasons combined.

The blame for the Yankees' slump does not rest on Jeter's sacrifice bunting of course. I know I'm picking on him. Alex Rodriguez isn't hitting a lick, and other than Sheffield, neither is anyone else in the line-up. Oh, and they haven't had a lights-out performance from any of the starting pitchers either. The team starts a three-game series in Cleveland tonight. The Indians have fallen out of the playoff race. One of these teams is due for a win. Let's hope it's the New Yorkers...

I was at the game yesterday. It was a beautiful day to be at the park. The place was packed. But we sat on our hands for most of the day. There was a seven-year old Mets fan sitting behind me who was taking great delight in the Yankees' misfortune. He didn't stop talking throughout the entire game and seriously, it took all of my maturity as an adult not to turn around and say something that would potentially scar the kid for a long time. I came close to losing it, and am thankful I managed to control myself. You all should have seen the look on my face though. A true comedy routine if you ever saw one. Anyhow, Emily had a great time. "I'm at the ball game," she kept saying. "I'm so happy to be at the game, and you can quote me and put it on your site."

I hope to be able to post more positive quotes like that as the week moves along.

Another Day...
2004-08-22 11:00
by Alex Belth

It is an absolutely gorgeous day here in New York. Slightly overcast, but sunny, without a trace of humidity in the air. Em and I and just about to head on over to the stadium with a couple of friends of hers to catch the game. Brownie will be on the mound for the Yanks. I have a good feeling about them today. Lord knows, Boss George will be ranting and raving later this afternoon if they don't win. Look for Joe Torre to continue managing like we're in October (he had Tom Gordon warming up yesterday, down 5-1 and never got him in the game).

Dog Daze
2004-08-21 21:34
by Alex Belth

The Yankees continued their slide on Friday and Saturday at the stadium, losing 5-0 and 6-1 to the Angels. Ramon Ortiz, Aaron Sele and the Angels bullpen helped wipe the floor with them. I was at the game this afternoon, staying through the fourth inning, and getting thoroughly soaked before my brother and I eventually bagged it (the game was delayed for over three hours). Bernie Williams made a base-running mistake (wake up and join the rest of us Sweet Pea) while Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter made errors in the field. The team looks flat and they got their asses handed to them. First it was Minnesota and now it's Anahiem. The Angels beat up on Esteban Loazia who was booed as he left the field, though not nearly as badly as he could have been. Jeff Davanon hit a long home run into the right field bleachers then took his own sweet time rounding the bases. You could time the guy with a calendar. Yo, he hit the ball a ton, respect due, but last I checked his name wasn't Vlad Guerrero. Try running around the bases smart guy.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox won twice and now trail the Yankees by just six and a half games. Boston has won five straight. While it is probably premature to panic, I can safely say that there are a lot of unhappy Yankee fans tonight. As you can tell, I'm not even a little bit happy. Sure, it's unlikely that the Yankees will play as poorly as they have for the past week for too long, but one never knows...And just because the Bombers have never squandered a big lead late in the season doesn't mean it's never going to happen. While some will say, "It's the Yanks, it'll never happen to them?" I say, "Why wouldn't it happen to them sooner or later?"

Kevin Brown goes against Kelvim Escobar tomorrow before the Yanks head off to Cleveland. Here's hoping that no matter the result, the Yanks show up and play a more compelling brand of baseball.

Yanks 13, Twins 10
2004-08-20 08:38
by Alex Belth

"We made one helluva comeback, then we saw something we haven't seen all year," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I still can't believe Sheffield hit that out." (Star Trib)

The Yankee offense was in good form last night even if the bullpen was not. The Yanks won a wildly entertaining game by the skin of their teeth, something Yankee fans have grown accustom to this season. The New Yorkers broke the game open with five runs in the fifth and by the seventh inning stretch led 9-3. Minnesota's center fielder Torii Hunter collided with the outfield wall trying to rob Jorge Posada of a double to start the fifth and had to leave the game on a cart. It was a scary moment, one that had me rattled watching at home. Generally, I hate any team the Yankees are playing, no matter what I think of them objectively. But even in the heat of competition, it's difficult to dislike Hunter. As he lay on the ground I was really concerned that he seriously injured himself. Fortunately, he seems to be OK.

But Twins starter Carlos Silva was rattled and Gary Sheffield capped the scoring off when he launched a tits-high fastball into the left field seats for a three-run dinger. Alex Rodriguez would add a two-run shot in his return and the Yanks were cruising. But El Duque couldn't get out of the seventh and for the second-consecutive game reliever Paul Quantrill gave up three straight hits. The Twins scored five in the seventh and then resident Yankee-killer Shannon Stewart (four hits) smacked a two-out triple off of Flash Gordon in the eighth to put Minnesota ahead 10-9.

However, the Yankees were not done. After Derek Jeter grounded out to start the ninth off of Joe Nathan, Gary Sheffield tied the game with his second dinger of the night (and 30th of the season). It wasn't a terrible pitch; fastball low and away. Sheffield yanked it to the seats in left. (Which made me wonder: How many home runs has Sheffield hit to either center or right field this year? Off the top of my head, I can recall only one that he hit to right, in the second game of the season back in Japan.) Nathan has been brilliant this year but the Yanks got to him. Alex Rodriguez followed with a single--his third hit of the game--and promptly swiped second base. He scored on Hideki Matsui's RBI single to right. The Bombers added two more runs thanks to a pinch-hit by Ruben Sierra.

Mariano Rivera put heads to bed in the bottom of the ninth, throwing ten pitches and striking out the side. As the team went through the post-game, high-figh conga-line, Rivera was uncharacteristically animated. With Sheffield and Rivera leading the way, Yankee fans could sleep comfortably knowing they would not be swept. However, the Twins have their attention. The Bombers made like Fellini and gained a half-a-game on the idle Boston Red Sox.

Staying Put?

According to reports in all of the local papers this morning, it is unlikely that the Yankees will trade Esteban Loiaza to the Rangers.

The Stick That Stirs the Drink
2004-08-19 13:05
by Alex Belth

In New York, the 1996-2001 Yankees are considered a connisseur's team much in the same way that the New York Knicks of the late 60s and early 70s were. Curiously, there has been relatively little written about them, especially when compared with the Bronx Zoo Yankees of the late 70s. (Has there been any team in the last fifty years that has inspired more literature--if you want to call it that--than the Bronx Zoo Bombers?) The recent Yankee teams have not been as controversially juicy as their shaggy predecessors; in comparison, they are a tame bunch. But there have been plenty of interesting characters--flakes, stand-up guys, and red asses--that have passed through the Bronx over the past ten years. Buster Olney, who covered Joe Torre's Yankees for the New York Times from 1997 through 2001, has written the first detailed look at that team. "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty" (Harper Collins) is an insider's look at the one of the great teams of the modern era.

The following is a chapter Olney devotes to Stick Michael and Buck Showalter, two men who were largely responsible for the Yankees' return to glory. Enjoy!

Book Excerpt

From "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty"

by Buster Olney

Gene Michael had tickets, and he would watch the first innings of Game 7 [of the 2001 World Series] from the stands, but it was understood that eventually he should make his way to the visitors' clubhouse, where his presence was required. Steinbrenner's superstition was powerful and he needed his trusted amulets to ward off defeat. Michael, the director of major league scouting for the Yankees, would be seated alongside Steinbrenner and Dwight Gooden, a special assistant, in the visiting manager's office through the game.
Michael's relationship with Steinbrenner had roots 30 years deep. He had worked for him as a player, coach, manager, general manager and scout, and like many of Steinbrenner's baseball lieutenants, he had fled the Yankees and then returned, in his case after spending much of the 1980s with the Cubs. When Michael came back, he, like all Yankees executives, was intermittently shoved out of the loop. But Steinbrenner seemed to trust Michael's judgment on players above that of all other advisors.
Steinbrenner had turned to Michael in the summer of 1990 as he faced a suspension from baseball. He had been caught paying a known gambler for damaging information on one of his own players, Dave Winfield, and his lawyers began negotiating a sentence with Commissioner Fay Vincent. It was a good time for Steinbrenner to leave, anyway; he had run the team into the ground with rash decisions, and the Yankees were a laughingstock. "I want out of baseball," Steinbrenner told Vincent during deliberations over the penalty to be levied. "I'm sick and tired of it." He agreed to a suspension of indefinite length, knowing he could subsequently apply for reinstatement, but before he left the Yankees Steinbrenner decided to replace his general manager, Pete Peterson.
At the time, Michael was working as a scout for the Yankees, and he phoned Steinbrenner to suggest former Dodgers pitcher Don Sutton as a candidate for general manager. Michael had been impressed by Sutton's intelligence, and he thought Sutton would satisfy Steinbrenner's standing desire for marquee names; Don Drysdale was another possibility, Michael thought. But Steinbrenner sounded completely disinterested. A couple of weeks later, Steinbrenner called back. "We've been thinking about your choice," Steinbrenner said. "But we keep coming back to one name."
Michael waited, silently. "Aren't you going to ask me who it is?" Steinbrenner asked.
"OK," said Michael. "Who is it?"
"You," Steinbrenner replied, and Michael was stunned.
"I have great confidence in him," Steinbrenner told reporters when Michael was introduced at a press conference, as he had about other general managers and managers he had fired in the past. "No one is more knowledgeable in the organization." But a club official close to Steinbrenner thought the real reason the owner chose Michael was because he trusted Michael's motives. Michael might make decisions Steinbrenner didn't like, but Steinbrenner believed he would never make any decision without the best interests of the Yankees at heart.
He had been the team’s general manager before, during 1979 and 1980, after Steinbrenner had pried him off the field. "Forget about managing," Steinbrenner had said, "and come up here with the other second-guessers." Now, in 1990, Michael was attracted to the challenge of rebuilding the Yankees, and he had some ideas of how the team could be improved. And with Steinbrenner out of the day-to-day operations, Michael would have the element most essential to restructuring the team: time.
There would be time for the prospects to develop in the minors. Time for the youngest Yankees, like 21-year-old Bernie Williams, to evolve into productive major leaguers. Time for the organization to restock its pool of pitching. Steinbrenner would not be around to impetuously override the judgment of his baseball executives. He had changed general managers 14 times in his 17 years as owner of the Yankees, but now it appeared Michael would have carte blanche for at least a couple of years, maybe longer.

Michael was introduced at a press conference on Aug. 20, 1990, and a reporter asked whether Michael would have taken the job if Steinbrenner had not been forced out of the game. Michael smiled. "That's not a fair question," he said. "I wasn't offered that." Twelve years later, Michael again declined to answer the same question. But friends inside and outside the organization thought the answer in both instances would have been no.
For many years, it seemed Michael made a mistake to make a career in baseball, because anyone who had seen Gene Michael play basketball and baseball knew that he was better at basketball. Michael himself preferred basketball. Almost 6-foot-3 and stronger than his slender build might suggest, Michael could shoot and play defense, and he liked basketball better because you could practice by yourself; a ball and a basket and you were in business. Baseball required too many players. But he wanted to play professional sports and baseball seemed like a more stable employment option; the major and minor leagues were better established. He signed with the Pirates for $25,000, but never felt fully confident, the way he did in basketball. Playing in the Class B Carolina League in 1962, Michael faced a Durham Bulls pitcher named Wally Wolf and was completely overwhelmed by Wolf's fastball; nobody could hit that stuff, he thought. Wolf was subsequently promoted to Class AAA, where hitters pounded him, and Michael was appalled. If Wally Wolf can't get to the majors with that fastball, Michael thought, how am I going to hit major league pitchers?
Michael had a strong second season in the minors, though, batting .324 and stealing 36 bases, and in that winter, as 1961 became 1962, he played basketball in Akron - and was recommended to the Detroit Pistons, who had lost a couple of guards to injuries. Michael was offered a two-year contract that would have offset his baseball signing bonus. But this was before players had agents and lawyers to represent them in negotiations, and Michael knew that his baseball contract specifically forbade him from pursuing a basketball career. "Nowadays, you see players get out of that kind of contract all the time," Michael said years later. "But I was scared, I was naïve."
He was misled, too, by the high batting average he posted for the Hobbs Pirates. His offense continued to fluctuate in the summer that followed - that year with Hobbs, as it turned out, would be the best of his professional career, something of a fluke - and he kept taking college classes, working toward his degree. Michael tended to take more classes after his worst seasons, fewer when he played better.
When a minor league teammate named Jim Price met Michael for the first time, he was struck by how tall and skinny Michael was. "Either you're a human 1-iron or a stick," said Price, and forever after Michael was widely known as Stick. Michael spoke with a hearty Midwestern accent and laughed easily. Michael's thick hair often looked wind-blown when there was no wind, and he tended to wear caps that didn't quite fit him. He often finished his sentences with a chuckle, guffawing at an anecdote or at himself. "You could look at him and underestimate him," said Pat Gillick, who played against Michael in the minor leagues in 1960, long before Gillick became general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. "And the whole time, he would have his hand in your pocket, getting the best of you. He was always heads-up, always in the game."
He demonstrated a wider understanding of the game very early in his career, even as he struggled to hit. Michael was playing for the Class B Kinston Eagles and his team was getting pounded by a young Red Sox prospect named Rico Petrocelli, who would later go on to star for Boston. Playing shortstop, Michael noticed Petrocelli's whole approach to hitting was based on the ball-strike count: when he was ahead in the count, two balls and no strikes or 3-1, he would wait for fastballs - and only fastballs - and crush them. When he was behind in the count, Petrocelli would wait for breaking balls. It was a common approach, but Petrocelli was uncommonly disciplined in adhering to this strategy, and Michael informed the team's catcher, Harper Cooper, who scoffed. Catcher and shortstop argued, until an annoyed Cooper gave in and told Michael he should call the pitches from his position. Years later, Michael vaguely recalled the system they used - he stood a little straighter for fastballs, placing his hand on his knee for a breaking ball. Petrocelli began making outs.
Michael reached the major leagues for the Pirates in 1966 and was quickly conquered by curveballs and sliders, hitting just .152 in 33 at-bats. The Pirates traded Michael and Bob Bailey to the Dodgers for shortstop Maury Wills before the 1967 season, and Michael batted .202 in 98 games, his career path established. He would hit .229 with 15 homers in 11 seasons, surviving because of his fielding and other intangibles. Peter Gammons, the Boston Globe baseball writer who covered Michael at the end of his playing career, found him to be unexpectedly competitive and tough. Yankees catcher Thurman Munson and Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk had gotten into a brawl at home plate in 1973, after Michael had missed a squeeze bunt and Munson, charging from third, had smashed into Fisk viciously, with a resolve that was not entirely spontaneous. For months, Michael had been prodding Munson by placing pictures of Fisk in his locker, and Munson, aware that Fisk was more photogenic and perhaps a better player, was furious – partly because he did not know who was taping the pictures. Michael knew, however, and, as the scrum evolved, Michael came face to face with Fisk and fired punches at the Boston catcher, defending the Yankee pinstripes.
Bouncing from team to team at the end of his career, Michael was 37 years old when Boston dumped him a month into the 1976 season, before he even had an at-bat. He had only vague notions of what he would do with the rest of his life. Michael had made a steady wage in baseball but he wasn’t wealthy; maybe he would teach someplace, coach in college or high school.
Marty Appel, the Yankees’ media relations director at that time, contacted Michael and told him that Steinbrenner wanted to talk. The two chatted at a function in Shea Stadium's Diamond Club. "I think you should stay in the game," Steinbrenner told Michael, adding that some of the Yankees' coaches had thought he was unusually intelligent. Michael was still unsure what Steinbrenner had in mind, whether it was broadcasting or coaching or working in the front office; he only knew he had a job with the Yankees. In 1978, Michael joined Billy Martin’s coaching staff, but because Martin had no prior relationship with Michael and because Steinbrenner had sponsored him, Martin was suspicious. "Billy thinks Gene is a spy for George, that he's one of the guys telling George stuff," Sparky Lyle wrote in his 1979 book (beginital)The Bronx Zoo(endital). "Billy doesn't know for certain, but he knows that he doesn't like him. If Billy can keep his job to the end of the year, he'll fire Gene at the end of the season." Once, when the Yankees were in Detroit, Michael was forced to dress with the players, rather than with the other coaches. "I don't know what's wrong," Michael told Lyle. "They just don't like me anymore." Martin and Michael later settled their differences, Michael recalled. "Billy trusted me only when he knew I didn't want to manage for George," said Michael.
Michael eventually did manage for Steinbrenner, though, for two brief stints during the 1981 and 1982 seasons. But after a year as general manager, Michael went to work for the Chicago Cubs, returning to the Yankees as a scout only after the Cubs fired him as their manager in 1987. As Michael became general manager of the Yankees again on Aug. 20, 1990, the team was a mess, a jumbled collection of ill-fitting parts; they would finish that season last among seven teams in the American League East, with 67 victories and 95 losses. Michael had a strategy for rebuilding the franchise.
He wanted to restock the Yankees' lineup with left-handed hitters, to take advantage of the close right field fence - 314 feet down the line and 385 feet in right-center, compared to left field, where the fence seemed to curl out from the foul line and extend into Queens. Seven of the nine regulars in the team's lineup in 1990 were right-handed, and Don Mattingly, one of the two lefties, was suffering from back trouble that would sap the power he had had earlier in his career. Most of the Yankees in the Hall of Fame were left-handed hitters - Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson. Roger Maris had been a leftie, Mickey Mantle a switch-hitter. Yankee Stadium had been built to favor left-handed hitters - Ruth, at the outset - and it made no sense to Michael for the Yankees to be predominantly right-handed.
Michael planned to build his offense on the foundation of on-base percentage. He wanted to acquire players who would draw walks, as well as get hits. If there were more runners on base, Michael believed, it naturally followed that more runs would be scored. This was an elementary concept that had not yet gained league-wide recognition, and it was partly a by-product of the shrinking of the strike zone. Umpires no longer were calling strikes at the bellybutton, or even pitches at the belt. "If you throw it above the sack" - the scrotum - "then it's borderline," said a National League pitcher. The average number of pitches per at-bat would rise steadily, and so would walks. Babe Ruth and Ted Williams drew more walks than other hitters in their respective generations, but primarily because pitchers refused to throw them strikes. By the late 80s, however, the best hitters were making walks an integral part of their offense. Wade Boggs, an All-Star third baseman for Boston, had won the American League batting title in 1986, with a .357 average, but he also drew a league-high 105 walks. By the turn of the century, the inability to draw walks would be viewed as a liability.
But in the early ‘90s Michael was ahead of the pack in building a lineup of hitters with high on-base percentages - a group of hitters who would force opposing starting pitchers to work deep into ball-strike counts and perhaps tire in the fifth, sixth or seventh inning. The strength of most pitching staffs was the starters and the late-inning relievers, and if the Yankees could wear out the starters, they could then feast on the soft underbelly of major-league pitching - the middle relief.
The Yankees gradually added left-handed hitters, with the notable exception of Mike Stanley, a right-handed backup catcher who had been cast off by the Texas Rangers after the 1991 season. Stanley hit .249 in 1992, and before the next season Michael gave him a two-year contract, a move that appeared based in no logic whatsoever. But Michael recognized that he had good plate discipline, and in 1993, Stanley - 30 years old - batted .305 with 57 walks. Wade Boggs signed with the Yankees in 1993, batting .302 with 74 walks in his first season. O'Neill, a tough left-handed hitter, was added in '93. Mike Gallego, a 5-foot-7 inch middle infielder with a small strike zone, joined in 1992. In 1990, the year Michael became general manager, the Yankees drew 427 walks; in 1993, they collected 629, and scored 218 more runs than they had three years before.
Michael had his own strong sense of what kind of player could succeed in New York, and amiability was not a factor. Along with Buck Showalter, who became the Yankees' manager in 1992, he rid the team of players they thought detrimentally selfish – bad teammates, like Mel Hall. To Michael, it really didn’t matter if a player was an asshole so long as his antics did not become a serious distraction for the other players. Michael wanted players who demonstrated an ability to block out everything going on around them and focus on the task at hand. "Deep thinkers," he called them, although in a sport in which almost everything could be quantified by some type of statistic, it was unclear how deep thinkers might be identified.
But Michael had a knack for recognizing them. Other scouts who had seen O'Neill throw helmets and rant while with the Reds were certain he would fail in New York, unnerved by nosy reporters, or Steinbrenner, or the fans who would boo him as a matter of course. Michael, on the other hand, watched O'Neill and interpreted his intensity as evidence of a player deeply committed to his work, preoccupied with the pursuit of success.
Steinbrenner had once landed the best free agents, signing players like Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage in the first years of the system. But Steinbrenner's bizarre treatment of Winfield and other players, as well as the team's disintegration in the 1980s, changed the way free agents viewed the Yankees. The team was neither successful nor glamorous, and a veteran player signing with the Yankees had to assume there was a fair chance that sooner or later, he would become a target Steinbrenner’s criticism. Free agents flirted with the Yankees, but merely used the team to boost their market values. It became an amusing rite of fall: an attractive free agent would express interest in playing for the Yankees, driving up his own asking price, and then sign elsewhere. By the mid-80s, the Yankees were struggling to lure the premier free agents, a problem that would last for almost a decade. Instead of getting stars, they settled for flawed players like Steve Sax. Before the 1992 season, Yankees executives - presumably serving Steinbrenner, who was not permitted oversight of day-to-day operations of the team - circumvented Michael and jumped in late in negotiations with outfielder Danny Tartabull, compelled by public-relations fears after the Mets signed Bobby Bonilla. But Tartabull was over-hyped: Injury-prone and a subpar outfielder, Tartabull signed for $25 million over five years and was a disaster, and was dumped before the end of his contract. Shortly after the 1992 season, the Yankees pushed hard to sign Greg Maddux and failed; Maddux signed with Atlanta. The Yankees had a perception problem with free agents. But that all changed with Jimmy Key, Michael believed.
Key pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays for nine seasons, working steadily, usually winning 13 to 17 games when he was healthy. But his impact went beyond his record. The left-hander was viewed as a serious professional and competitor, tested in the post-season - a natural leader, in the opinion of Pat Gillick, the Toronto general manager. Key had thrown three scoreless innings in the 1992 playoffs before winning twice in the World Series, and despite his history of injuries, he was one of the premier free agents in the off-season. A country kid from Huntsville, Alabama, Key had thrived in the calm of Toronto, and when the Yankees began wooing him, questions arose among scouts about whether he would like pitching in New York, if he would be bothered by the big city. But Gillick didn’t think anything would bother him: "He was just one of those guys who competed no matter where he was." The Blue Jays offered Key a three-year deal, and the Yankees topped them with an offer of four years and $16 million. But Key would also be swayed by what he had seen of the Yankees in 1992. Since Showalter became the manager, Key had seen the roster shifting, the personality of the team changing. "The so-called bad guys were getting weeded out," Key recalled years later. "I just felt like Buck had gotten the organization going in the right direction."
Key went 18-6 in 1993, his first season, and the Yankees went 88-74. They led the league in hitting with a .279 average, their roster had many more young players, and, said Gillick, it was apparent that Michael was building something good, something that might last.
Steinbrenner didn’t see it that way. "This team is messed up," he told Michael shortly after he returned from his permanent ban, which had been reduced to two years. "The players are messed up; everything is messed up. This was in good shape when I left."
"That's why we had the first pick in the '91 draft, right?" Michael shot back. "Don't be a wiseass," Steinbrenner replied.
For the next few years, Michael would hold together the framework he had built, together for the next few years, but it wouldn’t be easy. Steinbrenner was forever impatient, temperamental. He would demand change and Michael would argue, vehemently. "There was a mutual respect between he and George, because Stick would stand up for what he believed, and George knew that," said Showalter. "You had to show him how passionate you were about a decision. Now, you were going to be held accountable for it, but Stick didn't have a problem with accountability. He had the same thing we were looking for in our players."
Because Steinbrenner was boss, Michael often had to wage clandestine battles, using creative tactics in the face of a stronger enemy. Before Bernie Williams established himself, Steinbrenner once ordered Michael to collect offers from other teams for the young outfielder and then trade him to whoever dangled the best deal. Michael employed a tactic worthy of Rommel: he called executives with the other 25 teams but never mentioned Williams, then reported back to Steinbrenner that yes, he had talked with every team in baseball, and no one had expressed any interest in Williams. He had succeeded in holding off Steinbrenner, and though Michael almost traded him in 1994, talking for weeks with the Montreal Expos about a possible swap for Larry Walker, Williams hit a few homers and was again saved. Michael phoned Montreal GM Kevin Malone: Thanks for your interest, but we're keeping him.
Michael was not afraid to trade young players; there was no set rule against dealing a prospect for a veteran player. But patience was paramount, he thought. You had to give a young player time to develop, to learn, to adjust, and if you didn’t, you would cheat yourself of the opportunity to make sound judgments. He had swapped Kelly for O'Neill when Kelly was 27 and younger and faster, and had taken some criticism. The swap of a blossoming young player for a veteran who seemed to be fading smacked of Steinbrenner, circa 1985. But Michael had watched Kelly for several years and decided he had peaked, while O'Neill had not realized his potential. Over the next nine seasons, O’Neill would drive in 858 runs, Kelly 325.
Michael had been talking to the Detroit Tigers about a possible trade for left-handed pitcher David Wells in the early part of the 1995 season, and the Tigers had expressed interest in Mariano Rivera, then a young and unproven pitcher who had undergone elbow surgery in 1992 and had gone through a lengthy rehabilitation. Rivera threw with varying success, compiling a 5.81 ERA in six starts at Class AAA Columbus in 1994. His array of pitches was considered to be a bit above average - a good changeup and slider, a mediocre fastball that usually clocked 88 to 90 miles per hour. Michael was prepared to trade Rivera, in the right deal. But after Rivera pitched for Columbus on June 26, 1995, Michael read the reports the next morning and was stunned: Rivera's fastball had been clocked at a consistent 95 mph, sometimes touching 96 mph. Skeptical of those results, Michael called the Columbus coaching staff to make sure its radar gun was operating properly. Yes, he was assured, the reading is accurate. Still doubtful, he phoned Jerry Walker, the Tigers scout who had seen the game. Michael chatted amiably, asking about other players and other teams, and then idly inquired if Walker had noticed what Rivera's radar readings were. Consistent 95 mph, Walker told him, and he touched 96. There was no way Mariano Rivera would be traded that summer, Michael decided. Talent existed within him the Yankees had not seen yet; they had to be patient.
Stump Merrill was the Yankees' manager when Michael took over, and ran the team through the 1991 season before being replaced by Buck Showalter. The lasting memory some beat writers had of Merrill came from spring training in ‘91: As he spoke with reporters after an exhibition, Merrill finished his meal and applied utilized a game-used sock to clean his teeth. Showalter, on the other hand, was impeccably dressed, looking as though he just stepped out of a Nordstrom's catalogue. When he appeared on a baseball card for the first time, he was disturbed by a particularly prominent pore on his nose.
Showalter’s meticulousness extended to the decoration of his office. A calendar on which he could organize his pitching rotation - and those of the Yankees' opponents - was mounted on the west wall. His lineup cards were written so neatly that they appeared to be computer-generated (in contrast to Merrill’s nearly illegible scribble). Jack Curry, the beat writer for the New York Times, noticed that the major league media guides behind the desk were always arranged in alphabetical order. Showalter worked extraordinary hours, sometimes sleeping in his office and spending almost his entire waking day at ballparks, meeting with coaches, reviewing statistics and charts. He once complained about gaining weight and when an acquaintance suggested he might work out more, Showalter said it wasn't possible. When I'm on the treadmill or riding an exercise bicycle, he explained, I'm wondering what Tony La Russa - the manager of the Oakland Athletics - is doing at that exact moment to get better.
Showalter changed the conditions and the culture of the Yankees' clubhouse, making everything first rate. The weight room was improved, a family room was installed for the players' young children to play during games, there was more attention paid to appearance. The clubhouse looked great, and while players might have lingering concerns about their safety outside of the Yankee Stadium gates, life at the park seemed much more tenable. Make being a Yankee a great thing, Showalter told the players. Eliminate the excuses; make this a great place.

He paid attention to the evolution of the whole organization, and was aware of development at every level. When a young minor league pitcher injured his arm and required surgery, Showalter penned a letter, encouraging the player - Mariano Rivera - and assuring him he had a bright future in baseball, with the Yankees. There were team meetings before every series to review the scouting reports of the opponents, and while some players increasingly grew weary of Showalter’s micromanaging, they understood that the Yankees would never lose a game because their manager wasn't prepared.
Showalter, like Michael, carefully weighed the effect that players had on their teammates. He wanted players who cared about being part of a team, players who were sincere about playing well. When Showalter watched videotape of the games, he would check how the players reacted to the success of teammates. Because the home dugout in Yankee Stadium was angled toward right field, players on the bench would have to leap forward to follow the flight of a ball hit into the right field corner, and Showalter saw that when other Yankees drove balls to right, Mel Hall never moved from his spot on the bench. "You can afford to have one asshole if you surround him with 24 good guys," Showalter once told a friend. "But if you have more than that, than the assholes are going to befriend those who might be good guys, and pretty soon it's a problem." Showalter was instrumental in bringing in strong professionals like Spike Owen, who were not necessarily great athletes but were considered great people, and who treated teammates with respect. He wanted players who were accountable. During the 1995 season, Showalter relieved starting pitcher Jack McDowell, and as he faced the bullpen in left-center field, he heard a loud roar from the crowd. "Stano, what was that?" Showalter asked Stanley, his catcher. "Well, let's put it this way," he replied. "Jack just flipped off New York." McDowell had flashed the middle finger to the fans. But as the manager considered juggling his rotation to keep the offending pitcher from starting in Yankee Stadium, McDowell said no, he wanted to pitch at home, to take the heat he had created. It was the kind of attitude that Showalter loved.
After years of having managers with loose control, the Yankees needed someone rigidly structured. Showalter had never played in the major leagues and had battled and scrapped for everything he gotten in his professional life, ascending because of his tenacious concern with detail. But that trait, some players believed, fueled his obsession with control and worries about what was being said privately, and in particular, what was being said about him. Managers traditionally exit first from their spots at the front of the buses and planes, but Showalter would wait in his seat and allow the rest of the team to depart before he left, all of them pinned by his stare; it was as if he was trying to see how they reacted to each loss, to each victory, to him. He would pull the beat writers aside, ask them questions and then offer information, beginning in a conspiratorial tone: "Just between us girls..." Of course, it didn't take long for them to figure out he was telling other writers the same information. Some felt Showalter treated prominent national columnists with much more deference than the beat reporters who covered the team daily, a dangerous habit in a city with such heavy newspaper crossfire.
The Yankees' winning percentage improved from .438 in Merrill's last year to .619 in the strike-shortened season of 1994; there was a wide consensus that the Yankees were the best team in the American League that year. The next year, they would make the playoffs, winning the A.L.'s first wildcard berth. But after they lost to Seattle in a crushing five-game series, surrendering the tying and winning runs in the bottom of the ninth inning of the decisive game, many of the veterans – weary of their manager’s controlling nature – thought it was time for Showalter to go. The players had always had faith in Showalter's managing, said Jim Leyritz, even if they felt he didn't always know how to deal with his players. "What happened in the playoffs was that he made some decisions where it looked like he was protecting himself," said Leyritz. "A lot of guys started to lose confidence in him."
Steinbrenner, furious about the loss to Seattle, seemed ready to make changes anyway. Showalter's contract was about to expire, and while Steinbrenner's well-honed instinct was to fire the manager, the owner recognized his popularity; Showalter, after all, had received the loudest cheers during the pre-game introductions at Yankee Stadium just before the series with Seattle began. But they would part ways – a mutually arranged divorce, executives in the organization thought. Showalter indicated he could not accept Steinbrenner's decision to fire hitting coach Rick Down, but the departure was also convenient for Showalter; he would have tremendous job options elsewhere. The firing was widely criticized, and Steinbrenner blanched at the public outcry over his decision to hire Torre as the new manager. About a month after the change, Steinbrenner arrived on Showalter’s doorstep in Pensacola, Fla., and asked him to take back his old job. You just hired Torre as your manager, Showalter said, and Steinbrenner assured him he would find another job for Torre, make him a vice president or something.
Showalter declined. He had been given the opportunity to mold the franchise in Arizona, making decisions on everything from the outfielders to the uniforms to the design of the infield. Showalter wanted the Diamondbacks' home to look unique, so that if a fan turned on the game or saw a highlight, he would know immediately, just by looking at the field, that he was seeing a game from Arizona's Bank One Ballpark. Showalter also wanted the Diamondbacks to have built-in advantages playing on their own field. So it came to be that Bank One Ballpark was the only field with grass laid down between the outfield fences and the warning track - a feature that fooled opposing outfielders repeatedly – and became the first park in the majors with a yard-wide corridor of dirt running directly from the mound to home plate, cut into the infield grass. "Fucking Buck's strip of dirt," laughed Kevin Towers, the San Diego general manager.
Steinbrenner targeted Michael, as well, after the playoff loss to Seattle, tired of the constant dissent. "Why should I pay this guy to argue with me?" Steinbrenner asked an acquaintance. He told Michael he would have to take a pay cut, from $550,000 to $400,000, and also offered him a job overseeing the team's major league scouting for $150,000 - a golden parachute. Michael had contractual permission to talk with other teams if another GM job became available, and almost immediately, Baltimore owner Peter Angelos expressed interest in hiring him. But Steinbrenner called Angelos and asked him not to pursue Michael. Angelos, who was trying to convince a block of owners to stand against the shift of a team into Washington, D.C., needed Steinbrenner’s support, and respected his wishes.
Michael demotion to the scouting job, after five seasons of rebuilding the franchise into a contender, cemented Steinbrenner's reputation as an impossible boss. A half-dozen executives from other teams declined to interview for the job, before former Houston GM Bob Watson took the position. Steinbrenner promised Watson he was backing away from baseball. "I took the man at his word," said Watson, who would last little more than two seasons.
Michael's quality of life improved greatly after Watson took over; he no longer had to field the daily manic phone calls from the owner, and yet he continued to wield enormous influence within the team's circle of executives. Like all of the Yankees' officials, Michael would occasionally migrate into Steinbrenner's doghouse – as when he encouraged the Yankees to re-sign Cone to a 1-year, $12 million deal in 2000, and Cone won just four games - but Steinbrenner retained an abiding trust in his judgment. Steinbrenner would continue to ignore standard baseball protocol and deny the requests of other teams to interview Michael, including an overture by the Boston Red Sox; to placate Michael, Steinbrenner would increase his salary to over half a million dollars, an exorbitant fee for scouting executive. Although Steinbrenner had demoted Michael, there was no way he would ever allow the person most responsible for building the dynasty to join a division rival.

You can pick up "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty" at book stores everywhere. Or go to Amazon and order your copy today.

Twins 7, Yanks 2
2004-08-19 08:30
by Alex Belth

Three in a Row

"If we have to see them in the playoffs, they know it's not going to be easy." Johan Santana

Yo, tell me something I don't know. The Twins whipped the Yankees for the second straight night at the Metrodome. Both games have been anything but competitive. Johan Santana was efficient and devastating. He had a two-hit shut-out going into the eighth inning when allowed three hits before being pulled. The Yanks managed to score a couple of runs but it was too little too late. Mike Mussina and Taynon Sturtze gave up seven runs between them. By the middle of the game, the Minnesota crowd let the New Yorkers have it, chanting "Yankees Suck." Not for nothing, but I'm not impressed. I understand them wanting to vent after losing so often to New York over the past few years, but couldn't they have come up with something better than "Yankees suck?"

In his first start in a month-and-a-half, Mussina was understandably rusty. He didn't have much control and the Twins took full advantage. (Anyone know Shannon Stewart's lifetime numbers against the Yanks? Man, he always seems to kill 'em.) In all, it was a sour night for Yankee fans as the Red Sox gained another game in the standings. Boston trails the Yankees by eight games. As Jack Curry notes in the Times today:

Once again, the Yankees' comfort level does not seem to coincide with how a team with the best record in the American League should feel. Unless the Yankees get better performances from their starters, they look more flawed than formidable. Mussina and Javier Vazquez returned from injuries in the first two games here, but each was glaringly ineffective.

"I understand it's not going to be the way it was just yet," Mussina said. "You hope for a little better command of the baseball, but you just don't know. I really wasn't too disappointed."

It was nice to get a look at Joe Nathan, Minnesota's ace closer. He looked strong, though several Yankees hit the ball right on the screws (Williams, Matsui, Sierra). In fairness to Nathan, perhaps he wasn't at his best working with a five-run lead. Alex Rodriguez returns to the Yankee line-up tonight and not a moment too soon. The Bombers look to El Duque to save their bacon once again.

Separation Anxiety

Gary Sheffield spoke with Dr. Frank Jobe yesterday and apparently will not need surgery when the season is over. He has a separated left shoulder. Again, according to Jack Curry:

Jobe told Sheffield, the Yankees' right fielder, that the trapezius muscle in his shoulder had pulled away from the bone and caused a separation. Jobe, who had studied Sheffield's medical records but not met with him, said that Sheffield would need to rest for a month so that scar tissue would form around the muscle and enable him to heal completely.

...The trapezius muscles are flat, triangular muscles that are involved in the movement of the shoulder and arms. Sheffield has a damaged acromioclavicular joint - the separation of the shoulder - which the Yankees never disclosed. Sheffield said Wednesday that Jobe recognized the injury as similar to what Sheffield experienced when he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

...To be playing in this kind of pain and then thinking you're going to need surgery and you don't know if you can rebound from it at this point or have the desire to rebound, that's a big relief to know I don't have to go through that process," Sheffield said. "That's one road I don't have to cross."

Here Today...

George King reports in the Post today that the Yankees could be close to trading recently acquired pitcher Esteban Loaiza to the Texas Rangers for a couple of minor leaguers.

Twins 8, Yanks 2
2004-08-18 08:39
by Alex Belth

After losing thirteen straight regular season games to New York, the Twins pounded Javier Vazquez and the Yanks but good last night at the Metrodome. Vazquez was not impressive, while Minnesota's starter Brad Radke was sharp. The Yankees looked sluggish and it won't get any easier tonight with Johan Santana on the hill for the Twins. The Red Sox--who have played well lately--gained a game in the standings and are now nine back. According to Jack Curry in the New York Times:

What should have concerned the Yankees more than an overdue loss to a good team was an exasperating outing by Vazquez. Over six and two-thirds innings, he was bruised for six runs and nine hits, including two long homers, and he could not explain the patchy performance.

"I had nothing good on the ball," Vazquez said. "I had nothing going for me."

...After Vazquez's spotty start, it is easy to understand why the questions about the Yankees' fragile rotation will follow them into October. The Yankees are on a pace for 103 victories, but their starters do not leave them with an abundant supply of confidence.

Vazquez has pitched reasonably well this year, but he has been uneven. It will be on him come October to put the doubts to rest.

The most embarassing play of the game for the Yankees came after Torii Hunter singled home the Twins' fourth run of the game in the fifth inning. As Vazquez walked back to the mound, Derek Jeter turned his back to first and strolled back to his position at short. At the same time, Enrique Wilson was standing off of second base adjusting his mitt. So Hunter took off and swiped second. The local papers blamed Vazquez for the lapse, but I think the mistake is on the middle infielders. Rarely do you see Jeter--who extended his hitting streak to 17 games--make a bone-headed play like that. It was summed up a forgettable night pefectly.

The Bombers put men on base in the seventh and eighth innings, but could not generate a rally. The most memorable play of the night for New York came when Godziller Matsui robbed Hunter of a homer in the eighth inning. Gary Sheffield, hit a dinger for New York, his 28th of the year.

It's a Twins Thing
2004-08-17 08:35
by Alex Belth

In the early 90s when I was in college, black kids used to rock t-shirts which read, "It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand." My twin sister Sam and I thought it would be funny if we got "It's a twin thing, you wouldn't understand" shirts. Somehow, we never got around to realizing our private joke. But I was reminded of it this morning as I rode the IRT to midtown Manhattan thinking about how many good sites are devoted to the Minnesota Twins. And I only know a few of 'em. John Bonnes and Aaron Gleeman paved the way, then Seth Stohs stepped in last year with an excellent site. Now the witty Batgirl has become one of the more celebrated bloggers on the Internet. What's up with all the talent covering the Twins?

I don't know if there is answer to that question, but for the next couple of three days, be sure and head on over to these sites to get the Twins perspective on things. The Twinkies will be throwing their best arms against New York: Radke, Santana, Silva will face Vazquez, Mussina, Hernandez.

Keepin' Pace

The Red Sox beat the Blue Jays in Boston last night and now trail the Yankees by ten games. The Bombers signed Shane Spencer to a minor league contract. I was never a big fan of Shaniac. While I understood his frustration over not developing into a starting player for Torre's Yanks, I've always felt like he didn't fully appreciate what he had to show for those frustrations: namely, three championship rings. His behavior this season has been telling. As an insurance policy for the outfield I suppose you could do worse. And perhaps some Yankee fans will be happy to see him back.

Look Who's Cookin'?

Jay Jaffe reconsiders Gary Sheffield's career over at The Futility Infielder in the first of a two-part profile. Excellent stuff as always from Jaffe:

Sheffield's ferocious swing, tremendous plate discipline and physical toughness have positioned him as the fulcrum of a Yankee offense that for all its talent has been scrambling to live up to this season's lofty expectations. Derek Jeter's slump, Bernie Williams' appendectomy, Jason Giambi's illnesses and Alex Rodriguez's subpar situational hitting have all dragged the Yankee lineup down ant one point or another, but it's been Sheffield, hitting .295/.404/.532 wth 27 homers and a team-high 85 RBI, who's picked them up.

...Watching him play on a daily basis has forced me to re-evaluate everything I know about Gary Sheffield. The bottom line is that the guy can play for my team any day, and despite the occasional off-the-cuff remark that has generated controversy, he's been a model citizen since donning the pinstripes and a pleasure to follow.

For more good blogging on the Yanks, check out the latest from Cliff Corcoran, as well as an excellent defense of Jason Giambi by SG, who has been filling in for Larry Mahnken at the Replacement Level Yankees Blog.

I Like 'Em
2004-08-16 17:46
by Alex Belth

I know this might sound corny to say with the Yankees currently enjoying a comfortable lead, but I've got to say it anyhow: I really like the 2004 Bronx Bombers. I appreciate their professionalism, and enjoying watching them play, warts and all. Regardless of what shakes down later this season--whether they make it back to the fall classic or lose in the first round of the playoffs--I think this is my favorite Yankee team since the 1999-2000 versions.

They've got appealing new stars like Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown and Flash Gordon, as well as reliable role-players like Paul Quantrill, Miguel Cairo, Tony Clark, Jon Lieber, Ruben Sierra and John Olerud. I can find something to like about almost all of them (the only guys I'm not wild about are Enrique Wilson, and Felix Heredia). As far as I can tell they all fit in well in New York. I thought that Kenny Lofton could turn into another Raul Mondesi, but after some standard complaining to reporters early in the year, he's been a model citizen.

I realize that the Yankees have their flaws: the pitching isn't dominant, the middle-relief is suspect, the defense isn't especially good, but really, I haven't spent nearly as much time worrying about them as I did during the past two seasons. (The Yankees have problems that every other team would just love to have too, right?) I understand that there is no way to quantify terms like "character" and "chemistry," and I don't know how much they contribute to a team winning or losing games. My sense is that mainstream writers tend to overrate these qualities while many sabermetricians discount them too readily.

However, the Yankees seem to have a lot of character this season. And you do have to be a certain kind of player to thrive in New York (or Boston or even Philly). There is so much pressure to win the World Series in the Bronx that I can see how it would overwhelm some players. Perhaps guys like Jeff Weaver and Rondell White weren't the ideal fit for this team. The 96-01 Yankees were populated by type-A personalities. I believe that guys like Sheffield, Gordon and Brown have embraced playing for the Yanks. They buy into the Jeter-Mariano-Torre concept. One thing that many of the Yankees' new players have in common is that they are competitive dudes. (When was the last time you saw Sheffield, Matsui, Jeter, or Rodriguez loaf it down to first?)

While there are some Yankee fans who will call the season a failure if they don't win it all, I don't get the sense of "joylessness" that Mike Lupica carped about last season. Maybe that exists for the working press when you cover the team. I know that it can infest your mentality just rooting for them. But it doesn't have to.

I take the win-at-all-costs-or-else!-attititude as a given being a Yankee fan. It used it bother me, but now I don't fight it anylonger. It's the way it is, and quite frankly, it has always been that way since I've followed the team (with a few years off in the late 80s and early 90s). If the Yankees have a curse to call their own it is the curse of their own grand expectations. The owner may consider the season a failure should they not win a title and that is his right. Derek Jeter may echo those sentiments and that's fine. I like having an owner who wants to win--it would be nice if he had some grace, but screw it, you can't have everything--and I also like hearing that kind of talk from the teams' star player.

But for me, the win-or-bust mentality can only go so far. I've adopted it to a certain extent because it is the teams' reality, but will the season be lost or a disaster for me if they don't win it all? Hardly. My biggest wish for the Yankees--or any team I root for--is for them to be a tough out. As long as they go down fighting, or get beaten fair-and-square, I'm fine with that. When they beat themselves--1981 World Serious, 1995 playoffs--that is is tough to stomach. I don't know if the Yankees ability to come-from-behind this year will run-out before October of if will continue to define them throughout the playoffs. I just know that they've been enormously entertaining so far and I wanted to let you know how much I've appreciated watching and writing about them all summer.

I know it is early for this kind of talk, but who would your MVP (s) be for the 2004 Yanks? I'd say that Rivera and Gordon have been the best pitchers, and Sheffield and Matsui have been the best everyday players.

Sweepless in Seattle
2004-08-16 08:22
by Alex Belth

The Yankees won two-out-of-three against the Mariners this weekend while Boston lost two-of-three at home against the White Sox. The Yankee lead in the east stands at ten-and-a-half games; Boston is in a three-way tie for first in the wildcard standings. Though there were big crowds at Safeco, it was as quiet as I remember it being up there in a long time. Until the seventh inning on Sunday there wasn't too much for them to get worked up about. I watched all three games and thoroughly enjoyed how little tension existed for the New Yorkers. For some fans, watching the Yankees beat-up on a last-place team while they are ten-and-a-half up themselves must be like watching paint dry. Not me. I know there will be plenty of tension down the road; heck, this week may present some exciting games against the Twins and Angels. Things can get tense quickly. Just ask Minnie.

Jon Lieber pitched well in a Yankee blowout on Friday (grand slam by Ruben Sierra, three-run dinger by Bernie), and the bullpen was sharp in Saturday's 6-4 win (go-ahead RBI courtesy of John Olerud, thank you very much). And though Kevin Brown was solid on Sunday afternoon, the bullpen was not, as the Bombers coughed up a 3-1 lead and lost 7-3.

It was the last time New York will face Edgar Martinez. As sweet as it is to watch Martinez swing, I can't say I'll miss him after what he's done to the Yankees through the years. Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui all had good offense weekends. Alex Rodriguez missed Friday's game with the flu. Then Rodriguez dropped the appeal to his four-game suspension on Saturday. Rodriguez will miss the first two games against the Twins this week. However, Javier Vazquez is scheduled to start tomorrow, followed by Mike Mussina on Wednesday.

Yankees 5, Rangers 1
2004-08-13 08:41
by Alex Belth

It's one thing to watch a scrub like Taynon Sturtze skate by the skin of his teeth, and another thing altogether to watch a real pro like Orlando Hernandez work. (El Duque may throw some horseshit pitches, but Sturtze is horseshit: no offense.) A rejuvinated Hernandez continues to throw well, mixing pitches, changing speeds, cursing at himself, pumping himself up, and wouldn't you know, smiling and enjoying himself too.

Hernandez is striking out batters at a good clip. He avoids specific hitters and challenges others. He is also surviving by living dangerously. He threw a 50 mph lob ball to Alfonso Soriano (who already had two hits) in the fifth inning: Sori was all over it and lined it back to Hernandez, who knocked it down and threw to first to record the out. Sori hit it back to Duque like they were playing catch. Hernandez smiled, knowing he got away with one. Hernandez slightly tips his lob ball by slowing his motion down just before he throws it. It seems more like a lob than an eephus, but now we're talking about semantics. Same difference. (Hey, anyone know of any other active pitcher who is throwing an eephus pitch?) Duque then walked Dave Dellucci--he walked three times--before striking out Michael Young to end the inning.

Hernandez was working with a lead. He labored at first, but settled down quickly. Miguel Cairo hit a grand slam in the second inning which would be enough offense for the Bombers. Good thing as the Yankees continue to strand runners on base, unable to come up with some key hits. Kenny Lofton gave the Bombers a scare in the fourth inning when he fouled a ball into the Yankee dugout. The ball smacked off of Joe Torre's head. I missed the play but looked up and saw Torre on the ground with several guys around him. He was fine and when Lofton returned to the dugout after grounding out, Torre rubbed Lofton's head and let him know that he was OK.

In the sixth, Hank Blalock lead off the inning and narrowly missed a home run, sending Gary Sheffield to the warning track in right field. El Duque grinned like a Cheshire cat and then got Mark Teixeria to fly out to deep center. It was a three-up, three down inning.

Known as a mercurial sort, Hernandez's body language has appeared far lighter, his mood steadily upbeat since he's returned to the Yankees. I suppose winning will do that to you, huh? Jack Curry reports in the Times [the following clip appeared in the print version of the paper today but not in the on-line edition]:

Hernandez was having more fun than anyone else...Hernandez has seemed more comfortable and more affable in his second stint with the Yankees. ALways obsessive about tinkering with his pitching, Hernandez has even been tinkering in the clubhouse. He has routinely dropped to one knee in front of his locker and taken a sock with other socks sutffed inside it and used that as the ball while mimicking his motion.

Hernandez has done this drill even as reporters have stood within five feet of him. He softly exhales as he finishes each imaginary pitch by bending so much that his head is near his knee and his hand almost touches the carpet. It is one more reason he is so distinctive on a team crammed with high-profile stars.

If El Duque has been a surprising success, then Flash Gordon and Mariano Rivera have been excactly what we expected. Gordon worked a perfect eighth inning last night and literally blew the Rangers away, striking out all three men he faced. It didn't seem fair. Rich Lederer agrees, and sent me the following e-mail this morning:

It's time to give Tom Gordon some love...Yankee fans know that Gordon has been part of a highly successful bullpen triumvirate. Most are probably aware that Flash is leading the league in "holds" with 28. However, what they may not know is that Flash is having a historical season in terms of his WHIP ratio (walks plus hits divided by innings). WHIP can also be expressed in terms of baserunners divided by 9 IP.

Season, 1900-2004

Baserunners/9 IP              Year   BR/9 IP   
1    Dennis Eckersley         1990     5.52   
2    Eric Gagne               2003     6.56   
3    Tom Gordon               2004     7.11
3    Billy Wagner             1999     7.11   
5    Pedro Martinez           2000     7.22   
6    Walter Johnson           1913     7.26   
7    Addie Joss               1908     7.31   
8    Christy Mathewson        1909     7.45   
9    Greg Maddux              1995     7.47   
10   Ed Walsh                 1910     7.47

* Minimum: 65 IP
(Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia)
Three of the best relief pitchers ever and four of the top ten starting pitchers of all time. I'm not suggesting Gordon is a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher, but it is worth noting that all of the pitchers on the above list who are eligible for the HOF have been enshrined in Cooperstown.

Gordon's erstwhile team defeated the Devil Rays yesterday at Fenway Park. Pedro Martinez threw a complete-game shut-out. The Sox are nine-and-a-half games behind the Yankees. Finally, here is a follow-up on Derek Jeter's run-in with Angel Hernandez on Wednesday night, via the Post.

Yankees 4, Rangers 2
2004-08-12 08:27
by Alex Belth

"I swing and miss and sometimes I don't feel anything. Then I check the swing and I feel like somebody just shot me." Gary Sheffield (N.Y. Post)

The first guy I roomed with in college was and is a piece of work. Hank Mayo Flynn III streaked across campus during our first week of school. These days he works as the public address announcer for your very own Staten Island Yankees. Hendree grew up in North Carolina but moved to Long Island when he was in high school. For that reason, he became a defacto Jets fan. I remember one Sunday afternoon in the early 90s, Hank and I sat down to watch the Jets with our pal Lomain and after something bad quickly happened to our boys, Flynn announced, "Well, it's gunna be another long, stupid season for the Jets."

I liked the simplicity of that statement, and ever since I've used it as a mantra watching the Jets. (The statement fits the Knicks to a tee as well.) I don't get worked up one way or another with the Jets any longer. I just remind myself that they are destined to have long, stupid seasons, and everything is OK. Mostly, I laugh a lot.

Long and stupid are words that come to mind when Taynon Sturtze pitches for the Yankees, and I repeated Hank's mantra last night in the bottom of the first inning, determined to find some humor in the mess Sturtze had worked himself into. (Sturtze is just the kind of lunkhead that Henry would appreciate.) After giving up three hits, the game was tied (Derek Jeter hit a solo homer in the top of the inning). Sturtze walked Mark Teixeria to load the bases and then plunked Gary Matthews Jr to force home a run.

Brian Jordan followed with a low line drive to right field. Gary Sheffield waited on it for a moment, caught the ball on his side, and then fired a strike to the plate to cut down Hank Blalock for a double play. It turned out to be a key play in the game. In the second, Regilio did his best Sturtze impression walking the first three men he faced. John Olerud tied the game on a force and Migel Cairo's sac fly put New York ahead for good. (Bernie Williams later added a sacrifice fly of his own.) It was a sloppy game with both teams making mistakes on the bases. In addition, the Yankees left a ton of men on base, unable to get any key hits.

Sturtze managed to work through the fifth and then the Yankees' rested bullpen trio of Quantrill, Gordon and Rivera shut Texas down for the win. As the Yankees went through the post-game high-fives and fist-bumps, Derek Jeter barked at first base umpire Angel Hernandez. Jeter was correctly called out by Hernandez late in the game on a close play at first. I couldn't exactly tell what happened when the game was over but it looked like Hernandez shot Jeter the evil eye as he was running off the field. Jeter is generally competitive but he usually doesn't get that heated with an ump. Herandez will work behind the plate tonight. The Red Sox creamed the Devil Rays and remain nine-and-a-half behind New York.


It is clear to anyone watching the Yankees these days that Gary Sheffield is playing with a lot of pain. He can't lift his left arm over his head and he practically catches fly balls down by his waist. How bad has it gotten for Sheff? Bad enough for him to consider retiring. According to the Daily News:

"I'm not ruling anything out," Sheffield said. But then he added, "I may feel differently tomorrow."

...Meanwhile, Sheffield is battling the mental part of his injury. Generally, he does not strike out much, but entering last night, he whiffed six times in his last 12 at-bats and admitted that swinging and missing, the point when he feels the most pain, is on his mind. Last night he did not strike out; he walked three times instead.

"You tell yourself when you go up there, you know what you're dealing with," Sheffield said. "I go up there trying not to get two strikes on me and I wind up with three strikes. That's what happens when you play mind games with yourself. Usually, I don't think about that when I hit.

"Now I feel like I'm a defensive hitter. ... There are a lot of emotions that go with playing how I'm playing."

Meanwhile, Jason Giambi is in Tampa rehabbing. Yesterday, a clean-scrubbed Giambi spoke to the media. Characteristically, he said little; however, he looked much better and hopefully, he'll rejoin the team soon. It would make for a great story if he can contribute down-the-stretch, especially in light of Sheffield's injury. Can't wait to see you back in the line-up, ya big lug you.

What's Cooking?
2004-08-11 13:54
by Alex Belth

One of the best parts of kitty-sitting for my cousins while they vacation on Cape Cod is using their state-of-the-art kitchen. In New York space matters, so having the luxury of a long, wide chopping block is my idea of a great time. I love to cook, even for myself. Last night I was too tired to deal, but with a six-burner gas stove staring me in the face it was hard to resist. (Having plenty of good ingredients at my disposal doesn't hurt either.) So I cooked myself dinner.

I made a variation of an Amatriciana, a staple pasta dish and one of my favorites. Okay, it was a bastardized version of the very simple dish. I used tortellini instead of bucatini or spaghetti. And I threw in some cracked green olives and beef stock and fresh basil too for kicks. While I was cooking I listened to the Bob Murphy tribute from Shea Stadium that took place before the game. Hearing a montage of some classic Murphy calls brought a smile to my face; without thinking much about it, I will miss him more than I ever thought I would. Then the good people at Shea chose the most ham-handed cheeseball song to accompany a video tribute. It was like a parody right out of "The Simpsons," and was especially amusing on the radio.

After I ate, I was browsing through my cousin's bookshelf. I found two books by Anthony Bourdain, "A Cook's Tour," and "Kitchen Confidential." I had read "KC" a few years back. It is an entertaining and corse memoir of Bourdain's life as a chef in the restaurant business. I thought it was funny, over-bearing and depressing. If you ever want to convince someone that the restaurant business is hell, just give them a copy of "Kitchen Confidential."

Anyhow, the reason I bring it up is because I poked around "A Cook's Tour" and found a baseball-related tidbit in the introduction. And it all comes back to baseball right? Bourdain describes a small, dilapidated village in West Cambodia:

There are no smiles in this town, just glares of naked hostility. The clothing of choice is the moldering remnants of military-issue fatigues. There is a 'karaoke' booth in the lobby, next to the standard pictogram of an AK-47 with a red line through it (NO AUTOMATIC WEAPONS IN THE LOBBY). 'Karaoke' means, presumably, that the bison-sized women lounging around by the front desk with their kids are available for purposes of sexual diversion. The best-looking one is a dead ringer for Hideki Irabu. (We traded that lox to Toronto, didn't we? Or was it Montreal?) My Khmer translator, who has hardly opened his mouth since we entered Khmer Rouge territory, says that the last time he stayed here, during the last coup, he got a terrible skin rash. He intends, he says, to sleep standing up. Now he tells me...

"Yeah, I gotta rash man." Irabu used to remind me of a cross between Jackie Gleason and a Japanese Elvis impersonator. But a Cambodian hooker isn't half-bad either. I wonder if her name was Boo Boo?

Rangers 7, Yanks 1
2004-08-11 08:45
by Alex Belth

It was evident from the first batter Kevin Brown faced last night, that the tall right-hander was off his game. Alfonso Soriano fouled off several pitches and eventually walked on a 3-2 pitch. Standing on the mound looking in for the sign, legs apart, right hand dangling by his side, Brown's body looks gnarled and mangled. He looks like an abstract sculpture, or perhaps a strong German Expressionist drawing. With each pitch, he puts forth so much energy you wouldn't be surprised if it was the last one he ever threw. I can't help but occasionally make sound effects, great grunts and gutteral yells, as Brown releases the ball.

Brown was deliberate and had little command as the Rangers rolled to an easy win in Arlington. On the other hand, Ryan Drese pitched well. The Yankees hit the ball on the screws several times, with nothing to show for it. In the first inning, Gary Sheffield smoked a ball foul that missed being a double by a few feet. Drese came back with a nasty off-speed pitch and Sheffield really opened his left shoulder as he waved at it. This has been the pitch that exposes Sheffield's weak shoulder and the Yankee slugger doubled-over in pain. Drese followed with another change up--this one further outside--and Sheff swung and missed. (In his second at bat, Sheffield line out hard to Hank Blalock at third.) Ouch. Both Sheffield and Brown looked ennervated and bruised. Must be the dog days of summer. The Yanks managed a couple of cheap hits, but couldn't get a rally going.

The Red Sox beat up on the Devil Rays in Boston and gained a game on New York. They now trail by nine-and-a-half games. Taynon Sturtze will start tonight, replacing Javier Vazquez who has a case of pink-eye.

Cool, Calm, Collected

Joe Torre took George Steinbrenner's public critique on Kenny Lofton's defense in stride. According to Jack Curry in the New York Times:

"We know because of the fact that he's George, he's going to say things," Torre said. "I said when I signed this contract it wasn't going to bother me. It's different in my brain now where I stand here."

..."Last year I thought maybe the eight years was enough," Torre said. "Maybe we were tired of each other. I thought it was geared toward having me just work my contract out and that would be the end of it. After this spring, the contract changed my whole perspective."

...Torre teased Lofton about being the focus of Steinbrenner's wrath.

"We talked in spring training that this is the owner and the Boss will be the Boss," Torre said. "It goes away. The Boss doesn't go away. It goes away."

Torre is like a cop out of an old New Yorker cartoon who has seen it all. He arrives on the scene and calmly clears the crowd, "OK, show's over, nothing to see here. Show's over. Let's move along."

Blue Jays 5, Yanks 4
2004-08-10 08:37
by Alex Belth

Esteban Loaiza was unimpressive in his second outing for the Yankees. The offense rallied on the strength of two, two-run home runs (Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui), but fell just short. However, the Yankees didn't lose any ground in the standings as Curt Schilling and the Red Sox fell to the Devil Rays in Boston last night. The Bombers start a three-game series against the Rangers in Texas tonight. The Rangers have lost four-straight.
Kenny Lofton started in right field and contributed an error prompting George Steinbrenner to mouth off to reporters that he doesn't want to see his boy Lofton playing right field. Sound the alarm, the Yankees lost a game. Heads must roll. Jeez, and Joe Torre was having it so easy this year. Not to say that Steinbrenner's minor outburst is anything to worry about. Most likely, Torre will just roll his eyes and move on. But who knows? Perhaps he'll jab back.

George must be feeling lonely. After all, he hasn't made an ass out of himself lately. His win-at-all-costs-or-else! attitude is pervasive and has been adopted by a large portion of Yankee fans. While the attitude to win admirable, when it morphs into a sense of entitlement it is tired. I find it boorish and obnoxious when Steinbrenner second-guesses his manager in public. I know that I get wrapped up in the need for the Yankees to win every game at times. I'm guilty, bro, no doubt about it. That is why I try to appreciate each game for what it is, instead of simply waiting around for October for the "important" games. I need to remind myself to stay grounded and enjoy each at-bat, each pitch, and each game. Fortunately, there are members of the Yankee organization who haven't buckled under George's pressure:

Bernie Williams told Harvey Araton in the Times:

"You know, everyone wants us to win the World Series, but I don't think the season is only about October," Bernie Williams said. "For the fans, it's about summer, about watching their favorite team. It's about kids being out of school, about spending a day or a great night, seeing a great game."

Williams paused for several seconds, thinking, and added, "It's about seeing how it all turns out."

And here is bit from the Brian Cashman piece in New York magazine:

To Steinbrenner, anything short of a championship is a tragedy. But Cashman tries not to buy into the suffocating joylessness. “I didn’t learn any lessons from the way we lost to the Marlins,” he says. “What I did learn, walking around afterward and having people say to me ‘Tough year,’ is that people treated it like a failure. I’d say, ‘Dude, we won 100 games! We beat the Red Sox in a great series! We won the American League championship. It was an awesome experience.’ I didn’t look at it as a ‘tough season.’ I guess I learned how spoiled our fans became winning all those years.”

Spoiled rotten. Like a junkie in need of a fix. OK, one loss is acceptable. But they had better win tonight against Buck Showalter and company or else George is going to get the Mcsweats, the Mcshakes, and then he's really going to get started.

Three Times Dope
2004-08-09 08:25
by Alex Belth

Just what the doctor ordered. Man, did the Yankees ever have a fine weekend. After Kevin Brown's brilliant, eight-inning performance against the A's last Thursday, Javier Vazquez, Orlando Hernandez and Jon Lieber all pitched eight innings themselves. The result? Three Yankee wins, and some much-needed rest for New York's bullpen. Mike Mussina will make a rehab start shortly and if he can return to form, the Yankees pitching suddenly doesn't look so uncertain. If Brown, Mussina and Vazquez are healthy, the Yankees should be alright. Anything Duque, Loaiza and Lieber can give them is cream and sugar.

Vazquez allowed a three-run homer to Carlos Delgado in the first inning on Friday night, but Godziller Matsui tied the game in the bottom of the first with a three-run bomb of his own. The Yanks scored another run in the inning and Vazquez never looked back, throwing as well as he has in months. Matsui added another homer and had 6 RBI on the evening.

Duque was in vintage form on Saturday, mixing his pitches well, including a couple of sloooooow curve balls, clocked in the low 50s. Bernie Williams had a couple of doubles as the Yanks crusied 6-0. Bernie ended things early on Sunday with a grand slam in the first. I've given up the dream that Bernie might make the Hall of Fame one day; instead, I'm taking great pleasure in each and every positive thing he does as he climbs the ladder on various all-time club records. John Olerud played well on Friday and Sunday (Tony Clark got the start on Saturday against Ted Lilly), and Gary Sheffield continues to mash, adding a tremendous shot on Sunday afternoon that bounced off the facade of the upper deck in left field. After the game, the last place Blue Jays canned their skipper Carlos Tosca.

Boston lost Friday night but won on Saturday (Prince P) and Sunday (Bomb Squad) and are a season-high ten-and-a-half back. Jorge Posada sat the weekend out with a sore right thumb. The Yankees go for the series sweep with a rare Monday afternoon game today. They travel to Texas for three with the Rangers before heading up to Seattle to meet the M's over the weekend.


Chris Smith has a long piece on Brian Cashman in this week's New York magazine. Worth checking out. Oh, and since it is Monday, that means that the latest edition of Rivals in Exile is ready to roll. As always, a must-read for Yankee and Red Sox fans.

Finally, be sure and see what Dr. Manhattan makes of the American League two-thirds of the way through the season over at Blissful Knowledge.

Yanks 5, A's 1
2004-08-06 08:53
by Alex Belth

Call it Sleep

What a nice turn of the weather we're enjoying in New York. It had been hot and muggy for well over a week, and it was supposed to rain all day yesterday. But by the time the Yanks and A's took the field in the early afternoon, it was clear and sunny, a virtually perfect August day. Kevin Brown dominated Oakland and the Yankees increased their division lead to nine-and-a-half games over the idle Boston Red Sox. If Brown manages to stay healthy he should be an exceedingly effective pitcher for the Bombers down the stretch.

Derek Jeter and Ruben Sierra had RBI doubles. John Olerud celebrated his 36th birthday going 3-3 (he was also hit by a pitch). Last night, my mind was wandering as I tried to fall asleep. Forget the air conditioner, a chilly breeze from my bedroom window had Em and I under the covers. It struck me that more than anything, Olerud strongly resembles one of the pensive, stoic figures from an Edward Hopper painting.

Hopper was the first painter I ever considered a favorite. My uncle Fred gave me the cataolog of Hopper's 1981 retrospective at the Whitney for my tenth birthday, and his pictures had a major impact on me. More than anything, I respond to Hopper's strong sense of composition, and his sensitivity to space and light. While I enjoy his landscapes--and especially his cityscapes--I cherish his interior pictures most of all. Often, a Hopper painting will feature an expressionless figure inside an apartment looking out of a window or a door.

When I was young, I was fascinated by the lonliness and isolation of these figures. They never smiled. (There is only one picture--a water color of his wife Jo--that I know of which features a person smiling.) What were they thinking? More importantly, what were they looking at? It didn't really matter. All that matterd was that they seemed to be searching for something. They yearned for something. Or maybe they were just sleepy or bored. Curiously, if you ever get a chance to see any of Hopper's work in person, you'll notice that his figures look clumsily rendered, stiff, and awkward. Walk about 15 paces away from the canvas however and they click into perfect focus. (You'll also notice just how much green he uses.)

As a side note, one thing that makes Hopper a brilliant painter is that he implies what his figures are looking at, without showing us. Talk about the mark of a great storyteller. Matisse and Bonnet were famous for their interior/exterior pictures, and Hopper continued this tradition. Typically, the interior space will command the canvas, with the exterior--seen through an open doorway or an open window--only taking up a tiny portion of physical space. However, Hopper will imply the greater exterior space, by adding a window ledge, an apartment building across the way, etc. The effect should effect the viewer subconsciously, but it directly relates to what the central figure(s) are looking at. Because the interior rooms are often bare, the sense of space, of openess is commanding.

When I matured, the people in Hopper's pictures became less important than the formalism of the composition. (For instance, I almost totally ignore the figures on the right side of the canvas of Hopper's famous "Nighthawks", preferring instead to explore the empty store front across the street that fills up the left side.) Often, the people ceased to matter to me at all. One of Hopper's last great paintings, "Sun in an Empty Room" (1963, 29x40) is a picture of an empty, sun-lit room. (Reproductions don't do the picture justice.) On the far right side of the frame is a window. You can see dark green trees through the window which suggest the time of year; inside the room, the sun hits the interior walls in two places. The wall closer to the window features a bright, white light, while the wall further away has a wamer, more mellowed light. Is it early morning or late in the afternoon? It is a picture of amazing simplicity, and for me it suggests a kind of ideal serenity. Hopper, a man of few words, was once asked to describe the picture. "It's about me," he replied.

Personally, I think he felt liberated by not having to include people. But when you do see one of the lonely people in his paintings, not quite knowing what they are thinking or experiencing, imagine of the newest member of the Yankees, John Olerud. I don't think of him as being depressed or even grim, simply private, internal, resolute. I think he would fit in just fine.

Yankees 8, A's 6
2004-08-05 09:09
by Alex Belth

"He's as tough as nails. It doesn't surprise you everytime he does something like that. He's been incredible, and what he's had to deal with all year — uncomfortable, hurt, whatever you want to call it — the players just love having him around."

Joe Torre on Gary Sheffield (N.Y. Post)

The Yankees won another game in dramatic fashion last night at the Stadium. It was a rousing win for New York and a painful loss for Oakland. It isn't getting dull for me yet, how 'bout you? I was frustrated watching the A's beat the Yanks around for most of the game. I commiserated with Emily about the pitching staff, and cursed at Esteban Loaiza, Bernie Willaims and Kenny Lofton. As much as I try to keep perspective, when the Yankees play good teams like the A's and Angels, I get all worked up. The Yankees spoil you. Is it wrong for a fan to want your team to win every game? Last week I received the following e-mail from Brain Gunn:

With the Cards doing so well, I'm finally beginning to understand what it's like to be a Yankees fan. I mean, you always hear people say shit like, "Why do you care if the Yankees win again? Haven't they won enough?" But that's sorta like saying, "You've read so many great books, haven't you had enough?" or "You've heard so many great songs, why would you want to hear another one?" When you're in the presence of excellent things it makes you insatiable for more. Actually that's not quite right -- it's not like you're gluttonous or anything; it's more like you glimpse a certain ideal of perfection and you want to see it again.

Gary Sheffield tied the game with a two-run dinger off of Oakland's new closer Octavio Dotel in the bottom of the ninth, and Alex Rodriguez ended it with a two-run homer of his own two innings later. Mariano Rivera pitched two innings and got the win. Mo threw 51 pitches and wasn't especially sharp, but he was good enough.

The late-inning comeback helped take Esteban Loaiza off the hook. In his first game as a Yankee, Loaiza did not pitch well. He walked too many batters, made a poor fielding play, and gave up two home runs, including a three-run bomb to Eric Byrnes. Byrnes looks like the youngest kid from the movie "Parenthood" all grown up. His nickname is "Captain America" and he's been one of the hottest hitters in the game of late. In the past two games, he's murdered pitches off of the plate. (Note to the league: time to start busting this guy inside.) Loaiza has an easy delivery and like Jon Lieber, works quickly. His motion makes him look like a pitcher from the 1970s, like Mike Torrez.

Rich Harden throws extremely hard, but he wasn't that impressive either. Hideki Matsui was all over him, hitting three vicious line drives--one went for a double, then a fly-out, then a home run. With men on second (Matsui) and third (Posada) and nobody out in the second inning, Bernie Williams came to the plate. Williams was 1 for his last 17 at that point. A weak ground-ball--Bernie's recent specialty--would do just fine. So what does he do but pop the first pitch up to short? (Bernie had a bloop single later on, and battled against Ricardo Rincon late in the game, before striking out.) Fortunately for the Yanks, John Olerud followed and in his first at-bat for New York, slapped a single through the right side for a 2 RBI single (Olerud singled in his next at-bat and ended the night 2-5).

It was great seeing Olerud in a Yankee uniform. I've always appreciated his quiet intensity. Watching him on the bench, he has a thousand-yard stare that makes me wonder where his mind is. But he doesn't seem to be a flake like Bernie Williams. He's just slightly removed. Maybe having a near-death experience will do that to you. Regardless, he's reminds me of a benign Travis Bickle. My girlfriend thinks he looks like a stork.'s Mariners man, Peter White likens him to a hawk at the plate, "Silently watching everything, patient for just the right meaty morsel." Further, White explained to me in an e-mail:

I'd have to disagree with [Steven] Goldman's take that because the Mariners dumped Olerud that there's reasons to be suspicious of his skills.

I daresay it's akin to thumbing through a stack of vinyls at a garage sale and finding "Rubber Soul" for a quarter from some poor soul who's never heard of the Beatles. Sure, there's some scratches; it's not a flawless disc. But for crying out loud, it's "Rubber Soul" for a quarter!

The Yankees gained a game on Boston who fell to the Devil Rays, 5-4. New York's lead is now nine games.

Get Well Soon

Following up on something I noted yesterday, the Daily News has an article about how some of Jason Giambi's former teammates have reacted to Giambi's illness.

What Gives?

Derek Jeter is often praised for his baseball smarts, and rightly so. However, he has developed a distressing habit of laying down sacrifice bunts in the first inning this year. I don't know why Joe Torre allows him to get away with it. Jim Kaat praises his intelligence on YES, while Michael Kay bites his tounge. I'm sure in his mind Jeter believes he's being a team-player, but early in the game, with the kind of line up the Yankees have, it isn't just a poor play, it is a dumb play. In his first eight full seasons Jeter compiled 34 sacrifices. His career high came in 1997 when he had eight; he had eleven from 2001 through 2003. So far this year, Jeter has eleven sacrifices. I believe this habit began during Jeter's early-season slump. If I have one criticism of Jeter this year, this is it. Anyone else notice this?

2004-08-04 08:35
by Alex Belth

The Yankees jumped out to a 3-0 then a 4-1 lead against Oakland's aceMark Mulder last night at the stadium. Jon Lieber got lucky in the first two innings; though the A's hit the ball hard, he got two double plays to save his bacon. But his luck ran out as the A's pounded Lieber, Tanyone Sturtze and "the Run Fairy" Felix Heredia to the count of 13-4. The Yankees ran into some bad luck of their own in the fourth inning. With the score tied at 4, Bobby Crosby made a beautiful diving grab, robbing Tony Clark of a hit. He then doubled Ruben Sierra off of first base. With two out and two men on, Jermaine Dye celebrated his birthday early by making an improbable catch at the right field wall, denying Jeter of at least a double and two RBI. Drat.

That said, the A's were swinging the bats so well, it may not have mattered if the Yankees scored a few more runs. For New York, Jorge Posada hit a three-run homer in the first and Gary Sheffield later hit a line-drive solo homer which brought back memories of Dave Winfield. The Yankees lead over Boston was reduced to eight games after Curt Schilling and the Sox defeated the Devil Rays, 5-2.

John Olerud joined the Yankees yesterday and is expected to start tonight. Joe Torre said he left a message for Jason Giambi yesterday. My feeling is that Torre hopes he can get Giambi back for the playoffs, but nothing is certain. One thing is for sure, there hasn't been much sympathy offered to the Yankees' ailing slugger, either from the press of from the fans. If Derek Jeter had a tumor it would be covered as a national crisis. You'd think we'd see some kind of puff pieces on Giambi now that his erstwhile team is in town, but I haven't noticed anything yet. I am as guilty as the next guy for glossing-over his condition too. Both Steve Bonner and Steve Goldman have been far more sensitive. Though I haven't mentioned it, I do hope he starts to feel better soon.

Finally, it's really getting to me watching Bernie Williams atrophy before our eyes. Lately he looks old and his bat has been extremely slow. I hope he has a hot streak left in him, but right now, he doesn't look long for the baseball world, does he? (He is signed through 2006, though the Yankees have an option to buy him out after next season...again, can you say Carlos Beltran?)

The Voice of Beer

My friend Alan, a Met fan, used to like to say that Bob Murphy's voice sounded like what beer would sound like if it had a voice. Schlitz beer. Or Reingold, right? I always enjoyed tuning in to the Met game on the radio to listen to Murphy's call: "Eeeeee strug 'im out." My condolences to Met fans everywhere, who have lost a team legend.

All the News That's Fit to Link
2004-08-03 13:41
by Alex Belth

I'm sure some of you have already poured through most of the trade-deadline coverage. For those who haven't, here is a series of links that may be of some interest:

Bob Ryan, Peter Gammons, Gordon Edes, Tom Verducci and Bill Simmons on the Nomar Garciaparra trade. In addition, check out what Curt Schilling has to say to the Boston Dirt Dogs in an exlusive interview and what Ed Cossette and Red Sox Nation make of losing a Boston icon.

The fellas over at The Hardball Times are on the case too. Rivals in Exile, Ben Jacobs and Larry Mahnken weigh in on the Yankee and Sox deals; Studes commiserates about the Mets (thanks, Avkash) and Aaron Gleeman covers all of the major moves, soup to nuts.

Oh, and Murray Chass and Tim Marchman tackle the Mets too.

The Yanks start a three-game series vs. the A's tonight in the Bronx. Mark Mulder goes against Jon Lieber. Mulder hasn't fared well in two outings vs. the Yanks this season; think he won't bounce back with a strong performance? Tomorrow, Esteban Loaiza makes his Yankee debut against the hard-throwing Rich Harden. Finally, Barry Zito will face Kevin Brown on Thursday afternoon in the series finale.

Smart Guys
2004-08-03 09:08
by Alex Belth

Initially I thought that the Red Sox did a decent job of getting some talent in return for Nomar Garciaparra. But after reading some of the fine analysis around the Net--including a roundtable of All-Baseball's best and brightest--it seems as if Boston acted out of desperation more than anything else. I love reading transaction analysis, especially because it doesn't hold much interest for me as a writer. However, I am an avid fan of the guys who are "doing it, doing it, and doing it well."

Joe Sheehan--one of the best reasons to subscribe to Baseball Prospectus--offered a characteristically sound take on the Garciaparra trade:

I do believe the Red Sox will be better defensively, but that's a side point. I don't think the Sox are a better team today than they were Friday, and it's not close. I think they made this trade not because it makes them better, but because they didn't have it in them to stand up to Garciaparra, who by most accounts had been a jackass since the Alex Rodriguez trade fell through. I rarely—perhaps never—factor non-performance issues in to my analysis, because they tend to be filtered through the press and tailored to create the best story. In this case, I'm convinced that this trade happened because Garciaparra wasn't going to come out of his full pout until he was dealt or filed for free agency.

I still wouldn't have done it. I might have encouraged a blanket party for the shortstop, but I never would have made such a bad baseball move just for the sake of harmony. In the same way that I like that Joe Garagiola Jr. tried to make the best baseball move he could, Randy Johnson's preferences be damned, I dislike the way Epstein made a bad baseball move with an eye on emotional issues.

Like Sheehan, Steven Goldman thinks the Yankees made a sound decision to rid themselves of Jose Contreras. When I spoke with Will Carroll last night and asked him what he made of the deal he asked me, "Do you like Carlos Beltran?" Meaning, with the money the Yankees will save not having to pay Contreras, they can go get themselves another star this winter. Goldman also likes the Olerud pick-up:

Olerud, a good fielder though dreadfully slow on the bases — catcher slow, Giambi slow — is good at getting on base. Despite doing very little hitting this year, he has still taken enough walks to maintain an above-average on-base percentage. The problem is, he hasn’t done the thing that Clark excels at, which is sending the ball to the outfield and beyond, nor has he hit with any kind of regularity. When a career .300 hitter/.478 slugger (through 2002) in his mid-30s spends two years struggling, the tendency is to assume that the reflexes have gone. The vote of no-confidence from the Mariners isn’t encouraging. If a team on its way to 100 losses says that you’re not good enough to play for them, that’s a really big hint that you’re not doing well. Olerud has hit very little since the 2002 All-Star break, and clearly the Mariners felt he was finished at age 35. Now, the Mariners are clearly not run by Franklin Roosevelt’s Brain Trust or they wouldn’t have gotten into this mess in the first place. Still, over a thousand plate appearances of ineffectiveness is a strong, objective indictment.

Olerud is worth a try; in baseball’s long season, nearly anything is worth a try for a week or 10 days, but don’t be surprised if Clark is back out on the diamond in the short term. If, on the other hand, Olerud is able to shake off his malaise and the effects of age and hit as of old, then Don Mattingly’s plaque should be immediately removed from Monument Park and replaced with a 20-foot statue. It will be that kind of accomplishment.

The Yanks are nine games ahead of the Red Sox, who beat the Devil Rays last night in Tampa Bay.

Yankees 9, Orioles 7
2004-08-02 08:21
by Alex Belth

The Yankees offense broke-out the whupping stick on Sunday afternoon and pounded out nine runs against the Orioles (Alex Rodriguez homered for the third consecutive game). However, the bullpen couldn't hold a six-run lead and wouldn't you know it, but before all was said and done, there was Mariano Rivera on the mound, closing out the game. While this continues a disturbing trend, you would think that Rivera, Tom Gordon and even Paul Quantrill will eventually get a breather down the stretch as the Yankees are comfortably ahead of the Red Sox. Boston lost a close one against the Twins yesterday and now trail New York by nine-and-a-half games.

Esteban Loaiza arrived at the Stadium yesterday and by the time he put his uniform on his goatee was gone. We shall see if he can give the Yankees more than Jose Contreras did; Steve Bonner, for one, remains skeptical. John Olerud will be a Yankee and evidentally, he'll be the starting first baseman, pushing Tony Clark back to a reserve role. Characteristically, Clark is taking the "demotion" in stride. According to the Daily News:

"Any time you can add a guy like Olerud to your lineup, it can't help but be a positive. He's solid on the field, off the field. Offensively and defensively, he's as good as they get," Clark said. "It's about winning ballgames. It's about being the last team standing. You can check your egos and your personal dreams at the door short of winning the World Series."

In other Yankee news, today is the 25th anniversary of Thurman Munson's death. I was eight-years old at the time and recall seeing the news on the front page of the New York Times. I also remember that it was the first time that I ever saw my father cry. That was puzzling to me because my old man was and is an avid Yankee-hater. I asked him, genuinely confused, why he was upset and he explained to me that it is sad when people die even if they are Yankees. Hey, who knew?

The Bombers have the day off today. They will host the surging Oakland A's starting Tuesday night.

Here Today...
2004-08-01 12:39
by Alex Belth

Em and I are house-sitting in Manhattan this weekend, so I've been unable to post until now. It's Sunday around noon and it is humid and raining in New York. Kevin Brown returned to the starting rotation on Friday night and pitched very well. Yesterday, Javier Vazquez continued to struggle, but the bullpen was solid on both Friday and Saturday as the Yankees beat the Orioles 2-1, and 6-4 repsectively. Alex Rodriguez had two fine games though the rest of the offense has been uneven. The Red Sox won on Friday but lost yesterday; they now trail New York by eight-and-a-half games in the AL East.

But the games were overshadowed by the trading deadline. As expected Randy Johnson remained in Arizona. He did not get traded to the Yankees. Baseball fans everywhere can rejoice: the big, bad Bombers failed to get their man. However, the Yankees made a deal just under the wire, moving Jose Contreras and cash to the White Sox for Esteban Loaiza. They are also close to signing John Olerud to platoon with Tony Clark at first base. Jason Giambi was diagnosed with a benign tumor on Friday and was placed on the 15-day dl. The location of the tumor was not made public.

The Red Sox made a sweeping move, trading Nomar Garciaparra and ending the day with Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz and Dave Roberts.

Em and I were down in Chinatown with some friends on Saturday afternoon, so we missed the game. I needed to clear my head from the steady clock-watching I'd been doing for the past two weeks anyhow. Shortly after five o'clock we got on a subway and saw several guys decked out in Yankee attire. I figured they had just returned from the game.

"Did we win?" I asked one kid.

"Yeah, 6-4."

"Who got the runs?"

"A Rod and Sheffield homered. Jeter hit a triple."

A kid wearing a Red Sox jersey chimed in, "It was a bloop triple."

"We didn't get Johnson did we?"

"No, they traded Contreras for Loaiza."

What? I repeated the names back to him and to nobody in particular a few times just so the news would sink in. An older woman sitting across the car sighed, "Good. The guy turned into mush every time a runner got on base." I looked down in front of me and a young Latina girl, all of four, stood next to her father. She was wearing a purple dress and was caught up in the energy in the car. She must have been curious as to what everyone was talking about. I winked at her and she covered her eyes and turned her head into her father's lap. But in a moment or two, after I continued talking baseball, she and I looked at each other and shared a big smile.

The Yankee fans then told me that Nomar had been traded to the Cubs. A couple of kids in Red Sox jerseys hadn't heard the news yet. Wow. I felt like consoling them. I'm sad about Nomar leaving Boston. I have always liked the idea of him playing his entire career with the Red Sox. But that clearly wasn't going to happen. And what better place for him than Chicago with the Cubs? That is nice. (Mr. Maddux is going for win number 300 today; Mazel!) I've got to think that Boston did well here. Caberera can hit and he's a good fielder, and Mientkiewicz is an excellent glove too. Hey, at least they didn't get Matt Clement, right?

Dan Shaughnessy thinks it was high time for Nomar to go:

This is a strange story. No one ever played harder, or gave more, to the Boston Red Sox and the citizens of Red Sox Nation than Nomar Garciaparra. He was probably the most popular Sox player since Ted Williams, and rightfully so; no player was more worthy of your applause. But at the same time, no player polluted the clubhouse more than Nomar, and in the end, he was the ultimate non-team guy.

He had to go. He was more miserable than any athlete I have ever seen.

... He can say whatever he wants in front of the camera and he can flash that insincere smile, but make no mistake: He hates Boston and he hates the Red Sox and you should be glad that he's gone. If you are a Red Sox fan, he is not your friend.

The Yankee deal feels like somewhat of a warsh. They rid themselves of an expensive headache in Contreras. It's funny, but as poor as he's been, I never hated the guy. There was something gentle about him that I found sympathetic. Loaiza had a career year last year, but he has returned to earth this season. It's hard to imagine he will be that much of an improvement over Contreras. But his contract is up at the end of the season, and I'm sure that is one of the reasons he was attractive to New York.

I love the idea of Olerud signing simply because he has long been one of my favorite players. Between the two of them, Olerud and Tony Clark are very tall and very slow. But they are both plus fielders and Olerud still has plate discipline even if he can't hit for power any longer. I love that Olerud and Bernie are on the same team; they've always reminded me of each other.

I'm relieved that the deadline has come and gone. No more pie-in-the-sky fantasies of Randy Johnson. Oh well. Can't blame a guy for dreaming big. Now, Yankee fans can get back to the business of wringing our collective hands together worrying about pitching, pitching, pitching. (Poor little Yankee Nation.) At least things will continue to be interesting for the next couple of months. I, for one, plan to thoroughly enjoy the rest of the season, no matter what shakes down.