Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Monthly archives: September 2004


Yanks Swipe Two From Twinkies, Pedro Pounded
2004-09-30 08:43
by Alex Belth

And Then There Was One

I climbed into a reclining chair at my dentist's office on 57th street in Manhattan yesterday just minutes before the first game of the Yankees-Twins double-header. Looking up, I noticed a TV. So while I was having a cavity-filled and my teeth cleaned I watched the first five innings of the game. Man, dentistry has come a long way. Getting a cavity filled doesn't involve the kind of messy drilling that I remember as a kid. But while the immediate events in my mouth weren't nearly as uncomfortable as I had anticipated, the Twins drilled Mike Mussina around for three first inning runs. And though Johan Santana was clearly not going to pitch a full-length game, three runs is an awful lot to spot the probable AL Cy Young.

But Derek Jeter lead off the bottom of the first with a double and he scored on a single by Gary Sheffield. Maybe Santana was human after all. Hardly. The Twins' southpaw allowed two base-runners in the second and then got out of trouble by striking his way out of the inning. Man, even when he was handling my team, there is something to be said about watching a dominant pitcher at work. The second time Jorge Posada was up, he swung through two high fastballs. So I figure that Posada has to be sitting on the change, or Santana's nasty slider, which dives down and in to righties. But instead, Santana threw two more fastballs. They were both out of the zone. He's got to come with the soft stuff, right? Nah, he blew Jorge away with a fastball on the outside corner. Man, you've just got to guess right and hope that he makes some mistakes in order to beat a guy like Santana right now.

Mussina wasn't elegant, issuing walks and allowing hits, but he didn't allow anymore runs to score. I watched the first five innings, and endured some kind of lecture from Maria, a portly, plantain-eating chaza, who cleaned my teeth, about the art of flossing. I smiled at her, half of my face still numb from the novacaine, when she handed me a complementary tooth brush. "You look just like Mike Gilbert," she tells me. I had never heard that one before. "Oh yeah, who is Mike Gilbert?" "He's a friend of my son's. He's a sheriff you know." Sheriff Mike Gilbert? Jeez, no, Maria, I did not know that.

Unable to eat anything solid, I headed to the best Jewish deli in my neighborhood for some matzo ball soup. The mexicans working behind the counter had the game on the radio. "What's the score?" I asked. "5-3...Yankees." Really? "Did they get the runs off Santana?" "No, the bullpen." Okay, the sky isn't falling for the Twins faithful. I got my soup, and walked into my apartment as the Yankees ended the game with a 6-4-3--nice pick Tony Clark--double play.

Emily and I watched Game Two together. Hideki Matsui hit a three-run dinger to the opposite field in the first inning, his second long ball of the day, and 30th on the season. Alex Rodriguez added a solo shot later on, and the Yanks held on for a 5-4 win. The story of the game for New York was Tanyon Sturtze's performance, one and two-thirds innings of scoreless ball. Perhaps they've found a cure for what ails Paul Quantrill. The game ended on a double play, and Mariano Rivera had his second save of the afternoon, his 53rd on the year.

The night ended on a high note for New York and a low one for the Red Sox, who were thumped by the Devil Rays. Pedro Martinez was roughed up again and has now lost four-consecutive games, the first time that has ever happened to him in his career. With Boston now four games behind the Yanks, New York needs just one more win, or a Red Sox loss to secure the division title for the seventh straight year.

It was a good day for the Yankees and their fans. But leave it to Selena Roberts, she of the Mike Lupica-No-Joy-In-Yankeeville-School-of-Thought, to rain on the parade. The kindest way for me to characterize Roberts, a columnist for the Times, is as a dilettante. Today, she writes that these Yankees are just no fun. They are dour professionals who have had all of the fun squeezed out of them by the high expectations that come with playing for George Steinbrenner. Haven't we heard this before? This isn't Paul O'Neill's Yankees anymore. Okay, we get it. Get over it. But noooo, Roberts wants to know why the Yanks can't be more like the Twins or the Red Sox. Believe that. I don't know, why can't the English learn to speak?

You'd think that there is nothing more that writers like Roberts would like than to see the Red Sox win. Or anybody else but the Yanks win. If the Yanks do manage to win the Serious, this line-of-thinking would have little merit. We already know what Roberts and Lupica and the like will say if the Yankees lose. Meanwhile, if the Yankees win one more game, it will be the first time in the organization's storied history that they'll have won 100 games, three years in a row. There are plenty of good stories on this team. Even if Steinbrenner and a decent portion of Yankee fans dismiss the season as a failure should they fail to reach and/or win the World Serious, that shouldn't prevent sportswriters from coming up with a new angle. But that would require some thought. Ah, I suppose it's easier to rip the team. Remember, this is coming from the New York Times. The home town paper. Oy veh.

Who is Gunna Carry the Weight?
2004-09-29 09:36
by Alex Belth

The Yanks and Twins were rained out yesterday and will play two today. However, even if the weather held up, El Duque wasn't going to start as scheduled. He's suffering from a sore shoulder. Ah, just in the nick of time. I'm guessing that he'll be okay but it's just one more uncertainty for Yankee fans to worry about as the playoffs near. The Sox beat the D-Rays in extra innings last night and now trail the Bombers by two-and-a-half games.

Stretch Run
2004-09-28 08:36
by Alex Belth

It's a damp morning in New York with rain on the schedule for the rest of the day. Hopefully, it will clear up by tonight so the Yanks and Twins can get their game in. If not, I suppose they'll play two tomorrow. While Minnie is in town be sure and check out some of the fine people from the Twinkies-blogging mafia: Aaron Gleeman, John Bonnes, Seth Stohs and of course, the rookie of the year herself, Batgoil.

The local papers are filled with articles about the Yankees' pitching woes. In the Times, Tyler Kepner reports:

No matter what team the Yankees play this time, this postseason staff is an enigma. Will Vazquez be included? Brown? In what order? When asked on Sunday if he had ever been less certain of his rotation on the eve of the playoffs, Stottlemyre said no.

"This is probably the least of the nine years I've been here, about how our pitching situation is going to line up," he said. "I still think it will. I'm certainly not down on everybody. I still think it'll align itself here in the last week. I still think we'll be very competitive in the postseason with our pitching."

It has been months since Vazquez and Brown have looked consistently strong. Scouts have suggested a variety of mechanical flaws nagging Vazquez, including a lower arm angle and awkward landing position on the mound. Brown, essentially, threw batting practice to the Red Sox on Sunday, offering high fastballs with no movement at a velocity that did not exceed 90 miles an hour.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox beat Tampa Bay last night and clinched a spot in the playoffs. They remain three games behind the Yankees in the loss column with six games to play.

Red Sox 11, Yanks 4
2004-09-27 08:23
by Alex Belth

Until We Meet Again...

Curt Schilling dominated the Yankees yesterday while Kevin Brown didn't make it out of the first inning. According to Jack Curry:

The Red Sox made Brown look old, awful and unreliable. Brown's velocity never touched 90 miles an hour, his sinking fastballs were fat, high pitches and - as he searched in futility for the right feel on the ball - he licked his fingers more than a 5-year-old licks an ice cream cone.

After the game, Brown told the Times:

"The stuff I was throwing out there today, I wouldn't say it's a whole lot different than what I was throwing before I hurt my hand," Brown said. "Why do you think I was frustrated to begin with? Why do you think I got irritated enough about the way things were going to hit something like that?

"It wasn't because I was mad at the pizza guy because he didn't deliver the pizza on time. I was irritated with the way I was throwing the ball or not throwing the ball. It was a similar situation today.

"The difference is, I guess, having three weeks to think about it, I've realized that I'm trying to control things I can't control."

Esteban Loaiza replaced Brown and the Sox bombed him too. It was a fun afternoon for the Fenway faithful and a forgettable one for the Yankees. There was some minor mishegoss between Kenny Lofton and Doug Doug Mientkiewicz which eventually led to batters being thrown at and a couple of ejections. Without getting too involved in the particulars, Suzyan Waldman of the YES network called Lofton a "baby" on her post-game report. She ripped him but good actually.

At the begining of the season I was really down on Lofton being a Yankee, but I warmed up to him seeing him laugh and jive it up in the dugout this year. However, it's clear by Mariano Rivera's animated reaction to Lofton a couple of weeks ago, and even Waldman's brief tirade yesterday that Lofton isn't the most popular man in the Yankee clubhouse.

No matter. Along with the disgruntled utility infielder Enrique Wilson, Lofton will likely not be in pinstripes next year. Right now, the Yankees hold a three game advantage over Boston in the loss column with six games remaining in the regular season (seven for the Sox). The Bombers are still the favorites to win the division. They have today off, while the Sox face Tampa Bay. The Twins come to town for a three-game series starting tomorrow night.

So, it appears as if Mike Mussina, El Duque and Jon Lieber will start for New York in the playoffs. What then, to do with Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown? Does Vazquez pitch a game four? Can Brown be effective out of the bullpen? Should he get a start himself? Which one of these? Thoughts? What do you guys think?

Red Sox 12, Yanks 5
2004-09-26 10:12
by Alex Belth

Staff Infection

I watched Saturday night's game with Cliff Corcoran. In the eighth inning when Boston cranked out seven runs against the Yankees' weak bullpen corps, Cliff said, "The Yankees are playing this game like they are the Red Sox. I didn't have much hope of them winning tonight, but then they made it close, only to have a few things go wrong late"—Hideki Matsui allowing a wind-blown ball to fall in for a double, Derek Jeter botching a double play—"and then they get blown out in the end."

The Yankees had trouble against Tim Wakefield for a change, although they managed to score five runs. (The last one, which tied the game, came on a dubious grounds-rule double call which resulted in Terry Francona getting himself run from the game for arguing.) Javier Vazquez was not impressive, though after the game, both Vazquez and catcher Jorge Posada thought that he was better than he has been in a long while. More concerning for the Yankees than the loss, was the fact that Paul Quantrill was ineffective once again. Other than Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera, the Yankee bullpen is not strong at all.

Kevin Brown will start on Sunday afternoon for the first time since he punched a clubhouse wall. He goes against Curt Schilling. Although a win would be sweet, it's more important for the Yankees that Brown has a decent outing. It's reasonable to assume that Schilling will be on his game. I'm interested to see how this one pans out.

Yankees 6, Red Sox 4
2004-09-25 09:37
by Alex Belth

De Ja Vu All Over Again, Daddy-O

The Yankees and Red Sox played characteristically tense game at Fenway Park last night, one that was filled with home runs, lead-changes, clutch hits, a couple of blown calls, and some excellent fielding (Matsui, Rodriguez, Mueller, Nixon and especially Caberera). The Red Sox hit three home runs (Ramirez and Nixon off of Mussina, Damon off of Gordon) and Pedro Martinez had a one-run lead going into the eighth inning. But the lead didn't last long as Hideki Matsui hit a solo shot into Boston's bullpen to tie the game (Godziller, who has mashed against Boston this year, was the star of the game for the Bombers). Martinez remained in the game and allowed a soft double to Bernie Williams on a 3-2 pitch that hugged just inside the right-field line. Ruben Sierra, 0-3 with two strikeouts to that point, drove Bernie home but hitting a very tough pitch into center.

The Yankees would score an insurance run and though Mariano Rivera walked Trot Nixon to start the ninth, he was bailed out when Jason Varitek grounded into a 1-6-3 double play. Orlando Cabrera reached second on a bloop double to right and Bill Mueller grounded out sharply to Rivera to end the game. Mariano was not especially sharp, but his deft fielding ability helped him earn his 51rst save of the year, a career high. Flash Gordon pitched the seventh and eighth innings and allowed the solo homer to Damon, but pitched brilliantly otherwise.

The win puts the Yankees five-and-a-half games ahead of Boston. It was another discouraging loss for Martinez against New York, arguably more painful than last weekend's torching in the Bronx. Boston manager Terry Francona was booed when he finally removed Martinez from the game, shades of Grady Little indeed (sportswriters, start your laptops). The Red Sox have all but conceded the division title to New York and now are looking to the playoffs. They know that the wildcard team has won the World Serious for the past two years and they are keeping their eyes on the prize.

But perhaps the strangest post-game development were the comments made by Martinez:

"I wish they would [bleeping] disappear," the three-time Cy Young Award winner said. "Disappear, and never come back.

"I would probably like to face any other team right now. Pitch a good game, make good pitches and still can't beat them? It's frustrating."

... "I thought I pitched a better game today, I made some pretty good pitches and they battled their butt off," Martinez said. "What can I say? Just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddies."

... "I wanted to bury myself on the mound. . . . You work so hard, you make good pitches, it doesn't pay off. You make bad pitches, you continue to lose and give it up. It's stupid, it's frustrating." [N.Y.Post]

Calling the Yankees his dadies? Is this some kind of reverse psychology? I don't think so, but it sure is a tabloid's wet dream. While I love it when the Yankees beat Pedro Martinez, I take no pleasure in hearing him sound so shaken. What's so satisfying when the Yankees pull out a win against him is that he's such a fierce, defiant, incorrigible competitor. To hear him sound so defeated just doesn't seem right.

Comedy is Not Pretty
2004-09-24 13:54
by Alex Belth

I've got an article on ten rap records that are worth revisiting over at The New Partisan. Check it out if you like that sort of thing.

Also, I've been thinking about coming up with a list of the best comedy records of all-time. I listened to comedy records often when I was growing up, my favorite artists being George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Woody Allen and later on, Richard Pryor, Albert Brooks and Lenny Bruce. I liked stuff by Nichols and May, Bob Newhart, Monty Python, The Goon Show, Peter Sellers, Derek and Clive, Robin Williams, Franklyn Ajaye, Steven Wright, Lily Tomlin, Bob and Doug McKenzie and Rodney Dangerfield too. I know I'm missing some other good ones, but that's what I can come up with off-the-top of my head.

If I had to come up with a list of the best records I know of it would look something like this (in no particular order):

Bill Cosby: "Wonderfulness," "Revenge" and "To Russell, My Brother Whom I Slept With."

Richard Pryor: "That Nigger's Crazy," "Is it Something I Said?" and "Wanted: Live in Concert."

George Carlin: "AM/FM," "Class Clown" and "Occupation: Foole." These three records were compiled into a two-disk set. I highly recommend them.

Steve Martin: "Let's Get Small," and "Wild and Crazy Guy."

Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner: "The 2000 Year Old Man" and "The 2013 Year Old Man."

Lenny Bruce: His first four albums which are collected on cd on "The Lenny Bruce Originals Vol 1 and 2" and the uncut "Carneige Hall Concert."

Eddie Murphy: The first one, self-titled, and "Comedian."

Close Enough For You?
2004-09-24 13:42
by Alex Belth

Joel Sherman has an article about the Yankee-Sox rivalry today. He notes that since the start of the 2003 season--and including last year's playoffs--the Yanks and Sox are 21-21 against each other. In order to catch the Yankees and win the AL East, Boston needs to sweep New York this weekend. Regardless, the bottom line is which team lasts longer in the post-season, right?

2004-09-24 13:38
by Alex Belth

The Yankee rookies dressed up like Elvis after the game yesterday. Not bad, but they couldn't hold a candle to the sight of Pimpzilla last year.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?
2004-09-24 13:36
by Alex Belth

There was a good piece on Alex Rodriguez and clutch hitting by a guy named Darren Everson in the Daily News this past Tuedsay. Don't know if anyone caught it. But it was on-point. It seems that Reggie Jackson isn't a huge Rodriguez fan yet:

"Great clutch players don't get questioned," Reggie Jackson said before last night's 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays. "They don't question (Mariano) Rivera. Or (Bob) Gibson. Or Whitey (Ford). The great clutch players of the past, you saw enough, you viewed enough, you witnessed enough that I don't need statistics."

Everson talks about the perception that many of Rodriguez's dingers come in garbage time:

A closer examination reveals otherwise. It shows, among other things, that 17 of Rodriguez's homers have either tied a game or put the Yankees ahead - one more than Gary Sheffield. Sheffield, universally regarded as an MVP candidate, has hit 10 home runs in the seventh inning or later this season. A-Rod, the defending AL MVP who has hardly been mentioned in connection with the award this year, has hit nine.

Nice observations by Everson.

Once Again (Ladies and Gentleman)
2004-09-24 09:11
by Alex Belth

One thing I've learned about myself since I've been writing about baseball is that I don't have a lot of patience. I like to think that I do, but I don't. It's easy to be impatient. The Internet provides almost instant information. How can you be calm, and forgiving in the world of Gameday and Instant Messaging? What's unnatural about this is that baseball is a game that requires patience. For players and fans alike.

It's easy to see why young ballplayers lack patience. They hit a snag, start to struggle and they can lose their confidence. In yesterday's game at the stadium, many of the Devil Rays players looked as if they had a bus to catch. They made careless errors and had horrible at-bats. It's as if they want the season to end last week. On the other hand, veteran players know how to weather difficult times, mentally and emotionally.

Take Bernie Williams, for example. Williams is clearly in the twilight of his career. He doesn't hit for average anymore and doesn't have much power either. But he scored his 100th run of the season yesterday because he still has enough patience to work walks and get on base. Not bad for an old man on his way out, huh? Of course, it helps to play with an impressive offensive team. Look at Mike Piazza. His numbers would look respectable too if he were on a good team.

Anyhow, I know that I appreciate Bernie's accomplishment. I also stand duly impressed with Greg Maddux winning his 15th game yesterday. He's now won at least 15 games in 17 straight years. At the begining of the year, I did a rountable preview for the Yankees season and one of the questions was weather or not Mike Mussina would finally win twenty games this season. One thing many of the writers said was that he'd win 15 falling out of bed. Which got me to thinking just how difficult it is to win 15 games on a year-in, year-out basis. Or course, you have to stay healthy, be lucky, and have a good offense, but still, it's not so easy as Mussina has found out in 2004. Maddux is the man.

The Yankees clinced a playoff spot for the 10th consecutive season yesterday with their 7-3 win over the Rays at the stadium. It was a soporific, late-afternoon affair. Again, Tampa looked as if it would have rather been somewhere else. The Red Sox rallied, but fell short against the Orioles last night. The Yanks head to Boston leading the east by four-and-a-half games.

We'll Be Back...
2004-09-23 14:49
by Alex Belth

I want to apologize for posting so infrequently this week, but what with taking a week off from work--actually, I'll be back at the office tomorrow--it's been hard to keep to my regular schedule. Instead, I've been working on the Curt Flood book, and enjoying the gorgeous weather. Last night I visited my friend Alan out in Maplewood, New Jersey. We were up til the wee hours of the morning in his basement studio, transfering vinyl to cd, and listening to a wide variety of records--everything from Alice Cooper and Led Zeppelin to Special Ed and Third Base to Duke Ellington and George Carlin. We caught portions of the Yankee game on the car radio, and some more at the Outback Steakhouse. It was my first trip to an Outback joint, and most likely, the last too. Anyhow, the company was good, even if the food was frightening.

El Duque finally took an "L" and the Sox beat those pesky O's in extra innings. Boston is now three-and-a-half back. The Yanks are gearing up to play an afternoon game against the Devil Rays shortly. I'll be back in the regular swing of things soon enough. In the meantime, guys like Cliff Corcoran, Steve Bonner and Larry Mahnken--all linked in the Yankee section to the right--have been holding down the fort. Oh, and Jay Jaffe has posted the third installment of his fantastic Gary Sheffield series. Don't miss it.

Yanks 5, Blue Jays 2
2004-09-22 09:03
by Alex Belth

Both the Yanks and Sox lost on Monday night. Emily and I watched the last half of the Boston game up at her folks place in Vermont. Jeez, I think I've created a monster. She was cursing Boston pretty good throughout the game.

I arrived back in the Bronx last night around the seventh inning and saw the Bombers defeat Toronto. I also caught the updates and highlights of Boston's dramatic win against the Orioles. When all was said and done, the Yanks are still four-and-a-half games up.

Esteban Loiaza earned his first victory since he was traded to New York, which also happens to be the 100th win of his career. Roy Halladay, making his first start in a long while, seemingly gave up a home run to Alex Rodriguez in the first. But Vernon Wells timed his leap beautifully and robbed Rodriguez of his 36th dinger of the year. Gary Sheffield, who missed Monday's game after receiving two cortisone shots in his ailing left shoulder, followed and planted one in the left field upper deck, safely out of Gabe Gross's reach. Jason Giambi later hit a two-run homer to left-center, his first hit since returning from the DL.

El Duque and Ted Lilly square off tonight. If I'm not mistaken, it'll be the fourth time they've matched up this year. Should be a good one.

Rain, Rain, Go Away
2004-09-18 08:14
by Alex Belth

It's gloomy and pouring in the Bronx at 7:30 on Saturday morning. Em and I are packing up and getting ready to head off to Vermont. I wonder if they'll be able to get a game in today. If not, they'll play two tomorrow. However, if they do get the game in, anyone who wants to drop by and leave their impressions, I know I sure would appreciate it as I'm most likely going to miss the whole thing.

Hope everyone has a great weekend.

Red Sox 3, Yankees 2
2004-09-18 00:01
by Alex Belth

Down 2-1 in the ninth inning, the Red Sox scored two runs off Mariano Rivera to beat the Yanks, 3-2. It was an exciting game. Early on, Manny Ramirez hit a home run which was over-ruled and called a foul. There were two rain delays. Later, Ramirez robbed Miguel Cairo of a homer, making a sensational catch. Cairo, unaware that he was out, circled the bases as if the homer was good. It was a great catch. Manny looked back at Arroyo and pointed both fingers at him. Cairo looked on in disbelief. It was hard not to smile over that one. Good gosh.
Johnny Damon and John Olerud hit solo dingers. Tanyon Sturtze pitched tremendously in relief on El Duque; Bronson Arroyo was very good himself. Flash Gordon got four outs, including the heart of the Sox order in the eighth. But Rivera walked Trot Nixon to start the ninth, and it didn't get much better from there. Rivera looked rattled by Dave Roberts--pinch-running for Nixon, and fell behind virtually every batter. Johnny Damon had the game-winning hit, a bloop single to center, which was a catchable ball. When the ball fell in, Rivera, uncharacteristically looked displeased with his fielders. Earlier in the game, Derek Jeter argued with the home plate ump after being called out on strikes to end an inning.

Perhaps the Yankees are feeling the pressure. The carefree Sox come in and swipe a game from Rivera and the Yanks and now trail New York by two-and-a-half games. It was a terrific win for Boston and a disheartening loss for the Yanks. The pressure is on Jon Lieber tomorrow what with Pedro looming on Sunday.


Friday Night in the Bronx
2004-09-17 17:02
by Alex Belth

Here goes one of those, what you call, open-threads. Anyonw who wants to chims in during the game tonight, feel free. Just try and keep it civil. (By the way, the Sox-Yankee exchanges this week have been great. Thanks.) least some of us will.

2004-09-17 08:24
by Alex Belth

Is everyone amped for the Yankee-Sox serious this weekend? I know Red Sox Nation sure is. The players on both sides are. The local papers are replete with hype today. New York Times columnist William Rhoden is bored of the same ol-Yankees win storyline. So he's openly pulling for the Sox. Gimme a break, brother. So sorry you're bored. What paper do you work for again? Ahhh, it's not even worth getting worked up about.

El Duque will pitch tonight so long as the weather holds up. He hasn't lost yet. Will the Sox have his number? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? I'm heading up to Vermont tomorrow to visit Emily's folks for a few days, so I'll be smack dab in the heart of the Nation for this one. In order to overtake the Bombers I'd say that Boston needs to win 5-6 over the next two weekends. While these games should be characteristically tense and dramatic, I won't be overly excited should the Yankees win 4-6, just relieved. After all, this is just a warm-up for the playoffs. (If the Yanks sweep Boston but lose to them in the playoffs, think anyone will remember these games? Stay in the moment, dude, stay in the moment.) Then again, every Yankee-Sox series is played as if the fate of the modern world were at stake.

To quote Chuck D, "Don't believe the hype, it's a sequel." Enjoy the mishegoss. May the best team win.

Yankees 3, Royals 0
2004-09-16 08:34
by Alex Belth

Javier Vazquez threw a nice game and the Yankees shut out Kansas City for the second straight game. Derek Jeter was the offensive star for New York. I missed the game, but Emily had an off-day and was around the house. I knew that the Yankees had a three-run lead going into the eighth but when I got home last night I didn't know the final score. After kissing Em hello, I asked her how the game went?

"Javey was really good. He was throwing a lot of balls and they weren't swinging at them. Cecil Turtle [Tony Clark] hit a home run onto the grass by the water and it stayed there for the rest of the game. Giambi struck out a lot."

"Did we win?"

"I don't know. I got distracted cleaning my closet."

"You don't know who won?!?!?"

"Jeter had a good game."

Right. We've been monitoring Jeter's decline in on-base percentage for the past few months--Steven Goldman provides the numbers in his latest "Pinstriped Bible"; at the same time, Jeter has hit for more power than he has since his superstar 1999 campaign. Tyler Kepner notes in the Times:

With two doubles and a homer, Jeter has 62 extra-base hits, approaching his career high of 70 in 1999. He has 40 doubles, a career high, and 21 homers, 3 fewer than his best.

It's been an interesting season for the Yankee captain. Oh, and just to follow up on a comment I made yesterday about how much Jeter enjoys himself, the headline for the Times piece today reads, "Jeter Is Having Fun When the Games Mean the Most." Amen.

Boston won last night to remain four back (three in the loss column). The hype machine has already begun for the weekend series in New York. This rivalry feels more like the WWF than baseball at times. So there will be some inflammatory quotes on both sides over the next week and a half, and the fans will be plenty worked up. But the biggest story of the weekend could very well be the weather. Who knows how many games they'll get in?

Well, no matter what happens, at least we all know it won't be dull.

Shut Em Down
2004-09-14 22:52
by Alex Belth

Yankees 4, Royals 0

The Yankees got their first look at Zach Greinke tonight, and man, he was impressive. Greinke is a good-looking kid with blond hair. He looks more like a surfer or a skate board kid than a pitcher. (Actually, he reminds me a bit of a young Mark Langston.) A right-hander with a simple, direct motion, the ball comes out of Greinke's hand easily. He is composed and cool on the mound, keeping his fastball down in the strike zone for the most part; the kid has an effective change up and a very nasty slow breaking ball. In the first inning, Greinke threw Jeter a full-count fastball and Jeter lined out sharply to short. Rodriguez followed and he saw the breaking ball on a full count, got way ahead of it, and popped out to left. The YES cameras showed Jeter in the dugout laughing at his pal. Say what you will about Jeter, but I don't know that I've ever seen a player of his caliber enjoy himself as much, or laugh and smile as much as he does.

Greinke and Mike Mussina engaged in a pitcher's duel through the first five innings. They were both in control; Mussina was more efficient (he threw 97 pitches on the night). With two men out in the top of the fifth, Bernie Williams—who turned 36 yesterday—drew a walk on a full-count pitch. I believe it was a fastball, inside at the knees. Though it was called a ball, it looked like a strike from where I was sitting. Greinke and his catcher thought it was strike three as well and they started toward the dugout. Howver, Greinke walked too far, prompting the home plate umpire Doug Eddings to walk to the mound and remind him that although he's mad talented, he is still just twenty years old. The Royals manager Tony Pena sprinted out to the mound to monitor the conversation, which was brief.

Perhaps the incident was enough to throw Greinke off his game just a bit. He hung a curve ball to John Olerud who slapped it into right for a single. Miguel Cairo followed and worked a walk to load the bases. Then Jeter lofted a single to shallow right. It barely fell in for a hit, Williams and Olerud scored, and Cairo was thrown out on a close play at the plate.

Greinke pitched a one-two-three sixth and he was done. Those two runs would be all that Mike Mussina needed, though they scored two more in the eigth thanks to an RBI double by Alex Rodriguez and an RBI single by The Punisher, Gary Sheffield. In short, Mussina was brilliant. He was spotting his fastball—which had some hop to it—and his knuckle-curve equally well. Mussina ended up pitching eight innings, striking out a season-high eleven batters. Flash Gordon retired
the Royals in order in the ninth. It was a brisk game, taking just two hours and twenty-five minutes. What a difference a night makes. Eddings' had a liberal strike zone—aside from that 3-2 pitch to Bernie—and after each foul ball, he threw a fresh ball back to the pitcher as if he were a middle infielder turning a double play.

Jason Giambi was in the line-up and it was hard to get a feel for how he looked, though he didn't seem anxious. He got ahead of the count in the first and hit a breaking ball to the warning track, just missing a dinger. Greinke struck him out the next time up on a lollypop curve. In his third at-bat, Giambi lined out to center on the first pitch, and he walked in his final at-bat in the ninth.

The Bombers gained a game on Boston who fell to Tampa Bay at Fenway Park tonight. Scott Kazmir out-pitched Prince P. The Yankee lead stands at four; three games in the loss column.

That Time of Year Again
2004-09-14 19:33
by Alex Belth

It's about 45 minutes before the Yanks and Royals start tonight's game. I'm at home in the Bronx and there is a distinct chill in the air. The temperature has cooled and it feels like the playoffs, man. You know how you used to associate the smells and sounds of spring with the end of the school year, anxiety about tests, and just wishing you could be outside, back when you were a kid? Well, these days Yankee fans can only think of one thing when the cooler autumn weather rolls around: their team will be in the playoffs. Of course there is a slight chance that they won't make it this year, but let's not dwell on the negative. The weather in New York City tonight reminded me of just how fortunate we've been—spoiled really—to have the Yankees in the post-season year after year. Especially considering the fact that I grew up in the eighties. After all, across town, the Mets are dwelling all too close to last place for the third consecutive season. Their fans are going through tough times. Most of them have hung it up for the year and have turned their attention to football. The Yanks may be far from perfect this year, but they are still better than most teams. For that, I am thankful.

You want a reason to be excited about tonight's game? Jason Giambi will be the starting DH for the Bombers. It'll be great to see him back. I'm not going to be able to post at my regular time tomorrow, but I should have something up by the middle of the day. Hopefully, with good news to report.

Let's Go Yan-Kees.

High and Low
2004-09-14 14:23
by Alex Belth

The Good Book

The latest edition of Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Bible is out this afternoon. Needless to say, it is required reading for any serious Yankee fan.

Do You Remember?

Jim Gerard, a frequent reader of Bronx Banter is writing a book about the Yankees. He's dedicating one chapter to Yankee lowlights--Dark Days for Yankee fans. If you've got any cherce memories, Jim would appreciate an e-mail. (The first thing that comes to mind was when Bobby Meacham hit a homer and then ran past the runner ahead of him on base and was called out...I can't recall the year, but at some pernt during the mid eighties.) In particular, Jim is looking for Yankee fans to write in and discuss what they feel were the worst, most painful losses in franchise history, and why. For me the most painful loss was the 1981 World Series simply because the Yankees played so well in Game One and Game Two, and so thoroughly lousy in Games Three, Four and Five out in Los Angeles. Also, if anybody has any remembrances of what it was like to be a Yankee fan during the dark CBS days of the mid-60s through the early 70s, they can pass those along, too. You can reach Jim at: Thanks.

The Book is The Thing

For those of you who are interested, Buster Olney and Alan Schwarz will be at the Yogi Berra Museum in the near future to talk about their new books. On Saturday, September 18th between 1-2 p.m., Buster will be there to discuss "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty." Alan Schwarz will be talking about "The Numbers Game" on Saturday, October 16th between 1-2 p.m.

Chivalry Ain't Dead

Last night I was riding the 7th avenue IRT uptown. A few stops before I was going to get off a woman came on the train and stood in front of me. Without thinking, I asked her if she would like to sit and gave up my seat for her. The woman sitting next to her looked at me incredulously. "Are you from New York?" she asked. "Born and raised," I said. "Wow." People always seem suprised to discover that there are nice people in the world. I'm not saying I'm a saint. I don't always give up my seat for a woman, or an older person, but I do it more often than not. According to an article in the Times today, I'm not alone.

Funny thing is when I got back to the Bronx later in the evening, I jumped on the bus to get home. As I approached the back, which was crowded, I saw a heavy-set bald dude sitting in a seat, with his gym bag in the seat next to him. This kind of casual arrogance annoys me to no end. I said excuse me to him and motioned that I wanted to sit. He made a comment under his breath, but I chose ignore it. He was sitting in a bulldog position, still trying to take up both seats, just looking for a fight. I wasn't interested, but when I walked off the bus, I looked back and him, smiled and shook my head. As I walked away I caught his eye again and smiled.

So early this morning I'm walking to the subway and I've got my earphones on when who should slide next to me but Boris, the killer bald dude. It took me a second to register who he was, and he waited for it to dawn on me. Satisfied that I did remember him, he goes, "What were you smiling at last night?" Now, I'm half-asleep, and not prepared for a confrontation. So I say, "I was smiling because I thought you made a remark." He goes, "I did. I said there were other seats you could have sat in." "Yo man, the bus was crowded, what do you want from me? It was a misunderstanding." And with that he let it drop. I think he was happy enough to sneak up on me and catch me off-guard. Dude was a total bully. Big, thick, tough guy.

And me being a nice guy, I spent the rest of the morning upset at myself for not being present enough to tell the guy off. Not to get in a fight, but to simply say, "It's a public bus." And just walk away. To stand up for myself instead of blurting out that it was a misunderstanding. I hope to be more prepared for the next time. Man, sometimes I'm just too damn sensitive. Even for a New Yorker. Ahh, what are you gunna do?

The Trouble With Javey
2004-09-14 09:13
by Alex Belth

I checked in with the baseball journalist Pat Jordan yesterday. Pat lives in Florida with his wife and their dogs. I wondered how they’ve been holding up under all the brutal weather. Pat replied, “Susie and I and the dogs drank a our way through Frances and are going to drink our way through Ivan. The shutters have been up for two weeks now and it's like living in a cage. Still, a small price to pay for Paradise.” Jordan is a huge fan of Miami football and is still riding high since the Caines beat Florida State last weekend. I can hardly relate since I’m not a college football guy. Instead, I pressed him for his take on what’s wrong with Javier Vazquez. As usual, Pat, a former pitching prospect for Braves, pulled no punches.

Pat Jordan: Vazquez is throwing across his body, like many left-handers do. He's following through towards third base and not first base. When a righty follows through, his left leg and left shoulder should be pulling toward a left-handed batter, which generates power with his right arm. When a righty follows through towards a right-handed batter, all his power is spent and he's just flinging the ball with his arm.

BB: Three starts ago Jim Kaat spoke about balance on the broadcast. He said one simple exercise for a pitcher is for him to look at himself in the mirror and balance himself on his back leg for as long as possible. YES then showed a replay of Vazquez who looked like he was leaning about a foot forward off the mound. Are these kind of mechanical problems a result of anything mental? For instance, is Vazquez trying too hard and therefore rushing himself?

Jordan: Kaat is absolutely right. If a pitcher has proper balance he can stand in that one-legged Flamingo pose all day. Vazquez, can't because his body is already leaning toward third base or a right handed batter, and he's rushing to throw the ball before he falls to his right. It took me months when I was coming back to pitch at 56 to be able to stand on one leg without wobbling. Your weight has to be perpendicular, going down from head to toe. If your weight is off, like Vazquez’s is, leaning to his right, you can't sustain your motion and you rush your pitch. These problems are not mental, simple to correct. I've done it with l4 year old kids. It's not a case of trying to hard it's just bad mechanics obvious to anyone except the Yankee brain trust.

BB: Also, I've noticed that Vazquez just can't put guys away. It seems that he gets hurt--especially with the long ball--when he's ahead on the count, 0-2, 1-2. Is that a case of him trying to make a perfect pitch or what?

Jordan: The reason Vazquez gets hurt 0-2 is cause he can't generate best stuff by pulling his upper body to his left, where his shoulder, not arm, generates speed. It's the shoulder where the power comes from. No one throws hard who uses only the arm. Go look at old photos of Koufax in his motion. As a let, his right shoulder is pulled far to his right and almost touching the ground, which, in turn, elevates his left arm and gives it speed. But what the fuck do I know? I'm only a half-ass writer.

BB: How much influence does Mel Stottlemyre have on his pitching staff? As much of a Yankee icon as Stottlemyre is, he’s been criticized for not getting the most out of his pitchers.

Jordan: There, my diagnosis. I could do a better job than Stottlemeyre. If he's such a great pitching coach why do the Yankees send their troubled pitchers to Tampa to work with Billy Connors? The only reason Bill Connors is not the Yanks pitching coach is because he's too fat, not the proper Yankee image. I’ve forgotten more about pitching that Stottlemeyre will ever know. I was the one who wanted to raise Weaver's arm motion about 30 degrees so his fastball would sink more to lefties. The Dodgers did it and he's having a good year. Why didn't the Yankees do it? Cause they're lazy. They buy guys and let them play. The have no concept of teaching or refining talent. They're stagnating. Torre could let the Paul O’Neill guys just play because they were smart and corrected their flaws themselves. These guys are clueless, and need help. But again, what the fuck do I know?

Sobb Story
2004-09-14 08:24
by Alex Belth

"I'm a positive person, but after a while it was hard to be positive. We were beating ourselves, basically." Joe Torre (N.Y. Daily News)

The Yankees were smoked by the Royals in Kansas City last night by the tune of 17-8. The offense hit the ball hard but could not capitalize early on. Then the Royals--a bunch of hackers who were swinging from their heels starting in the first inning--scored ten runs in the fifth against Brad Halsey, Taynon Sturtze (wild pitch, balk, walk, dinger) and Brett Prinz. If that wasn't bad enough, Paul Quantrill and Felix Heredia--pitchers the Yankees will actually need come October--were rocked two innings later for five runs. Who were those imposters wearing Yankee uniforms last night?

This one felt worse than the 22-0 loss to the Indians. The Yankees weren't just flat, they were pathetic. I'm sure I'm overreacting, but it was a disconcerting game to watch. And for some reason I sat through the whole thing, which makes me either incredibly loyal, amazingly stupid, or positively masochistic. The Yankees are now three games up on the Red Sox--who were idle--but just two ahead in the loss column.

Yankees 9, Orioles 7
2004-09-13 08:23
by Alex Belth

"Long, weird," Derek Jeter said, after 3 hours 55 minutes of madness at Camden Yards. "I walked three times. That should explain it right there, right?" (N.Y. Times)

While the Yankees and Orioles have specialized in drawn-out, turgid games against each other over the past decade, yesterday was a whopper. It was a challenge to watch for sure. According to Tyler Kepner in the New York Times:

Baltimore used 10 pitchers, setting a major league record for a nine-inning game. The Yankees drew 14 walks, their highest total since 1980. They left 17 runners on base, something they had not done in a decade. Four times, they left the bases loaded.

What a relief it was when the Bombers managed to win the game. Gary Sheffield broke a 7-7 tie with a solo dinger in the ninth inning, and Hideki Matsui followed with a homer of his own. Sheffield continues to be the centerpiece of the Yankee offense. Even his outs are exciting; his sacrifice liner to left in the seventh was absolutely scorched. Alex Rodriguez had a good game too, and is taking the ball to right field more often. A good sign.

The Yankees gained a game on Boston who were shut-out in Seattle yesterday, 2-0. New York's lead stands at three-and-a-half games (three in the loss column). Boston is off tonight while the Yankees are in Kansas City. As far as I can tell, the Yankees will be throwing El Duque, Jon Lieber and...Brad Halsey? against Boston next weekend in New York. That should be enough to get Red Sox Nation's mouth watering.

Both Kevin Kernan and John Harper warn that if the Yankees continue to play as poorly as they did yesterday, they won't last long in October. Hey, no foolin fellas. I'm not counting the Yankees out by any stretch--who knows what will happen?--but I think it's been obvious for a while now that this team could be headed for an early exit this year. Let me ask you though what's worse: If this Yankee team loses in the first round, or if a team like the Cardinals get bounced early? At least with the Yankees, nobody will be shocked if this isn't their year. On the other hand, if the Yankees do win a round, or make it to the World Serious, it'll be a welcome development. Imagine, the team with the best record in the league, as an underdog. Ummm, works for me.

One and One
2004-09-12 10:05
by Alex Belth

The Yanks lost a slug-fest on Friday night (and a game in the standings as Boston creamed Seattle), but recovered behind El Duque yesterday afternoon to beat the Orioles, 5-2. The Sox whipped the Mariners again; New York's lead remains two-and-a-half games. Steve Bonner is loving the September tension. So, for that matter is Derek Jeter. In a Newsday article which detailed two team-meetings the Yankees recently held, the Yankee captain said:

"This is a fun time," said Jeter... "These are games we enjoy playing. We're in a race now for the division and I definitely enjoy it. I think you've got some guys who enjoy it, too."

This is supposed to be fun? Right. I keep forgetting. Thanks for the reality check, Jetes. Javier Vazquez got rocked for the second time in his past three outings on Friday night, but to be honest, he's been a generally lousy pitcher since the all-star break. I wish I understood more about the mechanics of pitching to explain what is going wrong.

Vazquez told the New York Times:

"I don't ever remember going through a stretch this bad since '98," Vazquez said, referring to his rookie season. "Early in the season in '99, maybe. But I don't remember the last time I've been this bad and inconsistent."

Mel Stottlemyre added:

"I've been where he's at, and it's no fun," Stottlemyre said. "He sort of feels like he wants to get away from everyone, and I understand that. At the same time, I wanted him to know how Joe and I feel about him. Those 13 games he's won for us have not been an accident. He has a lot of talent. It's not a question of high hopes for him. He's one of our guys."

..."The only logical explanation is when you try to do too much, it ends up being less," Stottlemyre said. "I think, instead of throwing his pitches with confidence and getting ahead and letting them hit it if they can, he was trying to throw too hard, getting out of whack and he couldn't regain his control.

"I've never seen him like that, never experienced anything like that in his workouts where he lost command."

Here are some interesting observations from that were left in the "comments" section of this blog:

"How come the Sporting News says his arm slot is all messed up, yet nothing is being done about it? If even they can tell something is wrong mechanically..." Jeremy M

"Jeremy, the problem goes beyond his arm slot. His mechanics are awful...does he ever "repeat" his wind-up? He lands in a completely different spot every pitch. And we gave this guy $10 million a year? And it's obvious that he can't locate his pitches on the corners the way Stottlemyre wants. Problem is he's more of a change of speed guy than a side-to-side guy. But Stottlemyre doesn't realize that side-to-side means very little to batters who are on average 3 to 4 inches taller with longer reaches than the batters of even 15 years ago (when he was a coach with the Mets)." Johnny C

"I hate to say it because the man is a class act, but it's time for Mel to go. He is simply not an effective pitching coach, and I don't mean this in the way that hitting coaches have been run out of town the last few years, where they seemed to have taken the blame for deeper problems. If Vazquez is as good as everyone says he is, then what is Mel doing to help him? Maybe he's trying to get him to not strike out as many guys, as he did with Doc Gooden back in the 80s. That was a brilliant strategy as well." Jeremy M

What do you guys think? Anyone have anything else to offer about why Vazquez has struggled so over the past few months? In addition, do you think that Stottlemyre is costing the team victories with the way he handles the pitching staff?

One pitcher he isn't hurting is Orlando Hernandez. El Duque allowed one run over seven innings yesterday, improving his record to 8-0 (the Yankees are 11-1 in games he's started). He was in one tight spot all day. With two out in the third, the Orioles loaded the bases for Miguel Tejada. Duque fell behind Miggy 2-1, but then got him to foul off an inside fastball, and then wave at an off-speed pitch to end the inning.

The Yankee offense was impressive on Friday night and they played well enough to beat Sidney Ponson yesterday. The game ended with a minor incident between the Orioles third base coach, Tom Treblehorn and Yankee catcher Jorge Posada. Evidentally, Posada thought that Treblehorn was trying to steal signs.

Tough Day

Like many New Yorkers—scratch that, Americans—I had a heavy-heart yesterday on the third anniversary of the attacks of September 11th. Emily and I watched a portion of the memorial ceremony yesterday morning and we both teared up pretty good. We decided to get out of the house and go on an adventure. So we took the IRT to midtown and then connected to the Queens-bound 7 train and went to Jackson Heights, which is probably the biggest Indian neighborhood in the city. We had lunch at the Jackson Diner; Em bought some bootlegged "Bollywood" cd soundtracks for her sister and we went shopping in the markets. Man, the produce was so inexpensive and interesting. We saw vegetables that we'd never seen before. One thing I picked up are called "long beans." Essentially they are string beans, but about two-feet long. They come in a bunch and look like a Rasta's thin-braids. As I sat in front of them wondering if I should buy them, two little old Italian ladies were picking some out for themselves. I asked them what the beans were all about and one lady tells me they're great, you just cut em down and "put them in the sauce with some maccaroni." Perfect. Learning how to use Indian vegies from an Italian. I love this city.

Hip Hop Quotable

For anyone who is interested, I've posted a list of my 20 favorite rap records of all time over at Will Carroll's site. I also put up a list of the greatest rap singles from 1986-1994 too. Let me know what you think.

Double Yer Pleasure
2004-09-10 10:44
by Alex Belth

The Yanks and D-Rays finally got their double-header in and the Bombers spanked them in both games (9-1, 10-5). The Yanks have now won five straight. The first game was memorable because the stadium was virtually empty. I think there were more people there on Monday afternoon when the game was delayed. I truly wish I could have been there. This might sound retarded, but I think I'd almost rather have gone to yesterday's game than a sell-out vs. the Sox. Talk about a unique experience. Sit anywhere you want. Move around at your leisure. And of course getting to watch Mike Mussina pitch his best game in a long time is nothing to sneeze at either.

I missed the second game entirely. I went down to "Boytown," (Chelsea) to see my friend Shannon's new show of experimental films. There is a strip of galleries on 20th street between 10th and 11th avenues, and apparently last night was a grand fall opening of sorts. People were in the street, milling in-and-out of the different spots. I haven't been around the pretty people or the art scene in a minute. Can't say that I've missed either. Regardless, the show was great, the cheese was stinky, and the people were generally full of shit. You can imagine how happy I was when I got back to the Bronx and learned about the second game. Not only that but the Red Sox lost in Seattle and the Yankee lead stands at three-and-a-half games.

2004-09-09 13:10
by Alex Belth

It's starting to feel like "Groundhog's Day" for the Bombers and Devil Rays, who plan to play two today after being warshed out on Wednesday. (Guess what? The Bombers and MLB are still riffin'.) Mike Mussina and Brad Halsey are scheduled to start today. The first game will kick off shortly after 3 p.m. It is supposed to rain more this guess is that they'll get at least one of the games in.

Meanwhile, the Yankee lead is down to two games after the Sox completed a three-game sweep of the A's in Oakland last night. Boston was 8-1 against the Angels, Rangers and A's. They are just mopping the floor with the best the league has to offer: yeah, you get props over here.

Best Web Site Ever

I'm a big subway nerd. I love riding them, and reading about them, learning the history, the whole bit. The Transit Museum in Brooklyn is a must for any train lover but I came across this website yesterday and it's got me buggin out. Here is a shot of the 240th street yard that is within walking distance from where I live; and another of the 207th street yard just a short train ride away. You can read about the history of each train line--the IRT, BMT, and the IND. There are shots of abandoned subway stations, like the 91rst street station on the 7th avenue line, which is one of the great underground bomb pits in town. Best of all, there is an entire gallery of subway maps. I've been wishing that the MTA would put out a coffee table book of subway maps for years, but for now, this will do. What, you want the 1967 joint? What about 1974, or 78? Want to see what tokens looked like years ago? Yo, let me chill, I'm spazin' out. But if you dig the NYC subway system, you need to peruse this terrific site.

Here's Mud in Yer Eye (Why Can't We Be Friends?)
2004-09-08 19:48
by Alex Belth

You Gots To Chill

In the latest edition of "Rivals in Exile," both Ben Jacobs and Larry Mahnken get testy with each other while making some astute observations about the nature of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry. I've noticed this season that the "comments" section here at Bronx Banter really gets fired up whenever the Yanks and Sox are playing--sometimes even before or after they play. Such was the case on Monday. I get a lot out of reading the comments because it's an opportunity to interact directly with readers as well as a chance to learn more about baseball. I'm pleased that there is a group of regular Red Sox fans who frequent the site; I love getting both sides of the rivalry. My only complaint is when the conversation lowers itself to trash-talking and base insults. Believe me, I know how heated things get when it comes to this rivalry. That's part of what makes it so intense and passionate. But I'd like to ask those of you who like to add your two-cents--Yankee and Sox fans alike--to make a concerted effort to keep the conversation honest, intelligent, as well as humorous and effusive. If you feel the need to sound-off like a clown, please do it somewhere else. It's boring, man. Plus, it kills the spirit of the dialogue, which is shame, because reading the comments is something I look forward to each day.

OK, end of lecture. I'd appreciate it if we can respectful of each other, especially if we disagree. Thanks.

Yanks 11, Rays 2
2004-09-08 13:27
by Alex Belth

Yo, I'm sorry I wasn't able to post anything this morning, but it took me more than three hours to get to work. It's raining in New York and the subways are all screwy; I ended up walking the last 50 blocks to work. Don't ask. Anyhow, the Yanks beat the snot out of Tampa last night, and the Red Sox handled Oakland. The song remains the same. Gary Sheffield continues to hit the ball as if it did something wrong to his family; Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Godziller Matsui all had big nights. Jon Lieber pitched a fine game. The Yankees are still upset about how Monday's double-header was handled by MLB. The double-header will be played today, weather permitting. Esteban Loaiza and Brad Halsey will go for New York.

2004-09-07 14:14
by Alex Belth

I was invited to got to yesterday's game by my friend Jared. His ex-girlfriend had an extra ticket and did I want to come along? I've never been able to figure out how people can remain friends after they've been lovers; I've tried it, and failed miserably. I used to think it was a mature-sounding thing to do. But for me, it was simply an exercise in masochism and sexual frustration. That's just me, of course. To each his or her own. Obviously, whatever discomfort Jared and Abbey experience together isn't enough to keep them apart.

The three of us met up at Jared's place, which is on 174th street and the Grand Concourse. This is the heart of the Boogie Down Bronx, and the view from Jared's sixth floor balcony may be the most dizzingly active sight I've ever seen from a New York apartment. The broad-lanes of the dilapidated Concourse sit just to the left, underneath which runs the Cross Bronx Expressway. Then over the Concourse, in the not so far distance, you can see the elevated 4 train. Standing on the balcony, I felt almost quesy, unsure of my footing. There was so much to look at, and even more to hear.

We ate lunch and made our way to the stadium, arriving shortly after 2:00 p.m. Of course, we soon learned that the Devil Rays were still stuck in Florida. Bummer. It was a gorgeous day, and there was a decent crowd of fans milling about, mostly suburbanites dressed in shorts and Yankee jerseys. We were about to bag the whole thing, but Jared convinced Abbey--who had gotten the tickets through her job--that we should at least go inside and check the ball park out.

We enetered the stadium on the field level out in right, and proceeded to walk toward home plate. This was cool as we past entire sections that I've never sat even remotely close to. We couldn't stop too long though before stadium security humorlessly barked at us to keep moving. Passing one disgruntled guard dressed in a yellow shit, he announced to nobody in particular, "Welcome to Shea Stadium: enjoy the delay." We made several stops along the way, plopping down in empty seats, taking in the sights and sounds; looking up and around at the vast stadium and thoroughly enjoying ourselves in that great New York City pastime: people watching.

Eventually, we settled ourselves in about 30 rows behind home plate, under the netting. It felt very much like being in a cocoon. A boy and his father sat a few rows in front of us. The kid couldn't have been older than four. He was wearing a Yankee cap and jersey and he was swinging a miniature bat. His father took his picture; the boy proudly posed with his bat. He caught my eye and continued to preen, swinging and showing-off for his father. But though he continued to engage his father, the old man was no longer interested. The boy's big, earnest eyes kept darting over to us. His dad ignored him, deep in thought.

Just after 3:00, the voice of Yankee Stadium, Bob Shepard, made the announcement that there would be no double-header. The crowd--maybe 5,000 people?--groaned, "Aawwwww." Then Shepard added that, "Hot dogs and Coke will be available..."--great dramatic pause--"without...charge." "Yeah!" That got the crowd buzzing. Literally. You've never heard such a thing. The three of us fell out laughing. Fast Food Nation, this is your life! Nothing like free food to shake people out of their seats.

Soon after, Jared, Abbey and I made our way around to left field--the Sheffield seats--and then up to one of the hot dog stands. Abbey wanted her free dog and Coke. The lines were already long and they weren't moving. Apparently, nobody had given the good people working the consessions the heads up about free dogs, so everyone had to wait as a new batch warmed on the grill. A father in a Mickey Mantle jersey was ahead of us in line, carrying on a conversation with some very peeved guys just behind us. The dudes were upset about having to wait around all day for a game to be played. The father's kid looks up at his old man and says, "So, we'll just come back tonight, right dad?"

"No, we're not coming back tonight." The father looked up and winked at the peeved fan with great satisfaction, as if they were both members of a secret club. "It's a school night." Yup, the summer is finally over. Dude could barely conceal his delight.

Well, we stood on line for about ten minutes before some of those in line started getting restless. "Hey, I thought this was supposed to be free. How long we gotta wait?" Before you know it, a full-scale Jerry Springer-style shouting match broke out on the other side of the room between two heavy-set customers and about 18 black women working the consessions. The customers looked to be a married couple from the suburbs--shorts, Yankee jerseys. We couldn't pick up what was being said but things were heated. One of the workers through a batch of napkins at the customers. The women sounded like a wolf had just invaded a hen house. They were making some racket. Abbey decided that she didn't really want a hot dog after all. Leave it to New Yorkers to start a fight over free food. Beautious.

I ended up taking Jared and Abbey up to my neighborhood and got them a good pastrami sammich at a local deli. We didn't go back to the stadium. The only thing I regret is that we didn't stick around to watch batting practice. That would have been a treat. But I didn't want to schlepp back down to the stadium in the evening. After all, it is a school night.

Yankees 7, Devil Rays 4
2004-09-07 08:22
by Alex Belth

Worth the Wait

I was at the stadium yesterday but left long before the first pitch was thrown. (I hope to have a write-up on the pre-game festivities later today.) There was no double-header, which had the Yankee brass crying foul. (Another fine job by Bud and company.) There was a game however, which started just after 7:00 p.m. Alex Rodriguez batted in the two-hole and had two doubles, one with the bases-loaded. Rodriguez collected three RBI; it was his first hit with the bases-juiced in eleven tries this season. The ace of the 2004 staff, El Duque, pitched another solid game. Both he and Mel Stottlemyre were run from the game for arguing balls and strikes after the seventh inning. Paul Quantrill pitched the final two innings, and allowed a two-run home run. The Bombers remain two-and-a-half ahead of Boston who beat the A's out on the coast last night.

Yankees 4, Orioles 3
2004-09-06 09:46
by Alex Belth

Javey Vazquez's stuff looked much improved in the first inning yesterday. The fastball was moving, the breaking ball had some bite. But he was timid when pitching to the Orioles better hitters. With two-men on and two-out, Raffie P. came to bat. I said, "Home run," and Raffie complied. Then I yelled. Loudly. Though Vazquez put the Yankees in a 3-0 hole, he recovered and pitched well through seven innings, not allowing another run to score. Meanwhile, the Yankees hit Bruce Chen hard in the first inning but only had one run to show for it. They ultimately tied the game at three but couldn't get much of anything cooking offensively. (That's wrong. Derek Jeter, batting lead off, had a very nice game.) Alex Rodriguez is still pressing, waving at pitches out of the strike zone. He whiffed twice and heard the boo boids; he was also robbed of a double by Jay Gibbons in right.

The Yankees ended up winning the game by the skin of their teeth when Jorge Posada walked on a full-count with the bases-loaded in the bottom of the ninth. The game was a nail-biter for Yankee fans. Who would have thought three weeks ago that the Bombers would be playing a must-win game against the Orioles at this stage of the game? They had some good fortune; Vazquez bare-handed a sure-fire single and turned it into a double play, with some help from poor Baltimore base-running, and perhaps a missed call at second base; Mariano Rivera had runners on first and third with nobody out in the top of the ninth and didn't allow a run. (And Lee Maz made some head-scratching moves late in the game to boot.) All of which helped the Yankees stay two-and-a-half up on the Sox who survived a late rally by Texas yesterday and won the weekend series, two games to one.

I am Sorry

Kevin Brown was at the Stadium yesterday after he had surgery on his left hand. He apologized to his teammates. That's a start. According to the Daily News:

"It's my fault, there's no ifs, ands or buts about it," Brown said. "I don't expect anybody else to understand. ... The blame is mine."

..."Whatever actions they take, I'll handle and I'll take," Brown said. "I understand the team's position."

... "He didn't have to do what he did," Tom Gordon said. "That was a class act. We all make mistakes and he stood up and handled it. We've all been in situations where we've wanted to break things because we were frustrated. I just hope we can get him back."

The real shame of it is that Brown pitched well on Friday. As a matter of fact, the Yankee starting pitching has been fine over the past five games.

We Don't Want to Work

This is my favorite weekend of the year to be in New York City. Why? Because the town is absolutely dead. I remember working with a girl who was originally from Miami a few years ago, and she'd get nuts when the city was like this. Maybe it's something about being a native New Yorker, but there is a stillness and a sense of calm in Manhattan that is priceless. And the space. Lots of elbow room for all. I guess the beauty part is knowing that come Tuesday morning, everyone will be back from vacation; by Wednesday, kids will be back to school. The buzz will be back. All of which makes savoring these last precious moments of summer tranquility all the more special. Go to the farm market, grab some corn, make a fresh tomato, basil'll all be over soon.

The weather was cool and overcast in New York yesterday. The fall is in the air. It's hazy but sunny this morning, though still chilly. I'm headed over to the stadium for at least one of the two games they'll play against Tampa Bay today. It's an old-fashioned single admission double-header. Go figure, and go Yanks. Hope everyone has enjoyed their holiday weekend. And that's the triple truth...Ruth.

Orioles 7, Yankees Zilch
2004-09-05 09:49
by Alex Belth

Free Fallin

"For certain I'm happy it's the left and not the right," [Joe] Torre said. "But the thing that bothered me is the fact that he thought enough to throw the left and not the right. I wish he would have thought a little bit more on that subject." (N.Y. Newsday)

"If you're going to get hurt playing this game," fellow starter Mike Mussina said, "let's get hurt playing the game. Pull a hamstring, get hit with the ball. But to take yourself out for possibly the rest of the season because of a situation like this is frustrating for the rest of us, I think." (N.Y. Newsday)

"I think we've all been frustrated about stuff," Mussina said. "We've all been upset. We've all said stuff. But to physically do something to cause injury to yourself, I don't relate to that." (N.Y.Times)

"You just hope anybody can control their emotions. Sometimes your emotions get the best of you. Hopefully, if you're going to harm yourself, it's not going to harm the team."

"He's probably the most competitive guy I've ever played with," [Gary] Sheffield said. "He cares about his performance and how the team does. And he takes it all on his shoulders when he doesn't have to. In this situation, I'm sure he didn't want to hurt the team. He's probably feeling worse than anybody." (Newsday)

Why don't we start with the good news? First of all, Em and I took a drive to the country yesterday afternoon, so we missed the game. That's for starters. Second, the Red Sox finally lost a game. (What? Is the moon blue or something?) Lastly, Mike Mussina pitched well. Now for the cruddy news: Mariano Rivera gave up four runs---ouch, that smarts, okay, mercy, mercy---and Sidney Ponson pitched a two-hit, complete-game shutout. As the say in my 'hood: "Oy." Kevin Brown will have surgery this afternoon at Columbia Pres. He'll be out for at least three weeks.

Biggest Dick Ever
2004-09-04 10:00
by Alex Belth


"A selfish and immature act by the most self-centered man in baseball may have cost the Yankees the AL East last night at Yankee Stadium." George King (N.Y.Post)

Kevin Brown broke two bones in his left hand last night after punching a clubhouse wall:

"I reacted to frustration I'd swallowed all year. ... There are no excuses. I let it boil over and I did something stupid." (ESPN)

Brown later apologized to his teammates and to the organization. According to Jack Curry:

"It's an issue we shouldn't be dealing with," General Manager Brian Cashman said, "and we are."

...The one question the Yankees should ask Brown is how someone who is earning $15 million a year to pitch once every five days even dreams of putting his job and his team's future in jeopardy with such an irrational act.

"You just can't do this," Cashman said. "You've got to keep your emotions in check."

I liked the idea of Kevin Brown essentially replacing Roger Clemens at the start of the year. I knew he'd spend some time on the DL, but I liked his surly, Sal Maglie demeanor, and his intensity. I thought he was a gamer. But I can't believe that he's put his teammates in this kind of situation. Roger Clemens would never do something so thoughtless. I'd venture a guess and say that Jeff Weaver wouldn't either. You know what this tells me about Kevin Brown? Consciously or not, he doesn't want to pitch anymore. He just quit on the team. He's not a gamer, he's a clown. He's going to have to live with the consequences of his actions, because it's likely to follow him well past his playing days. There is a chance that he can come back this season. For his sake--as well as the Yankees--he'd better hope so.

Orlando Hernandez, Mike Mussina, Javier Vazquez, Jon Lieber: They must be dancing in the streets up in New England.

Can't You Hear Me Knocking?
2004-09-03 22:23
by Alex Belth

Foshizzle we can. Boy can we ever. No, you didn't stutter, we can hear you knocking, but it feels more like pounding. The Orioles defeated the Bombers 3-1 in the Bronx while the Sox shut-out the Rangers 2-zip at Fenway Park. The Yankee lead is now down to two-and-a-half games, two in the loss column. When the Yanks were surging late in the 1978 season, they humbled the Sox in a four-game sweep in Boston which became popularly known as "The Boston Massacre." NBC announcer, and former Yankee infielder Tony Kubeck commented at the time that "This is the first time I've ever seen a first-place team trying to chase a second-place team." Though the Boston lead was seven games when Kubeck said this in 78, it kind of feels that way in reverse for New Yorkers right now.

Pedro Martinez continued to pitch brilliantly tonight as Boston won their tenth straight game. Meanwhile, Derek Jeter hit a solo home run off of Rodrigo Lopez in the bottom of the first; that was the only run the Yankees would score. They managed to load the bases after Jeter's dinger, but Jorge Posada grounded sharply into a double play to end the inning. And that was as close to a threat as the offense would mount all evening. Simply put, Lopez was outstanding. He pitched into eighth and left the game with a runner on second and one out.

Erstwhile Yankee Jason Grimsley replaced him. Emily, the self-appointed "Big O"--Big Optimist--around these parts was uncharacteristically terse. "OK, enough of this shit already, let's fucking go. I'm tired, I'm cranky, and I've had enough of these guys not being able to hit tonight. Let's go." I could hardly believe my ears. Grimsley faced Jeter and Sheffield and retired them on two pitches. Rodriguez, Matsui and Posada all went down swinging in the ninth. Kevin Brown pitched reasonably well, John Olerud made two nifty defensive plays at first, but Lopez was the star of the game.

It's down to two. Mussina vs. Ponson tomorrow afternoon.

Yankees 9, Indians 1
2004-09-03 08:39
by Alex Belth

The Yankees responded to Tueday's 22-0 drubbing in the best way possible; they won the three-game series from the Indians. Jon Lieber pitched an excellent game last night, getting lots of ground balls; he worked quickly and received more than his fair share of support from the offense. The Bombers chased Cliff Lee early, capped by a tremendous three-run home run by Alex Rodriguez, and essentially cruised the rest of the way. (Rodriguez is still chasing pitches out of the strike zone, and fouling off pitches he should pound.) They had a shut out going into the ninth inning when Steve Karsay gave up a solo home run to Victor Martinez on the first pitch he threw in the majors in a couple of years. Right before he threw the pitch I turned to Emily and called the home run. Karsay told Newsday:

"I guess he didn't get the memo that I haven't pitched in two years, and to take a pitch to see what I've got," Karsay said. "That settled me in, actually."

Karsay struck out the next two men, and his fastball and curve ball looked good.
I'm sure Jeter and company busted his chops pretty good about blowing the shut-out. Gary Sheffield had three hits and smacked the bejesus out of the ball on several occasions. He had three RBI and now has 101 on the season. Derek Jeter went hitless, but drew two walks. As badly as his walk totals have fallen off this year, Jeter has now earned a walk in seven straight games.

Heaven Help Us

The Bombers remain three-and-a-half up on the Red Sox, who completed a three-game sweep of the Angels in Boston last night. The Sox are the hottest team in the majors right now, and while the culture in Boston might be changing, it's certain that a good portion of Red Sox Nation is viewing their team's recent success with a healthy degree of skepticism. "They are just pumping us up to let us down once again," is what I imagine some of them are secretly thinking. You can hardly blame them, especially the older fans. What I think is sad is the Yankee-obsessed mentality expressed by a Sox fan in the Times today:

"Winning the World Series is more important, but beating the Yankees is a close second," said Mark Shiro, a hotel concierge. "If we beat the Yankees to win the American League and lose the World Series, it would be disappointing, but there would also be a lot of joy."

That's weak. Maybe it would suffice as a consolation prize, but come on now, winning it all is what it should be all about. You know what Yankee fans would think if they beat the Bombers but lost again in the World Series? The same thing they think about the Sox right now. On the other hand, I believe that there is another faction of Sox fans who buy into this team simply because they are a very good squad, curses and history be damned. They have a ownership and management team that they can get behind, players who are easy for them to pull for, and a legitimate shot at the title. You know what these fans hope for: the Sox to muder the Yankees and then win the World Serious. Full speed ahead.

Head Case

The Daily News has an exclusive story today concerning the location of Jason Giambi's benign tumor. According to T.J. Quinn and Bill Madden, it is located in his pituitary gland:

The treatment, which has been approved by Major League Baseball, involves a form of steroids that are not performance-enhancing.

"It's fine for a specific medical use," one official with knowledge of his condition said. "He isn't breaking any rules."

The reason for his secrecy was simple, a source said: After testifying before a grand jury in the BALCO steroid-trafficking case and having to deny repeated rumors about steroid use, Giambi was worried that a pituitary tumor would make him guilty by association, according to a source.

Pituitary tumors have been anecdotally associated with anabolic steroid and human growth hormone use, but medical experts say there has been no documented connection.

No doubt, there will be more to come on this one...

Yankees 5, Indians 3
2004-09-02 08:32
by Alex Belth

I Come to the Party in a B-Boy Stance

George Steinbrenner didn't rip his team in the papers, but he was at the Stadium again last night doing his best Knute Rockne routine. Before the game, he issued the following statement:

"Sure, we got punished badly last night, but winners never quit and quitters never win. We all know that New Yorkers never quit, and we reflect the spirit of New York." (N.Y. Daily News)

Steinbrenner hawked his team from his private box as they conducted batting practice. He was in his finest big-game football form: playing a clip from the movie "Rudy," as well as blasting "When the Going Gets Tough," by Billy Ocean over the sound system. No matter the title, imagine anyone getting pumped up by a Billy Ocean tune? That's a good one. (Why not, "Tuff Enuff," by the Fabulous T-Birds?) Joel Sherman hit the nail on the head:

When the insane get goin', the goin' gets insane.

The Yankees responded behind another money performance from Orlando Hernandez. El Duque allowed a run in the first and then proceeded to shut down the Indians over the next six innings. Tom Gordon gave up two, two-out runs in the eighth which made things tense, but the Bombers added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning and Mariano Rivera recorded the save in the ninth. Jorge Posada hit a two-run bomb, and John Olerud and Miguel Cairo added solo shots. The Yankees remain three-and-a-half up on the Red Sox who beat up the Angels last night in Boston. But as Harvey Araton notes in the Times today, the Yankees are now seven games up on Anahiem. With the wildcard system in place, the bottom line is to make the playoffs, period. This is not to say that the Yankees won't still win the division, but they have a safety net should Boston surge ahead of them.

I missed most of the game on the count of I was in Manhattan having dinner with the founder of, Christian Ruzich, his wife Darryl and the co-host of The Cub Reporter, Alex Ciepley. But when I got home, I was able to catch the ninth inning and the highlights. I also taped the game just so I could get a better look at one of laugh-out-loud best plays of the season.

Coco Crisp led off the third inning and taped a ground ball up the first base line. Crisp is a fast runner, but Duque got off the mound quickly, fielded the ball and beat Crisp to the first base line by a stride. Crisp put the breaks on about three feet before he reached Hernandez. He threw his arms up and faked left. Duque reached for him first with his bare hand and then swiped at him with his glove. Jack Curry reports:

But Hernández was persistent. He stretched out his arms at his sides like a linebacker waiting to blanket a receiver to prevent Crisp from sneaking around him. The umpires ruled that Crisp was out of the baseline, which caused the pitcher known as El Duque to strike a pose.

Before he went into the pose, Crisp gave up, turned around and walked away. Then--and I'm not kidding--Duque folded his arms in the classic b-boy stance, legs still apart. Oooooh! He kept his arms tucked under his armpits and stood straight up. The crowd was delighted. It was a fitting posture considering that Yankee Stadium is in the heart of where hip hop was born. More than any tired cliche that George Steinbrenner can offer, Duque's move was the kind of chuzpah the Bombers needed. It could be looked at as cocky, but frankly, the Yankees needed a shot of arrogance. Nobody seemed to take offense. There were smiles in the Yankee dugout, and even Coco Crisp was grinning. The YES announcers were laughing, and so I was. That El Duque is some piece of work. Once again, he saved the Yankees' bacon and of course, he did it with style.

Bronx Banter Interview: Buster Olney
2004-09-01 13:25
by Alex Belth

An Insider's Look at the Yankee Dynasty

Buster Olney's new book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty" is the first major look at the Joe Torre years in the Bronx. I recently had the chance to catch up with Buster. The following is our lengthy chat. Strap yourself in and enjoy.

Bronx Banter: What are the origins of this book?

Buster Olney: I think that at some point—I don’t want to say agent because that sounds pretentious—but the guy who represents me said, “You ought to write a book about the Yankees.” And I kicked around some other stuff and he said, “You ought to write a book about the Yankees.”

BB: Was this still while you were on the beat?

Olney: Yeah. And I was just not interested. Then there was a book project being kicked around that would have involved Joe Torre. Harper Collins asked me about that, if I would be interested in possibly doing something with Joe. The New York Times would never approve that, even though I was off the beat. They’ve gone away from the collaborations. But then when I got done with it [covering the Yankees], I said you know what? I ought to write about it. I should write about basically that group of guys.

BB: Did you ever think in the middle of those years that well, this team is eventually going to be written about, why don’t I just do it?

Olney: No. Not really during that time. Because when you cover them every day you get sick of ‘em. And you get sick of the subject. And the idea of taking on some project where you are burying yourself in those people and those stories and those situations on top of what you do on a daily basis, would be just overwhelming. But I knew I was going to cover the [New York football] Giants in the fall of 2002 as the 2001 season was going along—that was pretty much set in stone—so once the World Series was over there was definitely a separation. And I felt like going into that World Series, and even that season, knowing that that group of guys would be gone, that there was going to be a transitional stage for the team. It seemed like a natural place to start writing about.

BB: One of my first reactions to the book was, "What if they Yankees win it all in 2004? Does that mean the dynasty is still over?" But after thinking about it for a while, and seeing some of your comments in the ESPN chat last week, I realized we’re just talking about semantics. Your book is about that specific group of players. But what if they had won it all in 2002 with a new group of players? Would that have changed how you would have written the book?

Olney: Possibly. You know, I can’t answer that. I know this: If they had won in 2001, the hard lines that developed would not have been in place. I don’t think George would have become as obtrusive as he’s become. He wouldn’t have injected himself into a Raul Mondesi situation probably. Simply because those guys would have still had a long leash.

BB: Winning is the great pacifier.

Olney: Right. And he would have left them alone I think. He wouldn’t have screwed with anything. But he was walking around at the end of Game 7 saying, “There are going to be changes, there are going to be changes.” That was the most significant change.

BB: When did you start writing the book?

Olney: I got the contract in February of 2002, and I hadn’t really started covering the Giants. That wasn’t until March of 2002.

BB: From the get-go did you have the concept for the structure of the book, where you essentially tell the story through the prism of Game 7?

Olney: No. I actually didn’t think about that until late April or early May of that year. And then I thought about it and it made sense. It took me about six months to come up with how I would organize it, and what the transitional points would be, and okay, where can you write about this character, how could you keep it in sequence…

BB: Because it’s not chronological.

Olney: No, and I didn’t want to write that. I thought that would be kind of a dull recount if I did it that way. I didn’t like the idea of doing that. Since it was that was the last game, there were a lot of interesting stories. Some had been told in part, like the pre-game meeting with Monahan and Mariano Rivera. We wrote about Monahan speaking in the next day’s paper, but of course you don’t have the full context. I think it was five or six months into writing that Kevin Towers told me about Buck Showalter’s strip of dirt. And then you look at the videotape and you are like “Oh my god.” And then Rivera confirms that the ball almost ran through him it came at him so hard. So at that point, once I settled on the fact that that was how I was going to structure the book I began to look at different points of that game where you can transition and how you can figure it together.

BB: Had Jane Leavy’s book on Koufax come out at that point, because I know she did something similar with Koufax’s perfect game.

Olney: Yeah, well you know it’s funny, because when I came up with the idea I hadn’t read that but the person who was her editor, David Hershey, edited my book. He was one of the three editors. So I said to him, “You know, I’m thinking about structuring it through game 7.” And he said, “Well, I’ve always liked that idea.” And I didn’t know at that time what he was talking about, that he was being ironic. When I read the book subsequently, I’m like, “Oh, OK, now I understand that comment.”

BB: Who is your book for? Who is the audience?

Olney: I wanted to write it for the more general baseball audience, maybe in the same way that I wrote for the New York Times. I always felt that I could slip in enough stuff that would appeal to baseball nerds like myself, but I wanted to write it for people who like characters. I wanted to write about the people. I obviously love to write about Mariano Rivera’s cutter as a baseball nerd, but I loved writing about Paul O’Neill and I love writing about El Duque and I loved trying to draw in the general audience into things like what makes Rivera’s cutter so incredible. And what is it about Derek Jeter that makes him so great in the post season. There were times when I was sitting there and thought, “Oh, I can do some stats,” but I think those thinks would make the eyes of the average fan glaze over. To say they lead the league in slugging percentage, or they increased their numbers from here, to here-to-here…I really tried to avoid numbers. In general I tried to do it in one shot. Like with Tino Martinez, I would say, “Okay, this is what he did. He hit this many home runs.” I think I summed up O’Neill, “In this many seasons, he drove in this many runs.” That type of thing. So you cover that, but at the same time I felt covering that team that other than the number of victories there weren’t many guys who accumulated great numbers anyway.

BB: How did you organize your research materials into a narrative? Did you look through old articles for observations as well as the interviews you conducted specifically for the book? How many old games did you watch?

Olney: I had two large notebooks that contained all the notes from the interviews I did, as well as chapter sections that contained stories that related to the subject at hand. I used a yellow highlighter to go over the stories and interviews, noting the important details. I spent a lot of time identifying ways to transition in and out of Game 7 -- and sometimes, there was no simple way, and I just did chapter and section breaks, such as coming out of the chapter on Gene Michael.

BB: This was your first book. Even though you were familiar with the subject, what obstacles did you come up against writing it?

Olney: The biggest thing for me was the editing process. Because they warned me—the editors, David Hershey and Dan Halpern—“Hey, we are going to send you the manuscript back. Give us a call when you get it—”

BB: How long was the original manuscript?

Olney: I think it was 450 pages, 420 pages. It was probably 25% longer than what the book turned out to be. They both made it really clear that they liked it and they both said to me, “Relatively speaking this is a very, very light edit.” They liked a lot of it, and then I got it and I wanted to hang myself. I could not believe how much red ink was on it. And it took me a day to build up the courage to even call them. Because when you see the amount of edits and you see the amount of red ink and you see the amount of suggestions, it just discourages you. You feel like a complete loser.

BB: Was it a blow to the ego?

Olney: It’s not an ego thing so much. It’s more like, “Boy, how could I screw this up?”

BB: You mean, “Did I get this all wrong?”

Olney: Sort of, yeah. And then I began to look at the changes. And they’d say, “You know, you repeat this phrase, or this kind of phrase two pages later. You echo this paragraph fifty pages before.” And then you began to look to at it and think, “Man these are great edits, these are great suggestions.” And I told them that. I said, “Ninety percent of what you suggested was great.” There was some stuff—they weren’t as interested in O’Neill with his explosiveness, and I called them and said, “Look. That is the central theme of O’Neill. That is the central part of him and that’s how fans remember him.” I think they wanted me to cut down writing about Rivera’s cutter and I said, “You know what? I think the cutter is the difference between the Yankees being a very good team and the Yankees being this extraordinary dynasty.”

BB: Plus, you are talking about a great pitcher with a singular gift. The cutter is what has defined Rivera.

Olney: Right. So anytime I said to them that I’d prefer something, they said great. There were no arguments at all. Which is different from what I heard. I heard about the knockdown, screaming fights, that kind of thing. But there wasn’t any of that.

BB: Was there anything that you lost in the final draft that you miss not having there?

Olney: I had a section about Bud Selig and how he conducted himself after 9-11 that I wish had stayed in the book, because I thought that was a window into his management style -- and it wasn't good. So I wanted to write about this because I felt it was some reflection of how he runs the game. It was contained within in the epilogue and one of the editors wrote me back and said, “You know what? This isn’t part of the straight line that goes throughout this book.” And they were right. I couldn’t argue with that. But I still wish it could be out there because it was some really interesting stuff. Maybe it will wind up out there in some form or fashion at some point.

BB: The 2001 season is unforgettable because of the larger social context of the moment, and I know that the 1999 Yankees endured a lot of personal issues, which affected the team. Now looking back, is there any one year that you covered the team which sticks out?

Olney: 1998. ’98 was unbelievable. I started to think about it in context of people going to work everyday. I cannot imagine any person, and group of people, going to work everyday and applying themselves with the same energy and consistency as those guys did that year.

BB: Was that appreciably different in other years with that same group of guys?

Olney: Without a doubt.

BB: What made that year different?

Olney: 97. The devastation of 97, losing to Cleveland. Feeling like they had blown an opportunity to win back-to-back championships. They came to spring training [in 1998] with an absolute mission that year. And they had Knoblauch who really transformed the offense. They got off to a great start and they just came after opposing teams every day. I love Tony Muser’s description of the Yankees that is in the book. You know, while they are just killing the Royals, how he would just watch them and have enormous admiration for them, because they did it in such a professional, head-down, no-posing-at-home-plate-manner. And they just kicked everybody’s ass. What was the run-differential? Something like 330 runs that year? [Note: It was 310 runs.]

BB: You mentioned in the book that Jared Wright and Jerry Hairston were two of the guys who the Yankees had beef with during the 96-01 era. Was there anyone else of note? I ask because I recall a game in May of 1999 (May 11th to be exact) when Troy Percival nailed Jeter in the hand in the process of striking out the side in a 9-7 Angels win. Jeter was not pleased. O'Neill followed and fouled off a bunch of pitches before being called out on strikes. He was furious and the water cooler took a beating. Bernie struck out looking to end the game. I just remember seeing David Cone, his face beet-red, standing on the top step of the dugout. (He was the starting pitcher for the next game.) Did the Yankees really dislike Percival on a personal level?

Olney: Yeah, there were other guys who annoyed them; I remember the Percival game, too. From time to time, they would get mad at other guys. But Hairston and Wright were similar, in that they were both young, generally unproven, cocky and demonstrative -- and for a bunch of veterans like the Yankees, these were abhorrent characteristics. Plus Wright injured Luis Sojo, which was a big deal to those guys.

BB: 1998 was the one year during the run where they simply dominated the league. Record-wise that just wasn’t the case in 96 or 99 and especially 2000 and 2001.

Olney: I remember when they had that awful slump at the end of the 2000 season, and they had played a crappy game against the Devil Rays and Joe Torre came in the clubhouse and just reamed them out. And the players said, “You know, you are right.” And they picked it back up. After 98, in the following years, you got the sense that being the “Yankees” the pressure of having to win the World Series was really starting to wear on them. At the end of 2000, they lost all of those games. In 99—that was a tough year for them—they were trying to live up to 98. It wasn’t until halfway through that year that they talked about it and said you know, “Forget it. We can’t match what we did last year.” And they had so many side issues going on. In 2001, they just began to look old. O’Neill was not as good of a player as he once had been. It’s interesting, the last couple of years that I’ve been around the park, people have told me, “Oh, you know O’Neill wistfully thinks that he may have retired too early.” I don’t think he did. He was getting so ravaged by injuries. Basically he was struggling around .250, .260 for a lot of 2001. I think he quit at the exact right time.

BB: David Justice had a bad year. Knoblauch struggled obviously. Tino…

Olney: And you know what? On paper there is no question but that they made the right choice to move Tino out and bring Jason Giambi in. You are not really going to know how a guy is going to be affected by the pressure of New York until you bring him in anyway. It’s hard to second-guess, especially with the YES network coming into play. Giambi was an MVP…

BB: Plus, he would fill in a need and he seemingly fit their profile well.

Olney: Right. They needed an increase in on-base percentage, just like they did in the early nineties. He was the absolutely perfect guy for that.

BB: After all, who was the last big-time slugging free agent the Yanks had signed before Giambi?

Olney: Well, Danny Tartabull, but…

BB: Or even Jack Clark. But really, you have to go back to Dave Winfield.

Olney: You could just see that coming all season. They wanted Giambi. But as you said, Knoblauch was destroyed by 2001. Scott Brosius was OK in the first half and he tailed off in the second half. And his defense just wasn’t that good that year.

BB: That was the season that the Mariners made like the 98 Yankees. When you saw the Mariners that year did you get a sense that they had what the Yankees had in 98?

Olney: No. And I don’t know what it was. I watched them the whole year and I never had the feeling that they were as dominant and I don’t know why that is exactly. But when you watched them play they weren’t as scary as I felt Oakland was [when they played the Yankees]. When Oakland won that first game of the playoffs I was like, “Wow.” The Mulder game. You are thinking, “They aren’t going to make it out of this series. They are an old team and here comes Oakland.” As for Seattle, I don’t know. Maybe it was because Edgar [Martinez] was getting a little bit older and his bat speed was slowing down. Brett Boone was such an erratic force in the post season because you knew he just go so hyped up. You could see that between him and Cameron that they were the type of team that could be pitched to in October, as opposed to the 98 Yankees who had all these guys who were so patient. They drew walks. You could see a great regular season team in Seattle. At the same time you were like, “Who is going to be dominant for them in the post season.” You just didn’t have the same feeling.

BB: What was it like in the clubhouse during those 2001 playoffs? Once the Yankees got past the A’s did you get the sense that they felt they were playing with house money?

Olney: They definitely gained a lot of energy, there is no doubt. But it’s almost like the fact that they survived Game 3 with the flip and they managed to hang in that series, it was like suddenly this old team who was in its last run together seemed to pick up all this energy.

BB: I know you are not a psychologist but did you think that they players knew just how important it was for many New Yorkers—discounting Met fans, of course—that they win in 2001?

Olney: They definitely knew it because so many of them were actually going and making appearances on their own. In the HBO 9.11 show, Giuliani said that when O’Neill was rehabbing the stress fracture in his foot he offered to go down and spend a half an hour at some place and he ended up spending the entire day. Everywhere they went and every pre-game ceremony, there were all these firefighters there, shaking their hands, and “Thanks so much, we appreciate what you did.” It was constant. I thought the weariness showed. Between the fallout and the exhaustion of emotion that took place after September 11th, and the fact that they weren’t a very good team, showed. Like you said, when they survived Oakland it was like they found the fountain of youth.

BB: Did you get the impression that players handled the emotions differently? Were some able to channel it into their performance while others—and I’m thinking of a guy like Bernie Williams—may have just been more philosophical like, “Hey, these are only games. In light of what’s happened it doesn’t really matter much who wins or loses.”

Olney: No, I’m not sure if they could. I mean there is no doubt that they played with an enormous amount of emotion in that World Series.

BB: I know there was an incident where Jeter got on Bernie during the Series.

Olney: Bernie was late showing up for Game 6.

BB: Was that something that was completely out of character for Williams?

Olney: Yeah. It was. The rest of the players were on the team bus. He had come from some other place. So he was late and Derek was livid. I think I wrote in the book, he said to Bernie, “You shouldn’t want to be any other place at this time.” And he got on him. That probably was the most unusual moment in the whole post September 11th run. I think the other one was when Pettitte drilled Magglio Ordonez after Bernie got beaned. That was the only time I ever saw Pettitte throw at anybody.

BB: And he was sheepish about it when you spoke to him about it after the game.

Olney: Yeah, because basically he was a conscientious objector and he was ashamed to throw at somebody but it was a very emotionally moment. You know it was the second game they had played after coming back from September 11th and Bernie is there lying on the ground, kicking his feet; it looked like he was seriously injured. I couldn’t believe it when Pettitte hit him. But it made a lot of sense given the time.

BB: Do you know if Bernie and Jeter were able to get past the Game 6 incident?

Olney: Yeah, they were. From what people said, Bernie basically knew that he was wrong and he absorbed the criticism and that was the end of it. In some ways Wells did the same thing when Jeter yelled at him. He absorbed it and they moved on.

BB: Does Bernie command a certain level of respect in that clubhouse given the fact that he’s the senior member of the team or is he so introspective that people just don’t look at him in that kind of way?

Olney: He’s liked. I can’t say that he has the stature that say a Tino did during the run. One of the great things about this group of players was how tolerant they were of each other. And Bernie, for some of the odd things he would do—between the music and his funny sense of humor—

BB: What kind of sense of humor does he have?

Olney: Ah, he was just very quiet, and…it’s hard to describe. He definitely was an odd…he’s not your standard baseball player. He didn’t enjoy getting into the standard clubhouse repartee, and in the early years of course, that worked against him. In the later years, they pretty much rolled with it. Some of the other players didn’t like the fact that they had to cover for him in the clubhouse sometimes because Bernie often liked to get out of the clubhouse as quickly as possible sometimes after games. We’ve seen that with the Red Sox in recent years. It really angers the players when they are left to answers questions from the media for other players. I remember a couple of times Derek with a half-smile on his face, sort of joking, sort of not, looking around and saying, “Oh, Bernie’s gone, huh?” when we were asking him questions that somehow involved Bernie. I think that annoyed some of the other players.

BB: What was Tino Martinez’s stature like?

Olney: What’s interesting is that I learned more about him doing this book than any other player and I told him that. Because when I was on the beat he could be very surly, he could be difficult. And when he was, you were like, “OK, the guy is somewhat of a jerk on some days.” And then as I was researching the book and you talk to more people and you realize it was a bit of an act. He was, in some respects, trying to put us off to protect the other players. What’s interesting is that he didn’t only fool me and other members of the media, he fooled the coaching staff. You know the coaching staff found him to be difficult and found him to unapproachable in some cases, and found him to be a guy, especially when he’s in a slump, to be like, “Boy, he’s so difficult to be around.” And Joe actually wanted him traded in the 2000 season. They had a deal arranged with Atlanta. The coaching staff was like, “Yeah, trade him.” And then they backed off and wound up not doing it. But in talking with the players, they had these great descriptions of Tino working the scenes, sort of fostering the daily look at each game more than any other player. In other words, he’d go out to dinner with Jeter and Posada before a series and would say, “OK, we need this and this and this to happen in this series.” And so if they were playing a playoff series against Seattle then he would sit down with Jeff Nelson and say, “We’re going to need you in the seventh inning against Edgar Martinez. You’re the man.” And he’d pump up Nellie, who he’d known for a long time. And--I love this story, and I didn’t know this before I did the book--but Jeter and particularly Tino would aim his post game interviews at opposing players. Then he’d get on the team plane and saying to everybody, “Hey, wait ‘til you see my post game interview on ESPN, I hope they run it.” Tino wanted to project confidence into the camera, and spoke as if he was speaking directly to players on the other team. If the Yankees were behind in a series, Tino might say, "Yeah, we've been in this situation before and we've responded, and I'm sure we will again.” It was a way to remind the opposing players of how tough the Yankees could be. Tino felt that you could always sense, through the interviews they saw on television, when players on other teams were beaten.

BB: How did he differ from O’Neill?

Olney: Paul liked the other players, supported them, but he tended to his own personal war with failure, while Tino had a broader concern about the others. Tino was the guy who would be monitoring the team as a whole and he had a greater sense of being prepared for each game and each series. Paul fretted about his own failures, in how they affected teammates and the team's ability to win. So yes, he was self-absorbed, but not in a selfish way, if that makes sense.

BB: Was it a fraternal thing for Martinez?

Olney: No, I think it was a competitive thing. I think he’s just a competitive guy. I love that story that Jeter told me about Tino’s mad face. It was after Robin Ventura came over and they were like, “Yeah, Tino gets this look on his face and it gets you all fired up right before a game.” And Ventura said, “Oh, you mean his mad face.” He had played with him in the Olympics. And Jeter and Posada were like, “Yeah, you’re right that’s exactly it!” The way Jeter told the story was really funny.

BB: You mentioned that there was some beef between Posada and Martinez at one point.

Olney: Yeah, Jorge didn’t exactly say what the problem was, but this is the type of thing that existed, I thought. Tino was very wary of the media and they all were very wary of the media’s potential power over what they did. That if things spun out of control, if crisis began to erupt and players began sniping at each other, that in effect it would put pressure on them all and create this extra monster. So they really worked to keep things in-house by in large. Posada and Martinez apparently had some kind of falling out at the end of the ’99 season and the first I knew of it--and the first I think any writer knew of it--was when Posada told me, “We had a falling out. We kept it from you guys.” Both Tino and Posada said, “That’s what we had going, we had a good thing going, we all protected each other in that regard.” Goose Gossage referred to that to. That when he was playing during the crazy years with Billy and Reggie all these side things that happened just added to the weight of each game and each performance. And the microscope just got a little closer to them. He was talking about Torre and how Torre diffused things, but the players did a great job of diffusing it too.

BB: Torre stepped into an ideal situation with a group of players who policed themselves.

Olney: They played hard and you are right: They took care of business. They had the one year in 97 when there was a lot of that [negative clubhouse] stuff and they basically ran those guys off the team. Charlie Hayes and Doc [Gooden]. Anybody who had off-the-field stuff got run off the team. During the season, Gooden got into a scrap with a cabbie over a small fare -- in Texas, I think, and it made the back page of the Post--and Hayes and Wade Boggs were at odds over playing time. It wasn't the type of pub that was good when the team wasn't going well.

BB: What was Boggs like in the clubhouse?

Olney: You know, I didn’t do a lot on him. He’s very much of an eccentric. He’s kind of an odd guy but once the game started, his teammates felt that he was into it. As it was described to me, he was a bit of a neurotic, but to be honest I didn’t focus on him because he was just there for a short period of time.

BB: He was part of the Showalter transition years. What about Cecil Fielder?

Olney: Yeah, I didn’t even ask about Fielder to be honest with you. Except in regard to what happened with Tino during the 96 World Series, which was a classic case. The reason why Tino didn’t openly complain about being benched in the 96 World Series—and he was openly mad—was not because he didn’t want to make himself look like a complaining jerk but by coming out and complaining about the fact that he wasn’t playing, the inference was, “I’m better than my teammate.” And the guys I interviewed talked about that. Tino and Cone and Jeter talked about that sense of, “That’s why Joe Girardi didn’t complain, that’s why Tim Raines didn’t complain, that’s part of the reason why Darryl Strawberry didn’t complain about playing time.” Because they knew that by complaining they would be dumping on a teammate.

BB: How big was the presence of Rock Raines and especially guys like Cone and Strawberry, seasoned veterans who had experienced their fair share of highs and lows over the course of their careers, on their teammates?

Olney: The interesting thing is that I don’t think anyone necessarily sat down and drew up a plan of how to put together a team that fits together perfectly in its personalities. But what’s amazing when you think about it is how many guys fit so many roles perfectly. Cone. The fact that he had such a mastery of how to deal with the media was extremely useful to all of them. The fact that he could mange things like giving money to the minor league coaches, and knowing how big of a deal that would be, and how great it would be viewed, was huge. And it wasn’t only, “This is the right thing to do,” it was, “This is the right way to handle this for our benefit.” He was great at that. Tino was great at the day-to-day preparation. I think Derek and Rivera brought an unflagging sense of confidence; it just never wavered. Then you throw in guys like Raines and Sojo, whose sense of humor was big. They talk about Raines as being one of the few guys who could ever approach O’Neill in the midst of those games when he was throwing his helmet all over the place. He’d walk up to him and say, “O’Neill, what’s the problem?” “Get away from me Rock, come on!” Those two guys were just perfect for that group. The over-riding theme of the book is those teams, because they had a lot of guys who had played for a long time, could develop that kind of a thing. I don’t think it was planned, but if you wanted to construct clubhouse chemistry, they had all of the perfect parts. They policed themselves and they trusted each other and they protected each other. They had so many guys that helped them deal with the pressure of playing for Steinbrenner in such subtle ways. Raines described what they would think about when they came up to bat after a teammate had screwed up. It wasn’t, “Oh my god I’ve got to get a hit. There’s second and third and one out.” It’s, “I want to pick up Paulie. I want to pick up Tino because he just popped out.” And it was such a wonderful way to illustrate how they thought of each other.

BB: Is that kind of attitude abnormal on the teams you’ve covered?

Olney: Oh yeah. Compared with the Orioles in 95 and 96, yeah. I don’t think Robbie Alomar had great trust in Cal [Ripken] and I don’t think Cal really invested in what the coaching staff wanted to do. He was invested on his own terms, only on his own terms. There was no self-policing at all. They had the Iron Man, the man who played everyday and they were the biggest dog team in the league. I mean, it made no sense.

BB: Covering baseball from the inside like you have, how would you quantify chemistry? Because you can look back at the Swinging A’s of the 1970s or the Bronx Zoo Yankees as teams with notoriously "bad chemistry" who were successful on the field.

Olney: You can’t quantify it. I think in some cases that type of thing really depends on the time and place. Playing in Oakland at that time there wasn’t really a lot of pressure. You are probably getting seven, eight thousand people per game and you were dealing with an extraordinarily talented team. They had a lot of stars. In some ways they were like the team in “Major League” where they all banded together against an owner that they all hated. I think in some places it may not be as important but I think that in New York it is huge. Because there is no way that any other team plays under the same kind of pressure that these guys do.

BB: How do you explain the 77-78 Yankees then?

Olney: Having not covered the team it is hard for me to talk about it, but hearing Gossage talk about it, I think that he found it remarkable that they could overcome the crisis that were created every day. It wasn’t only that they had to beat the Royals and the Red Sox, but they had to beat the bullshit and the distractions of Reggie and Billy and George. Gossage talked about it like it was tangible. Like it was beating Randy Johnson, and beating Curt Schilling. Beating this bullshit. That’s why he spoke so highly of Joe and the players and how they handled it, knowing how many flashpoints there are playing for George, playing under these expectations.

BB: You talked about how well the Yankee teams you covered picked each other up, and protected each other. How much influence then did Torre have on them? How much of a connection did they have with him?

Olney: I thought he framed it. I think that since George came back from the second suspension he hasn’t been as openly critical of the players as he once was. You know, I wrote about it in this magazine piece I just did for ESPN the magazine. At one point during those years 96-2001, they had three layers of protection from the Steinbrenner Doctrine. The first layer was Stick and Cashman keeping George at bay from trading a Bernie Williams or from over-paying to get a player at certain times. The second layer was Joe, who was hugely important. The third layer -- the thickest layer -- was the players protecting each other. But Joe threw himself-- when necessary--in front of players. The great thing about Joe is that he didn’t pretend that something wasn’t taking place. Like Art Howe will talk about a guy with an 0-10 record and he’ll tell you, “Oh, that guy was throwing really well.” And you just roll your eyes. Joe would say something about O’Neill like, “Yup, Paulie’s not hitting, but I think that he’s trying so hard, he’s pushing himself, and he’s not getting the results, but I’m sure he will one day.” He did it directly and in such a great way that I think that it took pressure off of his players. He did that with Clemens all throughout 1999. He completely protected Roger.

BB: How much of that quality do you think Torre picked up working in the TV business?

Olney: He talked about this a lot. I think that he got a better understanding of the media, of how questions are posed and what the goals are in the answers you are giving. And he’s smart enough to know that you can’t run away. I think that had a lot to do with having worked in the media and having grown up in New York. He knows that the media is going to be there. It’s not like working in San Diego where there is one beat writer where if they tell you to screw off you are stuck. In New York, if you tell a couple a couple of writers to screw off then you’ve still got fifteen columnists standing behind them. It is the beast that you have to deal with and Joe understands that. I think Bobby Valentine understood that. I’m not totally sure if Art Howe understands it.

BB: How much influence, in terms of in-game strategy, did Don Zimmer have? Do you think you could have called him a co-manager with Torre during any of the years they spent together?

Olney: Bob Watson would be much better qualified to answer that than I would. He felt that absolutely, Zim had a huge influence on Joe. Joe took a lot more chances with Don there. He was more willing to gamble. I think that the basic thing about Joe is his calm demeanor because he really manages desperately. He manages in such a way that you know that he understands what a two or three game losing streak can do in New York. Along those lines he also has a great sense for the juggler than I don’t think a lot of other managers have. He can pick out a key moment in the 6th inning, and I think a great example was when he pinch-hit Darryl Strawberry in the World Series against the Braves and forced them to deal with Strawberry before the bullpen was ready. Knowing that if he had held Strawberry until the ninth inning they would have just pitched around him or brought in Remlinger or Rocker--I forget who they had that year--to face him.

BB: It is easy to speculate that the man who replaces Joe Torre will be in a virtually no-win situation. But what about the man who replaces Brian Cashman? What has Cash brought to the team that will be hard to duplicate? And do you think he will be missed when he's gone?

Olney: Damon Oppenheimer might be the next GM, or Mark Newman, or maybe George would try to get Stick to take it. But I think it would be somebody from within the organization. If George goes outside to make the hire, he would return to his old cycle of hiring smart people and then mentally beating the heck out of them and overriding them. Brian's greatest contribution has been his ability, believe it or not, to cope with George. He has challenged him at the right times, he has forced him to back down on occasion, and with his integrity, he has managed to sustain a workable front-office structure. Brian has always wanted what is best for the organization, even in the face of the withering George rants. Somebody else might take that job and begin, reflexively, to start worrying about how to cover his/her ass.

BB: Do you view the Yankees failure to win the championship in 2002 and 2003 as a failure on their part or it is simply just the rest of the league catching up to them? After all, how much longer can a team be expected to keep winning it all?

Olney: In some ways. They’ve made certain moves—and most of them came from George—that just didn’t work out. They are able to spend. I don’t blame them for spending the money. I think it would be more of a tragedy if they didn’t spend the money when they had it. You try to do everything you can to win within the system. But for them to be in the position they are in now--and that they’ve been in for the past couple of years--where they clearly have an old team, has worked against them. To see a guy like David Wells…He was a terrific regular season pitcher last year. George was vindicated by what Wells did in the regular season. The bottom line is that they needed to get younger. To go out and sign David Wells at that time instead of focusing and concentrating on making the team younger was a mistake. Last winter—and I wish that I had known this when I was writing the book—when Sheffield wanted to go back on his handshake with George—the Yankees got 95% on the way to signing Vladimir Guerrero. The baseball people were absolutely desperate to get Guerrero. They were like, “We need to get younger.” Sheffield came back, capitulated and George had his choice between the two players and said, “You know, I love Sheffield. I want that guy, I want that guy, I want that guy.” Now, this year, how could you possibly question what Sheffield has done? But in the larger scheme of things to have a 35-year-old guy instead of a 27 year old guy. It’s not good if you talk about prolonging success.

BB: Will they make up for it this winter by signing Carlos Beltran?

Olney: I don’t know if you can make up for it. You could have signed Guerrero and then Beltran.

BB: What about the move they made when they traded Ted Lilly for Jeff Weaver and tried to stay young at that position?

Olney: That was Cashman. That was not George. And that was Cashman’s mistake. The other thing, in serving their needs in 99, 2000, 2001, they traded away some serviceable prospects. We know that their farm system isn’t in good condition now. But they are the Yankees and you can spend a lot of money and you can take chances in the draft and sign a lot of international players. It’s inexcusable that they are in this state.

BB: Do you think they will just have to suck it up and say, “We might have to take a step back for a year or two, but it will help us in the long run?”

Olney: No. George will never think that way. To his credit, to a degree. But they probably have to go through that cycle. To get a little better draft picks, to cultivate the system, but they don’t ever think that way.

BB: Yeah, the reality with George is that he may not be around for the long-term. Why would he build for the future is he isn’t going to be around to enjoy it?

Olney: It’s kind of interesting. Some of the people in the organization think that part of the problem is that he has made his employees, especially in Tampa, very defensive. Rather than make the best evaluations possible, they try to make sure that they don’t make mistakes and that they are not in the firing line.

BB: How is that different from the way George has traditionally operated?

Olney: He took over completely in the eighties from what everybody says. He completely micro-managed the thing. The best story in recent years is the one about Jose Contreras, where [Gordon] Blakely goes into a hotel bar and tells another executive, “I’ve got to sign this guy no matter what. If I don’t I’m going to be fired.” And the executive is sitting there thinking, “Well, I have no chance, I’ll just tell the agent, I’ll match every offer the Yankees make.” They basically drive up the price 40%. Rather than make a sound judgment and say, “Boss, this is why I want this guy, this is how good I think he is, this is his ceiling, and go from there” it’s, “You’d better sign him or you are in deep shit.”

BB: So are you suggesting that the Yankees inability to win a World Series over the last two years is not a question of chemistry over talent, but it’s George getting in the way of everything once again?

Olney: I think they are all part of it. Trading for a guy like Mondesi was a devastating mistake at the time they did it. He was the complete anti-Yankee and it was ironic that he replaced O’Neill. He didn’t make adjustments; he’s the type of guy who gets exploited in the post season. He’s a bad guy. That was all George. Enrique Wilson screws up a fly ball against the Mets and they took on a $13 million bust. As opposed to waiting for a guy like [David] Justice to appear.

BB: Do you think Weaver was a situation where Cashman thought, “OK, we can plug anyone into this team and they’ll work out?” Or is it just a mistake in retrospect because he didn’t perform to expectations in New York?

Olney: Cashman doesn’t think that. Brian will let people come here and give them the opportunity to find out if they can succeed in New York. At times he’s done that, and I’ve thought, “Why is he doing this?” Like when he brought Mark Wholers in 2001, I thought he was crazy. Here’s Wholers—who is a great guy—who already had some problems throwing. To stick him in New York, it just didn’t make any sense. But to a certain degree, you have to take a leap of faith at some point and hope that these guys can handle it.

BB: And Weaver just happened to be one that just didn’t work out.

Olney: Yeah, it turned out to be a big mistake. That was probably Brian’s second biggest mistake.

BB: And the first?

Olney: Mike Lowell. No question. That was a huge mistake. And it’s funny but the big mistake that they all wanted to make and got rescued from was Albert Belle.

BB: Do you feel that the organization looks at the Giambi signing now as a mistake?

Olney: I don’t any of them would say it publicly, but I don’t think there is a great deal of expectation that he’s going to be a great player again.

BB: He had two productive years in New York. He’s been murdered by injuries. Have you ever seen a guy fall so far so quickly?

Olney: Knoblauch. I think it’s become a mental thing with Giambi. And I think a lot of the others players think that. I think a lot of the people in the front office think it too. In this story I did for ESPN the magazine, one of the guys I talked to was Chris Hammond and he talked about how deeply Giambi was affected by the booing. There is definitely a perception within the organization that he can’t handle it. And you know what? There are a thousand reasons why you think he could have. One of the other factors is underrated. The 800-pound gorilla in the room, which none of us can substantiate, is steroids. Maybe that doesn’t play in at all. But the thing is he’s not a very good athlete. I think that when they gave him the seven years, I’d be willing to bet that if you put a gun to the head of the executives they would say, “You know what? He’s probably only going to be a productive player for five, maybe six of the seven years.” Because unlike Barry Bonds, or even Sheffield, he’s not a great athlete. He’s a great hitter. You watch him run; watch him move, he’s not a very good athlete. You watch David Wells run and move and you know he’s a great athlete.

BB: Do you think that Alex Rodriguez will react in a similar fashion to the pressure of playing for the Yankees?

Olney: I think it’s going to take him a while to get adjusted. We’ve seen parts of it this year where he struggled in the beginning of the year, struggled early against Boston and the Mets. I think he’ll struggle in the post season this year, but I think that in the seven years that he plays with the team, he’ll eventually be great. Clemens was like that. Clemens needed some time to get adjusted to the whole thing and I think Alex is going to be like that too.

BB: Rodriguez made a throwing error when the Angels were in New York recently and he pounded the water cooler after the inning. He’s got a different disposition than Paul O’Neill, but of all the Yankees this year, he is the most demonstrative, he chews himself out in a way that reminds me of O’Neill.

Olney: There’s no doubt. I mean he’s deeply concerned with how he’s perceived. He’s not going to take failure lightly. I think eventually he’ll figure it out, but it could be a rough first post season for him. The longer the Yankees last in the post season, the better he’s going to be. If they were to play in the World Series I’d bet before it was over he’d be playing terrific. And if they were to get knocked out in the first round, I’d bet his numbers would be terrible.

BB: What’s your feeling about Hideki Matsui’s ability to handle the pressure of New York?

Olney: Great. In some ways he reminds me a lot of O’Neill. That’s not a revelation; I think everybody has noticed that. In the way he plays. He just doesn’t throw the helmets as much. I think he’s fine under pressure. He always manages to put the bat on the ball and in the post-season that’s such a huge factor.

BB: Derek Jeter has been sacrifice bunting an inordinate amount of times this year, and most of them have come early in the game. Do you think it makes sense for him to do that in the situations he’s doing it in with guys like Sheffield, Rodriguez and Matsui behind him?

Olney: I think it totally depends on who is pitching that day. If they are facing Curt Schilling? Absolutely. More recently, it also depends on who is pitching for the Yankees. Right now, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense because their starting pitching is getting their brains beat in. Now if Roger Clemens or David Cone are out there and you know have a reasonable chance to keep the opposition to two hits, no runs in seven innings, it makes more sense. It makes more sense in 1999, 2000 than it does in 2004.

BB: Jeter started doing this during his early-season slump. Do you think he’s resorted to the early-inning sacrifice because of a lack of confidence in his offensive game?

Olney: No. The Yankees do have the “move ‘em over” sign. I don’t know if that’s what they’ve been giving him. It’s “advance the runner, anyway you feel comfortable.” They give them the option of doing a hit-and-run, or bunting or swinging away, but the priority is advancing the runner under any circumstances.

BB: Which would all fall under the category of the statistic you introduced this year called a “Productive Out.”

Olney: Right.

BB: How did you develop the stat?

Olney: I think it was just watching games over the years and seeing situations that would come up that weren’t quantified. You’d say, “Boy, Scott Brosius is really good at advancing the runners.” But you only had a sense of it; there was no statistic to show it. So I began to think about it and it’s a fairly simple formula.

BB: Was it something that you talked to other people about?

Olney: Yeah. I talked to a lot of writers and asked them if they thought it was an applicable formula. Part of it of course, is that there is a huge discrepancy between the American League and the National League. National League teams bunt a lot more and pitchers are involved. What standards should we apply for the pitchers because pitchers are apt to bunt with one out? Some of the standards aren’t perfect, but I guess it’s like the DH and the non-DH.

BB: Do you feel like the stat is a work in progress? It is something you want to keep tabs on and refine as time goes on?

Olney: Ah, I think it kind of is what it is. It’s a small measure of one element of what teams do. It applies sometimes and other times it doesn’t apply. Depending on the hitter, depending on the score, depending on the pitchers, depending on how a team’s going, how a certain hitter is going. There’s definitely a place for it and there’s definitely times where there is not a place for it, just like there are some hitters who should do it and others who should absolutely not do it. For certain teams there shouldn’t be a place. And I think that’s the elastic part of the stat.

BB: I read a study by Larry Mahnken which was presented after your initial article came out that found that the 2002-03 Yankees actually had a higher POP than the Yankees had in 1998, 99 and 2000. Do you feel that there is a correlation between having a high POP and winning ball games in a short post-season series?

Olney: The numbers that Elias ran said that if you win your series in productive outs, that you have more productive outs, you’ll win, I think the number was 62.3% of the series. Which was as high as singles, wasn’t as high as walks, and it wasn’t as high as home runs. So that’s not to say it’s a more telling stat, but it’s one element that comes into play. Especially because when it comes to October the pitching is so much better. I read a lot of the things that were written about it, and it’s one of those things where you feel like you’ve stepped into the middle of the crossfire of a holy war. In some ways it reflects the political discussion that goes on. You’ve got the old guard that thinks that all of the numbers, the saber guys, are off their rocker, and you’ve got the saber guys who think that the old guard has no clue. And the truth lies somewhere in between, and you can take bits and pieces of both. I think the extreme wing of wing of both sides think that anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe are complete idiots. That’s what’s really kind of funny about it.

BB: I came late to Bill James. I didn’t read any of the Abstracts until a few years ago. Did you read James in the eighties?

Olney: Oh, yeah. I read a ton of stuff by him. I loved his stuff. Hell, I played Strat-o-Matic, so I knew about on-base percentage. You know, Gene Tenace: get players who can draw walks. That’s how you won Strat-O-Matic. I have all my Strat-O-Matic sets. I love that stuff.

BB: You know one of the things that surprised me a little bit in “Moneyball” was that Michael Lewis never mentioned the Yankees’ attention to on-base percentage. Even though they are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the A’s financially, I always thought it would have made sense to note it anyhow.

Olney: That’s funny, because the very first chapter I wrote for the book was the one on Gene Michael. A few months later “Moneyball” came out and on-base percentage grabbed all of this attention. It was almost like in some ways it was invented publicly. And I’m thinking, valuing guys who draw walks has been around for a long time. Bill James was writing about it in the early eighties.

BB: And Branch Rickey obviously believed in it when he built those Dodger teams in the fifties.

Olney: Right. You know the closer thing, and the discussion about whether anyone can handle being a closer…you know what? I’ve been around a lot of great pitchers and some guys can do it and some guys can’t. And I don’t care what the numbers are: You know it when you see it. I’ve read some things that say that statistics show that Derek Jeter is not a clutch player. You know what? I’ve watched him be clutch. And if you say that there is no such thing as a clutch player then you are also saying that players don’t choke. God knows we’ve seen that. At some point there are indefinable elements that come into the game. Derek Jeter is not afraid and Jay Witasick was scared to death. Kenny Rogers is scared to death and I don’t care what kind of numbers he generates, he couldn’t pitch here.

BB: So do you think the reason Rodriguez hasn’t performed well with Runners in Scoring Position this year is because he’s scared?

Olney: He’s pressing. I just think he’s pressing.

BB: Do you think it’s a flexible thing? Meaning that a player can press one year and be fine the next?

Olney: No question. With certain guys it’s just not that much of a factor. Certain guys aren’t as concerned about big picture numbers. I don’t think that Derek gets worried about that stuff. Yeah, he worries about it, but not as much as Alex worries about it. Knoblauch was devastated by it. Denny Neagle was, within a month, oh my god. He just couldn’t deal with it. I think that’s slowly what happened to Giambi. I think that Giambi loves to be in a place where he is loved and has the support and is surrounded by his guys and he’s like the fraternity president. And he doesn’t have that here. You’d go into the Oakland clubhouse and he’d always be in the middle of things. It was a loud clubhouse and he seemed to be enjoying himself. You go into the clubhouse now--obviously before he got ill--and he’s nowhere. Chris Hammond said for the story I did, it took him the entire year to get to know teammates because everyone disappeared. You had a lot of stars and they’d basically go and find hidden corners of Yankee Stadium because of the huge number of media that are in the clubhouse.

BB: I know that you are not around the team on a daily basis, but from what you have been able to see, and from what you have heard, has the environment around the Yankee locker room changed for the better this season?

Olney: It's better in the clubhouse, from what I understand, with Sheffield and Gordon and Quantrill, a lot of good veteran guys. But they need to win a World Series championship together to make this situation more stable, and to win some shared history together. You can't say for sure, but you could speculate, that if the Yankees hadn't won the Series in 1996, George might have applied the hammer much sooner, making moves...That first title bought them all time.

BB: Lastly, do you ever think we'll see a run like the 96-01 Yanks enjoyed again any time soon? Looking back, what were the most remarkable aspects of their success?

Olney: No, I don't think that they'll accomplish what they did from 1996-2001 -- not in this generation, anyway. I think the pressure is too g
The Morning After
2004-09-01 08:17
by Alex Belth

Let it Be...

"There's a certain element of embarrassment, no question," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. "If you have a lot of pride in what you do and somebody has their way with you, you have to take your lumps. There's no question. You can't just turn the lights off and go home. You have to stay there and endure what you have to endure. If you accept winning, you have to endure losing. Something like this is hard to handle. It's something you have to bounce back from. It counts as one loss."

..."You can't worry about the Red Sox," catcher Jorge Posada said. "We've got to worry about us. We've got to worry about what we can do here. We've got to remember that we're still ahead. I think everybody's got to look at this game. You've got to look in the mirror and ask some questions.

"How good are we? We've got to look inside. We are a good team. We are still in first place. We've just got to do it. We've got to come out here and play good ball and just turn it around." (N.Y. Times)

"Well, contrary to a lot of people in this region's belief, the Yankees don't [stink]," [Curt] Schilling said. "Their shortstop's got four rings, they have probably one of the best managers in sports. I don't expect them to fall down on the job. They were good enough to put 10 1/2 games between us. We're going to need some help to catch up. (